Which game has your favorite magic system?


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Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
Mishap tables in heroic fantasy - nope. But in Warhammer Fantasy - oh yeah!
I can see the appeal, but they just don't for me. But I'm very glad that they are there for other people!!

I think that it's because of my playstyle. My games typically have the PCs as Big Damn Heroes and Mishap Tables tend to work against that theme.

However, if I'm in a game that has them, I'll gladly play. It just won't be my favorite play experience.

All this means is that, if I run Shadowdark, I'll just house rule out the Mishap tables. Problem solved for me without messing with other people's fun..
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I'm a big fan of D&D, but I've got to admit the magic system leaves me wanting. Even though I usually play spellcasters, I find the spells to be overall a little too regimented and boring.

I've played some FATE and a small smattering of PBtA games, and though the magic systems are different than D&D, they still haven't scratched that mysterious itch.

So what I'm curious about is magic systems in other games. How does magic work in the TTRPGs you've played? Which systems do you really like? Which haven't worked for you?
I don't think I've encountered a magic system that ultimately hit all my wishes, but I can say I prefer the following:

1- self-contained spells

The idea that there are specific "magic recipes" that just work in a pre-determined way does "scratch my mysterious itch" more than flexible systems where you make up effects on the fly, it suggests that magic is just what it is, hidden laws of nature to discover and use to your advantage, but you're mostly bound to their rules and formulas. Changing some variables or boosting results is ok, but spellcasting as flexible as e.g. "you can control water", and then the player is allowed to make up any effect involving water they can think about (attack, defense, transportation, summoning...) on the fly based on some rules, is too open-ended for my tastes, and usually also either too powerful or too rules-complicated to prevent breaking it.

2- limited knowledge

As I like my role-playing to be about the roles, I want characters with limitations on what they can do, in order to have clearer roles for everyone. This is usually taken care by a combination of class-specific spells list and level-based amount of spells known.

3- permanent knowledge

While I'm mostly used to play with 'vancian' magic and daily preparation of spells, it is not my ideal. I would prefer that what magic a character can inherently do, would be the same every day, until they learn something new, in the same way that 'spontaneous casters' work.

With regards to how to limit spellcasting in a given time period, I am otherwise ok with spell slots for simplicity, no need for draining stats or rolling negative effects for spellcasting (I am also ok with games that have such things, but they obviously slow the game down and add more rules to manage).
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
One thing I dislike in many/most magic systems is generalization. That one mage/wizard/whatever can cast illusions, fireballs, raise dead, charms, etc. That feels Harry Potter-esque to me, where there's a spell for just about everything. If magic is roughly analogous to science, it would be like a Scientist class in a modern day RPG being simultaneously expert at cosmology, microbiology, neuropsychology, materials science, and (of course) rocketry.

I would much rather see some pretty narrow specialization, with the ability later in one's career to pick up lesser magic from other domains.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
All this means is that, if I run Shadowdark, I'll just house rule out the Mishap tables. Problem solved for me without messing with other people's fun..

And it's a pretty simple hack.

I think if I were a player in your game I would ask if I could voluntarily use them.

I was in a Shadowdark game where we lost our light source at the start of a really deadly fight. The Wizard cast a spell, rolled a nat 1, and the random result was that he glowed with a purple light. He bolted for the exit and we all followed the purple light and escaped.
 

HaroldTheHobbit

Adventurer
I can see the appeal, but they just don't for me. But I'm very glad that they are there for other people!!

I think that it's because of my playstyle. My games typically have the PCs as Big Damn Heroes and Mishap Tables tend to work against that theme.

However, if I'm in a game that has them, I'll gladly play. It just won't be my favorite play experience.

All this means is that, if I run Shadowdark, I'll just house rule out the Mishap tables. Problem solved for me without messing with other people's fun..
In Warhammer Fantasy, characters are neither Big nor Heroes, only Damned :)
 

GamerforHire

Explorer
I have several favourites, all from GURPS
  • The basic spell-as-skills system has a lot going for it. It is simple and easy to play, and has a lot of spells that aren't just for combat. Indeed, wizards who use it can more readily be support casters than artillery mages.
  • The Path/Book system from GURPS Thaumatology was originally created for running Voodoo settings, but also works very well for twentieth-century esotericism in the Golden Dawn tradition.
  • The GURPS 3e version of the Mage: the Ascension magic system is more clearly written than the White Wolf version. It seems to me to play better, although the GM I've played it under for GURPS was definitely more skilful than the only GM I've had for While Wolf mage.
  • Ritual Path Magic, from GURPS Monster Hunters is a very flexible system, which plays a bit like M:tA although the mechanics are different. It can be a bit overpowered in the hands of a quick-thinking player, but it is great fun.

I will second (really third) the GURPS magic system, especially if you include the options in the Thaumatology supplement and even the Powers supplement, as the best and most complete “magic as skills“ paradigm which IMHO includes most Vancian systems and most other mana/point-buy systems. Compared to using spell levels under the Vancian/D&D paradigm, the comprehensive point-buy approach for GURPS (along with the detailed rules for alternative paths) is much better balanced and developed.

Within the Vancian/D&D tradition, I think Dungeon Crawl Classics is the best, as it incorporates the spell check and a mitigation of fire-and-forget system, and also introduces the gonzo and delightful wackiness of the variable effects tables and using spellburn and patrons. If I wanted to basically stay within the D&D/Vancian style of play, DCC best balances magic-users against other characters, while also being wildly entertaining for the player using a magic-using character.

I will also throw in a plug for Shadowdark, in that IMHO it is the best and most efficient marriage of 5e and OSR style for magic. Shadowdark incorporates the spell check and limited misfire tables, but without the awesome but complicated rules from DCC, while maintaining the core attributes of modern D&D and the Vancian tradition.
 
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Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
In Warhammer Fantasy, characters are neither Big nor Heroes, only Damned :)

Yeah the Shadowdark aesthetic is that the characters are going to suffer and probably die. Grim fantasy more than heroic fantasy. It's dangerous to go into dungeons. It's dangerous to fight monsters. It's dangerous to mess around with magic.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
So far the one my group is playtesting seems to be turning out to be one of our favorites (GEAS).

No spell memorization or prep. If you know it, you know it. Every spell requires a roll. While no mishap table, if you roll all 1s (it's a dice pool system), it's a spell disaster. So far that's super rare (especially as you gain in power, your die in your dice pool go from d6s to d8s to d10s, etc.). Additional successes lead to greater spell effects. That's not the only way to make spells more powerful, as you can invest vigor (stamina pool) to boost your spells if you want. So a caster can really pump up a spell if they are willing to exhaust themselves doing it.

In addition to the above, the rune magic system is a list of runes that you combine into spell effects for a final spell. That really seems to be going over well for those players who like complexity and thinking outside of the box for creative solutions. An example includes combining a rune trap rune with a gust rune with a burst rune to send out the spell to a distance where it lays until triggered, then explodes. Basically an MLRS system in fantasy PC format lol.
 

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