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Spellcasting 101
[01/22/2004] [Luke Wyngarde]

Magic. The very word evokes images of Merlin and Gandalf, ancient wizards of awesome power and kindly demeanor. Or is it Harry Potter or Raistlin Majere; nimble-minded conjurers with a flair for fantastic attire, berobed and bespeckled, waving wand to weave a powerful dweomer in service to self or mankind, who comes to mind? Maybe you envision treacherous Circe, vile Morgan LeFay, or the diabolic Lord Voldemorte, tricksters and tyrants who use their Art to further their own demented ends. Perhaps it's Oberon and Titania, locked in their endless mystical midsummer night who tickle your fancy. In any event, Magic is the foundation upon which all fantasy is built. So it is with the world of fiction, so it is with Amtgard.

Magic is what sets Amtgard apart from so many other Live-Action Role-Playing fantasy/medieval societies. The SCA doesn't have it (and doesn't want it). Dagohir doesn't have it (though it could probaly use it). The Kanar HAS it, but probably SHOULDN'T (the whole game was invented by insane Math Majors trying to make role-players crazy - and the magic system only makes it worse). High Fantasy Society also has it, but it's almost word-for-word out of the 6.0 Handbook. Simply put, those who came before Amtgard are gone or don't bother and those that came after either suck or copied the Amtgard approach. This discussion will focus on both the general conditions and finer points of Amtgard spellcasting. Keep in mind that all magic is treated equally in this essay; no preference is given between Bard, Druid, Healer or Wizard spells, all are lumped together for these considerations.

Magic in Amtgard comes in five broad categories: Verbal Spells, Spellballs, Personal Enchantments, Area Enchantments and Neutrals. Each is addressed below, with a detailed explanation on getting the most for your spellpoints.

Verbal Spells

I'll address these first, since they are, without a doubt, the biggest point of contention in the entire game. More rules debates have started over improper incantations and range disputes than any other single facet of Amtgard. Verbal spells are, at once, the most fun to cast and least fun to be on the receiving end. You can dodge a spellball or parry an enchanted weapon, but if you're in range when the last syllable is spoken, tough noogies partner, you're toast. So, of course people on the other end of the wand are going to try and argue. I mean, they spent eight months putting a suit of chain mail together and you just killed them without wiggling a sword.

Best advise for verbals: don't bother unless you have a good eye for gauging distance and are on a "friendly" field. In other words, if you are in your home park, playing with regulars, then go ahead and stock up on the Curses and Legends. They know you, they know how to deal with you, and you're much more likely to enjoy yourself. However, don't bother during large battlegames like Relic Quest unless you have no choice, and don't bother at an Interkingdom War at all. In these instances your points are better reserved for spellballs and enchantments. Relic Quests tend to have their own special circumstances, so you can tailor your approach to the scenario - but Wars are mass pandemonium. Most players won't even acknowledge SWORDS in the heat of a War, and you really think they're going to pay any attention to VERBALS? Ha!

The mass verbals like Doomsday, Wind and Mass Sleep are a waste of points unless you are a) a cocky butthead with supreme confidence in your ability or b) playing in a field full of amatuers who haven't figured out to rush the guy counting out loud. Seriously though, as of this writing, I have been playing for almost eleven years, been a Wizard for ten of those years, and I've only seen Wind cast once and Doomsday cast twice. All occured when a supremely confident cocky butthead (me) played on a field of total amatuers who hadn't figured out to rush the caster. They learned the hard way. (And, to their credit, they did rush me the second time.)

The best verbals are "Per Lifers" because ... well, you get them every life. Combine that with the ability to move while casting and suddenly Wounding and Hold Person become the spells of choice. After that come things like Lost, Mute and Heat/Curse Weapon (short casting times and they get your victim out of the way for a while or make them useless), then Charm and Legend (sheer entertainment value) and Stun (no one is immune, plus if you're a dishonorable lout, it's an easy kill). The "Per Gamers," while generally more powerful and dramatic than the Lifers, are harder to get off correctly (and the Incantation Police will be listening), have longer ranges (easier to argue over) and more classes have immunities to them (rendering them useless). If you just GOTTA go with these kinds of spells, stick with Heat/Curse Weapon, Pyrotechnics and Call Lightning. No one is immune to these spells without Protection from Magic or other improvements. Combined with Extension, most anyone inside of 50 feet will start back-peddling immediately. (Come to think of it, just yelling Extension is often enough to start the retreat.)

No review on Amtgard verbals would be complete without the most feared spell in the game: Dispel Magic. The more spellcasters they have, the more you'll need. Remember they are Per Gamers, so use them wisely. Save them for Robo-Scouts, anyone bearing Stack, players with more than a point of Stoneskin, and Transformed/Reincarnated Monsters. You did realize that Dispel instantly slays that rampaging Stone Troll?

Spellballs

All right, now we're talking Magic! Spellballs are every casters best friend (if they're not, then you're doing something wrong). Think they run away when you yell Extension? Wait until they see that active Lightning Bolt! (And it should be Lightning Bolt, it's 2nd level and can be purchased with Expertise, where Fireball is 3rd level and those spellpoints are much more valuable. Spend a point on Fireball ONLY if someone on the other team is chucking Entangles or there is a Fire Elemental on your side. Your team will thank you later.)

Anyway, spellballs. Make a pile of them and carry the wad with you. The more, the better, so you don't have to worry about running out and having to fetch them (or worse, "Hey, would you toss that Iceball back?) For the engulfing balls (Iceball, Petrify/Flesh to Stone, Entangle) spend as many points as you can spare, up to the maximum of 4. You can still carry all the extras you need in case you miss or waste one on Ol' Groch the 6th level Barbarian. Use 'em and move on, a Petrified enemy is as good as dead. Plus it makes a great magnet for their teams Healer. Just wait nearby and Extend Curse the red-sash just as he hits the second swordcutspearstab.

Sphere of Annihilation is totally over-rated. It's a souped up Lightning Bolt in a black wrapper. Don't waste the points. Likewise, Magic Bolt is as worthless as it gets unless your entire park is full of newbies. First-level Wizards should stick with Iceball, Heat Weapon and Shove.

Personal Enchantments

These are the type of enchantments placed on other players (or infrequently on the caster) to improve their chances of winning the game. Bladesharp, Protection, Stoneskin and Flameblade all fall into this category, as does any spell requiring a strip or cloth tied to the recipient. Depending on the scenario and your teammates skill, personal enchantments can make or break the game. Got some left-over spellpoints at the end of the list? Fill them in with extra enchantments and make your team happy.

Choose carefully who receives an enchantment and what combination gives your team the best chance of success. Don't give Enchanted Weapons to first-day newbies who are never going to land a shot; give it to the Warlord or Sword Knight who never misses. Stoneskins belong on good fighters, but consider too the local Healer or Wizard and how much more useful these classes are on the front line where the enemy is actually in range of their verbals and spellballs. If you feel sorry for the newbies, dole out the super-cheap Bladesharps and Enchanted Shields to them, they won't know the difference and they get to have a pretty yellow ribbon, too.

Harden is a great, often over-looked enchantment; a spellball-swatting short sword is a terrific addition to any team's arsenal. Harden your Archer's bow to make him less prone to run away when melee draws close, or climb inside a Hardened cardboard box for a little impervious protection.

Area Enchantments

At once the smallest category and biggest waste of spellpoints in the game, most area enchantments rely on your enemies to walk into an obviously trapped area of their own accord. Of all these spells, only Circle of Protection is worth the bother, and it is, without a doubt, one of the best spells in the game. COP is a mobile sanctuary and healing unit, a portable safe haven and foxhole combination. When used quickly and effectively, a COP in the proper hands becomes a monolith of magical power. Mobile Death: Jump in, jump out, cast Extend Curse, jump back in. Super-Sniper: Step in, step out, toss a few bolts, relocate, step in, repeat. Even more fun when you've got someone to travel with you, like a long-range Archer or Barbarian.

If you really think you can make use of the others, here's some advice: Set up Killing Grounds or Flametraps in areas where people have to pass by, like a narrow trail or crossroads, then spring it when the area is full of enemies. Forcewall, Flamewall and Thornwall are absolutely the best choices in a maze battle or other game where the halls or tunnels are less than 10' wide. Another sneaky trick is to flank an enemy team and line yourself up with four or five of their best fighters (who are probably all hanging together killing your team) and cast Flamewall right between their legs. Immediately call a Hold and ask the Reeve to judge who is hit and who isn't. Remember, Flamewall is an enchantment and Paladins and Anti-Paladins are not immune to enchantments (and don't let 'em buffalo you into thinking otherwise!) ... can you say "Napalm strike?" I knew you could.

Neutrals

Now this is vital magic right here. No caster worth his salt should be without one or more of these handy-dandy little spells. Neutrals can do it all: extra spells, useful abilities, more lives. Buy all of them you can afford, you won't regret being able to cast with both hands or loading Mr. Chainmail Robo-Scout up with Pro/Magic and Enchanted Weapon.

Personally, I always buy the booster-pack spells like Voice, Expertise and Advancement. It's a pretty good trade-off, especially for Wizards (seven spellpoints for three) who can load up on those awesome 2nd level verbals. And don't forget the single most powerful word in all Amtgard: Extension. As mentioned previously, most folks who hear their name followed by Extension turn tail and never wait for the real incanation to begin. The best part is: you can say Extension all you want, because if you never finish the follow-up spell, the neutral is not expended. Total cheese, they'll cry.

Still, gotta admit Mimic pretty much kicks major butt. As far as Neutrals go, no Bard should go without this one. Speaking of Bard Neutrals, Voice is another must-have. Sixth-level Bard, for one life per game, can be an incredibly devestating presence on the battlefield. Mimic Archer: Voice Commune + Call Lightning + Mend + Heal + bow + lots of arrows + 3 points of armor + Charms + other Bard spells. Or Mimic Warrior : 4 points of armor + tower shield + long flail, Voice Mend x3 + Heal x2 + other Bard spells. Get your hands on the Sword of Flame instead of the flail or the Shield of Reflection, or get a friendly Wizard to Stack you up with Pro/Magic and Pro/Projectile (or all three!) and the only way you'll die is if you let them kill you out of pity. Damn, Bards rock.

Spellpoints Well Spent

There are two basic schools of thought when it comes to purchasing weapons with spellpoints. There are the Purists and there is everyone else. Purists don't bother with weapons or shields (or even daggers in many cases), they rely on spells alone to carry them to the winner's circle. To Purists, if the enemy is close enough for melee, better to Teleport to safer ground or start running with the no-look Hold Person. Spellpoints are best reserved for spells, not swords.

For everyone else, spend your points wisely. Consider who your teammates are and whether they will be able to afford proper protection for your spellcasting. Be frugal when possible, because you just may wish you had those extra nine spellpoints later on. Do you need two short swords when an off-hand dagger would do the trick? If you just gotta have a shield, consider using a dagger instead of a short sword. Yeah, the range is shorter but the defense is the same and that's why you bought the shield, remember?

Epilogue

The game of Amtgard is a richly woven tapestry indeed, and nothing makes it more so than Magic. With proper application and a practiced incantation, one player can make all the difference in their team's victory. You can be that player. Now get out there and point your finger at someone!

Not that finger...

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