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Taking Advantage of RuneQuest Features in a Magic-Free World

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#1 Urizen

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 06:24 AM

I am currently working on a magic free picaresque-themed game, set in a fantasy world. The cultures range from early Bronze Age down to Chalcolithic, and perhaps earlier for isolated tribes in the valleys, etc.
Aside from the lack of magic, the lack of religion is also something I wanted to try. I am usually a religion geek, but I really want to try building a world without using gods (real or imagined) to build my cultures around.
I am only looking at developing a couple of core cultures, and don't want to go nuts plotting it all out (MAR Barker/Greg Stafford Syndrome) but instead want to stick with some brief descriptions and a treatment of how they interact.
More than any previous edition the 'Cults' of RuneQuest 6 have the flexibility needed to provide structure to martial orders and other formal organizations, and that is definitely one thing I want to take advantage of.
Overall the world is presumed to be essentially mechanistic and similar to the materialist view physics - I won't be introducing any de facto magic like nonsensium space aliens or parapsychology - but unlike Earth in its geography and history.
A theme I want to riff on is that history is overdetermined - that is, for any major historical change within society or the broader physical landscape, the elements that bring it about are mutually complimentary enough to make individual variations stochastic white noise. If this seems a bit abstract, think of it in terms of Lovecraftian cosmic nihilism, Nietzsche or Conan in fatalism; but with a bit more clinical distance as to whether cosmic nihilism really is terrifying or just moot.
Another theme would be that human cultures, for their infinite complexity, have a tendency to manifest patterns of behavior even when supposedly major factors (religion) are excised entirely [in parallel example, modern political ideologies certainly fulfill the role for some that religions have in the past.]

#2 Lemnoc

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 05:16 PM

I've run RQ6 in a low magic campaign. Works very well, but I think you have to make available a plethora of healing herbs, potions or healers (witches, perhaps) or risk a lot of downtime from combat. $0.02.

#3 Lemnoc

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 05:41 PM

Also: Cults can be an indispensable tool to give aid and support to characters—keep them alive—without access to magic, even when they are mundane guilds, brotherhoods or military associations. As you say, they could be the mechanisms through which you can introduce the concepts you wish to explore.

#4 Urizen

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Posted 06 June 2014 - 10:04 PM

I've run RQ6 in a low magic campaign. Works very well, but I think you have to make available a plethora of healing herbs, potions or healers (witches, perhaps) or risk a lot of downtime from combat. $0.02.

I think I will keep medicine fairly plausible and historical (granted this isn't Earth, so they may have access to compounds we don't), but this world is also intended to be rather less dangerous than fantasy settings.
In terms of security of property most freeholding peasants, for example, were under less threat of robbery or theft than many people in modern cities. A high expectation and low threshold for violence are the prime factors making it so typical in fantasy campaigns; 'IRL' if you seriously wanted to go into a fortress [dungeon] you'd use an army and siege tactics, and it's my expectations that characters will do just that or probably die.

Though I shain't build any 'dungeons'.

There was a DOS adventure game, similar to the Gold Box D&D games or Ultima, where the player controlled a group of mercenaries in Germany during the Middle Ages; you eventually learned to fight smart or, if possible, make your money without actually fighting. I think I'd like to encourage players toward a more rational/practical approach to questions of violence.

Also: Cults can be an indispensable tool to give aid and support to characters—keep them alive—without access to magic, even when they are mundane guilds, brotherhoods or military associations. As you say, they could be the mechanisms through which you can introduce the concepts you wish to explore.

Making good use of the cult mechanics is one reason I chose RQ6 for this.

#5 Urizen

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 12:04 AM

Of course I'm very waffly at this point. I've considered going in the opposite direction and using the Pendragon/Harn/Chivalry & Sorcery stuff to back up a very early medieval or late antiquity game, instead.

#6 fmitchell

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 07:10 AM

I'd be really interested in how this goes.

One of the (many, many, many) ideas bouncing around my head is a world where only ritual magic exists. (Mechanics are still fuzzy, but inspirations include Incantations in the d20 SRD, sorcery in Castle Falkenstein, GURPS Book/Path Magic, and the Occultism system of A Magical Medley from Grey Ghost Games.) One typically works magic in a secure chamber, not on a battlefield. "Magic items" are unique artifacts, and many have no use except in the aforementioned rituals. Essentially, magic creates situations and problems more often than it solves them; it's mainly the province of mad sorcerers, village wise men, and banishers of demons.
Frank
"A hidden corridor! Fortunately it was labeled!" -- Sadie Doyle, "Beyond Belief: Sarcophagus Now", The Thrilling Adventure Hour

#7 Urizen

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Posted 07 June 2014 - 07:16 AM

I'd be really interested in how this goes.

One of the (many, many, many) ideas bouncing around my head is a world where only ritual magic exists. (Mechanics are still fuzzy, but inspirations include Incantations in the d20 SRD, sorcery in Castle Falkenstein, GURPS Book/Path Magic, and the Occultism system of A Magical Medley from Grey Ghost Games.) One typically works magic in a secure chamber, not on a battlefield. "Magic items" are unique artifacts, and many have no use except in the aforementioned rituals. Essentially, magic creates situations and problems more often than it solves them; it's mainly the province of mad sorcerers, village wise men, and banishers of demons.

One of my thoughts would be a straight historical medieval Europe, and pull an Ars Magica without the peasant mysticism - make the Catholics literally correct. In any case, a historical medieval game interests me a lot - RuneQuest would also work very well for that, for similar reasons. I pulled out my copy of MaelStrom and Chivalry & Sorcery earlier wondering how much trouble it would be to work the social/family side of character into some kind of RQ6 accessible shape.

In terms of fantasy magic, I tend to like spellcasters - E-F/MU4Life - but I tend to give it a sword & sorcery/demonology slant.

#8 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 03:34 AM

Perhaps one can do a world where magic is a corruption of the forces of nature and only evil people can use it. Maybe there is a reason witches and warlocks are viewed with homicidal hatred -- maybe all magic is evil and perverse and pursuing it is a virtual guarantee of your eventual destruction.

PCs would never be able to use magic themselves in such a setting -- and once they understand what magic entails they probably wouldn't want to. Possibly the mingling of science and mysticism that was a common feature of the Middle Ages would not exist and physics, astronomy and similar pursuits would have much freer reign (and astronomy would be completely divorced from astrology, which would be the province of soothsayers or con artists and generally despised). Perhaps medicine would more rapidly discard things like "humours" and blood-letting and devote more time to figuring out how the human body really works. If religion was a non-starter in such a world, there would be fewer objections to things like dissecting corpses for research and teaching, or to posting new visions of what the physical universe looks like. Earth-centric worldviews might not last nearly as long, and anyone who insisted that the Earth was flat would be looked on with scorn (and a little pity, as he must be either stupid or mad).

#9 Urizen

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Posted 11 June 2014 - 06:23 AM

I'm moving more towards a reasonably accurate game set in the Middle Ages. I think I will keep 'magic', in terms of mechanics, out of the game. That's not to say that there wouldn't be miracles, just that the PCs are in no position to dispute or verify them or command one up.

#10 fmitchell

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Posted 12 June 2014 - 03:20 AM

You could also do a post-apocalyptic or sword-and-planet (or sixgun-and-planet?) game in RQ6. General technology might be Bronze Age, Iron Age, Renaissance, or even Old West, but there's fragments of nigh-magical pre-tech/alien artifacts.

Numenera might offer an interesting model: lots of one-use gadgets scavenged from the wreckage, with the occasional reusable artifacts and mysterious useless oddity.
Frank
"A hidden corridor! Fortunately it was labeled!" -- Sadie Doyle, "Beyond Belief: Sarcophagus Now", The Thrilling Adventure Hour

#11 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 02:33 AM

I'm moving more towards a reasonably accurate game set in the Middle Ages. I think I will keep 'magic', in terms of mechanics, out of the game. That's not to say that there wouldn't be miracles, just that the PCs are in no position to dispute or verify them or command one up.


Alternatively, you could play where are no real miracles at all. The actual workings of the would would be completely "rational" and atheistic. There could well be great religions holding vast amounts of temporal power, but their leaders would be either deluded or lying through their teeth. They could cite all sorts of completely natural phenomena as "miracles" and react ferociously to anyone who tries to debunk them. Priests of such faiths may well practice healing by "laying on of hands", but it is no more effective than a placebo (possibly less so). And they may be able to use the force of the state to suppress medical techniques that actually work but violate their tenets.

#12 fmitchell

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 02:50 PM

I always say, why invent when you can steal:

Maelstrom, currently from Arion Games, has an interesting magic "system" in that most magic doesn't actually violate nature; it's just suspiciously timed. The GM rates an effect from 1 (pretty likely) to 4 (virtually never happens), and the character tests his Knowledge score to figure out if he knows the right spell to make it happen. Naturally, magic is still a crime against man and God. There's also Rank 5 for "high" magic like demon summonings, which requires a huge amount of effort.

GURPS Banestorm presents a world where Earth religions -- medieval Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and various animistic and naturalistic religions -- still hold sway, even though for the most part nobody can whistle up a miracle. Granted, in Yrth magic exists but it's largely orthogonal to religion; one Muslim country bans it, others are leery of it, and due to variable "mana" levels it may be hard or impossible in some regions. Still, it presents an interesting social evolution of conventional Earth religious power structures even when adherents are cut off from Rome, Mecca, and Jerusalem ... and where spirits, corporeal undead, faerie peoples, and mythical beasts exist.

Finally, I've always been fascinated by "fake magic", partly inspired by Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide. Games have yet to tap the full potential of fraudulent alchemists, sincere but deluded alchemists, court magicians and rural witches using the same stage tricks, and quirks of biology / chemistry / physics that seem like magic. At one point I sketched out a fantasy Medieval world of secretive mystics using mundane mentalism and sleight of hand to reinforce their uncanny reputation; there were also real monsters, either genetic experiments of a prior ultra-tech civilization or surviving artificial intelligences that used technology to impersonate gods and demons. As usual, it didn't make it off the drawing board ... but I offer the idea free to anyone who can make it work, or your money back.
Frank
"A hidden corridor! Fortunately it was labeled!" -- Sadie Doyle, "Beyond Belief: Sarcophagus Now", The Thrilling Adventure Hour

#13 Questbird

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Posted 13 June 2014 - 03:33 PM

I always say, why invent when you can steal:

Maelstrom, currently from Arion Games, has an interesting magic "system" in that most magic doesn't actually violate nature; it's just suspiciously timed. The GM rates an effect from 1 (pretty likely) to 4 (virtually never happens), and the character tests his Knowledge score to figure out if he knows the right spell to make it happen. Naturally, magic is still a crime against man and God. There's also Rank 5 for "high" magic like demon summonings, which requires a huge amount of effort.


I love the Maelstrom magick system; search these forums for many threads where I've gone on about it. Not only is it perfect for low magic settings (was it magic, or just a fluke?) but it also encourages creative roleplaying and problem solving by player spellcasters. eg, if such-and-such effect would be Highly Unlikely under certain circumstances, a player is forced to think how he might either achieve a similar effect in a more likely way or increase the likelihood of his first idea by some other action; either way the line between true magic and chicanery is delightfully blurred.




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