member, 1468 posts
Tue 27 Feb 2018
at 15:38
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
Alright, so I have a proto-idea in my head for a game and I'm having a bit of trouble deciding on how to actually do it in an RPG.  I have a mild preference for published games, even if I have to bolt on some extras to make them flow.

In essence, I'd like a game system with the following attributes.
  • Not leveled.  If levels are barely a thing or they're tiers, this is flexible, but certainly no D&D-style "level 1 to 20" type systems where power primarily comes from those.
  • A magic/skill system that lets you divide out magic into schools/paths and preferably allows a hierarchy to build around it (such that, say, the School of Forces could have a Fire and Electricity sub-school).
  • A fairly granular approach to ability levels as opposed to something like Mage where the dots are each big jumps in power.  This should spill into advancement, as well, so that someone can get slightly better without a big leap.
  • A system that works fairly well for new casters as they transition to higher level casters.  Some systems seem to work well at low levels or high levels and not so well at all levels.

Right now, the two easiest candidates are GURPS (with a revised magic system) or something built using BRP.  BRP is probably the better option of the two as the design would be much easier, though percentile can be a little too granular.

I'm very aware that a perfect system probably doesn't exist, but I'm far from an expert.

So... thoughts?  Opinions?  Suggestions of games that just have interesting magic systems?
 member, 2115 posts
 Firing magic missles at
 the darkness!
Tue 27 Feb 2018
at 15:44
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
My first thought was Ars Magica.

 member, 1469 posts
Tue 27 Feb 2018
at 16:20
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
In reply to truemane (msg # 2):

I've fiddled with Ars Magica a bit and that's kind of close to what I'd want to do with the matching of concepts.

One complication is that the proto-idea is for completely alien magic being injected into a non-magic, modern world.  While the AM system isn't a bad base, it might be easier to just use it for inspiration and build it in BRP.
 member, 41 posts
Tue 27 Feb 2018
at 21:07
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
If not full on Ars, why not Mage? oWoD or nWoD would bolt on pretty well, I think.
 member, 851 posts
Tue 27 Feb 2018
at 23:14
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
Have you looked at Runequest?
There are no levels, its attribution of spells to different runes is similar to your schools, it uses a percentile system, but generally uses 5% steps, and its use of spell scrolls and power crystals lets the GM help lower level casters.
Mad Mick
 member, 940 posts
 GURPS beyond measure,
Wed 28 Feb 2018
at 00:36
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
I was thinking of Runequest as well (and maybe Heroquest as well - Glorantha has a variety of types of magic that might inform your game).
 member, 1295 posts
Wed 28 Feb 2018
at 04:36
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
Try Spheres of Power. It was built for d20, but it would be fairly easy to adapt to other systems as well.

I'd like to note though, that I also dislike d20's leveling from 1-20 for power range from college grad to demi-god, but it isn't that hard to cut into the power growth and let the levels be more about gaining versatility and not so much power (just suggesting cause it seems that power growth was your issue with levels rather than calling advancement points levels).

You might consider tacking Spheres of Power onto Savage Worlds. That woukd likely work well.
 member, 411 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Wed 28 Feb 2018
at 05:06
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
I'm only half-joking with this:  go read the web comic El Goonish Shive...

Now that's a complicated magic system!
 member, 696 posts
 You can call me V, just V
 Life; a journey made once
Wed 28 Feb 2018
at 05:11
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
I don't remember the system, since it's early 2000's and very indy. Heck it might have been a local dealer, TBH, I don't remember. It was like a materia system. I even used it as an inspiration for my own system.

Spoiler for about the game: (Highlight or hover over the text to view)
Essentially you can have magic that is pedestrian like turning a loaf of bread stale, all the way up to creating worlds and the laws of physics of the world (which is highly warned aginst having it play into rolling since it can get bogged down). It grows in hypedimensions, meaning you could have someone who knows the Fire Materia (just a very simple example, there are literally thousands of types with "Twist") who can burn Tungten, but only in a 1 meter area, and someone who can melt butter and cause heat exhaustion across the world. The former is easier but more time intensive, the player must spend time and gain practical application (by DOING) wheras the latter is harder but can be learned academically.

Then you have twist, where two materia can be combined. Like Life and Fire, where you can resurrect someone with a new spirit, bascially turning them into another physical manifestation.

Oh! I know how to describe this (lsightly) better. Play/Look-up Magicka the silly paradoy PC game. Twist is like that.

THEN in addition to materia, you have arts. Arts arer basic principles.Like you can conjure food and drink, or communicate telepathically. Or learn to cast elemental materia at a range. Which you have to normally touch the target. Then another that allows materia expansion.

It's VERY granular. You can have two equally mastered people, and each has separate "win" strategy.

The system also throws away XP for progression. You get direct perks that if you have teacher, and time, you can learn.No XO needed. XP is there though, for levels in "classes" which are not optional, but not focal either. XP gives you something called Natural specialties. Wherein like a warrior could cut off someone's arm, or a thief can literally steal an article of clothing, very much in the way of stage magician Apollo Robbins and more. Natural specialties can border on magic, for classes like warlock.

You also have progression templates. Where you can get class N-Specs faster, or learn more arts, or get skills (called proficiencies).

It is all about hyperdimensions. As in, computer deep learning, a character is far from linear, and you can literally assume two characters built will be different, just because that many dimensions make it like shuffling deck of cards in the exact order twice.

It does have flaws. Damage against foes is fixed and used % adders and penalties. It's built to require exceptional mental arthimetic or have calculator on hand. Since you could have +20% from a martial art, and then +10% for a materia, but then the foe has -20% from their martial art, and then -90% from  materia. There are rules for it.

It uses 1d10, for everything but in game gambling, which they have a system of using paper or RL cards to represent. The 1d10 has all kind of applications.

Other problems you'll encounter is beneficial and negation magic. Combat can take a long time because they allow for WAY too many actions or casting, like 5 or six each turn, and some you can activate for "free". So you have to just fix that by home rule of less casting, which makes it lower power, but MUCH easier to control. If you want buffs, you can't do as much. If you want to attack, you run the risk of a foe building up magic and then annihilating you.

The materia is also like "treasure" or artifacts. The GM hands out applications, and PCs have the option to develop artifical materia, which is a good way of cutting their teeth, but burns out quicker. Though you can fix that by taking (IIRC) a few months to develop artificial permanence materia, which makes them not burn out. The GM has to allow it though, and can choose to have you mana burn.

I forget the name of it though. I lost my book, but have notes on a word file I made almost two decades ago. MY notes are VERY incomplete though. I was a fun system. It was system that loved the history of magic. In the game world magic was like technology, certain materia simply don't exist in certain ages. They make sure you, the GM, know you don't have to use the game world, "levels" of materia don't mean they're linear. A magician could have zero 2nd level, a few 1st level and scads of 3rd levels. And the levels go up to 7th, and go as low as 1st. Everything below 1st just isn't a materia. Levels just imply potency and age correlation. No grinding necessary.  Some levels have things that are quite useful for awhile, and some higher levels are only potent because they allow nuanced power that is universally powerful, but not purely awesome in any one field.

I hope I can find it again! If you do, let me know! It's very magical centric, just like RL technology throughout history. It's malleable and effects society. It gets very granular, but requires little XP or play-sessions total bookkeeping. IT values choices and opportunities over XP. The GM gives hooks and the players make choices.

In the "open-world" immersion of video games, this was a rare gem of PnP (pen and paper) RPG open-world. Everything was available with the right choices and opportunities form the gM, no grinding, but PLENTY of learning.

Like I said, I have no idea the name.I was a young man when I had the book. Which IIRC was a sky blue paperback with gold Celtic knots on the border, a picture of man walking toward a megalithic keep (a "place of power").

I know this doesn't help much. :S. I tried though. I loved that system. I wish I had appreciated it enough to remember the name, or keep the book. Let me know if you find it. I'd love to have it again. Though I'd imagine it's out of print. ;S.
 member, 1445 posts
 I should really stay out
 of this, I know...but...
Wed 4 Apr 2018
at 04:06
Looking for An Intricate Magic System

Not the new Torg Eternity.  There's a lot I love about what they're doing, but "intricate magic system" is, sadly, not on the list.

The original, though, that was a magic system.  When you designed a spell in Torg, you felt like you were designing a spell.  Plus it had an amazing system for modifying your spells on the fly - trading out duration for range, say, or risking more Backlash damage to give it more power.

Granted, it's ancient, and a bit obscure -- but for `alien forces being injected into a non-magic world', it actually already has a lot of that, too.  It does have everything on your list.  It's skill based, not level based.  The magic system has a multi-tiered path system with some really cool interactions.  Advancement, especially within the magic system, tends to be slow, because there are so many pieces to carry forward -- but as you do, they allow for a huge range of power.  And because Torg had to cover everything from flint knives to pulse rifles on a d20, the whole system scales beautifully.

Once you get used to it.  It's a little, um, quirky.

But if you do want to look at just the *magic* system to pilfer ideas, all you really need is to snag the Aysle Sourcebook - the PDF is available on Drivethru for less than $10.  The Theory of Magic chapter really does explain the magic system, from an IC-perspective, from the ground up.  At the end, when it starts getting into the game mechanics again, there are, of course, terms that you'd need to be more familiar with the actual game for, but just for the magic system itself, I really don't think you would.  (I was when I read it, of course, so I can't say that with certainty.)

Seriously, I have never seen a magic system that compares, especially for "intricate."  (Or "unnecessarily complicated and confusing," as many people said at the time.)
 member, 1255 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Thu 5 Apr 2018
at 20:32
Looking for An Intricate Magic System
GURPS is technically an answer to everything. Whether it be SUPERS or one of their magic systems they tend to be skill based and don't come with a set spell list instead you mix and match effects and other properties.

Like, if you think about it, the only mechanical difference between a rocket launcher and a magical fireball is how the blast is created but the end effect (a burst of fire) is the same so GURPs basically allows you to build any effect and then just use your imagination to coat paint over to make it suit your purpose.

Shadowrun likewise is skill based and pretty free form because you can modify spells pretty extensively for more "mana" cost. Like an illusion can hit one sense or five sense for an upgrade cost...