Try Something New is an occasional series of articles about new things… to try! New game mechanics, play styles, or food!
The Flames Engulf was a mix of new ideas and techniques, some worked other did not. One of the major ones was creating a new magic system for Call of Cthulhu that fit the in game ideas about the Cthulhu Mythos. If you go read the Book of Excruciating Knowledge (Friday Game Notes 20) you can read more about that. Read Friday Game Notes 21 to read about the magic system in full.
The main mechanic of the magic is descriptive. Battling magicians simultaneously reveal how many magic points they are spending on their attack or defense. If the attacker spends more than the defender they do damage equal to a number of 1d6s equal to the number of magic points spent. Both parties can also describe their magical attack adding extra dice to the attack through narrative descriptions.
This system was fairly effective for a pretty pulpy magical feel. The back and forth worked best on one on one combat or in small groups. The mechanics fell apart a little as more people got involved.
The players were infinitely creative with magical descriptions. Since magic was consigned to three categories, Power, Matter, and Interaction the players had varied camps to pull from. All being scientists of various sorts they ran circles around me describing the way they would melt bones or brainwash their victims.
The dreaded words of “power creep” entered Flames with the magic system. Early on, before the magic system was completely added into the game, it had been established that magicians could remove power from other living creatures. Before I knew it players were murdering poor animals, and in a couple of cases humans and stealing their power. Soon their POW scores were through the roof and I had to boost the villains in response. The players without magic started to feel like they were falling behind.
The idea that players could so drastically improve their power both left non-magic using players in the lurch and ruined the theme of helplessness in Call of Cthulhu.
I think they had a lot of fun with the magic and I would use it again in a pulpy game. I would even use it in a classic Call of Cthulhu game but I would seriously enforce the horrible consequences from using such power.
Players in future would also not be able to increase their POW scores by more than a few points.