So, actually having a gaming group has me thinking about Dungeons and Dragons type stuff once again. The fact that I’ve volunteered to run something has me working on what exactly I will be running. Not the adventure, but the system and the general setting. I’m thinking to run Spelljammer. D&D in Spaaaace! I still have all the cool ideas from the last time I ran Spelljammer. Which was… Jeeze, almost a decade ago at this point? It’s been much too long since I’ve run a game. Stupid social glitches in my brain. So I start to look through my gathered collection of roleplaying books and advice and internet bookmarks. Which get my brain up and running in a way that I haven’t enjoyed in far too long. Which is nice.
I’m going to be using Fate Accelerated Edition as a base for the game most likely. The group is trying out different systems and having more story-based systems to compare to each other is a secondary goal at the moment. Still going to houserule all sorts of things to bolt onto the basic framework. I find that given my recent experience with Torchbearer and various thinking about game systems since I first ran into FAE it isn’t quite as appealing. At least for a old-school dungeon game. I might just switch over to something less story gamey. The ease of comparison with Torchbearer and (later) Dungeon World is nice, but I do wnat to run something I will enjoy. The problem with Fate Accelerated is that it doesn’t really have a magic system. So was considering options of what to bolt onto the side. Which lead to me spending something like three hours yesterday afternoon and evening reading various bits of online comments about D&D magic ideas and writing down what popped into my head. Which resulted in about 4-5 pages of what I think is going to be my default magic system. Not rules-wise, just the basic concepts.
Magic and it’s uses:
First things first, a bit of a primer since I doubt anyone reading this has gone back to read the old D&D posts on the blog. In fact I’m not even sure that I typed up the basic foundation. In my D&D type settings (Exiled Future, Spelljammer, any basic D&D setting I run, etc) there are five types of magical power. Angelic, Demonic, Primal, Elemental, Arcane. Angelic/Demonic are closest to mortals and fairly self-explanatory. Primal is the forces of nature, spirits of animals and plants and things like that. Elemental are the raw forces of creation, fire and earth and the other building blocks of reality. The two of them are further from mortals, understandable but uncaring. Arcane is the energies of things outside of reality, the weird and Lovecraftian things that cannot be understood and trying gives power but also corrupts sanity. Anyway, Cleric or Wizard or Sorcerer doesn’t matter so much. All types of magic-users can draw on any of the five sources of power. In fact the divisions of types of magic-users is more or less meaningless in the greater scope of things. Okay, onto the actual use of magic.
The use of magic comes in two forms. Rituals and Spells. The more common form is rituals. Anyone who knows how can perform a ritual to cause some magical effect to occur. Just takes knowledge and the right supplies and plenty of time. A ritual can be anywhere from an hour to several days. This is what the village witch and the priest in the big city use to perform their miracles. The specific steps and components of a ritual are often kept a secret. To the outside observer it is impossible to tell if any part is necessary or just showmanship from the person performing the ritual. Sometimes not even the person doing it knows for sure. A badly done ritual has no effect. A almost correct ritual often has some terrible backlash. So people go with what works and don’t mess around with the details even as they pass on the ritual along. People who know functional rituals are uncommon, but most people either know one or know someone who knows one. Not considered natural, but safe enough.
Spells are more flexible and faster. Also incredibly dangerous. Almost nobody has ever encountered someone who can cast spells. Even important kings can go their whole reign without meeting a spellcaster in person. They are also viewed with plenty of suspicion and not a small amount of fear. This is because the first step to casting a spell is to trap it in your mind. To form a pattern of energy pried out of reality itself+ and keep it tangled up in frail flesh and mortal thought. It’s like putting a demon in your head. A memorized spell is always there just outside of your perceptions. Whispers inside your eyes. Colors on the tip of your tongue. Thoughts not your own in your oldest memories.
A memorized spell is used in many ways. It can be fully cast, released to inflict the full power of the spell on the world at your direction. This lets it escape your brain and you must prepare it again to have it there once more. Or just a portion of the power can be channeled for a lesser effect. This has a chance of letting the spell escape your brain, but in general a skilled spellcaster can get many uses of a lesser effect before loss of control. The more powerful the effect desired the more likely the spell will escape. The last use is to bring the spell to the front of your mind to take advantage of whatever knowledge or abilities the spell may grant.
- Read Languages may tell you if the being who wrote a book is still alive. Or where the nearest person who understands the text is.
- Levitation might let you fall slower, less damage and better chance to grab or notice things on the way down.
- Fireball may allow perception of the world defined by flammability with other creatures barely noticed except by their potential to cast Fireball.
- Charm Person might let you know if a city guard can be bribed.
Of course this is not exactly a good idea. The spell in your brain is much like a living existence. Not sapient or sentient, but with goals and bias. A spell brought forward to the front of your mind means mixing your thoughts with it. Have a fire spell in your brain and over time the solution to all things starts to involve burning the problem to ash.
A spell released from either a full power cast or if it escapes leaves you weak and disoriented for a bit. Not from the loss of the energy or the effort to cast the spell. It comes from the fact that all of the sudden a piece of your mind is gone. Which leaves you off balance until you can adjust. The longer and/or more often you have a spell in your brain the more dramatic the effect when it is gone.
Magical abilities are often the result of spells put into a person’s brain by something else. Paladins, for instance, gain their magical abilities from a cleric (or directly from their patron) putting a certain spell in their brain and teaching the paladin to use the innate abilities without casting the spell. You can cast a spell put into your brain for the full effect but will not be able to regain the magic yourself. Example: A paladin with immunity to disease could get that from a Cure Disease spell in their mind. They could fully cast the spell on someone else, but lose their own protection and would need to go to a temple to pray and request to gain the magic once more from their patron.
Scrolls are a spell bound to a physical object instead of a living brain. They can be cast by anyone. Just rip the scroll in half and the spell is released to take up brief occupation in your head so you can aim it properly. A skilled spellcaster can transfer the spell from scroll to their own brain to learn it. Every day the spell stays in the brain a spellcaster can attempt to write down the instructions for it in their spellbook. Anyone who casts spells can tell what spell a scroll holds. You don’t have to know what the spell is to use the scroll. In fact, when using a scroll the spell itself grants full knowledge of itself to the person who used the scroll so they can use it properly.
A spellbook is a collection of instructions on how to capture specific spells in your brain. There is nothing in the basic instructions about what the spell actually is or what it does. An experienced spellcaster might be able to make a general guess if they examine it. Some spellcasters write that extra information into the margins of their spellbooks. Not many do that and the ones that do often use codes because a spellbook that is easy to understand is just a target for anyone who might want to learn those spells. The only sure way to know what spell is captured by a certain set of instructions is to follow it and capture the spell in your brain to see what happens.
Spells remain in the brains of spellcasters even after death. So the tombs of long dead magic-users are often sought to learn the forgotten spells they might have known. Spells trapped in non-living things like dead brains or scrolls often start to exert influence on the world around them. Don’t store a scroll of Fireball for any length of time with anything flammable.
Mechanical effects of this magic concept will vary from game to game, but this should be a good framework to come up with the stats and mechanics.
First thoughts for Fate Accelerated magic mechanics:
To cast rituals, just have an Aspect that indicates knowledge of the type of rituals. Such as Wise Woman Apprentice. The DM will decide the time/cost of a ritual given the desired outcome.
Prepared spells are stunts. For basic magical abilities just have it be a normal stunt with [spell name] Is Inside Me as the start of the standard Stunt formula. The character can cast the spell at full power, but loses the stunt and will need to figure out a way to recover it if they want it again.
Full spellcasters take a stunt along the lines of I Have [spell name] In My Brain along with a Aspect indicating their ability to cast spells. This 1 stunt = 1 spell means even a powerful spellcaster will only have a handful of spells at any given time. Remember that each spell can be used to channel lesser effects without losing it. Example: Having Fireball in your brain may allow you to light candles with a flick of your finger.