Monday, May 12, 2014

Quade's Grimoire: Diagramming Magic

In Mutant City Blues players choose their super-powers based on a chart called the Quade Diagram. First players pay points for a starting power. They can then purchase linked powers. Jumping to connected powers costs less than correlated ones, skips can be purchased, and certain flaws can be taken or bought past. The diagram itself comes from the fiction of the setting: powers are genetic and fall into regular patterns. But the Quade Diagram doesn’t simply serve as a structure for character creation. It also acts as a rubric for analyzing a scene. For example if investigators find evidence of magnetic powers and acid spitting at a location, they can infer that two distinct criminals were involved, based on how far apart those two power sets are. It can be useful for eliminating or restricting a suspect pool.

I love the idea of the Quade Diagram (though my friend Gene Ha disagrees with some of the organization). I’ve wondered if that could be usefully applied to other situations: the talents or effects of demons perhaps or maybe something for a world of battling crazed psychics (ala Double Cross). For a long time I’ve tried to figure out how it might be used with a fantasy game. In particular a city guards game, with an emphasis on investigation. Lorefinder, the GUMSHOE adaptation to Pathfinder, takes a more conventional approach. Could a diagram be done and would it be useful?

With the new Guards of Abashan game just beginning, I decided to give it a try. All of this is fairly preliminary, but you can see the diagram I put together below:

The game itself is our homebrew, with the latest version of the magic system. We’ve used that form of magic in three campaigns so far. The actual mechanics borrows from a couple of sources: Greg Christopher’s rethinking of Ars Magica and The Black Company/True Sorcery. Any spell has a rough effect based on the combination of method (what your trying to do) and medium (what you’re trying to do it to or with). Players learn those individual combinations as 'spell's but can modify then on the fly. To begin a Wizard picks one of the eight Schools of Magic. They’re shown as octagons on the sheet. That school defines the character’s starting spell. Players then branch out from there- buying connected spells. Shifts to other areas (designated by red lines) cost slightly more.

OK? So what does that do? Well it gives a little flavor and organizes the magic buying for PCs. It allows them to make some interesting decisions in advancement. Beyond that I’m hoping that will be a kind of fun resource in play. If they find evidence of X spell, they can make some judgments about the School or power level of that caster. I’m usually leery of reference charts and external material. But I think the chart’s easy enough to use that it won’t get in the way and slow things down. Instead it adds color and gives a puzzle sub-system for play. At least that’s how I picture it- we’ll see how it actually goes. One of the problems with this concept is that I had to invest the time in building the chart to actually try it out. I hope it doesn’t end up looking too much like a GURPS Magic pre-req chart.

Just looking at it before I put it into play, I see a couple of things. First, I went with the 8 method/16 mediums to create symmetry. I might want to go back and take a look at that in order to reduce the size of the chart. Second, everything’s a straight line with balanced costs, the only difference being the red line jumps. I wonder if playing with that would add some texture or just complicate things. Third, the original Quade Diagram includes weaknesses as well. I wonder if there might be some way to do that with magic: perhaps particular components or ritual requirement.

I should note that this chart just covers non-divine magic. I have another system for that where you roll a skill to get evidence about divine magic used. It does strike me that, depending on the world-building, you could muck with this in a number of ways. Suppose all magic comes from particular gods; they could be the starting poles in a magic structure. Or how about magic based on different races- with different sympathies tied to lineage (or families of magic).

Anyway, I’ll post more once I’ve seen this in play a few times. 

Some more details on the system behind this for those who want to see the crunchy bits.