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Magical Parryingby Adam Curtis
I haven't read much about the formal magical duels that take place upon Mystara, but knowing the standard D&D/AD&D magic systems, I imagine they're not often as epic as they should be.
One good spell, and your opponent's toast. Obviously a physical blow can achieve the same instant death effect in real life, but it usually doesn't in D&D (makes for better climax combats). You'd think at least that when mages are duelling, the potential for the "win initiative, instantly kill opponent" would seriously dwindle.
So I started kicking around an idea to lengthen magic duels. GAZ03, *The Principalities of Glantri*, outlines some interesting special skills in its "Complimentary Courses" section. Perhaps an additional course could be something called *Raw Mana Manipulation*.
*Raw Mana Manipulation*, as I've thought of it, would be much less effective than standard magic. After all, mana (or magical energy) simply grabbed and flung isn't nearly as potent when compared with a painstakingly crafted spell designed to utilise mana in supreme efficiency. However, unlike standard magic, *Raw Mana Manipulation* is incredibly flexible and may be used without preparation totalling more than a second or two.
Less importantly, this skill could create all those little magical cantrip effects mages love without having to waste precious spell slots on a cantrip spell. For instance, a mage with mana manipulation could make a simple skill check to create that dramatic small gust of wind that flickers candles when entering a room, make floorboards slightly creak while walking across a normally quiet floor, create a very small flame within his hand to provide some illumination (about as bright as a match), or very slowly (probably making nine or ten skill checks, no need to make them all succeed in a row) alter the blue colour of a small object into a green colour.
More importantly, a mana manipulator could slightly alter gathered raw mana into a jet of flame or an electrical discharge. Since mana isn't nearly as efficiently consumed in this way as it is in a real spell, its effects would be much weaker. So crude an offensive weapon would perhaps cause 1d4 points of damage per caster level (max 10d4), save v. magic for half.
Most importantly, mana manipulation could "parry" offensive spells thrown at the practitioner through quickly channelling a concentrated beam of raw mana to disrupt the intricate structure of the incoming spell. For instance, someone with mana manipulation could, on a successful skill check, reduce or nullify a fireball just cast at them.
Obviously, so instant a *dispel magic* is way too powerful, so limitations on the above effect must be made. I'd say a mage with mana manipulation trying to achieve the above dispel effect OR even the cheap magical attack immediately before it, obviously requiring much more effort than moving a little air through a room, would be physically taxing unlike standard spell casting. Therefore, the mage would subtract two points of constitution every time he/she attempted a magical parry or a raw mana attack. If the constitution of the mage ever dropped below 3, he/she'd instantly lose consciousness. Constitution points lost in such a way could only be restored with a heal spell, a wish, or good old rest (at 1 point per hour's rest).
In addition, the mana manipulator must be aware that a spell is being cast against him the instant the casting begins to prepare a quick parry, otherwise he/she won't have enough time to muster enough raw magic. To muster the mana, the mage must remain motionless (no dex bonus to AC during the manipulation) and devote full concentration on drawing in mana.
The parry must also be unleashed within instants of the completion of the offending spell, just before the spell completely "gells" (that'll make this ability useless for dispelling already charmed and/or enchanted beings and/or things). Finally, the mana manipulator may only disrupt spells of a spell level he/she may personally cast. For instance, a mana manipulator capable of casting level 1, 2, and 3 spells, could disrupt a fog wall (level 1 spell), an acid arrow (level 2 spell), and a fireball (level 3 spell), but not an ice storm (level 4 spell).
I know the way I listed the idea isn't concise, nor are all loopholes likely accounted for, nor does the idea of mana manipulation seem at all simple, but the intention of the above rules is to take the bite out of the nastier KO spells used in magic duels, such as fireballs and meteor swarms, in addition to providing a few other cool effects. If the above was revised for clarity and conciseness, I think it'd make a very positive and fun contribution to the D&D/AD&D systems.