As I mentioned a few weeks back, I've been drafted to run a D&D game for a group of new players. We're getting close to running our zero session, probably by the end of this week. I have two players interested in elves, and a third that apparently likes to play healing classes whenever he plays MMO's. I'll lay out all the options and see if that changes come game day, but for now I'm going to run with the assumption that this will be the makeup of the party.
If so, it throws a small hiccup into my plan of using Lamentations of the Flame Princess as my base.
In LotFP, only Fighters get an increase to their attack bonus as they level up. I actually think this is one of James Raggi's more inspired decisions. It clearly blocks off combat as a the sole specialty of the Fighter, which then encourages the group to work together. After all, you're going to need at least one character to get better at hitting things as the game progresses. Otherwise, your band of adventurers is going to have a very short career.
That said, as much as I admire Raggi's design choice, I'm not about to force a first-time player into a class they don't want. But one of the wonderful things about OSR games is the ability to mix and match them until you arrive at just the right combination.
So, my options:
However I do it, I'm still planning to use the LotFP encumbrance system, as well as swapping out the Specialist class for the Thief. I also plan to keep the D6-based skill check system.
Anyway, I'm rambling a bit here. The main thrust of this post is about a weird feature of Old-school D&D, and just how I'm planning to introduce it to a bunch of new players.
That's right. I'm talking about Vancian Magic.
I'll admit, I absolutely hated Vancian magic back in the day. I could never wrap my head around the "fire and forget" nature of the spells. How could a character spend hours studying a spell each day, only to forget it once it was cast?
It never made sense to me, and when I ran my games I used a house-ruled "mana" system instead. Granted, now that I've actually read some Jack Vance, my opinion on the matter has changed. And as in so many things, context is everything.
Part of the problem is that none of the more experienced guys in my old D&D group ever ran magic as anything other than a character's superpower. In every campaign, spells were widely known. You got access to spells automatically at new levels (no studying or finding a mentor), and there were mid-to-high level mages operating public shops in every jerkwater little village. Before every adventure, we could buy magic items, potions, and scrolls to our heart's content. I distinctly recall abandoning +1 Magic Swords when we found them on certain adventures, because they weren't even worth the effort of bringing them back to town to sell.
Compare that to this passage from Vance's The Dying Earth:
"At one time a thousand or more runes, spells, incantations, curses, and sorceries had been known. The reach of Grand Motholam—Ascolais, the Ide of Kauchique, Almery to the South, the Land of the Falling Wall to the East—swarmed with sorcerers of every description, of whom the chief was the Arch-Necromancer Phandaal. A hundred spells Phandaal personally had formulated—though rumor said that demons whispered at his ear when he wrought magic. Ponticella the Pious, then ruler of Grand Motholam, put Phandaal to torment, and after a terrible night, he killed Phandaal and outlawed sorcery throughout the land. The wizards of Grand Motholam fled like beetles under strong light; the lore was dispersed and forgotten, until now, at this dim time, with the sun dark, wilderness obscuring Ascolais, and the white city Kaiin half in ruins, only a few more than a hundred spells remained to the knowledge of man. Of these, Mazirian had access to seventy-three, and gradually, by stratagem and negotiation, was securing the others.
"Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort, forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal's Gyrator, Felojun's Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipresent Sphere. This accomplished, Mazirian drank wine and retired to his couch."
In Vance's work, magic is mysterious, ancient, and virtually forgotten. Less than a tenth of the spells once known to humanity are left. Powerful wizards hoard them in hopes of getting one up on their rivals. Magic is the currency of power in this world, and great effort is spent to seek it out.
Furthermore, the spells themselves aren't passive. Mazirian has to force them into his brain. Once there, the syllables and symbols struggle to escape his consciousness. Casting a spell in these stories isn't so much a matter of reciting words as it is releasing a chaotic force, one the magician is just barely holding in check.
In this context, D&D's default "fire and forget" magic system makes sense. And while I can see why alternative spell systems are popular (like Sorcerers from the 3.X and later editions), there's a kind of pulpy weirdness to the Vancian method I really like.
As for introducing it to the players, I'm probably going to kill two birds with one stone here, once again taking some inspiration from Vance. I'm thinking about giving the party a mid-level Mage as their patron/employer. He'll pay them on a freelance basis for recovering bits of magic for him. He's looking for anything at all: half-torn scrolls, pages from spell books, items he can research. In his quest to re-discover lost spells, he's spent decades tracking down minuscule scraps of them to re-assemble like a jigsaw puzzle.
This also gives the PCs a specific reason to go dungeon delving, as well as reinforcing the overall mystery and rarity of magic. Plus it allows any magic-using PCs to have easy access to a mentor/teacher when it comes time to learn new spells.
Sure, the set up has the potential to be a little railroad-y. But also I think it can give the PC's a little bit of forward momentum, provided I let the adventures themselves evolve organically.
Hmm... I just might have to roll up a paranoid, power-hungry Wizard NPC along with the rest of the campaign splat.
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