Authors: Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks
Editors: Fred Hicks, Lydia Leong
This document is Open Game Content, as described in section 1(d) of the Open Gaming License.
There are few things less satisfying than a truly generic magic system. Magic adds color, flavor and texture to any fantasy setting, and if those elements are generic, the impact on the setting is obvious. Because Fate is designed to be plugged into a setting and reflect its specifics, a generic system would hardly be appropriate. Instead, we've included a variety of sample systems to give a sense of some possible approaches. Any one of them is usable, but they are ultimately more useful as guidelines towards the sort of customization that will help bring out the specific feel of a setting.
In general, magic systems are based off the initial purchase of one or more magical aspects, which then open up special skills or extras that can be purchased. Purchasing more magical aspect levels may open up additional new skills and extras.
In the world of Ald, magic is a structured, academic affair, and there is no greater center of magical learning than the Great Library. It is said that every spell ever written is somewhere in its miles and miles of bookshelves.
Characters looking to be mages must purchase a Magical Talent aspect. After that aspect is bought, the player may purchase a Cast Cantrips skill, as well as the aspect Magical Initiation. A character may potentially purchase up to 9 circles of Magical Initiation, and with each level a new Circle spellcasting skill (such as "First Circle Spellcasting") is available.
Mages must prepare their spells at the beginning of the day by studying them from spellbooks. The number of spells in a given Circle which the mage can have prepared is equal to the number of skill ranks invested in the skill (equal to the skill value +1). Once cast, spells are no longer available until prepared again.
By default, spells do not require a skill roll to cast. However, the skill roll may be called for to target a spell, or to cast it under particularly trying circumstances.
This system assumes that there is a pre-existing spell list, broken into 10 levels from 0-9, and that a high degree of character advancement (enough to accumulate 10 aspects) is appropriate. If perchance no such system is available, it can easily be adapted to other level-based systems simply by changing the number of levels, usually reducing them. If an even larger list of spells is desired, simply increase the number of spell levels in a Circle. For instance, in a system with 20 spell levels, each Circle (and thus aspect level) might represent 5 spell levels; the skill level in that Circle would determine how many spells in that Circle could be cast each day.
The world is balanced perfectly between the four points: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Hedge witches may claim some power over one element or another, but true mages know that power comes from the balance of the four, and the danger that comes of imbalance.
There are 4 magical aspects and 4 magical skills in this system. The Aspects are Initiate of Fire, Initiate of Earth, Initiate of Air and Initiate of Water, each representing a tie to the respective elemental force. To be a mage requires only one level of one of these aspects, but such a mage will have access to a far more limited range of power than a more well-rounded practitioner of magic would.
The four magical skills (and their uses) are:
Evocation - Evocation is the preferred skill for combat, and is used for quick, usually forceful, expressions of power. For more sustained effects, summoning and mastery are usually more appropriate, but what it lacks in duration and finesse, it makes up in speed and power. Evocation is the favored skill of Fire Mages.
Summoning - The skill for bringing amounts of an element into existence and roughly shaping it (mastery is more useful for that, and the two skills are highly complementary). It is also useful for summoning creatures of the elements, but mastery is required to bind them. Summoning is favored by Earth Mages.
Mastery - Mastery is the ability to shape and control existing elements. It is arguably the most potent of the skills of magic, but it is also entirely dependant on the presence of material with which to work. Mastery is favored by Air Mages, who are rarely without a source of their element.
Dispelling - Beyond removing elemental matter, this is also the skill best suited to protection. While Mastery may allow a mage who takes his time to protect himself, only dispelling is fast enough to be usable in combat, and against evocations. Water mages favor this skill and its propensity to wear away any resistance with time.
Spellcasting is started by determining what element and skill is involved. Usually this is obvious, but in some cases more than one element may apply. In those situations, the GM may either allow a partial effect (such as destroying just the water in mud) or may rule that the mage must use their weakest aspect or skill. It is worth noting, living beings are considered to be a perfectly balanced combination of elements (Earth for form, Water for blood, Air for breath and Fire for life), so are very hard to target directly with any magics.
The next issue to determine is one of scope - how much of an element is summoned, shaped or dispelled, or how much force is deployed in an attack. The maximum scope is determined by the aspect level of the appropriate element. Scope is best judged roughly by the amount of material worked with, which breaks down according to the table below.
After element and scope have been determined, the character rolls the appropriate skill against the difficulty listed in the table. If appropriate, that difficulty is also the number a target must roll against to resist an effect.
* - Dispelling generally works as one level higher scope against summoned material. As such, 2 ranks of Fire magic could dispel a fist sized natural fire, or a body-sized magical one.
The character may not generate an effect with a scope greater than their appropriate aspect level.
It is also possible for a mage to summon elementals. These are simple creatures defined by a single aspect - Elemental (of the appropriate type). The level of that aspect is equal to the rank required to summon one and sets its difficulty. Thus, a tiny fire elemental (Fire Elemental 1) is a difficulty of Fair.
To bind an elemental, the character must first summon it (roll summoning skill vs. difficulty) then bind it (mastery vs. difficulty). A Mage may only have one elemental bound at a time. It's worth noting that elementals are fairly obvious and have no real means to hide themselves. An elemental may be dispelled with a successful Dispel against their difficulty, using either their element or the opposed one (Fire v. Water, Earth v. Air).
Long winded as it may be, the underlying principle is simple - a set of aspects and a set of skills, with aspects determining power and skills denoting, well, skill. What exactly the aspects and skills are is almost irrelevant. Elements were used in this example because they're a classic motif, but a solid magical system could be built off any logical (or mythical) combination. Imagine similar systems where the aspects are the Seven Deadly Sins, the Muses, the seasons, the phases of the moon, a different set of elements or anything else that strikes one's fancy.
The gates have opened, and evil walks upon the earth in ways it has not for centuries. Around the corner and just out of the corner of your eye, it lurks, growing in power. Our only hope are those unlikely few, the mad, the destined and the unlucky, who have seen this threat for what it is and are fighting to stop it.
This is a simple, narrative system for playing a somewhat fast and loose game where magic is important, but it is not necessarily central. Mage characters need to purchase a Magical Talent aspect and a spellcasting skill. It is possible that those go under other names, such as Wicca or Thaumaturge with their Old Magick and Thaumaturgy skills. Generally speaking, this is just for color, but it may have some game effect (see below). The spellcasting skill (in whatever form it takes) can be bought without an appropriate aspect, but trying to use it to cast spells is exceptionally dangerous (see Feedback, below).
To cast a spell, simply determine its difficulty and make a spellcasting roll to meet or exceed the difficulty level, then mark off a level of the aspect. As such, yes, the aspect limits the number of spells that can be cast per day, and as such, it's dangerous to burn it for a reroll - as such, having another aspect to represent magical education, like Occult Studies or Ancient Lore can be quite useful, and what often allows a more experienced mage defeat a more powerful one.
Difficulty defaults to Average (0), and is increased or decreased by the effects of the spell as follows.
|The spell's scope encompasses...||.|
|If the spell targets...||.|
|No One:||+0 Difficulty|
|1 Person:||+1 Difficulty|
|Small Group:||+2 Difficulty|
Note: Most spells either have a number of targets or a scope, not both. Thus, a spell to put everyone in a room to sleep would be based on targets, while one to illuminate the room would use scope. When in doubt, use the higher difficulty.
|If the spell is...||.|
|Irritating or inconvenient:||+1 Difficulty|
|Fully transformative:||+4 Difficulty|
|Mind Altering:||+2 Difficulty (over and above other modifiers - mind control is effectively incapacitating and affects the mind)|
|If the Casting takes...||.|
|A few moments (i.e. in combat):||+1 Difficulty|
|A few minutes:||+0 Difficulty|
|A few Hours:||-1 Difficulty|
|A few Days:||-2 Difficulty|
|If the spell requires:||.|
|Easily acquirable, portable components:||+0 Difficulty|
|Components are very inconvenient or hard to acquire:||-1 Difficulty|
|Components are very inconvenient and hard to acquire:||-2 Difficulty|
Note: if the spell requires components, their exact nature is determined by the GM - it's cheating to decide that your spell needs a rare ingredient you just happen to have on hand. This drawback is generally only appropriate for researched spells (see below)
|If the spell lasts...||.|
|An instant (generally long enough for a combat attack):||+0 Difficulty|
|A few seconds:||+1 Difficulty|
|A few minutes:||+2 Difficulty|
|A few Hours:||+3 Difficulty|
|A few days:||+4 Difficulty|
|A few Months:||+5 Difficulty|
|A few Years:||+6 Difficulty|
Also, optionally for those with a more dramatic bent:
|The spell affects the story by...||.|
|Advancing the plot:||-1 Difficulty|
|Doing something someone could do with a mundane skill:||+1 Difficulty|
|Doing something that someone else in the party could do mundanely:||+1 Difficulty (in addition to mundane penalty)|
|Jumping over a large amount of plot:||+2 Difficulty or more|
|Bypassing an entire story:||+4 Difficulty or more|
And lastly, one unique modifier:
|Inconvenient Timing:||-1 Difficulty or more. Inconvenient timing is mostly just useful for villains, as it represents spells that can only occur under certain circumstances||("when the stars are right"). This generally gives a plot reason why a villain can be casting a world-destroying spell, but still be at a level that the PCs can manage.|
It is also possible to spend some time researching a spell in advance, either preparing it (which requires a magical toolkit of sorts, depending on the type of magic - a big cauldron for example) or researching it (which requires an occult library). In either case, a research roll is made against the difficulty of the spell, and if successful, subtract 1 from the difficulty of the spell. The GM may award additional bonuses for extreme degrees of success.
Researched spells are generally not re-usable. Duplicating an already researched spell requires another research roll.
Magic is dangerous stuff. The number of aspects the character has represents the amount they can safely handle, but sometimes a caster needs to push himself a little farther. If all of the caster's Magical Talent aspects are checked off, and he still wishes to cast a spell, determine difficulty and roll skill as normal. If the spell is successful with at least a MOS of 1, all is well. However, if the spell fails, or succeeds exactly, the powers the character is working with get out of their control. This is treated as an attack on the character with a severity equal to the difficulty of the spell plus the degree by which the character failed (0, if the spell succeeds). The character rolls to defend against this attack with their aspect level. Characters without a Magic Talent aspect default to Mediocre on this roll.
As written, this system is functional but bland. Fortunately, it takes only a little tweaking to give it some flavor. It's possible to give the various magical schools some mechanical impact. Generally, it's best to makes this a +1 to skill in certain circumstances and -1 in other circumstances. Try to make the circumstances roughly equal. For example, the Alchemists of Bin-Assam practice a magical tradition rich in potions, smokes and exotic ingredients. The receive a +1 bonus to skill when casting a spell with required components. However, they are given to ornate, overly complicated rituals, and take a -1 penalty to skill when trying to cast spells more quickly than over the course over a few hours.
Modifiers that reflect the "rules of magic" also add a lot to the flavor of a setting. Perhaps spells receive a bonus when you know the target's true name, or have a symbolic link to the target, such as a voodoo doll. Perhaps spells are more powerful at dawn or dusk. Some rules don't even need rules: something like "curses return threefold" is better played out than left to a mechanic.
In the city of Ald, the Great Lighthouse has held off attackers of every stripe for generations. At its peak rests and unquenchable flame, which adepts can direct to strike anything out to the horizon. Great as that power is, it only touches the surface of the potential of this mystical flame. Initiates who immerse themselves in it and survive become adepts, carrying a small amount of fire within them, and may use it to fuel their sorceries.
This fire magic is represented by two things: a spellcasting skill, called "Pyromancy", and a number of "stunts". By using the skill, the mage may start fires without kindling or tools, and even produce small fires (Fair=matchlight, Superb=a large torch) from their body without fuel, though this requires too much concentration to be useful in combat (without a stunt). They may control fires (Fair=Torch, Superb = Bonfire) in showy ways, changing colors and sculpting shapes. They may passively use their skill as a defense against fire and heat. More powerful effects require using a stunt.
Characters spend skill points for "Stunts". Performing a stunt allows the character to do something more dramatic with the skill. Each stunt bought gives the character a circle next to the skill, which refreshes in the same manner as aspects, and which can be checked off to perform a stunt. Thus, an experienced Fire Mage, with 3 stunts might express it as:
|- Pyromancy: Good||(OOO)|
This would cost 6 skill ranks total: 3 to bring the skill to Good, and one for each stunt.
The first skill rank must be purchased in conjunction with the "Pyromancer" aspect.
To use a stunt, simply describe the desired action and check off a circle. Here are some guidelines that may help give a sense of what stunts can do:
A stunt should never last any longer than a scene.
A stunt generally translates into a single effect: A bolt of fire, a wall of flame, lighting something on fire. More sophisticated effects require multiple stunts.
A stunt can allow magic to be used as a combat skill. This is limited by the effect: A bolt of fire might work for only a single attack, but a protective wall could last a scene.
Spells which affect multiple targets take a -1 penalty to the roll for each target beyond the first.
Spells which simulate weapons are fine, but they are bound by the general limitations of the weapons - i.e. creating a perpetual flame bolt that is held in the hand and using it as a sword is fine, but creating a 50 foot bolt claiming its a sword isn't really feasible.
The addition of magic to a fight can grant a situational advantage (i.e. a +1 bonus).
Stunts are refreshed after a full nights rest or meditation in the presence of a (torch sized or larger) fire. A desperate Fire Mage may also immerse his hands (or other parts) and suffer bad burns (automatically suffering an "injured" result) to refresh his stunts.
Bolt of Flame
An old favorite, this blast of flame shoots from the caster's hand or eyes with the intent of incinerating the target. Used at range, this attack grants no bonus for superior armor, and if the target is wearing flammable clothes of metal armor, that qualifies as inferior armor for calculating bonuses. Range is usually line of sight, and the exact appearance of the bolt is shaped by the fancy of the caster.
Wall of Flame
Another classic, a wall of flame bursts into existence, either around the caster, or somewhere nearby. Passing through the wall subjects the target to an attack from the caster's skill as if they had been hit by a bolt of flame. It's possible to surround a target in a wall of fire with an attack that generates a hurt result, and it's possible to directly target something with the wall (light it under their feet) with a injured result.
Brave The Inferno
Ignore damage from any single fire for as long as it lasts and as long as the character is exposed to it. This allows ignoring a single attack, walking around in a burning house, or passing through a wall of fire unharmed.
Pyromancy does have certain limitations. A Fire Magi who is submerged in water (or other liquid) cannot perform any fire magic until the next full moon. Significant partial submersion (even a bad enough rainstorm) is enough, so Fire Magi are very careful around water which has created a legend that it is somewhat more baneful to them than it genuinely is. This has also inspired some peculiar bathing habits. In the south, sand and oil are more common than water anyway, so there is no problem, but in the midlands it's definitely an issue. Interestingly, snow and ice are not considered water (unless they melt), a loophole that the small number of northern Fire Magi take advantage of, though the idea of a "snow bath" is disconcerting to those of a less hardy nature.
Stunts are really designed to serve as a middle ground between handwaving magical effects and rigid bookkeeping of capabilities. Coming up with additional magic systems is as easy as deciding on the incidental effects, deciding what the stunts are capable of, and determining if there's a geas or other limitations.
The exact definition of what a stunt is depends strongly on the campaign. While it is possible that it may represent a concrete limit, that is not necessary. Like aspects, they are more of a narrative limitation, and because of that, GMs looking to blur the line of how often magic can be used are encouraged to allow appropriate aspect boxes to be used in lieu of stunt boxes. Of course, in games where wizards are expected to have a fixed number of spells per day (or some other cycle), no further explanation is really necessary.
Sometimes magic just isn't easy. Whether because of the overwhelming disbelief of the vast swell of humanity, or some natural protection that keeps the world from accepting the supernatural. Whatever the case, necessity has made magic both subtle and rare.
The single most important component of any spell is how blatant it is. Blatancy is mostly a measure of how flashy or obvious the working of power is - it's a measure of how wrong whatever is being done appears to any bystanders. This puts very practical limits on anything done with magic - more often than not, if a task can be done mundanely, it's much easier to do so. This is why most wizards carry guns.
When using magic, players are encouraged to describe effects in terms of how they would appear in the movie version of their story. Now, this method depends on the player wanting to describe things interestingly - if players are more interested in describing things as flatly as possible in an attempt to drive down difficulties, the GM should do two things - raise the difficulties to an appropriate level, and consider using a different magic system.
Magic using characters should have some sort of aspect to describe their type of magic. This can be as general as "Wizard" or as specific as "Mystical Master of Cheese". These give a general guideline as to the types of magic the character can perform, and the GM is perfectly entitled to grant bonuses when she feels a magical effect is particularly in keeping with the aspect, or nix one that seems to have nothing to do with it (unless, of course, there's a really good explanation). The level of this aspect represents the character's "special effects budget" for magic (to wit, the most powerful spell effect they can manage). The character also has a spellcasting skill, which they roll when casting and attempt to meet or exceed the difficulty level for the "budget."
|1||Fair||A set of bongos and interpretive dance|
|2||Good||Public access - a couple of guys with a camcorder|
|3||Great||Cable television production|
|4||Superb||Television "Mini-Series Event"|
Some budgetary notes:
The more area or targets a spell affects, the more camera angles required, and in turn, the more budget.
Remember, the target is part of the audience. As such, spells that quietly and invisibly choke someone or stop their heart won't work, because they won't notice them. You need to invest some in making them feel it. As such, the very least directly damaging spells require a minimum of a cable TV budget. Indirect damage (like burning someone by catching their house on fire) is a different beast entirely.
A character can temporarily boost their budget by checking off aspects. Each aspect checked off in this fashion raises the maximum budget for the next magical effect by one.
Right off the bat, GMs may require that magical aspects be a little more specific, with the idea that a real wizard will have aspects in things like Evocation, Thaumaturgy or Summonings. However you think magic should work, toss it in there.
This is an odd system in that it is probably entirely unappealing to a large segment of gamers. It depends on a lot of trust between the players and GM and requires a lot of interpretation on the GM's part. If it doesn't work for you, don't worry about it. However, if this seems like your cup of tea, the possibilities for interpretation are probably already suggesting themselves.
When the Weasel first talked to me I was so drunk that I just took it all at face value. Apparently, I agreed to some serious mojo-binding stuff, and in return I would get the Weasel's power. I guess I must have agreed, because I woke up that morning up inside my left pants leg.
In preparation for a threat only hinted at, the lords of the beasts have approached worthy humans and offered them the gift of skinchanging - the ability to turn into their patron creature. Despite the questionable value of some of these blessings, these skinchangers are prepared to use the little power at their disposal to defend mankind...as soon as they figure out what they're defending it against.
Skinchangers buy an aspect in the appropriate animal, and gain the ability to transform into that animal. It's difficult for a human to adapt to the workings of the animal physiology, so it is necessary for them to buy ranks in a skill called (animal) mobility (weasel mobility or what have you). This is a difficult skill to master, so it defaults to Poor (see "Difficult Skills"). This skill is the general baseline for activity in the creature's form. If the creature can fly, things are doubly difficult, and default to terrible.
Many creatures have special abilities. Some are intrinsic- a weasel is small and a fish breathes underwater, and there's no need to reflect those with skills or aspects. Others have abilities better reflected with aspects - a bloodhound's keen senses or a ferret's speed. These aren't mandatory, but if the player wishes to take advantage of the animal's abilities, buying the appropriate aspects is a good idea. Some abilities are very specific to the creature, such as a skunk's spray. In those cases, the character should buy a skill to reflect that ability. That skill defaults to the same level as the mobility skill did, and can never be higher than the mobility skill.
Some animals are also better suited to combat than others. Any skinchanger can use their mobility skill to dodge, but those gifted with natural weapons should buy a combat skill to use them. This skill has the same starting default as mobility, and can never be bought higher than the current mobility score.
Lastly, any form capable of fine manipulation should buy a manipulation skill to represent it. As with other skills, it defaults to the same level mobility does and cannot be bought any higher than the current mobility skill level. This skill is appropriate for simians, but may also be appropriate for some small mammals and birds.
Characters should not have more than one animal form. If they do, the skills for one form do not translate to the other form, unless the forms are very similar, like a squirrel and a chipmunk.
The underlying model here is simple - an aspect that introduces a minor power can work just fine if it also requires at least one skill to use the ability. If the aspect is particularly useful, then it should require more skills. With that idea in mind, it's easy to model any sort of knack or gimmick, from ESP to Breath Control. This is also the idea behind a number of magic systems. This is a good model to simulate a genre with limited powers, like some urban fantasy or pulp.