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#1 Tue, Mar30 2010 11:13pm

Gavin
Skilled Artisan
From: Canada
Registered: Wed, Jan30 2008
Posts: 916

Re-imagining magic in Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP) Notes, etc..

Hi all.

(Also posted on Other Minds)

Spurred into some form of action by a thread on RPG.net, I returned to one of my many, dangling, Middle-earth related projects floating around my head and hard drives.

Inspired by an old post by Chris Seeman (on MERP.com, I think!) I came to the conclusion that magic in Middle-earth is an expression of will. A rather fascistic concept, one might think, but its an idea that finds a lot of play in various genre sources in the 20th century.

Anyway.

I came to the conclusion that in terms of rules and drama, performing a magic action is an exercise of will, summoning divine spirit, and contesting against an enemy, an adversary or a situation.  Spells are described in metaphorical or similaic terms: like a spell, like a bolt of light. Gandalf certainly does things that are closer to traditional spells, but I'll worry about him later. Besides he doesn't do it terribly often. What's more magic is seen as (as in Norse myth) something unclean, unmanly, sort of cowardly, possibly even superstitious. The Riders of Rohan have no dealings with magic, we are told.

So magic-use is sort of rare, sort of metaphorical, often subtle. And its called upon by many different characters who are not magic-user sorts, or who aren't even scholarly. (Theoden blows the Horn of Rohan on the Pelennor, breaking the horn, but driving his men towards victory, and scaring the bejesus out of the Witch-king) Fortunately MERP accidentally models this idea: Power Points. 

Willpower is represented by the MERP Power Points level. Thus a magically inclined character (ie, a Mage, Animist, etc) is one with great mental resources, with great willpower. The greater a character's willpower, the more supernatural power they have.

At its heart, working magic is a static manoeuvre (page 243 of the MERP rulebook). "Working" magic is thus an action akin to Interaction & Influence rolls, Read Rune rolls or Perception and Track rolls.

Thus a character announces what he or she wants to do, and the GM decides how difficult it will be. Each use of magic costs a Power Point. More power points can be spent to reduce the difficulty rating. This costs two power points per difficulty rating (ie, spend 14 power points to reduce the difficulty from Absurd to Light).

Each "spell" is "cast" for a turn. Stretching the effect to another turn costs the same amount of power points. (Thus Gandalf adds a +80 difficulty to the Moria Goblins' action of breaking the door down, and must maintain that effect for several turns. Eventually either Gandalf's power or luck runs out.)

Each spell is a static manoeuvre; to do so on the move modifies the SM roll by -20 to -50 depending on the GM's desires.

A character casting a spell against someone is effectively placing a negative modifier on the enemy. The magician puts a -10 modifier on the enemy for each point of Power used. A Dunedan magician bends his will against that Orc captain, spends 10 points of Power and reduces the Orc Captain's Offensive Bonus by 100. The demoralised, enchanted Orc is thus easy pickings for the heroic Elf warrior to slay.

A character casting a spell in support of someone is placing a positive modifier on an ally. The magician puts a +10 modifier on the friendly character for each power point spent. The above-mentioned Dunedan magician bends his will towards his Dwarven ally, spends 5 points of power, giving the Dwarf a +50 to his attack bonus for that round.

This means magic costs a lot, and should only be used for dramatic moments (just like the books).

Thoughts? Enhancements? (I suspect this lot needs a list of about twenty or so "spells" - ie canned magical actions to inspire the players)

Gavin

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#2 Wed, Mar31 2010 8:49am

Arthadan
Traveller
From: Spain
Registered: Fri, Nov6 2009
Posts: 425

Re: Re-imagining magic in Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP) Notes, etc..

If we go canon, there are not such things as animists in Middle-earth, the power of the Valar cannot be channeled since they floowed an strict non direct intervention policy in Middle-earth affairs after the War of Wrath (the only thing they did was sending the Istari).

Then, I think we can make a classification, roughly as follows:

- People able to cast spells, such Gandalf or Lúthien: They can *try* to do whatever they want to (twist the Natural Laws a bit, casting spells). Even Gandalf needs wood to lit a magical fire, so it's not what I would call "high fantasy magic" (no teleportation, resurrection, limb regeneration and so).

- People with innate magical skills, such Beorn: They're usually limited to a single skill they can use at will and is strongly related to lineage (a king's line).

- People with no magical skills that has one "magical momment": The commoner who make a prophecy, Théoden blowing his horn until breaking it and so. I think these are manifestations of the subtle magic of Middle-earth combined with the will of the individual. But the person alone cannot work magic. In game terms, I'll use as requisite a dramatically scene and a huge use of points of power. And of course, the result wouldn't be fireballs falling from the sky wink

There is a thread about magic in the Ambarquenta forum (a new rule system developped by fans for ME).


To mortal fields say farewell,
Middle-earth forsaking!
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.

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#3 Wed, Mar31 2010 9:12am

protozeus
Adventurer
From: A Cave in the Woods
Registered: Fri, Sep19 2008
Posts: 243

Re: Re-imagining magic in Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP) Notes, etc..

Arthadan wrote:

If we go canon, there are not such things as animists in Middle-earth, the power of the Valar cannot be channeled since they floowed an strict non direct intervention policy in Middle-earth affairs after the War of Wrath (the only thing they did was sending the Istari).

Hmm, I would adopt a (RPG-classic) difference between a "cleric / priest" character type, channeling magic from a higher deity (e.g., the Valar, very rare or not even appropriate here, I agree), and an "animist", drawing more from nature / local Maiar / Middle Earth itself (their magic  should perhaps also depend on the location, Old Wood, Fangorn, Dead Marshes ...). Just a thought ...


ménin aeíde, theá, beórnou órkeiphágou!

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#4 Wed, Mar31 2010 3:28pm

Arthadan
Traveller
From: Spain
Registered: Fri, Nov6 2009
Posts: 425

Re: Re-imagining magic in Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP) Notes, etc..

There are no evidence of such animists in the canon, Master Protozeus. In fact the *only* Vala or Maia who ever dispersed his own power over Middle-earth was Morgoth, but then we would be speaking about Sorcery.


To mortal fields say farewell,
Middle-earth forsaking!
In Elvenhome a clear bell
in the high tower is shaking.

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#5 Wed, Mar31 2010 7:56pm

Gavin
Skilled Artisan
From: Canada
Registered: Wed, Jan30 2008
Posts: 916

Re: Re-imagining magic in Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP) Notes, etc..

Arthedan is absolutely correct.

How-and-ever, one notion I was noodling around with recently that there are "magical traditions" in Middle-earth for MERP, which really represent skill-sets of lore and language and...some sort of magical capability. The traditions would be inspired by the five canonical Istari:

Primarily would be a "Saruman" tradition, probably taught to young Dunedain scholars at Isengard (or wherever, before).  Traditional spell base magic, all about rotes and learning and scholarship.

A Radagast tradition of healing, herbalism, weather-lore - something closer to the MERP idea of the animist without dealing with the Dungeons and Dragons baggage associated with the character class. The only reason I haven't ditched the class is because of the Mithril connection: there's a bunch of Mithril miniature animist characters. I just like the connection smile

And finally, a Gandalf tradition based on Gandalf teachings, imparted in rare and informal sessions, using elements of the other two.

Of course now that I've written it down here, I don't like it big_smile

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