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Adding a 'Magic' skill to Magic World


Simlasa

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As much as I love Magic World, I sometimes feel that its magic isn't all that 'magical'... in the sense of it being mysterious and unknowable and outre. It's a bit too reliable and mundane for my taste.
Part of this notion comes from playing LOTS of Dungeon Crawl Classics and loving how magic is done in that game... rolling for each spell on a chart of wildly variable effects. It's always that bit more exciting when a spell is cast (and negligible work looking up the result).
Another part of my desire for a Magic skill is that I'd like to have different sorts of magic traditions, varying by culture or whatever... to push the adventure of discovering and learning new spell types and add a bit of flavor... distinguishing goblin magic from elf magic or whatever.

My first thought is to add the skill... and make Specials and Criticals roll on a chart of boosted effects. Just one chart, with Criticals getting a bonus. I'll have to do the work and test it out...

So what might be the major unforseen (by me) downsides to doing that... making spell casting characters roll, rather than just having it work every time? Just the added complication, or does it somehow throw in some unbalancing element I'm not seeing (since any PC can learn magic if they want).

Any other thoughts on how to push Magic World magic towards being wilder and less predictable?

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Well I think you already have mentioned it. Have a random effects table that you roll for failures and another more evil table for fumbles.

Plus you might want to look at how Corum did things. Failures in Corum Magic led to chaotic features being imposed on the caster.

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Check out our homebrew rules for freeform magic in BRP ->

No reason for Ars Magica players to have all the fun!

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1 hour ago, rsanford said:

Well I think you already have mentioned it. Have a random effects table that you roll for failures and another more evil table for fumbles.

I'll have to look at Corum. I've got it here somewhere. I know Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has something similar.
IME, bad failures don't happen too often in DCC... but they're fun when they do.
I do want something like DCC's GOOD results as well... like when you cast some fire spell to burn a goblin and end up summoning a volcano!

My concern is that there might be some arcane game design version for NOT having Magic World PCs roll for spells... though other BRP fantasy games do.

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My unpublished Xyserdon sword and sorcery setting for MW had rules for spell-casting that included chance of success, calamities that occurred on fumbled rolls, and physical and mental corruption when using particularly "evil" or "inhuman" or "sadistic/cruel" spells.

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This has long been a personal goal of mine with MW. I toyed around with it by using a Deep Magic skill combined with a calamity-table that occurs on a fumble when casting outside of your sphere's and glyphs, but frankly it's come up almost never in the 2+ years of play that there's been a Deep Magic using character . . . which isn't to say that I want terrible things to happen to characters (I'm lying. Of course I do!), but the "at the table" experience hasn't really matched up with how envision magic in the setting and definitely doesn't recreate the sense of awe and terror that you can get with DCC wizard spells.

Some idle thoughts I've had about changing the mechanics of magic are having some kind of "push your luck" element. Maybe that means supercharging spells by spending more Magic Points than is normally allowed or even sacrificing attributes like some kind of spellburn effect to achieve greater magics, but also some commensurate risk if a fumble occurs, or if the spell is interrupted in the middle of casting. Ideally, I wouldn't want it to be too convoluted, and I think I like the idea of fumbles scaling up with magnitude of the overcharging, (so non-overcharged fumbles would be very mild, like lost MP, while each extra MP over a spell's normal range would up the ante somehow).

Specials and Criticals should get some love, but to keep it simple I'd probably just alter the effective POW of the spell for purposes of resistance, or the number of targets, or duration? Maybe I'm not being creative enough?

Edited by Nick J.
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2 hours ago, Nick J. said:

Some idle thoughts I've had about changing the mechanics of magic are having some kind of "push your luck" element.

In the past I ran a Magic World campaign where I used the 'Maleficar' rules from Logan Knight's 'Last Gasp' blog. They're cascading charts meant for Lamentations of the Flame Princes (B/X D&D) but easily tweaked.
Basically, if the PC runs out of MP they can try to funnel raw magic through themselves... but it's risky. (roll on the 'Cast The Bones' chart for possible adverse effects)
Also, if the PC wants to boost a spell somehow, there's a chart for that (Conduit Of The Cosmos)... and a suggestion that the roll be modified depending on how crazy the PC is trying to get with the spell.
In use it wasn't much extra bother and only got used occasionally. Ex: I had a Player (fresh out of MP) who was trying to cure a girl who had been cursed on her wedding day... and the spell worked... but also sealed the poor girl's mouth shut... so they had to go looking for someone to fix that...).

Here's a link to his downloads page... the one you want is 'Last Gasp Shitting-Looking Compendium' which has a bunch of his blog entries. The specific bit is in the House Rules portion, under '02: Do Not Take Me For Some Turner Of Cheap Tricks'.

WARNING: The cover drawing is NSFW and Mr. Logan has some salty attitude and language (which I quite enjoy!)
 

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2 minutes ago, Simlasa said:

In the past I ran a Magic World campaign where I used the 'Maleficar' rules from Logan Knight's 'Last Gasp' blog. They're cascading charts meant for Lamentations of the Flame Princes (B/X D&D) but easily tweaked.
Basically, if the PC runs out of MP they can try to funnel raw magic through themselves... but it's risky. (roll on the 'Cast The Bones' chart for possible adverse effects)
Also, if the PC wants to boost a spell somehow, there's a chart for that (Conduit Of The Cosmos)... and a suggestion that the roll be modified depending on how crazy the PC is trying to get with the spell.
In use it wasn't much extra bother and only got used occasionally. Ex: I had a Player (fresh out of MP) who was trying to cure a girl who had been cursed on her wedding day... and the spell worked... but also sealed the poor girl's mouth shut... so they had to go looking for someone to fix that...).

Here's a link to his downloads page... the one you want is 'Last Gasp Shitting-Looking Compendium' which has a bunch of his blog entries. The specific bit is in the House Rules portion, under '02: Do Not Take Me For Some Turner Of Cheap Tricks'.

WARNING: The cover drawing is NSFW and Mr. Logan has some salty attitude and language (which I quite enjoy!)
 

Neat. I used to read that blog sporadically when I sorta stumbled on the the OSR about 8 years ago, but I kind of forgot about it when he stopped posting. I'll give it a look; it'd be kind of fun to mess about with sorcery . . . and I wouldn't feel all that badly about it since nobody is currently casting any sorcery right now. 😉

 

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22 hours ago, Simlasa said:

So what might be the major unforseen (by me) downsides to doing that... making spell casting characters roll, rather than just having it work every time? Just the added complication, or does it somehow throw in some unbalancing element I'm not seeing (since any PC can learn magic if they want).

Any other thoughts on how to push Magic World magic towards being wilder and less predictable?

 

The way magic works is quite dependent on your campaign and style -- which is why no one is happy with magic systems as they are written.

For my campaign the assumptions are: it is mostly magic-weak, people don't trust sorcery or sorcerers, magic is not entirely reliable, there are many magical traditions, magic requires some preparation and magical power is situational -- extra power can come from certain times, places, objects or beings

I use the equivalent of your Magic roll in the various systems I use, but I haven't used critical successes or failures.

Systems I use:

  • A BRP adaptation of Rolemaster's Spell Law which contains many lists of spells -- each list translates to a separate magical skill
  • For freeform magic (another tradition) I use a system derived from Maelstrom which is all about adjusting the probabilities of events occurring

They both use skill rolls so could easily incorporate random critical effects, but I haven't.

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51 minutes ago, Questbird said:

The way magic works is quite dependent on your campaign and style -- which is why no one is happy with magic systems as they are written.

For my campaign the assumptions are: it is mostly magic-weak, people don't trust sorcery or sorcerers, magic is not entirely reliable, there are many magical traditions, magic requires some preparation and magical power is situational -- extra power can come from certain times, places, objects or beings

I use the equivalent of your Magic roll in the various systems I use, but I haven't used critical successes or failures.

Systems I use:

  • A BRP adaptation of Rolemaster's Spell Law which contains many lists of spells -- each list translates to a separate magical skill
  • For freeform magic (another tradition) I use a system derived from Maelstrom which is all about adjusting the probabilities of events occurring

They both use skill rolls so could easily incorporate random critical effects, but I haven't.

I would love to see how you converted Maelstrom magic. I did the same thing but finally came to the conclusion that Maelstrom Magic just isn’t that useful. I would be pleased to be wrong!

Check out our homebrew rules for freeform magic in BRP ->

No reason for Ars Magica players to have all the fun!

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1 hour ago, Questbird said:

Systems I use:

  • A BRP adaptation of Rolemaster's Spell Law which contains many lists of spells -- each list translates to a separate magical skill

I love Magic World, but yeah, there are always going to be rules that want to be tweaked to evoke a particular setting. Not that there aren't already a good variety of magic systems for the different flavors of BRP... some variations of BRP even have each spell as a separate skill.
Is this Rolemaster adaptation something you created or is it available online somewhere? Rolemaster was an influence on DCC, which is the aesthetic I'm after at the moment. I've never played that system but it seems to have inspired a number of other RPGs to some degree.

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1 hour ago, rsanford said:

I would love to see how you converted Maelstrom magic. I did the same thing but finally came to the conclusion that Maelstrom Magic just isn’t that useful. I would be pleased to be wrong!

 
 

Looks like we've discussed this before! 😆

The Maelstrom system encourages tactical thinking from the wizard to make events more probable and therefore easier to affect with magic. For example getting a gust of wind to blow someone down is more probable (and dangerous) on a mountainside than in a cellar. In fact the system works best for those mages who can think on their feet and take advantage of their environment. It is freeform magic after all. What the system does not do is duplicate D&D (or even BRP) magic with its fireballs and resurrections and pizazz. If you want fiery effects you need to have a fire source handy (fireballs become probable if you are near an active volcano). The system is subtle because no one else really knows if magic happened or just some freak of probability. Maelstrom also allows for the concept of a specialist in a particular domain of magic, which makes the probability of casting spells affecting that domain one notch easier, and the choice of domain is also freeform. Eg. I had one Maelstrom sorcerer who specialised in shadow magic, so he was often using magic to sneak and conceal using shadows.

The Maelstrom system requires both the GM and sorcerer player to be able to think quickly about the likelihood of events. It makes for interesting, improvising play.

Edited by Questbird
note about GM involvement
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29 minutes ago, Simlasa said:

I love Magic World, but yeah, there are always going to be rules that want to be tweaked to evoke a particular setting. Not that there aren't already a good variety of magic systems for the different flavors of BRP... some variations of BRP even have each spell as a separate skill.
Is this Rolemaster adaptation something you created or is it available online somewhere? Rolemaster was an influence on DCC, which is the aesthetic I'm after at the moment. I've never played that system but it seems to have inspired a number of other RPGs to some degree.

 

I never played Rolemaster, but I picked up some of the books later including Spell Law which is a huge tome of lists of spells. I made (and use) a simple system which would work with any lists of levelled spells. Rolemaster has Sorcery, Chanelling (like Divine Magic in RQ or clerical magic in D&D) and Mentalism. The main difference as far as I could see was where the magic energy comes from. Sorcery uses a kind of general magical power, like Maelstrom or RQ. Divine Magic comes from the gods direct; and Mentalism comes from the caster's own power. When players want to make a sorcerer character I get them to think about what sort of magical tradition they've come from and pick a few lists to be their collection of magical skills. Their skill in each list determines which spells they can cast because of the levels. As their skill level improves they get access to the more powerful spells in the list -- though not necessarily to the power required to cast them.

Spell Law does have a whole lot of magical criticals in it (Rolemaster is famous for detailed criticals per weapon in Arms Law) but I haven't used them.

 

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@Nikoli has used a variant of this Spell Law system too. I think unlike me he did more work on conversions for the Rolemaster damaging spells, and he also discusses using the critical tables in some detail. Of course we in this thread so far were all party to that one too 🙂

 

Edited by Questbird
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I agree with the OP that MW needs more magic. I think Spell Law is a great approach.
 

I believe there’s a compiled fan or ultra spell law edition, which has maybe even more spells across numerous companions. Not entirely sure; I’ve seen it, but not in detail. I personally sought out and bought the companions I mentioned in my post that Questbird cites above. 
 

The only issue I have with Spell Law is that some of the professions are perhaps too rigid at times, expecially for Mage, since it’s so elemental. I think it might be useful to just use profession lists and closed lists for a PC to design their approach, or if the GM has an idea in mind. But the channeling companion does that work well for priests/clerics in a way that feels appropriate. I only mention mages because it was a typical MERP class but it now reads as very limited relative to other games like D&D or BRP. So more flexible profession design might be good for wizards. I think that could work well though. E.g., a wizard with perhaps two or three alchemy lists might reflect a Saruman type. One could also use Spell Law as a massive grimoire and buy individual spells with Int. I discuss a combination of the list and grimoire approach in the post cited above.

I think with a bit of tweaking, Spell Law and its companion books can give one everything in terms of magic, with MW becoming a more elegant and streamlined chassis on which to run Rolemaster magic. I do love lists as skills as opposed to spells as skills. :-)
 

Nikoli

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8 hours ago, Nikoli said:

The only issue I have with Spell Law is that some of the professions are perhaps too rigid at times, expecially for Mage, since it’s so elemental. I think it might be useful to just use profession lists and closed lists for a PC to design their approach, or if the GM has an idea in mind. But the channeling companion does that work well for priests/clerics in a way that feels appropriate. I only mention mages because it was a typical MERP class but it now reads as very limited relative to other games like D&D or BRP. So more flexible profession design might be good for wizards. I think that could work well though. E.g., a wizard with perhaps two or three alchemy lists might reflect a Saruman type. One could also use Spell Law as a massive grimoire and buy individual spells with Int. I discuss a combination of the list and grimoire approach in the post cited above.

I think with a bit of tweaking, Spell Law and its companion books can give one everything in terms of magic, with MW becoming a more elegant and streamlined chassis on which to run Rolemaster magic. I do love lists as skills as opposed to spells as skills. 🙂

 

I don't use the professions as listed at all, nor do I pay much attention to 'open' or 'closed' lists as defined by Spell Law. When a player wants to make a sorcerer character I am generally happy for them to mix and match from all the lists -- even across the 'boundaries' of sorcery, channelling or mentalism if they can justify the concept. Having said that, I generally only allow about three lists (ie. magical skills) for a starting player.

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  • 6 months later...

Necro'ing this thread to add a few thoughts...

In principle, I'm *VERY* down with the basic goal of making magic a bit more magical... always a bit mysterious, and often unpredictable.  It needs to be predictable enough to be something players want!  But I like the idea that it should always be a bit chancy, a "probably this result (that I want); but often enough only close(ish) to it; and sometimes something quite off-base from what I want; and every now and again an OhShit moment."
 

On 4/26/2021 at 12:33 PM, Nick J. said:

This has long been a personal goal of mine with MW. I toyed around with it by using a Deep Magic skill combined with a calamity-table that occurs on a fumble when casting outside of your sphere's and glyphs, but frankly it's come up almost never in the 2+ years of play that there's been a Deep Magic using character . . . which isn't to say that I want terrible things to happen to characters (I'm lying. Of course I do!), but the "at the table" experience hasn't really matched up with how envision magic in the setting and definitely doesn't recreate the sense of awe and terror that you can get with DCC wizard spells...

I've long noticed the asymmetry of the RQ/BRP results:  the "outlier" results are crits and fumbles, of course; and there's also "ordinary" successes and failures, of course.

But what about "Specials"?  The better-than-mere-success but not-quite-critical successes?  Why no "really bad, but not quite a fumble" failure-mode, exactly following the symmetry of crit/fumble?

With a "Magic" skill plus these "Bad Specials," the Uh-Oh results would happen much more often (than a Fumble) and make the "scary, but (probably) not disastrous" events more-frequent at the table.
 

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21 minutes ago, g33k said:

Necro'ing this thread to add a few thoughts...

In principle, I'm *VERY* down with the basic goal of making magic a bit more magical... always a bit mysterious, and often unpredictable.  It needs to be predictable enough to be something players want!  But I like the idea that it should always be a bit chancy, a "probably this result (that I want); but often enough only close(ish) to it; and sometimes something quite off-base from what I want; and every now and again an OhShit moment."

RQ# Sorcery had a bit of that, thanks to having mutiple magical skills to alter spells.

21 minutes ago, g33k said:

But what about "Specials"?  The better-than-mere-success but not-quite-critical successes?  Why no "really bad, but not quite a fumble" failure-mode, exactly following the symmetry of crit/fumble?

I think that is because the effect of spells is tied to the Magic point investment. Spells like Bladesharp and Damage Boost add 1 damage per point of spell, making it hard to allow for success levels. It is also what makes standard BRP magic so mundane. It has a "matter of fact"  predictable cause and effect. The caster knows exactly how the spell is going to work, right down to how many points are healed, points of STR gained, damaged added, duration, etc., etc. 

One way around that would be to use the "die ladder" from Elric!/Stormbringer instead of a flat add for magical effects. For instance if a damage boosted sword added a d2 or d4 to damage, or bump the damage die up a step or two on the ladder (i.e. a broadsword that does 1d8+1 that got bumped up to rungs on the damage ladder would do 2d6+1), magic would become more variable, and also easier to adjust for success levels. A special might bump up the effect by 25 or 50%, and a critical could double the effect. Skills could modify range, duration etc, but all with a random die roll, adding some unpredicability.  We could fiddle around with he exact modifiers, but they key thing is to make magic vary a bit from casting to casting.

 

 

21 minutes ago, g33k said:

With a "Magic" skill plus these "Bad Specials," the Uh-Oh results would happen much more often (than a Fumble) and make the "scary, but (probably) not disastrous" events more-frequent at the table.
 

With multiple magical skills that modified various characteristics of the spell, like with RQ3, it would be even more interesting. 

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Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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On 4/26/2021 at 5:25 PM, Simlasa said:

In the past I ran a Magic World campaign where I used the 'Maleficar' rules from Logan Knight's 'Last Gasp' blog. They're cascading charts meant for Lamentations of the Flame Princes (B/X D&D) but easily tweaked.
Basically, if the PC runs out of MP they can try to funnel raw magic through themselves... but it's risky. (roll on the 'Cast The Bones' chart for possible adverse effects)
Also, if the PC wants to boost a spell somehow, there's a chart for that (Conduit Of The Cosmos)... and a suggestion that the roll be modified depending on how crazy the PC is trying to get with the spell.
In use it wasn't much extra bother and only got used occasionally. Ex: I had a Player (fresh out of MP) who was trying to cure a girl who had been cursed on her wedding day... and the spell worked... but also sealed the poor girl's mouth shut... so they had to go looking for someone to fix that...).

Here's a link to his downloads page... the one you want is 'Last Gasp Shitting-Looking Compendium' which has a bunch of his blog entries. The specific bit is in the House Rules portion, under '02: Do Not Take Me For Some Turner Of Cheap Tricks'.

WARNING: The cover drawing is NSFW and Mr. Logan has some salty attitude and language (which I quite enjoy!)
 

Okay that didn’t work on my phone. I will have to try it later on the computer.

Check out our homebrew rules for freeform magic in BRP ->

No reason for Ars Magica players to have all the fun!

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I have been playing around with skill based magic for my future home campaign where each "type" of magic has its own skill. As an example fire, water, air, magics all would have an associated skill to roll against. I'm not a fan of showy magical failures but I do have it set up so on a fumble the failure costs full MPs vs half on a normal failure. 

I am also going to make divine magic work in a similar way, just have to work it out. 

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Speaking of showy effect on fumbles, using The Second Way rules, one of my players creates a 4 foot hole in space and time for 40 minutes. Everything nearby including the party got sucked in.

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Check out our homebrew rules for freeform magic in BRP ->

No reason for Ars Magica players to have all the fun!

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Hey,

Just to maybe add to the ideas here, on Maelstrom magic, the Classic Fantasy Toolkit for Maelstrom expands the probability magic to now also include elemental magic, body alteration, scrying, alchemy, necromancy, and a few more as I recall. So it’s a really useful addition if you want flexible magic that isn’t just rooted in probabilities. For example, a higher grade fire spell does more damage or conjures more of the element, etc. So it uses the same roll under to know the incantation and roll several times (once per grade) to cast the spell, only it divides it by schools of magic. A wizard starts with 3 schools, which seems good. You might allow a wizard to buy grades (power potential) in the schools at a cost of one grade per Con maybe (more starting power, weaker body). Or whatever you fancy.

You would need to adjust the damage to make it MW consistent though, but that’s easy enough. The elemental goes 1D6, 2D6, then jumps up significantly. For MW you’d just need to set a scale you feel happy with.

I’ve been watching The Wheel of Time series lately, and loving it, and it got me to thinking again about The One Power. Spell Law could do it quite well, with lists as weaves. But potential power set by Pow/3 or /2 or straight Pow depending on the potential - minor, medium, strong. So Rand et al would be strong. Most regular Aes Sedai might be minor. Or alternatively using the above Classic Fantasy Toolkit (Maelstrom) approach. But I think Spell Law would suit The One Power more.

And of course MW for the system. 🙂 

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On 11/23/2021 at 6:47 PM, g33k said:

Necro'ing this thread to add a few thoughts...

In principle, I'm *VERY* down with the basic goal of making magic a bit more magical... always a bit mysterious, and often unpredictable.  It needs to be predictable enough to be something players want!  But I like the idea that it should always be a bit chancy, a "probably this result (that I want); but often enough only close(ish) to it; and sometimes something quite off-base from what I want; and every now and again an OhShit moment."
 

I've long noticed the asymmetry of the RQ/BRP results:  the "outlier" results are crits and fumbles, of course; and there's also "ordinary" successes and failures, of course.

But what about "Specials"?  The better-than-mere-success but not-quite-critical successes?  Why no "really bad, but not quite a fumble" failure-mode, exactly following the symmetry of crit/fumble?

With a "Magic" skill plus these "Bad Specials," the Uh-Oh results would happen much more often (than a Fumble) and make the "scary, but (probably) not disastrous" events more-frequent at the table.
 

I've been toying with the idea that magic can be done either by using your own MP reserves, or by harvesting it from the surroundings.

Creating a spell using the second method is a 2 steps process :

-First, you need to concentrate magic into a small space. You do this by rolling under a "harvest" skill. With each roll, the spell becomes bigger, but the harvest process also becomes harder.

-Second, you need to form a spell from the "mana" you've gathered, which requires a second roll under a skill. Of course, the difficulty will depend on the MPs gathered.

Each skill roll is a potential "Uh-oh" moment, with different possible problems. A simple failure can just mean you lose some of the MP you gathered, or worse.

And, given the number of skill rolls, you don't need an equivalent to Specials to have a decent chance of failure.

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13 hours ago, Mugen said:

I've been toying with the idea that magic can be done either by using your own MP reserves, or by harvesting it from the surroundings.

Creating a spell using the second method is a 2 steps process :

-First, you need to concentrate magic into a small space. You do this by rolling under a "harvest" skill. With each roll, the spell becomes bigger, but the harvest process also becomes harder.

-Second, you need to form a spell from the "mana" you've gathered, which requires a second roll under a skill. Of course, the difficulty will depend on the MPs gathered.

Each skill roll is a potential "Uh-oh" moment, with different possible problems. A simple failure can just mean you lose some of the MP you gathered, or worse.

And, given the number of skill rolls, you don't need an equivalent to Specials to have a decent chance of failure.

You know I have been looking for a way to do freeform magic WITHOUT the magicians becoming all powerful. Eliminating the automatic getting of MPs and replacing it with mechanics to harvest MPs seems to fix the problem. May I steal your idea for my freeform magic brp rules?

Edited by rsanford

Check out our homebrew rules for freeform magic in BRP ->

No reason for Ars Magica players to have all the fun!

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5 minutes ago, rsanford said:

You know I have been looking for a way to do freeform magic WITHOUT the magicians becoming all powerful. Eliminating to automatic getting of MPs and replacing it with mechanics to harvest MPs seems to fix the problem. May I steal your idea for my freeform magic brp rules?

Oh, yes, please.

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On 11/28/2021 at 12:10 AM, Mugen said:

I've been toying with the idea that magic can be done either by using your own MP reserves, or by harvesting it from the surroundings.
...

This reminds me a bit of how Unisystem's 'Witchcraft' does magic... that the mana or whatever first needs to be accumulated... IIRC there's a skill rating for how quickly that can be done. Then the spell can be cast.
It also had some fun notions for the intoxicating effects of being chock full of magic power, and what happens if the magic user goes too long without using or releasing it.
Not tooo much more mechanical heft for the added atmosphere.

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