Magic in the world of Krail's Folly

Lest anyone think I've forgotten my (strangely well-received) fantasy world, let me reassure you, I have not.

I've been thinking a lot about how magic needs to work in this world reading and re-reading GURPS materials on magic, and trying to figure out the roots of the systems that I will have in play. It was during this cogitation that I realized that I have been deeply influenced by material I first encountered over twenty years ago, and have yet to really be able to implement into a game or setting before. Informed by that kernel of memory, reinforced by re-reading the materials that germinated it in the first place as well as those that have grown in that fertile soil since then, I thought I'd do well to codify where I'm coming from here for my own use, and your potential edification.

The source material in question is Runequest, third edition - the old Avalon Hill product. Building on RQ2's evocative but fairly limited magical systems, it posited that there were three ways to approach the universe and the magic therein - the path of the Shaman, the Priestess or the Sorcerer. Shamanic magic was all about the spirits, who could be bound into objects for future use, used to power spells, or who could teach one spells in the first place. Divine magic gave you a means to pledge yourself, and a fragment of your power, to a god in exchange for even more powerful magic that could far exceed the gifts granted to mortals. Sorcery took a more scientific tack, with formulae and patterns and magic as a natural force to be harnessed, like the power of the wind in your sails or water with a waterwheel.

The central conceit, however, was that all three types of practitioner were seeing the same world, and the same underlying structure, through different lenses. Three different perspectives leading, if I may crib from Harry Turtledove, to six different heresies - each one's view of the other two.

So, the central theme of magic in my game world will need to be that everything magical that happens is happening by way of shaping the same power, just in different ways, and through different lenses:

Pact Magic - trading some portion of your loyalty, fealty and duty to a more powerful creature in exchange for a fragment of that power. The power is unfettered, and can be used however the practitioner would like, but usage in excess of his or her ability plays into the hands of the source of that power, who can reprimand or otherwise corrupt the individual in question.

Divine Magic - trading worship and reverence, as well as duty, to a god in exchange for gifts from that god. The power can be taken away if vows are broken, or if the power is used in a manner that doesn't fall under the plans of that divine presence.

Shamanic Magic - bargaining, browbeating or otherwise interacting with spirits of varying power to get them to do things for you. Shamanic practitioners are perhaps the least reliable, as they have to rely on potentially capricious spirits, but also the most flexible, with ability limited only to what the spirits can do.

Hermetic Magic - magic almost as a science, based on mathematics and formulae, alchemy and natural properties. Hermetic mages know the most eclectic combination of magic, but also require the greatest amount of study to extend that magic beyond what they have already come to understand about the world.

Now, I just have to sit down and figure out how these work, mechanically, in GURPS. And how they'll interact with one another.


  1. The first three sound very much the same - I give you X, you give me power. It's just the nature of the trade. The first is "here is my loyalty and my soul," the second is "I'll worship you and spread the faith," and the third is "I'll give you a reward or threaten punishment" - essentially, all three are negotiated. The fourth isn't, on the surface.

    1. Yes, and a good deal of that could simply be flavor, or it could be mechanically different enough to warrant alternate systems. Divine Favor for those that worship gods, for example, with Threshold magic for the Pact users and perhaps something akin to ritual magic for the shamanists.

      So the gifts of the divine caster are more powerful, but sanctioned by their particular god, while the pact caster has no immediate constraints, but risks some possible negative repercussions from over-reach, for example.

    2. thats exactly what I thought when I read through this post.

  2. You might ask Antoni Ten Monros what it's like to play a high-powered Saint. My own Warrior Saint is 313 points . . . but "only" Divine Favor 8. I think th eGM has rolled really, really well for him on certain prayers (both frequency and reaction roll), but even by waving his holy symbol around, he should be batting about .500 for prayers that actually get noticed. So the thing about Divine Favor is that at lower point levels, it's LIMITED. Very.

    Now, to your point about the power level once it happens, yeah, you bet - very powerful, especially for 'defined benefit' Learned Prayers.


  3. It's Doug's fault that your world got "strangely well-received." I guess I'm to blame too, since it struck my brain as something inspiring to my creative brain. Though I am in the process of changing some of the names to protect the innocent. The lands south of the adventuring area is a kingdom by the name of Thalia ruled by King Valdar III. Still formulating the reason behind the decree, but after creating a template for PCs among the Nobility, part of the issue is a preponderance of 2nd to 4th born children which have no place in society. They won't inherit much and just drain resources.

    Magic in my version is going to be divine (coming from the gods), learned (via magical study), and shamanistic (animal spirits).

    1. It's Doug's fault I'm writing the blog at all, as I was just emulating him. And it's his fault (and G+'s ) that I have any traffic. :)


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