A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
— attributed to George S. Patton1
One of the components of the Broken Spokes campaign / adventure framework that I have yet to solve to my satisfaction is the magic system. See, I like the flavor of GURPS Cabal‘s decanic magic: the thirty-six decans of the Zodiac, the aethyrs that control them, the color and symbolic correspondences, all that. But I’m not a fan of the rules underneath it, GURPS‘ many and narrowly defined spell lists. It’s a chore making spell-casting characters and either making cheat-sheets for the players, referring to books or trying to keep the details in mind. I’m much more comfortable with the freeform sort of system one finds in Mage: the Ascension.
So GURPS Thaumatology should be my best friend, right? It’s a toolkit book on creating magic systems that has a section on realm-based magic, which is essentially the freeform sphere magic of Mage. That should make ginning up my own system easy.
Only, it’s not, as I am too damn picky. Most of the decans correspond one to one with GURPS‘ colleges of magic, which separate spells into categories like Sound, Animal or Technology. I do not necessarily agree with or find useful some of the distinctions those spell colleges make. So I want different categories or realms, but of a number that the decans are still useful to some degree. I’ve got some possibilities in mind, but none of them are fitting just right:
Mage: the Ascension’s Spheres
There are nine of ’em. Drop Prime, because it doesn’t work in the context of GURPS Cabal and split Entropy into Death and Fate, as Mage: the Awakening did and you’ve still got nine. That divides evenly into thirty-six, at least, but that’s also a lot of unoccupied decans. Does that matter? I was never going to use those anyway.
On reflection, I could go from decans to the planets, or maybe astrological houses. GURPS Thaumatology conveniently has correspondences for those too, but Mars and Aries are much less spooky that Harpax and Anoster. I could use the number, but swap in decan names.
Alternately, leave Prime in as the “meta-magic” realm and that makes ten. It’s not mystically resonant, nor does it divide evenly into thirty-six.
On further reflection, including Spirit might be that smart, in that it creates a similar issue I never reconciled in Mage: when most of the universe the mages careen through is made of Spirit, that would be a highly abused sphere, wouldn’t it?
There’s a magic system for FUDGE called the Gramarye. It has twelve realms, which again I do not entirely agree with, probably because they’re meant to work with a “mythical medieval Europe” and I’m a practical twenty-first century kind of guy. While twelve is a pretty good number, I’m not down with distinguishing Animal from Body, or breaking Illusion — essentially Sense — away from Mind.
Gramarye also has “colleges,” which others might considers verbs or techniques. These are ably covered by the GURPS version of realms being divided into levels that break down how a mage affects things within that realm.
An oldie but a goodie, Ars Magica is, so far as I know, the prime source, if not progenitor, of the idea of a magic system where areas and types of influence are combined in different ways. Ignoring the techniques, or verbs, there are ten forms, or nouns. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with some of the divisions, even in light of the intent for them to reflect the worldview of the wizards who composed them. In fact, the forms of Ars Magica are awfully similar to the realms of Gramarye. Huh.
In which I take a bit of this, a bit of that. Consider these two lists:
| Mage: the Ascension Spheres
|| Gallimaufry Realms
I started with the nine spheres from Mage, eliminated Spirit, split Entropy into Death and Fate, redistributed the contents of Forces and Matter among the classical four elements, which is in keeping with the cosmology of the Cabal’s universe and renamed Prime to Mana because that’s a Mage thing.
It introduces new corner cases. Where does a tree fall, besides the forest? Life when it’s alive; that’s easy. And when the wood has died? Death? Earth? Neither is terribly satisfying and it can’t fall under Matter because Matter’s gone. And what about light? Is that an aspect of Fire?
Numerically, the gallimaufry is one shy of a happy dozen. What else could go there? Light? Void?
And so finally we come to the possibly apocryphal quote that kicked off this post. I do not have an ideal solution in hand. So I should just pick something and forge ahead. If it doesn’t work, I can review and retool. When everything is made up, it’s all entirely revisable.
In a situation like this, I think it’s best to do something decent, rather than wait for the inspiration to strike that provides something perfect. So my gut instinct is to use the spheres from Mage without faffing around with the gallimaufry approach. They’re familiar, I’m comfortable with the divisions and they’re easy to teach. But it doesn’t seem right.
Do you have a suggestion of another realm-like configuration to consider? I like to think I’m open to new approaches on this.
1 I can’t find an authoritative source showing Patton wrote or said that, just “witty quotes” sites like BrainyQuotes.com attributing it to him. There are enough variations in wording that it makes me wonder if it’s one of those nuggets of wisdom that just floats around the sphere of human knowledge.