So. Magic.

By | August 10, 2014

Hello again!

Last week, we talked about what we were trying to accomplish with our magic system, and how we had failed at it.  This week, we’re going to talk about what we did with magic to put it where we wanted it to be, and where it is now.

We ended off with our revelation that we should just allow spellcasters to cast spells every round, just like physical fighting styles can make physical attacks every round.  This gets rid of the resource management dynamic, leaving spellcasters much more powerful in the long term.  So we needed to set some limits on what spellcasters could do with these spells.

The first limit is that spellcasters can only cast spells using the Arcana that they know.  Each Arcanum represents a single element or concept, and understanding an Arcanum provides a character with mastery over that concept.  For instance, the Fire Arcanum allows a character to set targets ablaze, put out fires, and even melt objects.  If a character with the Fire Arcanum were ever far from civilization and needed to boil water to purify it, he or she could do so easily.

The second limit is damage.  Each spellcaster deals a set amount of damage with spells.  Mystics, for instance, deal 1d10 damage while Wizards deal 2d6 damage.  If they want to empower their spells to do more damage, they can do so with the Strain mechanic.  This amount of damage is balanced around the fighting style’s other abilities: the Mystic wears armor, for example, while the Wizard does not.

The third limit is range.  Each spellcaster has a set magic range in which he or she can create spell effects.  Spellcasters cannot create spell effects outside this range.

The fourth limit is area of effect.  Each spellcaster can only affect a single target, or an area of up to approximately a 5-foot cube, with a single spell.  If they want to affect a larger area, they can do so with the Strain mechanic.

And the final limit is duration of effect.  All spells are by default instantaneous: that is, like a weapon strike, the effect occurs once at the time of casting and dissipates.  Reality reasserts itself, leaving behind only the results of the spell’s casting: the damage dealt, the change in status, etc. If the spellcaster wants to persist the effect (for example, by creating a wall of fire to block off retreat), he or she can do so with the Strain mechanic.

Spellcasting characters can perform any magical effect within these boundaries.  Take, for instance, the Ice Arcanum.  Want to create a block of ice under a man to save him from drowning?  Done!  Want to hit a man with a snowball to knock him down?  Done!  Want to create a patch of ice on the ground that will make anyone who touches it slip and fall?  Done!  How about cooling your lemonade to make it nice and refreshing?  That, too – done.

By allowing such “bounded versatility,” we provide spellcasters with the versatility magic should be able to provide without requiring them to memorize long lists of spells and their effects.  This allows us to mimic our favorite aspect of Mage: The Ascension: the variety of magic that could be created by the clever player.

With Fighting Style magic in a good place, we took a look at the possibility of Persona magic.  Did we want magical Personas?  In the end, we decided against it, for one major reason: we did not want people to routinely manipulate the minds of other characters.  We didn’t want the effort we spent developing the Social Interaction subsystem to go to waste; we wanted words to have meaning, and roleplaying to be functionally supported. There would be little need for roleplay or this system if Arcana can be used to trump it.

So Personas remained “the way you interact with others as a person,” and we moved on to examine Vocation magic.  We wanted Vocation magic to behave fundamentally like combat magic, but be extensible through the use of places of power (such as elementaries and ley lines).  To that end, Vocation magic is slower than combat magic and draws energy from such places of power instead of the spellcaster.  Vocation magic can imbue objects with magical energy (enchantment) or weave spells of tremendously extended power (rituals).

And Mana, which we did away with for combat spellcasters, makes its return through places of power.  Vocation spellcasters can draw on the magical wells of energy within places of power, substituting Mana provided by places of power for Strain to create bigger and more powerful effects.  Rituals can create spells that are not bounded by the limits expressed above, but which are correspondingly more difficult and time-consuming to cast.

This has just been a brief overview of the spellcasting mechanics of Forthright Open Roleplay.  We won’t be posting next week – for all of you going to Gen Con, enjoy it!  If you have any comments or questions, please let us know in the space below.  Thanks!

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