Tuesday 22 September 2015

HELP WANTED: What is the best RPG/wargame magic system?

In wargames, there has been advances in game mechanics. I'd say the primary beneficiary is activation - it's moved away from default IGOUGO as designers realise the tactical gameplay possibilities in allowing players to manage activation and reactions.  Another area is resource management - they are now commonly added to games, often in clever ways.  

However - has there been any cool advancements in how to manage magic?

I must admit I don't play many magic-heavy games.  The magic systems which immediately come to mind are....

How: Spend Will from a pool (resource management), then pass a d6 roll to cast (test). Can use one at a time.
What: Mages have several preassigned spells according to movie/book settings. 

Savage Worlds
How: Spend a Magic Point (resource management). Your character must = the spell level (i.e. novice, experienced, master). Can cast spells concurrently but -1 each spell.
What: Mages select 3+ spells from a generic list.  

How: Roll above Spell Difficulty on 2D6 or no magic that turn. One spell per turn - replaces missile fire.
What: Can use ~6 spells from their faction list. (x5-6 factions)

How: Spend Focus points from a pool that replenishes every turn.  Can spend to cast spells or buff allies with in a control radius.  
What: Warcasters (mages) have several preassigned spells according to movie/book settings, and usually a powerful "feat" that be used only once per game. 

The PC game Verbus Virtus you use a voice and your mic to cast spells.  Sounds cool... ....but what about weak, repetitive spells? Saying "kazam" until your throat is hoarse.... yeah.

Same old same old?
A quick look at my random grab bag of wargame magic systems shows there is usually (but not always) a casting roll to pass, and often magic is drawn from a pool of "magic points."   Magic often functions in the place of the missile phase. I like the resource management aspect to the magic point pool. 

However, they are all pretty similar in how/when they work.   Have you seen other, cleverer ways of using magic in games?

I'm thinking RPGs might be a fertile source of ideas...   ...but it has to be a practical, "closed" system that can be balanced.  Some RPG stuff is waaaay to abstract and open-ended.  Fine for storytelling but not for a wargame.  I'.e. I'd avoid magic systems like "if you can rhyme the effects of the spell in a haiku, you can cast it"  or  "player describes the spell aloud and GW assigns a casting rating from Easy to Very Tricky."

Any cool magic systems you've seen lately?


  1. RPG wise, Ars Magica has a pretty cool system. While a bit open ended (you really can choose to cast anything), there are lots of pre-described skills, and a rigorous description of what levels various effects require (including modifications from using/not using gestures, booming voice, foci, changing ranges, etc).

    Possibly useful to a game would be the basic theme: a set number of techniques (in Ars it's control, change, destroy, create, perceive) and forms that they work upon (water, dirt, air, fire, earth, mind, body, animal, vim/magic, image). It's based on an aristotle type universe (middle ages) as seen by the fire/earth/water/air and the separation between body(human) and animal.

    If you broadened the effects (less total techniques and forms) you might have something usable. Mages could point buy (more pricey for higher skills in each area) allowing you to create generalists who are good at lots of low stuff, or specialists who can toss a fireball with great vigour, but can't make a mist to save their life.

    Probably greatly benefit from a GM, but possible without if you have a decent list of spells.

  2. Building up on what Daveb said above and using Ars Magica as an inspiration you could have an open create any effect system... that you have to make a test to cast. But also have preset spells that need no casting roll.

    This would represent familiarity with established practices and ritual. Its more difficult to make stuff up on the fly.

    1. I have Ars Magica and whilst I like the universe and world building, regard the magic system as rather too "open" i.e. open to abuse in a wargame, as opposed to a more co operative, referreed RPG.

    2. True it is not going to work in a wargame. But, mine it for inspiration.

  3. I think the Frost Grave magic system is an excellent one. Its a bit unpredictable, you can pull spells from any list but some will be harder to use then others because they are unfamiliar to you. I also like that you can burn health to guarantee success (minimal success but success) and that wizards can to the same to resist the effects of some kinds of magic.

  4. Another vote for Ars Magica. Best mechanical system for magic I've seen.

  5. I've never seen it in action, but I've always wondered why various magic systems don't let players alter fundamental game rules. Either they're just weapons by another name, or they let players do something within the framework of the game without letting them alter or manipulate that framework.

    Presumably because that would be tricky as heck to design, but maybe someone's seen something like this?

    1. interesting Idea... I think that would need a GM/ref to work.

    2. How would this work? Can you give an example?

      I.e. get an extra turn/action = something that exists already
      pass through impassible terrain = something that exists already

      Any special rule or special ability is usually a violation of the game rules (which is why I dislike them in large numbers ie. SoBH, Infinity)...
      ...but I think I'm failing to "get" your point. Help please!


      I'm planning to use mages for supporting roles (teleportation, AOE barriers, invisibility) to manipulate the battlefield and solve/create tactical problems.

      They will be weaker offensively than warriors in melee, and inferior to archers ranged; but have AoE weapons to discourage clumping. (I like AoE weapons)

    3. So the idea is that you have your general rules forming a framework for your game, and then decorating that framework with exceptional or special rules. Magic would be the ability to manipulate the general rules, so swapping phases, or eliminating/adding a step in combat procedures, or swapping stats like a Movement and Initiative or something.

      Given that weapons are already weapons, I think it would be more interesting to have magic do something else. Nothing wrong with a fireball or three, but I really like the notion of magic fundamentally altering reality in clever ways.

    4. "Magic would be the ability to manipulate the general rules"

      '....swapping phases, or eliminating/adding a step in combat procedures..."

      It sounds cool, but I'd like to see how it would work in practice.

      "Given that weapons are already weapons, I think it would be more interesting to have magic do something else."

      -In the modern pulp rules I'm fiddling with, fireballs are included, but tend to be rather inferior to a well aimed AK47. I've focussed more on AoE-status weapons, i.e. "ice blast = AoE damage + slow" "barrier" "magic barrier" because a M203 covers your standard damage AoE....

  6. Well about wargame im not too versed in magic because I prefer modern/sci-fi settings but in rol my favorite is Anima: Beyond fantasy; it's very versatile and good, extensive magic and many sistemas (invocations, classic magic with it's schools, Ki, Nemesis...) but I know Anima is very hard on someone that doesnt like too much rules or complicated systemas (anima is quite easy except the magic, that is complicated and tiresome but very rewarding in game). A very good system is the one in Mage: The awakening because of the system that punishes the magic users for doing magic on plain sight and the sort but to be honest the best system overall is D&D 3.5 or 5th editions. Simple but complete, deep with diferent magic and easy to learn and manage for new people on RPG and interesting for veterans.

  7. " but to be honest the best system overall is D&D 3.5 or 5th editions. Simple but complete, deep with diferent magic and easy to learn and manage for new people on RPG and interesting for veterans."

    I originally based my Middleheim system on this to keep it familiar and recognizable, but say 8 schools x 5 spells each = 40 spells = impossible for me to solo playtest and balance at this stage.

    I'm just going to work up to a grab-bag of 15 spells, and then add to it later if I get help. I'll model them on Savage Worlds - i.e. generic spells, with slight changes as to the trappings (i.e. fireball and cold blast work the same, only one ignores armour and the other halves speed)

    1. That's the best way to tackle it, go little by little, not too much spells or you will burn out of it. Hope you get a good and simple system but with enough depth.