2013-12-16 : Some Basic Rules (iv, abandoned)

A Play Module: Vancian Magic

Determination, Patience & Endurance
Flexibility of Mind
Perception & Attention

A spell is a minor plasmic creature you can, with proper training and sufficient effort, imprison within your mind. Casting the spell means releasing the plasmid to vent its irritation upon the world: a spell's effect is the tantrum of a discommoded plasmid.

A spell can be enticed away from its natural plasmic environment to take up residence in a properly-prepared material object, typically a book, a scroll, or a crystal. "Learning" the spell means reaving the plasmid from its home and restraining it into your own mind. Cast, the spell will return to the comfort and familiarity of its home (barring mishap).

This means that while you have a spell in your mind, it is no longer present in your spellbook, and vice versa.

Learning a Spell
Your mind can, at one time, contain imprisoned a number of spells equal to your Flexibility of Mind. [Or equal to a number derived from your Flexibility of Mind, we'll see. -ed]

Imprisoning a spell in your mind requires you to defeat it in a flinch challenge. Roll your Determination, Patience & Endurance against its Plasmic Magnitude.

If you back down, you do not imprison it in your mind and it remains comfortably in its spellbook home.

If it backs down, you imprison it in your mind, but it retains a measure of self-motivity. Mark it with an * to signify that it has the "self-motivity" tag.

If you flinch, you do not imprison it in your mind, and it may choose one of the following:
- It vents its irritation now. Cast the spell now, and consider it to have the "self-motivity" tag.
- It secures itself, and gains the "dug in" tag, worth +1 to its future rolls against being reft from its home.
- It outrages any spells already imprisoned in your mind. Make a Dedication, Patience & Endurance save against the number of spells in your mind. If you lose, cast or forget one spell for each 1 loss. You choose which spells and you choose whether to cast or forget them.
- It lashes out at you psychically. You gain the "searing headache" tag, worth -1 to your Perception & Attention rolls.

If it flinches, you imprison it in your mind and seize all its motivity. Mark it with the number you won by as its level.

Undertaking to imprison a spell in your mind takes 1 hour, plus 1/2 hour for each reroll, yours or the spell's.

Casting a spell
Holding a spell imprisoned requires mental vigilance. It is a simple act of relaxation to cast a spell.

When you cast a spell, consult its listing.

If you seized its motivity, you spend its level on its effects, and you make any decisions required.

If it retained self-motivity, it counts as a level 3 spell, but the spell itself makes any decisions required for its effect.

The spell returns to its spellbook at once.

Spell Listings
In the comments!

Attention: I have abandoned this version of this play module, in favor of this one.

Some Basic Rules (i)
Some Basic Rules (ii)
Some Basic Rules (iii)
Some Basic Rules (iv)
Some Basic Rules (v)
Some Basic Rules (vi)
Some Basic Rules (vii)

1. On 2013-12-16, Vincent said:

Credit for some inspiration to this G+ post by +Bobby Martin.


2. On 2013-12-16, Judson said:

Not a spell but: can a sleeping or unconscious or dead person exercise the the mental vigilance to imprison a spell? Likewise, it's motivity?

In other words, a spellcaster with several spells learned is sort of like someone carrying a bunch of grenades with the pins pulled already, right?


3. On 2013-12-16, Vincent said:

Judson: Hm!

Maybe sleeping is a form of lockdown. Or maybe you can choose to release your spells peacefully back into their spellbooks instead of casting them, before you sleep.

Or maybe, grenades! Good question.


4. On 2013-12-16, Vincent said:

On my commute home I had a very interesting idea for a kind of inversion of this, which I might pursue instead. Stand by!


5. On 2013-12-17, Robert said:

You mention listings...that I presume are coming. Which spells can you imprison? Any from the listing? I.e. which spells does a character know about if that is not the purpose of their spellbook?


6. On 2013-12-17, Vincent said:

Robert: Good question!


7. On 2013-12-17, Tom said:

I try to learn a spell and back down.  How long do I have to wait before I can try to lean that spell again?  How long do I have to wait before I can try to learn any other spell?

I suppose this might be a question left to the GM's discretion.  If so, can the answer change each time I try to learn a spell?


direct link

This makes...
VB go "+1"*

*click in for more

8. On 2013-12-17, Vincent said:

Tom: So one of the things about this set of rules as written is, "it takes an hour plus half an hour per reroll" is a load-bearing component.

The answer to your question is, it takes an hour or more to try to learn a spell and back down. You can try again right away, if you have the hour or more to spare.

In a game where an hour is precious, this is a satisfying answer. In a game where you have all day, it isn't!

I don't intend this to be a game where you always track time to the half hour or whatever, so I'm going to need to revise these rules until they put their weight somewhere else. (The inversion I thought of last night will qualify!)


9. On 2013-12-18, plausiblefabulist said:

This is certainly the coolest take on the Vancian "cast it and it's gone until you spend effort on re-memorizing it" trope that I've seen, which is to say that it's the best justification I've seen for D&D-style spell mechanics where the wizard is a combat miniature with powerful effects that get used up and take a long time to replenish (cast fireball, then hide behind the fighter).

I've always had enormous trouble with "you forgot the spell". I did what? I forgot it? Like forgetting where I left my keys? Or it was magically removed from my brain? Very weak. I like this plasmid thing much, much better, and the self-motivity is a great consequence. Exciting! I like the fact that magic will be a constant duel with alien intelligences.

Still, I gotta say (apropos of nothing) that I still kind of hate that whole "forgetting a spell" trope, and that outside of Dying Earth, it's extremely uncommon in fantasy literature and myth not derived from D&D.

I rather like the "gradually increasing chance of catastrophic failure" model for limiting spellcasting, from Storming the Tower (Dungeon World is a hybrid, since it features "forgetting" as one possible cost).

And what I'd really like to see sometime is how magic actually works in fantasy literature, which is that simply every spell—no matter how good you are—is inherently quite dangerous, and meant for truly desperate situations. What keeps Ged and Gandalf from using magic every time they want to send a letter or light their pipe is that magic's consequences are always unpredictable. I don't see why that can't work in a game. "Sure, I know how to do it, I haven't forgotten, but, really, let's not go there. Trust me, you don't want to go there over this."

So can I put in a vote for a play module: LeGuinian magic...?


10. On 2013-12-18, Vincent said:

Plausiblefabulist: Noted!


11. On 2013-12-19, Slow Dog said:

DND stylee, the thing in the spellbook would be a ritual for summoning an appropriate plasmid and lodging it your brain, and the wand or crystal would be a prison for such things.

I guess as written, "write a spell in your spellbook" would be such a ritual; summon the plasmid, and binding it into your book for later use. But how do you learn a spell from someone else (without them losing it - there could be a way of passing plasmids from person to person, thing to thing)? Is there something that's a description of the appropriate entity? Would writing that description be more like the DND spell.

Eek! Can you (metaphorically) fish in the plasmic sea and catch a random spell?


12. On 2013-12-19, Vincent said:

Without committing, it may be that each plasmid is unique. There could be only one "copy" of each spell!


13. On 2013-12-19, Ben Lehman said:

Can you poach a spell when someone casts it? Cut open their head and dig it out their brain?

Theft, basically.


14. On 2013-12-20, plausiblefabulist said:

Further riffing, ignore if not helpful:

I wonder if "book" or "scroll" actually makes sense now that it's a plasmid, or if that's just a holdover from D&D? I haven't actually read "Dying Earth", but if you're coming to this fresh it seems like plasmids as visibly swirling colored clouds inside of gems makes the whole idea of them as powerful aliens sort of tangibly clear, while saying that they are "in" a book (and then later will "leave" the book, only to return) requires another kind of metaphorical leap. Because we already have an intuitive feel for how books work—information in them stays there, unless they get wet or something, and can be read by anyone—so repurpoising books as plasmid-hotels requires a certain awkward mental effort of re-envisioning. Are the pages blank when the plasmid is not at home? Do the letters shift and change? Does each letter map to some specific part of the plasmid? If you erase a letter does it wound the plasmid? Can you "rewrite" him? All that could be interesting if it's really intended as part of the mechanic, but from what it looks like you're going for, it seems like it's just clutter.

Whereas if the plasmid is a swirling cloud in a gem, mirror, or shard of glass, then it's pretty intuitive that that's a place to store the plasmid, a home, it's either there or not, when not it's in your mind (maybe even in your brain, maybe we catch a hint of its colors, briefly, in your eyes)... etcetera.

We associate wizards with books, of course, but when we do so, it's really because of books as books... because magic is something difficult requiring learning. I think it would be cool if you needed something transparent—gems are best, the pricier the better, but shattering a wineglass and stuffing the shards in your pocket will do in a pinch—to store the plasmid. And to summon the plasmid, as Slow Dog suggests—to find a new one—you need to know enough about it to find and isolate it, to pull it down from the wilds and into your brain, and later into a container.

So books are crucial, but not because the books are magic, rather because the books are about magic. The only people who can describe to you the plasmid you're looking for are other Vancian magicians who have had it in their brains, and most of them are probably dead. If you can find their fevered journals you can unearth clues about the nature of the plasmid—what it was like, "where" it was found, what it felt like to have it in your brain. And that's your only hope of actually going mentally and capturing it from the wilds.

So the plasmid is unique, and to cast it you must capture and tame it. You can find one—in a gem or crystal or glass shard—and master it, and that's the easiest route to magic, the magical equivalent of being a script kiddie (in computer secure systems intrusion). You can't "learn" a plasmid from a book—what you can learn from a book is clues for hunting down a once upon a time captured, now released or escaped plasmid. That's a higher level of magic, requiring another set of moves, to cast your mind into the plasmid wilds in the hopes of capturing a plasmid.

I'd make the book mechanic something like this—if you have no information and are just randomly looking, your chances are lower and you have no idea what you'll get. If you happen upon a book in which a plasmid is described, you have a certain chance to catch that plasmid, but only once—either the information in the book was sufficient, or it wasn't. If not, though, the book may have clues leading to other books describing the same plasmid : "far from being, as Albigromius insisted in his De Rerum Plasimidae, of a purplish hue, his true color was a verdant orange"... okay, well I didn't find him, but apparently there's a book called De Rerum Plasmidae too. Track that down and I can take another crack at it. So searching in musty libraries or raiding other magicians' collections is really advantageous, because it's what lets you reroll to capture that plasmid (learn that spell) you've heard of. If there's a "Wizard class" with a "spell list", that's not an exhaustive list of the magic you can do—it's just a set of rumors of some plasmids who may or may not have escaped the clutches of their owners into the wilds, and the question is if you can hunt down descriptions of them good enough to capture them before someone else does.

Wow, now I'm starting to like this enough to want to steal it :-)


15. On 2013-12-20, Vincent said:

Plausiblefabulist: It's not stealing to use something you've created yourself!


direct link

This makes...
PF go ":-D"
PF go "well, i'd definitely be stealing " a spell's effect is the tantrum of a discommoded plasmid""

16. On 2013-12-20, Paul T. said:

If spells/plasmids are unique, that really changes the nature of interaction between wizards.

Instead of a wizard being able to teach you magic, she might only be able to "lend" you some of her magic, or just tell you to go find your own.

If you really want a spell, though, and a wizard currently has it, you'll have to bribe, cajole, torture, or even kill that wizard to get it.


17. On 2013-12-21, plausiblefabulist said:

Something in between the camaraderie of wizards that can teach each other spells which are simple recipes, and the brutal competition of wizards who wield unique plasmids and have to steal them from each other, would be a version with mechanics for plasmid breeding. Then wizards would be like animal fanciers who arrange for breeding their prize specimens with each other—but still wary and cagey if the mechanics had sufficient costs (breeding an easy opportunity for plasmid escape, theft, death in the equivalent of childbirth—maybe our two plasmids, if we put them together, will "birth" a third, but maybe yours will eat mine—or maybe it's parthenogenic, and the master, when she finds the apprentice worthy, risks trying to get her plasmid to bud off a lesser version of itself, and then heal back its magnitude...


18. On 2013-12-21, Aaron Friesen said:

Well, and how about just how dangerous keeping too many of these plasmids in one tight area might be? In one small library, or tethered to one ever more distracted mind? Getting an apprentice and shuffling off some of your plasmids might just be plain pragmatic, especially if you want to collect ever more potent spells. Pff, getting a small cadre of very, very loyal apprentices could be a viable way to have a broad spell collection, with the most potent and powerful spells in your own, private, study.


19. On 2013-12-23, Vincent said:

I've posted a heavily revised version here.

You can feel free to continue to discuss and build on this version here, if you like, but the new version is where I'm at.


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