At one time a thousand or more runes, spells, incantations, curses, and sorceries had been known. The reach of Grand Motholam—Ascolais, the Ide of Kauchique, Almery to the South, the Land of the Falling Wall to the East—swarmed with sorcerers of every description, of whom the chief was the Arch-Necromancer Phandaal. A hundred spells Phandaal personally had formulated—though rumor said that demons whispered at his ear when he wrought magic. Pontecilla the Pious, then ruler of Grand Motholam, put Phandall to torment, and after a terrible night, he killed Phandaal and outlawed sorcery throughout the land. The wizards of Grand Motholam fled like beetles under a strong light; the lore was dispersed and forgotten, until now, at this dim time, with the sun dark, wilderness obscuring Ascolais, and the white city Kaiin half in ruins, only a few more than a hundred spells remained to the knowledge of man. Of these, Mazirian had access to seventy-three, and gradually, by stratagem and negotiation, was securing the others.
Maziriam made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal’s Gyrator, Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Maziriam drank wine and retired to his couch.
The Dying Earth —Jack Vance
This is what I think of when I think about magic in TTRPG fantasy games. Lost tomes of lore, magical devices, and machinations. The gathering of these arcane things of power by those who would truck with devils. I am not re-engineering a Vancian system, I am inspired by the fiction. I want that “feel” in my Mad Lands game using Cortex or any other system.
The Mad Enumerations of Jay’s Aspirations
I think spells, rituals, and lore must be discovered, taught, or stolen. There were great masters, maybe academies once - eons ago, maybe. Lessons were learned and wizardry put to the stake.
Anyone can attempt to “use magic” much like any investigator can read an occult grimoire, so no wizard ‘class’ is required. There are magic skills, or in Cortex Specialties, maybe Talents? I can see a player putting points into Specialties, Talents, and Distinctions to indicate their experience at magic-based tests. The use of magic carries risk. Always. Mechanical risk and fictional consequences. Magic should never be fully known, or comfortable.
In this setup, I see my Mad Lands players proactively seek out sources of new magics to secure - these are player-driven sessions. I think the game mechanics should provide capacity, opportunity when leveling up - but you gotta go get the specific magics. I think that creates sessions where we’re exploring ruins for magic, but also hunting down other mages, digging up old mages -side quests to help our chances at a bigger goal? Like arming up to fight the dragon, gotta find those Black Arrows. I see myself digging out Vincent Baker’s The Seclusium of Orpheus of the Three Visions book for reference - I don’t get to use it nearly enough!
So that’s where I am about magic right now. I’ve been looking at various existing systems from Ars Magica and Mage, which are too comfortable and not alien enough for me. To Shadowrun and The Whitehack implementations which are mechanically fun. I’m most influenced by Vance’s work and the Dread Empire series by Glen Cook. The relationship between the fiction and mechanics of Apocalypse World is also a big influence on me. I feel like there’s plenty of slack we can tighten up for a richer experience. Like those initial ‘spells’ a player starts with - where did they come from? My inner-GM wants to know. It says something about this game world we’re playing in, and something about your character.
I understand that magic, the way I’d want it, impacts a notion about adventuring party balance but this is an adventure, not a PvP game. I do not believe RPGs require a player party balance. Competitive games require equal footing or at least knowledge of the starting positions but not RPGs. The Avengers are not all peers in power or authority, same goes for the fellowship of the one ring. There are roles to play, responsibilities, and expectations divided up. I believe you open up your table experiences when you allow for these imbalances in a player party.
I don’t have mechanical specifics, no answers. I was blocked here for a bit and all the Google searching —I think I needed to get my wants out of my head and look at it. Thanks for reading my jumbles.