View Full Version : A good system for modern magic?

2013-02-18, 03:03 PM
I know it's a theme which has been slightly overdone, but I've been tinkering with the idea of magic in a modern setting. I feel like the idea of Boccob being the only god (or at least the first of them, on a timeline so long it's not worth fussing about.) to return after some particularly harsh cosmic war makes for a good mix of hijinks on the part of the adventurers and the potential for wonderfully dastardly villains. I'd like to be able to incorporate most of the spells from 3.5 more or less directly so that I won't have to rewrite everything, or at least find a system where there's a good amount of pre-existing reference material for spells.

The main issue I'm having trouble with is finding a good system to support this, given that things like nuclear reactors (radiation), guns, and short-range space travel exist. A friend of mine recommends the Dresden system, (I think I like where it's going, but it doesn't address a lot of my concerns, particularly the spell-compatibility) but before I have my gaze set on something, I'd like to look into some other options.

What system would you recommend for this?
Alternatively, what variants do you know of that allow 3.5 to function more effectively in a modern setting?
What flaws are there in your recommendation that I might have to watch out for? (E.g., breaking the RNG, too mathematics-intensive)

Note: I only have experience with 2e, 3/3.5e, and 4e, so there might be something which is an obvious choice that I simply don't know about.

2013-02-18, 03:35 PM
d20 Modern might be a good place to start, not because it's spectacular in modeling magic, but because as a d20 system it would be easy for you to pick up, and is largely compatible with D&D 3.x.

2013-02-18, 03:46 PM
The key for Dresden magic: you have to boil down what you want a spell to do. (Dresden Files mainly focuses on magic on-the-fly, but it has room for "rotes" as well, which are basically spells.) A magic spell can deal damage as an Attack, defend against things as a Block, or give you a leg up as a Maneuver. I want to say that accomplishing something is on that list (i.e. overcoming an obstacle) as well, though it may be more the province of Thaumaturgy (extended ritual casting).

If you wanted to convert D&D spells into Dresden rotes, you'd have to start with "what does this spell chiefly accomplish in the story?" Disintegrate would be a heavy-damage spell, possibly beyond the reach of normal evocation, in the Dresden world, for instance.

Here's where I'll get to a big point: magic in the DFRPG is very different than D&D's magic. Chiefly--in the DFRPG, magic can't be slung around willy-nilly; it has a cost. It's not so easy to do things which in D&D would be sub-level 6 spells. Honestly, I chalk this up to D&D's carelessness when it comes to assigning around spell levels (I think it allows access to way too many powerful effects at low levels), but that's just my opinion.

2013-02-18, 04:09 PM
I've been working on a system of magic with a science-y feel to it. You might look at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LmD_VPfJEB0647jaLc5vtcdI-y0UibYuQIXDZ99o9U4/pub , if you're interested in what I've done - the linked "Schools of Magic" bit has more details on specific effects and how they're created.

2013-02-18, 04:34 PM
If you want to look at a good modern-day-with-magic game, check out Unknown Armies. Be warned, it has a VERY different feel from D&D magic - most wizards are, by any reasonable standard, insane power-junkies who'd shiv their own grandma for a big enough hit of magic.

Also, Witchcraft. As you might guess from the name, it's about magic, in a modern-day setting.

Just so you know: Unless there's already a supernatural infrastructure strongly devoted to keeping the existence of magic under wraps, putting magic in a modern-day setting will break the setting RIGHT IN HALF. So be prepared for someone (PC or villain) to think "so... if I teleport into the Oval Office and cast Charm Person..."

I'd expect things to get very crazy, very quickly. This isn't necessarily a BAD thing, just be ready for it.

2013-02-18, 05:19 PM
If you want something D&D like, I enjoy Legend as a modern system. It's written for fantasy, sort of, but it already has guns and vehicles and things like that built in, so it's not that hard to use. It's built off of 3.5, really well designed. It's also free (http://www.ruleofcool.com/get-the-game/), so I'd recommend checking it out.

2013-02-18, 06:02 PM
Probably the two best modern magic settings I've seen are Shadowrun and Unknown Armies. In Shadowrun, the concept of magic has been rendered into something analogous to physics. In fact, practitioners of the two primary branches of magic, hermeticism and shamanism, are known to seek a unified theory of magic. Magic is industrialized and therefore modernized.

Unknown Armies hits the other end of the modern magic spectrum. Magic, while being a tangible concept, is not something that can be easily subjugated and exploited. Sure, there are guys that could decapitate your character with nothing more than a touch, but they're all lunatics. No one in their right mind will have anything to do with them, and they're all too busy cutting themselves to care.

In fantasyland, wizards are a fairly common sight. Everyone has at least heard of them, and only the most remote people have never seen one. In a modern setting, there's very little precedent for D&D-style wizards. So you need to ask yourself one thing,"What keeps spellcasters in check?" Is there a global conspiracy policing the supernatural underworld, or is magic well-known and prepared for? Or are spellcasters self-defeating by nature?

2013-02-18, 07:06 PM
One thing that may happen is a distinction between "Permanent" magic and spells.

In my universe, magic is divided into two categories - spellcraft and enchantment, where enchantment refers to the creation of long-term, stable magical effects, such as magic items, citywide defensive enchantments, etc.

Spells are generally a vehicle of personal power - they're cast by a single mage, and their effects subside quickly. That mage can be hired, but the magic remains his own.

Enchantments, meanwhile, are more like technology - groups of people can create them together, they benefit from funding, and, once created, they're no longer tied to their original creator.

Furthermore, different magical fields (the background magic needed for either casting or enchantments to work) function differently. Some field are very unstable, meaning that larger enchantments get disrupted and fail; others are more or less powerful. The strength of the local field does a lot to define the relation between magic and society; a high-powered but unstable field will give catastrophic power to individual mages, and often result in gifted warlords or criminals being able to run amuck. In more stable fields, the society can use enchantments to defend themselves - regulate the use of spells, alert the authorities to powerful spellcraft, give merchants and political leaders items that let them resist mind-affecting spells, etc.

In my world, the end result is sort of like Firefly/Serenity; the planets with the most stable magical fields have all the benefits of civilization, while less stable worlds have a bit more of an old west thing going on.

2013-02-18, 07:19 PM
You should take a look at Mutants and Masterminds for inspiration. It's D&D: Point-Buy Edition at it's finest, giving each player a number of Power Points based off the Power Level of the campaign to buy everything from stats to skills, attack and defense, equipment and feats, and most importantly, Powers. You can basically fluff any Power to be anything you want. Just treat each one like a separate spell, or have the Power Magic be the base of each magic-user's abilities.

2013-02-19, 01:00 AM
If what you want is something that has D&D 3.5 spells and modern technology with minimal work, I'll echo the suggestion of d20 Modern. It's flawed, possibly more so than D&D 3.5 itself, but it does have built in most of the more iconic spells.