Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crimson Blades of Ara Part 4: Magic

This is part four of a five-part series in which I describe the most interesting features of Crimson Blades of Ara, the FRPG that I co-created with Dave Miller in the 1990s. The prior installments discussed the game's Introduction, Character Generation chapter, and Combat chapter. The current post covers Chapter Three, Magic -- pdf available here.

Truthfully, aside from the general historical background of the Lands of Ara (especially the bits about elves, dwarves, and ogres being descended / created from humans), CBoA's magic system is my favorite part of what we created for the game. It was very important to Dave and me to have each playable magical art -- including Spellcasting, Summoning, Elementalism, Illusion, and a few others -- run according to a unique mechanic that made that particular Art work. No unified spell system here.

Also, just as our game's setting was unique in how it "explained" the different core races, we felt that each race should have a radically different relationship to magic and magical power. So, for example, dwarves and ogres (by virtue of their magical origins) were completely unable to practice magic of any kind, and humans and rodians each had their own racial magics that the other could not practice. Elves had their own magic system as well, which we started fleshing out in the earliest days of game development; then we decided that elves were NPC-only and abandoned their race-specific magic. (All I recall now is that Aldorians have sun-magicians and moon-magicians, and that the latter's powers are dependent upon the cycles of the moon.)

As described on page 102 of the "Magic" chapter, Arandish Human characters had four magical arts available to them: Spellcasting, Summoning, Elementalism, and Pallalodon, the last of which refers to the undead-fighting powers of Palladins, CBoA's replacement for clerics.

CBoA Spellcasters function just like D&D magic-users, with spell lists to choose from (pp. 118-150) and an elaborate memorization and power-drain system (pp. 108-117) added.

Palladins (mentioned on pp. 178, actually detailed in the unfinished CBoA Referee chapter) function fairly similarly to Sword-Clerics as I've developed them for Labyrinth Lord, with special undead-fighting powers connected to their specialized magical swords.

Summoners (pp. 150-160) memorize and "cast" runes, which are really runic circles and symbols to be drawn on the ground or a reasonable surface. Theirs is not an instantaneous-effect art like Spellcasting. Instead, they spend minutes, even hours, drawing out memorized runes, and then the runes, if drawn correctly, summon extra-dimensional beings (or bizarre magical effects) to Ara. Once the summoned creature -- which, following Robert Lynn Aspirin's Myth Adventures books, we called a "Dimon," short for "Dimensional Traveler" -- arrived, the summoner had to engage in a Battle of Wills (pp. 156-157) with the creature. If the summoner was victorious, he could (temporarily) dominate the creature, giving it commends or at least keeping it at bay. If he lost, the summoned dimon was simply free to do what it wished on Ara, including (of course) attacking the idiot summoner who brought it here against its will. The cumulative activity of historical summoners on Ara is how Dave and I explained the presence of all but a few monsters on the Arandish continent. (I think we had trolls and dragons as being indigenous; I know hobgoblins, which in CBoA would be turned to stone in sunlight, were brought to Ara by summoners in ancient days and then proliferated in underground caves over the centuries.)

Elementalists (pp. 160-178), which I am in the (very slow!) process of transposing into Labyrinth Lord / B/X terms, were not bound by spell lists either. They had some core element-conjuring and -shaping abilities governed by their skills, and Elementalists of each type -- Earth, Fire, Air, and Water -- also had what we called "Resonant Effects": long-term changes to the Elementalist's physiology that made him or her more like the element s/he worked with (see pp. 167-168, 170, 173, and 177). I always personally loved elementalists, especially Earth Elementalists, but they were the last magical type to come online in CBoA, and I don't recall if any player ever played one. I used them as NPCs though. Elementalists were unique in Ara in that their powers did not spring from the discoveries of the Arch-Sorceress Awra, but predated her and were granted by two gods, Targos and Syrna. In this sense, Elementalists were the closest thing CBoA ever had to D&D clerics or druids.

Rodians in Ara could practice two types of magic: a staff-based defensive magical art called Eldara (pp. 179-182), which we later took away from rodians and gave to a race of northern Arandish half-elves called Ellendorians; and rodian Illusion or Skara (pp. 182-185). I like both of these magical arts a great deal. Skara or rodian Illusion was great in CBoA because it was free-form; no spell lists, only whatever illusions the player could conceive of, limited by range, size, and sensory factors. And the Ellendorian staff-magic -- which I suppose was our answer to the AD&D monk class -- is something I an still intrigued by and may even write up in an adapted form for Labyrinth Lord in the near future.

The other major element of the CBoA magic system was the strict regulation of the Human Magical Arts of Spellcasting, Summoning, and (NPC-only) Enchantment by the White Council of Arlon. The Council still exists in my Labyrinth Lord version of Ara, though it really only seriously monitors the activities of name-level (Lvl. 9+) magic-users.

Dave and I also built into the game -- but never concretely developed -- the so-called "Dark Arts," magical practices rumored to exist in ancient times but no longer openly practiced. These arts, Necromancy and shadrach (or Transformation), would be actively rooted out and stopped by the Council if they ever came to light -- so they were really for NPC villains only.

Next: Part 5 -- Odds and Ends and Final Comments.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting read, thanks Carter! (I don't have anything more discussion-inspiring to add right now :)