Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Carrot, Less Stick

An interesting discussion has occurred over at the NERO forums regarding my post about Pulling Marshals out of Formal Magic Rituals.

The question became, what is the goal of the formal magic system? To give the casters an interesting RP experience, or to enrich the game with roleplay?

Truth is, in the current form, formal magic is a completely mechanical rules system. There's pages 2 full pages of walk-through on casting, and it all involves mechanical processes. In fact, the only requirement they have on the RP front is that observers can tell that it's a formal magic. The only mention of roleplaying is in the section where it says observers need to know that it's a formal magic or you are punished.

If you want to promote something, don't punish those who do it poorly. Praise the ones who do it well.

Something is wrong with the way formal magic works at NERO. We have tons of formal capable casters, but many of those players (probably a majority of those players) haven't ever cast formal magic, some of which aren't even interested in casting formal magic. We need to reduce punishments for casting formal magic, and increase the attractiveness for casting formal magic.

More Carrot, Less Stick

If it were up to me, I'd pretty much remove the backlash system altogether. It's been used too many times to deal with a bad guy in a way that wasn't intended. It puts unnecessary risk on a player who decides to try formal magic for the first time. It forces marshals to inject themselves into the situation, breaking immersion.

So now that we've removed the stick, let's add some carrot.

Deal with the quality of RP using IG means. Form a group that encourages work in formal magics and formal rituals. Players that perform well prepared and well roleplayed formal rituals would get positive attention from this group (perhaps in the form of scrolls, components, and plot), and players that actively perform poorly roleplayed rituals in public would not get attention from this group.

So the players that want to cast formal magic can do so. But the players who want to be a formalist will be rewarded for creativity and roleplay.

So, in the end, the only rituals that would need to be marshal'd are the PvP rituals, which isn't that big of a deal, as PvP often needs to be marshal'd anyways.

As an aside, Crimson made a suggestion about making the casting ritual more interactive for the caster. The marshal for the formal could interact with the caster, offering suggestions for roleplay, telling stories, etc. I would definitely appreciate that if I was casting a batch of magics for 30 minutes.

However, the problem still exists that it is not immersive for others. Usually we try to minimize the use of OOG marshals, and definitely try not to communicate with them in the middle of everything. Instead, with formal magic, we pretty put OOG marshals front and center.


  1. Personally, I think the biggest problem with Formal Magic is accessibility of scrolls, rather than the backlash system. It was decided way back at the 2001 symposium that the main limiting factor for formal use should be components, not scrolls. Ken Courtney proposed a system where any formal caster could use a relatively small amount of components to create any scroll as a 1st level formal spell, and I actually supported it but the other owners shot it down. I don't know if that's the best answer, or just making it standardized that all official town guilds need to have full formal libraries that they sell access to. Either way, a formal caster should be able to use their skills that they paid build points for. Far too often I see chapter staff who seem to think that they can artificially make formal casting "rare" and "cooler" by heavily restricting access to the best scrolls, and I think that's just wrong-headed thinking.

  2. While that might get more people casting formal, it's not going to necessarily improve the roleplaying of Formal Magic. And as long as you're going to have a backlash, you're going to need a marshal to make sure everything is legitimate.

  3. Mark Henry ~MariusJuly 6, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    I think many people pursue formal levels now for the cantrips and have no intention of casting actual rituals.

    I can do all these cool cantrips (magic effects) with no hassle or spend a significant time, a lot of rules, and in a lot of cases a lot of walking (tag print/find marshall) to do another magic effect. It's not surprising to see people will take the short road for an immediate reward than spend a lot of effort for a long term reward.

    Cantrips have some powerful effects. Casters need less magic items to still be very effective. The rogues and warriors are the ones who take the hit cause they rely on magic items or others to be effective.

    Another possibility is for plot to put out more scrolls and less items.

    Back on topic though, I agree Formal needs simplified and perhaps more people would give it a shot.

  4. I saw an interesting approach in an Accelerant game. If you're creating an item, you actually need to summon a magical spirit. Item creation involves communicating with that spirit for a period of time. You give it your components, and it may send you on a quest related to that item's purpose. For example if you're creating a lizard man slaying sword, it'll send you on a mission to kill lizard men, basically giving the sword a taste of that creature's blood. Whether the item works properly or is flawed has to do with how you interact with the spirit and how well you do on that quest.

    Essentially, they've made the formal marshal into an NPC who actually observes the ritual. The spirit is probably more impressed if you do "wizardy" things like burning candles and incense, chanting in arcane tongues, wiggling your fingers, etc.

  5. The problem as I see it is that there are two major movements that are a bit counter to one another. On one hand, you have those wanting to pull the OOG-ness out of formals and remove staff burden as much as possible. On the other, you have those wanting to make formals more interesting and appealing.

    I'll preface this by saying I'm just spit-balling an idea as it's forming. And yes, I know it does have elements of OOG-ness and requiring staff marshaling, but unlike many I don't always see that as a bad thing (many of the marshaled formals like Crimson is describing have been some of my favorite NERO memories, and many of them involved a number of players other than myself as the caster). I'll also freely admit that I'm a bit of a "formal junkie", and have had two characters who almost always cast at least one formal every reset period while they had formal skill.

    I wouldn't do away with the backlash table entirely, but I would change things a bit and go back a bit towards the days of "flaw surfing".

    Have 3 categories for casting:
    5 min autosuccess, player marshaled
    xx min marshaled ritual with "interesting effect" table
    1 hour dark territory with "backlash" table

    For dark territory, perhaps tweak the success/fail/backlash percentages and overhaul the backlash table to include a portion of odd/interesting but not necessarily beneficial or harmful.

    For the "interesting effect" table, divide it into categories that range from cool positive to annoying/hindering negative, and include a block that is basically "no effect". It wouldn't even need to be powerful, permanent effects, but as an example I know I'd be jumping to cast formal if I thought I might have a chance of getting a resist magic (for example) to use by the end of the event, or maybe an item I was creating might get a once ever random effect. Oh the other end of the scale, maybe I might end up taking double damage from ice based attacks until reset.

    You could take this a step further by modifying it based on the caster's formal skill vs the level of the scroll, and even allow them to expend extra levels to further modify their chances.

    What I've never understood is why some staff seem so set on restricting and limiting formal magic. In my mind, that's the opposite of what they should be doing, as it takes components out of the system which makes fewer of them available for cantrips.

  6. I could definitely get behind the magic spirit system of Accelerant. The biggest thing is that players are supposed to ignore that person marshaling the ritual. If others can see, hear, and possibly interact with that "spirit," it won't break immersion.

    As for those fun moments interacting with a marshal, I'm going back to what Ashe said. That's a plot moment that you can do privately outside of prying eyes. No reason to have an OOG person hanging out in everyone's vision.

    But I am a huge fan of bringing back flaw surfing.

  7. @Bill - Maybe I'm just the minority here, but having an OOG marshal hanging around something, whether it be an encounter, a formal, or whatnot, doesn't bother me in the least if they're doing their job right and making an effort not to be obtrusive. Then again, that is the core of a lot of my opinions about the "problems" many people raise with NERO; in a lot of cases there wouldn't be a problem or need for more rules/rulings if staff were actively enforcing what's already there (like the safe combat dead horse).

    But I will concede that a lot of the cool marshal/plot interactions in formals have been in at least semi-private settings, either in a cabin or a lodge, on a mod, or just off away from the main traffic areas of the site.

  8. I agree that there are some conflicting agendas at work with regard to changing the formal system, but I don't see it as necessarily "less OOG vs. more interesting." There are several distinct choices available if one were to design a revamp, and they're not necessarily linked, but which one you choose will probably depend on your priorities.

    1-Do you want a staff member to have to be there? (IG as a spirit of magic, or OOG as a marshall)- upside is they can provide elements unanticipated by players and ensure rules are followed, downside is you lose a staff member to deal with it

    2-If so, do you want interactivity? This could come in the form of described interactions with a marshal, or interactions with an NPC.

    3-Are you okay with OOG interactions being a part of the experience (OOG marshal, descriptors, etc.)? Upside is some people enjoy the "DM'd experience", downside is some despise it, and it's not enjoyable or immersive for onlookers. I'm not sure if the folks who love that experience would enjoy it less if it were an IG interaction with an NPC as opposed to an OOG description.

    4-Do you want random elements (rolling dice, etc. This could theoretically be something done in monster camp before the formal, so it's not necessarily OOG). Some people dig the random element, but it can be really frustrating or story-derailing, or punish players.

    5-Do you want theatricality (Roleplay, performance, props etc to depict the casting of the ritual)? It's pretty tough to force "good roleplay" as a mechanic, especially when there's no IG method to drive it. And if you're the one performing, it can get dull after a while, unless there is some interactivity to drive the theatrics. But for many people, cool, impressive looking ritual performances is the point of formal magic systems.

    Personally, I could go either way on 1, but if you're going to go yes on that, then it should be interactive as well, and the staff member should be IG as an NPC. Which means changing the formal rules to allow you to talk to them, because muttering to yourself gets dead boring after a while. 3 is an emphatic "no" for me, cause if I wanted a DM'd experience, I'd play D&D. 4 is "no" for me as well, I just think it's not worth the hassle, but clearly some people disagree. If there's going to be a random element, it needs to be delivered in an IG fashion by the NPC, and be able to be affected by interactions with the NPC. Theatricality is cool, and makes sense if there's some kind of IG motivation to impress/appease the NPC, as Dan mentioned. Otherwise, you've just got to set some minimum standard, and understand that not every PC formal will be epic.

    TL;DR- When people talk about making the formal system cooler or more interesting, they are talking about totally different things 90% of the time ;) Bill's idea of splitting formals into categories of which are worth the fuss of requiring a staff member's time, and which are not, is a sound one. It splits the difference on what "better" formal magic would be.

    Most of the chapters I've played have historically made scroll libraries available to PCs through guilds. Scroll upkeep is generally only required if you want to carry a scroll around at all times, if you want a very rare scroll (like a specific transform), or if you're planning on doing something secretive/illegal with it. (And for all I know , some of them may have shady-people illicit scroll libraries available through NPCs). At any rate, if a chapter isn't making scroll use available to PCs through IG means other than treasure distro, I respectfully submit that they are doing it wrong. Though the new treasure distro does make it a lot easier to put out 1-effect MIs as formal scrolls.

  9. As a player with a bit of (celestial) formal magic, I will say that I love doing rituals and I love roleplaying them. I agree with the commenter above that my problem is the availability of scrolls - I haven't owned a formal scroll since 2001. The chapter I play in (KY) has an okay Earth guild library, but basically nothing celestial to use. I would love to use my components for rituals instead of cantrips, but as things are right now, cantrips are my only use for the 100 build I've spent on formal casting. I like formal casting so much, and get to do it so rarely, that I almost squeal with girlish glee when I get to cast a ritual.

    The only chapter I've played at where scroll "check-out" was an assumed thing has been War. I will admit I don't travel much any more - stupid real job and its no free time. In old Kzoo and Midwest, if you didn't have a tagged scroll, no ritual for you.