The travelling RPG Blog Carnival continues to jump from one blog to another. While I devoted a lot of time to the February topic, the monthly host continues to change. The travelling RPG Blog Carnival continues to jump from one blog to another. While I devoted a lot of time to the February topic, the monthly host continues to change.
In August, the latest host is the mighty Kobold Press. The chosen topic for the month is Magic. The Kobold Press site outlined the topic like this:
There are few things as iconic in RPGs as magic. It’s a vital component of nearly all “fantasy” RPGs and even figures prominently in many “sci-fi” games. It is the ability to make the impossible a reality. Sometimes it’s super dangerous, requiring great sacrifice, and sometimes it’s just knowing the right words to say. Sometime you have to train for years just learn simple spells, and sometimes it’s in your blood, coming out as naturally as your breath. Sometimes it comes directly from you, and sometimes it comes from items, gods, the very fabric of reality. There are so many different ways to bring about the impossible.
For the May Blog Carnival this year I wrote about my failure to capture the essence of Gloranthan magic I wanted in my campaign. One aspect of this shortcoming lies with Common Magic, also known as Battle Magic.
These simple spells are widely taught and typically relate to a person’s occupation. Such folk magic offers in-game skill bonuses and supernatural effects at higher levels. According to one version of Gloranthan lore, these spells are a hybridization of arcane, divine and spirit magic. They are an accumulation of superstition, ritual and blind luck, yet they actually work.
It is easy enough to create a simple rules framework for Common Magic. However, to properly convey the Gloranthan feel of this category of magic, I need another layer to reinforce the distinctions between the types of magic. Giving characters a bundle for each of their Common Magic spells helps differentiate this style of magic for the Players.
This is a small package of objects wrapped in cloth, or perhaps tied together with thread. The objects in a bundle are linked to the caster or the effects of the associated spell. Yet there are no set contents for a spell. When a person learns a Common Magic spell, they gather the contents of the associated bundle under the guidance of the teacher. Often the contents help the learner memorize the ritual actions and words needed to cast the spell.
A magic bundle is commonly associated with spirit magic, used by animists and shamans. As Common Magic is spirit magic at least in part, then an associated bundle of sacred items reinforces this connection. In line with animism, the person casting their Common Magic must have the bundle in contact with their skin to cast the spell. Bundles are usually worn around the neck or lashed to a limb.
However, the bundle also has connections to the other types of magic. Divine and Arcane Magic operate in Glorantha directly through the power of the runes. Thus, runic items are very common in a bundle. This is typically the rune associated with the effects of the spell, but need not always be the case. A personal rune or a rune from a worshipped god also appear. A combination of runes which would not work in an arcane spell may even appear in a magic bundle.
A magic bundle can also contain a wide range of items. Strange arcane sigils may be scratched onto a piece of wood, or daubed on a scrap of leather. Whether this is a genuine piece of arcane lore or meaningless gibberish, is a matter of scholarly debate. Heirloom items handed down within a family also appear in some bundles. An item blessed by a priest as part of the many rituals of passage can also be included. Weaving together these disparate sources of magical power within the bundle highlights the hybrid nature of Common Magic.
For extra flavour, you can link bundles to the runes in your setting in three ways. Runes feature highly in Glorantha, and my campaign. Thus, I always want to highlight the importance of runes when presenting magic in my game. Linking these bundles to the runes underlying my setting reinforces these principles. If your setting has a different basis of magic to runes, then be sure to include those in your magic bundles.
The first method for weaving runes into the bundles is simply to have a rune present. Runes can be carved or inscribed on items within a bundle. Many entries in the table note the presence of runes. If none of those are rolled, then you are free to rule what was created also bears a rune in some way. Alternatively, the small bag holding the bundle could be marked with a rune.
The second option is to include a representation of the rune itself in the bundle. Runes are generally simple shapes, typically made of a few straight lines, but more complex versions exist. Simple runes may be constructed from small twigs lashed together by a thread. Runes can also be carved from bone or wood.
The third, more subtle option, is to look for thematic connections between the bundle object and the runic nature of the Common Magic. A spell to help arrows fly could include a hawk skull, as this bird is a hunter, and thus associated with the hunt rune. Emphasizing this style of sympathetic association helps Players apply these underlying runic associations to other areas of the game. This is something I definitely want to promote in my game.
Bundles adding Story
The contents of these Common Magic bundles will normally be created as part of the character generation process. Therefore, the contents of the bundle offer us another opportunity to learn more about the history of the Hero. You may like to consider the following questions when creating a bundle:
- Who taught this magic?
- How did you find the contents of the bundle?
- Do any of the components have sentimental value?
- How do you believe the contents of the bundle enable the spell?
Heroes may learn Common Magic through the course of the game, but those spells will have these questions addressed during the game. The events represented by character creation are often in the Hero’s past. Thus, it can be informative to have them explored in more depth, as another window into the personality and beliefs of the Hero.
Common Magic is one of the areas of my game I want to improve. Creating interesting bundles associated with these spells is one step in the process. Ideally, the addition of these bundles will teach Players more about the underlying runic principles of the setting. If these bundles can also reveal more of the Hero’s personality or history, then even better.
Next week, I present a small set of tables for the creation of Common Magic bundles. In the meantime, how would you create Common Magic bundles? Do you use folk magic in your game? What principles of magic underpin your setting? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
- Read more about the August Carnival at Kobold Press
- Read more about the July Carnival at Daemons and Deathrays
- The RPG Blog Carnival is under the stewardship of Johnn Four, at his Roleplaying Tips website.
- See my dedicated page for a full list of all my RPG Blog Carnival contributions.
- Do you need more Tales?
If you enjoyed this article, then please share it, or the associated quotations. You may also be interested in the following links:
- Something for the Weekend last week: Year Four Review
- Something for the Weekend next week: Aug ‘17 Carnival, Part 2: Magic Bundle Tables