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[Savage Worlds] How's the magic system in actual play?

Ry

Retired User
I've seen a lot of people suggest Savage Worlds as a great system... with the caveat that the magic system is clunky / too restrictive.

Is this borne out in actual play, or has it been fairly smooth? How have your players found it?
 

Shadeling

Registered User
Validated User
I've seen a lot of people suggest Savage Worlds as a great system... with the caveat that the magic system is clunky / too restrictive.

Is this borne out in actual play, or has it been fairly smooth? How have your players found it?
It has worked fine for my group. Not too clunky, though it may seem restrictive to some. Your powers and the like are set by your choices when you take the arcane background edge and new power edge. The creativity comes from how you describe your power to be. Its pretty boring to have a 'Bolt' power, but more interesting to have a 'Dark Miasma' power instead that fires globs of pulsating darkness. Mechanically it is the same spell, but it has much more flavor. These 'trappings' could theoretically hold certain other effects if the GM feels it necessary (Flaming Shields might catch people on fire, Acid Darts might cause damage over time, etc).

Anyhow, that is my 2 bits.
 

DDogwood

Cyborg Space Pirate
Validated User
I'd say that it is far less clunky than D&D's Vancian magic system, and comparable to most other magic point systems out there. As Shadeling says, the main difference is in the use of "trappings" instead of a massive spell list. I'm not a huge fan of magic point systems, but in our game it works pretty smoothly.

If you don't mind "winging it" a bit, and making house rules as you go along, you'll really like the SW magic system.

If you like having effects codified and spelled out in all circumstances, then you'll probably find the magic system to be too loose, wooly, and airy-fairy.

For example, if I have two players take the Bolt power, and one describes it as a "lighting bolt" and another describes it as a "fireball", Savage Worlds doesn't tell you what that means, exactly. Some GMs will say that the "fireball" aspect is simply descriptive, and that it works exactly like a "lightning bolt" in every circumstance. Some will want to create special rules for each "version" of the spell (e.g. the fireball does +1d6 damage against water-based creatures, -1d6 against fire-based creatures, sets things on fire, etc.). Some will not worry about it until it seems especially relevant (e.g. "Eh? You want to hit the guy in platemail with a Lightning Bolt? Sure, you get +2 to hit..."). You probably know what will fly with your group.
 

Doctor_Jest

Evil Genius
I've seen a lot of people suggest Savage Worlds as a great system... with the caveat that the magic system is clunky / too restrictive.

Is this borne out in actual play, or has it been fairly smooth? How have your players found it?
I have heard that argument, and I do not understand it. It's actually quite possibly the most flexible system ever devised.

It took the idea that the main difference between two spells like Fireball and, say, Ball Lightning are really minor: they're both a big ball of something that does damage to a radius of their impact. The main difference is one is fire and one is electricity. So why do we need two spells for this? Savage Worlds says "we don't!", instead it makes one basic spell "Burst" and then modifies that spell with Trappings.

So Fireball is Burst with a Fire trapping.
Ball Lightning is Burst with an Electric trapping.

So instead of spell lists of dozens, if not hundreds of spells, we get one single spell to worry about, so the mechanics of the game move more quickly: once you know the rules behind Burst, you know how to handle ANY burst spell, just slap a modifier on it to spiff it up. Optionally, you can also make those trappings do special damage as well (electric might do extra damage to people in metal armor, or cause stunning damage, while fire might do damage over time for example).

Since you have a very small list of spells to work from as a result, it's also not clunky: it's quite simple now because any kind of spell is really only a variant of one of several generalized spell types. So a Magic Missle (Blast Spell) and a Lightning Bolt (Blast Spell) and a swarm of bees that fly from the caster's mouth to sting his opponents (Blast Spell) require one single rule (Blast Spell) to use.

As a result, you also end up with really neat and singularly unique spells: A wall of bone, a burst of necrotic energy, a demonic skull that flies from the caster's hand, screeching out a demonic song as it bores into the target's soul... all are easily handled, even on the fly, with a simple set of flexible rules.
 

Elvish Lore

Hello!
Validated User
Is this borne out in actual play, or has it been fairly smooth? How have your players found it?
I don't care for using the powers system as the magic system; True20 does this as well and I'm not in love with SW doing it either. It ends up rendering powerful magic-users with, at max, a handful of spells. I don't care for that and love to see magic users with massive amounts of spells. But that's just a personal prefererence.

In play, SW's magic works just fine and, like another poster said, it's all about taking the basic power and describing it in new and cool ways. Nothing in the system, however, pushes that so it's all up to the GM and his players.

- Ian
 

Doctor_Jest

Evil Genius
For example, if I have two players take the Bolt power, and one describes it as a "lighting bolt" and another describes it as a "fireball", Savage Worlds doesn't tell you what that means, exactly. Some GMs will say that the "fireball" aspect is simply descriptive, and that it works exactly like a "lightning bolt" in every circumstance. Some will want to create special rules for each "version" of the spell (e.g. the fireball does +1d6 damage against water-based creatures, -1d6 against fire-based creatures, sets things on fire, etc.). Some will not worry about it until it seems especially relevant (e.g. "Eh? You want to hit the guy in platemail with a Lightning Bolt? Sure, you get +2 to hit..."). You probably know what will fly with your group.
It is worth noting that it is up to the GM if the player with a "Bolt" spell can decide what kind of bolt at the time of casting or if each different trapping is actually a separate spell. So, if you're comfortable with winging things or making adjucations of trapping effects on the fly, or just want trappings to be descriptive, you can let your players use "bolt" however they want each time.

However, if you want more clear effects for each spell, you can do that too: each spell/trapping combo is a different spell with this method, so you can decide at the time the player takes the spell (or in advance) what additional effects, if any, a particular trapping will have. The game does give some examples and some advice on how to do this. However, if this seems too difficult for you, just use the method above. Both are "correct" and canon.
 

Doctor_Jest

Evil Genius
I don't care for using the powers system as the magic system; True20 does this as well and I'm not in love with SW doing it either. It ends up rendering powerful magic-users with, at max, a handful of spells.
That's not necessarily true. If you use the rule for allowing trappings to modify the spell's effects, it actually allows powerful magic users to have dozens of unique spells. If you allow magic users to choose trappings at the time of spell casting, it actually allows for an INFINITE number of spells which can be innovated on the fly.

Nothing in the system, however, pushes that so it's all up to the GM and his players.
If you use the optional trappings modifying the effect of the spell rule then it does indeed push it via the system, as different trappings would be useful in different situations. Here's an example from the rulebook:

Fire Shield (Fire Trapping for the Armor Power)
A blazing shield erupts in front of the wizard. It protects only the front, but does 2d6 damage to anyone hit with it. Also it may offer double protection against fire based attacks, but none vs cold and ice (or vice versa).

Now make Ice Shield, Electric Shield, Ice Armor, Acid Armor, Living Insect Armor...
And we're still just modifying ONE power!

Who says there's a small number of spells?
 
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Doctor_Jest

Evil Genius
More on trappings:

It's worth noting that common "standard" trappings (i.e. fire, ice, acid, electric, cold, necromancy, sonic) are all spec'd out for additional effects in the Fantasy Worldbuilder's toolkit, a very useful resource for Savage Worlds and one I recommend highly.

There's also some good ideas for how to come up with new effects and trappings.
 

Wade L

Active member
Validated User
Depends on what you're looking for. :)

If you're just looking for standard battlefield magic - I damage people with magic, I armour myself with magic, I fly with magic, I summon/create a short-term ally for combat, I buff my stats with magic - it works pretty darn well. It probably isn't for everyone(but, then, neither is Savage Worlds).

On the flip side, if you're looking for "magic" magic - sympathetic castings using a lock of hair, curses, summoning a demon long-term and making pacts with it, influencing the whims of fate and chance so you arrive at just the right place and time, etc - well, it isn't that Savage Worlds doesn't do that stuff well. It just doesn't do it at all - even D&D does that kind of thing better than Savage Worlds, if only through sheer volume of spell list. Nothing preventing you from tacking that stuff on too, but it just isn't the kind of thing Savage Worlds does well.

So, no, Savage Worlds isn't, surprisingly enough, Mage or Ars Magica(or, admittedly, even as flexible as Hero). It is, however, Fast, Furious, Fun. It does what it does very well indeed, and doesn't usually attempt to do anything else.
 

Doctor_Jest

Evil Genius
On the flip side, if you're looking for "magic" magic - sympathetic castings using a lock of hair, curses, summoning a demon long-term and making pacts with it, influencing the whims of fate and chance so you arrive at just the right place and time, etc - well, it isn't that Savage Worlds doesn't do that stuff well. It just doesn't do it at all
Of course it does! Right out of the box.

Lock of Hair? That's a trapping.

Curses? Lower Trait, Puppet are both great powers to model that on.

Summoning a Demon? Modify Zombie Power to be a to Demon Power. Alternately, create a "Demon Servant" Edge.

Demonic Pacts? That could be a trapping (since it defines the source of a power). It could alternately be a player-created Edge if you want it to do something special. The professional Edges like Unholy Warrior or Champion would be good models for that kind of thing.

Influencing whims of fate and chance? That'd likely be a good candidate for a Weird Edge. If you could be more specific on the effect, it might even be able to be a power.
 
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