Magic

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David Johansen

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So, I've been running some in store D&D 5e lately and been reminded how much I hate the magic system. If you want to talk about why the game looks like a bad video game that's where you start.

I guess I should talk about where I'm coming from a bit. I want minor magic to be fairly ubiquitous and powerful magic to be rare, hard to obtain, and note worthy. I want village witches and wise men and two bit hermits and princesses to have access to a little magic. I want mighty sorcerers to guard their secrets jealously. I really hate highly effective tactical magic in rpgs. I also hate class abilities that should be spells like the various specialist wizard stuff in 5e.

Admittedly, while I had some pretty good response for The Arcane Confabulation's magic system as I was writing and rewriting and rewriting it back in the day. Now mostly, people look at it and wonder what the point is. I was trying to produce a sense of magic as a process and a part of the world rather than a long list of combat attacks.

I want the world to be a magical place. Even in Earth's middle ages in Europe the common folk interacted with a magical world. I don't want a world that feels modern or tightly defined, I want ignorance, passion, and fury. I think Runequest does a fairly good job of it but is very limited and structured. My favorite BRP magic system comes from the Worlds of Wonder Magic World booklet a bit limited but more traditional and less trapped in the shammanic / divine paths. Swordbearer certainly makes magic a process and involves the player in the process. DragonQuest is a little too structured and cut and dried though it does capture something awe inspiring in places. Chivalry and Sorcery is pretty good in first edition but third is really structured and has a magic missile analog. Dangerous Journeys Mythus is interesting though it boils down to spell lists. Rolemaster is neat but a bit dry and a bit odd in the structure. The author really had a thing against telekinesis. I always love the Bard and Magent lists but really they're the type of thing I'm complaining about in D&D 5e, even if Volunteer From the Audience is the funniest mind control spell ever. Tunnels and Trolls is arbitrary and weird, I like it for what it is but my Tunnels and Trolls games always wind up really silly. GURPS Magic is amazing, one of my favorites but it's also really dry and rigid. Ritual Path magic is closer to what I like but players always struggle to wrap their heads around it. Galloway's Fantasy Wargaming was really inspirational in terms of thinking about magic, probably because I read it before reading Chivalry and Sorcery. I should probably mention Maelstrom's magic which I read when it came out back in the eighties. It's neat but too open ended, puts too much on the player and GM really. I really liked Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's magic system in first edition but actively disliked the system used in second edition.

I quite like the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons magic system and would point to it as one of many examples of why the WotC design folks have never understood D&D.

Oh well, those are my thoughts on magic in games, what are yours?
 

Sharrow

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I'm torn between wanting magic to be in the form of discrete spells, as per AD&D, GURPS, etc., and it being something you can do because you understand the way the universe works, like GURPS' Ritual Path magic or Ars Magica's non-predefined magic. Then I run into the fact that I don't like managing the latter sort in play unless it's like Torg's (the original) where improvised magic is just designing a spell on the fly (the same goes for GURPS' Sorcery, where improvised stuff still has to be defined using GURPS' power/advantage rules) - but they take a fair bit of system mastery to be able to use quickly in play.

One way of making magic a result of deep arcane knowledge would be to have skill requirements to learn it, like C&S3 and Bushido do, but have a certain number of spells gain for 'free' as you gain mastery of a particular school of magic.

D&D5 magic (and PF2's for that matter) feels really watered down to me, and it's mostly because they've had to rein it in to balance it with martial types. As a result polymorphing has a short duration and often what you turn into is fairly cosmetic (for example), and so on. This is a result of it all being tactical, but it also forces it to be used tactically. And no, the rituals don't excuse this.

C&S1/2 (for example) went the other way - magic isn't balanced (often it's too unreliable to be overpowering on the battlefield), and what balance there is comes from it being slow and having miserable success rates unless the caster was very skilled, though in our C&S2 games it was hard to save against, because we didn't realise the save tables were in d20 ranges, because they'd changed them from C&S1's d100 ranges (we didn't have C&S1 at the time), but left all the little bonuses and penalties as +% mods, so we assumed the table was for a d100 save. So at least when a spell 'hit' it was hard to save against.

I'm actually still for that. I think that part of the wonder and terror of magic is that when it goes off, it's hard or impossible to resist. Even minor magics of good or ill wishing, the sort that mean that the rain avoids you on your walk home from the wise woman's house or makes you stumble and sprain a wrist should be irresistible or nearly so without some sort of counter charm (like an amulet against bad luck).
 

arjunstc

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It's all a matter of personal taste, of course, but I guess the key question is: as a player, specifically a player who wants to play a magic-user, what does this translate to in terms of gameplay?
 

Sable Wyvern

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I don't think I have any specific requirements. I like magic systems that work for the game they're in.

***

I like old school Vancian magic. I do not think of it as memorisation/fire-and-forget. Instead, extropolating from the actual rules, it takes 15 minutes per spell level to cast a spell. Fortunately, most of the preparation can be done in advance, and then the spell can be tied-off, just short of completion. It's essentially a ritual magic system, and it's very easy increase the flavour by requiring or giving benefits for fancy candles and incense, special environments etc ...

It also functions pretty well if you go back to the source, and treat a spell as an alien, living thing you're imprinting on your brain. In any case, I never understood why people defined the system as boring, nonsensical fire-and-forget, and then decided it's dumb.

The spells themselves were defined with much more flavour, and left open-ended, instead of aoo being condensed down into discrete bonuses and penalties.

***

I'm also a big fan of the Rolemaster system, where many spells are incredibly niche, but the weak/niche spells are learned in the process of gaining the more obvious ones. A pure spell user ends up with so many spells they will inevitably find uses for many of those niche ones, and there was no opportunity cost in taking them (in my last RM game, the Arcanist scoffed at numerous spells that showed up on his list. "Wow, this one allows me to see clearly in bright light ... that's going to be soooo useful." The sarcasm stopped when the group was in a really tough fight that included a light elemental that kept blinding him.

I also really appreciate that semi-spell users get access to spells designed specifically to enhance their area of speciality. A magent isn't like an AD&D assassin/mage multiclass, it's an assassin with access to a range of magic designed specifically to help them sneak, manoeuvre, ambush and poison.

***

I love all the power and magical systems in Godbound -- both Words, including the one that gives you access to true magic, as well as the various lesser magics. Crawford did a briliiant job condensing godlike powers down into a simple, playable framework oozing flavour.
 

David Johansen

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Admittedly I come at it from a DM's perspective. I don't really play much and I lean towards fighters and rogues when I do. I did have this goblin warlock who served Agriblex the living darkness. I think the poor DM needed therapy by the time I was done. Warlocks really disappoint me in 5e and the Xanthar's pact made it worse not better.

Gameplay is a tricky thing. Players like to have things that their character can do nailed down. I'm like this with skills. I want a list of a at least couple dozen things my character can actually do and the DM can't say no to. But the more nailed down it gets the drier and less fantastical it feels. Fill out form 37d and in triplicate and submit it to office 27 to get form 37f.

I actually like first edition D&D's very weak magic users at low levels. It makes magic users rare as power players will select something else and even if you get a lot of them, not many will see third level. It makes having a high level magic user something special.
 

David Johansen

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Magents are pure cheese but I can't help but loving them. I cast Study Disguise on the guard, use False Documents to get past him and then cast Disguse I to look just like them when I murder the victim.

Rolemaster's magic is just so good. But the Power Manipulation skills like Magic Ritual are poorly explained and often game breaking.
 

arjunstc

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(in my last RM game, the Arcanist scoffed at numerous spells that showed up on his list. "Wow, this one allows me to see clearly in bright light ... that's going to be soooo useful." The sarcasm stopped when the group was in a really tough fight that included a light elemental that kept blinding him.
OK, hear me out: what if instead of a spell, we used... :shade:
 

Sharrow

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I actually like first edition D&D's very weak magic users at low levels. It makes magic users rare as power players will select something else and even if you get a lot of them, not many will see third level. It makes having a high level magic user something special.
We used to use the rule about whether you could learn as spell differently from the text - you rolled when you wanted to learn a given spell (having found something or someone you could learn it from). If you failed, that wasn't the end of it - if you found another source for the spell you could try again. Thus spellbooks belonging to magic users of different 'lines' were highly valued even if they had duplicates of spells you already had access to, because they gave you a second chance of learning a spell.

Also, aside from the spells you started with and maybe a 'free' second level spell or two from your master when you hit L3-4, there were no automatic spells (but we were more generous with starting spells - usually). Not every PC magic user had Fireball, etc. This also explains why there are some spells that are just worse than others at doing the same thing except in some weird edge case - they were invented by a magic user who lacked the 'good' spell.
 

Sharrow

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Magents are pure cheese but I can't help but loving them. I cast Study Disguise on the guard, use False Documents to get past him and then cast Disguse I to look just like them when I murder the victim.

Rolemaster's magic is just so good. But the Power Manipulation skills like Magic Ritual are poorly explained and often game breaking.
My issue with the Magent is simple - almost anything a Dabbler can do the Magent can do better, and the MAgent can do more stuff as well, and that's a real pity.
 

Sable Wyvern

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There are numerous different ways of limiting old school D&D magic users.
  • AD&D: chance to know means any given magic user will definitely fail on a few spells they want to know, and will need to make do with others.
  • B/X: Certain readings limit the number of known spells to the number of spells castable per day. This makes every magic user very unique, with a relatively narrow range of spells.
  • ACKS: Similar to B/X, the repertoire is quite limited, even though characters can cast freely from their repertoire. I'm letting my players pretty much learn whatever spells they want, knowing that there is no way to get around the hard limit on repertoire size.
Having just a single spell at first level works fine for AD&D if it's an exploration/problem solving game. The mage doesn't need to be casting spells to be useful, they can participate in planning/negotation/problem-solving just like everyone else.
 

Sable Wyvern

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My issue with the Magent is simple - almost anything a Dabbler can do the Magent can do better, and the MAgent can do more stuff as well, and that's a real pity.
I've never seen a dabbler in play, but agree they do seem a little underwhelming.

I've seen two magents played in separate campaigns, and they were fun without being game-breaking in both cases. The magent in my most recent game did overshadow the rogue in sneakiness, but the rogue was far more capable when thrown into combat without time to prepare.
 

AsenRG

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Now I'm curious...I guess if I play RoleMaster, ever, I'm going to pick a Dabbler and see if I can make him versatile:grin:!

OTOH, I fully agree with David Johansen David Johansen 's preferences. I want the world to be mysterious and magical...that's why I limit magic severely: it makes actual wizards stand out that much more!
But if you could make low-level magic ubiquitous, while making high-level magic hard to obtain (even for PCs:shade:), that would also be great! Alas, I haven't seen many systems that would allow that.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Now I'm curious...I guess if I play RoleMaster, ever, I'm going to pick a Dabbler and see if I can make him versatile:grin:!
I have little doubt that a high-level dabbler would be a very useful character. With they take a while to get going, with only a small number of exceptions, high level semi-spell users dominate within their field of expertise. "Not as good as a magent" doesn't mean, "useless" by any stretch.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Oh, I forgot Shadow of the Demon Lord. The flavour found in the multitude of traditions in that system is brilliant. I haven't seen the system in action, but the only negative point I have is that the spells themselves tend towards combat utility (which is in keeping with the system overall).
 

arjunstc

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Like OP, I find myself no longer able to live with 5E's magic system, and the default society the abundance of magic in the rules imply.

For me, magic in a setting can be managed in terms of the rules (i.e. spells lists), and in terms of the setting constraints (i.e. class limits, societal limits).

My preference for spells is for spell trees. I like the idea that magic is a kind of skill/knowledge and that with more knowledge and understanding, your ability to use magic will become greater. I kinda see it like chemistry: when you start off you learn that mixing acid A and base B gives you salt C. Then later on you realise that the rule applies to all acids and all bases, and you are able to create more types of salts and predict their properties.

The other way to have magic available to PCs but still make them limited is having them illegal or heavily sanctioned, like in Dragon Age - you are either a heavily regulated and supervised sanctioned user, or you are a witch to be hunted down and killed. In the safety of a dungeon you can do all you want, but outside of it where there are witnesses, you need to be discrete.
 

Silverlion

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High Valor's system is well, free form, but in fact even the "pre-made" spells use the same system, but they're examples. It's pretty open ended but the price for using it can be punishing because there are side effects, there are ALWAYS side effects.
 

Necrozius

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But if you could make low-level magic ubiquitous, while making high-level magic hard to obtain (even for PCs:shade:), that would also be great! Alas, I haven't seen many systems that would allow that.
Not to be cliché, but… well… in Mythras one of the recommended setups is to use Folk Magic as ubiquitous (even with a table of recommended Folk Magic spell lists per career) and then you can reserve something like Sorcery for super rare “big” magic. You can even detail sources of magic, recharge rates, and other extremely flavourful details and dials.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Not to be cliché, but… well… in Mythras one of the recommended setups is to use Folk Magic as ubiquitous (even with a table of recommended Folk Magic spell lists per career) and then you can reserve something like Sorcery for super rare “big” magic. You can even detail sources of magic, recharge rates, and other extremely flavourful details and dials.
I was thinking about coming back to mention Mythras as yet another excellent flavourful system, but decided I'd spammed the thread enough. However, since you've brought it up...

I would say the Mythras magic systems offer the most impressive combination of robustness and customisability I've come across.

Animism deserves special mentioned, given that by default it provides an incredibly authentic-feeling version of spirit-based magic, but it can also be used for binding and calling genies, or alchemy, or a network of favours owed and owing, or cybernetics, or so many other things.
 

Necrozius

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Animism deserves special mentioned, given that by default it provides an incredibly authentic-feeling version of spirit-based magic, but it can also be used for binding and calling genies, or alchemy, or a network of favours owed and owing, or cybernetics, or so many other things.
It’s really great. Could be used for a more modern-day setting for mediums, channellers, spiritualists and exorcisms too.
 

robertsconley

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My "fix" for D&D magic are as follows
  • I used the OD&D spell list and descriptions where utility spells have very long durations (hours)
  • I allow spells to be cast as rituals at a cost in ritual components (tracked as an amount in coin).
  • However, rituals take 10 minutes to cast.
  • Also for magic user, the max level ritual is capped at highest spell level divided by 2 (rounded down). They have a better way of casting spells and no longer emphasize the use of rituals.
  • I have viz that is magic in physical form as a form of treasure. Basically expending one viz allows one 1st level memorized spell to be cast without losing it from memory. However, there is a limit to the number of viz a magic-user can keep on hand without them disappearing at the next dawn. This can be mitigated by using an arcane coffer but it is bulky and hard to carry.
  • I have ten arts of magic and at 3rd level a magic-user may pick an art to focus on. This means when they cast a spell they get an improved effect. Longer spell duration, a dice or two of extra damage, and so on.
  • I have other types of spell-casters but as far as combat goes they are generally inferior to the standard magic-user. I consider magic-users the pinnacle of spellcasters and the rest are either older traditions or alternatives that didn't quite work out as well. But they persist into the present because people are people and often stick with what they know.
  • Scrolls can be created by magic users who can learn 1st levels and have the Create Scroll spell scribed in their spell book. When they can learn 2nd level spells, there is a Create Potion spell they can scribe into their book. And so on up to create magic items which is a 5th level spell.
  • I emphasize that Clerics are priests of a religion.
  • Clerics have a Shield of Faith that by 5th level renders them completely immune to arcane magic that affects them directly. I have noted which spells are affected by spell immunity. A fireball isn't because it's damage is dealt by physical fire. While a Charm Person is. This reflects my view that divine magic is superior to arcane magic. However being a cleric can and will complicate a character's life in my campaigns.
  • Cleric get an extra spell at 3rd level that reflects their religion.
  • Cleric are considered trained in the art of magic associated with their deity.
  • Not all religions give Turn Undead. All religions give their cleric something similar for example Clerics of Daysha the goddess of fate, pleasure, and wealth give her clerics a series of mind control spells starting with 1/day command at 1st level that doesn't have to be memorized.
  • I consider Magic Items to be a luxury trade thus there are magic item stores.
These additions are extensive but they are built around bog-standard D&D (Swords & Wizardry, Core rules). They make magic more common outside of combat. While there is an impact in combat (with the use of viz) it is minimal compared to the changes outside of combat.

I have been using these of these rules since 2008 and they worked out well. Allowing me to make to use of material I developed for GURPS Magic and Ars Magica for my Majestic Wilderlands campaigns using these rules. My guide was that changes had to be "in addition to" not "in lieu of". That they had to feel D&Dish. Which meant among other than that the bog-standard magic-user (with one exception) remained the pinnacle of spell caster.

The exception is the Order of Thoth which teaches their member the Shield of Magic which works like the Shield of Faith except it doesn't work against spells cast by divine spell casters. But a Thothian Mage is a bog standard magic-user + Shield of Magic + complications from being a member of an organized order of magic-users.

Except for the Arts of the Magic, I avoided fucking around with the spell list. And even there I left the original descriptions intact. Just added notes about the enhanced effects.

Finally, I take care of Fighters by adding their to-hit bonus to the initiative die roll. Also they can attack a number of Hit Dice/Levels equal to their level. Which doesn't help against higher level magic-users but death to lower level characters. But even the initiative bonus is enough for magic users to have a healthy fear of fighters. Because with Swords & Wizardry Core as a base MUs have very low HP totals. This is something that I observed in several campaigns at this point.



Hope this helps.
 

lategamer

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I want minor magic to be fairly ubiquitous and powerful magic to be rare, hard to obtain, and note worthy. I want village witches and wise men and two bit hermits and princesses to have access to a little magic. I want mighty sorcerers to guard their secrets jealously. I really hate highly effective tactical magic in rpgs. I also hate class abilities that should be spells like the various specialist wizard stuff in 5e.

I have thought about this a lot. (I'll use 5e terminology because even though I don't know it or play it, it's enough of a lingua franca)

I want magic where the locals come to the village wizard and ask him for rain and he thinks about the cost. Not because he is weak but because he's aware of the interconnectedness of things. Rain here, today, means drought somewhere else tomorrow.
I want magic where the adventures come to the local arch magus and ask her to resurrect their comrade and she does it in seconds. Not because she is powerful or arrogant but because she is able to see the skeins of magic going forward and the role the resurrected will have to play.

Now, the adventurers may come into contact with both, but the adventurers want to be neither.

So, how does magic fit with adventuring. Frankly, it doesn't. Magic is slow and subtle. An Adventuring Magus might be able to do anything but I guess the problem is the balance, the doubt of doing things right, and how most magic is patient, so the magus has to be more patient.

Now, there's a school of magic that is tactical. It's the magic that means everyone performs better. A forehead salve last thing at night which means everyone wakes refreshed in the morning. (Woohoo, everyone gets a bonus for morning activities!). It's a thick fog that comes in overnight to hide their camp. It's literally laying on of hands and a full heal, a resurrect if necessary). And, if necessary, it's the sort of magic that withers enemies (1d20 damage).

Game wise? I'd give the Magus-Player a power point for every level which refreshes at dawn. They get to choose the effect. If it's off-theme, then it doesn't work. Or there's a cost. Like a permanent 1 point attribute loss. The player should be warned and if they PUSH ahead then the attribute loss. So they can use their attributes to fuel magic. That's the cost.

And the test whether it works? It works. Of course it works. The GM makes a roll to see if there are complications. Roll 5+ on a D20 if it's just affecting one person. 10+ if it's immediate area, 15+ if it's connected and widespread. Failure on this roll causes a spell mishap. Boom.
 

Telok

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When I rewrote bits of Dungeons the Dragoning for my home game I added an 'wards & enchantment' option. Liked the way it turned out. Anyone with any magic & minimum training can make something, its just a long (about 40 hours per cycle) multistep process where you're going to fail a bunch of rolls as the target numbers slowly step down to managable levels. The game uses a variant of Warhammer casting so you can take risks during one part to speed things up or play safe and take much longer.

Ended up that even a simple 'minor zap + alert me' ward on a door takes a high end caster like 4 or 5 weeks to do. But even a beginner with minimum evocation & divination could do it, it would just take them a lot longer. Then it turned out that be basing on the skill system it makes having apprentices & assistants useful, so yay for accidentally supporting the wizard apprentice tropes.
 

Acmegamer

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My single biggest issue always with DnD no matter which edition has been Vancian magic. There are always other complaints mind you, but Vancian magic loomed over everything else and why it was easy to get into RQ back in 79' when I was first showed the book by a fellow gamer in my area.

DCC Rpg and Shadow of the Demon Lord are good answers to "Ok I have to run some sort of DnD type of rpg due to players". DCC Rpg being a hot mess when it comes to organization but I prefer how magic operates within it versus SotDL. Though I much prefer the combat mechanics and layout of SotDL.

This being that I am stuck with playing or running a DnD based game. If I had my druthers I'd run or play a skill based rpg like BRP and its variants, GURPS or even Savage World. Unfortunately around here only DnD variants are played.

I do think something like magic points spell system could work well in DnD if someone designed one instead of Vancian magic. I look a old Role Master, Middle Earth Role-Play and Palladium Fantasy as decent examples. I'd love to see someone do a good conversion write up for such a system so that one could drop kick Vancian magic to the curb.
 

Raleel

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I, like the OP, have a strong distaste for 5e magic. I'm on the record as saying how much they took away all of the fun of being a wizard. I'll try not to go too long on that. I am seeing similar things in PF2e, though I don't have anywhere near the experience. It's essentially defined to the point where you must house rule outside of what is implied by the spell to actually get flexibility. This is subtly different than older editions where it was left pretty broad. On one hand, this brings wizards down to the level of fighters. On the other hand, it strips a lot of mystery, and there are better ways to deal with that.

My favorite was always Mage The Ascension, so that should tell you the space where I am coming from. of course, as a regular GM, playing god is very natural and desirable. I'm like this in other games too. I like my spells to be flexible in the real world. They should be physics in many ways. I find having a touch burning spell, a single target burning spell, and a fireball to be redundant. I prefer a system that allows for manipulation of a single Fire spell. I like that it rewards a creatively thinking player. I get this is not accessible to everyone, but it's about my preferences :smile:

I find it important that learning magic should have a cost. This could be belonging to a priesthood, which has strictures that you must follow, or belonging to a wizard order that has certain requirements. They should be impactful. I find when designing cults for Mythras that a solid chunk of the flavor comes from restrictions. This is a failing in 5e as well. The restrictions are as limited as the scope of the magic.

Warlocks really disappoint me in 5e and the Xanthar's pact made it worse not better.
amen. warlocks are incredibly dull. This irritated me enough to write up a Mythras cult for it.

  • I emphasize that Clerics are priests of a religion.
this is an important thing. I think it also means some priests are going to be ill suited for the wandering adventurer lifestyle, or are going to have said adventures tuned closer to them. Or perhaps broaden their skills. The point is that this part of the character is just a part, and it has problems, and it has limits and it doesn't have to be the same as everyone else.

Consider that in 5e, essentially everyone, and I mean everyone, is a magic fighter. Extremely few abilities are for outside of combat, and rarely come up. 13A deals with this by making a very generic utility spell that lets you have a huge range in a single spell. This sort of defines how the campaign is, and, frankly, takes away from the fighter. He's no longer the master of fighting. He's the master of fighting with a weapon. Someone else is the master of fighting with fire, or of ranged combat, etc. How about we have a game where fighters are the masters of fighting, and wizards don't really fight. their spells aren't really built for that? See above with many ritual options.

This touches on thieves and how someone had to have that role and the complaints that wizards eliminated the need for a thief. The roles have changed now, and everyone is a better wizard than a wizard in 5e.

I'm really quite fond of the model presented in Monster Island
  • sorcery, animism, and theism only
  • sorcery and theism can be cast at combat speeds, but at GREAT risk (i.e. you are definitely experiencing some personal physical discomfort for a while, and a small chance you die)
  • the presented theist cults are... not pleasant. they aren't friendly healing clerics. They are dark and the gods must be propitiated. There is fear.
  • the animists are more in tune, but also must propitiate sleeping gods.
  • sorcery has plenty of new flavorful names with various restrictions. For example, there is a (now missing) teleportation spell. But it only lets you teleport to and from things with right angles. So, great in cities, bad in the (majority of the land mass) jungle
 

AsenRG

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Not to be cliché, but… well… in Mythras one of the recommended setups is to use Folk Magic as ubiquitous (even with a table of recommended Folk Magic spell lists per career) and then you can reserve something like Sorcery for super rare “big” magic. You can even detail sources of magic, recharge rates, and other extremely flavourful details and dials.
That's why I said I haven't seen "many" systems that let you do this. RQ/Mythras and the derivatives, Artesia, and...well, that's about all that I can think of now:thumbsup:.
 

David Johansen

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I have mixed feelings about Palladium's magic. Much as there's some interesting things like Diabolists essentially having syntactic magic. I did like the first edition n spells per day much better than the boring, slow, and arbitrary PPE system.

I don't much like rigid lists of spells like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay second edition used, where your fire mage gets these six spells and there you go that's it. I think one thing AD&D gets right is that the magic users have all kinds of unrelated things in their spell books and are always scrounging for more things. It's not that hard to make a fire mage in D&D just put Burning Hands, Flaming Sphere, and Fireball in their book. But they might also have Unseen Servant and Monster Summoning in there just randomly.
 

ffilz

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I have enjoyed a variety of magic systems over the years.

I can do OD&D and AD&D 1e, though they don't do much for low level folk magic. I did really enjoy the D&D 3.x inspired but modified magic system of Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed/Evolved though it did have the 3.x problems with systematized magic items where some combinations were way out of line, but the spell slot system was really cool. On the other hand, eventually D&D magic becomes overwhelming and fighters start to feel irrelevant. The D&D environment also allows the GM to use all sorts of magical justifications that don't need to follow the spell rules.

I love RuneQuest magic which does allow a bit of folk magic (though the spirit magic that is supposedly folk magic is pretty combat focused...). Since anyone can cast spells, no one is left out. Plus spirit magic mostly magnifies the fighters rather than replacing them. Rune Magic is cool, but slow to acquire, and slow to recover. Again, Rune Quest and Glorantha specify a magical world where things can have magical justifications that needn't follow the spell rules.

Cold Iron magic is more systematized but defined in a way that the magic items don't have the problems D&D has. On the other hand, the system doesn't encourage magic that breaks the rules, though I have done some. I have introduced the occasional D&D magic item which works totally differently than Cold Iron magic items and didn't worry too much about the origins. I'm not sure what I would do these days, but I am inclined to allow some level of magic in the world that doesn't follow the rules.

I'm learning Bushido magic. The priestly Gakusho magic is a bit frustrating to use, but in one campaign, we're finally benefiting from my use of Blessing from a 2nd level Gakusho. I also used the ability to fight spirits to great effect. The sorcery is a bit more useful in combat.

Magic in Burning Wheel is cool, though I haven't run or played enough to really scope it all out.

I did not like Fantasy Hero (original release) magic. It was just too limiting on spell casters having spells basically as powers so they only had a handful of spells.

We only had one caster in the TFT campaign I played in, the magic seemed reasonably effective, but again, a small selection.

I think that about covers all the systems I have much of any experience with magic.
 

finarvyn

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I tend to run low-level campaigns, but one fix that I tried when I want to keep magic down is to have any spellcaster limited to no more than 50% of their levels spellcasting levels. That way, a 10th level character might be a 5th level wizard and 5th level thief. This tends to keep spells more rare and unusual.
 

TristramEvans

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The short but boring answer is that it depends on the genre for me

In superhero games I expect magic to be big and flashy, in occult detective games I expect it to be rare, subtle, and dangerous

As far as fantasy, I guess the easiest way to put it is that I like for magic to reflect the world, not just be tacked on. Meaning, I don't mind a high-magic setting, if the setting actually reflects that. It's a huge logical disconect to me to have an otherwise atypical medieval setting but with wizards and sorcerers and warlocks all over the place with godlike magical powers. I mean, how does that not influence and shape the society? How do clerics able to demonstrate absolute proof of divine intervention with powers not radically alter a culture and it's approach to religion? These are the questions that frustrate me about many fantasy settings in RPGs. I can accept a medieval world "like ours but the myths are legends are true", but when it starts to feel like a videogame with everyone and their mom capable of lobbing fireballs as long as they put one level in a mage class and magic items are so plentiful they're sold at fruitstands in the marketplace it's very hard for me to mine any verisimiltude out of it.


So yeah, by default for fantasy I want something closer to what's described in the OP. But I don't mind a setting where magic is over the top and ubiquitous, but the setting needs to be crafted with that in mind (Planescape, for example).
 

robertsconley

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It's a huge logica disconect to me to have an otherwise atypical medieval setting but with wizards and sorcerers and warlocks all over the place with godlike magical powers. I mean, how does that ot influence and shape the society?
There are limits but in general as long as the way to learn magic is through scholarship, I can make it work with the Majestic Wilderlands and how I setup my societies. The reason being is that for the first umpteen years of a mage's life they have to supported in a scholarly pursuit doing something that not immediately productive. Coupled with the fact while, us in the 21st century may know how to use the spells to ignite a magical revolution. A revolution is as much about ideas as well as means. In the Majestic Wilderlands the idea of the factory and the industrial division of labor is unknown. Instead magic is a world of individual eccentric craftsmen who can support themselves and a chosen few. But the general populace are governed by Malthusian economics.

Until these ideas and philosophies are discovered any improvement in technology or magical knowledge will result in a higher population living in the same conditions with the same social hierarchy. Which was the case for our history up until the harnessing water, steam and coal for power in the late 18th. As grim as it sounds what happens is that when tech or societal organizations improve, things do get better for folks. But then the birth rate climbs until the population reaches a new equilibrium with everybody backsliding to the same share of the pie they had before.

With some wrinkles, this is why the Majestic Wilderlands isn't a paradise despite magic being around for thousands of years acting pretty much like it described in GURPS Magic or D&D.

How do clerics able to demonstrate asolute proof of divine intervention with powers not radically alter a culture and it's approach to religion?
In the past, folks believed there was absolute proof of divine interventions. It is only with hindsight we get how much of it was baloney, the needs of a culture or a society, or misunderstood science. So there no additional justification needed. Quickly simply, unlike D&D default presentation, the fantasy world would be dominated by religion just like our own. Which is something that is reflected in my Majestic Wilderlands.

But life in our world and in the Majestic Wilderlands is not 100% all about religion. Hence I ran a lot of campaign where religion was in the background.

These are the questions that frustrate me about many fantasy settings in RPGs. I can acceot a medieval world "like ours but the myths are legends are true", but when it starts to feel like a videogame with everyone and their mom capable of lobbing fireballs as long as they put one level in a mage class and magic items are so plentiful they're sold at fruitstands in the marketplace it's very hard for me to mine ay verisimiltude out of it.
One has to put the work in if they want any kind of verisimilitude. Rather reject the default presentation of AD&D 1e, I embraced it. Figured out how the rest of the world worked, often running campaigns where the players were the background characters like the city guards.

And from time to time, I get the players who want to ignite an magical industrial revolution. And I let them try, except what they don't know that I am a history buff and read up on how this stuff came about including all the near misses and failures. And they learn that it is not as easy as it looks without having me make a bunch of arbitrary rulings. For example, trying to create a factory with a division of labor is really hard because your workforce will rebel against the regimentation. Often to the point of rebellion or more commonly just disappearing. The rhythm of rural life is too loose for them to accept that kind of life. And often they wind up figuring out the only solution is one of the horrific examples used in our history and that puts an end to the scheme. Which I guess is a credit to the current generation of folks gaming.

For magic items shops, if they can be deliberately made there will be an economy around them. Magic User will want a return on their labor and thus a value placed on them. But like our history luxury trade it will be reserved for those with status and money.
 

ffilz

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For magic items shops, if they can be deliberately made there will be an economy around them. Magic User will want a return on their labor and thus a value placed on them. But like our history luxury trade it will be reserved for those with status and money.
One thing I like about Cold Iron is that the system supports magic shops that contribute to a very workable treasure economy. If I ever run a serious campaign that runs for enough time for PCs to get into serious treasure, I will have to give more consideration to just how much wizardry is behind the magic item production they can consume, and who they are competing with for that production. Maybe someday I can talk you into running a corner of the Majestic Wilderlands with Cold Iron to see how you would do it... :-)
 

robertsconley

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One thing I like about Cold Iron is that the system supports magic shops that contribute to a very workable treasure economy. If I ever run a serious campaign that runs for enough time for PCs to get into serious treasure, I will have to give more consideration to just how much wizardry is behind the magic item production they can consume, and who they are competing with for that production. Maybe someday I can talk you into running a corner of the Majestic Wilderlands with Cold Iron to see how you would do it... :-)
I would be interested in looking at it. As for getting around to refereeing it, not sure about the time I have.
 

David Johansen

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Just as a summary, what I did with The Arcane Confabulation was to have spells learned as skills in categories, so fire spells like fire blast or control fire would fall into the fire category. Spell casting accumulate a penalty in an area as it stirs up miasma in the aether. There are a number of spell casting actions like recalling spells that haven't been learned as skills, drawing the energy needed, casting the spell itself, and cleansing the aether after use. You can, of course, just cast your spell but if you do it too much things get messy. The spell effects themselves are fairly simple noun - verb affairs. Long lists of spells tend to get redundant and I'm not fond of having different rules for different summoning and shape changing spells.

Incidentally, Rolemaster's designers also hate shape changing and it's really hard to turn into anything and get any kind of abilities from it.
 

ffilz

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I would be interested in looking at it. As for getting around to refereeing it, not sure about the time I have.
Totally understand on the time thing...

I may try and pull together some stuff to make it easier to access the economics of the magic system which is where I'm most interested in your thoughts along with the social implication of the magic system.
 

Skarg

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I like GURPS Magic, but it's been decades since I tried to run it with most of the spells as written. I always at least go through all the spells and say many of them don't exist. For campaign play, I cherry-pick which groups know what spells, and individualize the spells for each group. Most people don't know exactly which spells are known to which groups, nor what the variations are like.

For massive amount of ideas on customizing or redesigning a campaign's magic system, I'd recommend GURPS Thaumaturgy, which is an amazing (and sometimes overwhelming) resource for that.

I also really like The Fantasy Trip's magic system, but it's basically the ancestor of GURPS Magic, and works similarly, but a bit different in some details, with far fewer spells, and almost no prerequisites to learn a spell (other than IQ level). It's not really what you're asking for here though, as it has specific spells.

I'd recommend building your own magic system to taste, taking the aspects you like best of the magic system(s) you like best.
 

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Incidentally, Rolemaster's designers also hate shape changing and it's really hard to turn into anything and get any kind of abilities from it.
Some of the background options in various versions gave it. They were generally really unclear about what you got from it though, so it was very much up to the group to decide. Typical of so much of RM, really.
 

David Johansen

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By the book, in RMSS only Animists get shape changing that actually provides natural abilities and then only for natural animals.

In early D&D Polymorph Self only gave the appearance of the creature but Polymorph Other gave the abilities so what you'd do is get two wizards and polymorph each other into dragons which can clearly still cast spells.
 

AsenRG

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In early D&D Polymorph Self only gave the appearance of the creature but Polymorph Other gave the abilities so what you'd do is get two wizards and polymorph each other into dragons which can clearly still cast spells.
"Now polymporph me!"
"Remember, back at magic school, when you were making me write your homework because you were bigger and stronger? Who's bigger and stronger now, you bully?"
 

Sharrow

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With some wrinkles, this is why the Majestic Wilderlands isn't a paradise despite magic being around for thousands of years acting pretty much like it described in GURPS Magic or D&D.
When people talk about the game-changing spells of D&D and GURPS (which generally means the ones that improve agricultural output) and how they'd revolutionalise society, I point to the much higher number of, and larger size, of cities in most D&D games - that's where that added production went, into a rural/urban population ratio much more like early modern Europe than medieval Europe.
 
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