Monday, 10 August 2009

Elementary, My Dear Watson

A friend linked me up to Elements, a free and horrendously addictive strategic online card game in the mold of Magic: The Gathering. Try it and enjoy it, but be forewarned: the thing makes crack cocaine seem like marmite.

Anyway, it got me thinking about one part of 2nd edition AD&D that I really think was poorly executed - specialty mages. A nice concept in theory, but very bland in practice. It added a very small dose of extra flavour to the magic-user concept, but many of the schools of magic were vastly superior to others and it all seemed rather dry.

Elements demonstrates exactly how to pull off a flavourful magic system: wizards are defined by elemental type (air, earth, fire, water, light, dark, death, life, entropy, gravity, time, and aether), each with its own set of spells which summon creatures, conjur items and so on. (I assume this is what goes on in Magic: The Gathering too; I've never played it.) Each element has a very different tone and feel, and offers genuinely interesting options - rather than 2nd edition AD&D's approach of "you get an extra spell but can't take certain other spells".

Maybe when Yoon-Suin is done and dusted I'll think about a book of Elemental Magic. That sort of thing has undoubtedly been done before, but I'll do it better


  1. Like specialty priests, I think the key to making specialist wizards shine is in the DM's world design. Like in my Aura Storm campaign, you could be a Conjurer, Enchanter, Necromancer or generalist mage - however, the Conjurers were the oldest Guild and most well informed as to how the world really worked, the Enchanters were the most politically influential, the Necromancers were undeath worshippers, and mere mages were hunted and outcast. The spell point system from PO:S&M also made a difference.

  2. Oh man, why did you show me this game!

  3. Elements... Interesting. As a Magic player it feels kind of autopilot-ey, but I could see some hours dissapearing to it.
    Specialist mages were my favorite part of 2nd edition, so even with their flaws I was happy to have them.

  4. One of the things I really like about the wizard class in D&D 3x and 4e is that starting wizards have a bit more flexibility, in that they start with more than 1 spell.

    I was trying to teach a friend to play Basic D&D and he was so turned off the idea of only being able to cast 1 spell per day. It's so incongruent with what a new generation of gamers are used to, due to their exposure to Harry Potter and WoW, for example.

  5. Short simple and insane: Each type of wizard uses a different edition.

    No, screw that. Each different type of wizard uses spells from a whole different GAME.

    Wizards are crazy nutjobs with arcane powers the likes of which other men have never seen right? This is why the fucker is showing up with an Arduin Grimoire fireball.

    Convert each spell on the spot for that "oh my god, what did that do, did that spell actually work?" feeling.

  6. Mothman's: Those are good ideas - but it definitely requires work on the part of the DM. I think that straight-out-of-the-box it's a different matter.

    Mike D.: Because if I know more people are playing it I feel less guilty about wasting two hours on it yesterday when I should have been working!

    Blotz: It feels autopilot-ey to me too, but in a strange way that's almost part of the addiction. Are you a serious Magic player? I mean you go to conventions and tournaments and such?

    Christian: 1 spell a day is part of the charm, I think, but yes, definitely not what people are used to these days.

    Zak: That reminds me a little bit of how magic in Planescape worked. You can cast a spell, but whether it works, fails, or does something completely unexpected is down to where you are.