Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (VI)

Continuing chapter II, we are now on to “The challenge of magic.” The author intends both the challenge magic poses to religion, and the challenge it poses to rules writers!

I’ll begin with a quote from the text, this time one that hammers home, once again, just how badly the footnotes or bibliography to this book are missed! “Our systematic examination has produced more than 3000 separate uses of magic throughout the Dark and Middle Ages.” I’d kill a dozen kobolds for that list! (I assume he means their work came up with 3000 citations in historical and literary works referring to magic, and not one of the many other ways we might read that sentence).

Anyway this vast list of examples is what convinced the writers that a “spell list” would be pointless, and it makes more sense to try to work out a flexible system of on-the-fly spellcasting. This was the first such system I’d seen and I can’t really say I’ve seen any that are better as “simulations,”* although it could certainly be a lot simple for game purposes! The focus is on determining the preparations required for a given effect and the difficulty the effects pose. Keeping with the ideas from the beginning of the chapter, spell casting is broken into two distinct steps, establishing an ethereal link, and then the execution of the spell(s). (I vaguely recall that one link could be established and then two or three spells cast but it’s been a long time; we’ll see what the rules say!) Also, using history as a guide again, the author wants to distinguish types of magic, types of magic-users, and how the two relate.

He rejects the Chaos/Law/Neutrality idea he attributes to Moorcock (and which ultimately comes from Poul Anderson), saying it just doesn’t fit an historical outlook, although such an overlay has been tried, he says, in what I take to be an oblique reference to RuneQuest.

Next he considers the Black/White magic distinction and rejects that too, as it really arose in the 16th century. He will keep this distinction only with reference to piety calculations later.

So first we get a run down of the “classes” of magic-user in FW, and why they are defined more by social hierarchies than anything else. They are:

  • The peasant mage (Cunning man/Wise woman)
  • The aristocrat/noble (Sorcerer)
  • Between these, possibly upwardly mobile, and partly a charlatan (Wizard)
  • The Satanist (Witch)
  • and the Jewish outsider, who is dedicated to esoteric meditations to improve himself spiritually and in worldly power (Cabalist)

In the Dark Ages, the sorcerer type will be referred to as a Runic Sorcerer, and the later/High Middle Ages type will be referred to as a High Sorcerer. They are very similar but have slightly different specialties.

These casters will make use of both “Passive” and “Active” magic. Passive magic is your divination and other knowledge-seeking magics that don’t really change the world; Active magic alters the structure of the universe. Active magic falls under a number of types: basic sorcery (changing some part of the world with a spell, a very broad category); enchantment (creating magical items); and conjuration (summon/control Ethereal beings). Apart from these different effects, there are different preparations possible: incantations, meditation & study, fasting, shamanistic dance & frenzy, etc. These are just listed without much explanation and I think they all have the same mechanic and are more a matter of flavor (Cabalists meditate/study, while Sorcerers use incantations, etc.).

The types of magic and preparations of each type are laid in a few paragraphs, and I think I inferred most of this from the charts and calculations we see later in the rules but it is nice to refer to these. Lastly there si a discussion of astrology the “System of correspondences” which are also very big factors in magic.

At this point I am seriously considering how this might all be reorganized into a “Players handbook” — there is actually a ton of explanation in these early chapters and I can’t for the life of me understand why they spread out this information among so many different places as they did. Bruce certainly compiled things but as an editor, at least a GAME editor, he kind of dropped the ball.

*A simulation of how they thought it worked, I mean.

Published in: on August 1, 2010 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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