Older heroic fantasy in general, and the “sword and sorcery” sub-genre especially, is much lighter on magician protagonists than is standard D&D (which feels like an injection of Jack Vance’s brand of fantasy).
Part of the old style is an assumption that magic has an inherent tendency to corrupt its wielders, making them at least less human if not thoroughly evil. Conan and his ilk are not paragons of virtue, but they stand as heroes next to the sorcerers whose ambitions they foil.
(The Carcosa D&D variant brings this to the forefront, but from what I gather pretty much assumes that PCs will include individuals ready to commit torture and massacre to secure the aid of Lovecraftian horrors in their pursuit of power.)
This also makes it easier to keep an air of mystery about magic, rather than it becoming the understood and reliable technology that it is in most fantasy games.
That said, some degree of PC access to magic seems to be highly desirable for such a game. I’m thinking there’s probably a sweet spot for a game with a classic sword & sorcery flavor, somewhere between the highly magical PCs of standard D&D and the absence of PC magicians in most versions of Pendragon.
My first guess is that it’s probably somewhat similar to Call of Cthulhu, in which learning and using spells is possible but so risky for those who wish to keep their humanity that it’s far from being the course of first resort.
I like Dungeon Crawl Classics' take on magic. You can pretty much cast as much as you want, but when you fail, you risk corruption. My 4th-level Wizard had his right leg grow 2 inches, so his gait is off now - a lucky roll, that could have been much worse.
Here is what I do. I'm not sure if it's what you're looking for, but it might be a starting point. You could replace fatigue and exhaustion with some other negative consequence (permanent ability score loss, for example).
Casting Spells Instead of preparing their spells beforehand (in the manner of the magicians from Vack Vance’s Dying Earth), magic-users and cleric can freely cast any spell they have mastered without preparing it beforehand.
When casting a spell, the player rolls 2d6 and compares the result to the table below. An “I” indicates the spell is cast immediately. If a “D” is rolled, the spell is delayed one round. If an “N” is rolled, the spell is negated completely. Delayed spells do not require the caster’s concentration to conjure. The magic is already on its way.
If the spell is delayed or negated, the caster becomes fatigued. If the character is already fatigued, he or she instead becomes exhausted. An exhausted character cannot cast spells. A good night’s rest fully restores a cleric or magic-user’s vigor.
Magic-User Spells Magic-users begin with a standard spell book containing all spells listed on magic-user spell table (Men & Magic, 21). A beginning magic-users has only mastered Detect Magic and Wizard Light, plus one other spell (chosen by the player). Learning a new spell is a matter of time and intelligence. The number of weeks of diligent study and experimentation required a learn a spell is equal to its complexity. At the end of that time, the magic-user must make an Intelligence check, modified by the complexity of the spell. If successful, the magic-user’s hard work has paid off and the character learns the spells. If not, the magic-user may always try again, starting anew with a fresh period of study.
Cleric Spells Clerics begin with a book of prayers given to them by their temple. The exact list of spells contained within the book may vary from one religion to another. While they begin knowing no spells, clerics can immediately begin learning spells in a manner similar to that of magic-users. The cleric must spend a like number of weeks in pray and meditation instead of research. At the end of that time, the cleric makes a Wisdom check to successful learn the spells.
Last Edit: Feb 17, 2023 1:38:58 GMT -6 by tombowings
I reckon that if a PC’s class has spell casting as THE signature feature, then the figure naturally will be casting spells a lot. DCC makes the usual spells more random in effect, but not I think less common (if anything the opposite).
So, not having such classes in the first place seems like thing one to get the Howard-Leiber feel. A PC capable of casting spells ought not routinely to depend on that, but be able to rely on physical abilities and cunning as the mainstays.
(A follow up concern is providing sufficient mechanical diversity to make different PCs distinctive. In D&D, that has primarily been achieved by giving them spells, secondarily with magic items.)
Thing two is a more appropriate array of spells. From what I gather, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and Seven Voyages of Zylarthen pretty much repeat the same old stuff, wargame and comicbook stuff that’s been turned into video game stuff over and over. Even in smaller doses, that would probably not evoke the classic literary genre.
From experience with RuneQuest and DragonQuest, I would say that more subtle magic can be deployed more often without disrupting the flavor. Real-world warriors have often resorted to prayers, incantations and fetishes because some hope of thereby gaining a reprieve from death or maiming is heartening if one can only muster a shadow of faith.
Leiber’s Grey Mouser and Moorcock’s (intentionally iconoclastic) Elric seem the epitomes of classic swordsmen who are also sorcerers, and they act in the latter role but rarely. (From Vance, we might add Cugel the Clever, a mere factotum for the wizards who are real powers on the Dying Earth).
Fox’s Kyrik is called a warlock, on account of his relationship with the demoness Illis, but is basically a mighty thewed barbarian. If memory serves, Conan and Fafhrd are each depicted once as casting a spell. Tiana of Reme got her gift and title of Highrider not from study but from an action-packed exploit.
Moving into the 1980s, there are Shea’s Nifft and Kerr’s Frostflower and Windbourne (forming a trio with the former’s warrior companion Thorn).
I think one might also cite Dilvish, Kane, Morgaine, Rifkind, several of Tanith Lee’s antiheroes, the Old Race characters in Norton’s Witch World and — with some embarrassment — Spellbinder (mentor of Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos).
Nifft and his companions are probably the upper end of routine, workaday magic for the feel I have in mind.
Cook’s Black Company and Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen are in other ways very much what I call S&S, but also a new strain informed by (among other things) FRP tropes. The Black Company is still a ways off from standard D&D, even when the Lady goes from Dark Empress to a member of the motley crew. At least, the more common and flashy magic is more commonly in the background.
In the circles of OD&D itself, Gregory Rihn (The Dragon #20) and Lewis Pulsipher (The Dragon #42) had very interesting takes on dealing with demons. Some of what Gary Gygax added is also appropriate, not so much the pinning down of neat taxonomy and standard abilities.
Last Edit: Feb 17, 2023 14:22:59 GMT -6 by dwayanu
Classic tales in the genre range from a single protagonist to a trio. A regular quartet (perhaps like the old Three Musketeers plus young D’artagnan) might work, but in the source material that’s rather an occasional formation for a single caper.
If the game follows that pattern, then — compared with an expected company of six to eight figures — there’s less need for multiple ‘niches’ and more for overlapping competence.
Last Edit: Feb 17, 2023 12:03:32 GMT -6 by dwayanu
Dwayanu wrote: What degrée of PC access is desirable/Sword & Sorcery?
a. Limit access to spells by language and training/sect etc., otherwise additions to saves are given to the spell's recipient. b. Make the spells rituals, limited by corresponding place, time of day, stellar alignment. c. Successful saves by recipient, lead to greater chances of saves in the future and thus potential corruption for the caster.
Last Edit: Feb 19, 2023 0:00:07 GMT -6 by sepulchre
'The bright day is done and we are for the dark' - Shakespeare
'No lamp burns till morning' - Persian proverb.
'The living close the eyes of the dead, but it is the dead that open the eyes of the living'— Old Slavic saying.
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is another D&D derivative that makes some effort to reflect the pulp heritage epitomized by Wierd Tales, but again leaves it too common for someone to be flying about hurling fire balls or lightning bolts.
Something that’s reappeared in some games of my acquaintance is an approach reminiscent of what Dave Arneson mentions in The First Fantasy Campaign. Spells are prepared much like making scrolls in later editions; they can then be deployed quickly, but the investment beforehand is non-trivial. Some games permit hastier casting (perhaps requiring a precious grimoire at hand) but at great risk.
This is a good fit for the trope of heroes racing to interrupt a villain’s ritual. Often the villain has magic ready to zap them, but with few ‘charges’.
Also, the swordsmen tend to dodge those and quickly come to grips with the magician, if minions fail to delay them enough for the latter to escape.
PCs are likely to be too itchy for adventure to spend much “down time” preparing spells, more often equipped with what they find as plunder or get from a patron.
Last Edit: Feb 21, 2023 11:14:46 GMT -6 by dwayanu
FH&W, if memory serves, has separate lists for black, gray, white and nature magic. This has some precedent in the history of European magical traditions. I don’t think all magic in the game need be (in Lovecraft fashion) inimical to one’s humanity, but the stuff I don’t want to be commonplace Plan A ought mostly to fit in that category.
Exceptions might be “sufficiently advanced technology” designed to suit consumers in a lost (or extraterrestrial) civilization, but perhaps become more dangerous due to some combination of degradation and current ignorance. The limited charges paradigm naturally fits something pictured as using ammunition or a battery.
In a review in The Space Gamer of the first Conan module for AD&D, Rick Swan quipped that, "Conan and D&D go together like peanut butter and tuna fish—it can be done, but you can bet there's going to be a funny taste."
My premise is that it’s basically a matter of the standard D&D treatment of magic, and maybe a revision of that would be worthwhile. Then again, maybe the hack calls for so much that it would be more attractive to use a different game in the first place. If this aspect is so much changed, the D&D basis might not have as much appeal as far as potential players are concerned; in that case, it would really be a matter of my own interest as GM.
I am a bit curious whether other GMs might also find it worthwhile, if I put in the work to create the variant. The easiest course is always to adapt material to the ‘world’ of standard D&D instead of going the other way around. Greyhawk exemplifies the usual mashup of Brooks, Eddings, Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, Tolkien and Vance.
Post by waysoftheearth on Feb 21, 2023 15:16:20 GMT -6
One relatively minor rules tweak could be that magic-users are chaos only. Magic-using elves (if elves were used) would generally be non-players.
Players (presuming they are predominantly of law and neutrality) would be limited to clerical magic (if this was used) and perhaps be more tempted to try the reverse spells. This might be a vehicle for bringing the law vs chaos drama into focus.
Post by tetramorph on Feb 21, 2023 16:33:15 GMT -6
I have certain spells move one towards chaos: magic jar, death, flesh to stone.
I've been toying with the idea of nerfing some spells to make things grittier.
One way I look at this is making a clearer separation between the classes and what they are good for. So, for example, for my convention games, I move all "hold" spells to clerics. I keep "light" MU but clerics loose it and only keep "continual light," which MUs no longer have. Find object is only clerical.
Then I've thought of removing mass damage from MUs. So, fireball becomes "control fire," and lightning bolt becomes "control lighting strikes" - but there needs to be a storm, or a tesla coil in a mad-scientists laboratory, or the MU needs to know control weather and make a thunderstorm.
I've also thought of making 4-6 level magic all ritual in nature. Taking turns to hours to cast rather than something they can pull off in a single round of combat.
I think that would make things start feeling a bit more S&S to me.
He who knows, games not. He who games, knows not. -- Lao Tzu
I tend to run low magic and often humancentric settings where there is an emphasis on the Fighter class right up front. In my own view of things this implies that magic is inherently distrusted and dangerous or simply not easily obtainable. So, comments above definitely jive with this.
From a referee's perspective, if you are going to allow magic users but still want to maintain the sword and sorcery vibe while being judicious in not restricting the Magic User class too much, then it might be as simple as requiring spells to be found, deciphered, and recorded. This would likely require a bit of extra work such as preplanning locations and tracking your spell users advancement. These locations would of course be dangerous for the adventuring party and offer the potential for other reward. You could associate the level spells being sought with the dungeon levels regarding risk. Perhaps use the monster matrix as a model in determining what spells might be found at what depth of the dungeon by rolling a d6. Only first level spells can be found on the first level. Maybe a 1 in 6 chance or possibly you don't want them even to be discoverable on the first level. Second level, first and second level spells, a 2 in 6 chance. Third level, high chance first level spells (perhaps more than one). Fourth level, a 1 in 6 chance of a third level spell. And so on. Whether these spells are brittle papyrus, mystic runes, or dusty tomes, is up to you.
You would want to equally limit magical treasure, including weapons and armor. It all makes for a very gritty game.
"War is a game which were their subjects wise, kings would not play at." -William Cowper
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The Primary Rule: "Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war." -Fred T. Jane
"There is only one rule to our war game: simulate reality." -Michael F. Korn
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tombowings , am I the only one who finds the layout of the spell casting table from Chainmail to be sort of confusing?
A sample of the table reads: I 8 D 6 N 5
But what it really means is: I 8-12 D 6-7 N 2-5
So I could understand if is was done as: I 8+ D 6+
But why include N at all? If It's not immediate or delayed, it must have failed. Or, if N is to be in the chart, why isn't every N equal to 2 in order to follow the "roll over" style of the other entries? Not to pick on you, since your chart just follows the style created by Perrin and Gygax in the 1970's. I'm just curious why no one has mentioned this before.
(I accidentally started editing this post instead of replying, but was able to restore the original - Zenopus)
Last Edit: Feb 22, 2023 12:23:51 GMT -6 by Zenopus
Marv / Finarvyn DCC playtester (2011) S&W WhiteBox author (2009) C&C playtester (2003) Builder of the TrollBridge for T&T; Amber Diceless player since 1993 OD&D Player since 1975; Metamorphosis Alpha since 1976
"Don't ask me what you need to hit. Just roll the die and I will let you know!" - Dave Arneson
I agree that the table in Chainmail is confusing. It took me a while to puzzle out, after friends had given up making head or tail of it. Moving on to D&D and AD&D, there are further instances of Gygax assuming something is clear when to many people it’s not.
Anyhow, while that toss to cast a spell might be a fun piece of chrome I don’t see it addressing the actual matters of concern.
The protection from evil spell — perhaps renamed, more accurately to reflect its defense against eldritch entities generally — is one I actually reckon ought to be common.
A spell of greater security can also be fairly common, but a matter of a normally immobile circle of protection.
(I mean immobile in a sense that ignores astronomical and geological realities pertinent to modern science. I presume that could also ignore the plainer reality of a ship being underway; the key point is that the sphere does not more simply move with the subject. A substrate other than stone might be prohibited or at least require extraordinary preparation, and moving a heavy mass of stone across a deck is not a trivial undertaking especially in a combat situation.)
I note that in the ancient Near East, an evidently widespread rule was that an altar must be of stone neither worked with metal tools nor joined with mortar. More generally, the rules magicians or priests must follow very often appear quite arbitrary (though sometimes one can on closer examination discover symbolism).
Continual light in contrast is an example of something that — for my purpose — is much too common in D&D. It goes beyond even the magical ambiance of Tolkien’s Middle Earth to the neighborhood of the Land in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Such magical artifacts ought to be found chiefly in ancient ruins (of jade, in Howard’s Hyborian Age) and usually cease to function not very long after being taken beyond those precincts. A very accomplished sorcerer might be able to produce them, but not on a daily basis!
A classic sword and sorcery environment is a world lit only by fire.
Last Edit: Feb 22, 2023 12:22:02 GMT -6 by dwayanu
tombowings , am I the only one who finds the layout of the spell casting table from Chainmail to be sort of confusing?
A sample of the table reads: I 8 D 6 N 5
But what it really means is: I 8-12 D 6-7 N 2-5
It is confusing.
However, assuming you are interpreting it correctly, your clarified table represents the chances for a magic-user casting a spell of the same level. That is, a Seer casting a Complexity 1 spell, a Magician casting a Complexity 2 spell, etc.
You could simply use only this portion of the table, and then give a +1 to the roll for each level of complexity below the caster's level, and a -1 for each level above the caster's. For example, a Wizard casting a Complexity 1 spell would get a +4 on the roll, and thus succeed on a roll of 4 or more (4 + 4 = 8).
Regarding the power of warrior heroes in the genre, OD&D (more explicitly AD&D) has to an extent catered to that with the provision for fighters making one attack per level versus normal men or equivalent. As I recall, Arneson also allowed damage in excess of enough to fell one foe to carry over to others.
EPT (which did not follow D&D Supplement I in assigning variable damage, or for that matter in revising hit dice) presented a table giving higher-level figures more dice of damage versus lower-level ones. As with Arneson’s (later mentioned) variant, this allows “carry over” damage. A table is employed I think chiefly because a simple ratio makes some cases too extreme.
I personally like the increased damage dice better than multiple tosses for attack chance, but carry over should be limited to targets for which the attack roll is good enough.
(This puts a lot on that single “hit or miss” toss, but I don’t mind the ‘swing’ so much as I like the fast action. It can be complimented with a similar process for a horde of ‘mooks’.)
My own variant gave monsters above 4th level as a general rule —to which ogres are a notably more powerful exception — damage dice and adds approximating a quarter of their average HP. Thus, an 8-HD dragon would get 2d with fang and claw.
(I prefer the B/X approach of varying dragon HD instead of points per die. All breeds range from 1 for hatchlings to 12 for the very ancient.)
If that’s carried over to fighter characters, then some combination with the EPT style (but probably different in particulars) would enable cleaving through veritable armies closer to the degree depicted in Chainmail.
It would also make the magical “heavy weapons section” not needful for high-level characters to take on high-level monsters (or to finish such a fight quickly).
Last Edit: Feb 22, 2023 13:39:19 GMT -6 by dwayanu
Add 1 to the caster's roll for each level of the spell over the caster's level, and subtract 1 from the caster's roll for each level of the spell below the caster's level.
One could also bell-curve it to 2-5, 6-8, 9-12 to make it easier to remember.
Okay so maybe I am loosing my marbles. But shouldn't it be the reverse of what you describe, Zenopus? Subtract from the roll the number of times over the MUs level that the spell is, add to the roll the number of times the MU exceeds the spell level?
Always a fan of the bell curve.
He who knows, games not. He who games, knows not. -- Lao Tzu
Add 1 to the caster's roll for each level of the spell under the caster's level, and subtract 1 from the caster's roll for each level of the spell above the caster's level.
You'd probably only want to use the 2 and 12 results on natural rolls so they don't happen too often on modified rolls. Sort of like natural 1s and 20s for fumbles/crits.
You've reinvented something very similar to the magic system for Warhammer Fantasy Battles 6th thru 8th editions, but more fiddly since you're backing into it from a starting point of D&D spell and caster levels.
For reference, the Warhammer system is that each individual spell has a Casting Value that you need to score equal to or better than in order to successfully cast. Some spells have multiple casting values for varying magnitudes of the same basic effect. You roll one or more dice (you have a dice pool that gets refilled on a per-turn basis) and add your wizard's level (up to four), and if successful then the other player has a chance to throw dispel dice. Unless, of course, you roll two or more 6s, which means your spell is cast with Total Power and can't be countered, or if you roll two or more 1s, in which case you have to roll on the Miscast Table.
Personally, I prefer tables to math. It's more visceral at the table. I find the Delayed result causes enough backfire. If the magic-user cast "fireball", who knows what will be inside the radius a minute later.
Way back when I was using Holmes Basic as my basis, I did not extend the inherent spell casting powers (a la standard D&D’s higher levels). Instead, I added other means — more directly dependent on adventure — to acquire further magic.
The game Ruin Masters (I think a simpler descendant of Drakar och Demoner) apparently makes ALL magic a matter of treasures.
Level of magic skill provides both the chance to activate spells — penalized for more powerful ones — and the power points to drive spell ‘containers’ or ‘vessels’ that require an input of power. Those that perpetually work without such input are obviously especially valuable. Others can be recharged, and some (typically scrolls) are single use.
The skill check for activation has outcomes ranging (in common FRP jargon) from critical success to critical failure. Each extreme has a table on which to toss, that for ‘perfect’ results being briefer than the one for fumbles; the two fit on a single page.
While the lore needed to invent new spells has been lost, I presume that wizards still know how to make more scrolls of those that can be so implemented; otherwise, they would probably be the rarest of all (whereas for game purposes we probably want them to be most common).
For my purposes, it would not be presumed that the list of spells in the book is exhaustive (and I think the book itself indicates that’s merely a list of relatively common ones).
I’m intrigued to look into whether Ruin Masters itself might be an off the shelf fit for my purpose. I’m especially a fan of the BRP family, but a more streamlined take on that can be attractive. This game evidently uses a set of only six very broad skills.
I’m still interested, though, in working out a D&D variant — and in learning of any other than the ones I’ve mentioned that are trying for a more “pulp fiction” feel.
Last Edit: Feb 23, 2023 14:33:36 GMT -6 by dwayanu
Were I to adapt the Ruin Masters paradigm to D&D, a key point would be that magic skill does not automatically improve with character level. There must be trade off, such that NPCs can become powerful sorcerers but such a career is not attractive to PCs.
Briefly, one category of abilities improves with XP whereas the other (magic skill) improves with time in a devotion that prevents gaining XP. One could have a separate XP track, but that seems easily a superfluous complication. It’s simpler to invest time and gold to get a toss for improvement.
Chivalry & Sorcery reflects I think accurately a historical viewpoint. That is, the respectable sort of magus has scant interest in worldly ambitions but pursues the art in quest of wisdom. It’s basically a mystic’s way (but more intellectual than contemplative) to spiritual salvation!
That runs into trouble with the medieval religious institution, one that has very worldly concerns in synergy with a doctrine of “no salvation outside the Church.”
Those who lose sight of this purpose and turn to evil are still confronted with the fact that it’s essentially a bookish vocation, ill suited to a man of action. One must spend long periods of time immersed in the study of tomes and the performance of experiments in one’s laboratory.
If in contrast martial and other masteries more valuable to adventurers require swashbuckling adventures out in the world, one obviously falls behind by spending months at a time in scholarly seclusion. Without imposing a strict class dichotomy, never mind a taboo on wielding weapons and armor, the basic trade off between warrior and wizard naturally manifests.
This can remain the case even without the historical basis of theurgy (but I think that brings worthwhile flavor to the context).
Last Edit: Feb 23, 2023 13:31:21 GMT -6 by dwayanu
Aside: I’m not finding any place to buy Ruin Masters. It appears that CMON bought the rights to it along with several others from Riotbrains. Trudvang Chronicles looks like a somewhat more complicated spin-off with a mix of Celtic and Nordic influences, but so far I’m not finding much information about the magic — or, again, indications of availability in the first place — and I definitely don’t want what looks like an adaptation of the setting to D&D 5E (Trudvang Adventures) or a cooperative storytelling board game (Trudvang Legends).
Last Edit: Feb 23, 2023 14:51:01 GMT -6 by dwayanu