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General Putting The Awe Back In Magic

The burgher himself unlocked her shackles, making a grand show of producing the right key from the thick ring at his belt. The oldest, most ornate, and most worn of the bunch.

He gave it to two of the younger men and waved at them to free the prisoner, taking himself well back and away to watch them struggle with the old locks.

And as the heavy metal cuffs fell from her wrists to the stones underfoot with a clang and a rattle, he sneered and announced, “I’ll believe in this mighty magic when I see it, and not a moment before.”

His words were meant for the watching men of the town, not the freed captive, but he turned when they were done to see how she took them.

The young woman of few words met his bristle-browed gaze with a slight smile. Then she shrugged, turned away from him and the men of the town in a swirl of dark tattered robes, and murmured something swift and liquid under her breath, words they couldn’t quite catch—or that were in a tongue unknown.

And the air around her swiftly-weaving fingertips was suddenly alive with sparks, racing motes of light that spiraled down to the floor in front of her worn-toed boots like fireflies caught in a whirlpool.

And then burst with the roar of a dozen lions into a raging pillar of white flames taller than the loftiest towers of the Castle, a pillar that cracked and melted—melted, by All The Gods!—flagstones it spun across as it marched away from her to strike the towering black gates.

And with shrieks as ear-piercing as they were brief, those thick armour plates and the man-thick timbers that wore them were gone, locks and hinges and stout door-bars and all—simply…gone.

Leaving only an empty doorframe, its arch scorched by the vanished whorl of flames.

As the men of the town all stared at it in disbelief, a few shards of blackened stone, cracked away from the massive blocks of the arch by the heat of that brief magic, plummeted from the arch to shatter on the blackened flagstones. Clack, clack…klak.

“Well, now,” the burgher stammered, his voice seeming far away. And shorn of all bluster. Everyone turned to hear his verdict.

And blinked at what they beheld. Despite his paunch and wrinkled old age, the leader of the town had somehow taken himself half across the chamber in a trice, to the grudging shelter of the lee of an old stone pillar. “Well, now.”


o.l.d-page-129.jpg

Magic.

The ‘not real’ part of our fantasy roleplaying games, and fiction.

Yet also an essential part; we feel vaguely cheated when it’s not there, even if it’s scarce or long-fallen from old days of greatness. The element that makes so many monsters dangerous and feared, and that keeps many imaginary worlds from being ruled by the brute who commands the biggest, nastiest gang of brutes (er, king with the biggest army).

Yet the very same precise codification of magic, its workings, and the details of its clashings that make it understood and somhow more “fair” around the gaming table has, by the nature of exhaustive explanation, robbed magic of its chief glory: awe.

That’s a shame, because awe is one of the emotions (or moods, if you prefer) that we get to feel least in our lives, especially in this age of information, when most people can swiftly learn a lot about anything and so strip away its mystery, the lure of the unknown, in short order.

Obviously magic, like everything else, will have more awe clinging to it when it’s mysterious rather than known to nigh-everyone in full detail. When the game master’s descriptions of what a spell looks like when it manifests, and what it does, are attentively listened to by everyone around the gaming table—because everyone’s eager (nay, desperate) to learn all they can.

Rather than just flipping to the right page of a rulebook to read all about it. Which points at this: one road to this sort of mystery that’s available only to game masters running their own rules systems or substantially modifying published rules systems is to keep the practical details of magic (how spells are cast, the gestures and ingredients and incantations—verbal, somatic, and material components in D&D) secret. Things to be observed when others cast magic, and noted down in one’s own magical workbooks, or said by NPCs who are paid much in coin and service to do so, or paid even more to train a PC in how to cast and wield a lone spell.

This precious secrecy will tend to make those who can cast spells do so in private, or in public only in emergencies or for a lot of compensation.

It also, at a single stroke, makes magic, and its lore, the most prized treasure in a game.

Another way of making magic more awe-inspiring is to have it vary in effects from place to place, or by who or what is involved.

If a stranger wizard casts a recognizable spell and it shakes the valley rather than snapping in midair like a firecracker, there’ll be instant awe. Or at least respect, if not fear.

If a spell that’s supposed to force open a door is cast with the aid of a grimy old bone carving that looks small in the caster’s palm, and destroys the door and the wall around it rather than just cracking the door open, again there’ll be a reaction that could soon be awe.

And if a spell cast in a sinister ruin deep in a gloomy forest either sputters feebly or splits the heavens with a deafening roar, rather than conjuring its usual merry lantern-flame, awe won’t be far off.

Theatrics help with awe. Tomes rising out of chests with menacing slowness, all by themselves, and opening as eerie glows kindle about their pages, said pages turning by themselves as deep, booming voices speak from those same books, demanding to know who disturbs them.

Voices that speak suddenly out of empty air to herald the awakening of magic. For example: “Ah, more intruders. Let the deaths begin.”

Another way of making magic feel special and more precious is to keep it scarce. Or needing as a focus or consumed component in its castings something rare (the grave-dust or a bone from the grave of a truly good person, or a dead mage) or valuable (a gem of a certain type, size, and flawlessness). Or draining the life-force of the caster or a slave or pet or willing third party. Or leaving the caster vulnerable, by rendering them unconscious or physically weak, or revealing one of their most precious memories, for every spell cast, as vivid holographic moving images in midair, brightly glowing, for everyone on the scene to see.

Magic should have a cost. Perhaps not a price in coins, but it must be paid for. My players will not soon forget the wrinkled old near-skeleton who sat on her throne shrouded in cobwebs—until they approached, and she cast a spell that flung open many doors that her courtiers were hurled through unwillingly, into her presence. Courtiers who began to shrivel into lifeless husks with every spell she cast—‘hung,’ waiting spells unleashed by a lone word each—as she grew younger and more alive and vigorous with each casting, the adventurers suffered under the clawing damages of her magics, and her court died around her to pay for it all. The thief of the party had hopes that she could be outlasted; the party could run her out of courtiers to drain. Hopes that were dashed when the floor beneath the heroes’ boots opened up to dump them into caverns below where dragons were magically chained—dragons that withered even as they attacked the PCs, their life-force stolen by the queen on her throne above.

The throne, of course, was itself magical, and in the end soared into the skies to enable her escape from the adventurers, to scheme and ready herself for their next meeting.

The awe came back then, when the queen’s magic whisked dead dragon after dragon aloft to follow her. The thief wanted to grab and ride the last one, to go along, but the rest of the PCs were a trifle saner, and grabbed him and held him back.

So I could dole out more awe, on a game night to come.
 
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Ed Greenwood

Comments

pemerton

Legend
Systems are systems - they'll all have mechanical characteristics, effects, and outcomes. Any system runs the risk of being fairly mundane if we think of it in those terms. That's why it makes sense to think in terms of the impact on the narrative in pemerton's posts and the description of the magic as in Imaculata's post. They're both an improvement over just thinking in mechanical terms of #dx damage with DC xx as a saving throw and checking off xx number of hit points from target A.
I think your claim isn't self-evident, and probably isn't true. Your last sentence in particular suggests a pretty narrow class of systems, that deal with manipulations of numbers (like damage and hp in D&D) that don't in any way correlate to the fiction.

Consider the AW move open your brain:

When you open your brain to the world’s psychic maelstrom, roll+weird. On a hit, the MC will tell you something new and
interesting about the current situation, and might ask you a question or two; answer them.

On a 10+, the MC will give you good detail. On a 7–9, the MC will give you an impression. If you already know all there is to know, the MC will tell you that.​

As is typical for a PbtA game, "If the sum total is 6 or less, that’s a miss. . . . [T]ell the players this: “on a miss, I’ll tell you what happens.” If you want, just so nobody has any incorrect expectations, you can add this: “…and I promise you won’t like it.” (The move is from p 88; the quote is from p 12.)

I don't think any sort of elaborate descrition or narration is necessary to the adjudication of this move. When the GM (or MC in the game's own terminology) gives an impression, or gives good detail, that needn't be presented in any particularly elaborate style. Page 204 gives the following advice on how to handle this move as a GM:

At first when you ask questions, they can be simply to establish facts and images, questions like “what’s the psychic maelstrom like (for you)?” and “how do you learn things from it?” As the game progresses, though, ask questions about the characters’ lives, pasts, psyches, souls. “Who was your first kiss? Tell about it.” “Are you happy?” “What’s the worst hurt you’ve suffered that you can’t remember?” “If you could take one conversation back, undo it, what would it be?” “If you were to kill Bran right this minute, how would you do it?” Make time for the players’ answers, and don’t let the players squirm out of them just
because they never thought about it. “I know you don’t know who your first kiss was. Make it up!”

Also take full advantage of the characters’ open brains to barf forth apocalyptica. What if there’s somebody in the maelstrom that they know? What if some part of the maelstrom stays inside their brain when they close it again? What if the maelstrom sweeps a certain key memory out of their brain while it’s in there, or gives them a brand new fresh one?​

I don't think there's too much risk of this becoming fairly mundane.

Conversely, the limitation that faces some D&D magic, or at least some approaches to D&D magic - as I've posted upthread - is that it doesn't connect to or engage the fiction. This is not something that is related to the elaborateness of narration.
 

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nevin

Villager
You are simply wrong. Science is pretty clear. Humans mirror the people around them. Adapting to the group is a way to improve survival chances. If the DM's narration, body language and story are engaged, creative and he/she is obviously enjoying what they are doing that sparks the players creativity, engagement and desire to add to the story. Or as the song says. "you get what you give" You can disagree all you want but go do a little digging the science is pretty close to proved at this point.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I think your claim isn't self-evident, and probably isn't true. Your last sentence in particular suggests a pretty narrow class of systems, that deal with manipulations of numbers (like damage and hp in D&D) that don't in any way correlate to the fiction.
I'd say they obviously correlate to the fiction. They're obviously doing something that is part of the game's fiction. Did it injure the target? Did it control the target? If there's an observable game effect, there's an observable effect in the fiction. (Unless you're using some weird pemertonian definition of "the fiction" that somehow doesn't mean that things happening in the game aren't part of "the fiction". And if so, we're clearly not speaking anything approximating the same language - so we'd be done here.)
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
On a related note, I'm reading Into the Wyrd and Wild and it's fantastic. It's a system neutral (5E/OSR targeted) horror/fantasy approach to exploring the darkest woods. Best 2nd pillar book I've read in a long time. Well written, great illustrations, and tightly kept on message. I'd give it two thumbs up, and then an entirely unexpected third thumb that grew the last time I was deep in the Wild. If you want to put some awe and terror back into your exploration phase, take a look. Just reading it makes me feel like I should be filming myself on a shaky handheld camera and freaking out about the things in the woods.
 


pemerton

Legend
pemerton said:
Your last sentence in particular suggests a pretty narrow class of systems, that deal with manipulations of numbers (like damage and hp in D&D) that don't in any way correlate to the fiction.
I'd say they obviously correlate to the fiction.
A fireball spell is cast. The damage roll is 30 hp. An ogre is in the AoE. The referee rolls the ogre's save, and succeeds. The ogre therefore takes 15 hp of damage, and as a result has 30 hp left.

What happened in the fiction? (1) We can't tell. And (2), whatever the GM narrates won't affect subsequent resolution: whether the GM narrates that the ogre is burned, or not, doesn't affect subsequent resolution; whether the GM narrates that the ogre dodged, or not, doesn't affect subsequent resolution (eg doesn't change positioning); etc. All that affects subsequent resolution is the change in the hp tally, which is a thing in the real world but nothing in particular in the shared fiction.

These sorts of systems - of which D&D is (I think) the best-known example - may well be ones in which, as per your earlier post, there may be a "risk of being fairly mundane if we think of it in those terms", that is, in terms of "mechanical characteristics, effects, and outcomes".

That's why I pointed to a system in which the resolution is not purely in terms of mechanical characteristics, effects and outcomes.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
A fireball spell is cast. The damage roll is 30 hp. An ogre is in the AoE. The referee rolls the ogre's save, and succeeds. The ogre therefore takes 15 hp of damage, and as a result has 30 hp left.
Just a reminder, we are talking about putting the awe back in magic. If you simply narrate the outcome of the fireball as mechanical as above, I think we can all agree that there isn't a lot of awe.

But wouldn't you agree that better narration would make add more awe to the fireball spell?
Alternatively, if it also caused destruction and set things on fire, wouldn't that add more to the sense of awe?
 

pemerton

Legend
Just a reminder, we are talking about putting the awe back in magic. If you simply narrate the outcome of the fireball as mechanical as above, I think we can all agree that there isn't a lot of awe.

But wouldn't you agree that better narration would make add more awe to the fireball spell?
Alternatively, if it also caused destruction and set things on fire, wouldn't that add more to the sense of awe?
I'm arguing against the idea that narration will introduce awe into the game. Narration is about the players as audience to the GM; but the awe in RPGing comes from playing the game and engaging the fiction, not from listening to the referee.

If a fireball also caused destruction and set things on fire, that could be interesting, yes. But that would be a mechanical chang, at least according to a number of poster the last time I saw this issue discussed. Likewise it woudl be a mechanical change to treat the ogre's successful Reflex save as changing its position.

If we call narration that doesn't actually make any downstream difference to framing or resolution mere colour, then I'm saying that mere colour is not the way to put more awe into magic.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I'm arguing against the idea that narration will introduce awe into the game. Narration is about the players as audience to the GM; but the awe in RPGing comes from playing the game and engaging the fiction, not from listening to the referee.
I would say it comes from both. RPG'ing is all about being an audience and a participant at the same time.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'm with @pemerton here. Narration is helpful, but it only gets you so far. The real issue with magic in D&D is the almost complete lack of consequences involved in the mechanics. In most cases there isnt even the equivalent to rolling a 1 in melee. I find it odd that manipulating the very stuff of reality seems to be the least risky thing you can do in D&D. Anyway, with no consequences or gradients of success, there isnt a lot to work with as far as awe goes. You'll notice in the article that a lot of the really cool examples arent spells, just magical phenomena. A big item there is that the players dont know what's happening, or what's going to happen next. That's never the case with spells other than to hit or save.
 

pemerton

Legend
The real issue with magic in D&D is the almost complete lack of consequences involved in the mechanics. In most cases there isnt even the equivalent to rolling a 1 in melee. I find it odd that manipulating the very stuff of reality seems to be the least risky thing you can do in D&D.
In Chainmail this feature of magic-use makes sense: a wizard's spells are "specials" that introduce a new complication (eg poison gas, an artillery shell) onto the battlefield; whereas when it just unit vs unit combat the dice come out to determine who suffers attrition to what degree.

In Gygaxian AD&D it still made sense, though with a slightly different logic: your spell load-out is, in effect, your selection of "I win" cards for the expedition, and part of the skill of play is making the right selection. The fact that, in the fiction, the spells are magic is secondary - really just a superficial overlay to make sense of "I win" cards within the scope of the ostensible genre.

It's odd that when the game no longer presents itself as Chainmail or Gygaxian skilled play it still keeps this game element.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
One of my side projects is a different magic system that does away with spell slots and allowed spell level and uses skill rolls and exhaustion mechanics instead. I'm a little tired of Vancian casting. It's fine, I play, we use it, but I'd like my D&D to have a different option too.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
This post is supplemental to #47 upthread. It details additional examples of Gandalf’s magic from JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Book I

Chapter 1 A Long-Expected Party

There were rockets like a flight of scintillating birds singing with sweet voices. There were green trees with trunks of dark smoke: their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scent just before they touched their upturned faces. There were fountains of butterflies that flew glittering into the trees; there were pillars of coloured fires that rose and turned into eagles, or sailing ships, or a phalanx of flying swans; there was a red thunderstorm and a shower of yellow rain; there was a forest of silver spears that sprang suddenly into the air with a yell like an embattled army, and came down again into the Water with a hiss like a hundred hot snakes. And there was also one last surprise, in honour of Bilbo, and it startled the hobbits exceedingly, as Gandalf intended. The lights went out. A great smoke went up. It shaped itself like a mountain seen in the distance, and began to glow at the summit. It spouted green and scarlet flames. Out flew a red-golden dragon – not life-size, but terribly life-like: fire came from his jaws, his eyes glared down; there was a roar, and he whizzed three times over the heads of the crowd. They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.​

There was a blinding flash of light, and the guests all blinked…​
‘That flash was surprising: it quite startled me [Bilbo], let alone the others. A little addition of your [Gandalf] own, I suppose?’​
‘It was.​

He [Gandalf] took a step towards the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.​

Book II

Chapter 1 Many Meetings

‘You have talked long in your sleep, Frodo,’ said Gandalf gently, ‘and it has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory.​

He was smiling, and there seemed to be little wrong with him. But to the wizard’s eye there was a faint change, just a hint as it were of transparency, about him, and especially about the left hand that lay outside upon the coverlet.​

Chapter 2 The Council of Elrond

The change in the wizard’s voice was astounding. Suddenly it became menacing, powerful, harsh as stone. A shadow seemed to pass over the high sun, and the porch for a moment grew dark. All trembled, and the Elves stopped their ears.​

This is a consequence of Gandalf speaking the words engraved on the One Ring in Black Speech, and may be due to their power rather than Gandalf’s.

‘May your beer be laid under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!’ said I [Gandalf]​

The result of this enchantment becomes apparent in RotK Bk VI Ch 7.

Chapter 4 A Journey in the Dark

He [Gandalf] laid his hand on the pony’s head, and spoke in a low voice. ‘Go with words of guard and guiding on you,’ he said.​

He [Gandalf] passed his hands to and fro, muttering words under his breath… where the wizard’s hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone.​

One sign of change that he [Frodo] soon had noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf.​

I do not like the feel of the middle way… I shall take the right-hand passage… Gandalf seemed pleased. ‘I chose the right way,’ he said.​

He raised his staff, and for a brief instant there was a blaze like a flash of lightning.​

Chapter 5 The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm

Gandalf stepped before the narrow opening of the door and thrust forward his staff. There was a dazzling flash that lit the chamber and the passage outside.​

Then something came into the chamber – I [Gandalf] felt it through the door​

There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back, and its sword flew up in molten fragments.​

This may be due to the power of Gandalf’s sword, Glamdring, rather than Gandalf.

Chapter 7 The Mirror of Galadriel

I [Galadriel] cannot see him [Gandalf] from afar, unless he comes within the fences of Lothlórien: a grey mist is about him, and the ways of his feet and of his mind are hidden from me.​


The Two Towers

Book III

Chapter 5 The White Rider

At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf!’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!’​

Then lifting up his [Gandalf’s] head he gave a long whistle. So clear and piercing was the note that the others stood amazed to hear such a sound come from those old bearded lips. Three times he whistled; and then faint and far off it seemed to them that they heard the whinny of a horse borne up from the plains upon the eastern wind.​

Chapter 6 The King of the Golden Hall

He [Gandalf] lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky ‘Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark...’​
Slowly Théoden left his chair. A faint light grew in the hall again…​
‘Now, lord,’ said Gandalf, ‘look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!’​
...Suddenly through a rent in the clouds behind them a shaft of sun stabbed down...​
‘It is not so dark here,’ said Théoden.​
‘No,’ said Gandalf. ‘Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think. Cast aside your prop!’​
From the king’s hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky.​
‘Dark have been my dreams of late,’ he said, ‘but I feel as one new-awakened.​

Chapter 7 Helm’s Deep

The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled.​

Chapter 8 The Road to Isengard

As they came the wolves ceased their howling and slunk away. Fear fell on them seeing Gandalf in the moon, and Shadowfax his horse shining like silver.​


The Return of the King

Book V

Chapter 1 Minas Tirith

Then men fell back before the command of his [Gandalf’s] voice and questioned him no further​

He [Pippin] felt the strain between them [Gandalf and Denethor], almost as if he saw a line of smouldering fire, drawn from eye to eye, that might suddenly burst into flame.​

For a moment the eyes of Denethor glowed again as he faced Gandalf, and Pippin felt once more the strain between their wills; but now almost it seemed as if their glances were like blades from eye to eye, flickering as they fenced.​

Chapter 4 The Siege of Gondor

Wherever he [Gandalf] came men’s hearts would lift again, and the winged shadows pass from memory.​

Chapter 7 The Pyre of Denethor

Gandalf sprang up the steps, and the men fell back from him and covered their eyes; for his coming was like the incoming of a white light into a dark place, and he came with great anger. He lifted up his hand, and in the very stroke, the sword of Denethor flew up and left his grasp​

Then Gandalf revealed the strength that lay hid in him, even as the light of his power was hidden under his grey mantle. He leaped up on to the faggots, and raising the sick man lightly he sprang down again, and bore him towards the door.​

Chapter 8 The Houses of Healing

It is given to me [Gandalf] to see many things far off.​

Chapter 10 The Black Gate Opens

He [Gandalf] cast aside his cloak and a white light shone forth like a sword in that black place. Before his upraised hand the foul Messenger recoiled​

Book VI

Chapter 7 Homeward Bound

Not but what my beer’s good, Gandalf. It’s been uncommon good, since you came in the autumn of last year and put a good word on it.​

Recounted by Gandalf in Bk II Ch 2 of FotR
 
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There’s no mystery to magic in D&D. It’s all been defined and codified. When a wizard casts a spell, he knows what’s going to happen. There’s no real risk for him to do so in most cases, and generally a binary result of worked/didn’t work.

I think what @pemerton is saying is that magic should have a potential variety of outcomes that actually impact the fiction of the game.

So to use the Fireball example, I think the point about narration is that a DM who spends 3 minutes mellifluously describing the impact of the fireball and how it sears the flesh from the orcs and how its heat is like a furnace and so on....at the end, the actual result in play is no different than the DM who simply says “you deal 28 damage to these 3 orcs that failed and they all die, and you did 14 damage to these other orc, and they all live”.

The end effect is the same. So are they really different? Is a little extra description enough to give magic the impact we’re talking about? I don’t think so, really. It’s not a bad thing to be descriptive, but there are diminishing returns.

What if the fireball spell instead was used to knock over a pillar, tipping it and sending it crashing into the second floor balcony...and now the PCs have a means to get to the second floor by running up the leaning pillar.

It’s a pretty basic example, but I personally think that’s a more dynamic use of a spell. One that might stand out in memory compared to every other time its used.

The problem, I think, isn’t that you can’t do this in D&D, it’s more that the game is set up to function as expected with magic. Any deviation of that is up to the DM. Players don’t have any real authority to use spells in ways other than how they’re described in the book.

If there was some kind of system that allowed the player to request a specific outcome with a spell and the DM then established a cost or a target skill check or something similar, then you might be heading in the right direction.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
I think to put the awe back in magic, you'll need a new system or some way to make it rare. There can also be rules for magic that make it powerful even if it is rare like the rule of success in the conan d20 game. I remember reading an example of the rule of success which explained a scene in a conan story where a demon turned 50 soldiers into werebeasts in a single night. It used the rule of success which reduced the cost of magic with each success and the rule of the wicked rite of the werebeast where successfully transforming the target counts as a sacrifice (and their gaining you some magical power back). Someone looking at the spell might think it is powerful, able to turn a single person into a werebeast, but imagine if they woke up the next day and saw that the soldiers they were travelling with had all been turned into werebeasts in a single night! What would they think in that scenario?
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
In my homebrew setting, wizard wear special fabrics to protect themselves from harm when casting spells. This helps explain why wizards are required to stick to light armor in the fiction, in addition to needing freedom of motion. The wrong gestures can easily cause spells to backfire, and even when perfectly cast, a spell could still hurt the caster without the proper equipment. Wizards also use wands, scepters and staves to help guide the flow of energy away from the body and to more accurately direct a spell towards its intended target. Wizards who have been in magical combat in the past can sometimes also have physical deformities, often on their hands or face.

Now apart from fumbles, this does not have any mechanical effect in the game. The players are presumed to be highly skilled heroic characters who do not make such beginner mistakes. However, the effects of magic gone wrong do feature from time to time in the narrative.
 

pemerton

Legend
@hawkeyefan - your example reminds me of some of the stuff that happened in my group's 4e game!

And when you refer to "a potential variety of outcomes that actually impact the fiction of the game" it's that second thing that I think is especially important. One episode I still remember form our 4e game though it was 8 years ago now was when the wizard PC used his possession spell to try and read the mind of a guard to obtain a password - I remember it even though it failed!

It's that sense of a vibrant fiction and the back-and-forth of declaration and resolution that makes a RPG awesome!
 

@hawkeyefan - your example reminds me of some of the stuff that happened in my group's 4e game!

And when you refer to "a potential variety of outcomes that actually impact the fiction of the game" it's that second thing that I think is especially important. One episode I still remember form our 4e game though it was 8 years ago now was when the wizard PC used his possession spell to try and read the mind of a guard to obtain a password - I remember it even though it failed!

It's that sense of a vibrant fiction and the back-and-forth of declaration and resolution that makes a RPG awesome!
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the kind of stuff that I really enjoy. I find it largely absent in the rules for 5E as written, but it’s possible with a group of players and a DM willing to go beyond what’s presented. My group has kind of established an informal process for this kind of stuff....but honestly, I prefer when systems are designed to support this kind of play.

I find that D&D really tends to push players into established paths of action. And while that may be okay in general, it tends to remove alternate actions and surprise from the game.

And I think if we’re talking about magic being awesome, then the ability for it to surprise the players is pretty vital.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I find that D&D really tends to push players into established paths of action. And while that may be okay in general, it tends to remove alternate actions and surprise from the game.

And I think if we’re talking about magic being awesome, then the ability for it to surprise the players is pretty vital.
This right here. There just aren't a lot of unexpected consequences in D&D, and very few surprises that are actually indexed by the mechanics. This is especially true of the magic system. Obviously you can play it differently, as @hawkeyefan and his table do, but that can be a lot of work if it's all done extemporaneously, and there's a very real risk of uneven application when the DM has to decide, de novo, in each case what that might look like.
 

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