I preface this as a "dumb idea" because I suspect that there will be a number of posters who will cite "realism" and thereby dislike it. Bear with me....
Not a dumb idea, and thank you for temporarily absolving us of the specter of "realism." I've had his label pinned on me before and it sucks, but I've always thought that "believability" is crucial to telling a good and engrossing story.
What if there are fundamentally two main types of arcane magic. (By "arcane" I mean wizard magic; toss out clerics entirely from the discussion.) One type would be low-level but pretty safe, the other would be high-level and pretty dangerous.
The reasoning is this: when I think about Appendix N I see a couple of types of spell casters. One (usually the characters) are wizards who can do some moderately cool things but don't seem to face corruption. The other (usually the uber-bad evil dude to be killed) dabbles with Magic One Ought Not Play With, which would involve corruption and all sorts of icky side effects.
I think this is an excellent idea and I look forward to seeing what happens; but from here...well, I'm not sure I like the rest all that much.
Call it "white magic" and "dark magic" or "the force" and "the dark side" or whatever. What it would do is to allow characters who wanted a magical and whimsical style to play safe as long as they stuck to simple spells like magic missile and knock, but the wizard who really craved power could get into the dark arts where the big boys play and often flame out.
I reject the idea that it is some how more "manly" to use the dark arts, and that those playing white wizards are wimps.
Guys like Gandalf have lots of power, but clearly his spell choices are limited to the weaker spells. This seems to be by choice, and while Gandalf explains that he simply wants to avoid being noticed by Sauron it’s possible that it could be because his magical style is non-corrupting. Harold Shea casts quite a few whimsical spells but never seems to fear being corrupted or losing a body part due to his magic. Cudgel the Clever may have spell mishaps, but nothing seems to have a long-term effect and he's not usually casting the big spells.
On the other hand, Elric summons elementals and he doesn't seem to mind any potential dangers along the way because his need is dire and he's more willing to take a risk. The evil wizards that Conan faces are often doing things that are twisted and nasty, but they dabble with necromancy and other non-trivial things. Sauron will risk anything in order to cast big spells, and in the process he is somewhat twisted. In the Lankhmar stories, Sheelba and Ningauble each have rather twisted appearances and hide behind cowls so as to not be seen.
I'll stick with the examples of Gandalf because I'm more recently familiar with Tolkien, than the others. Just because Abjuration magic isn't flashy doesn't mean its weak. Gandalf goes toe-to-toe with one of the greatest evils of the first age... in single combat. Now, either the magic sword he had was so awesome that it would make Saberhagen jealous: or, his magic is more potent than is portrayed. He fell to the bottom of what was supposed to be a bottomless pit, while fighting a demon of the Old World and lived long enough to fight the monster all the way back to the top of the mountain. Sure the fight eventually claims Gandalf's life, but not before he vanquished his foe... Then [by DCC RPG rules] a displeased Patron sends him back to the world of the living to finish what he'd started. And lets not forget the battle between Gandalf & Saruman in the tower of Orthanc, no flashy spells there, but they manage to beat the tar out of each other. It isn't until Gandalf loses his staff that he loses and gets captured.
In the literature, they seem to be very different styles of wizards. Perhaps there should be two sets of styles in the rules. Essentially, what this may mean is that there could be “PC magic” and “NPC magic” where the rules may not always be quite the same. Not “fair” certainly, but more in keeping with much of the source material.
You're correct, and it always seems like it's the Bad Guys
that are the ones using the magic of the soul-sucking, horrifying, & generally "naughty" variety. Those are the ones we're supposed to be vanquishing... right?
Anyway, it's possible that my thoughts are more a philosophical issue than a rules mechanic issue and the current corruption rules would allow these options already. In that case my idea could simply be a tweak for my own campaign, but I thought I'd toss it out there to see what folks think about it.
Nothing wrong with a philosophical bent to the discussion and I love the idea that there may be additional paths of magic available. I think this would enhance the game.
------because I don't want to make a second posting, but keeping with the theme of Ethics---------
After reading the thread, I don't think it is necessary to say that specific schools of magic are "white" or "black" magic. After all, a battle wizard and his or her apprentices working to defend their Lords Castle and its citizens from the invading undead army with a few fireball spells (which is where those bouncy ones would be real nice
) doesn't seem to me like it is deserving of corruption rolls. Likewise, a necromancers could be using their knowledge to heal people with minor/major surgeries. I had a L-G Necromancer in 2e D&D that used the spells Graft Limb
& Shape Bone
to perform the services of a country doctor and to help folk deal with undead pests.