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Old 11-26-2011, 05:11 PM   #1
Yorunkun
 
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Default Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

A while back, I asked for advice on building Iron Age Warriors. The playtest combat scenarios have gone well, so I'm now tackling the wider campaign. One point that's come up is the addition of "subtle magic".

The campaign will be about a tribe of Saxon mercenaries landing in Britian shortly after the departure of the legions. All the PCs will be warriors first and foremost. However, we'd like to add some setting-appropriate, low-key magic to spice things up a little - and to improve characters' chances of survival and their rate of healing. This could range from quasi-magical knacks to actual spells or divinely granted powers.

The thematic areas we're looking at including are divination, blessing/cursing, healing/necromancy and some charm/mind-affecting powers. The idea is to exclude everything that has obvious, visible effects - i.e. instant healing, or fireballs. Magic should work in such a way that sceptics witnessing its effects could always ascribe them to psychological effects, superior knowledge or blind luck. Mechanically though, magic should actually exist, and work.

My question then: How would you model these kinds of effects? I own all the relevant books (Magic, Thaumatology, Powers, Divine Favour) but have no experience using them. All suggestions welcome.

Last edited by Yorunkun; 11-26-2011 at 05:12 PM. Reason: Added Link
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Old 11-26-2011, 05:36 PM   #2
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

I highly recommend Path/Book Magic from Thaumatology. It has the exact feel you're looking for. I'd do Effect Shaping magic, for the most historical feel.
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Old 11-26-2011, 05:37 PM   #3
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

First of all, what kind of point levels are you looking at?

It's something of a tradition on these boards to point people looking for subtle magic to the Path/Book style found in Thaumatology. If you're willing to ban some rituals it works quite well.

Divine Favor may be a little too miraculous. If you catch the ear of your god, a Very Good reaction will get you an obvious miracle, and an Excellent one can raise the dead and part the seas. On the other hand, that's all rare, and very situational. It's obvious, but it's unreliable and at a severe penalty if the someone isn't in immediate mortal peril. As far as learned prayers go, all but a couple of the Minor Blessings would work just fine, but anything higher than that would be unworkable.

Edit: Actually, there's a line in Divine Favor about how even Excellent miracles can be relatively subtle. The given example is that you can be rescued by a crowd of random strangers instead of an earthquake. If you're willing to be clever, Divine Favors could work.

Last edited by Miles; 11-26-2011 at 05:48 PM.
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Old 11-26-2011, 05:47 PM   #4
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miles View Post
It's something of a tradition on these boards to point people looking for subtle magic to the Path/Book style found in Thaumatology. If you're willing to ban some rituals it works quite well.
I don't disagree with the suggestion of using the Path/Book system for more subtle magic (and there's nothing wrong with banning some rituals, since you need to look at all GURPS spell lists as a catalogs of spells that you could use in your campaign), but I do want to suggest a second look at the core magic system. I've been using it in my chambara game, and while I have some flame-wielding demon-ninjas that aren't particularly subtle, I do have quite a few magey-types that use much more subtle effects. I've found if you pick and choose what spells you allow, you can create some rather subtle, if somewhat direct and quick, mages.

That is to say, the core magic system can be scaled up or down on the subtlety meter (and, as with Path/Book magic, GURPS Thaumatology will help you with this too)
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Old 11-26-2011, 06:49 PM   #5
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

(The forum ate my last post)

I'm not an expert on 5th century religion, but I think advantages like Luck, Serendipity, Medium, and Oracle can represent many things. Different stat bonuses and advantages can be linked to altered states of consciousness (eg. Drunk, Tipsy, Berzerk) with Preparation Required and Nuisance Effect (see Fantasy p. 205 for a worked example). Finally, making sure that religion and magic is important to your NPCs, and that its not obvious what has game effects and what doesn't, helps with a low magic flavour.
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Old 11-26-2011, 08:47 PM   #6
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

For healing, you'll want to get away from the Insta-Heal of D&D-Land, and instead use something that has no visible effect. The simple solution is to speed up natural healing, e.g. by a factor. A low level spell doubles natural healing speed, a medium level spell triples it, and so forth. For GURPS (or indeed most other system) you'd probably want such spells to only work on wounds or HP loss that happened before the spell was cast. Otherwise it's like Bestow Regeneration which is quite powerful.

By far the "best" might be if it's not a spell-"shaped" effect at all, but rather just looks like very skilled medical care, where the healer spends hours or days or even weeks acting as a physician, but via the magic he achieves supernatural results, such as quadrupled recovery rate from wounds (and cripplings!).

There are also a lot of non-wound-related things that healing magic can do in subtle ways, but this depends on how well the RPG simulates those. If there are few rules for pain, for instance, then it's not going to be very cool to include all sorts of Anti-Pain magics.

So look at GURPS' combat system, at whatever complexity and detail level you're going to use it. What are the sucky conditions that the combat system can impose on characters? Invent magics that mitigates or even removes those sucky conditions. Outright removal is sometimes too blatant, but in other cases it isn't, e.g. reviving the unconscious

Magic that alleaviates or cures diseases and poisons is mostly a setting issue. GURPS has fairly good rules for those, so the question is, how commonly will those be encountered in your campaign? If they're rare, healing magic that works vs poisons or disease will be less desirable.

Subtle buffs might also work, e.g. an elaborate magical/religious ritual to temporary bestow Higher Purpose on a character, or even a group of characters. Clearly such magic is very powerful, so such a ritual should be costly, either if paid for with CPs, or if paid for with in-world ressources such as skill and time and spent materials (a Wotanic blot to ask for victory in battle would cost at least a dozen head of cattle, e.g.), and perhaps also some other mechanics to prevent in-world denizens from using such magic all the time.

Recently I re-read a web-article or two by Diana Paxson, about Norse seid magic, and the spirit travel thing sounds cool, and it's exactly the kind of thing you can build with GURPS' building blocks, applying a lot of Limitations both to make the magic more flavourful and to reduce the CP cost so that it becomes affordable. Others can better help you with the details of such a build, but it'd be perfect for Saxons or other Germanics (even if they think it's kinda gay).


GURPS Monster Hunters has some divine abilities, IIRC for the Crusader template, that are subtler in nature than the ones in Divine Favour, so those might be a good starting point.

GURPS Fantasy might have something useful in it Roma Arcana setting. 5th centry Britain would have Romans, Kelts and Germanics, all of which are covered in Roma Arcana, although the examples of advanage-built magic are very scarce, and I'm not even sure if there are any Roman ones.

Also don't forget the suggestions in GURPS Fantasy for applying Limitations to Talents (Skill Talents, mind you - it's very illegal to apply Limitationst to Power Talents, and most of the time that ban makes a lot of sense). A stack of 4 or even 6 levels of some Talent to enhance social skills, leader skills (Tactics, Ladership, Strategy), medical skills, or most or even all combat skills, with some appropriately flavourful Limitations, will probably work very well. The main problem I see with this approach is that in order for the Limited Talents to make a noticable difference (i.e. not being so ultra-subtle that they might as well not exist) a character should have at least 3 of them, and there's some sense in allowing more than 4 levels of Talents. Maybe allow 4 levels of Talent with just the usual "magic/ritualistic" Limitations, and then a further 2 or 3 levels with the previous Limitations but worse, or with some extra Limitations added.

When defining the skills covered by such magical Talents, you should never feel constrained by the RAW examples from the core book or from Power-Ups 3. Build the Talents so they make sense according to the magic system or the religion, i.e. so that each Talent covers the portfolio of one god.

Blessed (Heroic Feats) can also be toyed with, perhaps. I'm not sure I like it too much as written, I suspect it'd work better if it was based around the CP value of the buff (thus +1d6 ST, +1d3 DX, or +2d6 Move - or +1d6 Move for half cost to maintain some subtlety), but even as it is you can still apply Limitations to it, and allow the taking of multiple instances of Blessed, either to stack their effect or to allow multiple uses per day.

Also note that a little DR can represent luck or rolling with the blows. It doesn't have to seem like armour. If you add too much such magical DR, however, it'll start to look like invisible plate mail.
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Old 11-27-2011, 07:42 AM   #7
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Knutsen View Post
For healing, you'll want to get away from the Insta-Heal of D&D-Land, and instead use something that has no visible effect. The simple solution is to speed up natural healing, e.g. by a factor. A low level spell doubles natural healing speed, a medium level spell triples it, and so forth. For GURPS (or indeed most other system) you'd probably want such spells to only work on wounds or HP loss that happened before the spell was cast. Otherwise it's like Bestow Regeneration which is quite powerful.

By far the "best" might be if it's not a spell-"shaped" effect at all, but rather just looks like very skilled medical care, where the healer spends hours or days or even weeks acting as a physician, but via the magic he achieves supernatural results, such as quadrupled recovery rate from wounds (and cripplings!).
This is pretty much exactly what the ritual Succor does in Path/Book magic.
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Old 11-26-2011, 08:51 PM   #8
Yorunkun
 
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

I like Polydamas' approach of just going with reskinned powers from Basic and Powers for its simplicity and I am sure I will include some of the.

However, our characters will be built with 100 points, a 50 point disad limit and a mandatory disad package of about 20 points. Most of these points will go to combat related abilities. With JUST powers, this would limit players to one or two powers at creation and no way to gradually improve their abilities over time. I would like to include a religiously themed, learning based approach as well.
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Old 11-26-2011, 09:04 PM   #9
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Subtle Spells for Iron-Age Warriors

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yorunkun View Post
However, our characters will be built with 100 points, a 50 point disad limit and a mandatory disad package of about 20 points. Most of these points will go to combat related abilities. With JUST powers, this would limit players to one or two powers at creation and no way to gradually improve their abilities over time. I would like to include a religiously themed, learning based approach as well.
The best way to gradually improve powers is to buy or increase the Power Talent, but that's not always very attractive if you only have one or two powers.

Also, for subtle and low-key magic you'll probably want Limitations that total to -60% if not -80%, and then part of the gradual power improvement process is simply to reduce those Limitations, so that for instance Limitations that pertain to time are lessened in severity.

In world terms you should probably define for each Power the minimum Limitations, so that nobody, PC or NPC, can be less Limited than that in each of those regards, without an Unusual Background (such as being half-human half faerie, or the descentdant of a god, or similar).

Massive Limitations also makes the powers cheaper, so it might well be possible to build a "fairly magical" character on 100 CPs with 70 CPs disads, with 4 or so weak and subtle powers, but then that one character would be the party's mage, and the other PCs would have 1-2 powers each. So the party mage would be the one with the Power Talent.

And what I alluded in my previous post, about Limitations on Power Talents, is that I don't see the wrongness in having a Gadget Limitation on Power Talent. A lot of other Limitations, sure, that's a no go, but Gadget often makes sense, and Gadget is allowed on Magery.

So you have one "wizard" PC who has 3-5 weak powers (heavily Limited), and has one level of Power Talent with a -40%'ish Gadget Limitation (that way he can buy more levels of the Power Talent, for about 3 CPs per level), and then a couple of the other PCs have a couple of powers that are heavily Limited, or Skill Talents with Limitations (usually a lot of levels of one Talent per character), and the rest of the PCs are non-magical.
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