Today I read Maliszewski's 'Restrospective Authentic Thaumaturgy' which can be found HERE. I have to say, I was pleased to see mention of it and it gives me an excuse to revisit some of my thoughts on magic and gaming. At the start of the month, I made a post entitled 'Problems with the Magic System' and I made mention of some of the disappointment I had with how magic was essentially handled with D&D. Now, I confess that I haven't had a chance to ever read or even flip through "Authentic Thaumaturgy", but I have been meaning to pick up a copy (it was reprinted by Steve Jackson Games and this version is available as a PDF as well).
You see, I had the pleasure of meeting Bonewits about a year before he passed along with his wife when they visited Ottawa in 2009. He was a charming and intelligent individual and also someone who loved a good game. We spoke briefly about "Authentic Thaumaturgy" as well as a host of other topics. To be clear, he was not and never considered himself a game designer but someone who has pursued esoteric studies and who happened to enjoy gaming (he loved Munchkin). He did like the idea and was keen on how magic was presented in various games as well. Isaac was a scholar and a pagan with a remarkable outlook on life.
Now, the classic system of Vancian magic in D&D (and other related games) works and does so because it is both simple and efficient. If your fantasy campaign is 'vanilla', then it'll be perfect to the task. However, if your campaign is anything more, then to *not* develop the magic in your setting any further is a wasted opportunity. While I have great respect for Gygax, and he clearly was someone who was well read with a wonderful appreciation of history, he wasn't an anthropologist (or similar specialist) and his focus was not on the specifics of folklore and magic.
We have so much material which is accessible to us and that we can draw from if we want to give flavor and a sense of 'realism' to our fantasy (Thanks Internet!). Look to history, folklore, and mythology and when you weave this into your campaign, extend it to the magic and miracles of your worlds.
Here are a few ideas you can use to develop this further:
- The waxing and waning affects of the moon on magic (Dragonlance did this with three moons)
- The significance of number (aka Numerology),
- The Planets / Constellations and links with Spirits / Gods and other correspondences
While you may worry that these may add layers of complexity to your magic system, think of it as enriching and detailing your campaign instead. A lot of this can be 'cosmetic' anyway.
On the other hand, if you want actual mechanics, employing a system that 'fits' is not necessarily an easy task either. While I've been steadily working on an alternate system of magic for the Ballista, I am reminded again and again how elegant the Vancian system is for all inherent purposes. Keeping a game within a D&D-esque format makes it difficult to break from over years of tradition when looking at the magic system. I'm presenting both options in the Ballista -- classic and an alternative that doesn't just give point values instead of spell slots. Or at least, there is a sustained creative effort to bring this to reality in the coming weeks.