This post may seem to be stream of conscious, but the main point centers around having a reason why a setting works the way it does and why people in the setting have the superstitions that they do. Taking the ideas in this post to the extreme can lead to some extreme associations, so caveat emptor. So here are thoughts about my southeastern Asian setting based on setting up a number system to categorize elements within the game world.
Tanah-Con-Rahn is a reorganization of a setting I began developing for Nevermet Press some time ago. I want to make sure that others that contributed to it feel like I am not stealing their ideas. So for example, there is no City of Spires in Tanah-Con-Rahn, because John Schutt had a killer idea of an perpetually dying god and various city factions trying to find him. All I did was name the place, John added the awesome.
With recent work on a Verb/Noun magic system, I've begun to work out how magic will work in Tanah-Con-Rahn. Based on an earlier post about how nouns are classified in other languages, I plan on offering NPC wizards with some very unique nouns.
Of course, psionics and ghosts play their part as well. The ACKS Psionicist allows for a specialty in dealing with ghosts that fits a niche for specific settings. Mixing southeast Asia and psionics seem to go together like peas and carrots.
Tonight, though, I was going through some math in my mind in an attempt to go to sleep. While pondering various number sequence, I got out of bed and googled the concept in my head. It turns out to be called the digital root. Digital roots can be laid out in a nine by nine grid to produce a Vedic Square. If you fill in the Vedic Square for a specific number, so get some interesting geometric designs that show some kind of symmetry.
Dude, seriously, you're putting me to sleep. What does this have to do with gaming.
The short answer is that the geometric designs with distinct patterns for numbers 1 through 9 provide a visual code for 1st through 9th level spells. I wouldn't use it much in-game as much as between games in an effort to provide small touches of "otherness" to the setting. I know a lot folks like me that will remember the symbols as a way to classify various power levels of spells. It may not be your thing, and that's okay.
Building on these patterns, I can scrawl some rune-looking glyphs to place throughout a dungeon, wizard's tower, etc. Since libraries are a big part of Tanah-Con-Rahn, the nine glyphs can be used to classify non-fiction material. For priests, the glyphs can represent the eight paths of righteousness and the one path of destruction. Since the present noun/verb system allows most spellcasters to access a specific set of nine verbs only, I could assign one glyph to one verb as a way to list the spells. Rainbows have seven colors. If you include white and black, you have nine colors, one glyph for each color. The list of things can go on and on.
By creating these multiple associations, it provides some subtext for a world without having to write six or seven novels of backstory. These nine patterns have meaning throughout the setting and it can mean different things depending on context. It's not all about magic, like the colors of the rainbow example, and it shouldn't be.
None of this is really game crunch, not yet. Here's where some really out there stuff can help create a seemingly random groups of spells. You can make the group my a mathematic principle instead of effect. Players may forever wonder why every school has a create spell, but if they ever want to know, you can send them on a wild goose chase to find the answer. Here's how it works:
The spell creation system works by assigning effects on a scale of 0 to 8. Then rating the duration on the same scale. Then rating the Range. Then rating the Area of Effect/Number of targets on the same scale. Using the numbers, every spell can be a unique four digit number. Take the digital root of the number and classify the spell book accordingly. In the current draft of the spell system, this would put Create Water and Speak with the Dead in the same school of magic.
Astute players will look at the PHB and see that spells with certain difficulties are grouped together, but at first glance it won't be obvious. Spells with a difficulty of 15 and 6 will be in the same school. One school will be only spells with a difficulty of 9.
Many will probably never, ever care about any of this. But for me as the GM, it lets me sound like a wizard or a numerologist or a half-witted "prophet of doom" that sees patterns in everything. It also lets me sound like a sage that seeks to classify all knowledge according to what he/she perceives to be a universal pattern, like Aristotle. It even lets me throw in day-to-day stuff like why common folk find some numbers lucky in certain situations, but bad in others.
In Tanah-Con-Rahn, the number you are born under (digital root of birthdate) are a boon to specific abilities that benefit a character depending on their class. Others may have a bane, thus they are driven to vile magic, pacts with demons or other horrendous things in an effort to escape their destiny. With some effort, I can come up with a sort of nine month zodiac for beneficial animals or totems and another for detrimental animals.
The number you train under for magic can dictate why some wizards cannot wear certain colors. Such a number would be determined by a number from 1 to 9 that you assign to the verbs of the magic system. The first verb a mage learns determines the number they train under. Nine minus that number corresponds to the color that would be the color that they cannot wear.
Anything you can rate from 1 to 9 will work for this system.