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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default The cost of magic

    Hey playground,

    while reading (more working through) the "Why low magic" thread, I had a thought, that I had some times before.

    It didn't really fit there and the thread is bloated enough...

    In short:
    What is and what should be the cost of magic?

    Now, I know that in the end it is a matter of taste and there certainly is no "right" answer.
    But I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

    To kick it off...

    I came to DnD late in my RPGing life and though I (sometimes) like the ease of magic in this system, I found (and sometimes still find) it weird.
    Magic, to me was something obscure or mysterious, that needed either dedication or demanded a steep price, to learn and master.
    In DnD you basically get your spells for free, when leveling up (the whole spell list in some cases) and casting won't fail, except for spell resistance.
    You don't have to invest time or resources to learn spells and pretty small amounts to cast them.
    There is nearly no downside to being a caster.

    In other games I played, each spell was something akin to a skill, that you had to learn and then roll successfully to cast.
    In some cases it could cost your very life-energy (hitpoints) if you where unlucky or exceeded your reach.
    There are usually ways around this. But they come with other costs, deals with devils/demons could that mark you as outsider abd/or cripple you physically, loss of sanity...
    Additionally, spell failure can have devastating side effects.

    To me, that means, that even if magic is really powerful, mundane characters keep being a solid choice, because by avoiding those costs, you can invest your resources in other ways and (kind of) keep up.

    I think, by handling magic in this way, you can keep (high) magic as an option, but avoid things like the tippyverse.
    The mentioned mystery of magic is also easier to achieve.

    Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with slinging spells in fire and forget mode, I like it too. It's just not always the flavor I'm looking for.

    Looking forward to your thoughts about this

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    Segev's Avatar

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    The trouble with "the cost of magic" in an RPG is that you have to make it one that is actually payable, worth the price, but not overpowered. This is a very delicate balancing act, especially if you're using "cost of magic" to be why non-casters are a thing.

    Consider this: If there is a free feature that anybody may choose to pick up without character-building cost that lets you throw a fireball, but it costs you a permanent stat point every time you do, wouldn't every character pick up this feature unless his player was conceptually opposed to it for that character? Wouldn't every character who picked up that feature be more powerful? Yes, they would, because options to expend resources for effects are an increase in overall power.

    In most systems these days, the "cost of magic" is opportunity cost: you built your character in a class, or bought the features with points or feats or something, that gives them the power to cast spells. Ignoring subclasses for the moment, in 5e, playing a wizard in a level 2 game means you did not get Action Surge, and getting Action Surge will mean you must get less magic overall. Is this a fair trade off? That's harder to judge, but the point is, the "cost of magic" in D&D 5e is an opportunity cost of not having taken classes that give features you can't get on spellcasting classes.

    Maybe that opportunity cost is too low. Maybe the number of character points "magical talent" costs as a feature is far smaller than the benefit it gives, compared to what other, less magical features cost. But that IS a cost, and tweaking it up or down is part of balancing any feature, including magical ability.


    From a narrative standpoint, "the cost of magic" is usually something cumulative over a long term, and thus doesn't lend itself well to a game. As an example, in many games, the whole game takes place in less than a few months of in-game time (unless it's a campaign with lots of downtime). If there is a feature that will get your character killed if you use it too much, but will kill them slowly, say over the course of a year after they "pass the limit" on it, this cost of the character's death isn't something that will be felt during gameplay. You could burn that feature as hard and bright as you liked, knowing that the only cost to you as a player is the tragic death scene that may or may not play out in the epilogue.

    This is actually something I think a lot about, because I have what I think is a cool "cost of magic" for a setting that is impossible, as far as I can tell, to make a feasible RPG system work with. Casting spells costs you age. No, not making you older: making you YOUNGER. This is part of why mages live so long, but it's a very real cost, nevertheless. Use too much magic, and you wind up being a kid again. Sure, you're still you and have your memories and skills, but you're in a kid's body with a kid's brain. And if you send yourself back to a point where you're small and frail, or worse, unable to even feed yourself.... And also, the way you regain this fuel is...by living and aging. So your magic refills slowly.

    Make this system cost too much age for too simple a spell, and even old and wizened mages can't do a whole lot of magic before they have to stop for decades. Make it cost too little for magic, and there's no notable price at all. This is tricky to manage in any narrative, but at least you can use the constant calculus as something the character is acutely aware of and tracking, even if you have to be careful about "big spells" that make them noticeably younger being something you use sparingly lest the character become one you aren't able to write about using magic anymore. In an RPG, actually assigning specific numbers of minutes, days, months, years, etc. to various power levels of spells or even to specific spells is very hard, because it's a permanent cost, really.

    For comparison, consider a mana point system that just gives you a certain number of mana points at the start of the game. You NEVER recover them, so every spell you cast is a permanent loss of mana. How many mana points should a starting character have, and how much should spells cost? This is INCREDIBLY hard to balance!

    And most "costs of magic" in fiction can be modeled by that non-regenerating mana pool of sufficient size: they're not "real" limits until they are, and then there's nothing to do about them in the scope of the story. Usually they're an excuse for the BBEG to waste away at the end of the narrative, after being defeated, because that climactic fight had him over-use his power and now the cost is catching up to him (even if the heroes didn't finish him off).

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Depends on what stories you aim to tell. I favor magic with drawbacks in freeform RP since conflict is mainly what produces novel actions and reactions as the characters respond to shifting circumstances. In more structured play the mechanics need to be playable and deliver on a fiercely desired intent, or they just get in the way. Summoning chaos demons on accident is par for WFRP, but randomly hijacking a healing spell in D&D or Shadowrun to summon a manifestation of Orcus / insect spirits is generally BS.

    Grod’s Law on game design says it plainly. Saddling overpowered features with debilitating drawbacks does not balance them. If you have powerful wizards and boring sword swingers either (Non exhaustive list, but the pattern holds few good outcomes)

    A. Wizard applies power and circumvents penalty’s relevance
    B. Wizard is unable to participate most of the time, but utterly trivializes things whenever they chose to act.
    C. Drawbacks are so detrimental wizard is some degree of unplayable

    That is if you care about balance. If not... sentient potted plant and Superman?

    High magic settings can accommodate ordinary mundanes in a balanced fashion if everyone is on the same level of incompetence. Remove the balance requirement and you can introduce competent or wacky wizards to the mix.
    By the metric of being wholly dependent on the GM for noncombat interaction Fighter is an NPC class.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    I like costs that are in theory easy to mitigatem but not in an adventuring situation. I have two major examples of this:

    In Unknown Armies you prepay for your magick. You either get a (relatively minor) restriction on your roleplaying as an Avatar, or have to ritualistically engage in a certain activity as an Adept in order to build up Charges (and have to avoid other actions to avoiding grounding out your mojo). Generating Charges isn't hard, most Adepts could whip up a bunch of minors or a couple of Sigs with a day's work, but apart from a couple of schools can't be done just about everywhere.

    The best way to kill an Entropomancer is to make them desire five Significant Charges in two seconds. Oh, and all Adepts are crazy, and Avatars can't get too crazy or too detached.

    Meanwhile The Fantasy Trip has spellcasting cause Fatigue. This has the same penalties as damage but can be shed quickly, but only if you can afford to spend ten minutes per point of fatigue resting. Fine in a city, not so much in a dungeon labyrinth.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    IMO, costly magic is much better at being relegated to magical objects or "minor" parts of the character creation.

    A game should be interesting and fun to play for everyone even if all the players restrict themselves to never use the "costly" part of the system. This allows for "costly" features are only used for exceptional cases where the circumstances requires it, and the players are always wondering "Is it really worth it? Do we have an alternative?" without having to feel like "I'm bored and I just want to use my spells to have fun, but the system is punishing me each time I try to have fun".

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    If a character's main shtick is using magic, high costs do really mess with the character concept. Like it's one thing if your Call of Cthulhu character can gain the option to use a spell where both learning it and using it will scar his sanity, because he presumably has a primary skillset to fall back on. A D&D wizard who permanently loses a point of Con every time they cast any leveled spell is looking at a short career.

    D&D does kind of goof by pooling all their magical effects into the spell system, which does make magic too reliable. If you wanted to have fantasy with active wizards but that didn't go all in on magic-as-reliable-technology, 4e might have actually done this too well. They had spells as class powers (where everybody with an appropriate power source would use spells or prayers or whatnot on a regular basis), and rituals as a separate pool where many people rightly argued that mundane means could achieve most of the effects faster and easier. Breaking it down into "here are low to no cost powers your spellslinger adventurer can use as staples" and "here are the big plot device effects, you're going to have to work for them" might help avoid the feeling that all problems can be solved by raiding spell lists and the expenditure of one spell slot.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    I think magical classes are a terrible system to be honest. To actually feel like Sword and Sorcery I would take a mundane combat system and then stick rituals on top of it, which have increasingly difficult costs as they get bigger.

    This is how it usually works in Urban Fantasy like Supernatural or Buffy, where magic rituals are either very difficult to pull off or have massive drawbacks so most threats it is better to hit people instead. Raise Dead requiring human sacrifice would be a good example, with more sacrifices the further back someone died. Dying to return your friend who just died is heroic, but sacrificing a high school to return the Dark lord from 100 years ago is deeply evil using the same rules.
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    BardGuy

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    For dnd at least, I think it is carry over.
    Early versions, the spells always worked (1st/2nd ed) but you had to work to get them cast. You didnt get them for free but often had to find or buy them, they required some of all of verbal, material, or gesturing to use, so if you were gagged, lost your stuff, ect your castable spells went down, and any damage at all could flub them so you had to be carefull about fights. Also you had to pre pick your list, so if you were wrong with what kind of day you were going to have, you might have a lot of spells that are not quite a fit.. oh, and you had low hit points and ac most the time.

    The flip side to all this was, spells just worked. Targets still got saves, but barring something interfering with the cast itself. spells just go off.

    Over the years and versions, a lot of the "requirements " have been removed, mitigated or modified, but the spells themselves are still always work. A few more spells require a to hit, and dcs are a thing but there you have it.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    The main issue is that you can't have "costly" magic if a character's main shtick is casting spells.

    If you want "tool" magic (that is, something that is a character's main means of interacting with the world), then it needs to be low cost. Sometimes people build systems that appear to have costs, but inevitably those are balanced so that the costs can be managed and minimized.

    If you really want costly magic, it needs to be something that is special and rare. Ritual magic, etc. And you need to make sure that characters are not (and preferably cannot) be built around casting.

    Generally available ritual magic is one solution (where the "magic" is more around acquisition, prep, and cost of casting vs. who can cast). Making magic only available to NPCs is another solution.
    Last edited by kyoryu; 2021-01-22 at 01:33 PM.
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    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Magic in a high magic system can just make one fatigued. If a wizard goes nova they pass out. But if they spread that out they can have a longer adventuring day. Suddenly magic has a cost that is temporary. I dislike permanent loss of character points to use a game feature meant to be used by PCs.

    Having a meat shield and in turn hitting something doesn't exhaust the wizard mentally.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    I'd say the thing to do is to look at the amount of screen time that paying the cost or dealing with the cost would take up/create, and the amount of screen time that the event of the use of magic either resolves or bypasses, and ensure that the time spent handling the cost is strictly less than the time it would take to accomplish whatever the corresponding act of magic accomplished. Then you can vary that increment of time to get different styles of magic, from the more CRPG/Anime-themed stuff to Cthulhu. But I think its important to think in terms of time impacted rather than 'power'.

    Taking the fireball example from up-thread, the problem with making that costly (rather than just removing it) is that no matter how powerful a combat-scale fireball is, its basically a single action and at its most powerful it still can only fiat a resolution to a single fight, which D&D designers assumed would be about a sixth of a session meaning probably something like 40 minutes of screentime (though I think in reality its more like 1 hour 30 minutes on average). And that would be the most powerful combat-scale version of fireball you could imagine - something like a meteor drop that if you pull it off, decisively ends the fight. If you were fighting things purely using the actual D&D fireball spell, it'd probably be ~4 castings to resolve the sorts of fights that happen at that level. So whatever the cost of D&D fireball is, it shouldn't really take more than 20 minutes of gameplay to conclude somehow. And even Meteor Storm or whatever shouldn't really be taking more than half a session to conclude.

    So how would you go in the Cthulhu/Lovecraft direction? I don't think its to make the spells more intense - upgrading fireball to meteor storm basically didn't matter in the time analysis, since a fight ender is still just a fight ender. Rather, I think its to change the scope of a single act of magic to be larger and then scale the cost accordingly. Fairy tale magic has things like 'put an entire kingdom to sleep for 100 years' for example. It's not a thing you'd do in a fight, but that is in some sense what lets it be more expensive. So if you have spells that gradually drive you crazy, permanently drain your stats, age you, or taint your soul then each thing they do should be similarly permanent in its consequences to the game.

    What if you want magic to be at the combat scale despite this? In that case, I'd say to make a system of magic where each spell in some way permanently empowers the character. You don't cast a 'Fireball', you cast a spell that makes a compact with the elemental forces of fire, causing you to experience the pain of being burned alive for the rest of your life but meaning that fire follows your will wherever its found. You still can cast Fireball each time basically for free, but you paid a permanent price in order to gain permanent access to Fireball. Casting Fireball isn't the act of magic, its just the byproduct of the real act of magic of binding a fire elemental into your soul.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    As far as costs go, I'd generally prefer that they either be plot costs (causes complications) or setup costs (have to do things to get the ability to cast it).

    Plot costs are the most interesting to me, but generally require a flexible enough structure to handle them, which most linear games can't do.
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    The costs are the character isn't a plate user that can hack four goblins down a turn. The cost is that they don't have a bunch of skills and can sneak attack. That they can't use this other type of magic. The players already pay a cost to play a magic user. It's them not being this other thing they could play.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Elbeyon View Post
    The costs are the character isn't a plate user that can hack four goblins down a turn. The cost is that they don't have a bunch of skills and can sneak attack. That they can't use this other type of magic. The players already pay a cost to play a magic user. It's them not being this other thing they could play.
    Course not, I've played 3.5. Why would you want plate armour or skills when magic just does that stuff better?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    Course not, I've played 3.5. Why would you want plate armour or skills when magic just does that stuff better?
    I consider that a different issue.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Elbeyon View Post
    I consider that a different issue.
    The theory is that magic has a 'cost' because taking it locks you out of taking other options (or in point buy games less resources for other options). My objection to this in the case of D&D is essentially:

    A cost that is not meaningfully impactful is not a cost.

    D&D tends to either have a way to let magic-users do the same thing anyway (often a spell, sometimes a class feature) or do an equivalent thing but better. It doesn't matter if I don't have the points to spend on the Sneak skill if going ethereal is just better.

    Now how much this matters at the table differs from edition to edition, but there are certainly editions and classes that get no meaningful costs.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Anonymouswizard View Post
    The theory is that magic has a 'cost' because taking it locks you out of taking other options (or in point buy games less resources for other options). My objection to this in the case of D&D is essentially:

    A cost that is not meaningfully impactful is not a cost.

    D&D tends to either have a way to let magic-users do the same thing anyway (often a spell, sometimes a class feature) or do an equivalent thing but better. It doesn't matter if I don't have the points to spend on the Sneak skill if going ethereal is just better.

    Now how much this matters at the table differs from edition to edition, but there are certainly editions and classes that get no meaningful costs.
    That's a different issue with the system/game. Magic is not inherently unbalanced without a cost. I have played in games and systems where magic does not have a cost and everything works. If balance is the issue, that is a different issue to address.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Game mechanical opportunity cost is different from the in-character thematic impact of 'magic has a cost'. They can't replace one-another, but rather they're two different concepts that have to be aligned.

    If you play a wizard, the magic saps your health (HD lower than even Commoner) is an example of aligned costs. If you play a wizard, you aren't playing an artificer or psion or warblade isn't really thematically aligned with anything beyond 'magic takes the same dedication and focus as any other class'
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-01-22 at 06:58 PM.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    Game mechanical opportunity cost is different from the in-character thematic impact of 'magic has a cost'. They can't replace one-another, but rather they're two different concepts that have to be aligned.

    If you play a wizard, the magic saps your health (HD lower than even Commoner) is an example of aligned costs. If you play a wizard, you aren't playing an artificer or psion or warblade isn't really thematically aligned with anything beyond 'magic takes the same dedication and focus as any other class'
    I do like your HD example. I'm not a fan of each time a mage uses magic they are hurt in some way. It's hard to balance that, and I think it is better to balance systems some other way.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    The problem with applying cost to magic in a game context it is means that in order to do so in any sort of mechanistically fair way you have to properly value the outputs of magic, which is incredibly hard to do.

    Combat magic can be given a cost, because it's outputs - how much damage it does, how many people it damages at a time, etc. - are measurable, and there are games were, for example, casting spells drains your HP or some other immediate combat measurable cost is imposed.

    However, once you get into more nebulous outputs it becomes extremely difficult to evaluate how much any particular magical effect is worth. Which means imposing a cost is equally nebulous and likely to end up with totally unbalanced results that make some magical effects total steals while others are rip-offs you should never use in any system that tries. Even in D&D we can see this. Spells are sorted by level, which is intended to measure their power, but we all know there are vast differences in the power of the spells assigned to a given level. And of course there are magical effects whose value varies by who they are targeted at or immediate needs - like raising the dead.
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Elbeyon View Post
    I do like your HD example. I'm not a fan of each time a mage uses magic they are hurt in some way. It's hard to balance that, and I think it is better to balance systems some other way.
    I think his example was meant to be 'a commoner gets 1d6 hp per level, a wizard gets 1d4 hp per level, therefore implicitly magic makes you less healthy'. Similar to how in many games players of spellcasters will dump their physical stats, but codified in the system.

    Honestly I like casting magic being draining in the Shadowrun/GURPS/The Fantasy Trip style, where casting spells can make you less capable until you have tine to sit down/heal. The problem is of course balancing how draining spells should be, and as Mechalich says this is really hard with noncombat spells (which is probably why Shadowrun: Anarchy didn't even bother porting it). You've also got to balance against how quickly characters recover, to stop spells being outright replacements for mundane skills.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zelphas View Post
    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    The cost of magic seems like something that would not be just a balancing or flavor issue but rather a core theme of the game. The best way to do that would be to wrap the entire premise of the game around the cost of magic. The problem is that games are often trying to balance out a variety of factors and make non-magic using characters just as viable as ones who do use magic. This I think takes away from the theme of sacrifice and what price are you willing to pay for magic.

    The cost of magic can also be measured not just in risks such as demons, backlash, sanity, and physical enervation but in costs to the characters other goals, including friendly organizations, family, friends, etc.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Jorren View Post
    The cost of magic seems like something that would not be just a balancing or flavor issue but rather a core theme of the game. The best way to do that would be to wrap the entire premise of the game around the cost of magic. The problem is that games are often trying to balance out a variety of factors and make non-magic using characters just as viable as ones who do use magic. This I think takes away from the theme of sacrifice and what price are you willing to pay for magic.

    The cost of magic can also be measured not just in risks such as demons, backlash, sanity, and physical enervation but in costs to the characters other goals, including friendly organizations, family, friends, etc.
    Players, in games, are notoriously averse to using anything that has any sort of permanent cost. PCs will hoard potions, wand charges, and other disposable items endlessly, or accumulate tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and still believe they don't have enough. If you develop a system that ties power to costs players will either ignore it as not worth having (especially if the mechanics actually do make the approach suboptimal), or spend an immense amount of effort trying to subvert it. Call of Cthulhu leans into the latter by making the entire approach to magic being about subversion of the costs (that will eventually fail, but that's the whole point), but it's hard for a game that's played straight and not about inevitable doom to use such a method.

    And sacrifice as a theme is tricky overall, because different plays have different values and this changes the calculation of what any particular sacrifice is worth. This is problematic in a game where you have to model such sacrifices mechanically. Also, is sacrifice = power in any form you run the risk of creating perverse incentives where one person can con another into providing the sacrifice for miracles and other similar scenarios. Gaming history makes it clear that there is no form of in-game abuse so vile that gamers won't embrace if it offers even the most marginal of benefits.
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    Players, in games, are notoriously averse to using anything that has any sort of permanent cost. PCs will hoard potions, wand charges, and other disposable items endlessly, or accumulate tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and still believe they don't have enough. If you develop a system that ties power to costs players will either ignore it as not worth having (especially if the mechanics actually do make the approach suboptimal), or spend an immense amount of effort trying to subvert it. Call of Cthulhu leans into the latter by making the entire approach to magic being about subversion of the costs (that will eventually fail, but that's the whole point), but it's hard for a game that's played straight and not about inevitable doom to use such a method.

    And sacrifice as a theme is tricky overall, because different plays have different values and this changes the calculation of what any particular sacrifice is worth. This is problematic in a game where you have to model such sacrifices mechanically. Also, is sacrifice = power in any form you run the risk of creating perverse incentives where one person can con another into providing the sacrifice for miracles and other similar scenarios. Gaming history makes it clear that there is no form of in-game abuse so vile that gamers won't embrace if it offers even the most marginal of benefits.
    Presumably, players are playing in that sort of game because the central tenet appeals to them in some way or another. Like in Call of Cthulhu notions regarding insanity and cosmic horror; that's kind of the point. If your game has a myriad of ways to subvert the cost of magic (or whatever it happens to be), then your game really isn't about magic having a cost, but rather avoiding them.

    As for different costs for different characters, that should be tailored to the individual. As for getting someone else to pay that price sure, that sort of emphasizes the costs in a different way, which should have its own consequences.

    These are not necessarily bad things. If people are keen on the theme, they can probably highlight the costs using the game's mechanics in a meaningful way. If not, well they are probably not going to be interested in that kind of a game to begin with.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    i run mostly grognard games from the 70s-90s and in them you really have to pay for everything.

    Spells occupy pages, pages cost 50-100 gold each. A spell was like 2-15 pages long, so like 100-1500 gold pieces.

    you also had to roll a check to see if you could learn it that level, spend time memorizing it, and quest around for the spells to find them, and in some cases, the components.

    Then there might be magical schools and tests, like in Dragonlance.

    Ironically, how we ran D&D 20-30 years ago is very similar to how anime magic schools run today - teens in neat outfits at fancy academies learning the basics of attack/defense magic. It's all very Harry Potter/Worst Witch, complete with the castles.

    But i think people try too hard to make magic somehow worse than it needs to be.

    When World War 1 and 2 ended, people came back with an awareness of stuff like big bombs, flying machines, tanks, and so on. By the time AD&D came out, people were already familiar with mechanized modernized war. Automatic weapons, grenade launchers, and ICBMs.

    What a normal human being was capable of, given the right circumstances, by the time people rolled their first d20, amounted to very very high level wizard magic. This was featured to some extent in the 1970s animation "Wizards".

    in terms of raw damage, a magic missile wand is not going to out perform an M16. A wand of fireballs has nothing on a Grenade launcher or RPG with a bunch of extra rockets. There's nothing particularly horrifying about a Dragon when facing down a main battle tank, and honestly, almost nothing including most artifacts rival the nightmares of the atomic age.

    So the idea of a low magic game? isn't that basically camping?

    i mean, in camping, you go primitive, sleep outside in a cold tent that leaks in the rain if you touch the ceiling. Wild animals are around and if you are lucky you have something like bear spray or hunting doodads to fend them off. But in the back of your mind, you know you are stepping down a notch in your experience of quality, not upgrading. You know that electricity and heat, and restaurant food beats canned meat products, cold dark nights, and mosquito bites. You are roughing it.

    But not every escapism is roughing it.

    a lot of escapism is about imagining what it would be like if life were better, if people had more power to change their circumstances, not less.

    When people imagine making a wish, they don't usually start with "gee, i wish i could go camping and sleep on the dirt, rubbing two sticks together in the hopes of heating up this can of beans".

    They wish for stuff like super powers and piles of money. Their fantasy is an upgrade.

    If fantasy is an upgrade, then your magic should be an upgrade over whatever it is people take for granted.

    And considering the capacity of the 21st century, which, by 1970s standards was basically magic, people need to decide,

    are they camping,
    or going fantasy?

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Jorren View Post
    Presumably, players are playing in that sort of game because the central tenet appeals to them in some way or another. Like in Call of Cthulhu notions regarding insanity and cosmic horror; that's kind of the point. If your game has a myriad of ways to subvert the cost of magic (or whatever it happens to be), then your game really isn't about magic having a cost, but rather avoiding them.

    As for different costs for different characters, that should be tailored to the individual. As for getting someone else to pay that price sure, that sort of emphasizes the costs in a different way, which should have its own consequences.

    These are not necessarily bad things. If people are keen on the theme, they can probably highlight the costs using the game's mechanics in a meaningful way. If not, well they are probably not going to be interested in that kind of a game to begin with.
    Theme is difficult to enforce. The oWoD was supposed to be all about personal horror and degradation and the rode to destruction and so forth, but what people actually played was street-level supers who carried katanas under their trenchcoats. The design staff at WW got particularly cheesed about this and ended up in an active fight with a significant portion of the fanbase to the point of blowing up the setting and subsequently losing a very substantial portion of said fanbase in perpetuity, to the point that they went bankrupt in a very short timeframe thereafter.

    And it's hard to prevent subversion, of anything, in the TTRPG environment. Ironclad rules are difficult to write, especially as games continue to publish and rules accrete over time and interact with each other in various complex ways. 3.X D&D isn't supposed to have stacking metamagic reducers that allow the reduction of essentially all metamagic costs to nothing so casters can infinitely power-up their spells, but it does.

    The cost of magic is an excellent device in storytelling, as it ties in with themes of sacrifice and scarcity and unwinnable conflicts. However such stories are difficult to tell in games, which tend to focus on escapist melodrama. Also because the distance between a player and PC is usually lower than that of a reader and a fictional character created by a third party the ability to actually make PCs suffer in meaningful ways while keeping the game going is limited.

    You can design a game that explores these themes, but it's going to be very niche and require very mature players. That may be worth doing, certainly (in fact it's probably been done, effectively, in some game that hardly anyone knows), but it's a very specialized goal. Applying costs to magic is going to be ineffective in typical gameplay systems because it doesn't align with the actual goals of play and the actual maturity level people bring to the table (even very mature players often deliberately game in a distinctly childish fashion because they find it fun, sometimes to the point of outright trolling). So if you want to do a system that applies significant costs to the use of magic, and utilizes magic as a significant part of gameplay, you have utilize this as a central focus of the overall design.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    I'm a big fan of magic systems where a miscast might possibly result in headsplosion.

    Or like Forbiddan Lands, where a demon pops out of a rift and drags you away forever.
    Having played Warhammer games, the dice being able to immediately kill your character and the entire party sounds fun on paper, but only works because of the small chance of it happening per casting. And layer editions allowed you to sacrifice raw power to avoid it anyway. The second worst level of consequences is killing your character off, the worst is letting the daemons through.

    It's why I just won't pay a wild magic Sorcerer in 5e, there's just far too much chance of dropping a party killing fireball by accident when playing at my preferred levels.
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    So here I am, trapped in my laboratory, trying to create a Mechabeast that's powerful enough to take down the howling horde outside my door, but also won't join them once it realizes what I've done...twentieth time's the charm, right?
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    How about a Jovian Uplift stuck in a Case morph? it makes so little sense.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Xervous View Post
    That is if you care about balance. If not... sentient potted plant and Superman?
    For some reason, I strongly agree.

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    I'd say the thing to do is to look at the amount of screen time that paying the cost or dealing with the cost would take up/create, and the amount of screen time that the event of the use of magic either resolves or bypasses, and ensure that the time spent handling the cost is strictly less than the time it would take to accomplish whatever the corresponding act of magic accomplished.
    You mean, you don't like the idea of spending 20 sessions questing for the components for the Fighter's new sword?

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    a resolution to a single fight, which D&D designers assumed would be about a sixth of a session meaning probably something like 40 minutes of screentime (though I think in reality its more like 1 hour 30 minutes on average).
    Ugh. Train faster players!

    Quote Originally Posted by NichG View Post
    What if you want magic to be at the combat scale despite this? In that case, I'd say to make a system of magic where each spell in some way permanently empowers the character. You don't cast a 'Fireball', you cast a spell that makes a compact with the elemental forces of fire, causing you to experience the pain of being burned alive for the rest of your life but meaning that fire follows your will wherever its found. You still can cast Fireball each time basically for free, but you paid a permanent price in order to gain permanent access to Fireball. Casting Fireball isn't the act of magic, its just the byproduct of the real act of magic of binding a fire elemental into your soul.
    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    This is actually something I think a lot about, because I have what I think is a cool "cost of magic" for a setting that is impossible, as far as I can tell, to make a feasible RPG system work with. Casting spells costs you age. No, not making you older: making you YOUNGER. This is part of why mages live so long, but it's a very real cost, nevertheless. Use too much magic, and you wind up being a kid again. Sure, you're still you and have your memories and skills, but you're in a kid's body with a kid's brain. And if you send yourself back to a point where you're small and frail, or worse, unable to even feed yourself.... And also, the way you regain this fuel is...by living and aging. So your magic refills slowly.
    Those sound like fun systems!

    I especially love how the "costs age" system is a perversion of the early D&D spell costs.

    -----

    So, how do *I*, personally, feel about the notion of "magic, but at a cost"? Hmmm…

    Fiction first. It's a terrible balancing tool (see also Grod's Law), but it can be great fun if it is built into the system inherently, for the express purpose of "cool concept for magic".

    Then, once you've got the magic system up and running, *if* you care about balance, build the muggles to be balanced to the mages.

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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    I have a preference for what it shouldn't cost. The cost should never punish the character for doing what he's supposed to be doing for anything a character does. For a spellcaster that means casting spells. What's a punishment? A punishment is anything that makes the character worse off doing the Thing than if he hadn't done the Thing at all accepting the arbitrary resource allotment expenditure to do the Thing. The character should not suffer loss of health, loss of turns, loss of actions, or loss of defenses. I can give some leeway. Doing X means you can't do Y next turn but only next turn can be ok for me depending on Y, but you can still do X again or Z or other cool stuff. Devil is in the details.

    I could still not like a particular cost as a matter of personal opinion but agree it's not a punishment. I get over it or whatever, but I remain adamant a cost should not be a punishment. For spellcasters in particular, they're entitled to cast spells. They're entitled to have their spells work. They're entitled to have their spells do cool things. They are allowed to be able to do cool things in addition to casting spells. Warriors should have their own cool things.
    Last edited by Pex; 2021-01-23 at 12:35 PM.
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    Default Re: The cost of magic

    Quote Originally Posted by Kapow View Post
    In other games I played, each spell was something akin to a skill, that you had to learn and then roll successfully to cast.
    In some cases it could cost your very life-energy (hitpoints) if you where unlucky or exceeded your reach.
    There are usually ways around this. But they come with other costs, deals with devils/demons could that mark you as outsider abd/or cripple you physically, loss of sanity...
    Additionally, spell failure can have devastating side effects.

    To me, that means, that even if magic is really powerful, mundane characters keep being a solid choice, because by avoiding those costs, you can invest your resources in other ways and (kind of) keep up.
    You might want to look at Threshold Limited Magic in GURPS Thaumatology. Basically, wizards can cast any spell they want, but every time they cast or maintain a spell they add points to a power tally and if they accumulate too may, you roll on a table to see if a disaster happens. The tally decreases over time if they don't use magic. The end result is that spells are used sparingly, but in an emergency a wizard can take a risk and call on a lot of power. (It also means that players will probably put a significant number of points into things other than magic when they create their characters.)
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