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Brian Stanfield

Annual Harry Potter post that most people don't find interesting

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I often ask some sort of Harry Potter magic question, but usually don't get much in the way of interest. So this time I'm starting a separate forum in the hopes that maybe some of you might find it work investigating.

 

I just saw The Order of the Phoenix a little bit ago, and I am always giddy about the wizard battle between Dumbledore and Voldemort. It's totally cool, and totally free-form, and pretty much unlike what the kids are taught in school, even by the time they graduate in the final episode. So my question is this: how might the magic system be set up in Fantasy HERO, and how do they get from simple school-level magic to high level wizard stuff? There is no definitive answer on this, and I'm not looking for one, but I am interested in what people might think. I'm not interested in specific spells so much as I am interested in how one moves from basic simple wand disarm spells to creating gigantic globes of water to encase an opponent in the way Dumbledore did to Voldemort. There is a presumed vast difference in ability level, so how does one actually get there?

 

Here's what I've got so far, just off the top of my head.

 

Hogwarts:

  • There are obvious "spell colleges" (sorry Duke for bringing this up) involved, as each class focuses on a different sort of magic. I assume that there are different grade levels for those colleges, although it's never really explained. So potions wouldn't be just one class, but a series of classes, advancing with grade level.
  • These grade levels could be capped both in Active Points and Real Cost to simulate advancing to the "next grade level," without there being a need to create a whole new set of spells. One simply expands their beginning spells in AP, while also learning some newer more complex spells with a higher beginning AP (this assumption will come up again in the next section).
  • I also assume that a student is limited to how many different spell colleges they can study based on the number of classes each semester. There seems to be some basic classes everyone shares, and also a "career track" that they choose after their OWL exams, which probably directs their remaining coursework.
  • Do you think that each spell college would be represented by a Multipower whose reserve would grow with grade level? So a student would have several sets of Multipowers to represent each area of study?
  • Conversely, everyone seems to learn some basic spells without any sort of actual spell college associated with them. Is there a basic set of spells that are not themselves in a Multipower, but are basic requirements for first-year students to advance to second year? For example, you have to learn how to levitate a feather and fly a broom, etc., before you begin to learn more specialized spell groups (Multipowers).

 

Post-graduate careers:

  • The students seem to train for specific careers. This resembles common European secondary schools, which specialize in certain areas in order to train students for those career tracks. Perhaps each career has its own set of spells that are trained to new employees (Ministry work, Aurers, etc.)? So do they keep learning magic after school? Where? Certification classes? Evening seminars?
  • There seems to be a jump from school-level magic to "adult" magic, but how does that jump happen? Do you suppose that there are actual magic colleges of higher learning? Actual, legitimate "spell colleges"? (Sorry again, Duke) Post-graduate spell specialization? Advanced wizard training?
  • Voldemort disappeared and discovered dark magic on his own before he returned as the Dark Lord. Where do you suppose he found this sort of powerful and advanced magic?
  • What do you suppose Dumbledore studied after school in order to become a wizard equally as powerful as Voldemort, yet without disengaging from daily public magical life (as far as I can tell)? It seems like he didn't have to disappear to learn the deeper secrets of magic. Maybe he just spent a lot of time in his study at Hogwarts?
  • Using the battle between the two as a model, they seemed to have just the right spells to counter each other every step of the way. So do you think that their magic at this level is no longer a Multipower (even with variable slots) but rather becomes a Variable Power Pool that allows a great deal of flexibility? Are the VPPs loosely based on spell colleges (dark magic vs. light magic, necromancy vs. water magic, etc.)?
  • If advanced magic is a VPP (again, just an assumption on my part), how does one make the shift from Multipower to VPP? How are its Pool and Control Costs defined? Voldemort and Dumbledore appear to be vastly more skilled than their "peers," who seem to still be limited by Multipowers with defined slots based on their careers. What allows them (Dumbledore and Voldemort) to advance well beyond other adults in order to cultivate this sort of power? Is it simply Experience that dictates growth at this point, and no longer training?

 

These are the things I can think of right now. What do you think?

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Don't sweat it, Brian. 

 

I don't mind spell colleges when there is actually a different focus: healing magic; killing magic; social engineering magic--

 

That makes sense to me.  What happened to me was that 4e supplements and such just kept throwing out "college" after "college" that were quite literally the exact same thing: magic worked the same, the spells were identical, etc.  The _only_ difference was special effects: the leaf college: a blast of vines and leaves doing 4d6 AOE: Cone.... 

 

Ice college:  a blast of ice and snow doing 4d6 AOE: Cone.... 

 

Desert College: a blast of wind and sand doing 4d6 AOE: Cone.... 

 

Pioneer College: a blast of wagon wheels doing 4d6 AOE: Cone..... 

 

Music College:  a blast of sheet music doing 4d6 AIE: Cone..... 

 

 

 

And on and on and on..... 

 

Esentially, Fantasy HERO gave us an interesting idea, the company-approved supplemental material turned it into a complete joke. 

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Meta reasoning might be something like this:

 

When just learning magic it is pretty much impossible to fully understand the full scope of what magic really is, so to make it simpler students learn specific spell by rote. Natural talent and intelligence dictate how good they are at this and how much they can learn. This is "magic school" level training. For most magic users this is enough. They never really progress further once they graduate. They might learn a few more specialised spells, also by rote, later in life, but that is as far as it goes. Even most or all of the teachers at the schools are like this. They know certain spells very well and teach those specific spells to others. 

 

So in Hero terms 95% of wizards learn individual spells from different spell groups/schools.

 

But then maybe 5% of the magic users have the talent and intelligence and drive to study even more, to delve really deep into what magic "is" and only a small fraction of those mages manage to open themselves up to truly understand magic and how to control it. Those are the truly powerful wizards. They have unlocked the real power of magic and can do things and create spells that no other wizards could even imagine. 

 

In Hero terms I'd say, they sold back all the points spent in spells up to that point of "clarity" or "understanding", and created a magical VPP. Not a powerful one at first, but still a whole lot of freedom. 

 

Then maybe 1% of those wizards actually keep learning and studying, eventually developing a very powerful magical VPP, and those are the Dumbledorffs and Voldermorts, or what have you.

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22 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

I'm just giving you grief anyway.  :o 

 

 

I was going to put up a couple of things that I felt were more suited to be considered "spell colleges," but it'll have to wait.

 

I think I'm going to go to bed instead.  :lol:

 

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Hmmmm....

 

Okay, how about  this:

 

All wizards have a VPP - Magic. This is the defining trait of wizards.

 

It's a potential only (save in some occasional  instances of stress it doesn't really express itself.) How much potential varies. But as with most organs (think of magic as a meta-organ) if you exercise it it gets stronger. Going to school and practising helps increase the amount of potential. So older wizards have more magical potential by dint of just having used magic more than a young wizard.  In addition to this not all wizards are created equally. You get squibs at the low end and Tom Riddles at the top end. There seems to be some sort of genetic component.* So someone with great innate potential who also works hard winds up with more potential. In game mechanical terms, they get more XP and put it into their VPPs. "Squib" could be represented by some sort of physical limitation/complication that limits the maximum size of the VPP.

 

But potential by itself ain't worth much. You gotta be able to tap it somehow; to focus it so as to have real world effects. Going to magic school gives a wizard the opportunity to learn different ways of focusing their magical potential.  The  skills they learn are really just methodologies that help train the mind to be able to make the magic do particular things. This gives you your schools of magic. In game mechanical terms they learn Skills like Transmutation, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Dark Magic, etc. Each school comes with different spells. Spells are really just specific ways of focusing magic that someone in the past has sat down and worked out and then set into a formula. Maybe these spells are something like zen koans; in and of themselves they aren't worth much, it is the direction in which they take the mind that is important. I'll call these skills codified magic; someone has sat down and come up with exercises that focus the mind in a given way.

 

Theoretically, someone who is clever enough (Dumbledore, Voldey, Grisselwald) may be able to form some sort of Grand Unified Theory of Magic. This theory can be applied with a great amount of freedom, allowing for someone sufficiently clever to make up spells on the fly. These few wizards aren't limited to the existing spell lists, they can do what they want. Maybe call this "open magic" as opposed to codified magic. (As an aside someone who is working on codifying a new spell is touching on the magic GUT. How much they realise this would vary among individuals.)

 

This begs the (meta-game) question why would a player buy any spell skill other than GUT Magic? Perhaps we could limit Skill: GUT Magic to be no higher than the lowest value of one of the codified skills. This requires a character to invest a lot of points in all the codified magic.

 

I'm not really happy with this as an answer. I see GUT as being a new paradigm in magic, something that by its definition bypasses the limits of  the codified magic that students begin with. Limiting it to the level of "understanding" codified skills goes counter to the difference between codified and GUT as I'm imagining it. The GUT skill is meant to be the, er, source code of magic. (Sorry for the programming metaphor.) Yes, knowing some codified magic helps a new student get a grasp on the underlying theories, but once the underlying theory is understood the codified stuff is unnecessary. You can re-create the codified spells at your own leisure. It may be easier to crib from someone else's notebook but it isn't necessary.

 

So a wizard goes from a neophyte with some potential, learns how to focus said potential, and in the doing of that builds up that potential until they reach Dumbledorian levels.

 

 

*The Death Eaters got this much right. But it has nothing to do with the concept of "pure blood" as they use it. In fact, what we see in the books is that  most of the truly great wizards are "mud-bloods" and "muggle-born." (Voldey, Snape, Hermione, Harry's mum.) Perhaps it actually has to do with these outsiders coming in without the blinkered beliefs inherited from magical society and they are thus able to think more openly about magic. That or they're just smarter than the pure blood wizards because they aren't suffering from the congenital stupidity caused by generations of inbreeding. But I digress.

 

 

 

 

 

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We know that young kids with wizarding abilities can sometimes demonstrate unwanded magic use.  This is probably less common among wizarding families than among muggle ones, because the kids in wizarding families grow up around it; they kind of get the "my dad's a doctor" kind of secondary knowledge, but muggle world kids get blindsided by it.  Cue visits from aurors with Obliviate.  

 

My point is, there was still a wizarding world, before there were wands.  Magic was more open in those days; usually the kids showing magical ability back then would get shunted to the village elder or local shaman for training.  Magic was also probably more dangerous in those days, as there wasn't ten thousand years of lore to draw on.  (Or maybe there was, and it was different.)  Wands gave a number of advantages: 

  • Focused a casters ability
  • Made casting spells quicker and easier
  • Most importantly, gave the elders something to take away from the caster to stop them casting spells.

Eventually, a wizard or witch becomes dependent on their wand, to the point where they've mostly forgotten how to do magic without it.  A wand can be taken away, impounded by the Ministry or even broken, which is intended to end a caster's career.  This wouldn't necessarily be the case for most wizarding school graduates, because it's not impossible to acquire a new wand, but someone like Hagrid who got their magic bound up in their wand, lost their wand, and never got further training, is effectively a squib.  It's kind of the point that this really only works on younger and less trained witches or wizards.  (Remember the comment, "The wand chooses the wizard"?  Most wizarding families probably get baby's first wand when they're around two or three, so their power gets focused into it, and then they can put it away until the kid gets their owl.)

 

(This contrasts greatly with the Jedi Council, who trains their kids in their powers from almost the time they can walk, and don't make them bind them up in a stick.  Probably surprises both sides the first time they meet each other in a crossover fanfic...)

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Hagrid was no squib: With the broken wand in his umbrella, he was able to light a fire and give Dudley a pig's tail. Okay, he was trying for a whole pig, but he seemed well ahead of, say, Filch.

 

The Elder Wand was no psychological crutch: It had power of its own, which it did not grant to Voldemort because he hadn't met its conditions. It's also a running theme through the books that magic has deeper mysteries that Voldemort persistently ignores. So, I'd say that there really is such a thing as having "the right wand," which gives an advantage to the witch or wizard who owns it. Perhaps Ollivander's insistence that "the wand chooses the wizard" is a clumsy attempt to enunciate a resonance that no one really understands... but is nevertheless quite real. In Hero terms, it might be something like levels to a Skill Roll on a personal Focus; or even a small separate VPP that only adds to a character's VPP, again on a personal Focus.

 

Dean Shomshak

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On 12/7/2018 at 6:00 PM, Chris Goodwin said:

Eventually, a wizard or witch becomes dependent on their wand, to the point where they've mostly forgotten how to do magic without it.  A wand can be taken away, impounded by the Ministry or even broken, which is intended to end a caster's career.  This wouldn't necessarily be the case for most wizarding school graduates, because it's not impossible to acquire a new wand, but someone like Hagrid who got their magic bound up in their wand, lost their wand, and never got further training, is effectively a squib.  It's kind of the point that this really only works on younger and less trained witches or wizards.  (Remember the comment, "The wand chooses the wizard"?  Most wizarding families probably get baby's first wand when they're around two or three, so their power gets focused into it, and then they can put it away until the kid gets their owl.)

That does explain something they said about Grindlewald in Fantastic Beasts 2:

 

"We had to replace his guards 3 times. His tongue was powerfull and converted them to his cause. So we cut it out."


I could not tell if that was him being really good at persuasion (the Skill), having some special abiltiy - or just being able to still cast these kinds of spells over long times even without his wand because he was that powerfull.

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On 12/8/2018 at 6:22 AM, DShomshak said:

Hagrid was no squib: With the broken wand in his umbrella, he was able to light a fire and give Dudley a pig's tail. Okay, he was trying for a whole pig, but he seemed well ahead of, say, Filch.

 

The Elder Wand was no psychological crutch: It had power of its own, which it did not grant to Voldemort because he hadn't met its conditions. It's also a running theme through the books that magic has deeper mysteries that Voldemort persistently ignores. So, I'd say that there really is such a thing as having "the right wand," which gives an advantage to the witch or wizard who owns it. Perhaps Ollivander's insistence that "the wand chooses the wizard" is a clumsy attempt to enunciate a resonance that no one really understands... but is nevertheless quite real. In Hero terms, it might be something like levels to a Skill Roll on a personal Focus; or even a small separate VPP that only adds to a character's VPP, again on a personal Focus. 

 

Dean Shomshak

In APG I 142 has the rules I dubbed "Naked Buyoff". And the exampel given was this:

" Volsitrion the Wizard has this power:

Mystic Blast: Blast 10d6 (50 Active Points); Gestures (-¼), Incantations (-¼), Increased Endurance Cost (x3 END; -1), Requires A Magic Roll (-½) (total cost: 17 points).
He wants to remove the Increased Endurance Cost when he has his magic staff (the special effect being that the staff makes casting the spell less stressful, or that the staff itself provides the power for the spell, or the like). Without that Limitation, the spell would cost 25 points instead of 17.
So, he then buys:

remove Increased Endurance Cost (x3 END; -1) from Mystic Blast (8 Active Points); OAF (-1) (total cost: 4 points).

Altogether these two abilities cost him 21 points"

 

For Adventure time magic you can usually ignore the Endurance cost. Maybe it becomes relevant for Long Term Endurance Loss, if you use that Optional rule.

Meanwhile in combat every increase in END is a massive effect. How can you fight a wizard fight if you can cast only 1-2 spell, that he enemy counters? Instead of a series of 3+ spells with still having a lot of steam left?

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On 12/6/2018 at 10:21 AM, Christopher said:

I never watched the movie. But quickly looking at it (and having some other battles in my head), it appears the wizard battles in Harry Potter are mostly "beam struggles".

APG I 174 has rules for that. They are called "Contests of Power".

 

Thanks for this heads up. I like it a lot. If you see the later movies there are a lot of wand versus wand duels, and this fits perfectly. They literally showed who was winning by whose want was projecting further against the other. 

 

‘’One difference between the Dumbledore/Voldemort duel is that it was usually presented as dispel 

long each others’ coup de grace attacks. They,anaged to have just the right spells at just the right time, which suggests powerful VPPs to me. They didn’t have the dueling streams that could last for phases of game time. Just cast, counter, counter the counter, and so on.

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16 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

‘’One difference between the Dumbledore/Voldemort duel is that it was usually presented as dispel 

long each others’ coup de grace attacks. They,anaged to have just the right spells at just the right time, which suggests powerful VPPs to me. They didn’t have the dueling streams that could last for phases of game time. Just cast, counter, counter the counter, and so on.

A moment to moment variant is "interfence". For stuff like this.

There is even the opposite, powers aiding each other in a combined attack. For stuff like cooperative Jutsu in Naruto.

The different ways those spells looked could just be down to special effect in the end. Deathcurse, giant fire snake, throwing glass shards onto the enemy. All just seem variants of RKA, maybe even the same RKA power.

 

Of course in general Hero rules are more geared towards team fights. They are naturally weak at simulating duels.

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7 hours ago, Christopher said:

A moment to moment variant is "interfence". For stuff like this.

There is even the opposite, powers aiding each other in a combined attack. For stuff like cooperative Jutsu in Naruto.

The different ways those spells looked could just be down to special effect in the end. Deathcurse, giant fire snake, throwing glass shards onto the enemy. All just seem variants of RKA, maybe even the same RKA power.

 

Of course in general Hero rules are more geared towards team fights. They are naturally weak at simulating duels.

 

Those video clips are cool! Figuring out the mechanics should be fun for each example. 

 

You know, you make a good point about the special effects. Ultimately you just need to figure out how to counter the mechanic, not necessarily the special effect. However, in the context of the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the magic suggests that it is more than the mechanic and actually the correct special effect that counters the spell (light versus dark, water versus fire, etc.). If you haven't seen the movie, here's the duel. It opens up with the wand duel that you suggested above, as perfectly defined in APGI. But then it moves into more amorphous and theatrical magic. The whirling globe of water is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. 

 

This, of course, really is contingent on the habit of movies to show just the right response to a situation, be it Batman with his Bat-shark-repellent, or Gandalf having a light crystal for his staff in the mines of Moria. A lot of recent narrative-based games allow for this amount of vagueness in defining one's character, but the "crunchy" systems which seem to be falling out of favor actually want to show a character in complete terms for the purposes of game balance. I've always liked HERO System for this reason, but it makes it hard to simulate what we see in the movies or read in books. That's also part of the fun of figuring out how to build something in HERO!

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On 12/6/2018 at 7:55 PM, drunkonduty said:

Okay, how about  this:

 

All wizards have a VPP - Magic. This is the defining trait of wizards.

 

So far so good. This is what I was leading up to.

 

On 12/6/2018 at 7:55 PM, drunkonduty said:

But potential by itself ain't worth much. You gotta be able to tap it somehow; to focus it so as to have real world effects. Going to magic school gives a wizard the opportunity to learn different ways of focusing their magical potential.  The  skills they learn are really just methodologies that help train the mind to be able to make the magic do particular things.

 

I like the possibilities of a skill system. I once built a system that had magic as a VPP, but it could only be modified by skill roles related to the particular spell types. I think I had a different VPP for each spell school though, rather than one pool for all the spells. I think for Hogwarts purposes it may make more sense to have each school as a Multipower which is modified by skill rolls.

 

On 12/6/2018 at 7:55 PM, drunkonduty said:

Theoretically, someone who is clever enough (Dumbledore, Voldey, Grisselwald) may be able to form some sort of Grand Unified Theory of Magic.

 

Here's where I see the VPP coming into play. At some sort of threshold in game terms, all the Multipowers could be scrapped for an all-inclusive VPP based on the schools learned. Skills could still be added to represent further study of new schools in order to increase what's available in the existing VPP. Maybe even an Inventor skill to modify and increase existing knowledge and the VPP pool itself. Perhaps this would fill the purpose of what you mean by a GUT skill.

 

On 12/6/2018 at 7:55 PM, drunkonduty said:

*The Death Eaters got this much right. But it has nothing to do with the concept of "pure blood" as they use it. In fact, what we see in the books is that  most of the truly great wizards are "mud-bloods" and "muggle-born." (Voldey, Snape, Hermione, Harry's mum.) Perhaps it actually has to do with these outsiders coming in without the blinkered beliefs inherited from magical society and they are thus able to think more openly about magic. That or they're just smarter than the pure blood wizards because they aren't suffering from the congenital stupidity caused by generations of inbreeding. But I digress.

 

I like your digression. This is great theory. Not sure how to present it in game terms, but it could make for a great campaign arc!

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On 12/7/2018 at 11:00 AM, Chris Goodwin said:

We know that young kids with wizarding abilities can sometimes demonstrate unwanded magic use.  This is probably less common among wizarding families than among muggle ones, because the kids in wizarding families grow up around it; they kind of get the "my dad's a doctor" kind of secondary knowledge, but muggle world kids get blindsided by it.  Cue visits from aurors with Obliviate.  

 

My point is, there was still a wizarding world, before there were wands.  Magic was more open in those days; usually the kids showing magical ability back then would get shunted to the village elder or local shaman for training.  Magic was also probably more dangerous in those days, as there wasn't ten thousand years of lore to draw on.  (Or maybe there was, and it was different.)  Wands gave a number of advantages: 

  • Focused a casters ability
  • Made casting spells quicker and easier
  • Most importantly, gave the elders something to take away from the caster to stop them casting spells.

Eventually, a wizard or witch becomes dependent on their wand, to the point where they've mostly forgotten how to do magic without it.  A wand can be taken away, impounded by the Ministry or even broken, which is intended to end a caster's career.  This wouldn't necessarily be the case for most wizarding school graduates, because it's not impossible to acquire a new wand, but someone like Hagrid who got their magic bound up in their wand, lost their wand, and never got further training, is effectively a squib.  It's kind of the point that this really only works on younger and less trained witches or wizards.  (Remember the comment, "The wand chooses the wizard"?  Most wizarding families probably get baby's first wand when they're around two or three, so their power gets focused into it, and then they can put it away until the kid gets their owl.)

 

(This contrasts greatly with the Jedi Council, who trains their kids in their powers from almost the time they can walk, and don't make them bind them up in a stick.  Probably surprises both sides the first time they meet each other in a crossover fanfic...)

 

I love this, Chris, although I'm not sure how to present it in game terms. The social complications make for really interesting game play, like drunkonduty's post above. The one thing I've been pondering over the years is how to accurately represent the wand. I think DShomshank has a good idea here:

On 12/7/2018 at 11:22 PM, DShomshak said:

The Elder Wand was no psychological crutch: It had power of its own, which it did not grant to Voldemort because he hadn't met its conditions. It's also a running theme through the books that magic has deeper mysteries that Voldemort persistently ignores. So, I'd say that there really is such a thing as having "the right wand," which gives an advantage to the witch or wizard who owns it. Perhaps Ollivander's insistence that "the wand chooses the wizard" is a clumsy attempt to enunciate a resonance that no one really understands... but is nevertheless quite real. In Hero terms, it might be something like levels to a Skill Roll on a personal Focus; or even a small separate VPP that only adds to a character's VPP, again on a personal Focus.

But how to represent the wand either choosing or rejecting the wizard is the next problem. Probably just hand-wave the selection process. But the rejecting is more interesting as a campaign problem, especially when the loyalty of the wand can be changed based on who defeats whom in a duel.

 

I like the idea that the wand is like a battery or a bonus to an already existing VPP. This could help explain how a wizard at a high level can do magic without a wand, and in fact without all the other limitations like incantations, etc.

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On 12/9/2018 at 3:03 AM, Christopher said:

So, he then buys:

remove Increased Endurance Cost (x3 END; -1) from Mystic Blast (8 Active Points); OAF (-1) (total cost: 4 points).

Altogether these two abilities cost him 21 points"

 

I like this, except I don't quite understand where the 8 Active points come from on the Mystic Blast.

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As far as common-or-garden wands go, the only example we have is the scene in Ollivander's wand shop (book 1). Ollivander starts by taking numerous measurements of Harry. One may presume these figures mean something to Mr. Ollivander, suggesting he has some occult science (like palmistry or moleosophy) for calculating what properties a wand should have. Only it doesn't work with Harry. Eventually, though, Ollivander has Harry try the wand that is "brother" to Lord Voldemort's, and that's the one. Curious, as Ollivander says.

 

In Hero terms, it looks like Ollivander has some kind of Skill for matching wands with wizards. At first he seems to have failed his Skill Roll. But then he looks beyond the mechanical, calculated system -- thinking in deeper, mystical terms. And that Skill Roll succeeds... incidentally giving the first clue to a deeper, ongoing connection between Harry and Voldemort.

 

Or possibly, there's only one Skill Roll here. Normally, Ollivander's system matches each customer with a wand that's good enough. In most cases, there's no special difficulty. When the system doesn't work with Harry, Ollivander succeeds at his KS: Wand Lore roll to get some idea why the system isn't working, and what he should try instead.

 

The Elder Wand is something different, though. It has very precise requirements for who can use it. In this case, one might actually represent the Elder Wand as a Follower, a computer with, hm, Detect Victory and Defeat?

 

Dean Shomshak

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3 hours ago, DShomshak said:

As far as common-or-garden wands go, the only example we have is the scene in Ollivander's wand shop (book 1). Ollivander starts by taking numerous measurements of Harry. One may presume these figures mean something to Mr. Ollivander, suggesting he has some occult science (like palmistry or moleosophy) for calculating what properties a wand should have. Only it doesn't work with Harry. Eventually, though, Ollivander has Harry try the wand that is "brother" to Lord Voldemort's, and that's the one. Curious, as Ollivander says.

 

This is an interesting point. I love that scene in the movie, and always wondered why you'd need a wand guy to guide the process if the wand chooses the wizard. By the last couple of movies, though, something comes up about wands changing loyalties. So it seems like there's more to the story than simply a skill which matches the wand to the wizard. Malfoy was using his mother's wand, and Hermione was using Belitrix LeStrange's wand, and the Elder Wand seemed to be changing loyalties based on Harry Potter disarming Malfoy, who had originally disarmed Dumbledore.  I'm not sure there's a good way to represent that mechanically, and it's probably not all that important in the end. It's more of a dramatic device than a game device. However, I love your idea of the Elder Wand being a follower! So many possibilities there.

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