Thursday, April 17, 2014

[Eberron] Realistic versus Cinematic Magic

This week, I will spotlight the GURPS Magic system. When trying to convert a traditional Sword 'n Sorcery, Hack 'n Slash, combat-oriented gaming system to a more realistic, generic system, the topic of magic is by far one of the most important to delve into.

Luckily GURPS already has multiple books to which touch on this very subject, the most prominent of which are GURPS Magic and GURPS Thaumatology (with GURPS Fantasy not far behind). And since I own all three of these, it would only be fitting for me to figure out which parts of these books will work for my Eberron setting conversion!

A tome of magical texts in it's own right, has it stood the test of time to it's current edition?

The Cinematic Test

To start off, some things need to be made clear. GURPS Magic, when translated to the newer 4th edition, is a massive book that has some of the most iconic spells for the GURPS system. That being said, I found it very odd that I rarely (if ever) saw much of a reference to the spells on the forums, or even a hint of a system that allowed for custom-made spells. Instead, it seemed the player base of the system was divided between using hacks from Thaumatology or Advantages as Spells.

Delving deeper into this, it became increasingly clear that GURPS Magic does a really great job listing a plethora of spells, but the spells themselves seem rather outlandish in some cases. The outlandish bit has a lot to do with "realistic" take on magic. Magic a lot of work to make power, and making magic permanent takes a lot of power. So much work in fact that many of the enchantment spells have a x100 multiplier from the base energy cost to even get into the ballpark of affording the enchantment.

Some spells even have abilities that dwarf even the best of advantages in GURPS, and some are so pointless that it seems the only real purpose is to provide a prerequisite for other spells. Toss in the common complaint that many of the spells haven't been converted to the new GURPS standards/mechanics and it becomes a question of how much time I have to devote to figuring out what works and what doesn't. Even if some of the spells seem silly as I am sure they have a use in a more cinematic game.

Finding a Resolution

With that said, a quick glance through the Magic Book provides some insight on how I could incorporate my PL! to replace magery and the potential impact that can have in the game. As it stands, it works ok as long as some level of Energy Reserve is established that can withstand the heroic deeds I plan to put my players through. Not only that, but when it comes to enchantment, Eberron makes enchantment extremely common so that any everyday man or woman can have arcane "trinkets" that can make their mundane life's easier to live.

And depending on the trinket, GURPS enchantments for such things can potentially cost a lot of fatigue, and rightly so... magic should be hard to come by.

At least in a realistic world.

This is going to be Heroic Fantasy, so such a thing needs to change at the very least. With all these elements in mind, the question now is: How?

I have absolutely loved this book,
it is right up there with GURPS Powers as among my top favorite supplements!

Energy, Energy is the Key!

The largest problem right now is the fact that the standard system of Magic is extremely prerequisite based. These prerequisites sometimes makes sense, while others (especially enchanting) require so many spells that allowing a character to have access to them becomes extremely difficult. Spellcasters of the Divine and Spontaneous Arcane can potentially have easier time getting a hold of such things, though even the Divine can potentially have penalties of -10 or more for some spells!

In Dungeons and Dragons, spells were also bought in "Slots." In GURPS, this can be easily replicated, though the existing system of using Fatigue or an alternative Power Source can potentially do the same thing... just in a different way. So when putting together my character concepts, I likely will need to ask myself if spell slots and an energy reserve is going to limit my players too much, or simply ignore limited use and let the Energy do it's thing.

One thing is for sure, in order for enchantments to work, especially temporary enchantments, something more needs to work. The best solution, given the fact that players will have a signficant level of dependancy on equipment as well as the deeds they perform, Deed and Material based thresholds are likely to be the best choice. Especially when combined with the optional rules (like Magical Aura) as listed in Thaumatology page 76.

So for those not familiar with Threshold magic: What does this mean? First off, what it means is that players will likely have their own energy reserve in which to cast "studied" spells from that is taken out of a pool. This pool acts like a magical credit card to which the caster needs to wait or simply pay back the energy through rest, meditation, and the like.

Deed Reserve!

To make this fit the cinematic style easier, I'll be allowing players to expend "heroic" amounts of energy through the use of an optional static Deed reserve.

This deed reserve will be rewarded over the course of the adventure, and can be exchanged at rate of 25 energy for every 1 character point with a maximum amount of Deed dependent on the player's PL! (based on a "use it or lose it" mentality). Any deed earned beyond the cap is simply lost or converted to character points at the normal rate. Over the course of an adventure the players can use their Deed Reserve to buy success (Eberron Action points anyone?), expend as addtional energy, or simply used to purchase extra character points at the end of every adventure.

Where this comes in handy is when it comes to resurrection spells, where a player may take on a disadvantage during the spell (in the form of a quest, deformaty, or even a curse!). If the player choses to do this, a disadvantage worth 5 to 15 points now grants an additional 25 energy for every 1 point of disadvantage reward to help foot the bill for the hefty 300 energy cost of Resurrection! The disadvantage is purchased off as normal over the course of the adventure, though doesn't provide any other benefit than allowing the player to live yet another day.

Final Thoughts

Enchantments and deed reserve will likely be very key player in allowing this style of game to work. Reason behind this is that Enchantment is expensive and time consuming, though with the right hacks can likely be done in a timely fashion though at a relatively acceptable cost.

For a true to the genre artificer to have any real place in the setting, they will likely need to utilize appropriate skills to identify and manipulate the "magical" thresholds of different materials and use them to awaken or apply enchantments within their elemental weave. With the right applied knowledge and experience, an artificer could combine Dragonshards (which will likely have substantial thresholds or even refresh rates) to normal materials to create potent artifacts! For this to really work with the Deed system above, I will be using a combination of Threshold Auras and "Some Fatigue Cost."

Toss in the fact that even thresholds could potentially not afford the extreme costs of enchantments, "field" artificers would likely be a key element here in that their deeds (and relative deed reserve) could help field even more potent and permanent enchantments while still affording regular and more potent temporary enchantments.

So with what I have so far, the question still stands: Skills or Advantages.
For now, I will call that a night, as that will likely be a monster to tackle for next week.