Magic and runes

October 14, 2011|

Spell casting is an integral part of the diet of any healthy fantasy setting and there have been numerous different approaches to it in computer role playing games. To us, the systems where you pick a spell from a list have always felt very mundane: invoking magic should feel like you’re messing around with mystical forces instead of a spreadsheet! Runes are true and tested vessels for arcane power and they certainly make your imagination run wilder than text printed with Arial, size 12, so using them was a pretty obvious choice for us from the get go. And despite them being more abstract than writing, they still have the opportunity of having a logical underlying structure that prevents the spell casting system from turning into a bewildering mess where the player doesn’t have a chance to figure out what he’s actually doing. I’m here to explain a little bit of how we handle that logic and what our runes are.

Here’s our spell casting panel that you might have seen earlier:

How the runes are laid out in a 3 by 3 grid is already a major part of the logic since the placement of the runes bear a meaning. The pattern has a center rune and that center is surrounded by other runes along the outer edges of the pattern. The outer runes always have an opposite: the opposite of the rune in the lower left hand corner is the rune in the top right corner and so on. But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself now, it’s probably just better to go through the individual runes first and then we’ll get back to this.

Starting from the top left, we have:

Our first rune is fire, one of the elements. Elements are a major group of our runes and there are four elements and all of them reside in the corners of the pattern. You should be aware what fire is but just in case here’s a recap: it’s hot and it burns. This makes it very suitable for destructive powers.
Death is the force of vile deeds, cowardice and destruction and it is a very potent power for causing harm to others.
The element of air not only covers the air that we breathe but also the sky, storms and gases. It is also often used in conjunction with other less buoyant elements to help them float or fly.
This rune represents the immaterial world: the things that have no matter but which still exist. It used for invoking the forces of the mind, thought and spirituality. It is useful in spells that either enhance or disrupt the psyche of beings or to surpass the barriers of mundane senses.
This is the central rune and unlike the others it has no opposite. It represents everything, wholeness and unity. The invisible force that binds everything together while keeping them apart. Mortal spellcasters can only exploit a tiny sliver of the vast potential of this force and they usually use it to amplify their spells to affect larger wholes.
This represents the material world and strong physical forces. It helps otherwise immaterial things attain a more stable physical form or adds to the strength of otherwise weak phenomena.
Earth is a strong and stable element and it is useful in bolstering defences or for tapping power from the surrounding masses of rock, moss and plants.
This rune represents health, bravery and creation. It is a common rune in spells that aid, heal and assist.
Water in its all forms, be it liquid, solid or gaseous, is an easily manipulated medium for mixing with other powers but it can be also be the source of powerful freezing spells.
Now the runes opposite to each others should start to make a little more sense: life is opposed by death, earth by air, spirituality by physicality and they are all bound together around the center that represent the wholeness. The spells are formed by selecting different combinations of these concepts. For example a poison cloud is invoked by calling air (for the cloud) and ground (for the toxic spores) and a powerful exploding fireball, the fantasy game classic, is formed from fire, air and physicality. All the spells have a logical underpinning and a clever player might figure out some new spells before even discovering a recipe scroll from the dungeons for it. But to stop the more modern wizards who wield the power of Google from gaining an unreasonable edge, the spells also have skill requirements the character needs to fulfill to cast the spell successfully.

So, there you have it! I hope this didn’t ruin the sense of mystery and wonder our spell casting system might have had. πŸ˜‰

185 responses to “Magic and runes”

  1. Beerdy says:

    Got an idea – what about auction for first copy of LoG? This copy should be somehow speacial (e.g. final creatures will be Almost Human team and player will have just a rolled newspaper to kill them πŸ˜€ )…also collectorΒ΄s edition would be nice to have. In the end – thats your hard work and you deserve to get f@#$%^ rich mates! πŸ˜‰

  2. Underking says:

    Mega, Spacium, Movis! *starts floating around*

    I like rune-based spell systems and that’s a lot of runes! It seens Grimrock’s spell list will be long.

  3. trefmanic says:

    Ah, I remembered Arx Fatalis too =). The magic system there was the one of a kind. It made playing as the mage very challenging (and realistic). Looking forward for the magic system in this game!

  4. Nicolas says:

    Just wondering, what about spell “level”, meaning you can cast a low fireball or a greater one, depending on your actual character magic level & mana pool, the monster in front of you, etc.

    It was like fun to have my 4 characters with differents (or none) magic levels, meaning that I had to manage each one mana pool, so I was sure to have my main caster full mana before engaging some nasty mob. Or the opposite, fall into panic when realising that my main caster was oom and that his “greater fireball” wasn’t up, so I had to spam lower fireballs from every others casters, running around screaming πŸ™‚

    So, any way to decide which strength a spell will have when casted ?

    • Beerdy says:

      As I see, you have described DM spell cast system. I guess it i sgoing to be pretty similar in LoG…but beter wait for authorΒ΄s answer πŸ™‚

    • antti says:

      I described it a little earlier here in the comments section (which, it seems, gets flooded pretty easily nowadays πŸ™‚ ) but here’s a recap. Basically, we don’t have different “power levels” as Dungeon Master had: it’s a little incompatible with some sorts of spells (and it already was in DM, for
      example the door opening spell had no functional difference with different power levels, AFAIK).

      Instead we’re going with unique recipes per spell but some spells have variants of them. For example: fireburst < fireball < improved fireball. The more advanced variants of fireburst have more complex rune combinations and they take more mana to cast but, of course, they are more powerful. And being more powerful is not only limited to having a bigger damage output: the fireburst only affects the square in front of the party while the fireball spells are flying projectiles!

      • Nicolas says:

        Well just went through all the posts, and I’ve my answer πŸ™‚

        There might be some line of spells (fireball line, healing line etc.) which differents spells in each line, each one having a different power.
        Ex :
        Fireball line :
        1 – fireblast : 1 rune (fire)
        2 – fireball : 3 runes (fire air phys)
        3 – greater fireball : 5 runes (fire air phys balance death by ex.)

        Linking this system even more, as a powerfull spell might be more long, more difficult to cast, even more if you’re running around trying to avoid some mobs… πŸ™‚

      • Nicolas says:

        Looooooove it πŸ™‚

  5. Nicolas says:

    So, after (this time) getting through all the previous posts (well, most of), I’m wondering about 2 points right now :

    I ————— spell fizzleness / wrong spell casting / spell effect on players

    a. Will each spell have some range level to be cast. Ex : fireball is lvl [100-150], meaning you will fizzle 100% before you reach level 100 in magic, fizzle times to times between 100 & 150 (less and less), and spell will be an easy 100% landing at 150+ ?

    b. I do LOVE discovering new spells (not using scrolls). Will bad combination just fizzle / do nothing, or have some counter effect on the party/caster ? (hit, poison, kill, make starving/thirsty, etc.) ?
    bb. Even more, when trying to do potions, I hope a lot will just be bad potions, like you can’t just play with magic and potions and not be afraid of. Potions should NOT wear a little post-it on them saying what they are too.. color might be enough ?
    One of your party is poisoned and you don’t know yet the reciepes ? Well… go for a try and cry run on him, with a bit of luck, he won’t die before finding the right potion πŸ™‚

    c. Will spells affect players too, like casting a poison cloud and running into it, casting a fireball to close from a wall and therefore taking flames back, etc ?

    II ————— Automap… automap ??? Arghh !!

    a. What do you mean by “auto” map… I just hope we won’t have a nice clear map of each level at willness. I want to get lost, I want to be happy to find my way back, I want to have to scribe some notes on a paper (let’s say in game), I want to find some parts of maps of the current level (or even previous levels with hidden places, passwords, etc. so I have to run back 1-2 level up to get some nice items) if you want to give maps on scrolls…
    Well… I just don’t want to be able to look at a map anytime I want, to see me like an arrow showing where I’m facing and where the north is…I don’t have any GPS, so please don’t give me one !

    • Robin says:

      Like your note about liking to get lost.
      I got to say, that idea does appeal to me. As I read in a previous note there won’t be random dungeons.

      I remember well back in the days I played DOOM ][ a lot I got lost all the time. And I didn’t know the command to toggle the map. I was running around in those Crypts for HOURS.

      Good Memories ^^

    • Jack Dandy says:

      Agree on this one.

    • Boozel says:

      If I remember right, one of the blog posts said the automap option can be toggled. So, yeah, no prob.

  6. InsanityBringer says:

    You can experiment to find spells, as you mentioned. You people aren’t going to be evil and inject a few “poison self” spells into there, are you? πŸ˜›

    Anyways, ever since I first saw the rune system in the preview video, I did not actually expect that it would have been developed this far. My mere normal mind just randomly assumed that the runes were just literally a bunch of meaningless buttons, heh. (and, as such, I’m considering revising magic in the crawler I’ve been working on in my free time, but not as a direct rip-off because that would be lame, heh)

  7. Isaac says:

    Question: (If its public)

    If (when?) you release a map editor (or a format FAQ for the map text files)… Does LoG support huge (MEGA_HUGE) levels?

    *If someone wanted to make a map on par with Tolkien’s Moria for instance, could they? (And how much would they have to cut it up into segments?)

    ** Could LoG support a goblin attack like in Moria? (This was not my hope, but thinking of Moria got me curious.)

    • petri says:

      Depends. Currently max level size is set to 32×32, but it would be easy to make it bigger, and we can have arbitrary number of levels in the dungeon. Theoretically the size of the dungeon is only limited by available RAM and processing power. However, the engine is not really designed for super massive environments so I’m afraid at some point the game will surely break down or at least get really slow with all the stuff that needs to be updated. Would be fun to see the engine pushed to the breaking point with a huge randomly generated dungeon πŸ™‚

      • Graham Goring says:

        Does that mean that it’s processing everything that’s occurring on all the levels of the dungeon all the time? As in allowing mobs to go from level to level? Or does it just process what’s going on in the current level? (not that processing up to 1024 cells of stuff all the time isn’t enough!)

        • petri says:

          That’s a good question and this is one thing which is still somewhat work in progress but the idea is to process adjacent levels at a slower rate or maybe freeze other levels.

          • Robin says:

            What about moving the three most adjacent to the stairs? So monsters can follow you downstairs (if they can climb stairs that is) .

          • petri says:

            Actually just checked that level updating is pretty fast so I think we’ll just update all levels all the time πŸ™‚

            EDIT: climbing and fighting on the stairs is pretty hard to implement for monsters (this would require custom animations) so I’m afraid this won’t happen at least as a general feature.

          • Robin says:

            Oh, wait I forgot this Game has animations.
            Played Roguelikes for to long =P

            well, bats, beholders, imps, ghosts etc wouldn’t require more animations right..?

          • petri says:

            Yeah, that’s right. Flying creatures would work but I’m not sure if they justify the increase in complexity, hmm…

          • Robin says:

            Pretty Please… ^^

          • Isaac says:

            Its a hack… but Bethesda Studios even in FO3 & Oblivion just uses an alpha fade at the door. Baldur’s Gate also had monsters that would follow you through exits (no special anims).

            Does Grimrock show the party descending stairs?
            (Not as figures in a hallway, but exploring down the steps in first person)

  8. Ugm says:

    This reminds me of my beginnings with Dungeon Master. The magic system was so… mystic, secret, elite. So dangerous! Trying new spells, practicing existing ones, failing with the hard combinations. That was great. Not just clicking “Fireball” from some menu.

    You guys know what to do to keep the game so old-school. Paradoxically, this is so fresh in modern cRPGs!

  9. Daroou says:

    Zo Kath Ra

  10. Wuat says:

    Flying creatures could be normal creatures with invisible sticks, or legs, so to speak. They would give the illusion of flying well enough.

  11. Pumpelche says:

    Finally a game comes up again with the one and best way to cast magic.

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