Categories
Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Found a Useful Font

I would normally post this in my RPG Ideas and Projects collection on Google Plus. Since the announcement of its impending demise, I ported over all the posts from that collection to my site here. I have edited all the 2018 posts to that collection for proper titles, categories, and tagging.

I have to get used to posting here instead of there, so my apologies for the long introduction. I have to stop saying that my next post will be about x and y now that I will post random tidbits here more frequently.

Dotsies is an interesting font based on the premise that handwriting makes letters much larger than they need to be. The result is something you might imagine an AI would invent. What makes it interesting for me is that everything can be typed with one hand.

When I think about the Rune Magic system in my Samoora campaign, this fits with the image of a person manipulating an object on their arm with their free hand. Even better, words typed in this font look like pixelated runes. This makes the keyword nature of the magic system tie into the rune concept. Woot!

Even better, you can design your own version of Dotsies. So, I have designed my own version and I will change the font to match with FontForge.

So I have a font that I can read, but the players cannot. I can glance down at the character's collected runes and know what spells they should be able to generate.

As John Smith used to say, I love it when a plan comes together.

Categories
Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

D&D Magic as Hard Magic

I was skipping around YouTube through various constructed language videos when I found a video about hard magic systems. For those that may not know (like I didn't until I saw the video), classification of magic systems as hard and soft comes from Brandon Sanderson. Hard magic systems tend to have well-defined rules and logical consequences. The video uses alchemy from Full Metal Alchemist to make this point.

The main points of the video state that a hard magic system has four properties in varying degrees:

  1. Predictability
  2. Limitations
  3. Weaknesses
  4. Cost

In some ways, these properties can make a magic system look more like a science in that if I follow the rules, I will get the magic effect I want every time. However, if a magician follows the rules without understanding limitations or cost, the door opens for an unpredictable effect.

I bring this up because I think it is an interesting way to describe the various magic systems in my Samoora Sea setting. Magic is not universal as it is in D&D. Every region has a form of magic, each with its own rules. Part of the idea behind the setting is that characters, through exploration and promotion of inter-region trade, blaze their own path to practicing magic, taking pieces that they learn along the way. A magic-using character will begin in one tradition but learn one or more different tidbits along the way.

In this series, I will talk about the four properties of the following magic systems in Samoora with the primary region in parentheses:

  • Rune Magic (Porta Nile)
  • Blood Thieves (Vinakrah)
  • The Dragon Path (Nagelor)
  • Gate Magic (Helica)
  • Five Salts (Gaerleon)
  • Cult of Hot Iron (Camalanth)
  • Powers of the Emissary (entire region)
  • Divine Magic of the Hedenciad (mainland areas)
  • Paths of the Wolf Clan (everywhere)

The last three are easier to describe as they are more akin to traditional divine magic in D&D. The others vary widely in their connections to traditional D&D style magic.

Before starting with Rune Magic, Let me define magic in Swords & Wizardry (rules as written) using the four properties of a hard magic system. The Samoora Sea setting will be written for S&W making the standard system a good place to start.

Limitations of Arcane Magic

As written in Swords & Wizardry, arcane spells are memorized formulae, gestures, and incantations meticulously recorded in books of magic. This means the first limitation is that spells must be written. All spells come from some wizard writing it down. The second is that spells must be memorized.  It's not that new spells can't be crafted, but that crafting one requires research, experimentation, and a meticulously written recipe.

Furthermore, it is written that a Magic-User can only hold a certain quantity of magical power in mental, memorized reserve to be released later in the form of a spell. In the game, the finite number of spells that can be memorized are measured in spell slots.

Beyond spells are other ways of using magic, such as creating a golem. Like a spell, though, creating a specific type of golem is still a documented process. Although creating a golem requires no memorization, it still requires some rare book or be the product of a magic-user's research.

For the sake of space, I won't go too much into creating various magic items like potions, magic swords, and rings except to say that those items traditionally require research, though rules-as-written say that the creation of such items is up to the referee. One thing that is stated, however, is that there are marvelous magic devices that have no written instructions. Those marvelous devices though are described as lost arts that a magic-user may never be able to reproduce.

Scrolls also have a small set of limitations described like this: with the exception of Protection scrolls, which can be used by any character class, scrolls can only be used by a character class that can cast the appropriate type of spell. Rangers and Thieves are exceptions to this rule at higher levels.

In short, arcane spells are meticulously written recipes. They must be memorized to be used and a wizard is limited in the number of spells he/she/they can memorize. The use of magic beyond spells is still limited to a written recipe. Magic swords, golems, potions, etc, require a set of instructions to be created. Scrolls have further limitations in their use; a scroll can only be used by spellcasters that could normally use the spell without the scroll. There are more limitations that could be listed, like armor usage and lack of healing magic, but these cover the major limitations of arcane magic in S&W.

Limitations of Divine Magic

Although Divine Magic is described differently, it basically works the same way. It is not as limited to a written recipe as a Cleric may be provided spells by visions and revelations from their primary force. The two smaller differences are that Cleric can wear armor while casting spells and the focus of divine spells are more centered around healing wounds, diseases, or mental conditions.

Predictability

This one is short. Basically, any spell, arcane or divine, always works within the limitations listed above. A magic-user memorizes a spell, it will work as described when cast. A cleric meditates for spells, it will work when cast. There is no doubt that the formulae (arcane magic) or gift of a god (divine magic) will work.

The only unpredictability for a spell comes when a creature is immune or resistant to magic. The spell worked, but the only reason it did not work as expected is that the target shrugged it off. Characters resist through the use of a saving throw, creatures may have an immunity to certain types of magic or a limited chance of immunity to all magic.

Weaknesses

It's difficult to find any real weaknesses in magic. If a character has access to it, it works. Using magic doesn't necessarily put the spellcaster at some kind of disadvantage. It's true that there is a limit to the number and power of spells used daily, but there is no problem with hitting that limit. It doesn't cost sanity, health, or even physical scars. Magic is like a battery: once it is out of power, it needs to be recharged. It stinks not to have magic around, but it's simply a matter of time until it can be used again.

Costs

Speaking of time, it is the biggest cost for using magic in S&W. There is a daily cost of time to 'reload' the spells for use. For a new magic recipe, there is a cost in time to research it, though the specifics are left up to the referee. It takes time to gain access to more powerful spells. Humans have more potential to use magic, but the lifespan of a human is limited. Interestingly enough, this cost has worked into the lore of D&D through the idea of liches. A lich finds a way to prolong their life to be able to continue to research magic. Still, the price for transforming into a lich is quite high, it exchanges the cost in time with the cost of isolation.

Next Steps

I'm over 1200 words, so I'll wrap up. I hope to give a similar treatment to all magic systems in my Samoora setting starting with Rune Magic.

Categories
Electrum Pieces and Paper Pills

How Do You Present a Setting?

It's a question, not a statement because I am researching how others do it. So far, my favorite way to present a setting, especially unusual ones, it found in The Petal Hack by Brett Slocum.

PetalHackTOC

In three short pages, this overview delivers what players need to know about what makes Tékumel good and what makes it different. Brett also provides information about why characters would go on an adventures and links to learn more about the world. For all my reading about Tékumel, I never felt like I could run an adventure there until I read this brief introduction.

For anything I've read to date, this is my gold standard for explaining a setting to players. To abstract it a bit, I want to tell players the following:

  • These things exist or are in abundance (Magic, Deities, etc.)
  • These things do not exist or are scarce (Calvary, Iron, etc.)
  • Things to know about Culture(s) (Ethics, Politics, etc.)
  • Very brief overview of places (Five Empires)
  • Why characters go on adventures
  • Links (not pages in a book) to more information.

What Would Wizards Do (WWWD)?

When Wizards announced that it was releasing The Guildmaster's Guide to Ravinca, I waited for it to be listed on Amazon to see the Table of Contents. (I won't be able to buy it until maybe Spring). I wanted to see how they would present a new setting. I figured that the page count would be longer as 5e has more intricate rules that first edition of The Black Hack.

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picture of TOC from link to Amazon's preview images of the book

To my surprise, the Welcome to Ravinca section was also three pages. Reading further, though, it seems those three pages only cover three of my six items on the list: These Things Exist/Are in Abundance, What is Different, Things to know about Culture. Maybe it also includes an overview of places, but I won't know until I read it. The currency item struck me as odd. I've rarely encountered a group that cared about what the money was named nearly as much as its composition. (Just tell me if it's a gold piece, silver piece, or copper piece.)

I was not surprised that more information about the setting is in the book instead of external links. Linking to information about Ravinca in Magic: The Gathering doesn't necessary inform players of Ravinca in D&D. Outside of that, Tékumel has also existed in several different RPGs whereas Ravinca is a setting new to them.

It feels a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but gives me some information to answer my big question. Both books provide a very brief overview that covers the distinctive elements of a setting. Both books seem to cover elements of the overview in more details in subsequent chapters. However, I still think that a short paragraph that states why a character is adventuring in the setting is valuable before discussing how to generate an adventure in that setting. I will admit, though, that I am very biased to a setting book containing a player section and a separate GM section.

What Would Monte Do (WWMD?)

Looking at the Numenera Core Rulebook, I have to guess from the full-size PDF preview from DriveThruRPG, that pages 11 to 14  cover the brief intro to the Ninth World. I'm not including the Getting Started section or the Why I Wrote This section. Without more detail, I went to the Numenera website to get an overview of the setting.

In 574 words, this elevator pitch manages to provide an overview of all but two elements: These things do not exist and Links to more information. The main idea of the setting is that anything is possible, so it could be argued that limits do not exist. That said, I believe it would be more fair to say that it includes everything I would want to imagine playing in the world. It accomplishes its small word count by suggesting possibilities. It invites the reader to fill in missing gaps. (I suppose as a promotional piece to encourage sales, it has a different audience that an intro in the purchased book itself.)

What Would Anyone Else Do (WWAED?)

Looking through other systems, Rune Stryders for EABA has a short page about Ruhn that says a lot about what is different, but leaves out descriptions of any known places in the setting (that is covered elsewhere in the book). It is engaging and pretty straightforward, but feels too brief for my tastes.

The Hellfrost: Player's Guide for Savage Worlds uses two pages to introduce the setting. It seems to cover all the items I mentioned at the beginning. Magic is unreliable (What is scarce), winters are getting longer and colder (What is abundant), a sketch about the kingdoms (places), a bit about culture change as a result of the war, and even a couple paragraphs of where players can start.

Lastly, many old-school settings use tables to detail a new setting. It is an indirect method that allows the GM to discover the world as much as players do. For my Samoora setting, I have only one encounter table so far and it features creatures, magic, and terrain that is not covered in the summary. Using tables provides a lot of utility with an economy of words: if done well, it's not just brief, but evocative of the setting.

For example, one entry on my encounter table references sentient beings not mentioned in the player's guide.

You encounter a pair of neighboring tiny villages. One has three dozen forges with blacksmiths toiling in full plate mail. The other village contain a handful of one room huts containing a dozen or so swords hanging on the walls. There are no doors in any structure in the two villages. While you are deciding what to do, several men arrive dressed in full plate armor. They are silently wheeling in raw iron ore on carts. Their armor is caked in dirt.

I'm not saying that I've written this entry well, but I provide it as an example of something that is encountered that is best not explained in advance. I don't want to write up every race of sentient creature in the first few pages. I'd have to create an entire book for all of them.

I may decide to go this route as I enjoy it the more I think about it.

Conclusion (WWID?)

Again, I don't claim to have the answers, but I think Brett introduced Tékumel very well in a short space. He covers six essentials things that players (and potential GMs) need to know about a setting before diving into the details. I like talking about what is missing or scarce in a setting as much as talking about what new and different elements exist. Looking at other examples, I imagine that two or three pages is the right size to provide a solid overview. In my next post I plan to link to my Introduction to the Samoora Sea using these examples as a guideline.