Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bringing Back the Magic

Normally I'm a huge fan of JB's as the old Blackrazor. But I have to say something in reference to his latest post:

Of course there is no magic in the D&D RULES. They are rules; they are mechanical and easily understood in nature. If you know the rules, there are only the levers. It's up to you and your players to make the magic happen.

That being said, that's just the way I want it. I want my D&D to be something to build off of. Something easily understandable that I can jazz up. It's a starting place, and it's all there in the first few pages of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: Men & Magic (which I can't quote because I'm away from my books).

Basically it says, here's some building blocks. Now fuck them up.

That's what I want. Something to mash and sift through. Something I can turn into my own but still stay on the same page as my players. In essence, I want to game with enough sub-systems and moving parts that I can remove some, add some new one, and make my own damn magic.

And guess what? It's easy.

Ian's 9-Step Recipe for a Magical Game:

1. Throw out the Monster Manual and throw out Mythology
2. Write up 10 new monsters in their place*

3. Throw out the spell lists
4.Write up 6 new spells for level 1-3 in their place*

5. Throw out the magic items and the ability to easily identify them
6. Write up 10 new magic items*

7. Make up 10 NPCs that could seamlessly be plugged into a Jack Vance novel (are smart, scheming ass holes only out for themselves)*

8. Use funny voices.

9. Have fun and don't take the game too seriously

*Add more of these as necessary


  1. Absolutely right. It's up to you as the GM to make the thing magical. It's not the job of D&D (or any other system for that matter) to hold your hand through the process.

  2. Agree...

    But would it not be better game design to have the 'magic' be a part of the game? It would be far more accessible to new players, since there is less expectation on them to create? Less responsibility?

  3. As I said on Blackrazor's blog, (known) rules and magic are practically antithetical. The more control PCs have over magic, the more like a technology it becomes.

  4. @semiprotheus: Well observed!

  5. Thanks for a good post! Short, sweet, to the point. A very solution-minded bit of text, and very sound advice!

  6. It is a pickle. Rules mechanics can only do so much, the lion share of the burden for mystery will always fall on the individual GM.

    That said there are some ways to present sorcery in mechanical terms (some that can be transplanted back into D&D) that helps foster the uncertainty and mystique. Brainstorms like your post are helpful.

    IMO TSR's Conan game hit a sweet spot with its sorcery rules. In that game there are no defined spells or easy paths for the wonky few players that want to be sorcery. All magic has to be: 1. worked out as specific power/spell between the player and GM, 2. involves questing for arcane components scattered around Hyboria to pull off, and 3. builds up an obsession score and other weaknesses (like animals get skittish in your presence) as you gather sorcerous abilities. In a system like that magic becomes rare, dangerous, creative, and mysterious.

  7. Want to be sorcerers, need that cup of coffee.

  8. Never use the monsters and magic items as written as it only leads to abuse by know-it-alls whose PCs just happen to know things they really shouldn't. Always add spells unique to a character as it's ridiculous to think all wizards draw from the same short list. Some would have no combat spells as that's not their bag. In any case I find it works best when magic is rare and mysterious.