Thursday, November 14, 2013

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Practical (Ritual Path) Magic

The new Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic has been out for a bit. Since its release there has been a flurry of activity on the Steve Jackson Games Forums regarding it. As PK's officially unofficial deputy on ritual path magic, I've made it my job to answer as many of these questions as fast as I possibly can, so he doesn't have to. In some cases, this had led to mistakes (which I've owned up to) and in most others, satisfied gamers.  All that said, there have been some grumblings about various topics I'd like to go ahead and put to bed if I can.
  • "RPM's enchantment system sucks!" - As a gamer that actively dislikes using character points for gear, I should like this a lot less than I do. It's not that I dislike it, or that I'm indifferent. I think it fits ritual path magic. That said, I'd like a system that's defined more as gear than gadgetry. To that end I've posted a stopgap to use my Metatronic Generators article as a back end enchantment system for RPM. I can tell those reading this, that I am working on a Pyramid article that expands on how to create ritual path magic items. No idea when it'll be out there for public use or even if it will.
  • "Why can't I replicate spells from Magic?!" - Quite honestly? Some of those spells are unbalanced, wonky, worded poorly, or some combination of the above. Raekai has created an excellent conversion of Magic to ritual path magic and is in the process of switching it over from the system presented in Monster Hunters 1 to the expanded version in Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic.
  • "I don't want RPM to be subject to GM approval! I want the rules to say what it does exactly. Perfectly. No GMs!" - This one baffles the hell out of me. I've thought about it a lot, and I've come to two conclusions. One, if (and that is a big if) this were possible; the book for RPM would be thicker than the American DSM. It would have to cover (or try to cover) every possibility available in the real world and multiple genres. I fully believe if that had been the case it probably wouldn't have sold as well as it did, despite the gamers' desire for it. And two, 99% of most players and GMs game to have fun. They don't want to game out real life....because let's face it, for most of us, real life is...real life. When I role-play I want to be a swashbuckling hero who faces down the ROUSs in the fire swamp, not the guy who dies of sepsis two days later thanks to giant rat bites and infected burns.  Despite the lone voice(s) in the wilderness who assert otherwise, I have found, and continue to find, that most gamers want fun - not simulation. They want to work with their GMs to achieve that fun, not against them. Deep down, at its heart, RPM is a symbolic representation of that want. Each spell in ritual path magic is a deal between the GM and the player. It is in essence, a rules zero system, trying to make it something it's not is going to have unintended consequences. Games cannot exist within a vacuum
  • "Why are Lesser and Greater effects so vague?" - They are supposed to be. They are subject to GM approval. The GM decides what is and isn't a Greater effect. That said, as a GM, I ask myself the following three questions when adjudicating a spell:
  1. How difficult is the task? Could a normal person accomplish it easily? If it so, then mark it as a “No.” If it’s hard, mark it as a “Yes.”
  2. Could anyone do it given equipment and a reasonable amount of time? 
  3. Would it violate the natural laws of the setting?
    If you answered “Yes” to all three, then it is probably a Greater effect; if you answered “No” to all three, then it is probably a Lesser effect. If you answered “Yes” to one or two questions, then it’s iffy. It might be a Greater effect, if might be a Lesser effect. When I’ve answered “Yes” twice, I err on the side of caution and charge for a Greater effect, when I answer “Yes” only once, I usually call it a Lesser effect and go on with the game.
  • “I can create thousands of tons of crude oil for decades!” – Yes. Yes, you can. If the GM lets you. He’s fully within his rights to make you take a crafting penalty roll for your character to visualize how much oil that actually is. It’s like trying to visualize a million dollars in cash. You know it exists, but I bet you don’t know what those bills look like when stacked together, or how thick the stack is, or what it smells like, and so on. Visualizing big numbers is a problem that humans have in general. We know those numbers exist, but unless we have a visual aid, it’s difficult to figure out what is what. So yes. You can create a ritual that will break the GMs world, congrats – you’re a douche bag and just ruined everyone else’s fun. Most people like this don’t last long in a particular gaming group, because at their core, they are greedy attention-seekers that demand the spotlight all the time and when they don’t get it, they take the GMs campaign hostage. Don’t play with those guys. Just remember that because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Wheaton’s law works perfectly when designing rituals: Don’t Be a Dick. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t design a “Vampire Blaster” spell for the GMs campaign about Vampires, but don’t try to design a “ALL VAMPIRE’S EVERYWHERE DIE” spell. Or at least make it a plot point. World-shaking spells should be a goal to strive for, not a game sessions’ worth of die rolls.
  • "The only way to do spells is the RAW way!” – Nope. Sorry. Go read the box on p. 49 of Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic. Now read it again. Now print out a copy and sleep with that page so you may harvest knowledge by osmosis. Now read it again. Now cuddle that page you printed out and say supporting, nurturing things to it while you spoon it. Tell it you love it, and you'll always be there for it. Finally, read it again and then rip up the page you printed out into small shredded chunks and eat them so it stays with you forever. Mourn your printed friend, but know that he is with you always. There. Is. No. Right. Way. If the GM says, “Fireballs ain’t possible,” then guess what? Fireballs ain’t possible. When I post on the forums, I post as an interpreter of Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, most of my answers are derived from over a thousand hours of (active) GMing experience with the system and almost 3 years of reading it over and over and over (and over and over) and asking questions over and over and over (and probably one more over). I’ve thought of and tried just about every variation you could dream up, and I’m going to dispense that advice. No need to travel down the same road if that road is a dead end or leads to a cliff face. Some stuff just isn’t going to work. That isn’t to say I’ve thought of everything, I still get surprised and come across wondrously fresh ideas for RPM.
  • “I don’t want my players making up rituals!” – Okay, this is easy-peasy, don’t let them. You make up every ritual that’s possible in the setting. Everything that can possibly be done with ritual path magic and then say, “These are the rituals you can choose from, creating new rituals requires Inventing rolls.” When you do this, nothing else about RPM changes. The spellcasting process is exactly the same except that the players must pick from the rituals you’ve made. Additionally, for the above example, do not add a limitation to Magery. Casters who can create new rituals on the fly have an Unusual Background. That’s it. See? Easy.

So there it is, the most common gripes I’ve seen to date. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little read and gained some form of insight from my ramblings. And if I've offended you...well, sorry 'bout that too.


  1. FWIW, I've only heard bullet #3 from *one* person . . . and he's 100% crazy. :)