Thursday, October 20, 2011

Schools of Magic and Game Integration

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, The Battle of Magic, c. 1860. Triptych, 29" by 14".

Last month, the Unfrozen Caveman Dice-chucker posted about his recent revelations on spell categories—specifically based on the 1978 ed. AD&D Player's Handbook. And as Timrod (a.k.a. the "Dice-chucker") noted in his blog post, "no explanation of the significance of these terms was given in the text of the PHB that I've found and, clearly, none is needed to play the game." Yep. That pretty much sums it up.

I came to a similar place as Timrod myself (in regard to 1st edition) myself way back when (c. 1985), as I set out to design my universal RPG system, The System. The idea of categories/schools of magic seemed ripe for the plucking. Since the goal of the magic system in The System was to create templates for spell creation (as there are no classes of magic user, or list of pre-created spells), the idea of categories/schools of magic was a perfect fit for the concept of spell development as a "formula" (A+B+C=Spell.) As part of that structure, each class of magic has a corresponding "value" that effects the overall complexity (in points) of spells that use those classes; classes like divination and property alteration have much lower values than the likes of transmutation and conjuring/summoning. If the GM deems that the effects of a spell deal with more than one school, both values are added into the overall complexity of the spell (which effects the "draw" on magical energies, as well as increasing the chances of failure during casting.)

The idea of schools as a D&D game mechanic wouldn't really come into it's own until the 2e Complete's Wizards Handbook. It was an offering for wizards to specialize, providing them with the typical "let's make it more complicated so you have to constantly look things up and buy more books" approach to the game. What's underneath all those restrictions, requirements and bonuses, however, is little more than more classes, disguised (or "divided" if you prefer) into schools.

In the original edition of The System, I called them "classes" of magic, but in developing the The System: Expanded (currently in development,) I've abandoned that name for two reasons; first, the term "classes" now refers to the types of spellcaster's within a game setting, developed as part of a Magic Profile Template for the world by the GM (FYI, it's a lot less restricting than than the old-school interpretation of the word implies); and second, the categories of magic are now "schools." Part of the reason I prefer the term "school" to "class," or even "category," is that the term implies that a spellcaster must be educated in using that type of spell.

In The System: Expanded, the schools of magic (prev. classes) will no longer have a static value (per the original edition); instead, the value of each school will be determined by the GM's Magic Profile for the world; this allows for types of magic that may be common within a particular setting to have a much lower value than the rarer types of magic within the setting. Additionally, characters who wish to specialize are not restricted by minimum pre-requisites or racial restrictions like the 2e application of schools. Instead, each school has a guiding set of the character's basic attributes that that are factored into a set of parameters that include, among others, the overall value of the school (i.e. "rarity" per the setting) and a character's aptitude (or inaptitude) based on race/genetics. What this produces is a complexity rating that comes into play regarding every aspect of learning and using those types of spells, from training/education time to chance of success/failure when casting to the spell to the strength/weakness of the spell when cast.

My original list of magic classes in The System was very much a direct interpretation of 1st edition AD&D (per the PHB,) but the new version for The System: Expanded uses a regrouped/compacted system with a couple of new category additions. It also continues to support the mixing/crossing of schools, but these mixed schools may be treated as new or unique schools (with an inherent unique value vs. a cumulative one.) The GM may also create altogether different schools in support of the campaign world. For example, a Far Eastern fantasy setting might use schools broken out by the elements (earth, air, fire, water, wood,) that incorporate many of the types of magic normally considered part of the standard schools (protection, alteration/transmutation, divination, et al.)

Want a sneak preview of the schools of magic from The System: Expanded? Check it out here.

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