Some Observations on DCC Magic

Some of the initial honey-moon sheen is coming off of DCC.  I mean, we all still love it, but now that we’ve been playing it for a couple months, we’re starting to find the bits that are something of a headache.

The magic system is one of the biggest things that stands out as unique to DCC that keeps it from just being a stripped down 3e.  From what I see on the net, it’s very much a love it or hate thing for some folks.  We’re still enjoying it, but it has its issues.

Without spellbooks, MUs function a lot like the Sorcerers in 3e, and with the random spell selection, it’s hard to make decent strategic spell selections or develop your character as you would in a game like AD&D or Holmes Basic.  The Mercurial Magic table offers a lot of neat and wild effects, brutal and grisly spellburns can supercharge your casting, and the crazy range of effects each spell gives off after its cast gives a really unique flavor to the magic in DCC.  But maybe it is a bit too complicated.

A long time ago, I’d extolled the virtues of low-level play because players need only be aware of a handful of rules general to the game and one or two exclusive to their class; a 1st level mage typically must know one additional rule: their 1st level spell.  In a system where 1st level mages have more extensive spell books, they might need to know a couple extra rules, but each spell is really just a single new rule, described in a couple sentences, that a player must be aware of.  The problem we’re having with magic in DCC is that a spell is not just one more rule but two or more tables – an entire page of rules – for each spell they know.  And frankly, that’s not something that players can just remember.

Where in B/X, you always have a general idea of what your spell does and how it works. At most you might need to brush up on some language or check the range if you’re trying something weird.  In DCC any spellcasting is going to involve a quick but thorough review of at least a full page possible outcomes of casting the spell.  And when you’re sharing one, at most two, copies of the DCC rules, it can drag combat to a screeching halt.

We had our first battle that involved an enemy magic user, and our party now has several casters.  It was actually a push-over battle, but it felt far more arduous than it actually was because the DM and the three casters at the table had to keep passing the book back and forth, checking our ranges, effects and rolling on spell result tables.  DCC is in desperate need of a discount players’ edition.  The DCC core book is one of the most beautiful game books I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the most impractical.  If you’re in a game where not everyone has a copy of the book, it’s helpful for the book to be smaller and lighter than a cinder block.

That said, I don’t have a problem with the magic system itself.  The flavor of the various effects have as big an impact at the table as the mechanics behind the spell.  And one advantage, I suppose, of the complexities of the various manifestations of spells is that it does keep players in the dark as to what they’re up against; for the same reason a MU player has to check the book every time he casts, it’s harder to meta-game and be able to call whatever spell is being cast against the party.

It’s beautiful to watch: when a party doesn’t know EXACTLY what they’re facing, they assume the worst.  In my old B/X game, a wizard who’d cast mirror image and shield was perceived as an unstoppable monster because he would swat arrows out of the air instead of attacks just missing him; that detail had my players so freaked out that they didn’t stop to think “maybe he just has improved AC against missiles”.  In our game the other night, an enemy caster just mangled herself to cast a maxed out version of shield.  Or at least we think it was shield.  Big black rift in space surrounding the caster, projectiles and even spells having no effect…  Everyone was completely terrified of it… until we just bum-rushed her and killed her one or two hits.

So, I LIKE that there are weird crazy spell manifestations and the spells have varied effects based on the wizard’s strength and their roll, but moreso than any RPG I’ve played, MU players need their own copy of the rules or photocopies of their spells.  There’s too much to memorize and too much to short-hand onto your character sheet.

A part of me is hoping my spellsword will die so I have an excuse to play my thief again without being the guy who alternates between characters.  She’s in a bit of demand, though.  My having said she might be around somewhere as a back-up got retconned by the rest of the party into “she’s back at the town; let’s take this chest back to town for her to search it for traps.”  If anything, I’d be one less person having to toss the book around like a hot-potato any time combat rolled around if I switched back to a non-MU class.

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One response to “Some Observations on DCC Magic

  1. Pingback: The DCC Honeymoon Is Over | Cirsova

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