Monday, August 12, 2013

Environmental Waste

So this campaign seems like it's channeling fuckity magic more than low magic. The way I am envisioning it is that magic is not weak or rare (though rarity is a net result), so much as it is way too powerful for mortals to handle. The way I've pictured it is that beyond a certain point, spells dump magical energy that mortals cannot control safely into the environment. This is kind of a modified defiler and preserver mechanic like Dark Sun and is also based on the Thaumcraft Minecraft mod on our server now that I think of it.

In Dark Sun there are two types of arcane casters, defilers and preservers. In Dark Sun, the use of magic can destroy the environment. It's why Athas is primarily a dried out, sandy, husk of a planet. In the fiction, careless use of magic literally sterilizes natural plant life and earthy vitality, sand turns to dust and plants wither and rot. Defilers cast spells without restraint and preservers restrain magical energy and leave the environment untouched. The mechanical difference between the two kits is that defilers use something like Thief experience charts and preservers use Wizard experience charts. If you remember 2nd Edition AD&D, Thieves require the least amount of experience to level, and Wizards require the most. I think getting to 2nd level for a Wizard was something like 2500 experience points, a Fighter was like 2000, and a Rogue was something like 1250. Defilers actually take 1750 experience points to get to level 2, but still. Clerics and Druids were like 1500 or something, so defilers advance about as quick as a Cleric, rather than Thieves. As far as I can tell, there is no other difference between the two kits, aside from the social stigma of being a defiler. 

Alright, so what I'm envisioning is that arcane casters, and perhaps divine, need preparation to manage all the magical energy they want to do magic with. What I mean by preparation is a ritual spot. Some spot with inscribed runes and other mystical nonsense to channel and control magical energy. Something expensive to set up and definitely not portable, though I think I could come up with some expensive mystical gewgaws to offer a portion of this ability. If a caster casts in one of these sanctums, a place attuned to them specifically (or perhaps specific schools of spells or something),  they can cast spells just fine and everything is buffered and channeled properly. 

Ok, so let's say they're in a situation where they are out of their sanctum. Perhaps adventuring for fun and profit. What then? I'm thinking something along the lines of this. Spellcasters can safely cast spells of levels equal to their casting ability score's modifier without all the runes and mystical gewgaws. Wizards with Intellgences of 14 (+2 modifier) can safely cast up to level 2 spells without preparation of a sanctum type place. To safely cast a level 9 spell, you'd need an Intelligence of 28. I'm going to make a ruling and say that this must be based on your inherent ability score, otherwise you'd have casters buffing themselves with fox's cunning all the time and ruining my fun.

Hmm. Side thought. Perhaps this could or should be based on Constitution? The theme is the magical energy is wildly powerful and because all flesh is weak, mortals cannot grasp and control this energy easily. This should be explored further.

So up to that point based on their casting ability score modifier, they're fine when unprepared. What happens when they cast spells above that point though? Two things are what I'm imagining. First of all, the uncontrollable magical energy pours out into the environment creating something like an aura in the area. I'll give some of my thoughts on that in a bit. The second effect is that the spell is weaker than normal, because mortals are incapable of managing the might of magic, they can't properly control it to make spells function optimally. I'm thinking something like operating at only 75% power. So like a level 10 Wizard with an Intelligence of 13 casts fireball. He can handle 0 and 1st level spells fine, but 2nd and 3rd are difficult for him on the fly, because he's a genius and not a super genius. So normally, a fireball would deal 10d6 damage and have a range of 800 ft. when cast by a 10th level caster. With this rule, it would deal only 7d6 damage and only have a range of 720 feet. That's a little more limited, but not exactly crippled. I'll get into more changes I'm thinking of for spellcasters at some point.

So the aura thing. So I'm thinking that every area of this continent has something like a running tally of absorbed magical energy. This is excess magical energy that was not properly channeled or whatever by the sanctums I mentioned earlier. It gets pulled out of wherever magic hangs out, but its too powerful to control on the fly and it just leaks out into the environment and hangs around. I'm thinking of some sort of tiered system that tracks how many spell levels leak out into the environment and the aura and its effects intensify based on the spell levels leaked into the environment. I want to base these effects on the type of spell levels leaked into the environment. This system should require hundreds of levels of leaked spells before it starts having noticeable effects, perhaps merely cosmetic ones initially. I also want these auras to be self regulating. So like if an area has thirty spell levels of evocation magic in it and someone leaks three spell levels of illusion magic and three spell levels of conjuration, the evocation magic consumes the six levels of foreign spells and drops down to twenty-four evocation spell levels in the environment.I also want these auras to kind of scale down in the surrounding area. So with the necromancy laden area we're called the Scar, the core of it is like tier five, the area around it is tier four, around that is tier three, and so on. 

I want the aura effects to be based heavily on the theme of the school. Evocation deals a lot with energy and force effects, so maybe storms are particularly wild and strong in an area with a strong aura. Or perhaps sometimes storms occur that rain down hail made of force energy instead of ice. Necromancy auras impede healing and causes illnesses and such and spontaneously generate undead. Transmutation auras lead to stuff like owlbears and dire animals. Divination...uh, fuck if I know. Illusion I could definitely have fun with. Perhaps with abjuration auras, the area becomes tougher. Maybe this is how super materials like adamantine are generated. 

I'd also like powerful auras to impede other magic and I'd like to base that on opposition schools. I think in 2nd Edition there were specific schools of spells you could not cast if you were a specialist Wizard of a certain school. I might be remembering that wrong, but if it is true, I'd probably base it off of that. The primary effect I'm thinking of is that a particularly powerful aura will reduce the effective caster level of spells cast from a certain school. I'm not sure I want strong auras to augment spells from their school though. If it does work like that, I'd like it to be some specialist thing, like the ability of a prestige class or the top tier feat of a feat chain of some sort. The whole reason magic dumps into the environment in the first place is because mortals are weaker than magic, allowing to pull magic out of the environment would kind of contradict that. 

That's kind of the broad strokes of what I'm kind of imagining for the system of magic.

I said I want to reshape spellcasters as well. This kind of applies primarily to just Wizards. I haven't really considered divine casters much, and I'm not sure about the hybrid casters like Magus and Bard. Sorcerers I don't want to touch yet, because if we're going the route of magic being too powerful for mortals, wouldn't that make Sorcerers kind of impossible? They've got magical lineage that fills them with magic.

What I'm imagining basically amounts to school specialization taken to the next step. Instead of one school and picking one or two opposed schools that are harder to memorize and use items from, choose one school, and that's the only school you have full access to, aside from the universal school. I'm seeing something kind of pyramid-like where you have access to up to 9th level spells of your specialty school, and then access of up to 6th level from two other schools that are kind of connected/similar. Like if your specialty is conjuration, you can use spells and stuff of that school normally, and can use spells of up to 6th level from necromancy and evocation or something. Maybe with the allowance of memorizing spells of higher level, but using up two slots to do so. Everything else is off limits. Period. No penalties to checks, no extra slot uses. You just can't do it, you're good at conjuration, but enchantment/charm is completely outside your knowledge and experience. It kind of reflects that fact that magic is wildly powerful and takes an excessive amount of work and attention to master. Perhaps some sort of jack of all trades class or prestige class or archetype could be added in as well that grants access to all schools of magic, but your access caps at level four spells or something. I'm not sure how to duplicate this with hybrid casters. Their spell lists are generally fairly limited to begin with and I don't know if there is enough meat on them to strip away entire schools. I'll have to investigate it further. I'd also like to restrict certain spells like wish. Wish represents far more power than that represented by a 9th level spell. I'd like to either remove it from all spell lists, or significantly magnify the cost of it beyond a 25,000 gp gem. 

Anyway, those are some thoughts on this magic system. Hopefully they have merit, or at least spark discussion that leads to ideas that do. 


  1. I believe that in 2nd ed, that you could only cast a certain school of magic only if you were trained in that school. You could be a generalist and access all the schools, but I forget the bonuses for being a specialist.

    in regards to Dark Sun, you could defile if you wanted to be universally reviled. You have the people who fear you, Veiled Alliance who wants to kill you, and your power source is a fickle and deadly Sorcerer-King.

    It would be cumbersome, but make a con check to see if you can stay conscious depending on the characters level and spell level. Think Dresden files, where harry has to spend a long time preparing for one spell, and any faux pas could ruin the spell and ultimately kill him.

    Divine casters, just write that crap off to how much in good standing with the god the player is. That one is tough, because going back to the Dresden analogy, Michael either has it or he doesn't.

    1. I agree with the Dresden references, except the Michael one, he always has it, the only time he doesn't is when the mission he is on wasn't one given to him by God. He is pure good, Michael is a saint...

      Now, soul fire is an interesting concept, using life force, and thus the amount of Con available could be related to how many spells/levels can be cast in a day. I think you could give a bonus to that based on your Will saves, showing that a Wizard learns at higher levels to control more magic in a day, kinda like a weight lifter can lift more weights for longer. It's still sort of health based, but makes it more interesting, because it brings the strength of your mind into it. So a really good wizard would have to have good Wis, Con, and Int (because spells and shout are still based if you are smart enough to use them.

  2. Yeah I had considered Michael as well ... but then that's the difference between divine magic and imposing your will for magic.

  3. Divination is an easy one, people start having dreams of the future and can start "hearing" thoughts or "seeing" places they normally couldn't. In areas with a high enough aura you're gonna see full prophecies, read people's minds, scrye accidentally, stuff like that.