Magic, Evil, and Chaos

Image derived from Wikipedia

I greatly favor the treatment of magic, chaos, and evil as all being different words for the same thing. Thus, protection from evil works on demons, elves, undead, and… sufficiently high level magic-users. Magic-users should become more inherently chaotic as they gain levels, until a sufficiently high level magic-user is essentially an alien being (despite having human form).

Previously, I came up with magical affinity, which is good but insufficiently compatible with the traditional game (and maybe too complicated anyways). So here is another way to do it. The chance that a magic-user is chaotic for the purposes of a given situation is N in 6, where N is the magic-users spell competency (that is, the highest level of spells that the magic-user can prepare). I like this because the chance goes from minimal for low-level magic-users to certain for high level magic-users. Level / 2 round up would also work (or level / 2 round down, if you don’t want first level magic-users to have any chance of registering on the chaos meter).
This is better than an inverse saving throw versus magic (success = treat as chaotic), which is something I also considered, because it never gets to 100%. Further, an inverse saving throw is not straightforward to explain.

This is also the chance that a given magic-user will turn as a demon (of hit dice equivalent to the magic-user’s level) for clerics that have the power to turn demons.

14 thoughts on “Magic, Evil, and Chaos

  1. knobgobbler

    Oh yeah, I like this idea, though the guys I play with would never go for it.
    I’ve always thought magic should be treated with more suspicion and caution, but then I’m a big fan of Call of Cthulhu so that figures.

  2. JD

    I like this idea, too. But, this bein only a disadvantage in the game, it wouldn’t fly with my players either. I guess I would have to give players some kind of optional benefit to make it work. Like, staying within the given limits has no chaos effect, but if a player wanted to, he could get a number of bonus spell slots (depending on spell levels available). He may choose this for every spell level anew (and will be able to calculate the risk himself, like, if he only took it for the spell levels 1, 3 and 6, he gets 3 extra slots on the chosen spell levels, but a chance of 1-3 in d6 to trigger for chaos…). More power comes with a price and the players take the risk freely.

  3. Brendan

    Think about it this way: how many PCs are going to be high level magic-users compared to how many PCs are going to be fighting against high level magic-users?

  4. JD

    Exactly the reason to soften the blow, in my opinion. Magic-users are bad in anything BUT magic and getting to higher levels is difficult, if it happens at all (not only because of the xp needed, most people just don’t play that high). Plus: high-level magic-user might get better away with this than a tainted first to third level could. So it would have a greater effect on players after all. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the idea (consider it used…), but I’d rather offer the players a deal with a devil, so they can decide to weaken themselves, than proposing a rule they won’t like, because it weakens them. The result will be the same and at least the npcs will be all over it 🙂

    1. frijoles junior

      If we want low-level PC MUs to be unhindered but give a sense of higher level magic being an inevitable road to chaos, maybe use wisdom as a level threshold , beyond which a MU must turn chaotic.

      Assuming 3d6 and high score being INT, this will most of the time work out to be the same as your N/6 system but without the uncertainty. PCs can always tell themselves that they can quit before they have a problem, at least until they run into a lamia or travel to the remote land or dimension where their magic functions at higher caster level

    2. frijoles junior

      of course, it is more CoC-y to have advancing as MU actually cost a point of WIS, but then we get back into the territory of players not wanting to take the hit.

      Maybe balance it back by offering a benefit often craved by MU players that won’t be terribly unbalancing – eliminate the MU weapon restriction, if you don’t already.

  5. knobgobbler

    Maybe only certain powerful spells add to the corruption… tempting to cast but their taint can tempt their users over to the dark side.
    Personally, I’d like to make the clerical ability to turn undead into the first step on a slippery slope to full on necromancy (I think Dr. Van Helsing was a bit TOO interested in vampires).

    1. DrBargle

      Along those lines, you could always pinch the divisions between White, Grey, and Black magic set out by Akrasia [] and used in Crypts and Things, Newt Newport’s version of Swords and Wizardry.

    2. Brendan


      That’s more or less what I’m doing here (check out the linked alignment post in the first paragraph). A reasonable way to think about it seems to be that most magic-user spells are black magic (probably every spell not shared with clerics).

    3. Brendan


      Yeah, I plan on putting together some PDF compilations at some point, but I don’t just want to do a collection of unconnected articles. I’d rather put something together that is a bit more thematic. Perhaps a collection of stuff on the original game, or character options, or something that is of more obvious use to others than just “stuff from my blog” if that makes sense. I haven’t decided exactly what makes sense yet.

  6. Paul Brown

    Some great stuff here, in the links as well as this post.

    I’d go with chaotic but not evil – though I take the point from the alignment post about chaos being inimical to humanity, extreme law isn’t either.

    I think it’s important how this applies to characters rather than NPCs. Perhaps there are three modes a mage can follow – restrained (predictable as per the standard rules, but +1 to the target’s save, damage dice capped at 4 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4) or some such); standard (but some misfortune / fumble mechanic); embrace chaos (higher chance of misfortune, plus medium to large upside).

    I’ve also read of a setting recently where magic and civilisation are diametrically opposed, so that magic is weaker in civilised lands, conversely in the wilds magic can happen spontaneously. This would affect the setting (e.g. where do mages site their towers) and the campaign (mages as a group have a vested interest in civilisation not being too successful…).

    1. Brendan

      @Paul Brown

      Having separate safer and more rapacious traditions of magic also reminds me somewhat of the Dark Sun split between preservers and defilers. I guess many players probably want to be able to play a “good” wizard, but I’m still sort of drawn to the idea that all magic really is truly dangerous.

      I know that Zzarchov (of Neoclassical Geek Revival) has magic weaker in civilized lands, and the Hill Cantons has some of that dynamic too.

      I also wrote this up:

      But I haven’t tried actually playing it.

    2. Paul Brown

      Zzarchov’s version is the one I was thinking of – thanks for the pointer.

      I agree with magic being dangerous, what I was trying to get across was how, knowing of (but not truly understanding) the danger, the mage responds to this. Do they take arcane precautions, and so weaken the effect, or jump in and wallow in it? Many of the NPCs the players encounter will have gone for the latter option, but more tragic are those who have gone for the former approach and been overcome.


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