Revised Magic for Planet Kaendor

One of the constant patterns in my many years of fantasy worldbuilding is my regular realization of “Make it smaller!”

Every time I come back to a setting idea to give it another revision, one of the main things I want to change is to scale it down significantly. I started some 15 years ago wanting to make a planet with a dozen outer planes, and ever since then my plans have gotten smaller and smaller as I realized much of what I had in mind would be completely irrelevant to the actual campaigns I am running. My last version was down to a small continent, but now I am scaling it further down to the size of just one of the larger European countries. That’s still huge, especially when dealing with a setting that is mostly wildeness. Dark Sun doesn’t need to be much larger than that.

In addition to just shrinking the map, I am also once again throwing out a lot of clutter that really isn’t needed to run adventures. Fewer cultures, fewer cities, fewer classes of supernatural beings, and fewer magical traditions. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon again, and I mentioned Dark Sun. I think I want to do something more strange and insidious with magic. An unsettling and eldritch force that defies nature instead of being a manifestation of the spiritual aspect of the natural world.

While I am not a fan of alignment as a character trait, to put it mildly, I think the concept of the interplay of Chaos and Order is a quite interesting one that has some things going for it. And I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I think it would be really cool to make all magic a manifestation of Chaos.

In the new theory of magic, the natural world is magically neutral. The supernatural exist explicitly outside of nature. But the gods exist. Maybe. And the supernatural is a manifestation of the gods direct interactions and interventions in the world. The gods guide history, steer fate, and regulate the environment through supernatural phenomenons. This too is part of the natural order.

But there are creatures of Chaos who do not belong into the natural world, or are partly physical and partly of the realm of Chaos. These demons too have the ability to interact with the world in supernatural ways, and they can teach mortals how to use the essence of Chaos themselves. To use magic is to defy the will of the gods and to interfere with their plans. Nothing good can come from that and it will only lead to missery and disaster. Sorcerers believe such a view is highly overdramatic. The plans of the gods, if they even exist, don’t really regulate nature in any meaningful way and there is no divine order that their spells could disrupt. Of course, magic is incredibly powerful and can be used very destructively, but its not any more inherently evil or unnatural than fire.

In addition to the magic of sorcerers and demons, there are also the arts to counter magic, but these are not considered magic in themselves. Many priests have the power to block or dispel magic and to banish demons, which break the unnatural influence of magic and restore the divine order. Though sorcerers can learn these powers as well.

Alchemy is not considered to be magic. It is simply a combination of ingredients that are part of the natural world that produce extraordinary effects. But most alchemists are under regular suspicion of dabbling in sorcery as well to enhance the potions they make.

In some cases sorcerers manage to convince people that they are an avatar of a god, which makes the spells they cast the devine powers by which the gods interact with the world, and as such not magic.

Quick and Dirty Slow Casting Magic System for LotFP

A simple and completely untested variant system for casting spells in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It should also work with other OSR games, but LotFP allows mages to wear armor and use weapons, which makes a severe toning down of spellcasting much less disruptive for players.

Spells work pretty much the same way under this system except that you don’t need to prepare spells in advance and all casting times are at least 1 minute (10 rounds) long. You still need to have spell slots available which are used up for the day when a spell is cast. The effect is that spellcasters become much more flexible in picking their spells when the situation comes up but at the same time lose the ability to quickly intervene with spells in the middle of a fight. All magic requires at least a bit of time to prepare during which the spellcaster can easily be interrupted by any hostile creatures or violent environment conditions.

Many spells need to be cast from hiding, either in cover or in plain sight, to be of any use. I think that I would rule that it’s sufficient for a spellcaster to stand or sit and do nothing and quietly recite the magical incantations at low volume. It would be easy to spot by people who are standing close enough to the caster to hear the magic words or who are keeping an eye on him. Loud background noise or some kind of distraction would be necessary to cast a spell unnoticed while in a crowd. The changes also make a good number of spells effectively useless. The following spells I’d remove from the game. (Fireball and lightning bolt are already not part of the LotFP rules.)

Cleric Spells

  • Command
  • Heat Metal
  • Protection from Evil
  • Protection from Evil, 10′ Radius
  • Remove Fear
  • Sanctuary
  • Silence

Magic-User Spells

  • Army of One
  • Chaos
  • Confusion
  • Death Spell
  • Faithful Hound (if the duration is indeed correct)
  • Feather Fall
  • Globe of Invulnerability (Greater and Lesser)
  • Grasping Hand
  • Haste
  • Hold Person/Monster
  • Interposing Hand
  • Lucubration
  • Magic Missile
  • Magic Sword
  • Maze
  • Mirror Image
  • Mnemonic Enhancer
  • Power Word Kill
  • Power Word Stun
  • Prismatic Spray
  • Ray of Enfeeblement
  • Spell Turning
  • Witchlamp Aura

Modified Spells

  • Charm Person/Monster: The target makes a saving throw at the start of the casting of the spell. If it fails it will simply listen to the casters words and not take any action unless the casting is interrupted by an outside source. The caster of the spell does not look like he is casting a spell on the target but has to keep talking for the entire casting time and observers might notice something strange going on with the target.
  • Enthrall: The crowd starts listening to the caster immediately but can only be persuaded to do something after at least a minute of talking to them has passed.
  • Polymorph Others: The target of the spell slowly begins to change during the casting time but reverts to its original form if the spell is interrupted in any way.
  • Sacrifice: The caster has to be in contact for the entire casting time of the spell, usually making it necessary to restrain the target.
  • Suggestion: The target makes a saving throw at the start of the casting of the spell. If it fails it will simply listen to the casters words and not take any action unless the casting is interrupted by an outside source. The caster of the spell does not look like he is casting a spell on the target but has to keep talking for the entire casting time and observers might notice something strange going on with the target.

A hazy idea for a new OSR magic system

Work hours have been a bit chaotic this month, with frequent evening hours and weekend workdays, so I have not really spend much of the long hours of tinkering with ideas that usually lead to me writing things. But all the overtime hours will get me a lot of shorter workdays after Christmas and there’s not really much to do in a gardening store in January anyway. There’s a lot of ideas floating in my mind that I want to pursue further on lazy afternoons and loudly proclaim my conclusions.

Right now I am occupying my free periods during the day with thinking about adapting my new idea for a magic system to an OSR rules system. Which actually turned out a bit more tricky than I thought.

The main concept is that all characters have an amount of spellpower that is calculated by adding the modifier from Wisdom to the number of levels in the mage class. A 4th level mage with a Wisdom of 16 would have a spellpower of 6 (4+2). Any time a spell is cast or a ritual performed, there is a chance for a missfire based on the character’s current spellpower score. At the end of the casting the spellpower score is reduced by a certain number. Dabblers in magic have a high chance of misfires when performing rituals (which does not require any specific character class) but so do even experienced mages who have already cast several spells that day. I like the concept but don’t have any good idea for how to calculate the chance of failure and how to make a die roll to check for a missfire.

I also think about having three categories of magic. Spells, which take one round to cas; incantations, which take 1 minute to cast; and rituals, which take 1 hour to cast. Only characters of the mage class can learn spells and incantations of limited numbers, but rituals are open to anyone who gets his hands on the instructions. However, I found that I have really very few ideas for traditional spells that would fit with my image of how magic performs in action.

One interesting oddity I noticed a few days ago is that all the effects I wanted my old magic system to do no longer fit with the new system. And a good number of things I deliberately chose to exclude seem highly appropriate for the new system. (Except teleportation, which is still out.) My old approach was highly inspired by Star Wars and Avatar, which spells being extensions of the body and mind. Now I feel much stronger drawn to witchcraft and sorcery that focus on dealing with external supernatural beings. Having just read Hellboy again (a review is one of the things I want to write) probably had a huge impact on that change of mind.

Ancient Lands: Magic

In the world of the Ancient Lands, there is only a single supernatural force at work. Life force, magic, spirits, souls; it’s all the same basic energy that is found inside and between everything. This energy is what gives living creatures their strength and make them grow and heal injuries and disease. It is also what creates the souls of mortal creatures and in places where the energies of the landscape are strong, they manifest in sentient spirits of great power.

The arts of magic are the mastery of the ability to not just call on the life energy within oneself, but to extend ones mental control to the energies around one and even inside other objects and beings. When casting a spell, a mage is sending a ripple through the energies surrounding him to manipulate the energies within creatures and objects to his desire, just as normal people control the energies within their arms and legs. Magic spells can make plants grow or move, split or shove away rocks, create lightning and set things on fire, and even take some control over other creatures thoughts. To be able to manipulate the life force and magical energies at a distance, mages needs to build up a reserve of energy separate from their own life force, which they accomplish by many years of training and meditation. Once this reserve is spend, they can no longer cast any spells until the energies are restored. People who have mastered magic, and creatures that are naturally magical, require almost no effort to regain their spend magical energy. Their energy reserve has become a natural part of their own being and during rest energies from the surrounding environment automatically move in to fill the void and restore the natural balance of energies. Compared to the amounts of energy in the natural world, even the most powerful spellcasters can store only such a small amount that there is no noticable drain of life force in the creatures and plants arround them.

Blood Magic

In the earliest days of the mortal races, the magical abilities of spirits and other magical creatures was not yet entirely understood and the earliest mages did not yet have the ability to create reserves of magical energies to power their spells. But they realized that magical energy and life force is essentially the same and in no other part of a mortal creature is its life force as strong and concentrated as in the blood. Not only could these early mages use the energy in their own blood to cast their spells, they could also use the life force of other living creatures.

When the more common forms of magic were discovered, this blood magic was soon abandoned. The storing of magical energies from the environment is not only much more effective, but also much less painful and gruesome. However, unlike many shamans and witches would like to believe, the traditions of blood mages never entirely disappeared and continued to exist in some small remote places for all the thousands of years. Pure, traditional blood mages are almost unheard of in the present age. The advantages of using the magical energies of the surrounding natural world are just too great for any mage to ignore. But there are still some advantages to blood magic, which allowed the ancient traditions to survive. By drawing the life force from their own blood, blood mages can significally extend their reserves of magical energy and even make their spells stronger and more powerful than they would usually be able to. And by using the life force of other living creatures, blood mages can have access to vast amounts of magical energy for prolonged rituals and large scale magical effects, that would take ordinary mages days or week. Because of the violent and gruesome nature of blood magic, most people regard it as savage and horrific, but contrary to common believes, blood magic itself does not have a corrupting effect on those who use it or are affected by it.

Demonic Energy and Corruption

Outside the natural world that consists of the material world and the Spiritworld exists a realm of infinite time and space that is simply called the Void. Just as there are spirits in the natural energies of the spiritworld there are also beings born from concentrations of the energies of the Void, called demons. When mages learn a way to create a connection to the Void, it allows them to draw some of its energies to their own world and use it as an additional source of magical power in addition to their own. With these energies they can create spells that can not be cast with magical energies of the natural world and it also greatly increases the number of spells they can cast before their reserves are exhausted.
However, the natural world and the Void are realms of completely different laws that are conflicting with each other and bringing energies from the Void into the natural world causes it to become warped and twisted, an effect known as corruption. The demonic energies are toxic to any living things that are affected by it. Mages who have mastered their use can learn to resist its effects and may show only very little signs of the massive exposure they recieve from many years of casting demonic spells. However the land around their homes and lairs becomes significantly affected, making these places hostile to all living things, turning them weak and sick and eventually killing them.

But corruption is not simply a drain of life force, but a warping and twisting of it, and corrupted life force is still able to support life, at least in a manner of speaking. When creatures becomes entirely corrupted but do not simply fall dead, they turn into the undead. Zombies and skeletons are corpses that have become powered by corrupted energy after their death, while those who have never really died become ghouls or wights. In rare cases, a person dies but the corrupted energies that have been part of him continues to exist as a faint afterimage of a creature known as a shadow. When the corruption has been so complete that the soul itself has become corrupted, it continues to exist even after the body has died as a wraith.