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    Question Arcane scholars but no spells

    While I am a huge fan of magic, I actually don't really like the idea of spells in the way they are commonly found in games and other fantasy from the last 40 years. The kind that lets wizards shot fire and lightning from their hands and conveniently deal with obstacles just as if they had pulled a futuristic gadget from their pocket. The kind where you snap your finger or say a magic word and something obvious immediately happens.

    You could always play campaigns in which magic is inaccessible to PCs but then the supernatural is entirely out of the hands of the players. And I really like the idea of a magical specialist as a PC. In a novel you can quite easily get away with wizards who rely entirely on long rituals to summon and negotiate with a powerful spirit to get magical things done or who know how to handle supernatural threats with their knowledge of the arcane. But in an RPG that doesn't seem very practical. You can't have a player constantly asking "do I know what this is?"

    Are there any RPGs that handled magic in such a way? What kind of system do they use to make it playable?
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    My default answer to questions like this is to use Fate. In this case, it would require either a decent amount of hacking or some previously come-to understanding between the players and GM as to what is possible within the fiction. Another option within Fate would be to look at the Dresden Files; I believe they have rules for summoning spirits. It might be a little too immediately applicable, though. And, as always, the standard disclaimer with Fate: it is not to everyone's tastes. It is heavily narrative and relatively rules light. It is given to abstracting many things.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    I am currently writing an RPG that may be like what you describe.

    Magic is the manipulation of the intangible: fate, spirits, luck, and such.

    A spellcaster might use a spell to ensorcell a warrior's sword, giving the weapon a will of its own and making it refuse to hurt the spellcaster. In terms of mechanics, the wielder of the sword takes a hefty penalty in rolls to hit against the spellcaster. In terms of the setting in the game, the warrior just finds himself unlucky with trying to use the sword against the spellcaster. The sword feels heavier and lighter at unpredictable times, he gets distracted when trying to think about the next move to use against the spellcaster, the sword almost slips from his grasp, and so on. In-universe, the warrior is not quite sure if the spellcaster's spell actually worked, if he is being psyched out by the spellcaster pretending to do something to his sword, if he is merely getting tired in this lengthy battle, or whatever.
    It always amazes me how often people on forums would rather accuse you of misreading their posts with malice than re-explain their ideas with clarity.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    While I am a huge fan of magic, I actually don't really like the idea of spells in the way they are commonly found in games and other fantasy from the last 40 years. The kind that lets wizards shot fire and lightning from their hands and conveniently deal with obstacles just as if they had pulled a futuristic gadget from their pocket. The kind where you snap your finger or say a magic word and something obvious immediately happens.

    You could always play campaigns in which magic is inaccessible to PCs but then the supernatural is entirely out of the hands of the players. And I really like the idea of a magical specialist as a PC. In a novel you can quite easily get away with wizards who rely entirely on long rituals to summon and negotiate with a powerful spirit to get magical things done or who know how to handle supernatural threats with their knowledge of the arcane. But in an RPG that doesn't seem very practical. You can't have a player constantly asking "do I know what this is?"

    Are there any RPGs that handled magic in such a way? What kind of system do they use to make it playable?
    As an aside, one of the things I've disliked about many systems (and settings) is the notion that in order to understand magic, you MUST be a magic user (spellcaster or otherwise), and that your understanding of magic can't exceed your power and ability with magic.

    Would be nice to see a setting and system where someone with little magical power could nonetheless know how magic works, and the lore of magic, and how to defend against magic, and how to manipulate certain magical contraptions, etc.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    Would be nice to see a setting and system where someone with little magical power could nonetheless know how magic works, and the lore of magic, and how to defend against magic, and how to manipulate certain magical contraptions, etc.
    One of my most favored PF classes is the Occultist. Basically a scholar that manages to squeeze some power out of items with a symbolic or historic link to something, like needing the skull of a necromancer to get some necromantic effects going and such. Also learns to draw magic circles and can perform some minor planar bindings, but only to get divinations, spy work and answering occult questions going. Very cool and thematic class.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Remember that in most RPGs, a large part of magic is being that thing the wizard does when his turn in combat comes around. If all the spellcaster does is give out small bonuses/penalties, it's worth asking who would play that. And if the spellcaster's bonuses/penalties are significant for other people but personally unsatisfying, you've recreated early D&D's "well, someone has to play the healer".

    Call of Cthulhu comes immediately to mind for doing two things right. First, being a magician isn't anybody's primary job. Being a scholar may be, but they have scholarly social and background skills as part of their gig instead of being recluses who boil down to walking google searches. And second, magic is a set of tools that anybody can pick up if they find the spells (and are willing to face the costs/risks) instead of being one character's main shtick. But when you turn down what magic can do, you have to allow the player to have a primary role to fall back on.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    As an aside, one of the things I've disliked about many systems (and settings) is the notion that in order to understand magic, you MUST be a magic user (spellcaster or otherwise), and that your understanding of magic can't exceed your power and ability with magic.

    Would be nice to see a setting and system where someone with little magical power could nonetheless know how magic works, and the lore of magic, and how to defend against magic, and how to manipulate certain magical contraptions, etc.
    The D&D 5e character that best fits this would be the following:

    Mid/High level Thief Rogue with expertise in Arcana.

    * Thieves get the ability to use any magical item (even if it has class/race/level restrictions normally)
    * Rogues get Reliable Talent--any skill check that they have proficiency in treats a 1-9 on the d20 as a 10.
    * Expertise allows 2x proficiency bonus (a number from +2 to +6 depending on level) to a skill.

    So if they have high INT (+5), a 13th or higher level rogue rolls a minimum of 25 and a maximum of 35 on an Intelligence (Arcana) check. Since the maximum DC suggested is 30, and anything over 20 is rare, he's a magical expert. And can't cast a single spell by himself.
    Last edited by PhoenixPhyre; 2018-02-18 at 07:25 PM.
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    While I am a huge fan of magic, I actually don't really like the idea of spells in the way they are commonly found in games and other fantasy from the last 40 years. The kind that lets wizards shot fire and lightning from their hands and conveniently deal with obstacles just as if they had pulled a futuristic gadget from their pocket. The kind where you snap your finger or say a magic word and something obvious immediately happens.

    You could always play campaigns in which magic is inaccessible to PCs but then the supernatural is entirely out of the hands of the players. And I really like the idea of a magical specialist as a PC. In a novel you can quite easily get away with wizards who rely entirely on long rituals to summon and negotiate with a powerful spirit to get magical things done or who know how to handle supernatural threats with their knowledge of the arcane. But in an RPG that doesn't seem very practical. You can't have a player constantly asking "do I know what this is?"

    Are there any RPGs that handled magic in such a way? What kind of system do they use to make it playable?
    In 3.5 the Book of Vile Darkness sacrifice magic uses religion checks, you could do the same for knowledge. Switch out lives for rare items they need to collect, rituals taking a day per spell level, DC of check is roughly 1/2 spell level x 10.

    4E and 5E rituals could also work if there were more of them.
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    I'd lean towards 4e and 5e rituals, plus exclusive magic items that let them do some things. The above Rogue build for 5e is good, though you might be able to make them in a lot of different systems (fun 2e idea: Make a wizard, but don't give them any spell schools, just different abilities from S&M; still able to use magic items, but highly restricted. You might even go with an Artificer or Alchemist specialist, letting them make one-shot devices or potions).
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Anymage View Post
    Remember that in most RPGs, a large part of magic is being that thing the wizard does when his turn in combat comes around. If all the spellcaster does is give out small bonuses/penalties, it's worth asking who would play that. And if the spellcaster's bonuses/penalties are significant for other people but personally unsatisfying, you've recreated early D&D's "well, someone has to play the healer".

    Call of Cthulhu comes immediately to mind for doing two things right. First, being a magician isn't anybody's primary job. Being a scholar may be, but they have scholarly social and background skills as part of their gig instead of being recluses who boil down to walking google searches. And second, magic is a set of tools that anybody can pick up if they find the spells (and are willing to face the costs/risks) instead of being one character's main shtick. But when you turn down what magic can do, you have to allow the player to have a primary role to fall back on.
    Thinking out loud...

    In the sort of setting/system that Yora is looking at, it might work to have character be exceptional at two "things" -- a "combat thing" and an "expertise thing" -- and magic knowledge or ability might go along with their two things. So the guide/tracker is really good with a hunting weapon, and knows a ritual to make pathfinding easier or not leave tracks the next day, perhaps. There's a priest who knows "sword and shield", and also some exorcism and binding rituals. The seasoned veteran mercenary knows some after-battle healing rituals. Maybe the arcane specialist is really good at staff fighting and also uses a staff in rituals and such.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

    Verisimilitude -- n, the appearance or semblance of truth, likelihood, or probability.

    The concern is not realism in speculative fiction, but rather the sense that a setting or story could be real, fostered by internal consistency and coherence.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    I was thinking of something like that today on my way to work. Giving characters essentiallly weak superpowers that can be used at any time when the required circumstances are met.
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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    I was thinking of something like that today on my way to work. Giving characters essentiallly weak superpowers that can be used at any time when the required circumstances are met.
    Again, PF Occult Adventures. Forget about the underlying system, but this book has some very cool takes on magic and the mundane, stuff like Occult Rituals, the Medium and aforementioned Occultist are simply pretty cool and worth a look and could easily converted to other systems.

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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    The original Beyond the Supernatural game had a Paranormal investigator-type class who, while they couldn't cast Invocations, could cast Ritual spells (essentially, long-form invocations), and had a lot of knowledge.
    The Cranky Gamer
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    d20 Conan comes to mind. IIRC, the Scholar class were the main ones who could use magic.

    You could also do this in GURPS, but you can do practically anything in GURPS.
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    You could always play campaigns in which magic is inaccessible to PCs but then the supernatural is entirely out of the hands of the players. And I really like the idea of a magical specialist as a PC. In a novel you can quite easily get away with wizards who rely entirely on long rituals to summon and negotiate with a powerful spirit to get magical things done or who know how to handle supernatural threats with their knowledge of the arcane. But in an RPG that doesn't seem very practical. You can't have a player constantly asking "do I know what this is?"

    Are there any RPGs that handled magic in such a way? What kind of system do they use to make it playable?
    I've seen some 3.5 homebrew that heads in this direction. The one that comes most immediately to mind is Gramarie, which is basically Magic Engineering. So while you can make things that solve a problem like normal magic does, that's only after hours of research, planning, and cooperation. So you don't get the casual hand-wave solutions for the same reason people who know how to code don't make all their own OS from scratch: the effort to make the solution can very well be more of a pain than its worth.
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Ritual magic / long casting and intricate setups would put magic in the utility, exploration, information gathering more than combat, beyond "prep something" and knowing the weaknesses of supernatural beasties. Or "hurry up and finish the ritual before it kills us," but that isn't everyone's bag.

    If you can step back from class, arcane scholar is a role that go well with shotgun-wielder. Okay, Call of Cthulhu. Lots of lore and lore hunting, not so much casting as its tricky, time-consuming, or involves making deals with extrasolar fungi. Plus the go crazy thing, but that's a conceit of the horror.
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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Arcane scholars but no spells

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    As an aside, one of the things I've disliked about many systems (and settings) is the notion that in order to understand magic, you MUST be a magic user (spellcaster or otherwise), and that your understanding of magic can't exceed your power and ability with magic.

    Would be nice to see a setting and system where someone with little magical power could nonetheless know how magic works, and the lore of magic, and how to defend against magic, and how to manipulate certain magical contraptions, etc.
    2e D&D, perhaps? Anyone can take Spellcraft, (although it's easier for those who have trained at wiggling their fingers while screaming invocations to understand what specific invocations and wiggles mean, so it costs less for them). And your skill at Spellcraft is independent of your level, let alone your caster level.

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