What if… Magic was made new again?

Hi there!

Recently I’ve been reconsidering the role of magic in a roleplaying world and how a character might take advantage of it. In traditional RPGs such as D&D, Palladium Fantasy, GURPS, and so on, magic is a static thing. In the name of game balance, system creators have chosen to create schools of magic and assorted spells with their different requirements and effects.

Wizard with Staff (from Clipart.com)

This is great for beginning roleplayers, but can stifle creativity for more experienced gamers. What if I want to start from scratch?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wizard on your own? Perhaps magic is slowly returning to the world after millenia, or you discovered your talents by accident or someone taught you to use them, or maybe magic is outlawed as it is in the Camelot of King Uther Pendragon in the tv series Merlin.

What would that mean for magical research? It would be trial and error. It might be an environment where wizards horde their secrets or band together and share everything to oppose some greater evil or political power. Wizards might be on the run, trying things without the benefit of a lab.

Where would you begin?

I think personally, I’d start small. Think of the old chemistry sets we used to be able to get when we were kids. We could go to the garage, the basement, even our bedrooms and start mixing potions like mad scientists. Tinker and fail and see what made things tick…

Let’s think for a moment of the urban fantasy world of  Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden. Harry was taught a few things early in life about magic, but a good deal of his knowledge over the years came from research and experimentation. How many of your wizard characters ever really did that? Think about the backstory you would have and the time between adventures you could experiment and try new things…

For example, let’s say your wizard knows some lesser magics. These are little utility spells that help in the lab or in life, but not much more. Let’s say your wizard wants to create a spell similar to Harry Dresden’s “Flickum Bickus” spell to light a small fire or candle when flitn and tinder aren’t available.

Can you create a spell, even a little one, in another big system for fantasy roleplaying? Ok, maybe Rolemaster or White Wolf’s Mage, but that’s about all I can think of from my experience.

Next time I’ll tell you how you’ll be able to do this in Moebius Adventures. Stay tuned!

–Fitz

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This article has 3 comments

  1. forged Reply

    Actually, D&D 3.5 has rules to create spells. However, getting balance for them is tricky. And since they have a ton of spells already done, it doesn’t usually seem worth the hassle.

    For my d&d 3.5 campaigns, I usually rule that certain modifications are trivial to make into a new spell. Want an cold blast like burning hands? No problem. It would do the same damage but is cold based instead of fire based.

    Look and sound changes to spells are even simplier …. you want magic missile to be golden bolts that hit with a “Zing” sound … sure …. okay, a little strange, but go for it. Just describe it in game and let’s go. I might even be kind enough to not make you waste additional space in the spellbook ™ for that.

    With creative effect, you can actually accomplish a lot of things out of the cantrips alone in that system.

    In other systems, this isn’t nearly so easy to pull off, but this is really a rules specific thing depending on a system and then how players and GMs interpret it.

  2. forged Reply

    Even systems with static systems, you can build it into the character by just mentioning every once in a while how the character is spending his/her downtime.

    Heck, in D&D 3.5 you could even do “Flickum Bickus” with just a simple cantrip. A lot of it comes down to how the player really thinks about using the world and expressing what they want to do with the character.

    Shrug, based on my experiences, I would say that a lot of this ends up being situational with what the player(s) and the GM want to emphasis about the system they are using.

    Just my two tin bits ….

    • admin

      @forged – True. Downtime spent is one of those amorphous blobs in gaming that can be applied liberally to a number of things. Though I don’t know how you’d allow a character to create spells in D&D 3.5. I’m guessing it’s possible with a lenient GM and some rough guidelines…

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