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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Crude Magic

Pseudo-medieval fantasy settings tend to fall somewhere between two extremes: low or rare magic vs. high magic. In low magic worlds, there are few, if any, NPC magi, and so there are few, if any, places where PCs can hire spellcasters or buy potions and scrolls. Magic may even be low-powered. To the common populace, magic is something frightening and legendary. In high magic worlds, magic is common and accepted. It is often treated as "fantasy technology". PCs can find magic shops in most towns and cities.

What I'm leaning towards are settings that don't fall in that range at all. The only name I can come up with so far is "crude magic". In a crude magic setting, magic is common and probably accepted, but the people who can use it properly -- magi -- are rare. PC magi are among the very few who can use magic without consequences. Most people who use magic, in contrast, have to worry about spell fumbles and unreliability.

Features of a crude magic setting:
  • magic may be for sale, for the desperate;
  • most magical items are low-powered and unreliable: love potions, good luck talismans, protection amulets
  • NPC magic users are typically diviners and mediums;
  • fraud is high;
  • a 1st level magic-user (or the equivalent, in other game systems) is astounding;
  • higher-level mages are probably all known by name, and can be counted on one hand.
This is the underlying concept that inspired me to loosen up class restrictions on cantrips and allow non-clerics to pray for miracles, perhaps coupled with a piety mechanic.

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