Mages without Magic

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Mages without Magic

#1 Postby Artking3 » Sat Oct 11, 2008 2:04 pm

Just going the other direction from all powerful archmages, I was thinking of a world where "magic" is really high level and secret skills and misdirection, but which is so amazing that ordinary folk deem it "magic".

High level Persuasion could be a form of hypnosis, high level Notice could mimic forms of divination (like Sherlock Holmes), Stealth for illusions and sleight of hand etc. Mages would be more useful for their many diverse skills, including many Knowledge skills.

Examples would be the Bene Gesserit adept from Dune, certain versions of Merlin, I like the movies the Illusionist and the Prestige as well.

I was wondering if this type of character would be viable in a fantasy world, when the stereotypical fireball spellslinger holds sway. I find this type of character interesting, where skills and knowledge are more useful than pure power. Even Gandalf in the film didn't use that many flashy spells: healing the king, shielding against a fireball, light, blinding light against the Ringwraiths, lightining against the Balrog, communicating with moths and eagles, wizards duel with telekinesis.

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#2 Postby zeth » Sat Oct 11, 2008 5:48 pm

While it sounds good the super skill route doesn't make you feel like your using 'powers' as it were. A fire ball is a simple projectile attack and arguably you could do the same exact thing with the shoot skill and a decent weapon. Even the weird scientist who uses special inventions wouldn't fit. The way you make it sound is a normal person uses regular skills and mundane items to BS people into thinking he can do magic. He would be mechanically inferior to a character with an Arcane background and actual powers.

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Charlatan Magic

#3 Postby CAM » Sun Mar 01, 2009 5:55 am

Well I think your idea isn't too bad actually, although it couldn't be used for high fantasy settings IMO.

But its an interesting idea for gritty low fantasy medieval settings, or even 1700s/1800s (ala The Illusionist and The Prestige). Yes, its skills that anyone can use theoretically, but anyone can do Long Jump as well yet it doesn't make us all athletes. Thats the point, its mundane skills performed with showmanship and trickery, the true skills of the modern day stage magician.

You could also use it in grim ancient settings, perhaps the skills of Mayan Priests or Eygptian magicians. Possibly even Sword & Sorcery settings such as Hyboria - Howard never stated if the gods were real or not, but the priests hold sway through fear or mystery. However you would still have true magic in this setting (sorcery), albeit very dark and dangerous.

Yes, your ideas have some merits and I'ld like to see some more posts on it as you develop it further

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Jordan Peacock
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#4 Postby Jordan Peacock » Sun Mar 01, 2009 10:07 am

We tried something similar to this (in general concept) in a campaign under a different system a while back. On the one hand, the character invested heavily in "thief skills" and "people skills" for the system. He needed to be a smooth-talker and capable of feats of stealth and legerdemain.

On the other hand, we ran into a bit of a concern regarding the "feel" of such a class. In fiction, if you have a trickster character like this, many times the "trick" is not revealed to the reader until afterward - and THEN you find out the oh-so-clever way that the trickster set up for it. Well, in an RPG, unless the Trickster character is forever passing notes to the GM, and just HAPPENS to correctly guess what's going to happen next, that's just not going to happen. Main characters in stories often succeed simply because all the right pieces fall into place for them: For the swashbuckler, there's a hanging chandelier and a rope; for the heroic lawyer, there's a convenient last-minute confession or piece of evidence that only HE gets to reveal; etc.

So, we ended up crafting what amounted to another spellcasting class, just with special rules. The concept was not that the magician was casting spells, but that there were various stunts he could pull off, and it would just so happen that he had just the right tool on hand, that he'd had the foresight to swap a trick dagger for that real dagger, etc. He burned spell points like any other spellcaster when pulling these stunts, but it wasn't REALLY magic - just amazing coincidence and/or foresight.

On the plus side, he got to use his stealthy skills as his spellcasting skill set, he wasn't subject to anti-magic measures, and couldn't be counter-spelled.

On the negative side, he had to provide a special rationale for his stunts. For instance, one effect was conjuration: He just HAPPENS to have a useful item that he's hidden on his person. (It can't be a unique item, it can't be magical, it can't be heavy enough to impact his encumbrance, it can't be large enough that he couldn't hide it, and it can't be expensive unless he previously set aside a pool of his funds specifically for "conjuring useful stuff.") If he were searched beforehand in an attempt to prevent him from hiding such items, he'd have a penalty to his rolls to conjure something.

Another power we came up with was the "fake injury" stunt. That crippling wound he took that put him out of the fight? A packet of tomato sauce and a bit of acting. Limitation: Opposed by his opponent's scrutiny; player must come up with a tactical reason why he would have faked such injury in the first place (e.g., next round he'll pop up and try to backstab the enemy after being mistaken for dead); penalty if his enemies are wise to his tricks.

And so forth. I had a whole list of "stunts" - each one essentially a different spell, though the exact "trappings" of how the trick was pulled off could be modified to fit the situation. The difficulty was in assigning difficulty to the spells (this system had a tiered spell system, where each higher-level spell required lower-level spells as prerequisites), but that's a moot point in Savage Worlds.

Anyway, for Savage Worlds, I suppose the translation would be coming up with an Arcane Background of "Magician." Maybe something like you start off with 3 powers and 20 power points (as per the Wizard), but either Stealth or Persuasion serve as your spellcasting skill (and exactly which one is used may vary per spell or situation, so you'd better be good at both). There'd be no backlash, and there'd be a special "Conjure Small Item" spell added to the list. To do it properly, I'd probably need to write up some custom "spells," since the focus is a little different.

Power points would work the same way as for an Arcane Background, but it's really just an abstract representation of how much "karma" you have; there are only just so many stunts you can pull off at a time. Rapid Recharge and such Edges would be available, but you wouldn't be able to benefit from game-setting magical boosts (such as potions or artifacts that restore Power Points).

Downsides for the Arcane Background would be situational: You have to roll against opponents' Notice or the base difficulty number, whichever is higher. (Darkness/fog/cover penalties apply to opponents' Notice checks.) If you fail, you retroactively failed at your stunt.

E.g., the "fake injury" stunt could be done with a Heal spell, used on yourself. Your spellcasting check is made retroactively against any observers that would have been present at the time you took your injury - you don't get an easier time of it if you just wait until all the bad guys are dead. If you fail - sorry, the injury WAS real, not just tomato sauce. You also still take wound penalties to your casting roll: even if, upon success, "you were never really wounded," it's harder to fake a more serious injury.

Overall, the main "trapping" is that you have to come up with rationales for how you pulled this stunt off. Even if you're not explaining it to your fellow PCs, you have to offer an explanation for the benefit of the GM and players. ;)

Unfortunately, it's not all that intuitive, and could get rather complicated, to try to shoehorn existing spells into the system. If Heal is your power, what if you want to use it on someone else? Well, you'd need a plausible reason why that person was faking injury and that you had the foresight to plan for this ahead of time: It might work with a fellow PC, as part of some sort of convoluted tactic to trick an enemy. It's not so plausible if you wanted to "heal" an NPC you've just met. This could be troublesome with certain players, who may have a very different sense of what's "plausible," when arguing with the GM. (When you're a PC, it can seem that ANYTHING can be plausible ... if it benefits your character. ;) )

Alas, it's neither short nor sweet, but I thought I'd share the rough idea anyway.

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#5 Postby ScooterinAB » Sun Mar 01, 2009 11:13 am

That's a very cool idea. I'm half-working on a SW setting (Post-Apoc Low Fantasy) where magic pertyy much doesn't exist. I definately got some ideas of how to cover "fake" magic, or what surviving mages could do with their tiny morsals of magic that remain.

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#6 Postby Primus Magus » Mon Mar 02, 2009 4:21 am

Love the concept Jordan, nicely done. It did get me thinking.
As presented so fare, the “magicians” are really nothing more than “cheating” charlatans. They want people to think they use magic, or believe what they want them to believe.

If your aim is a low fantasy setting with no real magic, but have nothing against tricksters. I present the following

Arcane background: Charlatan / Illusionist
Arcane skill: Trickery (smarts, or agility perhaps)

trickster (Read the above post by Jordan)

Arcane background: Keepers of Secret Knowledge / Loremasters
Arcane skill: Secret Lore (smarts)

Mechanically identical, only the fluff is different.
The Keepers are a group, order, or organization of people who hoard knowledge of any kind, forbidden from sharing it with outsiders they congregate in groups dedicated solving the mysteries of the world. They give of the classical impression of wizards. Old men hanging over ancient tomes of “power”. Laboratories filled with materials normal people couldn’t hope to understand. Its not that they are tricking people into believing they are magicians, its just that its more convenient, since they don’t want others to learn their secrets anyway. Charlatans could be former Keepers, or just talented tricksters.

Both the charlatan and keepers power points are an abstract representation of foresight, luck and resources.

The biggest problem as I see it, is that there are very few powers that are available to the characters.
So perhaps a mechanic similar to the one blessed get in Deadlands.
Access to all powers available to their AB, ignoring rank. However, when the charlatan or keeper wants to “cast a spell” they need to present to the GM what they want to achieve, and how. Get a situational penalty, or it could be a penalty depending on the rank of the power.

Just my two cents

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Adam Baulderstone
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#7 Postby Adam Baulderstone » Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:48 pm

I made a cult leader built along this line. He had Very Attractive, Charismatic, Common Bond, and the Snake-Oil Salesman Edge from DL:R. He could use his high Persuasion with the trapping of being mesmeric ability. He was a very effective character.

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