Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Musings on Magic

I recently realized that I’ve never played a D&D Wizard and reading through Labyrinth Lord and D&D5 lately I’ve begun to realize why … the magic system is not my bag, man. Though it claims to be ‘Vance-ian’ , it is actually not. Yes, in the Dying Earth, Vance’s wizards had pre-loaded spells but that is as far as it goes. (If you’re keen, read through the Dying Earth RPG or Talislanta 4e for MUCH better interpretations of Vancian magic.)

D&D reduces spells to bullets and Wizards (at least higher level ones) to heavy artillery. I’ve seen attempts at making it seem a bit more ‘mysterious’ or adding complications such as material components, but nothing in any form that anyone would actually want to play.

There is nothing actually WRONG with the D&D magic system, if that is the way magic works in the D&Dverse - then that is the way it works in the D&Dverse. At least it is internally consistent. It just isn’t to my taste.

The hang up for me is Saving Throws. The more powerful the character, the better their chance at resisting magic. That seems wrong. No matter how powerful Conan became, he ALWAYS feared magic and Superman’s second most exploited weakness is his vulnerability to magic. Yet in the D&D system, both these guys would have saving throws up the whazoo.

The thing is, that from Merlin to Gandalf to Doctor Strange, Zantanna, Harry Potter and Ponder Stibbons … I’ve never seen a magic system work that way. In almost every other interpretation of magic that I have come across if a spell fails it is because the wizard screwed up, not because their target was somehow able to shrug it off. If the spell gets casts, it works.

So for my own homemade system, I’m developing a system where the wizard must make a series of rolls over a couple of rounds to ‘weave’ a spell together. If they make all the rolls, then the spell is successfully cast and there is nothing the target can do about it. I think I could make this work for LL/D&DBasic as well, but it would take some heavy tinkering and I’m thinking that it must have already been done by someone.


  1. Except that you do see exactly that sometimes with the Conan stuff. He's being zapped by magic, and through sheer strength of will he manages to do something anyway.

    I suppose mostly, it's about a balanced game dynamic.

    1. Fair enough, I buy Conan being able to shrug off some magic. Its been a while since I've read any Howard, but I do remember that at least some of the magic in the Hyborean age was based on hypnosis. That I could easily see needing a Saving Throw.

      As I said, there is nothing wrong with the way D&D magic works. They have internal,consistant rules and generally stick to them. I am just wondering if there can be a different approach, even within the scope of old-school gaming.

      You are absolutely right in stating that a balanced dynamic is important!