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Old 02-26-2016, 08:11 PM   #1
Shostak
 
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Default Alternate Magic System

Hi, folks. It is with some trepidation that I share this, but I am interested in what this august group thinks of this set of house rules that support my affinity for focused, skillful magic and my desire for logically related improvisational magic. You should know that I generally don't like letting characters have attributes any higher than 15 (except Will, HP, and FP), with 9-13 being the normal range. My hope is that the rules and their bias toward predetermined skill-spells Encourage players to keep the pace of the game brisk, not bogged down in spell development.

Sphere Skill Magic

This magic system combines elements of standard Magic and rules for Realm and Syntactic Magic and 10+ Magery as detailed in Thaumatology. The main goal is to provide a magic-as-skill system supporting rich, colorful characters capable of exciting magic, but with balances in place to keep them from becoming too powerful. Importantly, the system also encourages more typical human Intelligence attribute, and gives incentives for high skill with particular spells while also allowing for improvisational casting.

In this system, Magery is a hybrid of an attribute, an advantage, and a skill. It is acquired in specific Spheres which are represented as nouns: Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Image, Light & Darkness, Magic, Mind, Spirit, Plant, Sound, Water. Magery in each Sphere is available in 5 levels, Magery+0 through +4. Magery +0 gives a skill of 10 in that Sphere, Magery +1 gives 11, and so on. Each level of Magery in a sphere confers command of particular verbs, and each verb has three variants: Minor, Intermediate, and Major.
M+0 gives Minor Communicate, Minor Control, and Minor Sense;

M+1 gives Minor Heal, Minor Move, Minor Protect, Minor Strengthen, Minor Weaken, Intermediate Communicate, Intermediate Control, Intermediate Sense;

M+2 adds Minor Create, Minor Transform, Intermediate Heal, Intermediate Move, Intermediate Protect, Intermediate Strengthen, Intermediate Weaken, Major Communicate, Major Control, Major Sense;

M+3 confers Intermediate Create, Intermediate Transform, Major Heal, Major Move, Major Protect, Major Strengthen, Major Weaken;

M+4 sums up with Major Create and Major Transform.
Magery in a Sphere costs 5 CP/level. (to gain mastery over all Spheres costs a minimum of 300 CP)

Learned Spells

Spells in a given sphere are learned against the Magery skill level in that sphere, and should be thought of as deeply memorized and practiced syntactic magic castings. The highest basic skill level available in any sphere is 14, but spells can be learned at higher skill levels (for more reliable casting and other benefits), and they are learned at Magery (Sphere)/A. There are no prerequisite spells, although every spell has a Magery prerequisite and could have other prerequisites (minimum attribute scores, other skills, etc.) as the GM wishes. Spells can only be learned as skills within the Spheres given access to through Magery, and only those up to and including the verbs conferred by the highest level of Magery possessed within that sphere. For example, a character with Magery+1 (Fire) could learn Shape Fire, but not Create Fire. All Sphere nouns and verbs have a FP cost of 1 and add 1 second casting time. Each verb also contributes a multiplier as well, of 1-5, corresponding to the Magery level by which it is conferred. This multiplier is used in calculating both FP cost and casting time. Seek Fire, using a Magery+0 verb, would take 2 seconds and have a base cost of 2 FP; Create Fire, using a Magery+2 verb, would take 6 seconds and have a base of cost 6 FP; Body of Fire, using a Magery+4 verb and two nouns (Transform Body to Fire) would take 15 seconds to cast and cost 15 FP.

Spells from Magic can be used more or less straight from the book, with GM approval, or players can create their own spells for vetting by the GM, utilizing the cost and casting times associated with verbs and nouns. Spell effects, such as damage or area, can be calculated using the guidelines for creating new spells suggested in Magic.

Casting learned spells has definite advantages. First, they are faster and cost fewer FP than improvised castings (see below). Also, high skill in spells learned above base Magery level confers benefits. As described in Magic, high skill can reduce the extent of ritual required to cast. Unlike as described in Magic, skill levels for FP and casting time bonus are not absolute. Rather, bonuses are obtained for skill level above Magery within a given sphere (similar to bonuses granted by skill level above attribute for skills like Karate). Skill levels 3 or 4 above Magery reduce FP cost by 1 and casting time by half (round up), skill 5-6 above Magery gives reduce FP by a further 1 and casting time by half again, and so on. However, FP cost after reduction for high skill can never be less than 1. Also, area spells have a base area radius of +1/every 2 skill levels above Magery; resisted spells are resisted against Will+skill level above Magery; missile spells and gain 10 yards of range/skill above Magery and can be charged for the number of turns equal to skill level above Magery; and regular spells remove 1 from range penalty (but get no bonus)/2 skill points above Magery.

Improvised Casting

Improvised casting allows wizards to bend magic to their will to address circumstances for which their learned spells are not adequate or appropriate. But, just having Magery in a sphere does not confer the ability to improvise magic. This ability comes with skill in Thaumatology or Ritual. Improvisational magic is worked by combining verbs with nouns within a single or among multiple spheres given access to through Magery, and workings are cast against the higher of either the lower or lowest sphere or Thaumatology/Ritual skill, modified by a penalty of 1 to 5, based on the Magery level of the verb with an additional -1/noun beyond the first. Improvising powerful spells is hard and relies more on intelligence than on raw magical ability. GMs should feel free to impose additional penalties for distracting conditions, or bonuses for favorable conditions. Improvised spells take twice the time to cast as learned spells, and cost 1 FP more/level of Magery required for the verb used. Thus the improvised casting of the example skilled castings above would be Seek Fire, 4 seconds to cast, FP cost of 3; Create Small Fire, 8 seconds to cast, FP cost of 9; Body of Fire, 30 seconds to cast, FP cost of 20. Improvised spells can only be temporary—one day/lowest Magery level at most.
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Old 02-27-2016, 07:22 AM   #2
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Default Re: Alternate Magic System

Looks like you have a similar idea with me. I will post more after work.
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Old 02-27-2016, 10:44 AM   #3
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Default Re: Alternate Magic System

Looks good. But I have a few critiques.

First off, what is the distinction between "Mind" and "Spirit"? I'd just have one if I were you if spirit is meant to be "soul". But spirit makes sense if it refers to elementals or ghosts.

Secondly, mapping verbs to magery levels is counterproductive to your stated goals. Memorizing your list is going to take forever. Until they memorize it, your players are going to be constantly looking it up to figure out if they can cast the spells they want. I would expect you to find that players end up taking just as much time parsing this list as they would building their spells under the other flexible magic systems. On the other hand, having precompiled spells will help mitigate this problem.

Thirdly, having minor, intermediate, and greater variants of spells is a bit much. Every time your players want to cast a spell, game play must halt for you to determine which "level" the spell falls into. This can become quite a nuisance since there are three levels to assign the spell to. Precompiled spells won't eliminate the need to figure this out during play because you would presumably need 3 versions of every spell. You will need to make the distinctions between these levels intuitive and clear to avoid this problem. I would personally pare this down to minor and greater variants a la RPM.

Fourthly, I wouldn't base ritual simplification and energy cost reduction on skill level. This just leads to players artificially chasing the break point levels of skill. I'd use the Alternate Magic Rituals rules from GURPS: Magic (p. 9) instead. I find these more satisfying because anyone can try to simplify their rituals but only true experts are likely to succeed. For energy cost reductions, I'd apply a -3 to -5 penalty per halving of the energy cost, rounding up. Under this rule, 1 FP is the minimum cost of a spell. Allowing them to eliminate the energy cost by reducing the energy cost to 0.5 or less is a more lenient rule.

I'd highly recommend checking out GURPS: Thaumatology. That book has a lot of advice for constructing your own magic system, including syntactic ones. Path/Book magic is similar to how your fixed spells work. Using Spell parameters may make it easier to handle syntactic magic quickly. I'd definitely use the Realms (i.e. Spheres) version of syntactic magic to simplify verb gating.

The way this works is that Magery is generic and applies to every skill. Your capabilities with a Realm are limited by the number of levels a realm specific advantage. Each level has a cost that basically depends on how many levels are required for full mastery of a realm and the number of realms. 3 - 6 levels are recommended for achieving a good trade off between memorability and detail. A spell would require a realm level equal to or greater than the most powerful verb required. For example, a three level realm system might have the following levels:
  • LV 1: Detection and Measurement
  • LV 2: Control
  • LV 3: Creation and Destruction
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Old 02-27-2016, 10:50 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Shostak View Post
Magery in each Sphere is available in 5 levels, Magery+0 through +4. Magery +0 gives a skill of 10 in that Sphere, Magery +1 gives 11, and so on.
This all looks pretty plausible, but I think it would be clearer if you numbered the Magery levels 1-5 rather than 0-4, because Magery 0 suggests that it's something different from a higher level, in the way it is for the standard magic system. You might even want to call the advantage something other than Magery, given that it's quite a lot different from ordinary Magery and something much more like a syntactic magic realm advantage.
Quote:
Spells in a given sphere are learned against the Magery skill level in that sphere ...
It would definitely be clearer if you gave an example up-front. The formula you've written says that if I have Magery (Fire) 3, then if I spend four points on a spell I have it at Magery+1, or an effective skill of 4. What you seem to mean is that spells are learned as Average skills based on 10+Magery (Sphere).
Quote:
Body of Fire, using a Magery+4 verb and two nouns (Transform Body to Fire) would take 15 seconds to cast and cost 15 FP.
A two-verb example is needed here, to demonstrate how the multipliers stack.
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and workings are cast against the higher of either the lower or lowest sphere or Thaumatology/Ritual skill, modified by a penalty of 1 to 5, based on the Magery level of the verb with an additional -1/noun beyond the first.
That would be clearer as "the minimum of Thaumatology/Ritual skill and (10+lowest Sphere involved)".
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Old 02-27-2016, 12:43 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
This all looks pretty plausible, but I think it would be clearer if you numbered the Magery levels 1-5 rather than 0-4, because Magery 0 suggests that it's something different from a higher level, in the way it is for the standard magic system. You might even want to call the advantage something other than Magery, given that it's quite a lot different from ordinary Magery and something much more like a syntactic magic realm advantage.
I agree, it is a little clunky. It could perhaps more simply just be referred to as Sphere skill, with the allowable levels 10 through 14.
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Old 02-27-2016, 12:51 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Shostak View Post
I agree, it is a little clunky. It could perhaps more simply just be referred to as Sphere skill, with the allowable levels 10 through 14.
Please don't call it a skill unless you buy levels in it using the skill cost progression. You'll confuse people, and buying a spell skill based on another skill doesn't work.

Yes, I am being picky about terminology. Plugging a new subsystem into a mildly complicated game system like GURPS is a lot easier if the terms are correct.
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Old 02-27-2016, 01:17 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Emerald Cat View Post
Looks good. But I have a few critiques.

First off, what is the distinction between "Mind" and "Spirit"? I'd just have one if I were you if spirit is meant to be "soul". But spirit makes sense if it refers to elementals or ghosts.
Yes, my thinking is that mind is what goes on in one's head, and spirit is stuff like ghosts and demons (which could have minds of their own). But, for a while, they were combined as one Sphere. But, it seems that mind-control magic should be separate from necromancy, so I split them.

Quote:
Thirdly, having minor, intermediate, and greater variants of spells is a bit much.
I went back and forth on this quite a bit. The simplest thing would be to have verbs without modifiers, but that lacks nuance. Two tiers could certainly work, but I like the three divisions; there should be a difference in the kind of power you need for altering the colour of one's eyes (minor transformation), transforming from human to raven (intermediate transformation), and transforming from human to stone (great transformation). The two-tier system is a bit too black-and-white for my taste.

Quote:
Fourthly, I wouldn't base ritual simplification and energy cost reduction on skill level. This just leads to players artificially chasing the break point levels of skill. I'd use the Alternate Magic Rituals rules from GURPS: Magic (p. 9) instead. I find these more satisfying because anyone can try to simplify their rituals but only true experts are likely to succeed. For energy cost reductions, I'd apply a -3 to -5 penalty per halving of the energy cost, rounding up. Under this rule, 1 FP is the minimum cost of a spell.
That's a good suggestion. Thanks!

Quote:
I'd highly recommend checking out GURPS: Thaumatology. ... I'd definitely use the Realms (i.e. Spheres) version of syntactic magic to simplify verb gating.
Yes, the Realm section of GURPS: Thaumatology was a source, as was Verb-Noun. While I like the idea Realm Magic, it seems a little vague and likely to really slow down play.
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Old 02-27-2016, 03:23 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Please don't call it a skill unless you buy levels in it using the skill cost progression. You'll confuse people, and buying a spell skill based on another skill doesn't work.

Yes, I am being picky about terminology. Plugging a new subsystem into a mildly complicated game system like GURPS is a lot easier if the terms are correct.
Fair enough. Think of it as a 10+Magery if that helps clarify.
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Old 02-27-2016, 09:07 PM   #9
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I went back and forth on this quite a bit. The simplest thing would be to have verbs without modifiers, but that lacks nuance. Two tiers could certainly work, but I like the three divisions; there should be a difference in the kind of power you need for altering the colour of one's eyes (minor transformation), transforming from human to raven (intermediate transformation), and transforming from human to stone (great transformation). The two-tier system is a bit too black-and-white for my taste.
As long as you can find a way to quickly determine the level of an intended effect this should be fine. Communicating these distinctions to your players will also be important so that they can understand the limitations of magic. In your example, I could see classifying both the human-to-raven and human-to-stone transformations as greater effects. Human-to-raven transformations involves a radical violation of conservation of mass and human-to-stone involves a radical change in complexity of the object. A lot of this will depend on the metaphysics of your setting.

I would go with two levels because it allows you to reduce your spell list by a third without losing much depth.

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Originally Posted by Shostak View Post
Yes, the Realm section of GURPS: Thaumatology was a source, as was Verb-Noun. While I like the idea Realm Magic, it seems a little vague and likely to really slow down play.
I'm glad to hear that you used Thaumatology as a reference. I don't think Realm Magic will slow down game play much more than a mage's player looking up their spells to figure out what they can do.

Your approach of mapping the verbs to different levels of Magery works fine for fixed spells. When compiling your spells you are going to figure out all of that information yourself. Simply listing the required Magery level for your precompiled spells would be easy. For fixed spells, your players would never need to see your table mapping Magery to the verbs and effect levels.

But the complexity of this table becomes an issue if they start dabbling in improvisational magic. No one is going to be able to remember all of this information in play, and you will have to look it up. Basically, my problem is that your table is too cluttered for people to parse quickly.

I think that putting both the verbs and effect level in the same table is the problem. I would make it so that each level of magery opens up new verbs. But the different levels of effect act as modifiers for energy cost instead. That should greatly simplify the table.
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Old 02-29-2016, 08:16 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Please don't call it a skill unless you buy levels in it using the skill cost progression. You'll confuse people, and buying a spell skill based on another skill doesn't work.

Yes, I am being picky about terminology. Plugging a new subsystem into a mildly complicated game system like GURPS is a lot easier if the terms are correct.
Thanks very much, John. This was extremely helpful in my sharpening up the concept. I needed to firmly place things into categories of attribute, advantage, and skill.
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