Originally posted by Brianna Heine on the other (now defunct) version of this site.
Since I plan on writing a post concerning magic in the Hyborian Age at a much later time I want to start collecting some opinions on the topic. I’m going to save my opinion on how the system should work until later but in the meantime I want to discuss some of my thoughts on magic.
In “The Tower of the Elephant” the being Yag-kosha explained to Conan that he “…came to this planet (Earth) with others of my world from the green planet Yag, which circles for ever in the outer fringe of this universe.”
Yag-kosha further explains that the sorcerer Yara captured him and used him to do his bidding. “But he [Yara] was not satisfied with what I taught him, for it was white magic, and he wished evil lore…”
Yara is described as “… versed in dark knowledge… with guile gotten among the dusky tomes of dark Stygia…”
This one story reveals some pretty interesting possibilities. In fact I didn’t really pick up on this until I started looking at it from a position of game development. Yag-kosha makes reference to “White Magic”. In the context of the story it implies that magic is not all “evil lore”. Therefore I would conclude that magic exists that is not evil.
So what does this mean for the future of my Conan RPG? Well I have to accept that sorcerers exist that aren’t malevolent and twisted by foul magic. Such casters may have a limited selection of spells meaning the reason Howard didn’t write about them was because they were boring. This would make spellcasters weak compared to their D&D counterparts and I wonder if that is interesting enough for a player character. Perhaps all magic is dangerous and the more powerful a wizard becomes the more evil it makes him. Unfortunately this means that a high level, balanced party will always include an evil spellcaster.
I’m going to choose the former and assume that not all magic is created equal however I am not going to make Sorcerers choose one or the other. They can freely choose any appropriate spell (White or Dark) but the dark lore will have consequences. Note that I’m not creating “grey” magic as I don’t think there is a need. Each practitioner of Sorcery chooses her own path. If she chooses equal White and Dark she can call herself grey if she wishes but I don’t think there needs to be a separate list. Also note I’m not calling it “Good” and “Evil”. I don’t think anything in the Hyborian age is inherently good. In this case “White” is just a placeholder for “Not Dark”. Upon further reflection would that mean magic is only “Grey” or “Dark”?
The question then becomes how to decide? If we assume there is White and Dark Magic then we have to create a list that explains which spells are which. If we stick to the golden rule then simple is the route to go. Going down the complete list of spells in the PHB and deciding if they are white or dark would be a massive quest and that is far more work than I’m willing to do. I think certain Schools of magic, sub-schools, and descriptors should decide which magic is White and which is Dark.
In my opinion some schools should be inherently Dark. Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Necromancy, and Transmutation are my initial thoughts. I struggled with Divination and Enchantment because they seem harmless to me. However with a little research Divination allows you to “Learn secrets long forgotten, predict the future, find hidden things…” and Enchantment “affects the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior.” That sounds like some crazy Cthulhu voodoo to me so on the list it goes.
I didn’t add Abjuration because in Black Colossus Conan “Somehow felt that Natohk [Sorcerer], like all his kind, was more terrible in defense than in attack.” I didn’t include Conjuration or Illusion because they don’t seem all bad. Some of their sub-schools certainly are though.
I also think the following sub-schools are dark as well. They are calling, healing (more on healing later), charm, compulsion, teleportation, scrying, phantasm, shadow, and polymorph.
Finally certain descriptors seem dark to me. Those are chaotic, darkness, death, evil, and fear. The descriptors good, lawful, and light would not count as dark.
This creates an incredible short list of “safe” spells but this is where I’m at so far. In the future I’ll continue to explore Hyborian magic and eventually unveil a system that I’d like to try. My next post will begin my series on Character Creation. Thanks for reading.