... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Examining Archetypes: The Magic-User

After dealing with the Cleric, the Thief, and the Charmer, I thought I'd tackle the Magic-User next, since it's actually pretty easy to deal with in terms of variants. Plus, I have to think a bit more on the Fighter variants.

The Magic-User is easy because the name of the class tells us exactly what the class does (uses magic.) We don't really need to think much about the archetype itself. It's also easy to create variants: change the way magic is prepared or used, or what spells are available. But there are a couple caveats to this on the way I think it should be done versus the way it's been done in the past. I think the way spells are prepared and used should be a feature of the magic used, rather than the class using them. Thus, if you give Cleric spells to a White/Black Magician class, they would be indistinguishable from other magic-users as a class (same hit dice, same experience,) but they would have a hidden piety/taint score that would affect the use of white magic. Similarly, an Alchemist is just a magic-user who uses preparations instead of memorized spells. And when I get around to doing an Illusionist, the main difference would be in the way the spells works (they would all be charms and illusions and can be disbelieved, but would be more powerful than the equivalent "ordinary" illusion spells, and would have different casting methods.) Illusionists should otherwise just be treated as magic-users.

One consequence of this way of thinking is that we have to reconsider whether magic-users should be restricted to one spell list, or should be allowed to acquire spells from other lists. When I did the White Magician and Alchemist, I assumed the former, but I'm thinking now that your M-U sub-class should really only determine what kinds of spells you start with, not which ones you can acquire. Acquiring spells from outside your normal spell list might require unusual effort; additional training, or researching Read Magic, for example. There may be additional side effects: the GM would judge how pious or tainted an ordinary magic-user is before that character could cast White Magic, for example. But each spell list would work according to its own rules, regardless of the character's actual sub-class.

Edit: Jeff Rients has posted a replacement for the standard Druid class; he notes that he would not treat Druid spells as exclusive to the class.

Some previous sub-class designs included additional powers that weren't actually spells. In the case of trainable skills, these should just be based on background and not actually a part of the class. Other powers, though, could be handled by mixing classes. For example, a "fire mage" or other "class" with affinity for an element could be handled as a Cleric (fire) variant, able to command even ordinary fire as if it were a living being, mixed with an ordinary Magic-User who just happens to have a lot of fire-related spells. There's no need for a special Elementalist class mechanically, even though there may be a recognizable Elementalist profession within the setting.

There's one exception to the "keep the rules for using spells separated from the class" principle: inherent powers, such as psionics or superpowers. This, as I've suggested, is best handled by using the standard spell lists or specially-constructed lists that follow the standard spell level system, but changing the way these powers are acquired, prepared, and used. The variant archetype (the Psychic) would only have one power per two experience levels, maximum spell level equivalent equal to half experience level, rounding up in both instances, and would not be able to create "magic" items or have any special ability to use such; but in compensation for the more limited number of powers, the psychic would be able to use these powers in potentially unlimited ways, using some kind of point system or (my preference) a fatigue/exhaustion system.

I'm still fiddling with ways that new spell lists can be created, so I'll have to save that topic for later, perhaps much later.


  1. I combined all the spells from all the spell lists (M-U, Druid, Cleric, &ct) and created spell tables that treat magic as coming from different traditions - Generally, Elven-trained spell casters have a high percentage of charm, illusion and nature spells while direct damage spells are rare for them, Druids have evocations and nature spells in abundance, but the more metaphysical magic is hard to find in their tradition and so on. But anyone can have Fireball, it's just not likely that you'll find an Elf with many fire-based spells.

    It started out as a random scroll contents generator, but it turns out that it's useful for deciding what spellcasters have available too.

  2. How different are the traditions functionally? What I'm thinking of is: there's a traditional M-U Fireball that is prepared and cast in the standard way, but there's also an Illusionist Fireball that can be sustained or disbelieved.

  3. Hrmmm, interesting thoughts. I hadn't thought of making the classes functionally different: my goal was to unify the magic system - I got rid of clerics as a class and added some Turn Undead spells to the list. There's only one magic using class in my game. If you cast a lot of illusion spells, you ARE an illusionist, and if you learned magic at the feet of an ancient priest beside the altar of a Nameless Thing, then you ARE a priest.

    My thinking for this project is somewhere along these lines:

    Magic is magic, and it's not a science, methods that work for one spell may or may not be catastrophically bad ideas in another spell - hence there are differing traditions of magic because there are differing ways to achieve the same effect. The key difference between the schools is the ease of achieving certain spell effects. Elven and Druidish methods make it easy to perform nature magic, while Elves have an easier time with illusion spells and Druids have an easier time with more elemental spells.

    So, using Kellri's Old School Spell Reference as a guide, I combined all the spell lists into one giant list and then made up a different chart for each magical tradition, breaking the spells up into Common, Uncommon and Rare lists. The only mechanical difference between the schools is what spells are listed as Common, Uncommon or Rare for each tradition. When you get to choose new spells for gaining a level, you choose from the Common list.

    As of right now, the following rules hold true, not sure if I want to change them:
    1. scrolls and spellbooks are incompatible with each other by tradition, a human magic-user is going to gain precious little insight from studying an elven scroll - the presuppositions are too different.
    2. If a spell originally appeared on multiple class' spell lists, but at differing levels, then the spell in the unified list is at the lowest level the spell appears in.
    3. Research has a cost multiplier: x2 for Uncommon spells and x5 for Rare spells.

    I'm thinking about allowing characters to select one spell from the Uncommon list every even level, in lieu of selecting two spells from the Common list for their Tradition. Rare spells have to be found or quested for or researched.