Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Discussion: What's Your Favorite Magic System?

Every Friday, a large portion of the blogosphere decides to shutter the windows and put the “Closed Weekends” sign up a bit early. We here at RPG Blog 2, however, subscribe to no such notions, and strive forward with a little something we like to call Friday Discussion. Nothing too heavy, nothing too serious, just gamers talking about the hobby they love.

This week’s question is one that’s been rattling around my brain as I did some houseruling the past few days:

What is your favorite RPG magic system, and why? Do you love the familiarity of the Vancian magic of old D&D? Or do you prefer the open building components of a game like Ars Magica? Or is loosey-goosey freeform more your style? Perhaps you just want Power Points/Spell Points/Mana, and a long spell list.

Whatever your answer, have a great weekend!


Lisandro Gaertner said...

I loved the For Faerie, Queen and Country system. It was a magic system that relied a lot on the player`s creativity.

Tim Shorts said...

There are so many to choose from and all have their good and bad parts. I always liked GURPS system because of the requirement to have the more powerful spells. Mage the Ascension was interesting and Ares Magica was great. I am not a fan of Vancian magic. Overall I would go with the GURPS system. It makes the most sense to me.

grodog said...

Ars Magica, hands-down: I love the combination of standard spells, ritual magic, laboratory experimentation, and spontaneous magic. The breakdown of magic into actions + forms (I forget the exact in-game terms) like create + fire or destroy + water, etc., makes for a very logical and extremely flexible system. I also like the scale: magi in Ars Magica are geared toward the magic levels of Merlin, Math, Vainenomen (sp?), etc.


JDJarvis said...

When I'm Gming: Vancian with a little variation in success for MU's. Always working spells and major spells whiffing out because Mr 1st level makes a save are both annoying.
I want players to have no more details and fiddly bits then they need to have fun with and will actually pay attention to.

When I'm playing: anything that is fun and fits the style of game being played, details and fiddly bits are fun and I've got plenty of time to keep track when I'm playing.

Burke said...

Probably my favorite Magic system, bar none, is Shadowrun's Force/Drain system; particularly in the 4th Edition ruleset.

Spells are learned in a generic form, and are cast at a particular Force (limited by your Magic attribute). You then resist Drain equal to half the Force of the spell plus or minus 2 or 3.

Any Drain which is not resisted is applied to the character as Stun damage.

The interesting thing is overcasting: You can exceed your normal maximum force by risking Physical damage (physical injury, in essence) up to double your Magic attribute.

For example: I can cast a ball lightning effect at Force 5, dealing 5 damage (the Force of my spell) plus damage equal to the net hits on my Spellcasting + Magic Roll (vs. my opponents Body + counterspelling).

I then roll my Logic & Willlpower (10 dice) to resist 5 (the drain code for Ball Lightning is F/2+2) drain and probably end up taking between 3 and 5 Stun in Drain.

I could, if necessary, cast the same spell at Force 10 - risking 5 or more physical damage (almost half my Physical damage capability) but dealing twice the damage or more.

It forces some very tactical choices between effect and risk, and models the physical taxation that spell casting in that world is supposed to cause better than any magic system I've played.


That's about half my drain

DeadGod said...

I've got to go with classic WoD Mage. The new Mage is wonderful for standardizing the system, but it also reigned in the power a little. In classic Mage, people were throwing around lightning bolts, spontaneously creating life, and pulling the moon from orbit. I love the way it just sparks your imagination.

HinterWelt said...

All of the above! ;) That is why I included them all in my system.

Eric Wilde said...

Ars Magica; but, getting the right players is even harder.

I dig Vancian magic as well. It works for many more players than Ars Magica in my experience.

rogercarbol said...

I'll admit a fondness for Shadowrun's "Turn to Goo." Every system needs that spell.

Overall, I like the card-based system in Castle Falkenstein. It pulls some neat tricks.

Jon McNally said...

Vancian makes no intuitive sense to some, but its game results are so amusing.

The Force rules in Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (WEG) frequently made for flexible fun.

Andreas Davour said...

Ars Magica sure is fun to read, but I found it to be a lot less fun in play.

Mage probably could be excellent, or just painful.

The best I've seen work is Tunnels & Trolls. Call be predictable...

Hungry said...

I'm down with GURPS for my favorite system of magic. The prerequisite system is a great one for balance, and I love fatigue/mana controls on how much you can cast per day.

I've always felt the Vancian system to be overly artificial.

Crusty One said...

Another vote for Castle Falkenstein. I also love the Talislanta 4th ed rules. Very flexible, and very cool if you can get the narration bit right.

1d30 said...

I like Vancian magic for the weirdness and general mysticism you can get in each spell. Each one can have its little quirks that make it not always the best choice, but always entertaining, and sometimes you can discover an excellent application for a spell. The spell system alone feels like exploration and adventure.

That said, the downside is the truly ENORMOUS catalogues of spells. While that may be cool in-game, it's a pain for anyone writing the game and using the books. Half the rulebook ends up being a list of the most basic and easily available spells! The game designer should really split the spells off in a separate handbook so the players who don't have spellcasting characters can just ignore it. But you really want all the basic rules to be in the player guide ...

I like the component-style systems like Ars Magica for their concise description of several parts that convene into several thousand possible different spells. But it feels too sciency and mechanical for me. There's no wonder, no adventure, because everything is laid out for you and there are no surprises.

Zzarchov said...

For me, I like mana systems, and I need the spells to be scalable.

If want to choose to be able to cast a 2 die fireball or a 10 die, with tradeoffs to each.

lessthanpleased said...

I despise Vancian magic, so it should come as no surprise that my favorite system of magic is about as different from Vancian magic as possible: Unknown Armies.

Magic is mostly divided into two types: postmodern ritual effects (adept magic) and Jungian invocations of archetypes (avatar magic).

Magic is a skill that the magic-user rolls in certain situations to see if they can pull off the effect; and power is limited by:

1. Adept magick: reliant upon three tiered charges to pull off effects (with major charges being really difficult to pull off, but having earth-shaking consequences), all of these charge generating activities involve a postmodern tension; for fleshworkers, they have to physically hurt themselves to gain mastery over their flesh, while chaos mages have to take big risks to manipulate chance.

2. Adept magick: Limited in effect and scope by the archetype to which the character is attuned (The Warrior, The Mother, The Masterless Man), and by the degree to which the character is embodying the archetype in their behavior.

Basically these types of magic conflict with each other: adepts impose their will upon the world, while avatars allow the world to impose its will on their identities (using their submission to these archetypes to gain power).

I like the concept of this a lot, but I also love that the system encourages players to freeform what their spells do. There's a few limited formula spells that can be learned, but they're mostly there to get the players' minds working. Mechanically speaking, the more formula spells a character knows, the harder it is to freeform stuff - and freeforming stuff is hella important.

Tim Brannan said...

Personally I like the system in Ghosts of Albion.

But I am biased there.

Tim Brannan said...

Sorry, submitted before I was done.
I like it because it is very simple, there are means to add variety to the roll (casting) and very flexible.

Jeff Carlsen | Apathy Games said...

I'm with Burke on the Shadowrun 4 Magic system for one big reason. There's enough technical stuff going on with it that when a character casts a spell, it feels like he's doing something. He's drawing mana from the Astral plane, channeling it through himself, shaping it, and then casting the spell. It feels visceral. The drain that has to be soaked feels like it would be painful. The ability to overcast and kill yourself is gritty.

I also love the concept of Background Count. Essentially, areas of the world where something terrible happened, or where pollution is abundant, have damaged the astral plane and made channeling mana difficult and dangerous, and the mechanics reflect that.

Aaron said...

I'm going to give a shout out to the system they created for TSR's old Conan the Barbarian game. In effect, the ability to use magic was simply a set of skills that operated in more or less the same way that any other skill operated. It took some fleshing out to really be workable, and I wound up toning down the overall effects that could be achieved as a justification for substantially scaling back the Weaknesses that were called for (with the standard system, trying to be a moderately powerful mage could make your character almost completely non-viable).

We didn't really wind up using the system in quite the way it was intended, but it's a very good basis for a more "open" system of magic than is the norm.

Sean said...

What I like varies with what sort of game I'm playing at the moment. Right now I'm going to vote for Castle Falkenstein, because it's easy and flavourful, and for Torg's magic system, because it too had great flavour. Like Ars Magica, Torg had a great system of magical principles that you manipulated to create the spell you wanted. Because Torg wasn't all about wizards, its magic system was a little simpler then Ars Magica's (though not much). I understand that magic in the now open-source D6 system is based on Torg's mechanics.

Pukako said...

Well, I have to cast a vote for the ICE MERP/Rolemaster Basic system.

Spell lists that had to be learnt individually but gave you access to a series of themed spells, with Power Points being used to cast them.

Perhaps the Spell Fumble, and Critical Hits tables made it better, but it made more internal sense than a lot of other systems (I'm looking at Vancian here...)

Joseph said...

@Lessthanpleased: You said Adept Magick twice.

Talysman said...

My own surprising confession: hedge magic. Still prefer pre-1e vancian, but hedge magic has its charms.

Maroon said...

The problem with Ars Magica (and like games) is that you need a group of committed players -- that is, the people who usually RUN games -- for it to work properly. It is not something you can 'pick up and play' if you're not deeply submerged in the relevant gibberish. In D&D, you have all your assets on your character sheet and play without having seen the rules, because there is one committed player, the DM, who knows what dice to roll and what the stuff on your character sheet means, and you can just ask him until you're settled in.

Another thing I dislike about Ars Magica is the idea that magic is innate to the users. All the magic spells and potions and wands and tattoos are just peripherals around the fact that magicians just make things happen because they can, not because of the spells and potions and wands and tattoos involved.

At least with Vancian magic there is the notion that magicians can do all these things because something, somewhere, does it for them, but you don't know what that thing is or where and whether it will eat your face off if you do it wrong, and you don't know exactly if you're doing it right, either... that kind of feeling. I love that feeling.

Timeshadows said...

Ars Magica/Lords of Fantasy