How to learn spells in Bastionland

I love the simplicity of Electric Bastionland and Into the Odd and “foreground growth” in place of advancement, but I also understand the appeal of detailed character upgrade options. For a lot of players, getting to plan out and optimize their character trajectory is an essential part of the fun of RPGs. There are, of course, other games with simple rules that do this quite well. (I hear good things about Best Left Buried and Vagabonds of Dyfed for that.) But if you’d like a method to inject some character customization options into Bastionland for players who want that, I humbly suggest this:

Give them a “spell book,” and make them pay to learn what’s in it.

The “spell book” could be an actual book of actual magic spells, but it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to be something in the world that has discrete upgrade options that players can choose to pursue, and a clear means of unlocking those options. Electric Bastionland offers an example in “Unions and Rituals” (p. 310, and also in an earlier form online): Pay £1000, and you can raise the dead, regrow a body part, or learn the secret of eating people’s memories, just to give a few examples. This is a downright excellent character upgrade system, but just a glimpse of what it could be: It’s on you the GM to actually create the content for it, and not every GM has the time (or confidence) to put together a whole supplement of splendidly weird options.

That’s why I phrase this as a “spell book”: There are plenty of pre-written spell lists out there, including an Into the Odd conversion of a bunch of classic D&D-ish spells by Chris himself. (If I were to run this myself, I’d probably use Wonders & Wickedness, and be prepared to convert a bit on the fly. The spells are just so interesting and flavorful.) This could exist as a literal book in the game world, but it could just as easily be a (bulky) bronze terminal with a giant crank, and leather straps to help you haul it around on your back. You might be limited in the number of spells you can cast because the magic energy leaves you deprived (0 HP), because turning the crank in the heat of battle is a pain in the ass, or because the blasted terminal shorts out if you use it too many times in a day.

You can’t just go in and read all the “spells” themselves, though: You have to pay to unlock them. This is a game about treasure hunting, so instead of spending “experience points,” expect to spend some money. If we’re talking about a literal book, well, translator services don’t come cheap; the translator tells you up front the general summary of each spell’s effects, but actually translating the ritual steps right (and safely) is gonna cost you per-spell. Or perhaps there’s one bronze-terminal-technician in all of Bastion who can repair the dings and scratches on the thing’s record-disc, but that’s painstaking work that costs a pretty penny.

And so you end up with something you can give to a player who loves “lonely fun”—a list of spells, or super powers, or what have you—without demanding much more effort from you than figuring out which list to give them, and how to “skin” it so it fits the setting.

I have to imagine there are comparably fitting advancement and customization options from other games that would be fun and not too much work to bolt onto Electric Bastionland. If you think of any, please let me know!

2 thoughts on “How to learn spells in Bastionland

  1. I’m not sure I remember if EB has an inventory system or not, but if it does, or if you graft one on, I really really love the idea from UVG where spells take inventory slots. Call it all “baggage” and it’s just stuff you have to worry about.

    1. If I remember correctly, EB just says you can carry 2 bulky items, and if you want to carry more, you’re deprived (0 HP). I’m a big fan of this when I want a simple game without getting bogged down in details. I do like spells taking up Inventory slots in games that do track inventory, though—one less currency/resource to track.

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