Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Abracadabra, Hocus Pocus and Alakazam
The Sorcery! line of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks is one of the great overlooked masterpieces of pulp fantasy. Yes, I'm serious. If you've never read them, or have some sort of misguided prejudice against gamebooks, I'd say you need to do some serious thinking about your life and the way it's going.
Anyway, one of my favourite aspects of Sorcery! is that in order to cast spells, the player is forced to memorise certain code words. As with most aspects of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, this is achieved through a strict honour system which naturally nobody ever follows; if you play by the rules you're not allowed to look up the code word when trying to cast a spell, and instead have to guess or recall from memory. The code words are simple (zed, mib, hig, that sort of thing) so it isn't a particularly onerous task, but when you guess wrong and cast a completely inappropriate spell it injects a dose of light-hearted weirdness that I used to really appreciate. (Of course, I would usually then go back to the previous entry and guess again until I got the right phrase.)
I've sometimes thought about introducing some sort of system of magic words for D&D spells, so that instead of Vanican spellcasting a wizard can cast any spell according to his experience level - provided the player can get the word right without looking. Of course, for every new magic user character you'd have to randomly generate new words, in order to prevent it from being too easy. And you would only allow the player about a minute to try to memorize all the different code words. There would also have to be a system of random effects if a mistake were made. People being turned into frogs and the like.
I can't quite decide whether this would be inspired genius, amusing distraction, or idiotic annoyance and mood spoiler. Probably the latter.