23 February 2010

Secret of Steel Notes II: Sorcery!

Sorcery, and indeed all magic, is a difficult thing to put into one's game. By its very nature, Sorcery must have its own rules. Sad, indeed, is the magic system that is a mere extension of the game's skill system, level system, or some such. There have been entire games devoted to mages, wizards, and the like, where the magic system is what the game revolves around. Ars Magica, for one, and Mage: The Awakening for another. One could, of course, argue that the magic system is the star of the show in 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons as well. 

But in a more pulp-fantasy, sword-and-sorcery adaptation of the idea, where does sorcery fit in? How powerful is it? Who can use it? What is its price? These are all things that must fit together for a comprehensive use of magic in any game.

Magic, of course, doesn't fit well in the low-fantasy world. There are more often charlatans and tricksters than actual wizards. Magic in many cases is relegated to the realms of superstition, where a priest may bless his followers with the favor of his god, or curse them forever. The believing, of course, is the magic. But in Conan, Elric, Hawkmoon, and the like, magic is a very real force that is to be feared when a powerful sorcerer is on the move.

This leads to its second question, that of magic's power. Magic should be powerful and special, rare and mighty. Sorcerers are to be feared and obeyed, and often assassinated. There would be many who believe of magic's ultimate corruption and dark nature, often fed into by the sorcerer himself.

And who can use it? Only very few people are born with the special gift, and of those, fewer are born in the right place at the right time to receive the training to be able to utilize such a powerful force. And it has a grave price indeed...

The main things I want to get away from in this game is the easy-to-use, common, powerful, and nonsensical magic of 3rd edition D&D. Everybody can use magic, mages are common and still feared, and the world continues going on like it already has. That's one of the stickiest things, for me. By the book, the game has a great number of pre-existing wizards and sorcerers and clerics of even moderate level, who can heal the sick and fling death across great distances and still the world is perceived to be exactly like medieval europe,  but with more monsters. 

This simply cannot be. There must be sorcery, and it must fit into the game world seamlessly. I'm toying with the idea that magic is like psionics in the earlier editions of D&D, or in Palladium, where one must roll for psychic ability. While this would be the ideal way to deal with such a thing, there must be concessions to the players. The point is, after all, that they're not your average person. 

So it must be the setting. The game manual itself must reiterate how rare sorcerers are, and how they are (rightly) feared by the populace. They summon power from the other worlds, and they often have only a tenuous grip on their own sanity; two things that make any person think twice about harboring sorcerers. 

Sorcery in the Secret of Steel will be a viable character option. It is linked with the various cults that permeate Hyrkania and Abysnia and Ipit-Agora. A snake cultist has a different kind of sorcery than a sun priest, who is vastly different than the vile necromancers of the cthonic earth god.

These temples are respected and powerful, both from temporal, political, and monetary power. But there are only so many sorcerers, and there are a great many men in the armies of the kings, dukes, and various regents. Sorcery is not the all-powerful force it wishes to be, but it is no mere pawn in the hands of mightier men.

Copyright for the image belongs to Chris Quillams.

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