NaBloPoMo 2014 – Entry 8 – Game Mechanics and Faith

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

I was reminded of this quote a couple of days ago, and I sometimes feel like it could be the subtitle of the blog at this point. Originally, I had a plan that this blog would be about my insights on game mechanics and balance and 4e, but with the demise of 4e, I’m just not seeing the point of those articles. As well, my general feelings towards modern d20s (the dice more than the rules, but they’re part and parcel) have changed, so I’m just not as into those mechanics any more. In fact, I’m thinking at some point I need to write a more fleshed out article on how we rolled dice before the modern d20 and compare that process to modern dice and rules. I’m sure my old friend Roger would be amused to find I’m coming to the thinking he was coming to when he left Fresno/Clovis.

But today’s article is an expanded Shower Thought. I somehow got to thinking about an article by Termanis of the World Building Academy after watching the trailer of the new StarCraft II game, Legacy of the Void, which focuses on the Protoss, the religious/psionic race of the setting.

The first things that ran through my head was that I like the Protoss’ psionic technology. They have psionic weapons and armor, etc., which I’d like to spawn some ideas from for the StarSea setting. Something to give more thought to later.

Termanis’ article was critical of how many novels make religious mystical powers just another form of magic, especially in those novels based on gaming. Not that the criticism is wrong, but I think when it comes to gaming, it might be ill-considered.

I think Termanis is correct in questioning the uni-dimensionality of magic systems in most fantasy novels. Likely, the authors aren’t thinking about the reality of their setting and how magic might differ in the hands of the faithful from those who are trained in more arcane arts. However, where RPGs are concerned, the similiarities exist because the game designers have made a choice: Use a single set of rules for all magic to keep rules bloat down. For example, priest magic is the exact same system as wizardry in D&D, and it always has been. However, since third edition RuneQuest, there have been three forms of magic, and two of those systems have existed since even earlier editions.

In RQ, the three forms of magic are:

  • Spirit Magic, which is a lesser form of magic. Characters learn spells from spirits, spells which PCs fuel with temporary resources, and are handled as simple checks if necessary;
  • Divine Magic, which is more powerful but more draining from characters using it. These spells are also granted by the gods, and rarely requires any sort of skill roll; and
  • Sorcery, which is wholly based on skill rolls, and is fueled by accumulated power points.

Each of these systems uses the same power points (from a stat called… well… Power). However, Divine Magic can often cost permanent power points, rather than just temporary points. Beyond that, each system feels very different, but uses the same basic concepts pulled from the core rules to accomplish their goals.

This tends to be true of all games. That core system informs the GM and players how to accomplish their superpowers. I know of only one game that has multiple unique systems for doing things, Aces and Eights, and my understanding is that the proliferation of subsystems in the game make it virtually unplayable. This was a problem with First Ed D&D, which used d20s differently for attacks and saves than it did for “non-weapon proficiencies,” AKA skill checks.

One of the better systems for creating a differing feel of divine magic from arcane magic was the Fifth Age SAGA Edition rules TSR put out before being sold to WotC. In it, the differentiation was made by what could be affected by either source of magic: Arcane magic could only affect inanimate objects, and divine magic could only affect living creatures. Note that by affect, we do not include damage. A fireball is an effective way a wizard could defeat an enemy, as the wizard is directing fire, not transforming a living target.

I’ve already mentioned before, I plan on giving different order access (through aspects, in all likelihood) different types of effects they can accomplish based on their order. The Psionic Order will be able to do telepathy and telekinesis as well as use magic to accomplish physical feats. Physical feat magic will be common to all Orders.

This brings me back somewhat to some of what I was discussing yesterday with the CtD system for determining how groups and areas can be effected by magic that makes it easier to do the big, flashy, badass things like wiping out groups of baddies in a single blow, which has more of the cool factor going for it.

So, it’s now late and I need to head out. Later.


About docryder

I'm an experienced table top gamer with an open mind to new game systems. I'm looking to explore ideas I've got. Some are pretty meta, some are pretty mundane. Welcome to my world.

Posted on November 9, 2014, in D&D 4e, NaBloPoMo, Star Wars Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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