Monday, December 19, 2011

The Permutations of Magic and Other Thoughts

Jeff Rients' recent flavoring of magic missile, as well as musings on Dragon #200 scattered around Blogaria, have moved me away from wanting a standard "magic language" that all magicians can read back toward the idea that you need read magic to decipher the writings of an unknown magic-users. After all, if my idea of a magic missile is to conjure energy from the quasi-elemental plane of lightning and form it into an energy dart, and your idea of the same spell is to summon a biting skull that is the spirit of an innocent slain by a careless archer's arrow and his idea of the spell twists the internal organs of the target with unseen force which is actually a brief manifestation of the psychic potential possessed by all wizards... well, you get the idea. My spellbook might be incomprehensible astrological and mathematical formulae, yours is is litany of whispers to call forth spirits various and sundry, and his is a series of mantras designed to stimulate the unused recesses of the human mind. Of course we can't comprehend one each other's methods! The spell is necessary to couch an effect in terms that we can understand. Maybe I can't summon a spirit, but perhaps my deciphering of your spellbook shows me the underlying secret of flooding the mind with necromantic energy that results in a temporary "little death." I just learned sleep from your pilfered spellbook, but I can use it in my clinical, mathematical way instead of trucking with your fickle and unwholesome spirits.

...or, what the hell, maybe I can have it both ways. "My" spells that I research and get from my mentor (as low level magic-users are apparently expected to do in some versions of the game) they are still formulaic and mathematical. I learned an entirely new technique from you. As I continue to adventure, my spellbook becomes a mishmash of rituals gleaned from a dozen different magical traditions. My 7th level mentor would be so disappointed... but then, he has no further ambition but to train low level apprentices, whereas I know that those dudes who get to 30th level are walking libraries of lore stitched together from millenniums of occult history.

...another way to look at it is that spells are standard- Protection from Evil is the same spell no matter who casts it- but the encoding used by magic-users is unique to each one. I think this is the "standard" old D&D magic system's assumption. Thinking about it this evening, I found a new way to wrap my brain around that:
Suppose a spell is the number 7. There are many ways to express a formula that results in 7. You can write 3+4, or (-9) - (-16), or |-7|, or a million other different ways...but imagine you only learned to write equations in terms of subtracting negative numbers from one another... the other equations, while simple enough to those who understand them, are alien to you. It's a crude and simple analogy, but it works for me... just imagine a bunch of crazy ass calculus if you want the analogy to seem "smarter." (I'm a teacher, but I'm not a math teacher...zing.)

You can pack a game with flavor and not change a single mechanic. I wish I weren't compelled to dick around with the workings of the game so much. How much time do I waste trying to come up with a way to mechanically differentiate between an archer and a cavalier? Do witches really need a mechanically different magic system than classic fantasy mages? No, but... the compulsion to tinker remains, regardless.

Tinkering is fun, don't get me wrong, but I need to start limiting the amount of time I spend fiddling with mechanics or I'm never going to get anything going.

In other news, I have waited until the end of Mongoose's 20% off sale to snag Legend, which is still its sweet normal price of a buck. RPGNow charges a small fee for orders under a dollar, so I'd actually end up paying a few cents more for the item while it is on sale. While a negligible amount of money, to be sure, the absurdity of the situation was enough to say my hand for a few hours. I'd like to compare this to OpenQuest, but I don't know anybody who owns both. (Well, except me, I suppose.)

I seem to be fiddling in a manic state of half-finished gaming projects, probably because my regular groups are stalled out and I suffer gaming withdrawal very quickly, and in a manner similar to that one scene in Trainspotting. It ain't pretty.

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