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Ian Cooper

The Limits of Magic

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I am wondering if this is worth a blog post.

I have recently been running the Eleven Lights for a new group at RP Haven Archway. Some knew Glorantha, none new HeroQuest. But they picked up the system fast, and enjoyed it.

One question that came up  a couple of times though was "what are the limits of magic?" Now, post the first session, when everyone defines their characters, I tend to give all my players a handout. it has the keyword descriptions from S:KoH and the Rune Magic examples from the cults there. So they get some hints as to what they can do. But the question is "I know my Heler character can make it rain, but on a sunny day with no clouds, and how much rain, and over how wide an area?"

Now the reality is I know the answer to this is that larger effects require rituals and the rituals require more participants to make it work. Interestingly we did not provide anything like the depth on rituals in HeroQuest Glorantha that appeared in prior editions and that may be an issue. For example, standing in a cloudless day and making it rain 'now'  is probably normal resistance for a Helering, but it would just be a light summer drizzle and probably cover an area the size of a room. Getting some clouds to bring some real rain would require a ritual to call them (dancing, or orgiastic rites) and the more participants the bigger the storm.

My rule of thumb, which once appeared when discussing rune magic for runequest is that you can affect an area "about the size of an elemental" or in simpler HeroQuest terms, about the size of a room. And you range is anything within sight. Anything larger or further tends to require a ritual.

But I was wondering if others had thoughts on this?

 

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Yes, this is one of the biggest difficulties that I had with the HQG rules when I got back into Glorantha via HQG. I had a great deal of trouble understanding how the magic keywords would operate in terms of scale. Looking at the RQG rules is a great help with this, but of course that defeats the object of the HQG rules (i.e. having to rely on another rulebook for a different game system).

Some basic definitions on magic effects would go a long way to help, I feel.

 

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Although the credibility tests don't apply to magic in HQG, I still use them with the group I'm playing with to scale the magic. The main phrase is "overtly supernatural" and  the opposite is  "You cannot do anything overtly supernatural" which I call natural. I even vary it in scale and scope so it's not always constant and often magical effects pull people into the otherside or things out of it (depending on success or failure level). I don't define the limits before it happens, so the I know my Heler Hero can make rain and how much doesn't come into it until the framing and the results. With a contest framed with "I'm going to call the skies down and wash away the trolls" I'd say was a moderate difficulty, but I'd bump it up under a clear and cloudless sky. Often other player would chime in with the credibility level saying, but it's sunny.etc. On a marginal success, it would rain covering the trolls too, but it would be more of annoyance, maybe muddying the ground and forefeet, they would laugh. On a complete victory, the skies would darken fill with supernatural clouds, the rain would be torrential and a flash flood would wash the trolls away (if they didn't do something like call darkness spirits from this situation to freeze the rain). Within a few minutes the sky would clear, back to natural.

So for size and range, most stuff I limit only to the players field of perception. 

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From a Narrative point of view, it affects what it affects.

If I want a rainstorm, there is no point it covering the size of a house, I want it to cover a larger area than that. 

My rule of thumb is that Bigger is Harder, so if you want to cover a bigger area, you have to overcome a bigger opposing roll. Now, the value of that roll depends on how you run your campaign and, to a certain extent, whether you run HQ1 or HQ2. But, if I have Flood 10M, for example, then I could flood a house near a river fairly easily, maybe with an Opposed Roll of 13, I could flood a nearby village with an Opposed Roll of 20, I could flood the fields between the house and village by opposing 10M and I could flood the whole area next to the river by rolling against 20M.

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I hear you on how, but the issue here is more from the player's point of view. As 'newbies' their insight is useful, and whilst after enough sessions they would probably internalize the same rules as me, the problem was that they were not clear on what they could do, and found it a struggle to decide how to use their magic. And sure there is a notional fix, just tell them to describe whatever they want to do, and you will tell them how hard that is, but the reality is that it is off-putting when you are trying to work out your options to not understand what is easy/hard etc.

The advantage of the more complete understanding of ritual in HeroQuest 1e is that the 'setting' has this in its context for magic, and as such it forms part of what RL calls the Extraordinary Powers Framework. I think that proper examination of ritual magic is a hole that we need to plug somehow.

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What I have always liked in HQG is that it doesn't have any special rules about combat. In that lieu it has always seemed to me little weird having those different special rules about magic. Some of them are tied to the credibility test, yes, but for example the moon phase limits in Lunar magic deviate from core HQ ideology.

Again, why couldn't you treat magic as you treat any ability in HQ? I think David wrote well about this already. The result would then define what kind of effect there was.

On the other hand the magic descriptions and limitations help players and GM to play more "Gloranthan" game and you don't have to come up with your own effects.

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I'll admit, I have always appreciated the tables "Modifiers to Magic", "Inherently Difficult Magic", and "Ritual Modifiers" on pages 100-102 of HeroQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (the Steve Jackson Games publication). I know it's sacrilege to suggest using specific numeric benchmarks in HeroQuest anymore, but the list of factors and where the break points are (100 yards, 5 miles, etc.) are at least interesting. 

Rob

Edited by Rob Helm
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22 hours ago, jrutila said:

Again, why couldn't you treat magic as you treat any ability in HQ? I think David wrote well about this already. The result would then define what kind of effect there was.

Mostly because it would make magic redundant and pointless. If Magical Flight 2W2 and Jumping 2W2 both worked the same, then there is no advantage or reason to have Magical Flight. 

I think magic needs to work somewhat differently, just to justify it over another ability. The nice thing about Magical Flight is that it lets people do things they couldn't do just by jumping. Well, unless they are the Hulk.

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1 hour ago, Atgxtg said:

Mostly because it would make magic redundant and pointless. If Magical Flight 2W2 and Jumping 2W2 both worked the same, then there is no advantage or reason to have Magical Flight. 

Personally, I think that all abilities should be treated the same, no matter what they are.

If I a PC with Magical Flight 2W2 and an NPC with Jumping 2W2, then in some circumstances they would work the same, so jumping off a building, for example, would be identical. However, jumping between buildings that are far apart would be trivial with Magical Flight but difficult with Jumping, so might incur a Penalty or need a higher Opposed Roll.

1 hour ago, Atgxtg said:

I think magic needs to work somewhat differently, just to justify it over another ability. The nice thing about Magical Flight is that it lets people do things they couldn't do just by jumping. Well, unless they are the Hulk.

And that happens with the description of the ability.

If I have Jumping 2W2 then I might be able to jump up and catch the leg of a Griffin flying overhead. If I have Magical Flight 2W2 then I can actually fly after the Griffin. Mechanically they work the same, but narratively they work very differently.

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6 hours ago, soltakss said:

Personally, I think that all abilities should be treated the same, no matter what they are. [/quote]

Well the example from HW was someone in a jumping contrest. The flier won hands down, since they could fly higher and say in the air longer.

6 hours ago, soltakss said:

If I have Jumping 2W2 then I might be able to jump up and catch the leg of a Griffin flying overhead. If I have Magical Flight 2W2 then I can actually fly after the Griffin. Mechanically they work the same, but narratively they work very differently.

Notg exactly the same. The jumper could only grab a leg when the Griffin was close, the flier could chase. So there are limits on one mechanically that don't apply to the other. 

 

 

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I like the rules of thumb that you 

On 12/7/2018 at 4:29 AM, Ian Cooper said:

My rule of thumb, which once appeared when discussing rune magic for runequest is that you can affect an area "about the size of an elemental" or in simpler HeroQuest terms, about the size of a room. And you range is anything within sight. Anything larger or further tends to require a ritual.

But I was wondering if others had thoughts on this?

 

I like this rule of thumb, and I think it would be a good idea to lay it out pretty clearly, preferably supported by examples.

Your mention of rituals makes perfect sense to me, as somebody pretty familiar with Glorantha. I think newbie players may need some help understanding the distinction between what their characters can do while on the latest cattle raid and what members of their cult or community can do by acting together.

In general, I like the idea of stating pretty explicitly what players can do with magic. I know that it's a point of pride that HeroQuest doesn't take up space with stat blocks, but the fact is that sometimes it's useful to set aside a little space to explicitly lay out how certain concepts can be best applied in playing the game.

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I think this is another one of those issues that gets missed a bit because a lot of Glorantha fans tend to have a lot of implicit ideas about the reasonable limits of magic in their head from RuneQuest (and fiction, etc) and so there is a kind of shared mental model that isn't there for new people who are dealing with Glorantha only from HeroQuest. We have the same problem with creatures being described in a way that sometimes doesn't even make it clear how big a creature is. 

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This is a common thread by new players to the setting and I am surprised that there is surprise. I asked  a similar question, not having any prior setting knowledge. Definitely a gap to fill, like creature power levels.

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On 12/7/2018 at 10:41 PM, jrutila said:

What I have always liked in HQG is that it doesn't have any special rules about combat. In that lieu it has always seemed to me little weird having those different special rules about magic. Some of them are tied to the credibility test, yes, but for example the moon phase limits in Lunar magic deviate from core HQ ideology.

Again, why couldn't you treat magic as you treat any ability in HQ? I think David wrote well about this already. The result would then define what kind of effect there was.

On the other hand the magic descriptions and limitations help players and GM to play more "Gloranthan" game and you don't have to come up with your own effects.

So I would like to be clear that I am not necessarily talking about 'new rules' which seems to be the default assumption by some here. If anything I am very happy to simplify.

But, much as a keyword implies what is credible, the Extraordinary Powers Framework in HeroQuest (see genre packs in ISS2001) implies that it is useful to document how magic works, to the extent that it is possible to narrate effects. If you don't know RQG, what is your starting point?

BTW, in playing with Greg, it was clear that he didn't use a RQ model when thinking about Glorathan magic. I remember how when in one scenario we were being questioned by Esrolian grandmothers he described their truth detecting magic as feeling like a hand was squeezing your balls, and pressing tighter and tighter if you tried to lie. To Greg, that kind of description of magic was instinctive, but for the rest of us, I think some guidance is needed.

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3 hours ago, Ian Cooper said:

So I would like to be clear that I am not necessarily talking about 'new rules' which seems to be the default assumption by some here. If anything I am very happy to simplify.

That is actually a good clarification. After the news, I tend to twist in my head anything you say here to regard the new rules. Sorry about that.

3 hours ago, Ian Cooper said:

But, much as a keyword implies what is credible, the Extraordinary Powers Framework in HeroQuest (see genre packs in ISS2001) implies that it is useful to document how magic works, to the extent that it is possible to narrate effects.

Yes, it is good to document the magic for narration purposes. My point was that it is "weird" that you have limitations (Moon waning) to the magic ability as it just that: a HQ ability.

This also comes back to your original question (that I missed) about how the players can know what is the effect of the magic they cast. If a player ponders how can his Heler character make it rain on a sunny day I think it is quite ok to say: "You tell me". Let the players' creative juices flow. The outcome of the dice and the goal set helps here to define the level of supernaturalism of the effect and the actual effect etc. If the magic (ability) succeeds, it succeeds. Now it is up to the players and the GM to come up with some feasible narration. Maybe this way you can get quite Greg-like magic effects in the table.

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Let's look back to where I was two years ago, in a similar position to the new players. At the time, I'd read HQG, SKoH, PGtA, parts of the Guide, and dug around on the forums some, so I wasn't coming in completely cold. OTOH, I never played or read RuneQuest (though knew some concepts from CoC & Pendragon) and had only previously known Glorantha by reputation.

The post below was specifically asking things about sorcery, as for theism looking at the break between Initiate & Devotee effects at least gives some context about magnitude, etc. However, a lot of those questions are fairly open for other magics as well.

 

The boldings are new.

On 10/26/2016 at 2:00 PM, JonL said:

So, after plenty of reading, I've got a solid handle on the various ways a character can have grimoires and spells, the interoperation of the techniques and the runes to describe specific spells within a grimoire's theme, and so on. I'm good on the principles. What I'm really struggling with are the fictional capabilities the rules are trying to represent. I never played RuneQuest or HeroQuest 1, the only examples I have to go on are the examples in the HQ:G book and the historical things referred to in the Guide. 

Are there things that are particularly difficult or impossible for sorcery to accomplish? Things like instant communication from afar or teleportation have significant impacts when present within a setting, are those available? Are they easy? It seems like life extension must be difficult or impossible since people like Delecti or the Brithini have to go to such extreme lengths to achieve it. I expect ressurection to be off the table for Malkioni as they don't believe in the afterlife the way that the Theyleans do. Might a Lankhor Mhy sage develop a Seperate Death from Man spell though (even if using it might draw unwelcome attention from Humakt or Daka Fal cults)? Could a Combine Man & Air spell permit flight, or is the Middle-Air just for Air Rune Theists?

In the play examples, Magatheus & Orensulva both cast spells more or less instantly within the flow of the narrative, so there's a bit of a baseline there for things that a competent sorcerer can do on the go. OTOH, we also have allusions in the fiction for things that require groups, rituals, preparations, holy/astrologically-significant days, etc. Are those just augments or calling on a community's magic resource? What are things that a sorcerer would need to go to such lengths to accomplish that they couldn't do alone or quickly? Tapping is mentioned as a way to gain magical energy to empower one's spells, but without any detail. It it just a way to get an augment in the future? 

What about the magnitude of spell effects, do those play into the resistance one might roll against to cast them? Say a grimoire had a Banish Man from Your Presence(Dismiss Man) spell and a Force an Army to Retreat (Dismiss Man) spell within it. The caster's ability rating with this grimoire is the same either way. Should the former face Moderate resistance while the latter Nigh Impossible? What about Tapping Earth from a pebble vs a boulder?

(I have a similar struggle with what the bounds should be for things that a Theistic Initiate cannot do, but the Devotee level feats in the cult write-ups at least give some guidance there.) 

Ian commented on RPG.net the last week, "You only really need materials if they have a shared fiction that you don't all share or know." I need materials to provide this shared fiction, please. I know it's OK for my Glorantha to vary, but I really have no clue what the baseline is from which I might deviate. The examples in HQ:G and the Sartar & Pavis books are very few, while the Guide mostly mentions epic things that Zzabur or the God Learners did, which is a bit out of scope for typical PCs. I'm half tempted to hunt down old RQ & HQ1 books for examples, but with so much changed since then I don't know if that's really a solution.

 

Help, please?

Here's the whole thread, for reference, including many helpful answers & corrections.

Of particular note to my question about teleportation, and the subsequent mentions of it in that discussion. The word "teleport" does not appear when searching in the HQG PDF text. 

Here's a post I made a year later, that gets into what someone needs as a practical matter to handle things like magic and superpowers:
 

On 11/10/2017 at 9:02 AM, JonL said:

This is the key bit. If you have an ability called "Acrobat," our experience in the real world gives us a solid handle on what an acrobat can do in our imaginary worlds. With imaginary abilities like magic and the like, we have no such common frame of reference. As such, their capabilities either need to be well defined in the fictional framework of the world and characters, to the point that the GM & Players understand the dynamics and capabilities as well as a non-acrobat might understand acrobatics -or- you can break the "Ability ratings are just abstract measures of problem solving effectiveness." idiom and use some game mechanics do define things, as we see in the Glorantha magic rules.

For benchmarking supernatural capabilities, I want to know:

  • What magnitude of effects can be done quickly and easily vs what can only be done with great effort, ritual, support, or risk?
  • What can only be done nearby vs at a distance, and do things like having a token from or ritual correspondence to a subject transcend that?
  • Are certain sorts of acts particularly well suited to the ability vs others that may be foreign or even impossible?
  • Does this capability have any applications that are unique in the fictional world?
  • What things are rare, difficult or impossible for any and all supernatural abilities?
  • To what extent do the above vary for a novice, journeyman, or master actor?

Answering those questions lets you and the players know what's solidly in their characters abilities, what's going to be a stretch, what they can do with lots of time & effort, etc. Some of those answers also give you guidance on the overall impact of magic in your world. For example, in a pre-modern world, long distance communication or transportation via magic is a world-changer. Knowing how common or capable those effects are is a big deal for understanding the world in which you're playing. 

To your example, if you're running an investigation-centered game you need to know just how common, practical, and effective things like post-cognition, clairvoyance, mind-reading and the like are. If your world has secrets, these things either have limitations/costs/risks attached or there are discrete countermeasures available. Compare being able to detect lies at will vs being able to detect lies when standing between the pillars of your sanctum at high midnight. It matters to your game which of those is typical.

Similar dynamics surround being able to evade pursuit or hide from authorities. If anyone with a college-degree in magic can arbitrarily teleport people from anywhere to anywhere without even knowing where the subject is to begin with, then this is not a world with fugitives (especially given the quantity of magicians implied by a college with a degree program in magic). If doing such a thing is possible, but only after overcoming significant challenges to obtain the necessary ritual correspondences, sacrifices, information about the target, angelic allies, and the like, then it becomes the climax of an adventure rather than short-circuiting one.

HQG provides some of the answers to the above, but not all and not evenly. I'm curious as to whether the development and playtesting process included (m)any outside readers who didn't know Glorantha at all  - particularly as gamemasters.

Studying RQ is helpful in some ways, but not in others. Apart from the fact that you shouldn't have to read (or buy) an entirely different game to understand your intended game's world, RQ also bends the fiction to its mechanics in many places. RQG lists Storm Bull as having Air, Best, and Death rather than Air and Eternal Battle because there's no Eternal Battle rune on the character sheet. Having all the various cults picking from a common library of Spirit Magic spells also creates a level of standardization and mechanistic-ness that bleeds into the setting (ah, yes, they also know the secret of "Multi-Missile"), as does the POW/RunePoint economy.

Edited by JonL
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