Saturday, October 12, 2013

Material components, taking a cue from Mage

I have more than once felt that the game Mage: The Ascension could be really cool, if I just figured out how. The rules are a bit too vague, and the setting cool but unfocused. Sadly, it felt later editions limited it to become the same kind of superhero games Vampire and Werewolf was.

Now I've started thinking about the really interesting bad guys in the setting, the Nephandi, I decided I needed to read the Guide to the Technocracy. That power group was presented as the main evil in the early editions, but I have picked up this book in order to find a more positive slant on them. There are multiple shades of bad in this setting, and I felt Nephandi would be more interesting as bad guys, and the technos as misguided good guys. It's after all a game about belief, and even the kind who seems abhorrent to you has to be investigated for what they are.

One thing this books talks about at length is the magic foci used to cast technological spells. The magic in Mage is very free form, and based upon some basic spheres of knowledge. You can pick whatever sphere you like and by manipulating that get magical effects of that kind. In GttT the "mages" use implements, like a calculator, mirrorshades, guns and other technological gadgets which both channels and "hides" the reality wracking effects. For example, in order to cast a spell of perception, you put on those shades and the spell take effect. The implements are not just like a magic wand you wave about, it's a thing that related to the magic action being taken. This made me think of material components.

In some editions of D&D, you have to have a spell component to cast some spells. If the component is verbal it is easy to just say your character chants or shouts or whatever. That pesky bat guano or black pearl is more complicated. How often do you need to stock up? How do you track usage? Is that really fun? And so on...

Maybe you could use implements like in Mage instead? It would take magic back to how it worked in the Blackmoor campaign. Dave Arneson had a very tangible kind of magic in his campaign, that much can be gleamed from what he have said, and written in the FFC. It can't get any more old school than that, eh?

I would think it would have to be components of a lasting nature. One problem with the material components rules as they are in e.g. AD&D is that it's unclear how to manage the logistics. If you instead always have your item around, it solves that problem. I do like the idea of being able to improvise and take whatever item that suits the effect you are trying to achieve. Since there are no dice rolls involved in classic D&D spell casting, you could say spells cast without implements take one additional time increment to cast, a segement, round or whatever.

I'll file away this idea for the future. Right now it looks like I'll have few possibilities to actually test it, but if you do feel free to post your experiences!
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