2/02/2009

Published on 2/02/2009 Written by 9 comments

Help me make a magic system that doesn't suck

I have a love/hate relationship with magic systems in role playing games. I haven't had to worry about using a magic system in my last few campaigns because we were playing in a very low magic world. The campaign I am currently working on is going to be a standard fantasy world where magic is relatively prevalent, and this raises the irritating question of what kind of magic system do I want to use.

The game system I'm using is going to be a stripped down d20 (no feats or powers, or 4e generally) with a mingling of old school AD&D thrown in for colour. I would love to have my own game system up and running, but time and wanting to actually play are outweighing that project so it can simmer on the back burner for a while longer.

You might be wondering why I'm not using D&D's magic system, and the answer would be, I fucking hate D&D's magic system, and always have. I might lose old school cred (I don't think I have any anyways) for that statement, but who cares. D&D's magic system will not fit what I'm looking for, and unfortunately I don't think anything will. I need a completely original system, and that's where you come in.

I need help designing a magic system, obviously. If you have any cool or insightful ideas I would love to read them. If you help me I can offer lots of gratitude and praise, but not much else. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that a fellow GM thinks your idea is awesome and is going to use it in his game.

I have four criteria that I want the magic system to meet:

1. The magic must make sense.
I know this sounds silly, it is magic after all, but knowing how magic works and why is very important. Who can use magic, and what is its relationship to the world and the worlds physics etc... these all have to make sense and be translatable into game terms.

2. Magic has to be more than just spells.
What is the philosophy of magic and why is it used. I don't want a magic system that is only a series of progressive spells and nothing more, it has to be more meaningful than that.

3. Magic is magic.
Magic is undifferentiated. Priest, wizards, shaman and everyone else have access to the same powers, but for different reasons.

4. Magic has to be awesome.
That's all, it just has to be awesome.

If you want to help me out leave a comment. Please help me by doing my work for me... seriously, I will think you're awesome forever.

9 comments:

  1. Can I recommend a game to you? Witchcraft by C.J. Carella. The core book is freely distributed as a pdf both on Eden Studios website and on sites like DrivethruRPG.com. If you like it, it has a couple nice supplements, but that's all.

    I'm in love with the magic system in Witchcraft. Every branch of magic or powers has pretty much its own rules, but it all fits together.

    ReplyDelete
  2. THE BEST RPG MAGIC SYSTEM EVAH!

    Seriously, take a look at Ars Magica.

    All magic is a function of combinging a technique (create, destroy, change) and a form (body, mind, fire, animal)

    There are 5 techniques:
    Creo (create)
    Intellego (perceive)
    Muto (change)
    Perdo (destroy)
    Rego (control)

    There are 10 forms:
    Animal
    Aquam (water)
    Auram (air/wind)
    Ignem (fire)
    Imagonem (illusion)
    Corpus (body)
    Mentam (mind)
    Herbam (plant/wood)
    Terram (earth)
    Vim (magic itself)

    There are 3 basic types of magic:
    Spontaneous - pick a technique and form, make up the spell on the spot, random results
    Formulaic - cast from memory, same results each time
    Ritual - long involved spells, may take hours to cast

    Everything is set in Mythic Europe (13th century Europe with magic).
    The 5th edition really streamlines much of the game system. I highly recommend it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Before I go any further, I'd like to make it clear that my experience with table-top roleplaying games is mostly limited to D&D. So if what I say sounds like something that's copyrighted, it's purely coincidental.

    I've been working on a magic system for my own special campaign setting. What I decided to do was start with the basics of magic. I decided that the first thing a magic user would learn would be how to expel a small burst of elemental energy from the palm of their hand. I decided that the elemental energy would come in 4 types: heat, cold, positive, and negative. The latter two deal with magnetic polarity, and are included because I had earlier decided that my campaign world would have upside-down floating islands due to gravity working like magnetism with everything behaving as though it were metal and dirt acting as though it were a magnet, the end result being that a section of dirt would push itself away from the ground whenever it was turned upside down. Since I decided that the polarity that would normally correspond with "up" would be positive, this leaves with positive making things lighter and negative making things heavier.

    I then decided that there needed to be a way to make things a bit more complicated. So I decided that I would let the players describe how they release the burst and have the effect be based upon that. A character could try to concentrate energy into a ball before releasing it by expelling the energy from both of their palms while pointing them at each other (think of the Kamehameha from DBZ). The end result would be that the character spends more time but releases a stronger burst of magic. Another example could be heating up a line on the ground until it catches fire and continuing to heat it up to make the flames higher until a wall of flame is made. This encourages the player to roleplay how they use magic and allows the GM to change what a particular way to use magic does based on the situation.

    As for how the characters could get better at magic as they level up, I would let them choose between a few various things that would increase the possibilities for what they could do and give them more energy to use for magic. They could learn to use an extra element. They could learn to expel the energy from other body parts. They could learn to release multiple types of elemental energy simultaneously. They could learn to release the energy over a longer period of time. They could learn to release more energy at once. They could learn to control the energy better.

    I then thought about how the elements might react to one another. So far, I've decided that the heat and cold elements would combine to create wind that would go from the heat element to the cold element (remind you of the second law of thermodynamics?). I also decided that the positive and negative elements would combine to create electricity that flowed from the negative to the positive.

    I also thought about how heat comes from something moving fast, and decided that the heat and cold elements could have effects on a target's speed. I then thought about the possibility of the heat spell speeding up metabolism and natural healing along with it, and thus I decided to go with it because I enjoy the thought of healing magic being a part of what is basically fire magic. I then decided that the cold element would be used for slowing down the spread of poison and disease.

    In the end, the magic system I've come up with tends to require a GM that's good at improvising rules for what the magic will do. It would also encourage the magic-using PCs to be more descriptive and creative with their magic.

    Let's go back to your criteria.

    1. The magic must make sense.
    What makes sense can depend on the setting. What I've come up with so far makes sense for the campaign world I'm working on, but it might not make as much sense in your campaign (especially if it doesn't have upside-down islands that float in the sky).

    2. Magic has to be more than just spells.
    What I've come up with keeps magic from becoming a series of progressive spells by having allowing the GM to make the really cool/powerful stuff come from the most creative ways of using it. As for philosophy, I'm not so good at thinking of stuff for that. Magic just seems to be another type of energy to me. You might as well ask me "What is the philosophy of electricity and why is it used."

    3. Magic is magic.
    It makes the different kinds of magic users different only in how they use the magic. Priests would focus on control so that they could avoid accidentally burning someone that they are trying to heal with a heat spell. Shamans would focus on releasing energy over long periods of time for their rituals. Wizards would focus on... OK, I'm not entirely sure because I'm used to thinking of wizards as generic magic users.

    4. Magic has to be awesome.
    My magic system allows magic to be as awesome as the GM will allow. If the players can't think of an awesome way to use magic, then there's still the possibility that an NPC could. Heck, in the campaign that I'm planning, it'll be possible to reverse the polarity of the ground someone's standing on, causing it to zoom into the air, and then try to hit it hard enough with either a physical strike or a wind spell to turn it upside down so that it will fall back down with the opponent under it. Of course, that example is rather dependent on how my campaign world treats gravity (which I explained in my second paragraph).

    So that's it. I hope you found that helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll point you towards an old standby for me. Gramarye for FUDGE. It's served me as a good framework for several different magic systems over the years.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had a vague idea once for a system that revolved around the emotions and mental state of the wielder. So, for example, healing spells require that the healer has great empathy and concern for the target - they have to really want that person to be healed (thus it is much harder to heal someone the healer hates). Offensive spells are the opposite, requiring a severe detachment from the caster and the target - the target isn't "one of us", it's "one of them". Illusionary spells require a sense of untangebility - The notion that nothing is real and everything is fleeting, thus making insane and schizophrenic characters especially adept. Necrotic spells require that the wielder be totally indifferent from the target - if the character is especially grieved by the death of the target it is extremely hard to resurrect them (this is because necromancy requires the philosophy of change, that nothing is forever, that death itself can be reversed).

    An effect of a magic system based on the user is that spells cast once will not always have the same effect, and the outcome depends on the caster's emotions. It's extremely fluidic in the outcomes of spells.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Try the magic system in Nexus D20. It has a bunch of different powers with "spells" as feats.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Try the magic system in Nexus D20. It has a bunch of different powers with "spells" as feats.

    ReplyDelete
  8. THE BEST RPG MAGIC SYSTEM EVAH!

    Seriously, take a look at Ars Magica.

    All magic is a function of combinging a technique (create, destroy, change) and a form (body, mind, fire, animal)

    There are 5 techniques:
    Creo (create)
    Intellego (perceive)
    Muto (change)
    Perdo (destroy)
    Rego (control)

    There are 10 forms:
    Animal
    Aquam (water)
    Auram (air/wind)
    Ignem (fire)
    Imagonem (illusion)
    Corpus (body)
    Mentam (mind)
    Herbam (plant/wood)
    Terram (earth)
    Vim (magic itself)

    There are 3 basic types of magic:
    Spontaneous - pick a technique and form, make up the spell on the spot, random results
    Formulaic - cast from memory, same results each time
    Ritual - long involved spells, may take hours to cast

    Everything is set in Mythic Europe (13th century Europe with magic).
    The 5th edition really streamlines much of the game system. I highly recommend it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Can I recommend a game to you? Witchcraft by C.J. Carella. The core book is freely distributed as a pdf both on Eden Studios website and on sites like DrivethruRPG.com. If you like it, it has a couple nice supplements, but that's all.

    I'm in love with the magic system in Witchcraft. Every branch of magic or powers has pretty much its own rules, but it all fits together.

    ReplyDelete

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