November 10, 2013
The Magic Of Gaming: Other Systems Of Magic
Thus far I have looked at the Dungeons & Dragons popularized Vancian magic system, as well as the point-based magic system inspired by video games. What else is there? Well, there are few other common magic systems out there, but here are a few from varying games that I have chosen to examine briefly.
First is the stress system from The Dresden Files RPG. In this system, magic is done by people who are able to use either Evocation – quick, direct magic – or Thaumaturgy – ritual magic. A character’s Conviction determines the base power for Evocation, while Lore determines the base power for Thaumaturgy. Discipline is then used to perform spells, by focusing the energy into the desired result. Unlike in many other games, there is no list of spells, but rather guidelines for building spells on the fly. This improvisation magic-system is a lot of fun and really gives control over to the players when it comes to making magic useful. The downside of it is that it takes Stress, which is basically a character’s health in the game, so too much use of magic can be dangerous.
The second is the drain system of Shadowrun, which is actually my favorite system of magic in table-top games. In this system, spells can be cast at different levels of power, determined by the Force a caster gives them. The maximum Force of a spell can be twice the caster’s Magic level. The stronger the Force, the more difficult it is to resist the drain, which is the toll it takes on the body and mind of the magic-user. After a spell is cast, its drain is determined. This is also based on the Force of the spell. If the Force was greater than the caster’s Magic score (as, again, caster’s can cast spells with Force up to twice their Magic), then the drain is Physical, dealing damage to them. If the Force is less than the caster’s Magic score, then the drain is Stun, which fills a separate condition track that only risks knocking them out as opposed to killing them.
Other games use skills to work magic, making spell-casting a skill check. Shadowrun, as mentioned above, does this, as does the Dresden Files RPG. Many games combine this with a magic-point system in order to make it possible for spell-casting to fail. Often, this is used in games where there is a notably darker element to magic, where failure can often have disastrous results. Specifically, I am thinking of the Dragon Age RPG in which a magical failure can result in anything from backfiring, spell burnout, or even having your soul trapped in the Fade while a demon possesses you and turns you into an Abomination, meaning game over for your character.
I have always been a fan of the magic-user archetype, having played a spell caster in almost every game I have ever played that allowed one. There is just something about the idea of magic that, itself, enchants. Be it a sense of power or whimsy, I do not know, but I always find it enjoyable. So, next time you get the chance to make a new character and you are looking for a little more magic in your life, roll up that wizard or sorcerer. Have a little fun slinging spells around.
It’s worth it.
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