Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Magic is Not Science

Nearly the entirety of the fantasy genre embraces magic as a dangerous, unpredictable force. Those who practice it are looked upon with some combination of fear, suspicion, and awe. Historically, those who were accused of practicing witchcraft or sorcery were ostracized and usually killed in some horrific fashion, like being tied to a post and immolated. Yet, if you pick up any recent edition of the world's premiere roleplaying game, there are no consequences for using your arcane powers carelessly. Even worse, failed castings seldom result in the kind of catastrophic misfires one expects from reading any amount of fantasy lore.

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG reintroduces that danger. You'll never see a Wizard or an Elf cast a spell to illuminate a room. They'll never cast Cantrip (Prestidigitation) to impress their slow-witted friends by levitating their mugs of ale at the tavern. The risk is simply too great. When the time comes to invoke their arcane powers, Wizards will make pacts with demons, cut off fingers, cast aside prized possession to ensure they achieve the maximum effect.

Unlike D&D, you make a spell check each and every time you cast a spell in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Rolling less than twelve is always a failure. Rolling a natural 1 means dire consequences. You will lose that spell for the day, suffer a misfire, and you may gain corruption. Conversely, the higher your roll, the more powerful the effect, which allows the lower level spells to remain useful for the entire game.

Another major difference is the availability of schools and libraries from which to conduct your research. In DCC RPG, they do not exist. A Wizard's spellbook is guarded with his life. Most arcane knowledge is accumulated by exploring the dangerous parts of the world, taking to the planar realm, or doing the bidding of dark forces.

I find this take refreshing. The versions in Pathfinder and D&D feel too much like an exact science. Perhaps the best way to sum up this representation of arcane power comes from Joseph Goodman himself: "Low level wizards fear for their lives whereas high level Wizards fear for their souls."

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