Saturday, July 15, 2006

“Ok, you find three +1 swords, two potions of healing, and another wand of wonder”

Here is another draft excerpt from my Legends of Steel game, This time addressing magic items in the Sword & Sorcery genre.

Magic items
Magic items in LoS are rare and special. Many of you I'm sure have been in games where the players have at least one magic weapon and a half a dozen or so minor magic items. I played in one game where we were so magic-heavy that we had an NPC hireling carry a bag of extra magic stuff, which we used for bribes and trade. Magic items exist in LoS make no mistake about that. However, in LoS there isn’t the focus on them that you find in traditional fantasy games. There are no “Magic shops” where you can buy a lightning wand or a “+1 sword”. If the players somehow acquire an enchanted item, then that item should have a name and a history. In the genre of high fantasy, magic is common sometimes to the point where they border the mundane, not so in Sword & Sorcery tales.
With the exception of potions and maybe minor charms, magic items in the Sword & Sorcery genre are usually in the form of relics or ancient artifacts created for a specific task. The Barbarian Prince doesn’t use a +2 axe; he wields “The Blood Axe of the Bear killer clan”. By making magic rare its value increases hundred fold. When your players gain a magic item it becomes a defining moment. Take into account that the hero’s of the game represent at most 2% of the general population, and of that 2% maybe one in twenty would choose the path of a Mage. And of those, how many will ascend to the level at which the crafting of magic items is even possible?

Magic VS. Monster
With the scarcity of magic items and weapons it’s only fitting that supernatural creatures be given sufficient vulnerabilities that allow the heroes at least a chance at overcoming them, which is completely in line with the genres main theme; That a man with guts, and cold steel in his hands can overcome any obstacle. If it bleeds then it can be hurt. Therefore, the old standard fantasy RPG rule “Can only be hurt by magical weapons” should go right out the window. However, it shouldn’t be a cakewalk for the heroes. Maybe the Barbarians sword does hurt the Elder Demon, forcing it to dissipate and fight another day, but only the “Spear of Kings” can slay it forever, and there lies the adventure.