Monday, 19 May 2008

Themed magic

That was a very pleasant week away from work, largely spent indulging in gaming.

Unfortunately this included quite a bit of WoW. Sigh. I thought I'd kicked that habit for good.

Regardless of my recurring bad taste in MMOs, one particular design topic has been nipping at my hind-brain all week. As the title subtly hints at, it's magic.

So magic in many (computer) games is very dull and... non-magical. It's functional, reliable, and generally quite boring. People have written very nice stuff on how to make magic more magical, and I'm letting some of those ideas ferment too, but one seemingly simple concept I'd like to see more games explore is the idea of themed magical skills/schools/whatever.

Of course, almost every game has this to some degree. Fire and ice seem to be incredibly popular (thanks, Blizzard), and just generally elemental themes are rampant. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't exactly offer much in the way of flavour any more. A far better example of what I'd like to see would be Dungeon Crawl's concept of magic. Despite my apalling inability to play them, I just love Transmuters. They get really weird spells, and use odd resources in addition to the generic mana pool - sticks and corpses, at low levels, are a staple.

Mesmers from Guild Wars are similarly fun in some ways. Although the relentless balancing act required for the PvP aspect of the game exerts a subtle homogenising force on all classes, there's still some flavour to be had. Mesmers work largely through indirect action, an underexplored area of fun in most CRPGs.

Anyway, here are some ideas.


Somatomancers (I'm not at all sure this word is a valid construction, but what the hell) are the warrior-philosopher archetypes. Their magic is all involved with their bodies, and the perfection thereof. They also branch into meditation and similar ways to encourage perfection of mind/soul and unification with their flesh, etc. etc. fluffwaffle. Almost all somatomancy spells are buffs, and the main resources for casting would be 'focus' (a measure of how well the caster can direct magical energy within his/her body) and some analog of chakra points. Somatomancy spells are intimately tied to certain parts of the body, and there's some kind of experience dependant limit on how many can be maintained in a given location, focus constraints aside.

Somatomancers would have abilities such as self healing and cleansing the body of toxins and disease. Their spells would cover areas ranging from making themselves faster and stronger, to hardening their skin, channeling magic through their unarmed attacks, warding their minds from attack by magic/spirits and protecting themselves from the elements. Eventually of course, the search for perfection must lead to far more interesting abilities, such as growing bone spikes, claws, additional appendages, chintinous plates, toxic spit or a venemous bite, and so on.

The way of the tentacle

Yes, the name is very silly. I can't think of a better one right now. This random bundle of 'whu?' all cascaded from an extended thunk on Black Tentacles (full name omitted for WotC reasons), a wonderfully useful spell from D&D. This school of magic is based around the idea that a metaphor for the magical realm is an ocean, with deities as vast floating islands trailing toxic awareness. But the sunlit zone is an insignificant fraction of the sea, and the primitive life of the abyssal ooze is where the Way finds power. The Way revolves around bringing this base vitality to the material world in a Lovecraftian squirm-fest. Tentacles burst from the ground, rock squirms and pulsates underfoot, the walls grow articulated claws. Wood collapses into primordial muck, and cilia writhe in dark places. The Way is basically themed around summoning, but of non-sentient entities thoroughly grounded in non-living matter.

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