Magical Magpies

Several attempts have been made to produce a runecaster class, or rune-carver, or something similar. Most have fallen short, to my estimation, because of something inherent in the traditional (A)D&D magical system. That is, magic-users are not differentiated by the means used to produce their spells. Where differentiation exists (in sub-classes such as the illusionist and, in the case of Adventures Dark and Deep™, the savant), it is in the emphasis of the outcome of the spells that are cast.

Pro tip: If you ever see a non-RPG book that talks about a
“blank rune”, throw it in the trash. There ain’t no
such thing.

For instance, magic-users in AD&D have spells such as explosive runes, clerics have glyph of warding, etc. Some spells require gestures, others incantations, others material components, and most a combination of the three. Magic in the (A)D&D world is not divided by method, but by result. Thus, a magic-user can use runes in one spell, swallow a live carp for another, and rely on words alone for another.

Because of this, one must be very careful when attempting to come up with new sub-classes of spell-casters. My own Necromancer class fits, if I may say, very well with the current system because it doesn’t presuppose a brand new system of magic, but merely comes up with a new class whose uniqueness is defined by the spells to which they have access. The same with the witch sub-class; it’s a sub-class of cleric, but it doesn’t try to create a new system of magic to obtain its effects; it finds its uniqueness in the spells that the class is allowed.

It could certainly be a valid approach to simply fold those new spells into the existing classes, and define sub-types of spell-casters not by class delineations but simply by limiting their spell lists (in the case of magic-users, this is easily done by simply not making certain spells available due to in-campaign limitations, in the case of clerics, it is done by tailoring the spell lists of priests of different deities or faiths).

In the case of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (and Adventures Dark and Deep™), that’s not the design decision that was made, but it’s certainly a valid way to go. It’s one of the chief reasons, I believe, that subclasses like the chronomancer, rune-caster, and so forth don’t really ring true. What’s needed is not a new type of magic, but a unique emphasis on results.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

7 thoughts on “Magical Magpies

  1. 4e style rituals.

    I have a rule that to cast any spell that is a ritual you need components equal in value to the spell level squared time 10 gp.

    I have another rule that says that ritual take a minimum of a turn (10 minutes) to cast.

    Then I created magic using classes that can only cast spell using rituals.

    In order to cast spell in combat they need to create a scroll or in the cast of runecaster runes.

    The advantage of Runes is that you can place them in a wider variety of locations. Make a rune staff, wand, dagger, etc.

    There also two types of runes. One shot runes which work just like scrolls. And permanent runes.

    Permanent Runes cost double whatever you have for scrolls. But afterwards can be recharged for HALF the cost of a scroll.

    To determine how many rune and object can have. I ruled each rune take up a space two inches by four inches. Basically divide the length by four and that how many runes that can be scribed.

    The advantage of this system is that you don't have to modify the the AD&D spells. A fireball rune work just like a fireball spell. A fireball ritual works the same as well but you would have to be in a siege, behind the battle line, or a special combat circumstance to pull off the ten minute casting time.

    In my campaign magic user can cast ritual equal to 1/2 the highest level spell they can cast rounded down. So when you can cast 2nd level spells you can cast 1st level ritual.

    But this is optional and you can have ritual caster as a separate class and not have magic-user being able to use rituals.

    The effect of this on game is that the player loads up on runes to the limit he can carry. They have more "firepower" but once expended they have no quick way of regaining spell power. Since scroll/rune making take days and weeks of in-game time it is an important consideration as to when runes are used.

  2. I recommend looking over the Diabolist class from the Palladium Fantasy RPG (Revised NOT 2nd Edition).

    Siembieda really gives the class a different feel. He gives a different spell list as well as mechanics.

    So I think that you can, in fact, have those different kinds of magic classes based, at least in part, on mechanics but it requires more work and imagination because just using the same old D&D spells falls flat.

    Personally, I have mixed in Diabolists, GURPS magic and Spell Law spells into the same game with acecptable results. The classes each have a very different flavor indeed!

    However, I would also add that there was no "wizard" originally just a "magic user". There were no "rangers", "cavaliers" or "paladins" just "fighting men". These two archetypes were very broad avoiding connotations suggesting specific cultures and traditions and they were divided along a fight-magic axis. Conversely, there was a "cleric" which was both more specific – as it assumed Judeo-Christian ideas of religion ((1) faith as more important than ritual
    (2) jealous deities and (3) worshipping a single god, albeit from a pantheon, exclusively) – as well as breaking from the fighting-magic axis as definition of the class in favor of socio-political function defining the class. Arneson and Gygax could have more logically chosen to create a hybrid of the fighting-man and magic-user classes as the 3rd option but instead, by creating the cleric, set the precedent for something less general and open to interpretation which has, I think, led to the thief and ever more specific classes.

    Where your "magic-user" could have been a sorcerer, theurgist, rune caster, witch, seer or whatever else you wished to call it perhaps some minor house-rulings to give it flavor you ended up with a drive for a diverse set of distinct classes instead of minor variations.

  3. I always just assume that any Magic-User or Cleric in a Norse type campaign is casting spells using the style of spell casting and type of magic typical of the setting, carving runes is maybe the somatic or material component of spell casting in the sagas; so singing runic chants (galdr)is the verbal component, seiðr might be a part of it too.

    That said, I usually limit the spells available in my Norse campaign settings to keep them more like the sagas, the more fantastic ones anyway; relatively few Fireballs flying around in the old Norse world.

  4. Yes, but I missed it in galðr. I just went and looked it up. Old Norse is an unforgiving mistress; I don't speak it, I just have a lot of books with Old Norse terms in them.

  5. I am curious if you conceive of the bard this way as well – spells with particular affects, rather than a different type of magic? I am interested in your upcoming book. Do you have a preview of the bard per chance?

  6. Panzerleader: You can download the free playtest versions of all three Adventures Dark and Deep books at the link in the upper right corner of the blog.

    And yes– the bard uses spells in a more conventional way, like a mage or cleric.

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