Friday, January 15, 2016

Principles of Magic 1: Oracle Dice (in LSotN)

I had one of those moments where pieces started falling into places and I'm happy to report that Lost Songs of the Nibelungs is now complete. At least in my head. Oracle Dice and Magic had been the two great unknowns so far and I had been looking for something that connects them and also works well with the system. What I came up with is bordering on the esoteric, but make no mistake: I'll only be using what I need and make the rest up as I see fit. This is about magic in a role playing game, not about magic in the "real world".

They knew their dice in 550 AD (the Platonic solids)

Alright, so I didn't know that someone actually found an ancient Roman d20:

How awesome is this! [source]
My first thought had been something like "I wonder what games they played with it ..." and my second thought had been about those symbols. But the first thing I found when googling about was that they already had an idea of the geometric forms we use in our favorite games. And not only that, they went as far as stating that those forms are the underlying structures of our world.

Here they are: d4, d6, d8, d12, d20 [source]
There had been four Platonic solids in the beginning (d4, d6, d8, d20), Aristotle had the idea of a fifth element he called Aether (d12) and those ideas might actually be far, far older than that, as there are theories that those Carved Stone Balls they found in Scotland could be somehow related to the same concepts ... But honestly, who cares. All I could think was: DICE! They had them, so using them in a pseudo historical setting is actually fitting.

So Sacred Geometry had been the next logic step, to be honest. Symmetry, the Golden Ratio, the ancient meanings of those beloved geometric forms needed exploring exploiting. At this point I'm still not as much reading as looking for connections. Okay, okay, there is a connection between those geometric forms and the elements. The d4 is fire, d6 is earth, d8 is air, the d12 is Aether and the d20 is water. There are 5 of them, so the union of them is actually a pentagram! That's nice. Golden ratio, magical symbolism, it's all in there. It's all done.

And there is some additional meaning. Fire is transformation, Earth is stability, Air is Change, Aether is Potential and Water is Protection. I can see it shaping up, but there is still something missing. The connection to that game I'm writing is still at large.

So where is that d10?

Yes, that one form is missing. It's one of those rare occasions where the d12 gets more love than the d10. And right there is the missing link: there is the 3d10 Random Territory Generator I use to build the world for the characters of Lost Songs and characters have 10 levels. And that is, again, a Platonic idea: macrocosm and microcosm! So the basic structure of the world and the development of the individual in Lost Songs are somehow connected to 10.

My next thought had been that I need to cook down those 3d10, so taking digit sum seemed to be my best shot. But that'd only result in digits between 1 and 9, so the 10 is actually missing. That worried me for a short time, but then I realized that the missing digit couldn't be anything else but the individuals shaping the world, which brought me full circle: the 10 is the key hole for magic, this is where the individual, be it god or fairy or human, step in to alter reality.

This is magic in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs ...

What we have here is a basic understanding how the world works and an idea how to change that. Let's have the ideas so far combined in one picture:

There is no system to speak of yet, but all the ingredients are there. The last important connection here is between the main Quality to weave magic (Wits) and the five elements and since every Quality has 5 advancement levels in LSotN, we have our first rule of magic: a character can handle 1 element per quality advancement in Wits.

This is where it gets a bit more complicated. We have 5 dice for the elements. It would be nice to have them connecting in a way consistent with Lost Songs, so doubles and triples are interesting, as are 1s and maximum results (as it is in Combat). That means (for one) that it might be useful to have a wizard roll all 5 dice at one point, but doing so every time seems like a bad idea, so how about doing something like D&D (for a change) and have them do it every morning during meditation (just like memorizing, well, close enough).

So they roll the 5 dice and read them, choosing a number of dice according to their level and as they see fit. Doubles, triples and so on, may draw additional dice into a wizards daily pool. This is a bit tricky, because it means that only the numbers 1 to 4 have the potential to trigger in all 5 elements at once, which means those numbers are STRONG. But I love the rule "high is good" and I won't start to change that with the game I'm writing, so there is a second layer to this where a high result with a die makes him ENERGETIC. And a third layer would be BALANCE, where all results synchronize ...

That's that in a nutshell. Expect me expanding on that in the near future. But the reason for this post, other than introducing the whole concept as complete as possible, was explaining the Oracle Dice. This is where it all connects to a World Engine.

No shit, the Oracle Dice are Noircana reloaded

Some of you might remember (okay, 2013, who am I kidding ... but please, play along) the vivid exchange I had with Porky (where are you, man?!) and Garrisonjames a few years ago about a system that would connect the basic values of a world with the rules of interacting with said world in a way that'd make it possible to trace everything back to it's source because of the signature things have.

This gives me hope that I finally arrived at a workable solution of the problem that came along with the idea. So what are the Oracle Dice? They are the big picture mirroring what wizards do to cast magic and that'd be the 5 elemental dice. This is what happens: the DM is to roll the elemental dice before characters are going on a quest and keeps that result during the whole adventure. Those are the Oracle dice and they connect to the surroundings in two ways. The first is the digit sum of the hex-field the characters are moving in (1 to 9) and to all magic that is done in the area (10).

It's a bit like the idea of environmental dice for combat. There are (as of now) three important rules: (1) a one with an Oracle Die is static, (2) every time a caster comes up with a double, triple and so on, it results in a local effect and the triggered Oracle Dice are re-rolled and (3) when Oracle Dice form doubles, triples and so on, there'll be a negative local phenomenon in effect.

That'll mean in the game that local wizards will be aware of the presence of other casters and might even get an idea what magic they did (and where). There is also the idea of Balance. Balance for Oracle Dice is when all dice are either maxed out or synchronized with the digit sum of an area. Holy man are considered the agents to bring that balance (every time they achieve that they should be allowed to let some wonders happen). Balance, of course, is always threatened ...

Final thoughts: if during a quest, for whatever reasons, all Oracle Dice change to be 1s, it results in a local cataclysm of sorts. If a wizards comes up with a 1 for an element already showing a 1, it might produce an additional die of the same element that stays in the area. There is three kinds of magic: ancient sorcery (classic education, "spells"), having fairy blood (wild magic) and holy men (a chosen path). Aether is what Spirit was on the character sheet and still the currency for casting anything in Lost Songs. Saves connect to this, of course, reducing Aether (Sanity Save) and potentially Wyrd. Ley lines will get interesting again. This system will be able to drive the narrative in unexpected and random directions in a meaningful way ...

And that is it

I know, it's a lot to begin with, but it is all there and connected (well, I already got some loose ideas for more, but this is what I can already tell). Now it needs lists and more lists, some reworking of Level Advancement and testing, testing, testing. But I already see the light at the end of the tunnel. Although I don't know how much I'll have to change in the future, I know that the ideas formulated above show the direction Lost Song is taking right now and might give those following the development of the game give an idea what the whole thing will look like :)

Oh, and one final thing: I know this all seems brutally complex right now, but the way it is set up, the heavy lifting is all with the DM. It will be an easy transition for the players (start tinkering with 1 element at a time, see what happens, get better at it over time as a player and with advancement, that kind of thing).

More when I get there. Opinions, ideas and impressions are, as always, very welcome!


  1. It all sounds very cool.
    Like I told you when we were chatting, I think I need to see the system in action to really "get" how all the moving parts interact, that might just be how my brain is wired.
    Just from reading it, I'm excited by all the possibilities presented.

    1. Thanks, Mark! I know it's all very theoretic at this point. But I believe it won't take long from that point onward to formulate a system using those ideas. Character reads 5 dice in the morning, takes what he thinks best and works with it as his level and his Aether Pool allows. It'll be interesting to think about local effects in this one. Maybe local wizards get the advantage of storing dice and are able to influence, for instance, the local weather (like Saruman in the LotR movies) and make life harder for the players (forcing saves on them). Either way, if someone uses magic, it'll have a ripple effect in the system and the story at the table ... We will have that wizard duel, we talked about, soon :)

  2. Looking forward to it!
    Beware, my D4 game is strong!

    1. Challenge accepted! And now that I think about it (Gandalf and so on), staffs and amulets should be very interesting in this, maybe to channel Aether or force doubles? Hm ...

    2. Focus item allows the re-roll of 1 die?

    3. Hm. Possible. What I had in mind was, that wizards could store dice (numbers) in items and use them instead of the dice rolled, which, of course, seems very much like the re-roll you suggest. But I'd like to keep what's rolled active, even if a wizards gets alternatives. Maybe especially because? Mostly because the local effect of summoning/gathering magic is as important as what a wizard decides to do with it ...

    4. SOunds good to me :)
      Leeds to a situation where what you Gather might be better than what's in your staff any way and that's a good thing also.

    5. Should also have characters ending up with all kinds of arcane trinkets and scrolls, mumbling crazy stuff about the stars not being right and so on ;) Had a friend aske me how'd a wizard would be prepare to find a dragon, and the most logical answer was, he'd wait for dice to fall "right" and that's a lot of classic fantasy right there!

  3. looking forward to trying it out as well

    1. Thanks! Next thing I'll work on (after level advancement) will be a little duel system to test this outside the game and see what's what. So I hope you'll get your chance soon!

  4. You had best be careful about what you are doing, because if I read this correctly, if you roll incorrectly it theoretically could rip a hole in space changing the nature of time as well as the flow of reality irreversibly altering all life as we know it. Now I'm not saying not to do it, I'm just telling you that if this happens than my insurance rates are going to go through the roof.

    1. Events of world shattering consequence aren't planned until the third expansion. So you'll have more than enough time to get your things in order. We do care, you know :)

      (And that's exactly what could happen. The tentacles need to come from somewhere, right? Thanks for the vote of confidence!)


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