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It's a Kind of Magic...

SPELLSWIZARDS vancian magic cooldown systems mana casting

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#1
Monte Carlo

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Please forgive the wall of text.

I am a big fan of considering what went before. So the arguments about Vancian magic versus mana-based systems (and the completely understandable passion it generates) got me thinking. And, because I find myself less moved about it than some other folks, I thought that maybe I could add something new to the debate by casting my mind back to other RPGs from the Days of Yore.

Of course, it should go without saying that pen and paper systems mechanically might not fit into a CRPG. But thematically... sure. Why not?

Magic has always been divided into a giddying variety of types: divine versus arcane, sorcerer versus mage, cantrip versus spell, innate powa versus learnt, scroll versus memorized, generalised mage versus specialist... then you get funky stuff like bards or rangers or paladins all of whom access magic in the form of innate, modal, passive and spell-casting forms. Accessing magic is similarly broad, i.e. via using a wand, magic item or having a stack of five fire-and-forget offensive spells (all viable and powerful additions for a spellcaster).

This is before we consider 3E style feats and meta-magic. Therefore pen and paper systems have always allowed spellcasters a broad range of tactics and methods to access magic. Too many perhaps, showcasing the piecemeal evolution of the hobby.

So as I watch the debate unfold, it strikes me that the combatants (and I say this with respect) have perhaps not done a three-sixty and fully considered the diversity of What Went Before (WWB). Sorcerers, for example are as near-as-dammit using a mana system, the closest you'll get in an IE game. Sorcerers, by the way, are my favourite arcane spellcasting class.

I often bang on about RuneQuest here, but please hear me out (read me out? Whatever). The magic there was (a) divided into two and (b) specifically rooted into the setting.

There was Battle Magic and Rune Magic. Battle magic was predicated on the idea that magic was something anybody could access (classless system) if taught. It used a statistic, POWER, using a mana-type metric (boosted by items that one could store POWER in). Battle Magic consisted of buffs, minor healing and stuff. Rune Magic was the preserve of advanced cult members and was like powerful arcane magic in D&D. You could do all sorts of funky stuff with it.

But the spell-list was relatively small compared to D&D but all the spells were useful. All the spells were impactive. All of the spells were fun. It was a case study in the Less Is More approach to game design. It combined hardcore, old school flavour with what would now be considered to be a mana-system, but was managed in a way that made sense --- lose POWER by casting spells and your character became physically weaker. The decision to cast spells was one made carefully. Of course, Rune Magic casters had all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to mitigate this, and this was also part of the fun.

So, my conclusions

1. Old-skool Vancian magic evolved with the game to the point where there were so many options it began to undermine the whole fire-and-forget principle, creating bulky mechanics to underpin the innate clunkiness of design (meta-magic, prestige classes etc)

2. Sorcerers are almost there in terms of aping the mana model, and might be a model worth studying for this project

3. Other properly granular old-skool systems, like RuneQuest, managed to create impactive, fun, immersive magic systems using a mana-based model

4. Therefore it seems odd that the debate around a mechanic so potentially nuanced can boil down to Vancian versus Mana when there is obviously so much room to exploit in the natural gap between the two.

Many thanks if you finished to read my post, and if only a handful of people Google 1st Edition Gloranthan RuneQuest after this then I'll be a happy man.

Love & Peace
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#2
Gorth

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Rune Magic. Say what you will about Warhammer dwarves, but their take on magic is different than the other two options which seems to be the two crowd favourites. Something less flamboyant, yet used to deadly effect, tied to objects of various types.
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#3
Elerond

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I like RuneQuest's magic system much more than D&D's (it doesn't matter which edition). Wizard spell with their forming sytem were fun to play. Like firebolt which powerful make could change to several fireballs, and suddenly low level spell is much better than highest level spells, although it also eat more mana and was more difficult to cast, but still :)





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