[Eye of the Qlippothim] Mid-August Progress Update

The Sigillum DEI, from John Dee's Mysteriorum Liber Secundus.

I drove myself to work on Eye of Qlippothim this weekend, mainly sitting down at the computer to continue pulling together the various bits of magic systems from all over GURPS Thaumatology to create a flexible, open-ended alternative to the standard GURPS spell system.

Picking Up the Threads

It’d been a while since I worked with the rules document, so I found myself scratching my head in a few places. “Why did I do that? Is it supposed to be a skill modifier, rather than margin of success?”

Originally the plan was to use margin of success as the determining factor for all of a spell’s parameters: how long it lasts, the area it covers, how far it goes, all that. However, I also want to use the familiarity table for range. Instead of worrying about physical distance, a wizard has to be symbolically close to their intended subject: know them intimately or have a link to them, like a treasured lucky charm or sample of blood. If this system is intended to encourage players to accumulate lots of sympathetic modifiers, which it is, then it seems wise to prompt that upfront. Damage and duration can run off margin of success, because they should be unpredictable. But players should be able to judge with more accuracy whether their spell will hit its target, so I think it’s sensible that range work as a skill modifier, so they can figure right from the get-go what kind of bonuses they need to collect to offset penalties.

Organizing My Thoughts Through Rule Aids

In addition to a document collecting and organizing the various rules bits for this system — for which I still haven’t settled on a name; Decanic Realm magic? Hermetic Realm magic? Hermetic Astrology magic? — I’ve been working on GM screen inserts[1] and a “quick and dirty guide to casting magic” sheet for players. One could argue I am putting the cart before the horse, creating accessories before getting the rules completely sorted out, but I’m finding it helpful.

Not only do I vary the work, so I’m not constantly focusing on making all the disparate rules align, which is my least favorite part of the project, but creating the player aid helps me get the process organized in my head. I realize there are missing steps, or that it makes more sense for figuring familiarity range to go before rolling the dice, and so on.

Ever Onward

Until the rules and players collide in a playtest, I don’t think I can make much more progress on them. That won’t happen until Fall-loha at the earliest. So now I will turn back to character creation — I have a healthy list of concepts brainstormed over the weekend and I have GURPS Cabal to plunder for its own concept list — and developing the plot and non-player characters; the latter’s always a rough spot for me. I’m trying hard this time, I promise!


[1] Incidentally, I decided to do this screen in landscape orientation. Whether I buy the premade screen by Hammerdog Games or build my own out of foamcore, I think I will prefer the lower height, which allows my voice to carry and hides less of the table from view. On the downside, I’ll have to create my own front-side inserts, as there aren’t any genre-suitable landscape screens to repurpose, but that’s not a big deal. I already have some ideas in that direction.

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My Carnage in Wonderland Schedule

Despite knowing for months now what I want to run at Carnage this year, it took me way too long to come up convention book descriptions. That (embarrassingly minor) task is done, though, so now I turn to the great work of pulling together the many disparate threads to weave into two different wholes.

For the curious, Friday night you will find me continuing the saga of Ghostbusters International-Boston in GURPS Ghostbusters: The Girl in the Looking Glass. This one is based on my own starting premise and ideas gleaned from that game of InSpectres back in June:

There’s strange doings at the Fleming Museum. A phantasmal cat has been spied stalking the premises. Students attest to long, involved, ultimately unrewarding conversations with a giant caterpillar sucking on a hookah. The lead curator has gone missing, last seen walking into the newest exhibit: a recreation of Charles Dodgson’s study. Suit up, Ghostbusters! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this frightfully cheerful role-playing adventure.

Saturday night is a rather bolder move on my part, returning to the world of the Cabal I only got to skirt last summer in a stalled campaign. Martense College and its surroundings have lurked in the back of my head ever since then and lately I’ve gotten a lot of interesting ideas to inject into the setting. Travel with me, if you will, into GURPS Cabal: Eye of the Qlippothim:

Looking at sedate Martense College, hidden in the rolling green hills of New England, one would never guess at the secrets lurking beneath its liberal arts exterior. (Most of the time) out of sight of the unsuspecting public lies the black school within a school, the scholomance of the Cabal, educating the next generation of wizards, vampires, faeries and more.

And if a lively student body weren’t enough, reptoid hunting parties stalk the night, redcaps make mischief in the village and the hill clans of Luke’s Notch strike pacts with entities not seen in Creation since before the Great Flood. The lodge members of the Wheel of Ptah have their hands full. Join the fun! Characters are provided and no experience is necessary for this adventure, which uses a variant magic system from GURPS Thaumatology.

Yes, it’s that variant magic system. I’m really going to do this and I’m really going to make it work. August is my month to design and playtest of Eye of the Qlippothim, as I’d really like to give it a runthrough at Fall-loha.

[Broken Spokes] Keeping Magic Simple, Stupid

I think I may have been looking at this magic system swap-out for Broken Spokes from the wrong angle. At its root, this is about making life easy for me and the players. Rather than learning the complicated interactions GURPS‘ magic colleges, spells and their prerequisites, a realms-based system should be about presenting a significantly shorter list of things to remember, with the decanic modifiers as an add-on that players can benefit from and learn as needed.

With the goal of making this easy for everyone in mind, is it really sensible to go about building a whole new array of realms, or welding something from Mage: the Ascension to the Cabal setting? After all, the spell colleges as written are actually kind of a cornerstone of the cosmology of the Four Realms, in that the decans are wellsprings of form that trickle down to the material world.

Even if I don’t necessarily agree with the divisions of the colleges — Protection and Warning? Really? — it’d certainly be easiest to take them as written. They’re already mapped to the decans for me, after all.

And in the spirit of that apocryphal quote from George Patton, why not just do it? At worst, I don’t like the way they play and then I move on to one of my alternate realm schemes, right?

Addendum: Saturday afternoon, I started putting a reference document together, pulling options together from across the pages of GURPS Thaumatology. It is more than a little dizzying. There’s a fair bit of flipping back and forth through the flexible magic chapter, referencing tables in the appendices — which I am not looking forward to recreating in a word processing document — and being distracted by potential options: “Hm, do I want to add the threshold limitation to this system? That could be fun.” I’m going to stick with keeping it simple for now; spending fatigue points ought to be a sufficient brake on the wackiness.