May 10, 2011

For the Greater Good

"For the greater good"

It is a terrible turn of phrase, and an NPC who utters it in my games is usually some misguided zealot.  Yet, this is why I steal ideas.

I didn't mean to steal them ... not at first.  For the longest time I did not even realize I was doing it.  I would be running a game when inspiration suddenly struck, and I would add some new detail or NPC.  For a while (in my teenage years) I was impressing my players and myself with my cleverness.  Then days, months, or years later I would reread a book or article and realize that my favorite creations were never really mine.  It was humbling, especially over time as the realizations piled up on top of each other.  I try to keep better track of these things now and give credit where it is due, but of all my skills I am best at forgetting.  I apologize in advance for presenting ideas in my blog that are not my own.  I sometimes wonder now if I've ever had a thought that didn't begin in someone else's head. 

My games are like roads built from stolen bricks.  The stones are worn and familiar, but I hope the twists and turns might lead my players and I to new sights and vistas.  If you see a brick in my blog that belongs to you please let me know.  I'd like to give you credit and my thanks. 

Enough of that, lets plunder from Patrick Rothfuss.

The University is pretty cool, and I'm likely to dig it up roots and all to plant in my game somewhere. In charge of the University are nine masters (one for each of the "sciences"), one master is appointed Chancellor and ranks slightly above the other eight.  I like that each area of study seems equally respected by the students, who think of magics as just branches of science.  At the same time, commoners are often quite suspicious of anyone dabbling in "the dark arts" which might include basic chemistry or advanced mathematics depending on local superstitions.  The nine titles and sciences are...

Master Archivist  ------ History
Master Artificer  ------ Sygaldry
Master Sympathist  --- Sympathy
Master Rhetorician --- Philosophy and Logic
Master Namer --------- Naming
Master Alchemist ----- Chemistry/Alchemy
Master Physicker  ----- Medicine
Master Arithmetician  - Mathematics
Master Linguist--------- Languages

I love the magic system that he presents, but I'm not sure it would play well in a game.  There are four main types of magic, Alchemy, Sympathy, Sygaldry, and Naming.  You can learn to master any one of them without having to learn one whit of the other three.

Alchemy is all about potions, powders, and salves.  It is clear in the book that there is some distinction between chemistry and true alchemy, but I don't mind if those edges blur together a bit in my game.  I'm not opposed to joining Alchemy with Medicine in fact.  It seems fitting for all that chemistry, herbalism, and physiology to be taught together.

Sympathy is quite interesting for it's mixture of the laws of thermodynamics with magical links created by a force of will/belief called the Alar.  I love it for it's complexity and detail, but it seems unwieldy at best for a game.  It's use is described in the books with a lot of detail, but I can't seem to wrap my head around how the PC's would use it during a game... yet.  I don't want to, but I'm likely to toss this out and fall back to the more familiar Vancian magic where spells are memorized and lost as they are used.

Sygaldry is the use of runes to create any magical item such as twice-tough glass, magic lanterns, and cold boxes.  Runes are like a magical alphabet, a long string of them carved or written onto an object is like a sentence magically commanding the object to do this or that.  If it is possible to scratch out one of the runes, then the sentence might become gibberish making the object perfectly mundane or completely changing the magical properties.  The grammar is quite wild, and scratching out runes at random may have deadly or explosive results.

Naming is at once the most powerful and most frustrating form of magic.  To find and speak the true name of a thing is to have total magical mastery over it.  These true names are not known consciously by the caster.  A Name is something divined subconsciously in each instance of the casting and then quickly forgotten.  Discovering a true name only allows it to be used at that moment, soon it slips away like a dream.  If someone speaks the true name of stone to cause a wall to melt away, neither the caster nor bystanders will be able to recall the sound.  The name slips in one ear and out the other, at best the mind will interpret the sound as "stone" as if spoken in their native language.  Being able to look at something and see it's true name is a subtle art.  It does seem to get easier to find a particular name after each successful finding.  So, if you've spoken the true name of fire 10 times, then you might have a reasonable chance of finding the true name of fire the next time you look, but your chance to see the true name of stone, or wind, or the bandit attacking you, or whatever, is as difficult as ever.  What really trips me up is where to draw the distinction between names.   One name for each individual creature, sure.  It is the inanimates that are tricky.  Is there a name for metal, or each metal?  What about alloys?  Does a sword respond to the name of Iron, or Steel, or Sword, or does it have an individual name?  What if it is a sword +1?  What if it is Excalibur? hmmm

Oh!  Something else worth stealing.  Superstitious mumbo jumbo that varies from region to region, most of it useless nonsense.  I've basically always made use of superstitious townfolk in my games, but I've never really bothered to have specific legends or stories for each country or region.

In his setting the Fae are creatures of myth and legend, the commoners in Vintas tell stories but most other lands laugh at "fairy tales".  The Fae turn out to be real... but they tell strange tales and have their own superstitions and legends.  Wheels within wheels.

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