Friday, 9 September 2011

Magic Systems based upon the Goetia.

So today I'm thinking about magic systems, or more importantly implementable magic systems for roguelikes. I haven't yet got around to implementing magic in Kharne, and I want to make sure the system I do choose works.

I'm tempted to implement a magic system modelled upon the Goetia:

The interaction between the magician and the summoned spirits in Goetic magick is quite unique. Whereas in some traditions, spirits are prayed to or asked for guidance and wisdom, the spirits and demons of Goetia are bound and commanded by the magician to act as his servants. In such an interaction, it is highly important for the magician to be aware that he is calling upon these spirits to perform an action, rather than do it himself, because many of these beings are more powerful than him. Therefore, compelling the spirits to obey is a major concern. For protection, the magician employs elaborate circles and
rotes to confine the spirit. Once confined, the spirit must be forced to act in accordance with the will of the magician. Many different methods are employed to compel the spirits; lesser spirits can often be coerced, threatened or fooled into compliance, whereas more powerful spirits can be more difficult to control.

Common methods of control include threats, particularly in the form of the vibration of divine names, which tells the demon or spirit that the magician speaks with the authority and power of the god whose name he intoning. Some magicians will try to persuade the spirit, sometimes resorting to begging and bootlicking. In many cases, the magician may try to bargain with the spirit, to which it will most likely happily agree, exchanging service for sacrifice of some kind.

The various Goetic demons and beings are often very specialized. Grimoires list long catalogues of spirits, their specific powers, and how they may be summoned by the use of different seals, incantations, sacrifices and incenses. Before conjuration, the magician must carefully consult these catalogues and select the single spirit best suited for the task.

The Goetic spirits are not well suited to conversation, as are the Enochian angels. The lesser spirits are often stupid and are not known for their honesty. Summoning of the demons for the purpose of gaining information is generally a waste of time, unless perhaps the being is specifically ordered to spy or seek out information for the magician.

i..e magic is essentially summoning creatures to do your will, and which creature you summon and bind depends on what effect you wish to create; also, summoning will have a cost.

In other words, instead of _yet another fireball spell_, you summon a creature of fire at a specific location for a certain period of time. The effectiveness of this (how long the spirit stays, how effective it is and so on) could depend on your reputation with the bosses/factions of the fire spirits/how much you've sacrificed.

It seems sufficiently orthogonal to conventional DnD-based magic systems that it may make for an interesting twist on roguelike gameplay.



Tom said...


quite a bit of Hellband is based on those works. Note that even for lesser spirits the magician requires a circle of protection which must not be broken and the magician must remain inside. Not very convenient for dungeon exploring ;]


Nolithius said...

I'm all for making magic more interesting than, as you say, yet another fireball spell.

The challenge with this particular system is its heavy reliance on summoning; but you can use this in your favor by creating interesting choices for the user with regards to the protection spells. For example, it might be a viable option to summon a spirit you know you cannot control as a last-ditch option against a nasty opponent.

You can also create a sort of "fey hierarchy", so that certain spirits will not cross you in the presence of their superiors. Monsters can have guardian spirits, which you might nullify with your own, or bind them to your will if powerful enough.

Maintaining a spirit's favor can be important, as well. A particular spirit you've pissed off might be less likely to cooperate.

There are interesting options as far as cursing items with a damaging spirit, for example, then planting that item in a monster's inventory or surroundings.

In these sorts of magic systems there is usually a high level of uncertainty, which you can model by having a number of reagents required for summoning/protection, not all of which need necessarily be used (in exchange for lesser odds of success, of course).

Essentially, you'd be narrowing the focus, but exploring the summoning system more deeply, which can certainly be a lot more valuable than having the same ol' magic varieties.

Go for it!

Ebyan "Nolithius" Alvarez-Buylla

Dave said...

Tom, cheers for that tip, I'll check it out. Ebyan, cheers for that further info, that has been quite helpful in kick-starting a few ideas I've got.

Nolithius said...

You can throw in some surprises as well, such as the spirits receiving random bonuses when they're summoned, or giving you mini-objectives to gain their favor or bonus XP; simple things like "Kill a monster with a dagger to gain bonus XP", or "Gain bonus favor if this spirit deals the killing blow to a monster", or surprise ways to elongate their stay: "Sacrifice a gold piece per turn to maintain binding.".

The random bonuses could also work against you, too: the same protections that worked once might not work another time. The trick here is to manage the unpredictability so that it's chaotic enough to be risky, but not so much so that no one uses it.

Best of luck!

Ebyan "Nolithius" Alvarez-Buylla

Granite26 said...

Fireballs are popular because they give the player a simple action ranged attack based on magic skill.

How would you cope with that? If the verbage is different but it's still just keypress directed damage, who cares? If it's not, how do you make wizarding a fun option?

I.e. how do you kill a rat with magic?

Nolithius said...

@Granite26 The trouble with trying to do something new is there is always a reason not to, lest we dare disturb the status quo.

The question is not "How would you kill a rat with magic?" but "Why would you bother harnessing the power of magic to kill a rat?".

The problem this system addresses is the ubiquitous simplification of magic into magic missiles and fireballs. We take fireballs for granted because they're a trope of the genre and wizardry in general (likely copied wholesale from The Hobbit, where Gandalf rains balls of fire on the Goblins), but if you consider the tradition of magic folklore, the ability to create a ball of fire from nothing is an almost godlike pursuit, compared to summoning and binding a spirit. I'm by no means insinuating that "it makes more sense", but that it's an avenue of magic in games that has been rarely explored.

It's important to set a clear expectation to the player, through worldbuilding, atmosphere, and clear UI feedback, that this form of magic isn't the same as usual, and not meant to be wasted on measly rats. It's certainly much more than renaming "Fireball" to "Summon Fire Demon".

Ebyan "Nolithius" Alvarez-Buylla

Dave said...

Aye, and the more I think about it, "summon fire spirit to kill a rat" isn't really the milieu I'm after.

Assume our only source of "magic" is summoning creatures. I see several possibilities:

1) Evoking into an item, effectively creating a talisman. Or to you and me, a magic sword of whatever.

2) Evoking into your presence for a task. This task might be "protect me" (and it would kill the rat for you?) or "sacrifice yourself for me" (this would be contested to say the least)

3) Invoking into youself, e.g. "Lend me your power!"

Now, I'm considering all of these, but what if the character can only work with a certain number of spirits at once (or, to borrow a concept from DnD - a certain HD worth)?

Given the spirits mentioned in the actual Goetia cover a wide range of (effectively) functions, I could see there to be great room for tactical gameplay if we ensure our own simulation is as effective and wideranging..