View Full Version : Craft's (Surprisingly Crunchy) Interpretive Magic System

Craft (Cheese)
2012-07-16, 06:24 PM
So, early this morning I had a delightful idea on how I could make spellcasting freely interpretive (that is, the spellcaster can create any sort of effect they can think of) while keeping the crunch of the system both well-defined (as in, requiring as little DM fiat as possible to make work) and reasonably balanced with non-casters.

(Note: This write-up assumes the system is being used in FATE 3, as it makes heavy (ab)use of the aspect system to implement the "interpretive" part. The basic ideas of the system should be hackable into anything, but with some serious work.)


Magic CAN:

- Apply any sort of condition or status effect to a target or environment that the caster can think of (give someone the sniffles, set a building on fire, make someone spontaneously grow a pair of wings...)

- Duplicate the use of any mundane skill, allowing the caster to substitute their magical skill in its place.

Magic CAN NOT:

- Break the action economy, either by giving the caster more actions within a round or by summoning/creating/enslaving other characters to do the caster's dirty work for them.

- Violate niche protection: A caster can never use their magic to get fighting skills better than the fighter or stealth skills better than the rogue, assuming the caster, fighter, and rogue are all on the same power level. Magic can also never duplicate the abilities of a stunt. In general, a spellcaster is best off doing the odd jobs the rest of the group isn't equipped to handle, except in a dire emergency.

- Duplicate any effect that cannot be obtained by simple usage of a mundane skill without express GM permission, EXCEPT the aforementioned application of status effects. For example, casters can't Teleport halfway across the continent in the blink of an eye unless the system gives all characters the ability to do that within the normal system of mundane skills.

- Make permanent changes to a character in any way that violates the normal advancement system without express GM permission. (For example, you can't just cast a spell to permanently give you a +4 to Lockpicking rolls. You can, however, buy +4 to lockpicking the next time your character is allowed to buy skills and just explain it as "I put a permanent enchantment on myself.")

The key thinking behind all of this is that a spellcaster is Jack of All Trades, Master of None. Her extreme versatility in being able to cast a spell for just about anything is their special talent and niche within the group, and they don't need any special toys other than that. Furthermore, a spellcaster needs to be useful when using her magic to duplicate effects such that being a caster is worthwhile, but not so useful that being anything else is a waste of time. The trick, I think, is to bake that no-toe-stepping factor into the mechanics of spellcasting itself, rather than attempting to make a gigantic spell list and balance every last spell.

Finally, though I assume that this system is used in the context of wizards, the system can theoretically be used for any type of caster, like a Priest or Psyker, so I use the generic term "Spellcaster" throughout. You're on your own if you want to include both, all three, or even more in your setting and want to make them all different from each other in mechanics somehow.

The Basics

This magic system requires one skill and one stunt (though more may be added): Spellcraft and Spellcaster, respectively.

The Spellcraft skill represents the character's knowledge of the workings of magic and the history of its practitioners.

You make a spellcraft roll to:

- Identify whether or not there have been any magic effects used in the area recently.
- Identify the effects of a particular magic effect in place, or the magical abilities of a particular person.
- Know the history, symbolism, or secrets of a particular group of spellcasters.

You cannot use Spellcraft to cast spells unless you buy the Spellcaster stunt. The Spellcaster stunt allows you to use spellcraft to:

- Attempt to cast a spell (more on the exact process of this later).
- Remove a temporary aspect placed upon a target, zone, or scene.
- Attempt to counter a spell currently being cast by another spellcaster.

In addition, the Spellcaster stunt gives you a new stress track, called Mana, starting at depth 1, and increasing by 1 for every 2 ranks of Spellcraft you possess.

Anatomy of a Spell

A spell acts as a character who comes into existence for the brief moment that the caster uses the spell. A spell has:

- A single aspect, chosen by the character who casts the spell at the time of casting. ("Bolt of Fire", "Blinding Flash of Light", "Stealthy") The aspect should be related to some aspect of the spell's workings, appearance, or its minor side effects.

- One special skill, Backlash, that determines the spell's difficulty.

- One or more ranks of another skill, depending on the spell's effect.

A spell's backlash skill is determined by the effect of the spell.

Casting a Spell

When a spell is created, the magical energies violently lash back at the caster. The spell makes an attack using its Backlash skill against the caster's Mana track, and the caster defends against this attack with a Spellcraft roll. Shifts the spell generates are dealt as damage to the spellcaster's Mana: When they lose all of their mana, they lose the ability to cast spells until their mana is recovered (usually at the end of the scene).

Even if you fail the spellcraft check and take Mana damage, the spell itself still goes through, so long as you still have Mana remaining. A spell is automatically cancelled if it damages enough to your mana to disable your spellcasting ability. (This is intentional, so you can't use a spell to give you +80 to a single check with the only consequence of not getting any more spells until the next scene.)

A caster may take Consequences to defend against a backlash check, as normal. No matter what, a caster can always choose to cancel their own spell to nullify all the damage to their Mana it would have performed, but the spell takes no effect in that case. If the spellcaster is in a round-based sequence, their action for that round is wasted.

Shifts the Caster generates may be used to increase the power of the spell, detailed below.

If another caster is in the area, they may attempt to Counterspell. Counterspelling means the spell makes a Backlash check against them, same as with the caster. [/i]This backlash check can damage the counterspeller as the original caster, but they're only subject to it if they willingly expose themselves to the raw energies of the spell in order to attempt the counterspelling.[/i] If they succeed on the check, and generate more shifts than the original caster did on theirs, the spell fizzles as if it were cancelled.

Determining Backlash

A spell can place a temporary aspect on...

- One or more characters or inanimate objects (Aspect Intensity + 1 for each character/object).

- A zone (Aspect Intensity + 1 for each zone affected.)

- The entire scene (Intensity + 3)

A spell's Aspect Intensity is, in loose terms, how "powerful" the aspect is. There's no real way to get around that this requires DM interpretation. The DM should set the intensity according to how easy it is to come up with a way for that aspect to interfere with the story. (For example, "The Sniffles" is Intensity 1, because there's only so much coughing and sneezing can do to you. On the other hand, "Mind-controlled slave to the caster" is Intensity 5, because you can bend that to compel the character to do just about anything.)

If you're applying an aspect to multiple characters/objects/zones at once, it must be the same object for each zone. If you want two zones to have two different aspects, you need to cast two different spells.

If you generate any shifts on your Spellcraft roll to cast the spell, you can spend them to apply additional aspects of the same intensity to all the targets of the original spell, on a one-for-one basis. (For example, if you attempt to put an Intensity 5 aspect on a guy, and generate three shifts, you can load 4 high-intensity aspects onto him. Poor guy...)

A caster can also make a spellcraft roll to remove a magically-placed temporary aspect. This is a static test with a difficulty equal to the aspect's intensity.

A spell can also duplicate a mundane skill, with a Backlash of 3 + the ranks in the mundane skill. What skills count as "mundane" is up to the DM, but they should determine a list of "fantastic" skills that spells can't emulate in advance. Any shifts on the spellcraft roll generated this way can be spent as if they were shifts on the duplicated skill roll. The casting of the spell and the skill roll it duplicates are considered to be the same action.

If, for any reason, this matters, the spell is considered to have as many ranks in the mundane skill as it is duplicating.

An example: Torgath the Barbarian is swinging at Greta the Witch with his great big axe! Greta wants to defend with a Dodge roll, but has no ranks. She instead decides to cast a spell to help her quickly teleport out of the way. She wants to roll Dodge at +4, so her spell's backlash is +7. Her spell rolls 4 on the backlash check, and Greta rolls 5 on her spellcraft check. She spends her 1 shift to increase the Dodge roll to +5, then makes the dodge roll against Torgath's attack with that bonus.

Sidebar: On summoning

Explicitly, magic can't create extra characters under your control to give you extra actions during an encounter. However, that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of summoning stuff! The aspect-placement system is broad enough you can use it for much more than status effects: You could model a spell that summons a horde of zombies under your command as placing a scene-aspect of "Zombie Horde", which can then be invoked (or compelled!) as normal. An important (and deliberate) design in the system is that no matter how many aspects you stack onto things, or however powerful they are, you still have to pay fate points in order to take advantage of them.

2012-07-16, 07:21 PM
Hmm...seems a little interesting. So far, I'd say it reminds me a little of FUDGE, especially the summoning bit.