I think that wizards are sort of like the doctors of the fantasy world. They’re extremely intelligent, spend way too much time studying, and possess the kind of handwriting that can prescribe horse tranquilizers for a nosebleed.

Anywho, today’s gag relies on some fairly esoteric rules lore. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s the relevant bit of text from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook:

To record an arcane spell in written form, a character uses complex notation that describes the magical forces involved in the spell. The writer uses the same system no matter what her native language or culture. However, each character uses the system in his own way. Another person’s magical writing remains incomprehensible to even the most powerful wizard until he takes time to study and decipher it.

This rule exemplifies one of my favorite aspects of RPG design. On the surface level, it exists to provide a bit of a challenge for wizards, making the Spellcraft skill and the read magic spell feel useful. It also serves to make magical writings mysterious. They’re not just ink on a page; they’re eldritch signs and symbols beyond the understanding of mundane folk who must rely on feats to muddle through their dreary little lives. But while this rule may have been designed with these purposes in mind, it is precisely the kind of rule that gives gamers room to imagine. Questions begin to occur. What does this notation look like? Why can’t we standardize this stuff? Could wizards lacking a common language communicate via arcane writing? Why might that be a bad idea? Suddenly you’ve got an adventure about an international wizard’s conference in which carelessly copied spellbooks have become full of malevolent sentient writing. Can our heroes broker a peace between these most learned of men, or will the seemingly random acts of magic that plague the conference trigger war? Find out on the next exciting adventure of etc. etc.

These are the kinds of rules that appear to be throwaway details, but actually represent a terrific source of inspiration for encounter design and world building. Other examples include the source of a barbarian’s rage, the nature of thieves’ cant, and the reason why animal companions instinctively know to seek out 4th level rangers.

Question of the day then. Have any of you guys ever stumbled upon a “throwaway rule” and decided to use it as fodder for new storylines? What was the rule? What did you do with it?


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