Arcane Magic and Wizards
We are currently reworking the Arcane Magic system. There is a lot to love in the current system, but there were several rough edges and pain points that we wanted to address:
The Learning Cliff
Arcane magic is somewhat deliberately technical and uses lots of grandiloquent words and terms. One goal of the previous design was that a player could practice and become a better mage, just like someone could practice and become a better sword fighter. Another goal was that you’d “feel” like a wizard as you navigate the system – that you’d be under mental strain to manage it all, but as a result you’d be rewarded with incredible power that looks OP to the outsider, but is actually the product of some very hard work.
The old system has all of that quite successfully, but a little too much. If you showed up for your first game without hours of prep, you might not be able to cast ANY spells that game. That is a bad experience, especially for a first time player. This new system is intended to have a gentler ramp up.
Because the initial cliff was so high, it also made it harder to go higher. A gentler path also leaves room for an even higher ceiling, and a way to address some minor gripes of mine about things like incants sounding too similar when repeated. Wizards now opt in to their own level of complexity as they feel they are ready, and are rewarded as they do so.
Buffing Only Mages
One other side effect of the cognitive challenge of casting spells is that doing that under pressure was even harder. To some extent this was expected and planned for, but in practice, it meant that we saw most mages focusing their effort only on buff spells – these can be cast out of combat, so they can take their time and carefully cast the spell without the chaos of combat. As a result, the battlemage archetype was almost non-existent – it was just too difficult compared to the payoff of combat magic to perform complex hand signs and incantations while someone tries to swing at you. This is at odds with the concept of mages as frightening magical powerhouses.
The system used a large number, Acuity (the total of all your “good at magic” stats) with totals in the 20s and 30s, and then compared it to Complexity, a corresponding 20s or 30s number that was how difficult the spell was. In general, large numbers are bad in LARP design and are better used in tabletop, if at all. This system lead to a lot of “+1 collecting” and stacking, and usually involved each serious spell using every single available bonus. In other words, no real interesting choice there, and when there’s no interesting choice, there shouldn’t be an illusory choice placed there. These numbers needed to be deflated.
One feature of the old system was more of a setting decision – the Mage Guilds were a cabal of selfish backstabbers who would climb over each other to advance. There were themes of betrayal, cronyism, and amoral pragmatism. To some extent, Mages still hold this position in the new system, but structurally the problem was that the path to advancement was always by fiat of another, more powerful character (always an NPC). This meant that ultimately advancement big and small was always a Staff to player decision, and could feel like favoritism OOC, rather than IC. It also depended on Staff to generate requests and needs for a variety of high level mage boss characters in order to provide any “quests” for mages to do to provide the excuse for advancement. This was very top heavy and labor intensive for us, and ended up frustrating for everyone. The new system has a much more self-driven advancement.
Lastly, a big pain point for Staff, and I’m sure for players too, was the approval of spells. Players would submit a spell effect they wanted to create, and it was a lot of back and forth, disagreeing over some technical/rules aspects, but also more conceptual, like “This Domain can’t do that kind of effect” or “You think this is very low power, but it’s actually very high power.” This process could be painful, and it was all tied into how technical and specific it was to create a single spell. A given unique spell had close to 40 possible features, once you considered all the modifiers, restrictions (for bonus +1s) Techniques, configurations, and complexity reductions it could have. This process was usually a back and forth that lasted from the first day after an Event to the last day before an Event, because every mage was doing several of these each game.
Okay, so a lot to love but some serious work to do! Here are the major beats of the new system that address these pain points:
Whereas before each spell had a distinct casting method, Spells now work by requiring the Wizard to gather a quantity magical power, and then spend the magical power on spells and techniques as they wish. The individual spell effect, now called a Theorem, is very straightforward and simple, like “burn things” and costs 1 unit of power. Making it burn more things, burn longer, burn harder – all of these you just spend more power to do in the form of an appended “Big Spell” or “Long lasting Spell” Technique. This lets you customize on the fly, and have a specific bag of “tricks” you know and more ways to scale those tricks with you as your grow as a Wizard.
One way to get power is to just spend Discipline, so players of wizards who haven’t learned the incants or signs can still do some magic by will alone, a couple of times per rest. This also means that battle wizards have some ways to always be dangerous, even if there’s no time or breathing room to do a long, mentally taxing cast. But they can, for more power.
This change alone required an almost total rebuilding of the magic system, every spell and every technique, so it’s taken the bulk of the time in development.
This allows the learning curve to ramp up slowly, and allow a given player to opt in to all of the complexity of the system as they feel ready. As well, advanced casting styles can be learned whenever the player is ready that are more rigorous and difficult, but let you gather more power more quickly.
This also means there is no more “Acuity/Complexity” system. Wizards have a few ways to generate magical energy, and they can use various options one at a time or together to get it and spend it. There are “bigger” power units that remain out of grasp for starter mages, and these require using Mysteries to get, until they’re a higher circle and can do it more easily.
Mysteries are new. The goal of Fallacies in the old system (spell flaws for Complexity discounts) was to create a “wizardly” scene with all the arcane bibs and bobs you had to use to work difficult magic. But since in practice, serious spells were just “every fallacy I can possibly do” it turned into one very specific wizardly scene every time. So why not just create a very cool wizard scene from scratch that we’re happy with? Why not several, for various purposes? These are the Mysteries, and are sort of like Rituals (Ceremonies, actually – we’ll discuss that another time), but for Wizards.
Mysteries have several phases where various tasks must be completed quickly and skillfully. What tasks need doing are variable – random elements and ST interaction may be part of them, where arcane fluctuations and anomalies may require the Wizard to react with the right intervention to proceed or mitigate some problem. The result of these are powerful effects, but they aren’t spells. Some Mysteries help you gather great power to use on spells. Some of them are how you advance as a Wizard to the next circle of power. Some of them help you do things like target far away places with your magic, or affect the world in some other way. Each time they’re done, they’re intended to be both a challenge and a spectacle for others, and of course, make you feel pretty wizardly.
The Guild now likes you and wants you to succeed. Recruiting new Wizards, and advancing to new Circles is now essentially totally in your power, but it is gated by a series of difficult and dangerous Mysteries. If you can succeed at the Mysteries, you advance, but doing so is the challenge. It will involve having achieved mastery of many different Wizard abilities, and the challenges you face may require experimentation over time to overcome. Likewise, the Mysteries can be dangerous to perform.
You’ll still need to find ways to get the Esoteric Studies required to learn new Techniques, but tools will exist to get your hands on those in a self-paced way as well, so you aren’t relying on Storyteller attention to advance anymore.
Advancement isn’t just linear though, it’s also lateral. Wizards now start with only 1 Domain (one topic of spells within their element’s portfolio). The intention is that each Domain is a lot “bigger” of a character concept, so you could reasonably play your whole career as just a “Pain Mage” who fights with just Pain, controls people socially with Pain, protects against Pain – solves all their problems with magical Pain. We want there to be a stronger identity around being a “Beast Mage” or a “Time Mage” rather than a do-it-all Earth Mage or Water Mage. You can still get more Domains, but it’s harder to do, and a bigger deal when you do it.
Part of this new world is a different kind of emphasis on the spells themselves. If you only ever need one spell for “shoot fire” then once you have it, you have it. All your fire shooting needs are permanently met, even as you become a mighty wizard and the fire is very hot or very large. This means there is a somewhat more constrained emphasis on making spells, and it’s a little more “optional” to do so. Wizards will start with a bundle of spells to help get them out the door as a fully functional character with a bag of tricks that feels like a “full character” with just these. If they get more Domains, they can expand their tricks that way. In short, making spells isn’t a hard requirement as part of getting more powerful.
Coming up with new Theorems is possible. In higher tier games, this will involve using a magical laboratory as part of a Wizard Tower as a way to reliably work towards developing new Theorems. It will exist as a subsystem there. For lower Tier games, or just for wizards who don’t have a tower, it’s always possible to learn new spells as a sort of “quest reward” for doing in-game magical research, at storyteller discretion.
Likewise, when new Theorems are made, since the they are by nature very simple, the approval process can be a lot simpler as well. We only have to agree on a few key points about its appropriateness, and then we’re done. The Techniques themselves handle the modifiers and extra costs, when wanted. Making these less often and it being easier to do so should make for a better experience all around.
Here is where we are in terms of development progress:
Overall Progress: ~86%
- Core Systems:
- Anacrusis Refresh
- Wizard Achievements Explanation
- Pre-Written Spells:
- Earth: 35%
- Fire: 58%
- Air: 35%
- Water: 0%
- “Energy Mystery” Write-Up and Diagrams
- Circle 2 and 3 Advancement Mystery Full Design and Write Ups
- “Material Mystery” Write-Up
- Geomantic Mystery Design and Write-Up
- Far Mystery Design and Write-Up
- Core Systems:
We’ll keep this Roadmap updated as we progress through. Look out for more Development Posts for some of the other things that are still In Development soon. Feudalism (City Building and Downtimes), Organization and Rulership, Warfare will be getting updates as well. Stay tuned.