MoonHunter Sayeth 20180103


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Magic System Summary Post

When I completed 100 posts, I asked around for what kind of posts people wanted. Magic Systems came up. I posted up some magical systems. They were implimentation ideas. Each post built upon ideas from the previous (with one post being coopted into the series.). I want to put the ideas together and explain the method to the madness. That is this post.

We will start off with Magic: Bundles. In Bundles, I went over three (and a half) key parts of creating a magic system.

1) Conception/ Visualization/ Bits: This is the key to any creative element. After you brainstormed what you want in the magic system, you need to select "what is it". It is best if you can formulated it as a short sentance. ("Spells are cast from bundles of symbolic items.") This forms "the controlling idea". Every idea or aspect of the system should relate to that conception. Conception has two related things. The first is the visualization. You should think about the system... and think about how it looks, sounds, and is cast. Once you have that image in your mind, finding ways to define and describe the magic system becomes so much easier. The second is The Bits. These are small ideas that survived the brainstorming (and are related to this idea) and new ideas that spin off from the conception. This is a few lines of ideas, images, and related things (or a lot of lines of ideas, etc). Those bits give you pieces to add on to the next couple of steps.

2) Skin/ Reskin: Borrowed from video gaming friends, the term skinning/ reskinning means changing how something appear, but mechanically is the same. (So you have Orcs in your game system, but you can reskin them into another monster race you call Aurn which have rams horns and funny eyes. They have the same game statistics, but they have a different look and feel (and possibly are found in different places). Many custom magic systems can seem like a new system, but stay the same mechanically (maybe changing in a detail). Most games come with a magic system, often the mechanics (and even the power effects) can be salvaged, just applied in different ways. (Players are more likely to accept reskinning a system, than a new system.)

3) Modding: In the video game community, this is the changing of the game in a wide variety of ways (including reskinning). For our purposes, this is changing of the underlying rules of the game / magic system. To make using the magic system seemless as possible, the system should use the same mechanics that are already "in the game system being used". Players are more likely to accept small changes to the existing system that a whole new system that is unique. This keeps the bones of the game together, and any skin you want can be put on it.

3.5) Replacement: This is the half thing touched on. This is taking it beyond "just" modding. You may just want to chuck the existing magic or power system - if there is one - and put one in of your own. This is taking steps far beyond modding. Again, you want to use things that are part of the native game system you are playing. (If it is a skill based game, use magic skills... if it is a gift or level feature game magic should be that... and so on.) Then you can do what ever fits your setting and chronicle.

This three (and a half) points are good, but there is more to make it make it work.

Hook: A hook is something that catches a readers/ players interest in the work/ system and makes it interesting, different, and cool. Each system should have something that makes the system interesting. Most of these hooks comes from the Visual Bits, but other things could make the system more intriguing to the players. It is either something not normally used or used in a different way that makes the system stand out "from the expected". It is not just the magic system itself, but it is how it is used in play that makes the system more interesting.

Commoness of Magic: Is there a handful of magic users on the world or does every group (like a village, town, city, court, and so on) have one? Perhaps everyone can have magic (like Runequest's Glorantha), or magic is no where to be found. Tolkien solve magic issues by only having five "wizards". Some systems solve it by having each wizard have minimum impact until they are quite focused or experienced. No matter what the solution, the point needs to be addressed... how common is magic?

Fitting the Setting: Anything the GM adds (or deletes) from a setting will cause "ripples" in the setting. That is a point not touched upon in the first post (Bundles). However, with each and every post after that... the magic/ power system had an impact upon the setting - either the entire setting or just the subsettings of warfare or magic. GMs need to consider the impact of the magic system upon the world, how it will change various groups, society, or functions. Since most magic systems "have always been part of their world", their impact should be from far history to the present. In short, a magic system is not something you should just "slam" onto a setting and not lose a sense of consistency to the setting.

Now my way to ensure that something is integrated is two fold. The first is that everything is considered with the 7Cs in mind. There is a whole post on it, but in short it is a mental checklist that should be applied to everything: Consistency, Connection, Chrome, Cycles, Conflict, Control, and Continuity. The second part to make sure to keep the whole setting in mind. This takes organization of your thoughts and the work you have done. The Old Worksheet is a great tool for this. Every idea or "bit" or "full fleshed out thing" I put into a setting fits one of the worksheet categories... and then I apply the 7C concepts to it. Then you can see where everything "is" and "isn't"; and where it should be. These makes sure that everything works together in the setting.

I could just go off on these points... hammering home my views on things. (You all know I like to go off on my points.) I don't want to do that. I wanted people to see for themselves why these things are important. With each example, I wanted to illuminate their growing importance. Now lets go over all these points for each of the Magic Systems:

One more thing... my design considerations in this sort of project is always to do the least amount to change to the magic system for the game system and ensure that any system (or part of the system) "fits the existing mechanics"of the game system. So I am not going into full details, because I want you to use these for your games.

Remember to read or reread each one if they are not fresh in your mind.

In Spell Bundles

Note the write up covers the first three points and glosses over the rest.

Bits: Key -Thrown Bundles of Colorful Trinkets make spells.
This write up is comprised of bits, they are actually marked with a (*) in the write up.

Now originally, I thought Bundles had no hook and was not addressed. Others disagreed. The hook of the physical spell bundles was intriguing to some, expanding on the spell preparation mene that many games use. just stimulates ingenuity on how to create, use, and hidle the bundles.

This is based on the D&D classic magic system using the spell preparation memes. Spell preparation now has an actual tangible result.

Not addressed. There does seem to be a lot of magic users in the Classic D&D settings.

If you are playing D&D, it is just a reskinning. If you are playing other systems, spells are "cast" at the time of preparation. The Quality Component is a good additional rule.

Fit: Not addressed.
However, it is seldom seems to make an impact on things. This is a flaw because magic has an impact.

This is just an interesting idea that needs to be more fleshed out to have a real impact upon the setting/ chronicle. It is just a simple reskinning of a system familiar to most.

In Auras

Bits: Key - The visuals for this Magic is glowing auras evoked from the Magic User.
Magic is full of big visible effects.

The main hook is the social aspect. It is all about balancing your allegiances and desired progression. The visual element of the magic is engaging too.

This is a magical power system. These are learned abilities gained through your initiation in a lodge.

Commonness: Less addressed here.

This is not a spell system as most games use them. It is best simulated by purchased powers (often with limits and advantages). You can only buy the powers based on your lodge and your standing with the lodge. BRP's spirit/ divine magic is another system that could be used for this. In a D20 related game, each lodge association could be a feat that determines some powers. You just need to find the changes to the system that fits the skin and the bits.

This is the first one that touches how magic affects society. These lodges are social and political groups. They are attached to society and give the magic users goals not their own and relationships with society.

You will set up the magical lodges in your "region of the setting". They will set up the magical drama and complements the political/ social drama going on. This magic system seriously impacts the chronicle.

In Fortuna

Bits: Chance.
The use of the Italian for the concept words.

A simple magic that is more like the magic in a fantasy novel and less like the magic in most fantasy games. This is not a strong hook, but one can consider that anyone could learn and use this magic. It takes planning to use this system to its best effect. There is a lot of chess like strategy in use and counter use of the magic.

It is a nearly invisible magic system. It just takes concentration to make the effect happen. Other element such as speaking, waving of hands, magic symbols, wands, staves, and such that are found in other magic systems are not here. "Naked Magic" with just a steely gaze.

This is only tangentially addressed. There are no limits, so technically anyone can learn it. It is not an overpowering system, so being very common will not really unbalance the setting.

Any magic system could be pressed into service, with the three and a half spell mechanics. Skill based spells work best, but anything will do.

The spell system has little impact on the setting, other than the more strategic planning in warfare or any place where magic might be used. Thus having people simply concentrating and defending your group or bonusing. It is a tool for resource management.

This is a system that has mild magical impacts, but can not be ignored. It simplicity has more complexity... and how it gently impacts how the world deals with magic. It is not overwhelming in play. That is what makes this system interesting to the GM.

In Essence of Place

Bits: Key - Colored glass balls of magic
Trading balls for spells.
Essence of place and traveling/ trading to power the spells you want.
The glass balls fairly tough. They will only break if you really work at it.

The unique mana source makes it interesting. Magic power as money gives it a thought. Also the careful cultivation of essence balls

Your magic source is your pouch of goodies. This could power any source of spells that you wish to use.

This is a system that has a good number of mages in a given population. It is a magic system that supports enchanting and alchemy, without needing a subsystem. Also those that use magical tools/ weapons/ armor will need to "use magic" to empower their items with essence balls of their own.

Assigning certain essences (color and tints) to any spell system you want to use. Ensuring that the system have a power/ mana system.

Mages will be merchants and explorers.

Ideally this is set in a world between the later ages of Stone and earlier ages of Bronze. Cities are build. Empires rule. Glass/ Crystal is more advanced, but only because of magic use. There is not as much technology as one might hope. Thus magic will be used for many things... healing, finding lost things, improving tools, causing field growth, making buildings stronger, and so on. There are coins and that is fine. Since everyone needs magicker services from time to time, using the essence balls became common means of exchange. Since the enchanting of harvesting staves (allowing non-magickers to charge essence), they have come into more everyday use, replacing the larger coins of the city states.

They are a commodity currency however. The values are not fixed. Certain essences are common in one place, but rarer in others. So the ocean side kingdoms have one ocean for four blank balls, but desert wind or aether might be one for thirty blank balls. While in the sandswept Ocren Wastes, Ocean might be worth fifty blank balls in civilized areas, but nearly nothing in the barbarian controlled areas.

Now even if this moves into iron ages and other historical-esk periods, essence balls will remain a trade item and currency. Nobles will have many a casters or enchanter in their employ (often as many as their men at arms or clerks), and use the magic of their financial power to improve their domains. Ditto for kings and such.

See how this one expands beyond the rest. It has a magic system that impacts the world and the world impacts this one. It has great elements that changes how people think of magic. Also you spend your wealth to empower your magic. It is a great balancing to the system.

In Firearms in Fantasy

Originally this was not part of this cycle of post... building up systems to show unique elements and increasing usefulness/ complexity. In some ways gun powder is "magic" by itself. This post has how you can have a unique magic system based on a theme (Hexslingers).

Bits: Revolvers and fireballs - combined.
Fanning a revolve and shooting out bursts of magical color.

Hook: Here the gunslingers will be magical archetypes. Perhaps a magical specialty.

Skin: The Gun Focus makes this unique. It would be a magical combat system. However it is with guns, rather than wands or staves.
Note: There are "normal"/ "expected" magics, with the addition of Hexslinger/ gun spells.

The spell system with the guns keeps the guns to the elites and very special people. Only a small percentage of people will have access to guns, and fewer will have spells.

Just the Hexslinger Spells. It will also need a gun subsystem for regular shooting.

The system has a great deal of commentary on integrating guns and hexslinging into your setting. Especially on the side effects of guns will have on your setting.

This system can be used several different ways, either as a setting situation or as a chronicle framework. Here we have alchemy driving firearms. It could be a straight alchemy or just something alchemists do. These could just be spells added to an earlier firearm setting. This could be nobles as hexslinging gunslingers is a good chronicle framework. You could just have common hexslinging.

There are a lot of elements here to use in a variety of related settings. There are any ways to use the information.

*** *** ***

You can see how the six points were applied to each magic system; how each one grew in complexity and completeness. One can see how these elements add interesting to the magic system. It is not just interest, but a system with nuances and many ways to think about and use the magic system.

The more details you can add appropriately to the various points, the better the magic system will be for the game. Now don't think it is about adding word count or bullet points; it is about putting together interesting and useful material.

There is a tool/ technique to make this writing easier. For game material, it would be the Three Views: thinking about the project as an "author", a GM, and a player. These points of view will help you come up with that interesting and useful material. First think about how it (what ever "it" you are writing about) will seem and feel and work in the setting. This gives you a foundation to work from. Everything else will serve the author view. Then think about how this will be used both in the game and in the setting. Add the details you would need to as a GM. Then put on your player hats. How will players want to use this setting? Think about how you as a player would use it; then think about every player you know would use it? (include some people you don't like playing with... just for contrast.)

Now some people do this in passes. They write something, then edit/ improve it based upon the view/ pass they are doing. Some people write three different pieces, one from each view (which I think is tedious and too much work), then combines it together (which may or may not match). Using these various points of view, a designer can address the needs of GMs and Gamers in the game, while still having the artistic flair of an author.

You can use cards to help this process. Each point/ idea is on a card. Each explanation or expansion of those ideas/ points should be on a card. (Apply the 7Cs). Sort the cards into their six areas. You can then eyeball how much material you can have.

Note: You should use what ever tools and what ever organizational system is comfortable for and works for you. Just make sure to evenly cover all the points/ six areas.

By keeping an eye on all these six points, you can build a better magic system for your setting and your troupe.


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Awesome work you've done on all this! Do you actually have time to work for a living in between creating all this fantastic RPG stuff? :D


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Validated User
Yes. I have a very sporadic job, fluxing randomly between 100% attention on patients and 5% on patients. So I have gaps to spend time thinking or writing.

Organizing things in your head (or on paper) helps you use things quicker, easier, and more efficiently. Once you internalize it, you can use it without thinking even. This means you can rock during a game, because it is all there in your head and you just need to let it out.

To quote someone a long time ago, "Once you get a pattern that really works; it all goes zoom."

The problem is that once you get a system that really works, you can't always explain it... because there are pathways in your head that are intuitive to you, but can't be easily explained to others.

When I am doing things like this, it is exploring the pattern in my head and clarifying it for the rest of you. Once I have done that, I can work on improving it... once conscious of certain things... it can be tweak and improved then internalized.

It is why martial artists are forced to teach others. Yes, I have blargged about this before. It is making yourself conscious of your good and bad processes, once you can explain it to others, you can crystalize those processes for yourself. Then you can take that awareness to correct any flaws and improve you and your process.
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