Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Magic in Clout

My friend James asked me about magic in Clout. I'll answer that in a second, but let me talk about James a bit first.

One Christmas in the late 1970's, James got Dungeons & Dragons (the "Holmes" edition) as a gift. He showed his friend Donald, who showed it to me, and my life has never been the same. I don't know what ever became of Donald, but James and I became lifelong friends. When my mom passed away earlier this year, James was the only non-family member to attend the service.

James is good people.

Anyway, James asked me how magic is going to work in Clout.

Short Answer

It won't. That is to say that the first release of Clout will not have a magic system included at all. There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1: The Intended Flavor of Clout

The first reason is that Clout games are meant to be played in over-the-top pulpy fantasy worlds, like those seen in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian or George Lucas's Indiana Jones. In those settings the heroes never use magic; it is only an obstacle that they must overcome.

Reason 2: It's Your World

The second reason is that defining a magic system defines the very nature of the world. One of the core objectives of Clout is to allow the judge to use the game world of his own desire. You can't do that if the magic system is already defined in the rules. The way magic works is very different between Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dying Earth, and just about any other fantasy world you can think of. Trying to shoehorn one world into another world's magic system changes the world.

Magic in My Current World

There is magic in my playtest world, but it's out of reach of mere humans. In my world only bloodthirsty demons can cast spells. Very brave (and stupid?) humans will often seek out demons and serve them in exchange for magical favors. By definition, anyone willing to serve a demon is evil.

The demons require two things from their human supplicants: favors and sacrifices. Every time that a wizard/supplicant requests a magical favor ("spell") from his demon, the demon demand flesh and blood:

2Bull/Infirm Person
6Human Infant

A noble counts as one level higher. So a virgin princess can be sacrificed for a 6-point spell.

The sacrifice must be enough to completely power the spell. Six hens will get six 1-point spells, not a 6-point spell!

The costs of spells are based on it's overall power level. Healing a wound would be 1 point while raising the dead would be 7.

The intent was to create a truly evil magic system. In the game world, it will be clear that most wizards are evil. Maybe there's the good hearted old woman who will only sacrifice a hen to heal her sick neighbor. but the demon knows that it's only a matter of time before the temptation of power corrupts her. Even if it doesn't, her power will attract another supplicant with greater ambitions...

Yes, wizards are evil. It's a good thing that there are heroes to rise up to confront them!


  1. Very interesting approach. The demon magic system had a bit of shock value at first, but reading through and seeing what you're going for I can understand that.
    Given your statement about people creating their own world though, would Clout allow for someone to inject their own magic system? Say if in the lore of their tale, some element was discovered which could act as a catalyst for basic spells or matter manipulation?

  2. Thank you for you comment!

    The demon magic system was inspired as a way to answer the question "What make a wizard evil?" and "Why do they need to be dealt with?"

    Clout absolutely allows you to inject your own magic system. That's the point I was trying to make, and the whole point in me not including one by default. The only "problem" (some might consider it a benefit) if that you have to do all the heavy lifting yourself--figuring out how it works, and balancing it against other aspects of the game.

    I can see a couple of approaches for your example, which I'll call Eludium based magic. If everyone in the world can manipulate Elidium to cast spells, I would just add a new skill called "Eludium Manipulation." If it's an ability that only a few people possess, I would make it a tag "#Elidium Mage" or some such.

    Once you decide on the approach, then you have to decide how to actually implement it. Are you going to keep careful track over how much Eludium the character acquires then deduct from that each time they use it? That requires a lot more book-keeping, but it introduces a resource-tracking element to the game. Personally I'd be inclined to go more abstract and just assume that the player has a stash of Elidium, but use it as a complication on a mediocre roll. "Your spell worked, but it used the last of your Eludium. You'll have to get some more somehow before you can cast another spell."

    Thanks again for your comment!

    1. Thanks for the thorough response! It's interesting to see into the thought behind the mechanic, and I appreciate the Eludium example. The latter case, where the material is factored in as a natural response to roll rather than a detail to track, feels very Clout-ish from having read the other posts.
      Look forward to more posts forthcoming!