In this month's exclusive interview, Sean Reynolds, codesigner of Magic of Faerûn, offers a glimpse at the wealth of magical material contained therein and talks about how the book developed.
Wizards of the Coast: Tell us about the design process for Magic of Faerun. What were your goals at the outset?
Sean Reynolds: When Angel Leigh McCoy and I met to discuss the book, we realized that there were a lot of holes in the Player's Handbook spell list that could be filled by this book, such spells at each level that deal acid, sonic, or electricity damage. (Most of the handbook's direct-damage spells focus on fire and cold.)
Also, because the Forgotten Realms setting has always been a place that emphasized magic, it has a long history of products with strange spells and magic items in it. We wanted to take the most interesting spells and items from that history of product and convert them to the new game. At the same time, we had a lot of interesting ideas for using the new D&D rules in inventive ways. Plus, because the Forgotten Realms setting has placed an emphasis on bards and the power of nature, we wanted to make sure that bards, druids, and rangers got their fair share of new and interesting spells and items. Basically, we saw Magic of Faerûn as a way to draw from the best of the old material and show many of the ways that the new rules allow for great flexibility and power.
Wizards: The book has multiple authors. Which sections were you responsible for? How did you and your fellow designers determine who would write what -- did you play upon each other's strengths?
Sean: I took the cleric, paladin, sorcerer, and wizard spells, while Angel took the bard, druid, and ranger spells. Because I had more experience designing rules material for the new D&D game, I wrote most of the rules-heavy prestige class chapter, while Angel did most of the flavor-rich sections like the places of power. We collaborated on magic items, and the other designers chipped in with some prestige classes, interesting locations, a few spells, and many of the monsters. Skip Williams and Ed Greenwood didn't have an active hand in specifically designing this book, but we used some of their material cut from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (which was running long about 100 pages), so we made sure to give them full credit for it.
Wizards: How did the product evolve as you got into the writing process?
Sean: Initially, we had a gigantic spreadsheet of old Forgotten Realms spells from every source we could find. We crossed off ones that had already been incorporated into the Player's Handbook, crossed off others that weren't useful except in very rare circumstances or had serious rules problems, and finally crossed off redundant spells (like the dozen or so 2nd-level sorcerer/wizard fire spells that did essentially the same thing). Angel created a great spreadsheet classifying what sorts of spells each type of Player's Handbook spellcaster had at each level, which we used as a guideline for filling holes with this book.
Unfortunately, I got started a bit late because of some disasters with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book that I was asked to work on (like helping figure out what needed to be cut to make the book fit), so toward the end of the project we realized that it was going to be hard for the two of us to get everything written on time and still have it checked over for rules accuracy. So, the creative directors called in Bruce Cordell, Duane Maxwell, Jason Carl, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, and Monte Cook to help us out by writing some of the self-contained material (like monsters and sites). Their help took a lot of pressure off of me, and I was able to go over the whole book one more time, checking for any major problems before turning it over to Andy Collins and Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, who did an excellent job developing and editing the book.
Wizards: Advertising copy focuses a lot on the book's content about the Weave. For readers unfamiliar with the Weave, can you briefly explain what it is? And what cool new things will we learn about it in Magic of Faerûn?
Sean: In the Forgotten Realms campaign, Mystra is the goddess of magic, but more than in an abstract way. She literally is magic, and without her, magic stops working. The Weave is sort of a metaphysical extension of her body that pervades the entire world. So, when people cast spells in this world, they draw upon the Weave, rather that siphoning energy from another plane or tapping into an ambient, unshaped magical field. The Weave can be damaged, too, just like a piece of woven cloth, and damage to the Weave usually manifests in the form of a wild magic zone (where spells go awry) or a dead magic zone (where magic doesn't work).
The weird thing about the Weave is that because it's literally part of Mystra, she has incredibly precise control over it -- if she wanted to, she could cut off a particular spellcaster's access to the Weave, and he or she would be unable to cast spells, or even use scrolls, staves, or wands. Also, because the Weave reflects her state, if Mystra were to be killed (and killing a deity isn't so rare in this world -- t's happened to her twice), magic would go berserk and collapse. Not a good thing. Fortunately, both times that this has happened, she has been reborn, and magic started working again shortly thereafter.
Wizards: What are some other highlights of the book? Do you have a favorite section?
Sean: One thing I wrote is the mageduel. The novels and game products have always talked about rival wizards battling each other for hours, hurling spells back and forth and countering each other's magic. The D&D rules don't reflect that really well -- it's usually a matter of who gets off the killer spell first. So I came up with a variant ruleset in which Mystra allows arcane spellcasters to duel each other nonlethally, using their normal spells, and allowing for use of the counterspell action every round. This keeps the flavor of the stories and backs it up with a pretty simple system if you wanted to implement it in your game.
Every Forgotten Realms fan wants to know about spellfire, the natural talent for manipulating raw magic. The rules for that are in this book, both as a feat that a character takes to get the basic level of power, and as a prestige class for those who wish to master spellfire and develop its weird and powerful abilities like the crown of fire and the maelstrom of fire. The book also contains 11 prestige classes, including the incantatrix, the mystic (now called the mystic wanderer), and the War Wizard of Cormyr. Plus over 200 new spells and 200 new magic items.
But I'm particularly fond of the mageduel.
Wizards: How adaptable are the concepts from Magic of Faerûn for campaigns set outside the Realms?
Sean: Extremely adaptable. When it comes down to it, magic is magic, and because the Weave is described outside of the context of the spells and items, you can use them in a game that has "normal" magic instead of the Weave. Some spells and items are tied to certain Forgotten Realms deities, but you can easily remove "Selûne" from the name of an item and replace it with the name of your campaign's moon goddess.
Wizards: What is your general philosophy of game design?
Sean: I like to write stuff that makes interesting use of obscure rules and take little-used spells and effects and make them something people want to use all the time. Overall, I like making useful things that will actually come up during gameplay.
Wizards: Tell us about some of your current projects. What have you been working on lately?
Sean: Well, I've just finished up a top secret project with Monte Cook that is coming out in 2002. I'm also doing some development for another Forgotten Realms book, and the next six things I work on after that are sourcebooks or adventures for the Forgotten Realms. Phew! After Magic of Faerûn, the next book you'll see with my name on it is Lords of Darkness, a sourcebook for villainous organizations that I cowrote with Jason Carl.