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Friday, 21 May 2010

Dragon Warriors II - part three

The third and final instalment of Tim Harford's design ideas for Dragon Warriors II. The concept of myth levels is something I'd long wanted to implement after seeing the scene in Robin of Sherwood that Tim mentioned before, where the Lionheart mightily throws Little John (surely a case of myth level 3 vs myth level 2), though the concept originally came to me when reading about how the heroes of Chinese myth could stick an arrow through a ghost. And if you've read the third Knightmare novel, which I co-wrote with Oliver Johnson, you'll recall that Hannibal freezes a troublesome kobold in a block of ice. If you're a mythic hero, you don't need magic weapons; you don't even need spells. You can just do this stuff.

Anyway, more of that at a later date. For now, back to Tim:

5 – Sorcery

Sorcery is a dangerous business. Some notable features:

• Every time a sorcerer casts a spell, he or she must reduce an attribute or quality by one point, permanently. Spell-casting is not done on a whim or for trivial matters.
• Sorcerers will tend to have accumulated a combination of arcane objects and magical servants, and it is with the aid of these that most sorcerers wield magical power.
• Sorcerers can acquire magical servants or items by casting a spell to summon and bind a demon or spirit. (The process is very similar both for magical items and for personal servants.) Success binds the spirit, which can then be compelled to expend its own attributes or qualities to cast spells.
• The risks of summoning are very high. In addition to the sacrifice mentioned above, sorcerers risk having part of their own spirit being captured and bound by the demon if they lose. Perhaps worse yet is the possibility that the demon will be able to prolong the contest into an unholy stalemate.

Basic Procedure

Finding a spirit
If a suitable spirit is not readily to hand, then one must be located. This is a quick contest of Sensitivity vs. the spirit’s Trickery. If the sorcerer fails, he must wait one minute for each point by which he lost the contest before he may try to find another spirit.

Location is important here. Certain spirits will have certain aptitudes. For example, it will be easier to find an sturdy devil to bind into armour near a great mountain, and a spirit with the gift of illusion magic will best be sought at the end of a rainbow. The referee should assign bonuses accordingly.

Binding a spirit
The rules for binding a spirit are closely analogous to the combat rules. Pride replaces Attack; Pride or Faith replaces Defence. Instead of Toughness, use Sensitivity. (Toughness and Sensitivity may seem to be opposites; but in spiritual combat the sensitive are far more subtle and resilient. The spiritually clumsy will quickly be subdued.)

How long does spiritual combat take?
Spiritual combat moves to a different rhythm than physical combat. In physical combat, each round represented about six seconds. In spiritual combat, the first round lasts six seconds, but each subsequent round lasts twice as long as the previous one. Pure spiritual combat can last for days or even years. It can only be carried out in parallel with physical combat if the contest is extremely uneven. Sorcerers would be ill advised to pick close fights, for the victor of such a combat may emerge, ancient and white-bearded, to find the world has moved on…

What if the sorcerer loses?
Sounds like curtains. The sorcerer becomes a servant, bound into the item in question.

Once a spirit is bound
A spirit will be bound into an item, it can then be compelled to cast all manner of spells.
  • Specialised Bindings: to produce magic weapons, etc, and wands.
  • Generalised Bindings: to bind a servant into an item so that it can be summoned, genie-like, for general purposes.

Duels of Wizardry

A wizard can also try the same trick on a human being (perhaps even another wizard, if he is particularly brave or foolish). Again, that human can be enslaved or bound into a weapon, and if the human in question has spell-casting ability it can be commandeered.

We’re playing with different ideas here…

One idea is that every spell cast costs the sorcerer one attribute or skill point permanently: this makes spell-casting a serious business indeed! But most spells are long-lasting (a year and a day), or permanent (enchanting wands, rings and books, or summoning familiars and faltyns), or very powerful. Since Faith and Pride are close substitutes in many instances, there is the nice side-effect that many sorcerers will choose to burn Faith first, and become truly Godless.
Really hard sorcerers can get instant special effects without burning attributes – these will be special abilities (perks of their Myth level), not spells.

We should also consider making sorcerous combat analogous to physical combat, using Pride in place of Attack, and Pride or Faith in place of Defence.

Rules for spell casting:
  • Keep track of “Pride Points” / “Faith Points”
  • Fight vs the opponent
    o May be a person
    o May be a spirit (bound into an item)
    o May be a faltyn (sandestin)

Bonuses / penalties depending on the effect (and whether it tampers with God’s law).

Different spirits have different powers (depending on the effect that you want to create; an item, how long, etc.)


  1. Very interesting points - I can see me picking up a few of these and applying them to the existing DW system, but I just couldn't give up all the interesting dice for only six sided ones.

    Thanks for sharing these posts.

  2. Pukako, I agree wrt 10-sided and 20-sided - it's hard to get a decent statistical spread with just d6. I'm not too bothered about d4, d8 and d12, although they are Platonic solids so the obssessive mathematician side of me wants to keep them for that reason.

    DW very nearly was just a d6 system, however. Oliver argued that the other dice were too hard to find. I think he was right - the original point of DW was to be a good and affordable alternative to all the expensive hobby RPGs around in the mid-80s. Given that most people will have found the books in W H Smith, asking them to go in search of polyhedral dice may have been a bit dumb on my part.

    For the Abraxas RPG system, we plan to use d6 and d20 at least.

  3. The idea of sorcery being arcane, costly and powerful does fit the original tone suggested by the world of Legend (if not the DW rules themselves), but I'm not sure if it is compatible with the idea of everyday 'adventurers' embarking on quests or escapades, as is the staple of the typical rpg group.

    Would the move toward 'myth levels' also suggest a shift in the style of DW? Less about the escapades and adventures and more toward fewer, grand or epic stories with significance beyond the immediate needs of the group?

    Or, as I imagine (and perhaps hope), is it merely a move toward differentiating 'petty' magic that is useful during the course of adventures from 'serious' magic that is seen only in times of great need, or at significant junctions in the characters career?

    While myths and stories might represent most wizards as rare and powerful beings, I like the ubiquity of the simple adventuring sorcerer or mystic in DW, a staple of the typical adventuring group, throwing their quick and efficient spells left, right and centre.

    Ideally I'd like the indirect, 'everyday' flash-bang magic to remain without permanent cost to a wizard - but would be happy to see the really powerful stuff (item creation, resurrection, summoning and binding - as mentioned in the article) have significant cost or consequence.

  4. Hi Wayne, definitely I was thinking of the latter. Our own campaigns are not particularly epic ("grubby" might be a better word) and in fact we almost never allow player-character mages. The only everyday magic you'd see in my campaign is more like knacks in GURPS - a few specific sorcerous tricks the character has picked up. The ability to read an aura, for example.

    The new magic rules are mostly aimed, therefore, at creating the nasty bastards like Cynewulf Magister who are a constant bane to the PCs. They reflect what real Legend magic is like, where there's no such thing as Deathlight, say - or, if there is, no two mages do it the same way.

    Under DWII, Tim and I envisaged that myth levels would be there just to differentiate the likes of Hunguk from Sir Tobias and Tobias from a common adventurer. But most definitely not to be used to allow players to step outside their characters and take an authorial control of the game world. I don't even much care for GMs getting too authorial, actually ;-)

  5. (hi, I realise my comment comes more than 2 years after the initial post, but better late than never.)

    I echo Wayne's sentiment that it would be nice to have the 'everyday' / less powerful magic to _not_ have a permanent cost to the sorceror/wizard, so that one could still run a simple, relatively self-contained, or quick/grubby campaign and have the character be useful / on par with the other professions in a multi-character party.

    However I also completely support Dave's intent to keep magic rare, unique/non-standardised (not looking like it all came from a factory) and more wondrous. When I read about how the magic of the True Magi was different from "regular" sorcerors (in Lands of Legend?) and then read the BloodSword series years ago, I had a 'brainwave' that the high arcane of the True Magi could be a separate list of spells that perhaps only a particular school of sorcerors (at 12th level and above) might be able to learn under the right circumstances. (eg. going into the depths of Spyte or whatever fits into the epic campaign that the GM is running). The spells which fall into this class of 'grand magic' would be rare even in terms of what the adventurers / Sorceror in the party has seen, so they would be ultra-rare in terms of layman Legend.

    Why not combine both the 'run of the mill magic' and 'high magic' with other ideas / DW II principles that have been suggested?

    When a Sorceror reaches Rank 8 / Myth level 3, he can select to specialise from different schools of sorcery (Krarthian magic vs Elleslandic vs Kaikuhuru vs Yamatese might look and feel different) or different disciplines of magic (eg. thaumaturgy vs alchemy). His cultural background and societal status perhaps would also constrain the set of choices. This would make it less likely that a Rank 10 Sorceror would be the brandishing the same Firestorm as the next Rank 10 Sorceror.

    Likely, such magic would require the help of scrolls, runic symbols and artefacts to 'seal' the magic and then unleash it when the time comes. Use of high magic could require a permanent or semi-permanent cost (other than attributes and health points, perhaps a permanent or temporary loss of power expressed in XP), or perhaps more onerous and risky preparation process. For example it could involve needing special ingredients (which might mean a side scenario to find a rare herb, tooth of hobgoblin or whatever) or summoning/binding an entity from another plane which has its risks (I used the Faltyn idea from the BloodSword Enchanter series in a DW campaign previously and it led to quite humorous exchanges with the PC who controlled it - both verbal exchanges and barter trade of items for services).

    Without the good old Dragonbreath to dispatch some minor minions and run of mill magic to open locked doors, it would get tiring very quickly if the sorceror had to spend half an hour drawing runes (even in game time) or take a hit in an attribute / roll a bunch of dice to decide if the summoned entity is going to turn on him for doing some 'basic' magic.