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.