I’ve been working on RPG rules for Ilder’en and the stories I write for a long time. Seeing as this is GENCON week, I thought I should at least cover some of it in general terms.
First off I don’t have much interest in designing combat systems and the general rules of the world (movement, economy, etc.) so I’m inclined to use another system as a base and just work under a OGL or some similar license agreement. I’ve designed portions of it with DCC rules and other parts with OpenQuest, testing things out to find the right system. I just stumbled onto Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I love the attitude but I need to look into it more. I’ve also tried Sorcerer and FATE, but neither fit.
Of course the temptation to design it from scratch is strong and I think I have some cool ideas, but I have to be careful because I don’t want to half-ass the parts I don’t care about. What I care about is designing magic systems and crazy extraplanar stuff. I have a vision of what I want the magic system to be, but executing it properly is where I get tripped up. I want to model the way esotericism has been believed to work in the real world by those who historically practiced it. This is not a new concept, Nephilim, Kult and The Whispering Vault spring to mind readily.
What I want to do is scale things so that the vast majority of magic easily available to the PC’s is very subtle. No flashy spells at first level. Magic Missile, Web, Levitation and Burning Hands are all struck from the early spell lists. A beginning sorcerer might be able to hypnotize a willing or restrained subject and maybe get a few random clairvoyant flashes, but they can’t hurl combat spells that blast their enemies or Spider Climb up a castle wall. They must supplement their feeble powers with trickery, poisons, drugs, pyrotechnic powders and simple deception. Maintaining a reputation as a dangerous wizard is almost more vital than the dregs of real wizardry they’ve managed to claw for. This lack of real power only begins to right itself after the mage reaches high level. This is to incentivise players to consider making pacts with the forces of darkness for quick power at the risk of their souls and the party’s peace of mind and to reward the player who has the patience and determination to learn their craft the long and hard way.
Rituals are lengthy baroque affairs that require months of initial preparation to build a functional sanctum and hours to actually cast. Mostly the results manifest as probability shifts to make something more likely, or force events to come about in highly unlikely and unusual ways. Malefic Rituals can drive an enemy to madness or kill them with a disease, but they are normally limited to causing things that could have happened anyway in the natural course of events. Demons and angels very rarely can be made to visibly appear. Doing so is a dangerous and highly advanced procedure. Mostly they appear in the scrying glass or speak telepathically. Most often nothing otherworldly occurs during rituals. When it does there is always the possibility that the voices the mage is hearing are all in his head. All magic that flagrantly violates the natural order of the world is high level. A saint or demi-god could throw a fireball or fly but it would be a miracle for a normal mortal to achieve the same feat.
I want the entire spectrum between these two vastly divergent power levels to co-exist and be playable. A first level character can start as a nobody mortal and fight their way into the ranks of the gods. And I want the god-level characters to be fully playable and integrated into both the world and the rules system. At low level the party may make a doomed pact with a devil and at the end of the campaign, they may have become devils who are brokering pacts with mortals to maintain their infernal power base. The rules should work from both sides of the same transaction.