[Runequest] RQIII Sorcery historical brain dump

David Cake dave at difference.com.au
Thu Jul 14 03:16:18 EST 2011

	A pretty long post here - going back to debates of the early 
to mid-90s or so. Many thousands of words were spoken on the subject 
of sorcery then, so even trying to briefly summarise has ended up a 
bit long.
	There are basically two big balance problems with RQ3 
sorcery, both of which are manifestations of the same problem - it 
scales very differently to other forms of magic.
	At the low end, where most beginning PCs are, both divine and 
spirit magic users are usually effectively using some mix of spirit 
magic and divine magic spells, mostly spirit magic, which mostly is 
giving them a few spells at a reasonable chance of creating a 
moderately powerful effect (with a few 1 use divine spells that give 
them a very high chance of often a modestly more powerful effect). In 
contrast sorcery spells are a very small chance at beginning PC 
level, and increasingly only slowly - but if a PC has even limited 
manipulation skills, they usually have a very small number of spells 
and so a large Free Int, and so while their chance of casting is 
small, such spells can be very powerful. It could be quite annoying 
for a GM - magic for spirit or divine casters was usually more or 
less a classic tactical decision (expending slightly more resources 
than a physical action, and modestly more effective, etc), for a low 
level PC sorcery was more like a crap shoot - a tiny chance of a 
hugely effective spell. Annoying to the players if it failed, 
annoying to the GM is it succeeded and threw the whole balance of the 
scenario out. The sorcery rules tended to maintain the same 'all or 
nothing at the whim of chance' feel in a lot of small ways.
	At the high end, the problem was different. Divine and Spirit 
magicians at a high power level both had their magical effectiveness 
increase with POW invested, in a more or less linear way. Divine 
magicians got more spells (and more enchants), Spirit magicians got 
more points of fetch (or more points invested in enchants, especially 
bound spirits). For sorcerers, POW was of secondary importance 
(except for creating enchantments). It took forever to get to the 
adept level, but once you got there, it was obsessively about 
effective Free INT, and a few points invested in items for Duration, 
etc. In particular every point of extra Duration effectively doubled 
the number of spells maintained at once, so the effective increase in 
sorcerous power for investing a point of POW was limited, 
exponential. It was very easy to create sorcerous characters who had 
spells that seemed to change the game in in profound ways (such as 
characters who could keep spells up on the entire party permanently).
	And in addition, high level sorcery managed to combine being 
both potentially overpowering, and being pretty dull. Both divine and 
spirit magic users had some flexibility - they could add new spells 
without a huge amount of trouble (maybe investing a point of POW or 
two), but sorcerers who wanted to gain a new spell might have to 
spend literally years to do so effectively (in order to train it up 
to a useful level where it would be worth casting in combat) - so 
sorcerers where very flexible in how they used the spells they had, 
but very limited in their ability to acquire new spells. And while a 
lot of Duration was the key to being a powerful and effective 
sorcerer, in practice it was accompanied by a lot of tedious 
spreadsheet style calculations. Both overpowered AND tedious to play 
was not a winning combination.
	There were other problems as well - for example, experienced 
sorcerery users that were not magic specialists tended to either be 
utterly pointless (if they didn't have access to Intensity) or 
capable of a small number of relatively devastating spells
	And it was all very well to say that sorcerers were best 
suited to NPC use, but that would rule out several entire cultures.
	There were other aspects of sorcery that weren't really a big 
issue in play, but just didn't seem right. For example, high powered 
experienced sorcerers almost always became actually completely 
powerless without their magic devices, as there was a strong 
incentive to keep no spells in mind at all.
	And there was a question of the POW economy as well - 
presuming sorcerers ended up with roughly the same amount of POW gain 
rolls as other specialist magic users, where did it all go? Priests 
dumped it into divine magic, shamans into their fetch (and in 
practice, usually a fair bit of divine magic), sorcerer... presumably 
put it all into enchantments? So most sorcerous societies would have 
heaps of items hanging around? And while minor sorcerous items could 
be of very little use (you can cast a new spell - good - at your Int 
bonus % - not so good), powerful ones were incredibly useful  - so 
you had to presume that high level sorcery was all about getting just 
the right magic items (specifically, either items with heavily 
manipulated versions of spells you knew well). Which was OK... but a 
very different flavour to what most people had come to expect from 
	Actually, that was always a big problem with RQ3 Sorcery - it 
didn't seem to have a lot of Gloranthan flavour at all. Partially 
this was because we knew so little about the West, but it really did 
seem to be as most Malkioni sects consisted (in official game terms) 
of a single custom spell, and a rule about who you were allowed to 
Tap. Everything was puzzled out in Glorantha fandom.
	And lets not even get into the weirdness of the Familiar 
rules. There was a LOT of strange stuff in there, and they worked 
very oddly in practice.
	Anyway, RQ3 sorcery really came across as not well 
playtested, not very balanced, not very practical to play - but full 
of interesting ideas about how sorcery should work, and inspired a 
lot of interesting discussion and debate about the Western cultures, 
still very new to Glorantha fans at the time. As a result, there were 
a lot of variant sorcery rules floating around, in various states of 
completeness. I created one of the less baked sets - one of my big 
ideas was separating spells like Form Gold into separate Verb and 
Noun skills, in a system quite clearly derivative of Ars Magica (in 
retrospect, it was interesting, but probably a bad idea - and I never 
really playtested it myself - my Sog City based game that had got me 
interested in sorcery died, and I began to play in Prax like 
practically everyone else). A few other people made other sets - Paul 
Reilly, I think, was one? - and there was a lot of cross 
fertilisation of ideas. There was a draft set in the RQ4:AiG rules 
draft, that was the focus of a LOT of debate. And of course there was 
Sandys set of rules. All of these can probably be found out there 
somewhere. It was a pretty interesting time to be a RuneQuest rules 
	Most of the new rules had a few basic ideas in common. No one 
really liked Free Int, and the idea that master sorcerers carefully 
maintained clear empty minds with no spells in them - most people 
replaced free INT limits with skill based limits (eg Skill/5 or 
Skill/10) of some kind, perhaps with INT as an overall limit. Most 
dumped Duration, or at least its exponential nature. Mostly, it was 
replaced with the idea that the number of spells an adept sorcerer 
could maintain at once was based on a POW based state (thus making a 
sorcerers power scale roughly linearly with POW like priests and 
shamans did, at least in one major respect) usually referred to as 
Presence. Sandy introduced the idea that sorcerers were constrained 
by heaps of taboos and weird restrictions, and that they could 
significantly increase their Presence thereby, which sort of 
introduced some game-balance problems again, but at least ensured 
that said problems were likely to tightly coupled to *fun*, and 
filled with rich Gloranthan flavour.
	The problem was, no single set of these variant rules made it 
to anything like official status. RQ3 publications had the occasional 
Westerner in theme, but really only one published scenario dealt with 
sorcery in any detail. And nothing dealt with *playing* sorcerers, or 
really tried to deal with any of the rules problems mentioned above 
(indeed, in some ways the Arlaten scenario almost revelled in how 
weirdly sorcery fitted into the game). And so sorcery remained an 
unsatisfying and sort of messy set of rules until recently. 
Basically, heaps of interesting ideas for sorcery floated around, and 
most of them renain little developed since the mid-90s.

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