Been pondering a few parts of PG games that I've avoided for a long time...
Material components for magic spells is one that I've never really cared for - not starting off in D&D, when I did come across it (at the AD&D stage) the (possibly optional) things you needed to cast spells were complicated and also rather humorous. And it makes for rather insane book-keeping too. Except if you're in a computer game... I assume now most people either hand waved it or ignored it completely, which is rather a bad sign for something explaining how magic might work.
I'm also rather lazy and enjoy it when players design parts of the campaign. At least, when I ask them to, and within certain constraints - in my experience, players concepts for my games tend to revolve around their characters material possessions and attractiveness to NPCs of the opposite sex.
And, based on a concept from the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, I have come up with an idea that I will test, soonish.
Rumours concerning the titular wizard suggested that his power came from a deck of cards, or gloves, or a spell book. But only one was true, and I get the feeling that was only true if you decided to take a certain action which was almost cheating (hint - burn the deck of cards - but if it was the basis of all his magical power, why leave it lying around where the hero can grab it?).
Putting all these random thoughts together, here's a brief list of things that may be required for magic to be ... expressed?
- Spoken words/phrases
- Material components - specialised and separate for each spell type
- Items of power - your staff, wand, glove, sock puppet...
- Somatic - funky hand movements
- Dancing - think shamanic magical concepts
- Natural forces - sun/moonlight, water, fire, soil, rock, etc.
- Draining life - yours, or others (a la Dark Sun)
- Runes - big, solid things carved on stone tablets you have to either visit or cart around, or something you carve on the spot.
- Ley lines or big conduits of energy under the ground. Very immovable.
So there's a lot of concepts - I will add more as I uncover more off-beat interweb sites and pulp fantasy novels - but that will do as a start.
You've rolled up a new character, decided that a spell caster of some type will suit it well, and ask me. I pass you the list, and tell you to pick two of them, but make them not too difficult to do together. And that is how you will cast spells.
Simple is somatic and verbal, and we can all imagine a mage speaking the rhymes and waving his arms around. It does leave you subject to either being bound or silenced, though, which is a drawback. Longer sequences for more powerful spells.
Rune and an item (staff); cast the spells by drawing runes on the ground with your staff. Really easy if there's sand or snow, a trifle more challenging if you're on sheer rock (unless you have a steel spike on the staff), and impossible if you're floating in the air.
Material components and a natural force - say fire. This is more challenging to picture; try small, loose bound linen bundles containing powders that must be cast into a fire, magma, etc and consumed. The bundles can be abstracted a bit - say each spell requires a different mix, which takes one hour per spell level to prepare with the right tools and ingredients. And the ingredients are reasonably to acquire at low levels, and at high levels there is one challenging ingredient, along with several more common ones. Make the challenging ingredient thematic too - a wind spell needs a griffin's feather, a 'kill everyone with fire' spell needs a dragon's scale (but only a red one will do).
If we changed the above to material components and earth, you have to bury the bundles to cast the spell. But you can pre-bury the resin balls you make, and 'cast' the spell instantly providing you remember the place.
And of course, singing and dancing! The powerful magic of the Unearthly Bee-Gees is feared and respected in the Tropical North Eastern Isles. But they are a little weird up there...
That's all. Some combinations are nasty and won't be fun, others too easy. As in all things, moderation...