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D&D General D&D magic inspired by...

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Let's imagine that Gygax and Co. were heavily inspired by someone other than Vance for the creation of the D&D magic system. Who might it have been? And what would that have looked like in OD&D and how might it have evolved all the way to 5E?

If they had stuck with Howard's weird hyborean age sorcerers, I think there would have been a lot more alchemy, rituals and summoning. I think it would have been dangerous and costly and essentially evil, mostly a tool of the enemy. Over time, of course, the worst parts would have been decreased or eliminated and magic would become more and more a PC thing.

Without Vancian spells as a foundation, I think different magic using classes would have been more thematic and unique: actual prayers and blessings for clerics, for example.

What do you think?
 

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I personally would have loved for fantasy TTRPGs to have been inspired by something other than Vance (NOTE: Not making a judgment call on Vance's writings or Jack Vance himself). D&D's magic system from the beginning had nothing to do with historical magical practices or beliefs. A game as you describe with rituals, summoning, alchemy, prayers, with additions of hexes, charms, enchantments, chants, and more would have been far more fantastical to me. The D&D magic user is an artillery piece; the historical magic user was someone who sought understanding or control, and interceded with the divine or spiritual in some fashion.

Now, we have games out there where magic is inspired by Tolkien more than Vance. But what if it was inspired more by Lloyd Alexander? Most magic would be wrapped up in things or beings, rather than in spells and blasts. Classical magical items like crystal balls and harps, as well as oracular pigs, would be more important. Songs and speeches could be magical, influencing people in ways. Magic could be built to serve the needs of the setting, invested in a large pot or a majestic deer, and you could tie the treasure-seeking of D&D with these magical objects.
 

Mad_Jack

Legend
There's an Irish legend involving the hero Fionn mac Cumhaill - his mentor at the time, the poet Finnegas, was prophesied to catch the Salmon of Knowledge and thus "nothing would be unknown to him", but when Finnegas caught the fish he told Fionn to cook it for him. While cooking it, Fionn accidentally burned his thumb and reflexively put it in his mouth, thus gaining all the fish's wisdom. Afterward, he could recall any fact by putting his thumb in his mouth.

It'd be awesome to learn a new spell by having to finish a task in some clever way like catching a fish or beating an owl at a riddle contest.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
I think Gygax specifically picked Vance because it didn't match any real-world magic system.

For Howard-like magic, you could look at the various Conan games that have been made over the years. Many of them are as you describe.

Chaosium's Stormbringer has a magic system based around bound demons that's supposed to be more true to the Elric series.

This is a little obscure, but Liber Ka for Nephilim was supposed to be based on actual Western ceremonial magic, and you got bonuses for incorporating correspondences, doing things on the right day, etc. You were mostly restricted to stuff that could plausibly happen naturally, similar to Mage: the Ascension's coincidental magic. It's available for purchase on DrivethruRPG.

A more complete table of correspondences was in the even-more-obscure Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway. That's almost impossible to get a copy of, but someone (possibly Galloway himself, or one of his associates, from the email address?) put a very similar-looking table up on a BBS and it is on the textfiles.org server archiving old 1980s BBS content. As Fantasy Wargaming is out of print, I believe this would be fair use:
 
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Voadam

Legend
Comic book Dr. Strange. At will blasts, some astral projection, and make pacts to invoke magical beings with exclamation points for other powers. Crimson Bands of Cyttorak! Illusions of Iconn!

We might have gotten the warlock earlier. :)

Plenty of magic items as well like the levitation cloak and the Eye of Agamotto.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
I think Gygax specifically picked Vance because it didn't match any real-world magic system.

For Howard-like magic, you could look at the various Conan games that have been made over the years. Many of them are as you describe.

Chaosium's Stormbringer has a magic system based around bound demons that's supposed to be more true to the Elric series.

This is a little obscure, but Liber Ka for Nephilim was supposed to be based on actual Western ceremonial magic, and you got bonuses for incorporating correspondences, doing things on the right day, etc. You were mostly restricted to stuff that could plausibly happen naturally, similar to Mage: the Ascension's coincidental magic. It's available for purchase on DrivethruRPG.

A more complete table of correspondences was in the even-more-obscure Fantasy Wargaming by Bruce Galloway. That's almost impossible to get a copy of, but someone (possibly Galloway himself, or one of his associates, from the email address?) put a very similar-looking table up on a BBS and it is on the textfiles.org server archiving old 1980s BBS content. As Fantasy Wargaming is out of print, I believe this would be fair use:
Holy cats, someone else who has read Nephilim! Whenever I bring up the game, most people look at me like I'm insane!
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
It's hard to say what would have inspired them, I'm not sure how many other fantasy authors had thought-out magic systems in the 70's...LeGuin, maybe (I was going to say Zelazny, but Madwand and the Merlin books didn't come out until the 80's, and Merlin is basically a Neo-Vancian Wizard anyways)? Usually magic just did whatever it was narratively supposed to do.

That having been said, when I was new to the game, I really digged Ultima 4's magic system, and wished D&D magic worked more like that.

EDIT: Lord Darcy, maybe?
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
It probably would've defaulted to Elementalists with not much outside of that for Arcane magic. And divine magic, if it existed separate from Arcane, probably would've had a little "Holy" sprinkled onto it.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Honestly, when I actually sat down to read The Dying Earth, what struck me was that there really wasn't a detailed magic system. Just the "you forget the spell after you cast it". So I doubt that D&D could have drawn inspiration from other magic systems, because it's creators were looking for a way to balance magic, and making spells "bullets in a magic gun" was a simple way to do it.

The concept of "MP" (spell points) didn't appear until later, sadly. But I'm willing to bet nobody was looking for "laws" to limit magic or narrative consequences for using it; they were making a game, and they needed magic to be a resource, like food or ammunition, something they could possibly grok from board/wargames (not sure which ones, even The Campaign for North Africa didn't come out until '78).

Which is why we're still using "spell bullets" to this day. It's easier to balance than anything else; even spell points require an additional rule from spamming "firaga" every round until you're out of magic.

That having been said, I'd love to see some other magic system employed (I'm also a big fan of Earthdawn's "at will" spells that you can only have a few of ready to cast at a time, and big spells requiring more than one turn to cast, but I can't say that would be more balanced), but it's hard to argue that you should fix something that more or less works.
 

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