The Pillars of Our Magic: Story, Collaboration, and Magic

My work on the game is coalescing into stronger supports for play in three areas—story, collaboration, and magic—and these manifest themselves at all levels of the game.

In actual play, in the weekly playtest game, our time together is character-focused, with the story of how those characters change each other and the world being told equally by the players and by me as GM, and with magic at the heart of many of those changes.

The storyline we’re following at the moment is set at the beginning of the world. The characters have traveled here from the old universe and are helping the Eminence Serendipity create the distinctive touches of their new worldly province. The landscape and some starting points have been set by me, but the players get to add their own ideas of what will be cool in this world. The first settlement they named Shimmering, for the auroras of world-creating magic they encountered as they approached the place flying across the Inland Sea.

These are powerful, very high-level characters—three of the five are at 20th level in D&D terms and the others are approaching that—and their magic is similarly powerful, with the ability to create and change features of the world permanently. For the moment we’re still transitioning from them drawing on the conveniently available world-creating magic still lingering about the place. But after they make use of that to shape this first settlement and their own appearances and belongings, they’ll need to start relying on their own magic even more. When they do, they’ll find that they increasingly need to combine their magics to achieve the desired results. That need to collaborate will benefit from the foundation of “Yes, and…” which we’re establishing in this starting point of profound abundance.

In the player-facing game mechanics, they are experiencing encouragement toward collaboration in the way spellcasting works: they combine spells and spell parameters into a single, shared casting. This means that one of them can contribute the highest rank parameters which can make the effects permanent, while the others can put in lower ranks that do enough to create what they’re envisioning. The players discuss the change in reality that they want to make and then bring it into being together.

Their character sheets strongly emphasize magic. The character sheets are designed so that the player will not generally need to consult the Player’s Guide and so include all the details of what they can do magically. This makes the character sheets a kind of character-specific mini-guide; long for a character sheet, but handy and not requiring devices at the table (should we ever be so lucky as to play in person). In their pre-graphic-design stage for playtesting, the character sheets are particularly long and laid out in shared Google Docs which makes them even harder to condense. One of these fully maxed out character sheets has 24 pages of which 20 are spell and parameter details. (A starting character is more like 7 pages of spell and parameter info in this unoptimized layout.) That’s 12 (or 4) sheets double-sided, which isn’t too bad.

Of the four pages at the front, about a third of that is devoted to magical matters. It lists their element magics and how they spellcast (which Aspect stat they use, style notes, spellcasting points), space to note magical items they’re carrying, and has descriptions of all the element magics at a high level with space for notes about the magic of others in their party for spell collaborating.

Storytelling is incorporated on the character sheet at the top with their Role in the group (what they bring to the team), their people (physical kin) and culture, their philosophy and the Eminence they honor, and on the entire second page with descriptive notes, space for dreams/wishes/quests/goals, life experiences, and social connections (gifts given / resource for). If my current playtesters are typical, the half-page space for items they carry will also be full of story as they often make objects for each other with their magic.

The remaining space carries the essential game mechanics of the character’s Aspects (the eight core stats of the game), any skills the characters have which draw on each of those, and any currently active bonuses or constraints.

As the GM, I can make use of some of these same tools for my own game mediating purposes. Character Roles are not a “job”, like classes are in many games, but rather a social function. I can use those as GM as a quick shorthand to find NPC archetypes by combining one of the 10 Roles with one of the 8 Aspects, perhaps drawing on the skills that use that Aspect.

For example, if I randomize or decide that the NPC they’re meeting is a Guide Role with a strong Banter Aspect, I can look through the skills and spot something appropriate for the story. Let’s say the party is in a village and getting advice about how to reach that mountain pass where the caravan had trouble with wild magic. Hostcraft is a Banter skill, so let’s make their potentially helpful NPC a chatty tavernkeep in this place on the edge of the settled region. The Guide Role’s touchstones are “alert, adaptable, attuned, oversensitive” and the description is “The Guide finds the way and keeps the beat.”

Now I have basically everything I need to play that NPC. Their story emerges immediately: they’re watchful and adaptable enough to put their business out here on the edge of the settled zone, and they’re inclined to give travel advice, but they’re a little bit easily offended. They can be won back around with some good dance music, though.

As GM I’ll work extensively with magic since up to 20% of the time some positive or negative extra magical effect will emerge through wild success or wild failure when spellcasting. (Collaborating helps to reduce this volatility, another way the game encourages mutual aid.) I can use this to inject story hooks or just to provide prompts for the characters to react to. For example, one of the low level wild failure effects is “Cut: Something gets unpleasantly cut, whether a small cut on a person or a cut through a fabric or leather object” and its wild success counterpart is “Cut: A useful cutting, e.g. a haircut, or the weakening of a constraining rope, or the trimming of grasses”. What exactly happens then becomes a collaborative story among everyone at the table.

In general, Our Magic is designed for the GM to suggest the framework for results of player rolls—e.g. “You thought it wasn’t going to work, but at the last moment you succeeded.”—while allowing the players to suggest their own interpretations of the specifics. Everyone at the table collaborates on what happens in the story, and as such the game helps to avoid the issue of active vs. inactive players (which can be a drag in complex combat simulation games).

All these aspects are also supported through the worldbuilding. Kabalor is a wildly magical place, full of abundant opportunity for adventure, and a shared culture of mutual aid in the settled places, where all kinds of stories can unfold together.

Author: Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg

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