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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    So, just throwing some ideas around. It's late at night so no guarantee this will be coherent. Also, this is not "how to fix class balance in X system," as the D&D derivative systems I'm familiar with (Pathfinder as my personal preference) generally have the way magic works so deeply baked into the assumptions it's basically impossible to change it without more or less fundamentally rewriting the system. This is a discussion of how to avoid a situation where one class (or equivalent) does not simultaneously do the job of several other classes better than they can because magic.

    There's a general consensus here (and elsewhere) that casters, especially once they reach a certain power level, just beat non-casters, and in a way it makes sense. Magic opens up means of doing stuff that are just not available to people who don't have magic; people who can cast spells can do all the non-casting stuff and more. But this creates games where, as power levels increase, you either invest in magic or you become irrelevant. To use Pathfinder as an example, casters can simply do the job of mundanes better, and have access to options that aren't there (things like fly and the ability to create walls of force out of thin air come to mind). Plus, the game assumes that even people who can't cast magic on their own have access to magic. A level 20 wizard will generally be superior to a level 20 fighter; give the fighter masterwork weapons and armor, and take away his fancy stat-boosting gear, and it gets even worse--even if you do the same to the wizard. This is part of what I meant by magic being so deeply baked into the system that it basically requires a rewrite. A magic sword isn't a mystical quest object (unless it's a particularly powerful magic sword), it's something the fighter needs to stay relevant at level 4. That's perhaps overstating things, but again, by mid-high levels magical items are a dime a dozen.

    So my thought experiment is this: what if you want a system/setting where casters and mundanes (for lack of better terms) are both valid options across the entire spectrum of play, whatever that is? Given that magic simply adds options that do not exist for mundanes, how do you make both matter? Some thoughts I've had on the issue:

    1) Magic is extremely limited. Generally, magic can only duplicate mundane feats. So you can hit me with a bolt of force, but it won't be any more damaging than an arrow. You can use magic to help you jump, but no more than the best Olympic jumper (perhaps there are diminishing returns as you get to higher "jump checks", for lack of a better term again). Could still run into the problems above when your caster can shoot as well as the best archer, jump as well as the best jumper, etc. when mundanes must specialize to achieve the same thing. Either that, or magic is so limited that it's basically a false choice; it doesn't matter if you can jump well because magic or because you trained yourself to do it physically, it takes the same amount of effort and training time and gives the same result. Neither case is particularly appealing to me.

    2) Magic is limited not in effect, but in use. Either in how often it is used, or with some kind of associated, permanent cost. Maybe you can cast your big spell, but it will drain some of your life force which you cannot recover (or can only recover very, very slowly). It would be as if every single spell had an XP cost. Might be an interesting paradigm to try; casters would necessarily limit their casting or fall well behind in level. Perhaps this could be made to work with a system similar to 3.5 where they naturally get more xp if they're behind the party, not putting them permanently behind the level track of everyone else assuming they keep their casting reasonable. Alternatively, although in many ways I hate Vancian casting, what if you had a certain number of spell levels to cast from, generally equal or only slightly more than your highest spell level, but must wait some amount of time before using them again? So your wizard is capable of doing things that the mundane simply cannot, such as suddenly being able to fly, but then is out of magic completely for hours or days and is simply a particularly squishy and unskilled stick-wielder. I think it could be an interesting concept, but there are several reasons why permanent costs for magic don't lend themselves that well to roleplaying games and in either case would probably just exacerbate the "fifteen minute adventuring day" syndrome. Which is largely another discussion, and not wholly related to how magic works.

    3) Magic is unreliable. Either in effect or in usability. Perhaps every spell has a failure chance; or perhaps every spell has a chance to operate at reduced effect or even backfire. But this seems overly RNG-dependent in many ways, and again, works better for writing a story than playing a game. "Roll a die to see if your character can be effective this round" doesn't strike me as particularly good game design. One could argue that martials work that way with attack rolls, but the fighter with a greatsword (even moreso the fighter with a glaive and combat reflexes) will still restrict enemy movement and act as a damage sink, something that casters are generally bad at (short of spells). Seems tough to fine-tune so that it's not just a formality that's easily bypassed or something that makes casters basically unusable. But then again... "roll to see if you can do X" is basically the core mechanic of D&D, and most (if not all) dice based RPGs. So maybe there is something to this.

    4) Boost mundanes instead of nerfing casters. "You can raise up a wall of stone from the ground? That's cool. I can punch the ground and make the same thing happen." Mundanes can do similar things as casters, if not the same things, but via non-magical means. I'm particularly thinking some of the extraordinary abilities that Monks can get in Pathfinder (though the fluff of several of those is still fairly magical in nature) or some of the Mythic abilities. You're breaking out of what is humanly possible, to what is superhumanly possible. I kind of like this, and I believe high-level D&D makes a lot more sense if you think of ~level 5 as the max for "normal" human beings, but it kind of runs afoul of the same issues as 1. Namely, it restricts the type of story you can tell with your game (arguably true of any system) and it possibly makes the choice moot by rendering mundane and martial equivalent.

    5) Hyper-specialized casters. Perhaps, using magic, you can learn nifty tricks that no one without magic can replicate. Sure, you can learn to teleport, which no one without magic can replicate--but in that time the fighter has learned a whole repertoire of tricks. I kind of like this as well, as it encourages mixing the two approaches. If the mundanes are the generalists, capable of responding to a wide variety of situations, it encourages the caster to have their one or two tricks, but also train mundane skills to cover other options. Likewise, perhaps mundanes can dabble a bit to get small skills in magic, or simply continue to improve a wider variety of abilities. It'd require some pretty tight balancing, but I think it could work.

    6) Magic is just better, change the "one character" paradigm. I've never played Ars Magicka (sp?), but I've read the book and if I recall correctly this is how they do it. Everyone controls one magic user, plus a handful of mundanes. Sure, the magic users are simply better... but the mundanes still fill their roles, and no one's left out in terms of power level because everyone switches between controlling their casters and their non-casters, depending on the situation. Again, I haven't played it to see how it works in practice, but I like the idea in theory.

    So... any thoughts? Any other ways of making whether a character uses magic or not a real choice? Any systems which accomplish this goal out there? Or am I trying to do something that's basically not doable? I personally think a combination of either 2 or 3 with 5 could make for an interesting situation, but I'm not sure how well it'd translate to RPG format.

    Sorry for the long, rambling post, and sorry if this isn't clearly stated--it's 2 am here and I really should be in bed rather than philosophizing about magic If I haven't been clear I'll try and clear it up when I'm more awake.
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    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    1) Extreme magic-mundane symmetry will mostly make magic boring, in my opinion. Part of what makes it magic is the ability to do things which aren't normally possible.

    2) I like limited use. There are many ways in which you could do it. I don't like XP penalties as a matter of principle, since making magic generally affords you experiences rather than removing them (Devon Monk's books notwithstanding), but I see their utility for this purpose. I rather like the idea of magical energy being some sort of limiting resource that you don't necessarily have regular access to—your wizard has to go out and seek some somewhere, and it doesn't come back on its own.

    3) Volatile magic could work for certain purposes. Certainly having to make some sort of check to cast magic is a reasonable mechanic, though I don't think it's really a good point of balance. After all, the fighter still has to make attack rolls, but we generally get through the game with the assumption that they'll succeed a significant proportion of the time, and usually more often than they fail. Volatility or randomness should carry penalties in cases of failure if it's really going to give wizards pause.

    4) The problem with this approach is it basically turns everyone into some flavor of wizard. As such, it doesn't really boost mundanes so much as replace them. I also like having low-key settings, by and large, so I'd rather have worlds and systems where my wizards are fairly mundane than those where my fighters are supernatural (though don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Avatar very much).

    5) As you've said, a lot of it would come down to the details. You'd want the specialization to cost something significant if you don't want every character to have a lot of mundane skills and one magical one.

    6) Wholly viable as a campaign paradigm.

    One thing you didn't suggest, but which could be interesting, is a system where everyone and no one is a wizard, where the system has a cosmology and a metaphysics to it that support magic, but it's not tied in at all to character design or statistics. The players and characters have to gather magical power and/or learn how to use that which is around them through the course of play. The downside of such a system, of course, is that much of the experience would depend on novelty and that even the second campaign would lose a lot of the wonder you had in the first, unless the system had some sort of built-in way of varying the metaphysics campaign by campaign.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Maybe something where the prescribed way to do it is like this.

    "Every Level, Roll a 1d100 on the prescribed table. The DM then takes to pieces of paper, and uses them to show you first the level tables level, so you know it's the right table, and the result you came up on on this throw of the dice. "

    Thus, the magic you learn is varied and random but fair as long as there all good options on the tables but also all different options so there's a lot to play with. Which, in turn, means that you never know what your going to learn, so it's a surprise.



    Maybe even you write down your resulting number from the die, and the DM doesn't show you the tables till it comes up as a thing that would help or fix a given problem your facing. (fireballs coming out for the first time when a hoard of goblins is charging the village your trying to protect, flight after a troll manages to knock you off the rope you were using to climb the mountain, ext.) to make it even more of a wondrous experience every time it happens.
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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    1) Extreme magic-mundane symmetry will mostly make magic boring, in my opinion. Part of what makes it magic is the ability to do things which aren't normally possible.

    4) The problem with this approach is it basically turns everyone into some flavor of wizard. As such, it doesn't really boost mundanes so much as replace them. I also like having low-key settings, by and large, so I'd rather have worlds and systems where my wizards are fairly mundane than those where my fighters are supernatural (though don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Avatar very much).
    Agreed. I didn't put those up as suggestions that they were good ideas, mostly just things I had thought of while considering this topic. You could make a setting work under these conditions, particularly the latter, but I'm aiming for ways to make the choice meaningful--so that there is a difference depending on the route you go, and that one choice is not obviously superior to the other.

    2) I like limited use. There are many ways in which you could do it. I don't like XP penalties as a matter of principle, since making magic generally affords you experiences rather than removing them (Devon Monk's books notwithstanding), but I see their utility for this purpose. I rather like the idea of magical energy being some sort of limiting resource that you don't necessarily have regular access to—your wizard has to go out and seek some somewhere, and it doesn't come back on its own.
    Same for XP penalties--it was an easy example cost that was a) permanent and b) recoverable. It would be better to build a system with these assumptions rather than using XP penalties to hack them into a D&D game, I imagine. I like the magical energy thing as well--it'd have to be pretty tightly controlled by the GM though. Otherwise after each short adventure the wizard player says "I spend a week crafting magical runes." Bam, done. Reminds me a bit of how magic worked in Runescape--craftable runes (hence my previous example) that are expended when you cast spells. You can simply make more, but you have to find the temples where they are enchanted and the talismans that let you get there (and the place where you mine raw essence)--some of which are quests in and of themselves to find. Could work, if the GM controlled access to a degree where it wasn't trivial to make more.

    One thing you didn't suggest, but which could be interesting, is a system where everyone and no one is a wizard, where the system has a cosmology and a metaphysics to it that support magic, but it's not tied in at all to character design or statistics. The players and characters have to gather magical power and/or learn how to use that which is around them through the course of play. The downside of such a system, of course, is that much of the experience would depend on novelty and that even the second campaign would lose a lot of the wonder you had in the first, unless the system had some sort of built-in way of varying the metaphysics campaign by campaign.
    I like this as well. Seems like a lot of computer RPGs go this way, more or less--Skyrim comes to mind. You can specialize toward magic or not, but most characters will have at least some magic regardless of which way they go. A system where the nature of magic varied would be fun, but a lot more work for the GM. The system could give tools to build a system of magic, and let the GM customize it for their campaign--more frontloaded, but also more open to fit different campaign feels. I like this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Metahuman1 View Post
    Maybe something where the prescribed way to do it is like this.

    "Every Level, Roll a 1d100 on the prescribed table. The DM then takes to pieces of paper, and uses them to show you first the level tables level, so you know it's the right table, and the result you came up on on this throw of the dice. "

    Thus, the magic you learn is varied and random but fair as long as there all good options on the tables but also all different options so there's a lot to play with. Which, in turn, means that you never know what your going to learn, so it's a surprise.



    Maybe even you write down your resulting number from the die, and the DM doesn't show you the tables till it comes up as a thing that would help or fix a given problem your facing. (fireballs coming out for the first time when a hoard of goblins is charging the village your trying to protect, flight after a troll manages to knock you off the rope you were using to climb the mountain, ext.) to make it even more of a wondrous experience every time it happens.
    I've got an old RPG system called Heroes of Olympus, where followers of Hermes and Hecate can get magic, but learn new spells based on this system. I haven't decided quite how I feel about it yet. It fits the setting very well--magic comes from the gods directly, and they do not simply hand it out freely to everyone who asks--but it takes away a large degree of player agency. You want to play a blasting caster? Too bad, you rolled nothing but illusion spells. Still, though, with player buy in it'd work. Would still require balancing magic in other ways, I'd imagine. Even if your wizard had to roll for their spells, if the table is full of 8th and 9th level spells (in D&D terms), they're still going to be able to outclass the fighter, even if they don't get to pick.

    Something I just thought about. If level 5 in D&D corresponds to roughly the limit of human capacity, what if, past that point, you had to choose whether to advance your physical or magical abilities? I don't think it'd work that well in D&D, but something along the lines of no longer gaining bonuses to ability scores, HP, and maybe physical skills. Probably wouldn't balance things on their own, but it makes a degree of sense. You get to pick between being stronger/faster/etc. than any human, or you get magic. Not both.
    Quote Originally Posted by warty goblin View Post
    It's fantasy. Nearly by definition it contains things that cannot exist. Complaining that this gets the science wrong is like shooting fish in an aquarium; at once easy, likely to upset aquarium fanciers, and utterly oblivious to the reason most people like aquariums in the first place.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    Same for XP penalties--it was an easy example cost that was a) permanent and b) recoverable. It would be better to build a system with these assumptions rather than using XP penalties to hack them into a D&D game, I imagine. I like the magical energy thing as well--it'd have to be pretty tightly controlled by the GM though. Otherwise after each short adventure the wizard player says "I spend a week crafting magical runes."
    ...
    Could work, if the GM controlled access to a degree where it wasn't trivial to make more.
    Presumably, magic in such a system would only be found in the environment. You couldn't just create more, regardless of how much downtime you have between adventures, and presumably, magic is mostly available only in locations that would be considered adventures to reach.

    I like this as well. Seems like a lot of computer RPGs go this way, more or less--Skyrim comes to mind. You can specialize toward magic or not, but most characters will have at least some magic regardless of which way they go.
    Skyrim's got it pretty baked-in to character stats, though. Not quite to the same extent as D&D, but a mage is quite different from a fighter on a stats level, at least until level 40 or so, when you've maxed all of your primary skills and started training on other things for the sake of it. No, I'm talking about a system where your character's stats and "build" have little or nothing to do with magic, just like they have little to do with gravity. If they step off a ledge, they fall. If they use a scale, they can weigh a sack of gold coins. If they spit onto a candle three times under the gibbous moon, they summon Substitutus, Understudy of the Demon Lords.
    Last edited by VoxRationis; 2017-11-07 at 01:49 PM.

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    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Skyrim's got it pretty baked-in to character stats, though. Not quite to the same extent as D&D, but a mage is quite different from a fighter on a stats level, at least until level 40 or so, when you've maxed all of your primary skills and started training on other things for the sake of it. No, I'm talking about a system where your character's stats and "build" have little or nothing to do with magic, just like they have little to do with gravity. If they step off a ledge, they fall. If they use a scale, they can weigh a sack of gold coins. If they spit onto a candle three times under the gibbous moon, they summon Substitutus, Understudy of the Demon Lords.
    Fair point. It's on a sliding scale I suppose. In Skyrim, a mage's stats are pretty different from a fighter's, but the fighter can still pick up and learn a spell tome, and the mage can still swing a sword. So on one end you have a system where magic is available but you can choose how much you invest into it vs. other skills, and on the other one where everyone is a "mundane" of some flavor but has some access to magic if they seek it out. I can see benefits to either approach.

    That said, I do love ritual magic like that. Magic that requires a specific action, with specific words, at a specific time to work. Mistranslate that dusty tome you found in the ancient ruins? If you're lucky nothing happens. If not... hope you weren't too attached to being alive. Of course, those kinds of consequences aren't required, but I think it fits well with the general feeling of that kind of magic. It would take some work to not feel either trivial or capricious though--either the requirements are easily circumvented (it needs to be during the gibbous moon? we just wait a week or two) or the failure feels too arbitrary (you did the ritual I gave you? did you add an extra candle to your circle? yeah, the ritual was wrong, instead of summoning an imp you just summoned a greater demon, roll initiative). That's more an issue of having a good DM, though.

    The more I think about it, the more I think reducing the breadth of magic users' ability might be the way to go. As it stands, in D&D and family, casters have the advantage over mundanes in both breadth and depth of abilities. It makes sense to give magic more depth (else it's not really magic, it's just refluffed everyday stuff), but letting mundanes have greater breadth seems like it might generate some interesting situations.
    Quote Originally Posted by warty goblin View Post
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    In my favorite self-made setting, everyone is born with their specialty pre-programmed; sure, anyone can learn how to shoot an arrow from a bow, but the Sharpshooter by blood can perform feats of archery the laws of physics are somewhat iffy about. Everyone, given enough time, could probably learn to grow crops, but the Green Thumb's yields are almost impossibly rich. Anyone can learn arithmetic, most people can learn algebra and calculus given proper tutoring, and maybe even learn Number Magic, but only the Numerologist by birthright can truly master the art of manipulating the "hidden variables" (true names, but in a numerical light) and learns new uses faster. The idea was to make magic specialized enough that no single mage can do everything, but also ensure that martials have a place, and in a DnD-esque world (plus magi-tech to either improve upon or fill in gaps; it's just beyond modern tech levels as a result), you need both mundanes who can hold their own and mages who can do the impossible.

    Maybe it's like this: every mage makes something normally impossible, and makes it impossible. Every mundane reaches the peak of the physically possible in their field.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    Given that magic simply adds options that do not exist for mundanes, how do you make both matter?
    Really, much more than differences in combat power (that's just math), this is what becomes the issue. Magic tends to provide out-of-context solutions or create out-of-context problems. With the right math, a mundane can hide as well as a casting of invisibility, or read people as well as a detect thoughts spell. The problem arises with your plane shifts, forcecages, polymorphs, summon monsters, major creations, silent images, solid fogs, and more.

    You correctly surmise this in your first point, but I think ultimately excising the ability of magic to solve problems altogether tends to leave it feeling rather dry. You run into the 4E problem, where characters out of combat don't feel as dynamic or interesting as they do in combat. The play experience becomes two games that are only tangentially related.

    My personal solution is to do away with both the "mundane" and "caster" archetypes entirely. Just say that people all sorts of weird powers that tend to be connected to the things they're good at, not unlike the way Exalted has charms as a magical outgrowth of one's physical faculties. Unfortunately, not a lot of systems accommodate for this. It's also texturally different from the usual fantasy.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    5) Hyper-specialized casters. Perhaps, using magic, you can learn nifty tricks that no one without magic can replicate. Sure, you can learn to teleport, which no one without magic can replicate--but in that time the fighter has learned a whole repertoire of tricks. I kind of like this as well, as it encourages mixing the two approaches. If the mundanes are the generalists, capable of responding to a wide variety of situations, it encourages the caster to have their one or two tricks, but also train mundane skills to cover other options. Likewise, perhaps mundanes can dabble a bit to get small skills in magic, or simply continue to improve a wider variety of abilities. It'd require some pretty tight balancing, but I think it could work.
    I think this is the probably my favorite way to change the paradigm. As long as you lock it in to some sort of theme, this makes perfect sense, especially since people will look at it a lot like someone running a game about mutants or superheroes. A Force- or Telekinetic-themed caster will have a ton of force or telekinetic tricks, but they'll never throw a fireball or make an illusion (unless they're literally moving puppets). The fire-themed caster will have only fire to work with, same goes with water, light, mind, et cetera.

    It won't work with most normal spellcasting tables, as they tend to be all over the place thematically, but if you pare things down to only that one theme, your players can then get creative. Increasing in level is sometimes about gaining in power, but also gaining in control and utility.

    Depending on the system you use and the flexibility you give the players, you could get some great things. A TK caster could be a Bigby-Style ranged brawler, a Gravity mage, an assassin with a cloak of daggers following them into the fray, or be more of a ranger that happens to triple-wield floating crossbows... but they can't be all of those.

    At the same time, expanding on martials' flexibility giving them more utility will balance the scales a bit. Some ideas from a fighter utility fix thread are here.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    The paradigm outlined in the title exists because no-one making d20 D&D ever really asked the question "what should magic NOT be able to do, that non-magical means can?"

    Hence, as the content for the system expanded, they made a spell or other magical ability for every damn thing, from ale-brewing to midwifing to xenobiology.

    Individual spells and abilities have restrictions, but "magic" itself is super vague and basically includes every ability ever under it. Not co-incidentally, the most powerfull classes in d20 D&D are early, modular classes which get to cherry-pick freely from the most expansive lists (wizard, sorcerer) or have free access to entire such lists (clerics, druids).

    So before you follow through with any of the other six changes, you must do Step 1: define "magic" and "spellcasting" in a way that does not have perfect overlap with mundane abilities. Once there are things spellcasters cannot do but mundanes can, you have to worry significantly less about which is ultimately superior.
    Last edited by Frozen_Feet; 2017-11-07 at 03:37 PM.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    I would lean to dividing magic into various fields and only allowing mages access to one such field e.g. Elemental, Healing, Divination etc.

    Mage power can then be tweaked by defining the breadth of the field, what limitations apply to the effect and the upper level of possible effects.

    If I was designing a magic system, I would not use D&D as a model though. Vancian magic is a very arbitrary design choice and appears rarely in fantasy literature, probably because it's not intuitively how people imagine magic would work and it's not particularly fun.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    In a lot of ways, I think Hackmaster does this... mages certainly contribute, but fighters are essential. They do it in a few ways.

    1) Limited endurance. Mages have a fair number of spell points, but one you start spending, you realize they can't cast all day... they have to be careful and spend where they can do so to best effect.

    2) Limits. Spells are broken up into more spell levels (20 for clerics, 20 +2 0th levels for mages), which means you have fewer "misleveled" spells. Mages know fewer spells per level (with a 20 Intelligence... the highest possible... you know 5 spells per level, maximum, giving a 20th level mage a maximum of 110 spells known). Clerics have relatively limited lists by religion, and can only cast 1 spell/level/day.

    3) Flat spells. This is something you saw in 3.x's XPH, and have seen again in 4e, 5e, and other places... spells that have a given affect, then improve with additional spell points/higher spell slots/other increased resources expenditure. It goes back to limiting the endurance of casters, but also their instant potency. Worthwhile, passable, saving throws also figure into this. 3.x heavily favored casters in saving throws, meaning you were unlikely to make off-class saving throws (e.g. a Will save if you were a fighter). It greatly increases caster potency.

    4) Vulnerability. When a wizard casts, they're disabled for the casting time plus 5 seconds. Did the spell take 1 second to cast? Then for that 1 second, plus 6 seconds afterwards, you're dealing with casting fatigue... penalty to defense, penalty to skills, penalty to movement, simply cannot attack. A wizard who casts a spell is likely to get thrashed if he doesn't have support.

    These features combine to make it so a wizard, while potent, isn't going to simply win any combat against a fighter.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Frozen_Feet View Post
    The paradigm outlined in the title exists because no-one making d20 D&D ever really asked the question "what should magic NOT be able to do, that non-magical means can?"
    This is pretty key, and there are systems that did a good job with this. One example is REIGN - there's powerful magic there, but there was a very deliberate decision to have magic totally unable to have direct mental effects. The closest you get to a mind effecting spell is using another spell as a carrot or stick in negotiations/intimidation. Meanwhile there are social skills which have some actual clout.

    Another fun restriction is time. Magic is able to do all sorts of things, but it's not able to do anything in less than a day, so if you need something done quickly or you have a sudden pressing issue you need nonmagical means.
    Last edited by Knaight; 2017-11-07 at 04:52 PM.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    This is pretty key, and there are systems that did a good job with this. One example is REIGN - there's powerful magic there, but there was a very deliberate decision to have magic totally unable to have direct mental effects. The closest you get to a mind effecting spell is using another spell as a carrot or stick in negotiations/intimidation. Meanwhile there are social skills which have some actual clout.

    Another fun restriction is time. Magic is able to do all sorts of things, but it's not able to do anything in less than a day, so if you need something done quickly or you have a sudden pressing issue you need nonmagical means.
    And, this also relates to something else about D&D... the main magical classes can do anything. Wizards can do anything except heal. Clerics used to be able to do anything but direct damage, but that slowly chipped away. There was never really a consideration of defining magics that might not be available to one of those classes... it's part of why, in 2e, I prefer to run games where all mages are specialists, and, if I can manage it, something closer to uber-specialists, able to excel only in a couple of schools.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    I've been consisting this, especially as my favorite retroclone (Lamentations of the Flame Process) suffers from it in weird ways (only magic users get stronger attacks as you increase in level, Fighters are more accurate but not more damaging, and nobody gets extra attacks).

    I've come up with the following idea for D&D like systems:
    -There are no spell slots, however you get spells known equal to your old spell slots.
    -Casters begin with spell points equal to one plus their relevant ability modifier, and gain one spell point per level.
    -A requires spell points equal to it's level to cast. (Or level*2-1, if we want to discourage big spells)
    -Spell points recover when (X) happens. Depending on the exact setting this could be when you rest for an hour, every X hours, when the moon rises, when you drink a certain potion, or whatever.

    Advantages:
    -less versatile caters
    -more flexible casting (as normal for spell point systems)
    -small number of powerful spells before being out of energy
    -flexible magic power depending on setting/campaign.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    I've been consisting this, especially as my favorite retroclone (Lamentations of the Flame Process) suffers from it in weird ways (only magic users get stronger attacks as you increase in level, Fighters are more accurate but not more damaging, and nobody gets extra attacks).

    I've come up with the following idea for D&D like systems:
    -There are no spell slots, however you get spells known equal to your old spell slots.
    -Casters begin with spell points equal to one plus their relevant ability modifier, and gain one spell point per level.
    -A requires spell points equal to it's level to cast. (Or level*2-1, if we want to discourage big spells)
    -Spell points recover when (X) happens. Depending on the exact setting this could be when you rest for an hour, every X hours, when the moon rises, when you drink a certain potion, or whatever.

    Advantages:
    -less versatile caters
    -more flexible casting (as normal for spell point systems)
    -small number of powerful spells before being out of energy
    -flexible magic power depending on setting/campaign.
    This also gets rid of the stupid advantage clerics had in being able to pick from the whole list while wiz and sorcs are stuck with just what they know, which I definitely want to see happen. Also better than most spell point systems which are needlessly bloated. 10/10 a magical experience.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    This is pretty key, and there are systems that did a good job with this. One example is REIGN - there's powerful magic there, but there was a very deliberate decision to have magic totally unable to have direct mental effects. The closest you get to a mind effecting spell is using another spell as a carrot or stick in negotiations/intimidation. Meanwhile there are social skills which have some actual clout.

    Another fun restriction is time. Magic is able to do all sorts of things, but it's not able to do anything in less than a day, so if you need something done quickly or you have a sudden pressing issue you need nonmagical means.
    In a way, this is much of what you got with 4e, at least initially. Sure, Wizards threw fire and warriors swung swords, but they were very closely comparable. But Rituals were where the "real" magic was, and those could be learned by anyone.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    i've always been partial to "magic is friggin' dangerous! burn the witch!" myself. i come from 40k before hitting pen and paper, and it shows. i hate it that all of a sudden, i can cast a fireball and if i flub my roll, the ball of plasma i summoned goes "poof" like a soap bubble. no, i want that fireball to expand and singe my fingertips off! this has two immediate effects. first, you can make magic so drastically potent you've got a disc-one nuke character. second, are you willing to be a potential walking tpk? if yes, go ahead and prepare another character. if not, you see why people won't be casting willy-nilly. you get to keep the overpowered potential of magic while having a hard limit on how much you cast and how much you want to rely on practical means to solve a problem. namely, you gamble your life and your team. is it worth it making everyone fly but risk increasing gravity a hundredfold when 30ft of rope can help you scale a building more slowly but more reliably? will you risk losing a body part to a flubbed spell or summoning a beast from the warp to eat your soul? just add consequences. iirc, pendragon forces magic users to recuperate for months after a simple healing spell, that's another worthy penalty, since the book explicitely states to force the player to switch to another character during the downtime. it avoids the "cast, rest, repeat" of a lot of dnd players.

    i've got a few stories of a wizard in whfrp2e that broke the campaign as often as he broke himself. it was very entertaining, but it conditionned the rest of the team to duck and hide whenever that player loudly announced "i cast a spell!!". the dm played the universe straight, too, meaning there were times when he could cast no questions asked, but most of the time, he had to be really sure of his actions if it was worth having the local peasants grab torches and pitchforks and chase us out of town (spoiler alert: it usually wasn't). that said, he did have crazy luck with his rolls. he may have bucked the trend of kamikaze casters, but he wasn't immune to the ill effects.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Vogie View Post
    I think this is the probably my favorite way to change the paradigm. As long as you lock it in to some sort of theme, this makes perfect sense, especially since people will look at it a lot like someone running a game about mutants or superheroes. A Force- or Telekinetic-themed caster will have a ton of force or telekinetic tricks, but they'll never throw a fireball or make an illusion (unless they're literally moving puppets). The fire-themed caster will have only fire to work with, same goes with water, light, mind, et cetera.

    It won't work with most normal spellcasting tables, as they tend to be all over the place thematically, but if you pare things down to only that one theme, your players can then get creative. Increasing in level is sometimes about gaining in power, but also gaining in control and utility.
    I also think this option is probably my favorite. The typical D&D wizard's spell list is all over the place. When I made my first full caster I was surprised at how difficult it was to maintain a particular theme--I was going for a fire sorcerer, mostly a blaster, but aside from the iconic ones there were levels where there just weren't any fire spells. It makes sense to diversify if you're able to, but limiting that to a single tight theme per caster is better flavor-wise (to me at least) and helps pare down caster power. That's one of the things that intrigues me about Spheres of Power, though it doesn't disallow multi-disciplined casters (short of DM intervention, of course).

    Quote Originally Posted by Frozen_Feet View Post
    The paradigm outlined in the title exists because no-one making d20 D&D ever really asked the question "what should magic NOT be able to do, that non-magical means can?"

    Hence, as the content for the system expanded, they made a spell or other magical ability for every damn thing, from ale-brewing to midwifing to xenobiology.

    Individual spells and abilities have restrictions, but "magic" itself is super vague and basically includes every ability ever under it. Not co-incidentally, the most powerfull classes in d20 D&D are early, modular classes which get to cherry-pick freely from the most expansive lists (wizard, sorcerer) or have free access to entire such lists (clerics, druids).

    So before you follow through with any of the other six changes, you must do Step 1: define "magic" and "spellcasting" in a way that does not have perfect overlap with mundane abilities. Once there are things spellcasters cannot do but mundanes can, you have to worry significantly less about which is ultimately superior.
    I hadn't thought about it in that way, but you're entirely right. I think it's partially due to D&D's "fantasy kitchen sink" approach. The spells are all over the place; building a setting from the ground up with limits on what magic is capable of would go a long way toward limiting caster power. Which in many ways ties into my thoughts about making casters specialize--they can do a couple of things that non-casters can't, but they can't do everything.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Beer View Post
    If I was designing a magic system, I would not use D&D as a model though. Vancian magic is a very arbitrary design choice and appears rarely in fantasy literature, probably because it's not intuitively how people imagine magic would work and it's not particularly fun.
    I totally agree regarding Vancian magic. I see how it's convenient for an RPG but I don't think it's a very good basis for magic in general.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hall View Post
    In a lot of ways, I think Hackmaster does this... mages certainly contribute, but fighters are essential. They do it in a few ways.
    Some interesting ideas here. I particularly like the vulnerability bit, although I feel it discourages "gish" type characters--whether or not that's desirable will depend on the setting, I suppose. I've read through the Hackmaster basic rules, but never played them. They seem a bit clunky to me, from just a single read-through--how does the system play out on the table?

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Another fun restriction is time. Magic is able to do all sorts of things, but it's not able to do anything in less than a day, so if you need something done quickly or you have a sudden pressing issue you need nonmagical means.
    I like this as well. Better have something other than a fireball to protect yourself from the axe wielding orc, when it'll take you a full minute to cast and he can chop you into tiny little bits in less than half that time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Guizonde View Post
    i've always been partial to "magic is friggin' dangerous! burn the witch!" myself. i come from 40k before hitting pen and paper, and it shows. i hate it that all of a sudden, i can cast a fireball and if i flub my roll, the ball of plasma i summoned goes "poof" like a soap bubble. no, i want that fireball to expand and singe my fingertips off! this has two immediate effects. first, you can make magic so drastically potent you've got a disc-one nuke character. second, are you willing to be a potential walking tpk? if yes, go ahead and prepare another character. if not, you see why people won't be casting willy-nilly. you get to keep the overpowered potential of magic while having a hard limit on how much you cast and how much you want to rely on practical means to solve a problem. namely, you gamble your life and your team. is it worth it making everyone fly but risk increasing gravity a hundredfold when 30ft of rope can help you scale a building more slowly but more reliably? will you risk losing a body part to a flubbed spell or summoning a beast from the warp to eat your soul? just add consequences. iirc, pendragon forces magic users to recuperate for months after a simple healing spell, that's another worthy penalty, since the book explicitely states to force the player to switch to another character during the downtime. it avoids the "cast, rest, repeat" of a lot of dnd players.

    i've got a few stories of a wizard in whfrp2e that broke the campaign as often as he broke himself. it was very entertaining, but it conditionned the rest of the team to duck and hide whenever that player loudly announced "i cast a spell!!". the dm played the universe straight, too, meaning there were times when he could cast no questions asked, but most of the time, he had to be really sure of his actions if it was worth having the local peasants grab torches and pitchforks and chase us out of town (spoiler alert: it usually wasn't). that said, he did have crazy luck with his rolls. he may have bucked the trend of kamikaze casters, but he wasn't immune to the ill effects.
    I think Warhammer is the posterchild for dangerous/unreliable magic Never played in the setting myself, but I do like the fluff I've been reading through for the universe. Might have to see if I can scrape some people together to try out a game of whfrp. Problem is, I'm not really in a place with a bunch of people who I could convince to try a completely new RPG system anymore. At least not easily.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    I think Warhammer is the posterchild for dangerous/unreliable magic Never played in the setting myself, but I do like the fluff I've been reading through for the universe. Might have to see if I can scrape some people together to try out a game of whfrp. Problem is, I'm not really in a place with a bunch of people who I could convince to try a completely new RPG system anymore. At least not easily.
    I like the dangerous magic myself. D&D before 3X and Pathfinder had lots of dangerous magic. Spellcasters got power...with a price. The best was 2E Forgotten Realms magic by Ed Greenwood; he liked to add things like ''casting this spell does 2d20 damage and drains a point of wisdom" to spells.

    Maybe also add:

    7)Make some common sense changes to magic. Not like a ''total nerf'', but just ''really it should be this way''. Like to just say ''scrying does not count at all for a teleport destination. Period."

    8)The one most often ignored: Change the One Way Everyone plays the game. The big huge problem comes as Everyone only plays the game One Way. Amazingly, if you don't play the game that One Way, the so called problems just are not there anymore.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    Some interesting ideas here. I particularly like the vulnerability bit, although I feel it discourages "gish" type characters--whether or not that's desirable will depend on the setting, I suppose. I've read through the Hackmaster basic rules, but never played them. They seem a bit clunky to me, from just a single read-through--how does the system play out on the table?
    I find that, after a session or two, it plays very well. You get used to the count-up and movement by second, rather than by round. They weapon speeds make combat more dynamic, but slower, longer-reached weapons can still keep a short-sword user from carving them up. A common refrain is "I miss it when I go to other games".

    It does discourage the traditional gish, to an extent, but the addition of talents means that a gish can invest in reducing their spell fatigue... it's expensive, but fighter/mages get Diminish Spell Fatigue (which reduces the amount of time you spend fatigued) and Mitigate Spell Fatigue (which reduces the penalties of spell fatigue) for half cost. But the vulnerability also has gishes considering other spells... they may favor utility spells which help them outside of combat (where spell fatigue is largely unimportant), or require some caginess to use their spells well... Feat of Strength can give you an 18/00 Strength for a single action or Feat of Strength roll, though it will exhaust them for 6 seconds... perhaps just enough of a boost to ToP someone, and keep them down for 20 seconds.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hall View Post
    I find that, after a session or two, it plays very well. You get used to the count-up and movement by second, rather than by round. They weapon speeds make combat more dynamic, but slower, longer-reached weapons can still keep a short-sword user from carving them up. A common refrain is "I miss it when I go to other games".

    It does discourage the traditional gish, to an extent, but the addition of talents means that a gish can invest in reducing their spell fatigue... it's expensive, but fighter/mages get Diminish Spell Fatigue (which reduces the amount of time you spend fatigued) and Mitigate Spell Fatigue (which reduces the penalties of spell fatigue) for half cost. But the vulnerability also has gishes considering other spells... they may favor utility spells which help them outside of combat (where spell fatigue is largely unimportant), or require some caginess to use their spells well... Feat of Strength can give you an 18/00 Strength for a single action or Feat of Strength roll, though it will exhaust them for 6 seconds... perhaps just enough of a boost to ToP someone, and keep them down for 20 seconds.
    Fair enough. I do like that it seems to be a more realistic take on things in many ways. It's another RPG that's on my list of things to try at some point, if I can manage it.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by rs2excelsior View Post
    2) Magic is limited not in effect, but in use. Either in how often it is used, or with some kind of associated, permanent cost. Maybe you can cast your big spell, but it will drain some of your life force which you cannot recover (or can only recover very, very slowly). It would be as if every single spell had an XP cost. Might be an interesting paradigm to try; casters would necessarily limit their casting or fall well behind in level. Perhaps this could be made to work with a system similar to 3.5 where they naturally get more xp if they're behind the party, not putting them permanently behind the level track of everyone else assuming they keep their casting reasonable. Alternatively, although in many ways I hate Vancian casting, what if you had a certain number of spell levels to cast from, generally equal or only slightly more than your highest spell level, but must wait some amount of time before using them again? So your wizard is capable of doing things that the mundane simply cannot, such as suddenly being able to fly, but then is out of magic completely for hours or days and is simply a particularly squishy and unskilled stick-wielder. I think it could be an interesting concept, but there are several reasons why permanent costs for magic don't lend themselves that well to roleplaying games and in either case would probably just exacerbate the "fifteen minute adventuring day" syndrome. Which is largely another discussion, and not wholly related to how magic works.

    3) Magic is unreliable. Either in effect or in usability. Perhaps every spell has a failure chance; or perhaps every spell has a chance to operate at reduced effect or even backfire. But this seems overly RNG-dependent in many ways, and again, works better for writing a story than playing a game. "Roll a die to see if your character can be effective this round" doesn't strike me as particularly good game design. One could argue that martials work that way with attack rolls, but the fighter with a greatsword (even moreso the fighter with a glaive and combat reflexes) will still restrict enemy movement and act as a damage sink, something that casters are generally bad at (short of spells). Seems tough to fine-tune so that it's not just a formality that's easily bypassed or something that makes casters basically unusable. But then again... "roll to see if you can do X" is basically the core mechanic of D&D, and most (if not all) dice based RPGs. So maybe there is something to this.

    5) Hyper-specialized casters. Perhaps, using magic, you can learn nifty tricks that no one without magic can replicate. Sure, you can learn to teleport, which no one without magic can replicate--but in that time the fighter has learned a whole repertoire of tricks. I kind of like this as well, as it encourages mixing the two approaches. If the mundanes are the generalists, capable of responding to a wide variety of situations, it encourages the caster to have their one or two tricks, but also train mundane skills to cover other options. Likewise, perhaps mundanes can dabble a bit to get small skills in magic, or simply continue to improve a wider variety of abilities. It'd require some pretty tight balancing, but I think it could work.

    I personally think a combination of either 2 or 3 with 5 could make for an interesting situation, but I'm not sure how well it'd translate to RPG format.
    Combination is my favorite concept. There are elements of this in D&D that aren't implemented very well mechanically.

    Basically, you'd hope that a caster's general options are 2) and 5) if they have any sort of moral compass: either work really hard to get diminishing results (as with most skills) or min max your training to be really good at this one type of magic for optimal results.

    Then offer a "blood magic" alternative for 3) so that wizards can be tempted by "the dark side" where power is easier to obtain, but at a terrible cost. The real problem in RPGs with this is mechanically communicating this dark trade so that players understand unambiguously that what they are doing is wrong and their character is going to hell for it.

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Only skimmed the thread, probably even doing that biased me more than I wanted.

    As I read it, the question is, how can you design a system such that Mage and Muggle are both playable archetypes? Here's a few rambling examples off the top of my head:

    Make magic and mundane equal. This makes everyone a reskinned Muggle, and is boring.

    Make magic and mundane equal. This makes everyone a reskinned Mage, and really isn't to some tastes.

    Make magic stronger, but limited by scope. Mages only know Fire magic, or only Teleporting magic. This is usually either boring, or very exploitable. Done just right, it produced one of my favorite characters.

    Make magic stronger, but with a limited number of uses compared to activity cycle. D&D tried this, and the 5-minute workday is the players pressing back against this artificial restraint.

    Make magic stronger, but of limited applicability. Is the target in direct sunlight - if so, my cleric of Helios can affect him; if not, he's powerless. Is the target a Golem? If so, my artificer can affect it; if not, he's powerless. IMO, this is usually the worst possible solution, but some players seem to like it.

    Make magic stronger, but a gamble. The sword deals 10 damage; my spell deals 5 damage, or 30 damage 20% of the time.

    Make magic stronger, but with consequences. Warhammer, WoD, and deals with the Devil all fall into this (overly broad) category.

    Make magic stronger, but random. Earlier editions of D&D certainly had one implementation of this, where Wizards gained 0 spells by class features.

    (EDIT: Make magic stronger, but random. Mages only have one action: "Magic!", which allows them to cast one spell chosen at random.)

    Make magic stronger, but slower. Ritual magic can summon a juggernaut tomorrow, but you need to survive the mugger today.

    Make magic stronger, but less versatile. As a bad example, the Mage can know spells of Archery 7 and Jump 7 and Teleport 7, plus mundane skills of Haggle 3 and Hide 3, whereas the Muggle has mundane abilities of Archery 3 and Jump 3 and Run 3 and Climb 3 and Endure 3 and Haggle 3 and Hide 3 and Befriend 3 and Craft 3 and Ride 3 and Masonry 3 and...

    Make magic weaker, but more versatile. Prestidigitation from D&D is a great example, if perhaps a bit too limited for balance in most systems / settings.

    Make magic weaker, but faster. Old D&D psionic combat was one horrible example of this balance paradigm.

    Anyway, as you can see, there are lots of options (more than I listed) that you can create by varying power, versatility, reliability, cost, speed, side effects, scope, and even agency.

    There are several Archetypes to consider when building the system:

    The Gish: the character who can both fight/muggle and cast spells.

    The Physical Adapt / CoDzilla: the character who can fight because magic.

    And, why not, I'll call this one The Quertus: the character who is always magical, usually useless, but occasionally able to pull out big guns. This could involve combining something like Prestidigitation and Ritual magic, or Reserve Feats and very limited spell slots.
    Last edited by Quertus; 2017-11-08 at 12:09 AM.

  25. - Top - End - #25
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Older editions of D&D, arcane magic features included:
    - glass cannon hit points and AC
    - very limited uses per day until high levels
    - slow XP table
    - could not cast effectively in melee

    Playing a Wizard was playing the game on hard mode, unless you had a wall of Fighters and Clerics in front of you for defense. Your role was artillery for very dangerous situations.

    Even so this broke down around or about level 10, but the game breaking down at higher levels due to magic in general is true for most editions of D&D. You either accept the silliness as all in good fun and plough on, or don't like it and reset with new characters. Or make an E6-like mod.

    Of course, in older edition getting a character to name level was quite hard unless your DM just handed out treasure like candy, which was unfortunaltey common. One of the issues with D&D's recent editions current rapid advancement is they didn't slow the progress to gaining higher level spell leveling up in the process. Getting access to level 6 spells used to take years of play, not less than a year.

    --------------

    Warhammer FRP, or 40k DH/Only War Psykers (I've read but not played the latter), as mentioned above, also makes for hard mode casters, since magic is a crap shoot. like playing a D&D Wild Mage, you have a passable chance of ass-ploding your own party. And in there's the added social hostility, which also featured in D&D's Dark Sun.

  26. - Top - End - #26
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    Warhammer FRP, or 40k DH/Only War Psykers (I've read but not played the latter), as mentioned above, also makes for hard mode casters, since magic is a crap shoot. like playing a D&D Wild Mage, you have a passable chance of ass-ploding your own party. And in there's the added social hostility, which also featured in D&D's Dark Sun.
    i haven't had direct contact with the dark heresy/40k ffg universe, but if you can, look at their tables again: you can just as easily destroy the plot with a good roll as you can annihilate your character with a bad one. i love it. same goes for their crit tables, which i've unashamedly stolen for my homebrew d100 system. nothing quite like getting a double kill by exploding a guy and killing his buddy with his own femur.
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  27. - Top - End - #27
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Pleh View Post
    Combination is my favorite concept. There are elements of this in D&D that aren't implemented very well mechanically.

    Basically, you'd hope that a caster's general options are 2) and 5) if they have any sort of moral compass: either work really hard to get diminishing results (as with most skills) or min max your training to be really good at this one type of magic for optimal results.

    Then offer a "blood magic" alternative for 3) so that wizards can be tempted by "the dark side" where power is easier to obtain, but at a terrible cost. The real problem in RPGs with this is mechanically communicating this dark trade so that players understand unambiguously that what they are doing is wrong and their character is going to hell for it.
    Warhammer does it really nicely. Magic can be safe, but safe magic is specialized (for humans, anyway, not for experienced Elves). Any living being not using specific purifying methods will be driven insane, guaranteed. It's a question of when, not if.

    More on Warhammer World magic for the unfamiliar"]More on Warhammer World magic for those unfamiliar with it.
    Last edited by Komatik; 2017-11-08 at 03:32 PM.
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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Related, let me renumerate the four laws of magic which I feel will 1) lead to comprehensible magic system with clear limits and 2) feel magical to players in the real world.

    1st rule: rule of symbolism: a thing which appears similar to a thing, can be used to affect that thing, AKA manipulation of symbols manipulates reality.

    2nd rule: law of contagion: things which have been in contact, remain connected. You can use part of a whole to affect the whole.

    3rd rule: mind over matter. Thoughts and emotions have direct impact on reality. Corollary to this is that a mage must be thinking of the effect they desire and fully intend it for magic to work. Rule of thumb: "there are no accidents in magic".

    4th rule: no ontological inertia. Effects of magic only remain as long as the caster is focusing their thoughts and emotions, or, if the target is another conscious being, as long as the target can focus their thoughts and emotions.

    Let me also give you a few example spells which adhere to these rules:

    Example spell A: the Voodoo doll.

    First, you acquire a symbol of the target person: a doll in their likeness. Second, you create a connection to that person, by acquiring a piece of their body: a strand of hair, a drop of blood, a toenail etc. Third, you must harm the doll with the intent of harming the real person. If your intentions are true, the person will now suffer pain. After this, two things can happen. If the target is unaware of the curse, the pain will cease once your attention on the doll ceases. If you get the target to believe they are cursed, then their own belief will keep the curse going even when your attention is elsewhere.

    Things which can go wrong with the spell:

    - your symbol is lackluster; it does not bear resemblance to the right person
    - you lack real connection to the target person; the hair, the blood, the nail, is from someone else
    - you lack real intent to harm. Again: "there are no accidents in magic". If you don't truly wish to stab a person with a needle, it does not matter how many needles you stab in your doll.
    - the target refuses to believe they are cursed. You can still affect them when your full attention is on the doll, but you cannot make the curse "stick" to cause a lasting change in the target's life.

    How to break the spell:

    - destroy the doll without intending harm to the person the doll is made of. This destroys the symbolic connection between the doll and the target. To be on the safe side, it helps if you at the same time proclaim and honestly believe the doll has no connection to the person it is made of. If you feel at any level that harming the doll equates to harming the person, this is obviously very dangerous. You might want to get a complete stranger to do this. It's easier to think a doll's just a doll if you don't know it's off a real person.
    - remove the body part from the doll. This breaks the connection between the target and the doll.
    - make the spellcaster feel pity towards the target. They cannot cause them harm if they do not honestly wish that. It also helps if the target believes the spellcaster does not honestly wish them harm.
    - convince the target that they aren't, and can't, be cursed. This makes it impossible to make a curse "stick", and provides resistance to the spellcaster's tricks.
    - if the target's own belief is upholding the curse, give them the doll so they can themselves remove the pins and destroy the doll, hence verifying the curse is over.
    - kill the spellcaster, preferably in sight of the target.
    - if the target's own belief is fueling the curse, make them suffer amnesia.

    Example spell B: shapeshifting

    First, you make yourself into a symbol of the thing you wish to change into. Second, you place upon yourself or consume ("you are what you eat") a piece of the thing you wish to turn into. For example, for turning into a wolf, dressing in a wolf pelt serves both purposes. Now, while honestly wanting to be the thing you wish to change into, act like that thing. You change back once you honestly wish to be human again and cease to act like the thing you changed into.

    Things which can go wrong with this spell:

    - your symbol is lackluster; neither you nor your actions bear resemblance to the thing you wanted to change into.
    - the thing you consumed or placed upon yourself is of the wrong creature, so you don't have a connection to it. Do n't use a bear pelt if trying to turn into a wolf.
    - you don't actually know what the thing is really like, so you can't honestly intent to become it either. If you know nothing of how real wolves act, you can't change into one either.
    - the thing you turned into does not or cannot have a comprehension of what it's like to be human; a human may know both what it's like to be human and what it's like to be a wolf, but a wolf might only know what it's like to be wolf. This makes it difficult to change back on purpose. (One of the few corner cases of a spell being "permanent". Pro tip: don't turn yourself into an inanimate object!)
    - the thing you turned into would not want to turn into your past form. For example, dragons are arrogant creatures and see humans as inferior. Not in a million years would a dragon want to be a human, a dragon just wants to be dragon.

    How to break the spell:

    - kill or destroy who has been changed. This, at latest, ends the spell and restores the thing to its original form.
    - convince the changed thing that they'd really be better off in some other form, hence breaking the intentionality upholding the spell. For example, if the spellcaster-turned-wolf is faced with reality of a human they loved now scorning or fearing them, they may wish to not be wolf again.
    - countespell: disbelieve the transformation really hard, acting like its all smoke and mirrors, and convince all others to follow suit. Note: this is dangerous if even little doubt remains in your heart. It is hard to disbelieve a wolf when its biting your throat. Usually only works if you know the thing is really under a spell, such as through witnessing the initial transformation.
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  29. - Top - End - #29
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    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    My preferred methods are either 3) or 5)

    I am a big Warhammer fan, and a tenet of the setting is that magic is dangerous. It is meddling with forces way beyond your understanding, and the chances of things going out of control in a tense moment, or of you drawing the attention of something from the realms of magic is high. The various RPG systems set in that setting have a chance that something could go wrong whenever you cast a spell, with a greater chance the more power you put into manifesting the spell (in WFRP for example, you have to achieve a certain 'score' to manifest a spell, and can roll a number of D10 to achieve that score, but if any dice comes up a 9, a mishap occurs, with more dangerous mishaps the more 9s you rolled). This turns magic from being something you just spam continually (such as in D&D), into something you need to seriously consider whether you really need to use in any given round, and to how desperately you need the spell to work, so how much added risk you are willing to pile up.

    Probably better for D&D (and more appealing to those who dislike randomness of mishaps) would be specialisation. Where the current system goes wrong is that every wizard can do every thing. Sure, specialisation exists (in the form of the schools) but that specialisation doesn't cost anything. In older editions, being specialised in one school barred you from several others, and that strikes me as a much more balanced approach (granted, in older systems you could still be a generalist, but I like the idea of forcing all wizards to be a specialist). Again, using WFRP as an example, that splits all magic into multiple schools, and WFRP wizards could only access their chosen school - if you wanted to fly (found only in the Celestial College) you couldn't turn invisible (as that was in the Grey College), or cast a forcecage (that was in the Gold College list) and were limited to light/lightening damage (fire being the domain of Bright).

    Why I like specialisation as a solution is it removes the swiss army knife wizard who can do everyone elses jobs. The Wizard becomes someone who can occupy another characters niche, but not everyones at once. Right now, a Wizard can take fly, invisibility, and knock, and basically obsolete the Rogue, whilst taking a bunch of monster/undead summoning spells that obsoletes the Fighter, and all without losing any of its combat effectiveness as a long-range damage dealer. If those schools of spells cost the Wizard in other areas, then the Wizard goes back to occupying a place in a team, rather than being able to be the whole team.

    The ones I don't particularly like is 1) and 4). The former because people who play Wizards want to be powerful, and magic should be. By bringing it down to just things doable without magic, it takes away the mystique.

    In the case of the latter, most people who like mundanes, want to be mundane, not just "a spellcaster by another name". By allowing mundanes to create magical effects without magic, you are killing a swath of archetypes that appeal to the players you are trying to help. Sure, it works for people wanting to create anime-style heroes, but it goes completely contrary to the image of more western-style martial heroes - Sir Galahad, Robin Hood, Conan, Maximus Decimus Meridius, Saladin - players wanting to style a character on heroes like these will find themselves frustrated by "powers" that have no place in the character they want to play. I think this is one of the things that turned people off 4th ed.
    Last edited by Glorthindel; 2017-11-08 at 05:58 AM.

  30. - Top - End - #30
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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: Changing the "Caster beats Mundane" paradigm

    Quote Originally Posted by Komatik View Post
    Warhammer does it really nicely. Magic can be safe, but safe magic is specialized (for humans, anyway, not for experienced Elves). Any living being not using specific purifying methods will be driven insane, guaranteed. It's a question of when, not if.

    More on Warhammer World magic for those unfamiliar with it.
    Thanks! I'll have to look into it. (Though your link doesn't work.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Frozen_Feet View Post
    Related, let me renumerate the four laws of magic which I feel will 1) lead to comprehensible magic system with clear limits and 2) feel magical to players in the real world.

    1st rule: rule of symbolism: a thing which appears similar to a thing, can be used to affect that thing, AKA manipulation of symbols manipulates reality.

    2nd rule: law of contagion: things which have been in contact, remain connected. You can use part of a whole to affect the whole.

    3rd rule: mind over matter. Thoughts and emotions have direct impact on reality. Corollary to this is that a mage must be thinking of the effect they desire and fully intend it for magic to work. Rule of thumb: "there are no accidents in magic".

    4th rule: no ontological inertia. Effects of magic only remain as long as the caster is focusing their thoughts and emotions, or, if the target is another conscious being, as long as the target can focus their thoughts and emotions.
    My problem with these definitions is that they seem to preclude one of my favorite Magic tropes: "magic as an existential force."

    These laws would seem to imply that magic never spontaneously imposes on the environment naturally. While an understandable limitation, it seems boring to me.

    Now, if you meant these four laws dictated "spellcasting" rather than "magic," then the problem disappears as these laws now only have power over a mortal's ability to interface with and influence the effects of magic.
    Last edited by Pleh; 2017-11-08 at 05:45 AM.

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