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Old 02-04-2019, 11:44 AM   #1
khorboth
 
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Default Magic of Middle Earth

We started this discussion in another thread, but the gist is... What magic system would work best for a Middle Earth game?

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
I think Lord of the rings magic is mostly about mind control/influencing, crafting, and signature effects associated with individuals, like gandalf's skill with fire or the ring wraith's infection effects. Most magic only shows up at extreme power levels.
Sorta. Gandalf's fire can be explained because he's the keeper of Narya, the Elvish ring of fire. But... What about the rekindling of Theoden's will to live? Is that just a metaphorical use of fire? Or some innate thing he did? Or just a rousing speech?

Then, there was Gandalf and Aragorn's idea that the ancient Elven lands south of Rivendell might have enough residual magic to keep Saruman's spies at bay. It didn't work, but even so, that's... hard to systematize.

In fact, an argument can be made that the Elves, Dwarves, and Men can ONLY do magic through items. Even Wizards seem to do much better when they have an item on hand. We don't see much done without a staff.

As I think about it, I would probably limit real magic to NPCs but allow some supernatural advantages for PCs. Something like the land connections seen with Faramir or Aragorn's healing. Maybe some limited shape-shifting Like Beorn, but that would be hard with a PC.

Does anybody have a fully fleshed-out model?
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Old 02-04-2019, 11:54 AM   #2
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

In the appendices, it is mentioned that when Gandalf recieved his ring he was told that "this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill," so the restoring of hope to Theoden was clearly within it's bailiwick (the magic shave and haircut the king receives in the movie version as he is cured are less obviously justifiable*). It should certainly be born in mind that magic rings, at least, tend to grant power in proportion to the native power of the user- one doubts that a lesser figure could have equalled Gandalf's fire-power with it, any more than Gollum could have set himself up as a dark lord using the One.

This is just a quibble- on the whole, I agree with you. If the group insists on players assuming the roles of Wizards, could something be done with Syntactic Magic (Thaumaturgy p. 179)? I don't have any experience using it, and have really read it only in passing, but from what I have gleaned it seems designed to allow the use of themed-but-not-precisely-defined-beforehand magical powers (with all the GM-adjuciation that necessarily entails).

*EDIT: But then, perhaps all wizards have magical hairdressing powers. That would explain why I've never seen one at the barber's, at least.
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:06 PM   #3
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

Quote:
Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
Sorta. Gandalf's fire can be explained because he's the keeper of Narya, the Elvish ring of fire. But... What about the rekindling of Theoden's will to live? Is that just a metaphorical use of fire? Or some innate thing he did? Or just a rousing speech?

If you'll look at the original quote I gave mind magic in general its own category of magical effect. It shows up all over the place with lots of different people doing it. Generic "Power" in Lord of the rings seems to present itself as an effect somewhere between terror and true faith, coupled with the ability to resist this effect. Other mental effects show up all over the place, and Frodo/Sam pull out a few of them when crossing near minas morgal.

Quote:
In fact, an argument can be made that the Elves, Dwarves, and Men can ONLY do magic through items. Even Wizards seem to do much better when they have an item on hand. We don't see much done without a staff.


As I think about it, I would probably limit real magic to NPCs but allow some supernatural advantages for PCs. Something like the land connections seen with Faramir or Aragorn's healing. Maybe some limited shape-shifting Like Beorn, but that would be hard with a PC.
Items are very important in Lord of the rings, I agree. I don't know how much of this requires that they get them from another source, but NPC origins don't seem quite required, though I'd require the backstory to include any magic they hope to use or acquire.



Beorn seems to take time to do his skin changing trick, and I've always gotten the impression it was much like donning clothing: it takes a while, but not too long, and you don't usually do it in public.
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:28 PM   #4
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

Most characters don't seem to seem to have any casting abilities. Those that can seem to be specific named characters. Quite a few magic items are floating around, though.

I'd probably try RPM, using greater effects to keep the flashiness down. You could add additional prerequisites to keep it restricted to a few (UB/unaging? requires staff? code of behavior - wizard/elf).
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:32 PM   #5
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

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Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
We started this discussion in another thread, but the gist is... What magic system would work best for a Middle Earth game?
From the other thread...
Quote:
Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
The hard part is the magic system. It's really hard to model "The narrator goes on about history for a page and then something unlikely happens."

The easy way to model magic would be basically like what Tolkien did: limit it to NPCs and only use it narratively, but give out cool magic items.

Option 2: Put in some other magic system, but acknowledge that there will be more and flashier magic than there was in the books.

Option 3: Allow magic in some way which makes it difficult and not-flashy. I haven't found a good way to do this.
Bearing in mind that I've only read The Hobbit & LotR, both 20 years ago, I say option 3, like so:

Magic as Advantages, with lots of limitations. . .
-No Teleporting
-No Flying
Etc.
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:37 PM   #6
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
If you'll look at the original quote I gave mind magic in general its own category of magical effect.
Entirely true.

The original corruption of Theoden is a good example. That seems to be some kind of magic worked by or through Grima.

Saruman was able to work quite a bit of this on his own post-staff both at his tower and later gathering men to take the Shire.

The corruption provided by the rings and by/through the Planatir are harder to ascribe to an individual or an item. Certinaly, the Planatir weren't designed to corrupt the wielder, but Theodred's end was apparently beyond Gandalf's ability to prevent. So, was that done by the Planatir or through it?

Either way, some kind of subtle and some kind of overt mind magic should certainly both be around.
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:43 PM   #7
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

A note about how I see magic in general working in any system:

I don't see a FP or HP cost. We don't see folk getting tired or hurt by their magic. Instead, there aught to be other limiting factors. Aragorn couldn't heal without kingsfoil. Gandalf was afraid to reveal his power due to retribution from Sauron, and also for philosophical reasons. Elven and Dwarven magic was generally craft-based and was just the way things were done or made.

Thoughts?
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Old 02-04-2019, 12:48 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
A note about how I see magic in general working in any system:

I don't see a FP or HP cost. We don't see folk getting tired or hurt by their magic. Instead, there aught to be other limiting factors. Aragorn couldn't heal without kingsfoil. Gandalf was afraid to reveal his power due to retribution from Sauron, and also for philosophical reasons. Elven and Dwarven magic was generally craft-based and was just the way things were done or made.

Thoughts?
Yes, it would be a lot of work, but using many different mechanics for different kinds of magic (often basing it on mundane skills such as Smith) seems like it would represent almost all of the magic of men, dwarves and elves well.

There also doesn't seem to be much of a critical failure mechanic (which greatly contrasts with systems which has harsh critical failures such as RPM).
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Old 02-04-2019, 02:08 PM   #9
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I don't see a FP or HP cost. We don't see folk getting tired or hurt by their magic. Instead, there aught to be other limiting factors.
After striving to seal the doors of the Chamber of Mazarbul behind the fleeing fellowship, Gandalf comments "You will have to do without light for a while: I am rather shaken". This looks like at least some sort of limited-resource mechanic, and they are strongly implied to be something like Fatigue Points, especially since he shortly thereafter remarks "I must rest here a moment, even if all the orcs ever spawned are after us," and then (after a short rest and discussion) "Ah! I have never felt so spent, but it is passing." So major magic-workings are in fact fatiguing, and this fatigue is strongly implied to temporarily limit further workings of magic.

[The account Gandalf gives of the struggle at the doors would be useful reading for anyone seeking to replicate Middle-Earth magicworking. Terms like "counter-spell" and "word of Command" brim with inspiration, even if the detail is less than a GURPS player would desire.]

EDIT: I will reproduce a few paragraphs, claiming fair-use. If that is inappropriate, the mods should of course delete them.

'I do not know,’ answered Gandalf. ‘But I found myself suddenly faced by something that I have not met before. I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that kind rightly requires time, and even then the door can be broken by strength.
‘As I stood there I could hear orc-voices on the other side: at any moment I thought they would burst it open. I could not hear what was said; they seemed to be talking in their own hideous language. All I caught was gh‚sh: that is “fire”. Then something came into the chamber – I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell.
‘What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces. Something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside, and I was thrown backwards down the stairs. All the wall gave way, and the roof of the chamber as well, I think.
‘I am afraid Balin is buried deep, and maybe something else is buried there too. I cannot say. But at least the passage behind us was completely blocked. Ah! I have never felt so spent, but it is passing. And now what about you, Frodo? There was not time to say so, but I have never been more delighted in my life than when you spoke. I feared that it was a brave but dead hobbit that Aragorn was carrying.’


This actually looks like a fairly gameable encounter.
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Old 02-04-2019, 02:12 PM   #10
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Default Re: Magic of Middle Earth

The thing about magic in Middle-earth is that it's not systematic. Therefore, coming up with a system to describe it kind of defeats the purpose.

Tolkien himself split magic up into two main kinds: Art and Will.

Art has to do with the act of subcreation, a term he uses in his essay "On Fairy Stories," and which I recommend reading to fully understand some of Tolkien's ideas. Basically, God is the Creator; his creations cannot themselves Create, but they can Subcreate: shape God's creation to it greater glory. When you make a gorgeous painting or statue, you are enhancing the world that the Creator made. When you tell a story so convincing that your audience believes in its world without effort, you are a successful subcreator.

All beings can subcreate and make Art. Elves and greater beings can do it better than others. When a man sings a song well, you might mentally imagine the scene being sung of. When a skilled elf sings a song (e.g., Finrod Felagund), he or she can actually make visions appear before the eyes of the listeners, and can actually manipulate their emotions. Sauron and Felagund have an epic song-battle, and Luthien sings Tol-in-Gaurhoth to the ground.

Art is best represented in GURPS as skills. Skills can simply achieve far greater things in the setting than they can in real life. A hobbit might learn the skill of Ropemaking really well, and make strong, light ropes, but an elf has even more skill in Ropemaking and can make ropes that are stronger, lighter, can untie themselves when called, and which reflect any light around them. And a hobbit who spends enough time with elves who teach him Ropemaking can learn to make ropes like this too: it's not a special ability of the elves; it's just a consequence of their greater lore. That elf sitting in front of you probably had a spare century to devote just to Ropemaking. But a dedicated hobbit could learn it too.

Will is what powers wizardry and sorcery, two words which more or less mean the same thing but which tend to get used for the good guys and the bad guys, respectively. Sorcery is about dominating the minds and wills of others; wizardry is about dominating the natural world. More or less. These aren't strict delineations.

Telepathy is a thing in Middle-earth, though not by that name and not as "mind powers"; we see a lot of it in LR. So are visions, dreams, and prophecies. These are nearly always caused by some power greater than oneself, messages delivered "telepathically." There's even a scene on the journey home where the great people sitting in camp converse with each other purely by thinking. This is their great Will in action.

Curses and oaths are also prominent, and efficacy in them is an act of Will, along with the stature or authority to impose it. Isildur could curse a whole people with his Will because he possessed the right to do so.

Magic by Will is best represented in GURPS by advantages and spells. Wizardry and Sorcery are regular GURPS spells, but you have to carefully curate the available spell lists. It's probably best to have to learn each spell individually; general skills like those used in ritual magic aren't really appropriate. Middle-earth is high mana (despite what people usually think); you can cast spells without possessing Magery, and most spell-casters do, but knowledge of spells is very limited.

As for magic items, those are mostly made through Art. This is a place where Art and Will often coincide, as a magic item may be made through Art to focus will. The Rings of Power do this; they're all about dominating others, and, in turn, being dominated by Sauron. The Three Rings are about Will too: Galadriel uses Nenya to preserve her kingdom from time by her will; Gandalf uses Narya to inspire and strengthen the wills of others.

That's just a start. There is plenty of work to do to turn all that into a workable system.
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