The king of the hill of the German RPG scene is Das Schwarze Auge. Translated to English as “The Dark Eye”. This commentary on the magic system is based on my memories of the Italian translation of the first edition, both basic and advanced rules.
The review of DSA starts with the effectiveness of mages in combat, and a small commentary on the game mechanics is needed.
Each PC starts from 35 to 20 HP. The mage starts with 20, plus 30 mana (Astral Points in the Italian translation), while the Elf (race as class? yes) has 25 and 25. At each level a character raises a stat by one and either HP or mana by 1d6. Simplifying combat, every character might deal something like 1d6+3 on each hit (once every two or three round accounting for parries), but armour reduces damage. Mages can only wear padded armour (damage reduction 1) while RD 3 is common for adventurers.
Now, every magic user and elf knows a spell that deals 3d6+level, ignoring armour, and costs the same amount of mana. Consequences are left as an exercise for the reader. Back to the rest of the magic system now.
Elves and Mages are the spellcasters of the basic rules. They share a spell list of about half a dozen spells, with mages being able to cast about as many more. All spells in the handbook are known and usable from level one, except the ones found later. The caster pays the mana cost (2/round for a spell that grants protection 2, 15 or so for polymorph other, 1/HP for healing) and the spell goes off. This means that a caster can cast quite a lot, but not incredibly much less than higher-level casters. Some spells have a save, but the mechanics are mostly spell-specific. Sleep is a bit OP against weak opponents, as tradition. 😉
This is a pretty vanilla mana magic system. But the cool thing about DSA is the mage’s staff.
The staff is a normal quarterstaff. Except it’s indestructible. This is a big deal as it’s possible to break weapons on a successful parry.
At any rate, before every adventure, the mage can try to cast an Enchantment on the staff. It costs some mana, so the magic user starts the adventure with less than the maximum amount of mana, but the effects are brilliant. If failed, the MU can try again before the next adventure. Enchantments can be cast from level 2 onwards:
First enchantment: all spell costs are reduced by -2 mana per spell. This means that it’s possible to heal 2 hit points per round for free. In the next editions this was changed so that the spell cost must be at least one, which still allows to cast a number of healing spells that head 3HP for 1 mana. 3HP is not a small amount.
Second enchantment: the mage can set his staff on fire, as a neverending torch.
Third enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a 10 metres rope, controllable by the mage.
Fourth enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a flaming sword that deals 1d6 + mage level damage. The problem is that the mage can lose control of the sword: at that point the staff will try to destroy the group and then selfdestruct.
Fifth enchantment: the staff can become a nearly undetectable salamander controlled by the mage, and the mage can transfer his spirit in the salamander and perceive the world through its senses.
Staff enchantments and being able to cast a lot of different spells are what’s cool about DSA magic. In three words: “TOYS, TOYS, TOYS”.
There are also more caster classes: the game mechanics are the same (sans enchantments), but the spell list vary:
- the wood elves (not sure about their original name, in Italian they were translated as “halflings”, but they are wood elves) cast some D&D druid spells.
- the druids cast incredibly creepy voodoo spells (dolls? dolls!) and curses and soul-stealing shenanigans. They need an athame made of volcanic glass. Humans can change class and become druids.
- initiates (cleric) have a common short list, plus three spells for each god. They need to pass an “invocation check” to cast spells. DSA gods are pretty awesome and shenanigan-prone.
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