Sunday, February 27, 2011

not dead but dreaming

Anyone who has been bothering to follow this blog will notice it's been sitting quiet for a while now. It's kind of a two-fold matter here: for a while I was occupying myself sufficiently with running my campaign that I haven't felt compelled to share any thoughts here. More recently, a handful of 'real life' matters have been getting in the way of playing the game, and have also gotten in the way of writing anything worth posting.

The good news is that all of these issues are getting addressed over the next month or so; and when the game is running, it's running pretty smoothly. The players are enthusiastic and, while I am feeling a bit of DM-fatigue, I don't foresee another campaign hiatus. I think I just need to plan around my fatigue - maybe plan on one session out of the month being devoted to board or card games of a more casual quality, just to give myself a break. We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Regarding Magic

Here's a series of largely-disorganized thoughts regarding magic...

In Warren Ellis & Darrick Robertson's Transmetropolitan, there are many brilliant ideas. One of my favorites is the story of the Man Who Wanted to Invent a Better City:

A huge mysterious,explosion destroys a city block aside from a single apartment. Investigating, the authorities find mysterious heiroglyphs..
The scrawl appeared to comprise three equations. The three equations seemed to represent a machine. A machine that was just 3 ideas in motion around each other. Solving the equations activated the machines.

It took ten years to evolve any workable theories as to what the creator - a half educated seventy-year-old man who worked as a janitor - was trying to do. He himself had had to invent his own mathematical language to do half the work.

It took ten full years to work out that it was a machine intended to make another City. A better City. There were mathematical expressions of ethics and love and dignity in his paperwork. For a moment there, that guy must have seen another world opening up before him. A better world. A good City.

And then the flaw in his math kicked in and the block was incinerated.

I like to imagine that this is how the fireball spell was discovered. 

Jack Vance linked magic and math in right in the first story of The Dying Earth:
In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."
"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."
Newton published Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica largely at the urging of Edmond Halley, as he didn't feel especially inclined to share the insights he had developed. These insights included the calculations that explained the orbit of the planets, the three laws of motion, and the universal law of gravitation. Even when convinced to publish, Newton made the book intentionally difficult in order to discourage mathematical "smatterers" as he called them. He wrote that he desired that the later volumes of the work should be sensible only to those who had read and understood the earlier volumes, while others have written that without the third and final volume, the first two volumes make little sense.

This bizarre and sprawling text, which remains largely insensible to those of us who can read Latin but aren't math-wizards, introduced the world to calculus (which Newton had worked out about three decades before he could be bothered to share it with anybody else; he was rather more interested in alchemical experimentation and analyzing the floor plans of the lost Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem, hoping to glean mathematical insights into the the Second Coming and the Eschaton). Newton's mathematical insights describe and explain some of the key ingredients of physics, which allowed other scientists to calculate what would be necessary to achieve certain effects, such as flying, stopping bullets, and orbiting the friggin' planet.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Moons of the Year

The World uses a lunar calendar with a slightly irregular relationship between the lunar months and the solar seasons. There are 12 regular months each year, with an additional irregular month that rotates from season to season. The irregular month is sometimes called the "Leaping Moon" because it leaps from one season to another.

Each month is defined by the moon, being 28 days long and divided into four weeks of seven days each. That makes a year 364 days long, or 52 weeks. My goal in designing the calendar was to keep it simple for me to track and simple for the players to understand. The rotating "Leaping Moon" is the only real complexity, and I rather like the quirkiness it adds. 

MonthCommon NameCorresponds to...
1 Wolf Moon January
2 Storm Moon February
3 Crow Moon March
4 Egg Moon April
5 Milk Moon May
6 Flower Moon June
7 Mead Moon July
8 Grain Moon August
9 Barley Moon September
10 Blood Moon October
11 Hunter's Moon November
12 Feast Moon December

As for the Leaping Moon, its proper name depends on when it appears in the year. It always bridges two seasons, and indicates either an extension of the prevailing weather or a slower transition between seasons. It is anyone's guess whether this is a means to account for the discrepancy between solar and lunar cycles or a simple fact of the cosmos ordained by the gods. When the extra moon follows Feast, it is the Hunger Moon. When it follows Barley it is the Harvest Moon. When it follows Flower it is the Thunder Moon, and when it follows Crow it is the Waking Moon.

The current year is 295 After the Crowning of the first emperor. The current leg of play began during the Milk Moon, and the players are currently mid-Flower. This year there will be a Harvest Moon.

Magic-User Traditions part ii

The furnace is kind of working again, so I can feel the keyboard at my fingers. That means I can wrap up a few thoughts that I left off yesterday. Both the Wizardry and Sorcery traditions have got full spell-lists up through level 6 (where 0e & Whitebox cut off). I've also got similar treatment for Necromancers. All of these spell lists are populated appropriately so that random spells can be selected with a die-roll. I'm just that way.

I'm hoping to eventually provide similar frameworks for other traditions such as Witchery, Druidry, Warlockry, and so forth. This idea of many traditions owes at least in part to the Ethshar novels of Lawrence Watt-Evans, which I would rank alongside Leiber's Lankhmar novels as the D&D-est stories around. It's my feeling that these differences would be completely invisible to anyone who is not a practicing spellcaster or the well-informed teammate of one, and the terminology is often used interchangeably, even by those in the know, so there's no sure way to know what to expect from any given arcanist.

It's my intention that the classic Magic-User list should be the default for PCs, and admittance to any other tradition should be limited. For example, perhaps only a Magic-User with high Wisdom could begin play as a Wizard - having attracted the attention of a Wizard when he was ready for apprenticeship. A PC with average intelligence may be able to join the brotherhood if he can convince an existing Wizard that he'd be a good candidate, and must swear never again to dabble in forbidden magicks (i.e., never using any spells that aren't part of the Wizardry tradition).

I haven't clearly decided what approach to take with Sorcery in such a case. That's at least partly because, following James Maliszewski's example, I've been mostly confining my tinkering to what's actually getting used in play, and the only magic-user right now is a Wizard. (If I'd really been ahead of the curve though, I probably would have dangled wizardry as something to aspire to, 'cos I like to make players earn what they get. Still, it's working out so far, and to the experienced players it seems to set the campaign apart from what they've seen in the past.) Current thinking is: a particularly gifted student may be be granted (or wrest from his mentor) the secret spells of sorcery. Any other magic-user must discover them just as he must discover all spells of level 2 and beyond. 

Yeah, it doesn't have as much pizzazz as the Wizardry thing. I think it comes down to: why does a sorcerer want to train an apprentice, thus creating another competitor? Brainstorming time: I think it's partly a matter of pride, as a sorcerer who has trained many apprentices will win renown through their deeds, and if he's as good as he thinks he is, he'll always stay a step ahead of them. A sorcerer can be expected to have a bit of loyalty to his mentor and vice-versa - they might compete, but they'll protect each other when it comes down to it; their competition won't be deadly combat, just matching skill. A sorcerer who betrays his master is maybe a pariah, and won't be protected by truces - or at least he'll be hunted down by his master's other apprentices, if for no reason other than to let all the other sorcerers of the realm know that they're tougher than the guy who killed the guy who trained them, and therefore not to be messed with. 

I've never liked the idea of mages gathered in actual schools, Harry Potter style, although that was kind of the assumption of 2nd edition, as I recall; but i do like the Kung Fu Movie idea of founding a school to increase one's renown. I think that either A) the term 'school' is a very loose one, as in philosophical circles, indicating that one's lineage of apprenticeship comes from a particularly famous archmage (sort of a tradition-within-a-traditon), or B) any such school would be a small affair, with one sorcerer giving his personal attention to a handful of pupils, somewhat in the style of the old Irish 'hedge schools.' 

Obviously, my thoughts remain unfinished here. More thought will be given to this. Feedback and suggestions are of course welcome.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Magic-User Traditions

In my current campaign, I decided that I didn't like the flavor of a party of sword&sorcery-style adventurers (Fafhrds and Grey Mousers all) escaping from the underworld and immediately setting out for the nearest temple, where miracles and healings are available for hire. Actually, I've no doubt that Fritz Leiber could make that work, but 'miracles for hire' in such a context suggests something totally different (to me) than the D&D norm. In my Greek campaign, I was totally down with the idea that 'heroes' could buy a bunch of goats and oxen and give them to a priest to sacrifice in order to call upon the gods for some purpose. But for this campaign, it's not what I want.

So I'm borrowing some material from Beyond the Black Gate's 2009 Compendium. Low-magic healing rules for one thing, but also the 'white wizard' class. I don't really want class proliferation, but I'm okay with defining certain variants as sub-classes and split-classes. I may even wind up borrowing Jeff Rients' approach. For now, though, I'm trying something unusual with Magic-Users.

Magic-Users possess, as a result of their apprenticeship, a copy of the Common Grimoire. This contains the Eight Known Spells, the spells that every magician ought to be able to cast. A particularly promising Magic-User may be inducted into a particular tradition, being granted secret spells known only to a select few. To outsiders, a magician is a magician, and the intricacies of magical paradigms and politics are impenetrable.

The Common Grimoire
1. Darkness
2. Detect Magic
3. Hold Portal
4. Light
5. Protection from Evil
6. Read Languages
7. Read Magic
8. Sleep

Wizards use their magic to attain and promote a harmony with the cosmos. They view one another as brethren in an order, and their magic is a subtle and constructive craft. Only a pupil who shows great wisdom will be taught the secrets of Wizardry.

The Secret Spells of Wizardry
1. Bless
2. Cure Light Wounds
3. Detect Evil
4. Purify Food and Drink

Sorcerers strive to master the forces of the universe. They see each other as rivals for power, and their magic is flashier and more direct than wizardry. Only a pupil with respectable intelligence can hope to comprehend the secrets of sorcery.

The Secret Spells of Sorcery
1. Cause Fear
2. Charm Person
3. Unseen Servant
4. Ventriloquism

In addition to the extra known spells of level 1, each tradition has its own listing of spells available at higher levels, although these are largely mysterious to a novice magician. (It's surely no surprise that the Wizard is based on the Cleric spell list with additions from M-U, while the Sorcerer spell list is pretty much the traditional M-U list with a handful of additions. In both cases, these are based on Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox edition, because I like the slimmer lists, and because I don't care for Magic Missile's effect on the game.)

I'd love to write more about this and other variations I'm implementing, but our furnace broke a little and it's getting hard to type, so I'll be getting offline and eating something warm.