Friday, March 6, 2015

Foundations of Magic

NOTE: Folks who have read my prior posts over at Spirit of the Blank will likely recognize many elements of the following, though there are some important updates within.

So it's time to get back to magic, having gotten some of the other foundational elements written down.

Within the game world, I think it's important to document the assumptions of how magic works for both the players and the GM. Just as players with experience of one sort or another with combat can get a lot of additional "bang for the buck" out of Aspects when playing in a physical combat scene, I think you have to give players the ability to understand how Magic works in a particular game world to provide a similar opportunity.

Enough preamble. Onward.

Assumptions about Magic in SoG

Magic exists as a "force of nature", like magnetism or wind. But while characters may understand the principles of Magic, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to generate magical effects. Conversely, characters may have the ability to generate magical effects but have no knowledge of the underlying principles that they are using.

So the following statements reflect the reality of the game world:

  • Magical Effects exist in the game world as a force of nature.
  • Spell casting is but one method of generating a magical effect.
  • There are other methods of generating magical effects that do not require a spell.

Generating a magical effect in SoG could be compared to being able to make a sailboat go where you want it go. You need a sailboat and you need wind. You also need a degree of knowledge to be able to use the sailboat to harness the wind to get where you want to go.

Depending upon where you’d want to go (or how big a sailboat you use), you need different degrees of knowledge: consider the difference in knowledge and type of ship needed to sail across the ocean versus sailing across a lake.

Character Requirements for Generating Magical Effects

Keeping with the sailing metaphor, consider that all magical effects generated by characters require the following:

  • There must be "wind". In other words, Magic must be present. This also implies that it's possible to be "becalmed"...
  • There must be a sailboat. Expressed within SoG, you have to have the stunt "Magic" in order to harness the magical forces.
  • The characters require knowledge to guide the sailboat. In other words, a character must have a Skill tied to the Magic stunt.

Restated, this means that a SoG character must have:

  1. Access to magical forces of the game world, which are generally (though not always) present.
  2. The stunt "Magic".
  3. A skill that can be narratively connected to the Magic stunt.

Stunt "Magic"

Any character can have the "Magic" stunt and it is a prerequisite for generating magical effects. Without it, magical effects cannot be generated by the character (barring a potion, scroll or an enchanted item).

Like many other stunts in Fate, Magic is tied to a skill. The caster can determine what skill is used to generate magical effects. The particular skill that is tied to the Magic stunt would then play a part in the narrative expression of magical effects.

Powering the Magic stunt requires the application of a Fate point. How that Fate point is assessed depends upon if the character is using Sorcery or Wizardry (see below).

Skill "Wizardry"

This skill represents the study, research and understanding of the underlying principles of Magic as well as the application of predefined magic spells. In other words, attaching the Magic stunt to the Wizardry Skill is what establishes someone as a Wizard and is the requirement to allow them to cast predefined spells. Using any other skill with the Magic stunt constitutes Sorcery.

Someone could elect to learn the Wizardry skill without having the stunt "Magic", but would not be able to actually cast spells. This would be more like a Magic researcher, rather than a Wizard.

"Wizardry" versus "Sorcery"

In a departure to the source material (though not necessarily in conflict with it), SoG makes a distinction between "Wizardry" and "Sorcery" as methods of generating magical effects.

Because of the High Fantasy nature of magic in this world (i.e., it's not scarce), you don't necessarily need the Wizardry skill to generate magical effects.

Think of Wizards as the "ivory tower scientists" of magic, whereas Sorcerers are typically closer to "garage tinkerers" or "savants". This is not to say that sorcerers aren't effective magic users, but they can be just as dangerous to themselves and their allies as well as their enemies. Often the term "sorcery" can have a negative connotation, at least among Wizards.

Wizardry is defined as generating magical effects through the use of predefined spells that have been thoroughly researched and are generally considered "known quantities". This means that the character is generating magic effects by the combination of the Magic stunt and the Wizard skill.

Sorcery is defined as generating magical effects without much (if any) prior research and can be prone to unexpected outcomes. In terms of game mechanics, this means a character is using the Magic stunt with a skill OTHER than the Wizard skill.

For example:

  • Wizards have their Magic stunt tied to the Wizardry Skill.
  • Bards generating magic effects might have a Magic stunt tied to their Craft/Performance skill.
  • Rangers generating magical effects might have Magic stunt tied to their Survival skill.
  • Monks generating magic effects might have Magic stunt tied to their Discipline skill.

Though this distinction between wizardry and sorcery was not laid out in the source material, I like it for a number of reasons:

  • I feel it enables players who want to leverage the more flexible nature of Fate mechanic with respect to magic, but still leave the "predefined" nature of source material spells intact.
  • Distinguishes Wizards from other characters that generate magic effects.
  • Narratively, it allows non-wizard characters to generate magic effects not due to any training by the Wizard's Guild, but rather as a function of their "agency" within the gameworld and the magical forces it contains.
  • The source material appears (to me at least) to contain assumptions that the use of actual spells within the gameworld world was a relatively rare currency but yet almost every class of character at varying levels of achievement could either cast spells or in some way generate magical effects (to say nothing of the frequency of crafted magical items appearing within games). This seemed a fun way to reconcile any perceived disconnect without contradicting gameworld assumptions.

Generating Magical Effects

In SoG, there are three basic means of generating a magical effect:

  1. On the Fly
  2. Casting a pre-defined spell (formula, recipe, ritual, etc)
  3. Via a predefined Stunt

On the Fly Magic Effects

"On the Fly" magical effects (sorcery) occur when the sorceror states the intention to generate a desired magical effect. The player and the GM then determine the difficulty of the spell by costing out the magical effect using a “magic economy” by defining the benefits (increase difficulty) and costs (decrease difficulty).

The character wishing to create an on the fly magical effect does the following:

  1. Determine the difficulty of the magical effect. This would be determined by the player looking at the "Magic Economy" of effects (positive and negative) to come up with a net difficulty. NOTE: The Magic Economy hasn't been published yet.
  2. Expends a Fate Point to power the Magic Stunt.
  3. Determine success by rolling 4dF against the skill to be used with the Magic stunt.

If successful, the effect is generated as desired by the caster. Positive shifts count towards an improved result in way or another.

If the caster fails the difficulty, then the magical effect does not occur as desired and Bad Things Happen (see "Casting Failures" below).

A conceit of SoG is that casting failure and negative effects were always present in the gameworld but as long as a Wizard followed a pre-defined spell that was within the limits of his Wizardry skill level, it can be assumed that there were sufficient fail-safes built into the spells to prevent any sort of negative impact to the caster or those around them.

The source material dictated that spells might fail to have the desired effect on targets, but that was due to some property of the target (saving throws), not because the spell "failed" to be cast. Even if the spell was interrupted during the casting there was no generally negative impact (past the loss of the spell).

Another SoG design conceit is that if casting failure was possible but never mentioned by the source material, then it must be pretty bad... (mwa-ha-ha)

Casting Failures (aka Magical "Recoil")

If an attempt to generate a magical effect results in a failure then the desired effect doesn't occur--at least not under the control of the caster.

The magical power that was focused in the attempt to create the effect has to go "somewhere". So the power of magical recoil is determined in SoG like this:

The effect’s original difficulty + the number of shifts by which the caster failed the roll.

Example 1: If a Sorceror attempts a +4 magic difficulty and fails by 1, a (+4 + 1 = +5 Superb) magical recoil is generated.

Example 2: A Sorceror’s Apprentice (I couldn’t resist) with a +1 Skill attempted to cast a magical effect of +5 difficulty and then rolled –2 on 4dF. The result would be a failure by 4 shifts (+5 Difficulty against a result of -1 ((-2, 4dF) + (+1, Skill) = -1). The hapless apprentice would have to deal with a magical recoil of +9 (+5 difficulty + 4 shift failure)

Dealing with Magical Recoil

Any shifts of recoil are expressed as stress (physical or mental). When recoil occurs, the character must choose either/or/some combination of:

  • Accept the recoil as stress upon the character.
  • Reflect the recoil out into the environment.

The character can choose to split it up (i.e., the caster take some stress, the rest goes into the zone around them). I like the roleplaying potential inherent in allowing the character to choose.

Remember that 1 shift is equivalent to 10 hit points. So a +4 recoil would mean 40 hit points worth of recoil!

This would also narratively reinforce why Wizards keep a very close eye on apprentices. Or why sorcerors tend to live alone. In isolated areas. Quite possibly surrounded by a bleak, desolate landscape... Hey, those tropes might exist for a reason!

The character's choice of how to deal with magical recoil could have a potential impact upon a character's alignment: projecting magical recoil into the world could very well represent something of a chaotic, or evil, or selfish act. Casters electing to take the stress of magical recoil upon themselves could represent more of a lawful, or good or selfless act.

Once that has been stated by the character, the GM and/or the player agree upon the nature of the recoil.

The particular nature of recoil is determined at the time the failure occurs. The GM normally determines the nature of the recoil, as the character has lost control of the magic.

For other ideas, review Fate Core p.189 under "Succeed at a Cost" (Fate-SRD Link) for more ideas about how to assign recoil.

Spell Casting

A Wizard casting a pre-defined spell to generate a magical effect does the following:

  1. Notes the pre-determined difficulty of the spell.
  2. "Commits" a Fate Point, which means it is allocated for the scene but not actually spent (see below).
  3. Rolls 2dF+2 to determine any positive shifts.

The Fate Point "Commit"

The Fate Point Commit is a new rule and is different from spending a Fate Point. At the casting of the spell, the Wizard commits a Fate Point instead of spending it.

If a Fate Point is committed, the Wizard cannot make use of that Fate Point for the rest of the scene. Similar to physical or mental stress points, the Wizard gets back any committed Fate Points at the end of the scene.

Conversely, if the caster chooses to actually use a Fate Point in the normal manner during the casting, the commit is met by actually spending it, and the caster would not get it back at the end of the scene.

Dice Roll 2dF+2

The 2dF+2 roll produces a range between 0 and +4, so unless there is some outside factor (aspects, some sort of attempted interruption, etc.) to increase the spell difficulty, there would be no chance for spell failure (consistent with the source material), since the difficulty of the spell is never greater than the Wizardry skill.

The benefits of the Fate point Commit and the 2dF+2 die roll are only available so long as the following occurs:

  • The difficulty of the spell must be less than or equal to the caster’s Wizardry skill. In other words a character with a Wizard Skill of +3 can cast spells of +3 difficulty or less.
  • The caster can fulfill all the requirements of the spell (having components, being able to make gestures, etc.).

If these cannot be met, than the caster may still attempt the pre-defined spell, but must now actually spend (no longer Commit) a Fate point, and roll 4dF instead (no longer 2dF+2), and risk a casting failure.

Wizardry and Casting Failure

In short: doing just wizardry wouldn't be an issue. Under normal circumstances a Wizard cannot fail to cast a predefined spell equal to or less than the spell's difficulty, though it is possible to increase the situational difficulty of a casting via Aspects being compelled, or some party attempting to interrupt the Wizard.

If the Wizard does actually fail to cast a predefined spell, there is no magical recoil and no negative impact, beyond the loss of the memorized spell (or the loss of the scroll being read).

As the source material had no overtly negative impacts as a result of a spell being interrupted and lost, SoG's assumption is that Wizard spells are considered to have integrated various fail-safes so that if a spell was interrupted, the energy focused by the spell would be safely dispersed.

Magical Effects Defined by a Stunt

These are typically tightly-defined magical effects that are specifically allowed by having a particular stunt. A stunt powered by magic still requires magic to be present in the environment in order to function. This would be more the typical, single-application, no real flexibility, type of magical stunt.

This would include things like a troll's ability to regenerate and so forth.

These single-use Magical Stunts have no other requirement (i.e., you don't need the stunt "Magic", in order to have a Magical Stunt). Conversely, having a Magical Stunt doesn't act as having the actual stunt "Magic".

Clerical Magical Effects

The source material treats clerical prayers and magic-user spells as being mechanically identical, though the underlying principles by which magic-users and clerics generate magical effects are very different.

The source material states that clerics themselves don’t actually harness magical forces--they are a proxy for directing the magical forces generated by their deity. Clerics pray to their deity (singular/plural/whatever) with the desire for a particular prayer’s magical effect to occur. The deity’s power structure (for lack of a better term) then determines whether or not the cleric’s prayer will be fulfilled or not and then entities within the cleric’s faith system actually generate the magical effects on behalf of the cleric.

So to apply another metaphor (earlier I made the analogy that Wizardry and Sorcery were like sailing), clerical magic could be considered like “calling in an airstrike”.

  • The Cleric acts as the "forward observer" for a particular deity.
  • A particular clerical spell (prayer) is a specifically worded request for that airstrike.
  • If the cleric has "valid authorization," the airstrike request is filled and the effect is generated by the deity's power structure. In the event that the cleric doesn't have a valid authorization, there is a danger that the deity's power structure will respond with a possible "smiting"...

Clerical Spell Requirements

While the underlying narrative around clerical spellcasting is pretty different, the game mechanics are pretty similar. The requirements for a cleric to "cast spells" are:

  1. Serve a deity that is able to access to magical forces of the gameworld, which are generally (though not always) present. That deity must have a narrative connection to the plane of existance the cleric is on. Similar to wizardry/sorcery, this is USUALLY true.
  2. The stunt "Divine Favor". This is separate (though similar) to the "Magic" stunt for Wizards. This represents the ability to have clerical spells by channelled by the player.
  3. A skill that can be narratively connected to the "Divine Favor" stunt. For clerics (and Paladins), this skill may not be decided by the player, but rather by the deity. So for example, a cleric of the deity Bacchus (Greek god of wine and excess) might need the skill of Carousing as the "connected skill". St. Cuthbert might look at the cleric character's skill of Resolve. Again, a departure from the source material, but it appeals to my goal of providing players as much opportunity as possible to support a player's role-playing opportunities.

Clerics and Spell Casting Mechanics

Casting a clerical spell to request a magical effect requires the player to do the following:

  1. Notes the pre-determined difficulty of the spell (prayer).
  2. Player "commits" a Fate Point (see above)
  3. Rolls 2dF+2 (see above) to determine any positive shifts.

Clerics and Sorcery

Clerics don't have an opportunity for Sorcery, unless they approach it similar to how anyone else would: with the Magic stunt.

Clerics and Magical Recoil

Narratively, there is no magical recoil as such from the attempted casting of clerical spells. However from a mechanics standpoint there is a parallel.

If an aspect of the cleric (or paladin) is considered in conflict with his stated deity, it's possible that a GM could do a Compel and require the cleric to roll 4dF instead of 2dF+2. Any failure would then be considered as the deity's wrath (to one degree or another), and be treated as magical recoil.

Though playtesting will out, this seems like a fun way to put some game mechanics and narrative tension into the faith-based magical effects.