Magic and Free Kriegsspiel

So part of the conceit of Free Kriegsspiel is that the Referee depends on their experience and knowledge of the world to drive the game. That’s great and all, but what about magic? There’s no way to have live experience with that, so there’s only one way out of that. You have to know something about the world you’re running. 

Magic! How hard can it be? Image by GraphicMama, used with permission.

A typical corollary question of “how do you do magic?” is “how do you handle damage?” which is also a question that keeps popping up. Many newcomers to the FKR way are often already familiar with roleplaying games that quantify damage, and will likely try to find a one-to-one heuristic to deal with that. To help answer this question, I typically ask another question: “What’s the in-world answer to this?” 

Many fantasy worlds already present magic systems of various kinds, such as the channeling in Wheel of Time to the element bending featured in Avatar: The Last Airbender. These worlds typically present methods, limitations and sometimes even costs. I.e. some magics require sacrifice to be called on. I would strongly recommend that you make judgements based on the world you play, so if the setting has some sort of defined magic system, you have some work done for you already. 

We are not done though. What happens when you get hit with a magic missile? This is where the “how do you handle damage?” questions often come up. The same goes for handling firearms in a Free Kriegsspiel game. The implied question is often “how do I map my knowledge of damage rules to FKR?” and frankly the answer is “you don’t”. 

D&D 5th edition fireball spell. Screenshot from 5thsrd.

There is actually a lot you can salvage from a general spell in a D&D-like system, especially when it comes to things like range, shape and descriptions. But when it comes to damage, it’s more helpful to think about outcomes. For example, when we are dealing with a spell that would cause damage, I often think that a wizard would most likely only cast spells that would outright kill their target. Thus, a generalization I make from that is that “weapon-like” spells are lethal. Going by D&D, spells like Magic Missile, Fireball and Chain Lightning should as a baseline be lethal. 

Not all potentially lethal phenomena do end up killing a target, though. This is where I typically start thinking about state. A person could go from being healthy, to wounded and then to dead, for example. Or more narrowly, you could say that a limb or body part suffers an injury. Exactly how you grade this kind of harm could be based on the dice rolls or your table’s understanding of the situation. Comparably, there is a difference between being shot point blank and a grazing hit. One is very likely to kill, while the other is more likely to wound. This is where a referee’s judgment comes in. 

Note, it’s completely alright to just use the traditional HP and damage mechanics, if you feel this is accurate or maybe easy enough to use. I do it for some games, but I prefer to keep the players in the dark about their actual HP. Personally, I just think that making play about numbers just kills part of the immersion or verisimilitude. Players should make decisions about their character in the world, not abstract representations of it. 

So I haven’t gotten into things like “magical resistance” or the potential resource management of magic. These are maybe interesting topics, but should be easier to figure out and they depend far more on the world you play in. 

If this post just raised more questions than it answered, hit me up in the comments below. Thanks for reading! 

Comments

  1. Not sure you're familiarity with Harry Potter, but how would you do a system like that? Might be a separate post, but I'm just interested to know how you might approach it, FKR-style.

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    1. Unfortunately I've only seen the HP movies, so I might be missing some context from the books. I guess I would treat the spells as "found advancements" ala what Justin Hamilton wrote on his blog. The longer you stay in magic school, the more advanced you become. That and I'd probably have dice rolling for avoiding risks with spells, mostly for avoiding setbacks or undesired outcomes.

      I think I'd also mine the fandom wiki a lot. For example, the Avada Kedavra entry: https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Killing_Curse

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  2. What do you think of the old Into the Odd approach, where magic succeeds automatically unless the player wants to modify its effect in some way? Modifying the outcome requires an ability check for the effect to be produced. It always felt quite FKR to me, with a lot of scope for rulings over rules

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    1. Into the Odd has a lot of good things going for it. While it has a lot more interactions with stats than I prefer, it's definitely something I endorse.

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