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Wizard Guilds or Pacts Instead of Spell-Casting Classes?

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Wizard casting a spellWe had an interesting discussion during my Sunday Game yesterday. One of my players suggested that since using cult rules instead of clerical classes seemed to be working, perhaps I should consider eliminating remaining two spell-casting classes in Gryphons & Gramarye and replace them with a Wizard Guild that worked like a cult but provided spell-casting benefits instead of miracles from deities in exchange for a percentage of all treasure found. This would allow any class willing to pay the price in treasure(and advance in level much more slowly as the Guild's share of one's treasure would not count for experience), to cast arcane magic in addition to their normal class abilities.

The idea is interesting, but I immediately thought of a problem. With divine cults, if a character decides not to pay his treasure tithe, his cult benefits (including the ability to ask for miracles) would simply disappear as none of the cult abilities really come from training the character received, but rather power channeled from the cult deity. Since arcane magic comes from training, it wouldn't make much in-game sense for all a character's Wizard Guild abilities to just go away because the character stopped paying his Guild tithe of treasure found. After some discussion, we came up with a couple of possible solutions to this issue.

First option: The Wizard's Guild is just a special form of a divine cult for a greater deity of magic. While special training is required to cast arcane magic, one also needs to be in the good graces of this deity of magic or your spells just fail. Therefore, no treasure tithe means no spell casting just like it means no prayers or miracles in a normal divine cult. The main problem with this is it really limits evil mages as the deity could just take their magic away if they got too "uppity". This does not fit many worlds. Of course, there could be multiple deities of magic.

Second Option: Characters keep their spell-casting powers if they stop paying their guild treasure tithe (as training doesn't just disappear), but the guild has no tolerance for "dropouts" who continue to practice magic, sending assassins after them and otherwise making their life hell. If that doesn't work, they could always declare "open session" on the rogue caster where a reward would be offered for his death (something like a "Wizard's March" in Ars Magica). Unfortunately, for this to be a real deterrent, GMs would have to be willing to kill off characters who defied the guild. I'm not sure that's really all that likely in the average game group.

This morning, I thought of a third option. There isn't a guild that trains arcane casters. Instead arcane casters get their abilities from pacts with demonlords, angelic lords, or similar planar powers. The level of pact determines what powers are granted and those casters who fail to keep their end of the bargain lose their powers and/or have an offended planar power and its minions after them.

In any case, the levels of guild membership (or of pacts) and the abilities they grant would be something like:

Apprentice: Can buy spell scrolls from the Guild at cost. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. (5% Treasure Tithe.)

Journeyman: Can buy spell scrolls from Guild at cost. They can automatically cast spells from scrolls if the level of the spell is equal to their level divided by 2 -- no roll needed. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. They can perform ritual magic. They can record spells from scrolls in their grimoire for use in ritual casting and for memorization if they achieve master level. (20% Treasure Tithe.)

Master: Can buy spell scrolls from Guild at cost. They can automatically cast spells from scrolls if the level of the spell is equal to their level divided by 2 -- no roll needed. If they fail to cast a spell from a scroll, the writing does not fade, they just lose hit points. They can perform ritual magic. They can record spells from scrolls in their grimoire for use in ritual casting and for memorization. They can cast spells from memory. They can memorization up to their level in spells from their grimoire. (40% Treasure Tithe.)

If I did something like this with Gryphons & Gramarye, the number of classes would drop from five to three: Fighters, Hunters, and Scouts.

I'd like to know what you think of this idea. Is it worth working out in detail and playtesting or is it too different from of standard old school play to be something you'd be interested in? If you have any interesting other ideas for how something like this might work, I'd also love to hear them -- but be aware that by posting them you are giving me permission to use them in future free games.


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5 comments:
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JB said...
August 24, 2015 at 4:49 PM  

Huh. I am totally unfamiliar with the cult rules you're talking about, but the concept you outline sounds pretty cool...very "swords&sorcery"-esque.

Regarding your three options for making it work, I prefer the 2nd and 3rd to the 1st. However, there's a 4th option found in pages of S&S books: the requirement of a one-time sacrifice for knowledge. This could be any number of things, depending on the particular guild: giving up an eye or two (a la Odin) for knowledge, or one's right arm, or 20 years of your life for training. Lots of different possibilities, and the option to "ramp up" the sacrifice to obtain different levels of training.

Very cool indeed.

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Marty said...
August 24, 2015 at 6:11 PM  

Another option: the guild uses a geas to ensure that members remain in good standing. This also has some storytelling potential.

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Matthew Skail said...
August 25, 2015 at 3:26 AM  

Another option, casting magic requires mind expanding drugs, rare reagents, and hyper complex astrological rituals to attune a caster. Without these being used regularly, the knowledge is useless (you know how to shoot a gun but lack ammo).

I've not heard of G&G till now, but I really like the RQ vibe.

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Matthew Skail said...
August 25, 2015 at 3:27 AM  

Sorry...meant to say the guilds provide those things so you need to tithe regularly.

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Bannister Nicholas said...
September 2, 2015 at 1:12 PM  

I think the Scroll option works best. You're not giving them the spells to learn, you're selling them scrolls of the magic. Possibly it 'works' but is not able to be scribed into the players books. If you don't hand over your monthly tithe, you lose the rights to purchase scrolls at cost, instead at retail price..250% mark-up for non-members

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