November 8, 2013
The Magic Of Gaming: The Magic Point System
While Vancian magic may have been the original system for magic in tabletop gaming, it is far from the most common. In many more modern takes on fantasy gaming, magic uses a more simplified system that many refer to simply as the magic point system. In this system, magical spells are each assigned a number of magic points that a magic-user must spend to cast the spell. When spent, the spell goes off. This allows for players to have much more free reign on what magic they use at any given time, as often such games allow spellcasters to have access to their entire Grimoire of spells at all times. Rather than being told how many spells you may cast each day of each level, players are given a pool of points that they are able to freely spend among all the spells they know.
Many games refer to these magical points as ‘mana,’ though various games call it other things. In Rifts, it is called Potential Psionic Energy (P.P.E. for short), while in Anima: Beyond Fantasy it is called Zeon. Still, no matter what name it is given, the system works in much the same way. Your character has a list of spells available to him/her, each spell costs so many magic/mana/zeon/P.P.E., and you have a pool of said energy at your disposal to use how you like. As is likely obvious to most, this is similar to magic use in video games like the Final Fantasy series and a variety of other role-playing games. That is not coincidental, as that is where the system came from. The magic point system allows for more personal development of a magic-using character and is more tailored to varying styles of play. For example, you might elect for your character to know mostly low-powered, low-cost spells so that they can use them more often. On the other hand, you might only use a few that have an enormous cost in magic points, but are incredibly powerful. The choice is yours.
The disadvantage of the magic point based system is often the method by which your pool of spell energy is replenished. Very few games give all of your energy back to you each time you rest, as happens in many video games as well as with the Vancian magic system. Often, your regeneration is very slow. In terms of games like Anima: Beyond Fantasy, a character’s magical energy reserve (their Zeon) must be spent cautiously, as it may take as long as a week or more of rest to fully recover all of a spellcaster’s spent energy.
Between the two, Vancian and magic points, I must admit that I prefer the magic point system. Why? Because it feels much more fluid and natural to me, as well as gives players the greatest amount of freedom when determining which spells they would like to cast. If they want to fire off their most powerful spells all of the time, it will mean that their reserve of power will quickly decline. Alternatively, careful management of your reserve means that you can likely use magic in nearly every situation, which is something many magic-users will try to do anyway. When you use magic as a hammer, every problem will look like a nail.
There are other systems for magic in gaming, which I will go into next time, but Vancian and point-based are, by far, the two most common.
Image Credit: Thinkstock