Before I was born—and there was such a time—the author Jack Vance wrote stories. The sort of stories you could expect from Jack, with interesting characters and interesting situations. Indeed, the sort of tale Dangerous Journeys was meant to emulate.
In Vance’s tales of the distant future one talent his heroes sometimes had was the ability to memorize certain magicks of a high science sort that had great powers and strange names, Bogglesnack’s aura of the Toads of the Lesser Puissance for example—and I just made that up. However, such were these magicks that the heroes could not memorize more than three or so, and such a strain they were to remember that actually “casting” them meant they would be forgotten and need to be rememorized.
Then Gary Gygax and others enter the picture with their skirmish game Dungeons and Dragons. A fantasy game with magic and spells, which Gary intended to emulate to some degree the magic and spells of Jack Vance. So a Prestidigitator, as they were known, began his adventuring career with but one spell. However Gary forgot to specify that. The game did have a chart for this, but it wasn’t explained.
Spell Points are Born
Now young people are creative, especialy college kids. A number of them took up the early D&D and not knowing just how Prestidigitators etc. were supposed to be limited in their access to magic bothered them. So they invented limitations. One of the most popular was in assigning a cost to use each spell, and how many points the young magic-user had to use with them. With each advancement in ability—a level increase to you—meant more points for the magic-user to use, and so more spells and more powerful spells he could use.
Spell points proved to be popular in some circles, though they proved to be probematic as well, for often they ended up providing more power that a setting could actually handle. And there were disputes that causes a lot of rancor in the new community of the time.
Now D&D already had a mechanism for limiting how much magic a magic-user got, it just wasn’t explained. So in later printings—editions, really—Gygax provided an explanation. But we’re dealing with young adults here; intelligent, creative young adults—we were brats back then, and more than a few of us decided we preferred how we handled things—Believe me, a long time before the Internet we had fan feuds and trolls.
Comes Dangerous Journeys
So we had disagreement and animosity and while all this was going on Gygax got to thinking about what he and his friends had created, and came to the conclusion that it really wasn’t what they had thought it was. In short he came to the conclusion that you didn’t have to do it the way peope thought you had to. While still with the old TSR he started to propose changes that in my opinion would’ve meant a revolution in RPGs and uttlerly changed the hobby. Think of the first Unearthed Arcana and what it presented as an example of this. His Mountebank Player Character Class for D&D was another example of what he was working towards.
But them the Blume Brothers and Lorraine Williams interrupted him—a tale to involved for this essay, so he found himself with a lot of free time, and a lot of ideas.
Again truncating a bit he decided to design and write and present his own thinking on RPGs and on how they were best handled. He also wanted something that could be used to emulate the sort of stories written back in the days of the old pulps such as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Amazing Stories—adolescents and young college kids have always been adolescents and young college kids. In short, your grandparents were like you when they were 22. To sum it up, you’re normal.
From Truly Ancient Times
Now we talk of Classical Rome as being ancient times, but even they had times they called ancient. And the people of those times, the Classical Greeks for example, had their tales of even older civilizations. And they, Uratu and Israel for instance, had their stories of even older cultures and states.
Which brings us back to Pharonic Egypt, and they had stories of the times before. But we’re going to stick with the Old Kingdom, for it is then when they concocted a lot of what we associated with Pharonic Egypt; great heaps of artfully piled up rock, heiroglyphics, and Egyptian magick.
And a term Gygax decided would be useful in Dangerous Journeys, heka.
According to Gygax heka comes from the Egyptian “hekau”, or “words of power”. Now from what I can see and what I know heka is a mash up—a portmanteu—for two Egyptian words; “ka” for one of the Egyptian souls—the core of the person in other words—and “he” which means, I think, “strength of”. So “heka”, strength of the soul. Something tells me that “hekau” was derived from “heka” and not the other way around.
(I think that “baraka” came from “heka” but how and when I do now know.)
Now when designing Dangerous Journeys Gygax decided he was going to use spell points to resrict the use of the magick to be presented in the RPG. But he didn’t want to use the term “spell points” He had a good reason for the originality, which didn’t exactly work out in his favor. But to keep this short he wanted to give DJ and those modules—as he called them—using those rules a distinctive feel. For his purposes calling magic points heka fit the bill.
He also used other terms for magickal energy, baraka for one. But also such as mana, chi, vril, and orgone, though those were for magicks that weren’t as refined or as developed as the Egyptian. Or Ægyptian as Gary preferred.
The big difference between earlier spell point systems and Gary’s was in how they were handled. Thing is, those earlier spell point designers came up with neat sounding mechanics, but by and large they didn’t experiment with them. For the most part what you’d get is a starting mu with a smidgen of points who’d have a semi-trailer full off them by the time he was not really all that advanced—in my point of view.
Gary didn’t want that for DJ, so he came up with a formula that satisfied him. He also decided to not use class levels, but instead to base the amount of heka an Heroic Persona—DJ for Player Character—would get on his statistics; personal stats, skills, and bennies from potencies malign or benign depending on what the player thought he could deal with.
He did decide to use spell levels, but to call them “casting grades” instead. With them he came up with a formula for calculating how much they would cost to cast in heka, though I suspec he also made adjustments in the costs so they wouldn’t look too troublesome. And by the way, the Mages and Priests in Mythus were designed to be magickally powerful, and I suspect he was inspired by the Wizards of Ars Magica. No, I wouldn’t call Dangerous Journeys exactly a balanced game.
So in the long run what had originally been intended to balance what many saw as an unbalanced situation ended up providing for an unbalanced situation, though still intended to help keep the situation in question as being ludicrously unbalanced. At least that’s how I see it.
This took a little while to write, more words and thinking than I thought it would, and it ended up longer than some articles in newspapers and magazine’s other writers get paid for. Now I’m not really set up for charging you to read this, but I thought I’d ask you to pay for it. Entirely voluntary of course, in fact think for this as a pay what you want if you decide it’s worth paying for.
Please note that this is ©, but the ideas I presented here can’t be. You find your own way of presenting them, go ahead and have fun with it. In any case I hope you found this interesting, inspirational, and useful. And I’ll have more later.