Sunday, 5 January 2014
Changing Combat & Magic in your OSR Campaign
One thing that is true of the OSR RPGs is that there's an unlimited amount of material out there either in published or digital form, all with neat ideas on how to handle every single aspect of the game, combat and magic being the most popular choices to discuss. But of course, it's often the case that you can't use every single idea at the same time.
However, one pattern I've noticed is that each campaign seems to have their single specific way of doing things. "In my campaign, magic doesn't require components." or "This is the Critical Hit Table we use in my campaign." or "These are the rules for mass battles in my campaign." and so on.
What I'd like to suggest to you is the following; What if you used them all? You could easily switch around from one Critical Hit table to the other depending on the day. Combat should be unpredictable! You could even make a Random Table to determine which Critical Hit Table you'll use at the start of a session!
Same goes with sickness & diseases (Table of Dungeon Funk being a good one for those), treasure, mass combat rules (Check out Burgs & Bailifss: Warfare Too )... Why should it always be the same way? If I'm playing Pathfinder, I'm playing it a certain way and know what to expect. If I'm playing OSR, I'm going in with a more 'anything goes' attitude. (And to be clear, I love both!)
Some might say that with magic it's not as easy to change it up depending on the session. Sure, one could use a Critical Hit Table one day and another the next, but combat can be random and chaotic. Magic has rules!!!
Well, to those people, I say... It's your campaign, you make up the rules! Not all spells need to function the same way! For example, if I'm running a game with an OSR ruleset that doesn't use components for magic and a Magic-User asks me if he can have a spell from another OSR book that states a dragon tooth is required to cast it, I'd say "Sure, but this spell does require a dragon tooth, even if most spells in our game don't require components." It's fine to mix-and-match! Let's say you find an awesome OSR supplement for spells for variant arcane spellcasting classes but your own OSR campaign just has the Magic-User. Don't over-think it, just let the Magic-User get access to those spells. Variety won't hurt your game. (A great sourcebook for spells is Theorems & Thaumaturgy!)
Now, let's say you want to use different rules for magic from time to time, there's many ways to justify that in your campaign. If you're starting a new one, simply state that the flow of magic makes it an uncertain thing and a spellcaster never knows exactly how magic can react from day to day. Or you could set it according to the stars and moon, where a Magic-User who keeps track of the in-game calendar will know how magic will work on specific days. It can define your campaign as much as who is the current king, if not more! If you like that idea but the rules for magic in your setting have already been set in stone, just have something big happen that changes the nature of magic, making it more unpredictable! (The arrival of a god, a magic ritual, a dimensional rift... There's plenty of reasons one can find!)
Example: On nights of full moon, Magic-Users must use the Dangerous Sorcery rules from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque II.
Example 2: "No one knows how magic can react in a day... It is why Magic-Users should always use their spells only when truly needed!"
Making a game a bit more unpredictable can keep it fresh and exciting for everyone involved. Nothing should be set in stone, especially not in OSR!