Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making magic magical (part 2)

(continued from part 1)

3. Tie Magic to Non-Character Resources
by non-character resources here I mean equipment, items and other elements that are not defined in the rules as being part of the defining elements of a character or character class. A MU must seek out and resupply such resources. The resources could involve supernatural/magical energies that must be sought out, special materials that must be sought out or simply a mix of components that must be present to enact magic.
Magical energies could include such things as elemental essence or soul-force. It must be actively sought and harvested by a MU. A likely source would be other MUs and magical beings putting the MU in a role of having to engage in potentially dangerous activity to collect enough power to produce the really powerful magical spells. This is similar to spell points as often expressed in RPGs but it isn't a renewable quality of the MU alone but a resource that must be collected from somewhere else.
A magical material (incantium, magicum, etc...) is needed to cast spells. This differs from the above in that non mages may collect and transfer the substance and the material itself directly provides the energy for magic.
Components as the energy source that powers magical spells. The mage combines the components and the method this is done powers the magical spells. Many games and campaigns use components but not extensively and they provide little room for the player to experiment.
A versatile range of components with lesser and greater effects and some components requiring additional preparation on part of the mage adds involvement and utility to component based magic.

4. Make magic use more involved at the tabletop
Many a campaign the player of a mage announces: "I cast spell X" , effects are determined and that's it. Not very exciting or magical. This situation is relieved somewhat by requiring a roll for success to build in drama. If one makes this roll different from combat or skill checks (if your game has them) magic stands a bit apart by having it's mechanics a little different.
Allow use of gimmicks that add to success of a mages spells; a mage with a lock of hair from a victim or calling out a targets true name or wielding a wand dedicated to a specific target should all aid the mage.
There is a lot of room in making magic more involved by adding new subsystems to the game. I only really hinted at some solutions here and hope to have more with mechanics on later posts.

5. Making Magic Rare
Making magic rare would certainly make magical more wondrous and exciting. Raising requirements for spell casting characters. Increasing spell casting times or renewal; by example if clerics could only renew spells once a week and otherwise obeyed all rules of the game then clerical magic would indeed be rarer. Forbidding more then one spell caster of a certain class to operate in the same party at the same time.
Perhaps spell casting requires magic items, this reduces the immediate availability of a spell if the device i not present. Knowledge of the fireball spell or possession of a fireball wand alone do not permit one to cast a fireball spell one must have knowledge of the spell and the wand to use the spell. One would have to allow relatively inexperienced mages access to manufacturing of magic items, either by rules that allow them to manufacture the item themselves or contact with more powerful mages who can provide the devices. This method makes magical rarer through expense.
Limit frequency of casting. The laws of magic as they are could forbid a spell from being cast immediately after it was cast and or maybe no more then three times a day. This forces more variety in spell casting and limits some frequently abusive RPG tactics.

The techniques in this post and the earlier one will not alone make magical more magical in every instance. Balancing multiple methods will certainly have impact to make magic feel different from one campaign to another which uses uncertainty to increase the mystery element of magic. NPC reactions to magic (and encouraging players to go along) in seeing magic as wondrous and exciting certainly should add to the success of making magic feel magical.

I hope to provide more detail and possible rule subsystems for making magic magical in future posts as keeping the fantastic as just that makes fantasy role playing games special.


  1. I agree with this philosophy about keeping magic rare. I've also tried to create a system of 'consumable' reagents that mages would need to cast their spells, but this is a difficult sell to many players. I've never been a fan of the Vancian system, but since I am terrible at creating my own systems i use what I can.

    I liked the articles..keep them coming. Do you have any lists of the ingredients you use in your world to creat the magical effects?

  2. I do not have a good publishable list (yet) and am certainly of the mind it should be campaign specific.