While working on the Fudge One Month Adventure Challenge (I’m not going to finish it in time, but that’s not really the point), I had an idea for a RPG magic system. I was thinking about how to put the entire system on a single page for the adventure I’m writing, including a magic system and I wanted to keep it simple to understand. A brief discussion on the mailing list and it got me thinking about what magic should be in a roleplaying game.
I know, this is a big can of worms and everyone but everyone has an opinion about what should a magic system be or how it should feel etc. But this is about what I think magic should be like in a game, not anyone elses and my feeling is that magic should be strange, weird and mysterious. Of course this is completely at odd with the mechanical/systematic nature of roleplaying systems and settings. You need magic to be some what systematic otherwise it is nothing more than random rolls on a table. I also think magic users should be different to everyone else, they should see and react to the world different. They live in a world-view that’s is alien to the average joe, that’s what makes them magic users. Be that world-view spirits and demons or UFOs and aliens.
World of Darkness’ Mage does this by using “paradox”. When you use magic that breaks reality, you’re character gains paradox points, which build up until they explode in some weird (and fun) way. Paradox backlashes (as they were called) were often the most fun part of playing Mage, basically when magic goes wrong. Ars Magica magic does something similar with Twilight, where a magic user can botch and enter a state of madness and come back, sometimes with a flaw or sometimes with a great insight to an element of magic.
My idea is rather simple and I think you can slap it on top of nearly any systematic magic system. I’d like to hear if people think they like it or not. As a magic user gets better at magic, they also move further from reality or the rest of the world’s understanding of reality. At each pivotal increase in understanding (i.e. each increase in magical ability beyond the first), they gain a “rule”. This rule can be determined randomly using tables, the GM may decide it in secret and the player has to figure it out in game or the player and the GM can design something together.
The first rule affects the way they do magic It could be that when they perform magic, all the plants nearby die, windows show distracting what-if visions to the magic-user, etc. But they also gain some special advantage, such as being able to generate fire without a source, have a much looser restriction on magic casting times, etc.
The bigger the increase in magic, the bigger the effect or scope of the rule and it’s consequential advantage. At the highest levels, it just goes off all the time, the magic user can’t never pass through a doorway, because they’ll end up somewhere else or they cover up statues because if the magic user sees the eye of a statue, it comes to life.
If they choose to stop using magic, and stop practicing it, the rules will fade away over time, but if they ever try to use their magic again, all the rules will come back.
But to offset it a bit and offer players some control, the player should be able to spend their XP to add conditions to any of these rules, to lessen their effects. They can’t buy out the rule but they can restrict it’s scope. They could add a condition such as “never on Tuesdays”, “not when I’m wearing blue”, etc.
With this sort of system, magic characters become strange and mysterious. No two will be alike and they’ll act strangely to average joes. But they’ll also be fun. I’m very tempted to flesh it out into a full system and add to my lost heroes rpg. What do you think? Would this add an element of mystery and fun to a plain vanilla magic user character?