More Magic

Although these are actually earlier thoughts about how a magic system should work.

Combat systems in RPG are normally well honed, based on actual experience, and allow a number of rounds of sparring and gradual degredation of the enemy. In systems like RuneQuest, you have the opportunity to parry, and you can decide how much armour to wear in a trade-off between skill levels (modified by encumbrance) and protection.

Magic systems on the other hand tend to be much simpler (caveat here – I haven’t bought a new RPG in 20 years so they have probably moved on). What I am looking for is the tussle of power between two opponents as they strive overcome each other’s power. The touchstone is the scene in the Lord of the Rings (the book stupid, not the film) where Gandalf is trying to seal the door from the chamber of Marzabul (sp). To misquote – ‘…the counter spell was terrible and in the end the door was destroyed, along with part of the chamber…’.

This is what I want – the ability to start casting a spell, for the target to realise it and start casting a counter-spell, the for the original caster to increase the power and so on. As part of this there needs to be a separation between the amount of raw power that a caster has access to and their ability to control it, so there is the temptation to use more power and suffer the backlash. The use of magic should be instrinsically dangerous, especially with powerful spells.

It should also have some sort of moral hazard, because it normally does in fantasy literature. And this I think should be tied into how you obtain power. Magical power should be ubiquitous, but low density. An individual caster should have enough power to light a match. To cast powerful spells you need to concentrate power, and half of the magic system should be ways of doing this. At the moment, a number of schemes spring to mind:

1. Cast for a very long time – ritual magic, hours or days of chanting, requiring endurance rolls, as the power builds and builds.

2. Have many people casting – the metaconcerts of the Many Coloured Land or the ur-vile wedges of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The interesting question here is whether the ultimate caster can handle it all.

3. Divine power – all the catsre does is open the gate and lets the power from the other side stream thorugh. If the source is not beneficent though who knows what else may come through.

4. Black magic – tap into the power of a thousand human sacrifices. This is the fast route to power, and therefore gives the players an essential moral dilemma and the chance for the NPC baddie to circumvent all the irritating PC restrictions.

Social Magic in RPG

I have had a long running issue with the power of magic in D&Desque role-playing games. They allow too much power without any corresponding responsibility – no society could possibly survive in such a situation. It would only take one disaffected 20th level magician to destroy 1000 years of progress.

Runequest had a more realistic system, where powerful magic was utterly embedded in the system, so you had to be part of the social structure in order to gain access to it. The problem was that it lacked the pzzazz of the D&D system.

What I am looking for is something in the middle, and today’s idea is this. Many systems have the idea that metal or encumbrance interfere with magic, to reinforce the standard trope of the unarmoured mage.

What would happen if people interfered with magic as well. The more intelligence there is in the area, the more difficult it is to cast spells. You need to open yourself up to the flow of power to cast spells and people make that more difficult.

The advantage of this is that you can still cast the powerful fireball down a dungeon where no one is around, but you can’t cast it so easily in a village and it is very, very difficult in a great metropolis. A self-levelling system? I think I need to think through the ramifications of it, but it could be a nice little idea.

Story 1, Chapter 1 (Draft) – repost

Reposted as I inadventently deleted it.

Like all stories this story starts with a city, an incredible city. Alzahar, rising from the rocky wastes, animpossible mountain of jumbled dwellings and houses, as baked yellow and brown as the wastes themselves, a thousand years of habitation piled on top of each other, inconceivable in this waterless land. Trade routes from far off lands converged upon this point and the city lived for the bellow of camels, the aroma of heavy spices and the flow of gold from hand to hand. As the weary traveller approached across the rock shards of the wastes, the secret of Alzahar became visible, the great rift, hidden from distant sight, that carved through the wastes and out into the sand sea, where the waters of the Gualf emerged from their underground course and cut a great gorge through the soft sandstone of the wastes. Here, a thousand feet below the wastes, were gardens and fields of plump dates, rushes and birds nesting in the caves that lined the cliffs. And at the head of it all, at the point where the stygian river emerged into the harsh glare, straddling the head of the gorge was the great city itself, hewn from the dust-coloured stone on which it sat, rising like a cancerous tumour from the rock itself. Alzahar, the very heart of the world.

The arrival of a caravan from across the wastes was not an event of import in the life of Alzahar. It required a few officials to bestir themselves in order to inspect the burdens the camels carried, assess and log the contents, fill out forms and register the travellers. It bestirred the crowd of beggars and children and crowded round the newly-arrived offering services that they needed after weeks in the desert; a room, a bath, food, companionship, a beautiful girl, or several. To the seasoned traveller these were annoyances, they had favourite haunts, long term companions, places they knew were clean in every sense. To the first time traveller, they could be deadly, leading to a blind alley in the furthest reaches of the city and a quick end.

This morning’s caravan was no different to any other, arriving in the early hours before the midday sun started to beat down mercilessly. It came from over the Bathan hills and from the far off port of Arcolan, on the Inner Sea, part of the Empire. It brought goods that only the Empire could provide, cheap but well made swords and spear-heads, beautifully decorated pattery in the latest styles, salt. Amongst the travellers however was one who was new to Alzahar, white skinned after the fashion of the Sealanders. The crowd by the gate marked him, the desert traveller attire badly worn, by one not used to it, but also the outline of a sword visible under the long robe, the hilt occasionally visible as he moved.

Formalities past, he hefted a small bundle over his shoulder and after a few brief words and directions from the caravan leader strode off, taking the central road out of the irregular market place by the west gate. The caravan would take the large road that ran south along the city wall, towards the rich merchants quarter, but the central road he took led upwards, twisting and turning past the blank fronts of ancient buildings, into the very heart of the city. Alzahar had not been built on a hill, but war, local feuds and the passage of ages had crumbled many of the oldest builsings of the city to rubble and future generations, had just built upon the wreckage that they couldn’t salvage. As a result the centre of the city had risen gradually higher and higher and the few truly ancient buildings that still stood now opened to the street on what had been their third or fourth floor, everything below relegated to unlit basements. The city stood not so much on a hill as on a termites nest, riddled with long abandoned cellars, rooms and tunnels, home to vermin and those who preferred to conduct their business in the dark.

The buildings towered overhead, cutting out the bright sun and keeping the street cooler than expected. The street wound onwards, past doorways barred with great metal bound doors of wood so ancient, desicated and worm eaten that they looked as if a single blow would shatter them. A small gaggle of children and youths followed, eager to see where the stranger was headed, if he knew him himself. At each turning he stopped, considered and then took the higher road, or at least the road that seemed initially to lead higher, until at last he emerged again into the light, in an irregular and empty square at the top of the city. Opposite him stood a large building, its great gate, large than any other seen so far, flanked by a pair of stone towers. Above the gate was a stone arcade or loggia, a balcony facing the square below.

Crossing the square the stranger banged on the gate, the noised echoing around the square and hollowly within. Nothing stirred, save an old beggar on the corner of one of the other streets that led into the square, who sidled slowly over, hobbling and hawking as he came.

“No-one there” he said, “no-one there long time” he continued in a strange argot of local Sidelhian and the Rhamonian of the Inner Sea.

“But this is the palace of the king?” asked the stranger, in a different version of the same argot.

“Once, once was, no king here now.”

“Where is he then?”

“I take you, maybe, it is good for me, maybe” the beggar suggested.

“Yes, the king. I will give you money if you take me to the king.”

The beggar turned and shuffled off across the square towards yet another narrow street. The stranger stayed standing in front of the palace. Turning, the beggar gesticulated widlly at him – “Come, come, here, this way”.

Making his mind up the stranger bent down to straighten his boot and then strode across the square, catching the hobbling beggar in a few short strides. The beggar hobbled into the narrow street and then took a side alley that descended a sharp set of stairs, which he negotiated with difficulty. He then entered a maze of smaller streets in the north end of the city. The stranger was no innocent and he recognised that this was a dangerous situation. His senses searched the area aroudn for possible threats and his unease was rewarded when suddenly in a narrow alleyway, there was a scuffle of feet, and two other men burst out from a side alley. The stranger’s reactions were cat-like. He turned and his left hand shot out, the dagger concealed in the palm flying across the intervening gap and hitting one of his assailants in the face. He continued turning, drawing his sword as he went. The straight blade flashed out in a wide circle and decapitated the beggar as it went, his head spinning off into the corner and the knife falling clattering from his hand. The sudden moment of silence was broken by a shout from the ruffian behind him and a scream from the one he had hit. He ran, not pausing to look behind him, but hearing the sounds of feet in pursuit. He turned a corner and continued down another blank alleyway, when he saw a dark-robed figure, armed with a scimitar, enter the alleyway from a turning ahead of him. Turning back was not an option, but he had already noted one of the buildings in the alleyway was little more than a ruin, its doorway gaping open darkly, its upper storeys little more than rubble.

Fourth Age Middle Earth Role Playing Rules (Draft version 0.01)


The aim of these rules is to allow role-playing in Tolkein’s Middle Earth within the ethos of Tolkein’s world. There have been various role-playing systems that have been used for Middle Earth, but they have all used mainstream rules-sets and ignored the unique features of Middle Earth, and have therefore short-changed the player. The key aspects of Middle Earth that I see and that are rarely reflected by rules-sets are:

  • There is no real magic in Middle Earth. It is magical but there are no spell-casters in the classic RPG tradition. Superhuman abilities and feats seem to derive from the natures of the protagonist.
  • There is no religion. The Valar may be analogous to gods but they are not worshipped and there is no evidence of any organised cults.
  • There is an emphasis on lineage and authority, especially as concerns magical items.
  • There is an expectation that people will behave according to their archetypes which needs to be reinforced and rewarded by the game system.

As a solution to these problems I propose to use a modified version of Greg Stafford’s Pendragon RPG system.


The heart of the system are traits, which measure your character’s behaviour in 14 areas, each on a scale of 0-20. Each area has a pair of reciprocal traits, the sum of which will always total to 20. Personality traits are altered by actions – the Games Master may add or deduct a point automatically for a particularly string deed, or he may ask you to make a personality check for a more nuanced need. In this case you need to roll over your current score in that trait in order to increase the trait by one.


Combinations of traits can lead to boons. This is the key game mechanism that allows for character development and progression. The ratioanle is that as the character becomes more noble or courageous or just, then they gain concomittant abilities. Thus someone like Aragorn, who is the epitome of courage, justice and nobility, is genuinely superhuman and protected by the powers from danger. Conversely, characters who are degenerate and depraved will gain abilities reflecting these personaility traits. Retaining the abilities depends on maintaining the personality traits, so you need to keep acting heroically to maintain your heroic abilities.
In order to structure the boons more conveniently, they are attached to Valar, which gives them a connection to the ethos of the world.


Skills are the general skills of the character, such as riding, sword-fighting or swimming.


Feats are the exceptional skills and abilities of the character. Feats are gained as a result of hero-points, which are given for heroic activities. Feats do not need to be specified at the time the hero-points are allocated, rather hero points can be used whenever to specify a new feat. Thus the ability to run without rest for three days is not a skill, it is not within the normal range of human or elven or dwarven ability. It is rather a feat. If the need suddenly arises to run without rest for three days, the character could use unused hero points to gain this feat. Once a feat has been gained, it can be used as many times as required. Feats need to be kept quite specific and rare in order to not unbalance the game. The cost of a feat in hero points should match its potency and scope.


The dreaded encumbrance rears its head.

Now that you are no longer all lightly armed barbarians and some of you are starting to aquire significant levels of armour, we need to start doing encumbrance properly.

You need to work out your actual encumbrance at the start of the next session and then deduct your encumbrance from ALL skills in the following categories:

Agility (including parry)

Manouver (including attack)



So there.

Seriously though – this will give a trade off for those of you who aren’t in tin cans and makes the whole heavy armour thing more realistic. Also makes you think about whether to bring that extra 100′ of rope at 15 ENC with you.

New Combat System

New combat system (probably stolen by my subconscious from either Pendragon or HeroQuest).

Take your attack skill and divide by 5 to get a number between 1 and 20.

Opponent does same with either Parry or Dodge.

Each of you rolls a D20, attempting to get under your target number. A 20 is a fumble.

Defender is under target number, attacker is under target number = parried hit – attacker does damage equal to the amount he exceeds the defender by, capped by the maximum damage for his weapon.

Defender is over target number, attacker is under target number = hit, attacker does his score in damage, capped by the maximum damage for his weapon.

Attacker is over target number = miss.

Then just roll another d20 for the location and deduct armour from damage as normal. If the attackers score was equal to his target number, its a critical and doesn’t deduct for armour.

Only three dice rolled rather than 4 (6) and parries are more progressive – which is probably important as you get to higher skill levels. More chance of a fumble and critical though, and the chance of a fumble and critical are not influenced by your skill.

Catering this weekend

Please respond to this with offers on the catering side.

So far Jake has offered to cook a curry for the evening meal.

Iain has also suggested bringing pizza – would pizza for lunch and curry for dinner be a bit too heavy? is such a thing possible.

Still waiting on the other major food groups – beer, pringles, jaffa cakes and coke.

I can do the coke but it will be Diet.

A New World Idea

A dualistic world caught between two sources of power, an aetheric energy whose source is the sun and a cthonic energy whose source is the earth. Each energy source is antithecal to the other and yet also capable of interacting with it – the surface of the world is the point of interaction.

Each energy is associated with a major and a minor element. The major aetheric element is Fire, the minor element is Air. The major cthonic element is Earth, the minor is Water. The two major elements cannot interact with each other, but they can influence the opposing minor elements. The two minor elements can combine, but the result depends on which is the dominant element in the combination. Air and Water with Air dominant is Foam, with Water dominant is mist or miasma.

The cthonic power is served by the cthonic beings. These are cold blooded, from the lore-wise dragons down through various orders of lizards and lizardmen. The aetheric power is served by its own range of creatures, from angelic faeries down to men. The higher creatures of each power are pure, the lower creatures are alloyed and impure, which makes them less powerful but more tolerant of the power of the other. For example the faerie are pure creatures of light, they are filled with aetheric energy but find the touch of metal deadly since it is cthonic in origin. Dragons are pure cthonic creatures – they cannot fly or breathe fire but can shake the foundations of the earth. They find the very touch of light hard to bear though.

The middle races, men and lizardmen, have no such power and suffer few such problems. They can feed upon both sources of power, the earthpower the flows from the ground beneath their feet and the lightpower than shines down, although they find their preferred power easier to comprehend. For all of them though, power is something that they are blind to and need to scrabble for.

Theory of RPG – DM-Player interactions

Its interesting (and has only just occured to me) that in the same way that there are different playing styles that people prefer and feel most comfortable in, there are styles of DM’ing as well. Or rather, its obvious there are styles of GM’ing, there are styles of player-GM interaction. I guess there are probably a few dominant DM’s out there who like to pull all the strings and micro-manage the players, but I am very much a ‘world-builder’ DM – I like to create a coherent and consistent world and for the players to create their characters and define their own goals within that world. I am then there to help them acheive their goals and make them worth acheiving by having struggled on the way. Its no fun if you don’t acheive your goal and its no fun if you acheive it easily.

I also tend to be very protective of the ‘feel’ of my world – I like the players to create bits themselves but I demand a veto over their creativity. Its all part of my obsession with internal consistency – anything that doesn’t fit right breaks the suspension of belief. The biggest problem that I have is when the real world is plonked into a fantasy world. Classic example is Dun County – I can never see the Old Sun Dome temple as anything other than Fountains Abbey, because it is.

Interestingly David is a completely different sort of DM, he likes detail and characters and plot. He is very good at designing a scenario and great characters for it, but doesn’t mind if they are no part of a world. He is quite happy playing one-off scenarios, whereas I find them pointless because there is no scope for character development – he like the problem solving. Its my biggest frustration with Call Of Cthulhu (which I otherwise enjoy) – the inevitable degradation rather than ascension of the characters.

I’m not sure how many styles of DM-player interaction there are. I can think of:

  • God – where the DM wants to control every aspect.
  • World Builder – me – create a great world and want the players to define their role and motivations in the world. I tend to be very protective of my creations as well.
  • Crossword Setter – creates problems for the players to solve. Consistency from scenario to scenario is not necessary, nor is playing the character – its a problem solving game. Most CoC has to be played like this I think.
  • Story Teller – very popular nowadays – the players and the DM are there to create a joint narrative. Characterisation is everything. Doesn’t work with problem solving because it is as much about character growth through failing as it is about winning (or surviving). Different from World-Builder in terms of approach and focus – Story Teller is normally bottom up rather than top down.

Sci-Fi Campaign

Generated a star map for the new campaign last night – an area 20 parsecs by 20 parsecs with 150 odd systems and 11 terran planets – so its fairly sparse. But thats realistic – there will be a lot of empty systems out there.

I originally was going to be hyper-realistic and do it all in 3D, but mapping it and showing it to people became impossible. Its just too difficult to work out routes and borders and things like that. Maybe I will make it 3D when they invent holographic displays, but even VRML wasn’t really doing it properly and even with VRML you can’t just print it out and scribble on it.

Still a map is always a good first step in anything.