View Full Version : Original System Avoiding the Cost of Magic (WIP, PEACH)

2015-08-25, 12:57 PM
Just worked out a new design for my magic system. This is not 3.5 based, and there are a few differences I should mention in advance. First, the numbers are much smaller: Most characters will only have ~5 HP and ~10 Cohesion, and it doesn't improve much with level. Second, magic is very prevalent in this setting, and the barrier to entry is not very high. Fighter-type adventurers will generally have at least some magical ability (in the same way that 3.5 wizards have at least some martial ability). Finally, the system gives different types of action points for spellcasting, physical attack and movement actions; to make best use of the action economy, characters should do some of each every turn.

Every character, mage or not, has an attribute called "Cohesion", which is somewhere between magic points and mental hit points. Cohesion represents your mental resilience, as well as the "Together-ness" of your mind. Your total pool of Cohesion comes from your class, and maybe your intelligence bonus. Cohesion re-generates naturally at a rate of one point per minute. Cohesion cannot be healed magically (except possibly by transfering it from someone else), and its difficult or impossible to increase this regneration rate.

Mind-affecting spells all have a target cohesion value, and will only work if the target's cohesion is less than or equal to that number. For instance, a slightly more subtle effect, "Enrage", which makes the target attack wildly and without thought for their own defense, might work against someone with eight points of cohesion left. "Dominate", which lets you outright control them, might only work against someone down to one or two points of cohesion. At zero points, a person blacks out.

Cohesion can be hurt, with typed damage. The types I have so far are Pain, Fear, Rage, Weariness & Confusion. Whenever you take HP damage, you take twice that level in cohesion damage. Most mind-affecting spells also do some straight-up damage (which applies before the cohesion check is made, so it's possible for the spell to wear someone down enough for it to take effect, and it deals the cohesion damage regardless.) Charisma gives you DR for cohesion, and it can be negative: someone with a -3 CHA who gets hit for 1 HP would take 5 points of Cohesion damage, while someone with +3 CHA would take none.

Here's the important thing: Casting directly from cohesion (i.e., pay the power cost of a spell from your cohesion score) is a really bad deal. Most mages would only get off about one mid-to-high level spell before they had to stop and rest. It's still an option, and this is how most non-professional mages cast, but if spellcasting is your bread and butter, you need to find a way around it. That's where the casting classes come in. There are two "Pure" casting classes, Channelers and Arcanists; there are also two "Mixed" classes, Animists and Hucksters.

Channelers - these are the equivalent of "Divine" casters. They draw power from the local magical field, rather than trying to use their own. This means they don't have to pay for spells, but making and maintaining the connection is taxing in and of itself. Here's how they work:

As a free action, they may begin to channel, and get a "Channeling Score" equal to their Perception attribute.
While channeling, each turn they may cast spells up to their channeling score without paying cohesion for it.
Every turn that ends with them channeling, they pay a single point of cohesion.
Once per turn, they may pay an extra point of cohesion to deepen their connection, increasing their channeling score by one.
Once per turn, they may decrease their channeling score by one. This does not cost extra.
If their chanelling score is equal to their Perception, they may stop chanelling. (They cannot stop and start in the same turn.)

The idea is for this to be a simple momentum system. Early in a battle, a channeller will only be casting their weaker spells. With each turn that passes, though, they can get more powerful - but if enemies can just survive and evade long enough they'll have to wind back down, or risk passing out. It's also possible for a channeler to "Get in too deep", and know that they're going to pass out before they can wind back down, making it extra-crucial they be the only one left standing when that happens.

Arcanists - these are the equivalent of "Arcane" casters, if you hadn't guessed. They try not to draw power in and all, but instead project their minds outwards, manipulating the magical field directly. Again, they don't have to power spells themselves, but the act of projecting their will into the field is difficult. Here's how they work:

Arcanists get an "Arcane Focus" score, based on their intelligence and casting score.
To cast a spell, an arcanist only "Pays" part of the cost in cohesion. The rest they "Invest".
Arcanists must "Pay" at least one point of cohesion for every spell cast.
Arcanists can only "Invest" up to their Arcane Focus in a single spell.
"Invested" cohesion regenerates at a rate of one point per turn, rather than one point per minute.
Spells with "Invested" cohesion pay out concurrently; if you have three spells with cohesion still invested in each, you re-gain three points of cohesion per turn.

This is intended to encourage a different playstyle from Channelers. They can be faster out of the gate, but also frailer. They're as strong in the first turn of combat as they're gonna get, but it's easy for them to leave themselves vulnerable. Channelers are encouraged to keep a constant stream of spells flying, as they're paying for the connection either way; Arcanists have more incentive to space their spells out and recover their power.

Animists try to hold onto a pool of magical energy directly. The act of maintaing such a pool is mentally draining, however, and it can be difficult to find ways to fill that pool. Here's how they work:

Animists get an "Animism Pool" of stored magical energy.
Every turn that ends with any energy in that pool, the Animist pays a point of cohesion.
When they cast a spell, an Animist may pay with any mix of their own Cohesion or energy from their Animism Pool.
Animists can add to their pool through several means, mostly harming enemies.
Some animists get a zero-cost spell they can attach to an enemy, that will give them energy whenever that enemy takes damage.
Some animists have enchanted weapons, that re-fill their pool whenever they deal damage.
Animists may choose to release energy from their pool at any time.

Animists can't hold onto power for walking around with; they start out every fight at 0. Some of them can deal enough damage through spells alone to keep the magic flying once they get a jump-start, but most will be encouraged to use a mixed style, so physical attacks re-fuel magical energies. They often make good ambushers, as they can build up some energy with the opening attack, and use that for their follow-through.


I really, really need a better name for these guys. Hucksters are the most intuitive of casters, and in some ways the most patient. They don't hold on to any magical power directly, but instead wait for opprotunities when their enemies don't have so firm a grasp on their own, or when there's simply an opening for easy casting. Huckster spells will have cost and effects similar to those of other mages, but they'll also have a condition. If that condition is met, the spell may be cast at a reduced cost, or for free, or drawn from the enemy's cohesion. Examples include:

"Detect Invsibility" is free to Hucksters if it exposes an invisible enemy.
Many mind-effecting spells are free to Hucksters if they pass a conversation check with the target as part of casting.
Many Huckster spells are free if the target remains unaware of the Huckster until the spell connects.
Some Huckster spells are made alongside a physical attack; if the attack conencts, the target pays for the spell.
Some spells are free if they succeed in killing the target.

Usually, a Huckster cannot know for certain if the condition of their spell will be free or not, at the time they cast it. This makes it a high-risk, high-reward style of magic, and a good fit for people who want a lot of power when the opprotunity arises, but can make their own magic the rest of the time.

To Be Figured Out

I have a notion for "Spell Slots" - not as in the Vancian Casting version, but more like item slots, almost like Incarnum. So, you might have a "Skin Slot" that any defensive spell would attach to, and you could only have one active at a time, or an "Eye slot" that any sensory-enhancement spell would attach to. This would be to limit mages a bit more, by making it so that they couldn't stack crazy piles of buffs on themselves.

I want most spells to have maintenance, rather than duration, and I haven't figured out how to do that yet with this system. (That is to say, I want spells to last as long as the mage pays some cost to maintain them, rather than for a set duration.) I think the simplest thing is to just have each active spell impose a penalty on maximum Cohesion, for as long as its maintained.

Not sure how all of the casting stats figure into it yet. I think I might say that Perception also modifies the range of spells, and Metamagic options might have intelligent requirements.

I don't know what determines if spells succeed or fail, yet. As much as possible, I'm trying to keep chance and die-rolling to a minimum (enough to make things unexpected things happen, not enough to make it impossible to make plans or to slow down the game), so I don't want to do something like saving throws. I might say that anyone can pay cohesion to counter incoming spells, with your intelligence score modifying how much you have to pay. Other spells might just resolve as physical attacks.

I had a neat idea for a "Conjurer" class, that would have an "Unveiled" score determining what they could summon. The trick would be, every creature they summoned would increase that score, so long as it stayed on the field - but killing them would decrease it. So, conjurers would be trying to build up an army of mooks to unlock their good stuff, but enemies could keep them in check just by killing their creatures.


So, that's the system. My main goal (apart from keeping things tactically interesting) was to create a system where mages would be fun to play, but fighters would still hold their own. I hope the cohesion mechanic works well for that, as it lets a well-placed sword blow limit a mages options, even if it doesn't kill them. I also like the idea of smaller, faster-charging batteries for mages - my hope is that it lets them be fun to play (no, "Welp, that was awesome... now maybe in three sessions I'll be able to cast another spell") while still making it a viable strategy for fighters to just out-last them. I''m also hoping it'll be pretty fast-paced, without a ton of bookkeeping from each class. I'm also hoping it'll be more fun for mind-affecting mages, without having them be completely OP. Individual enemies might be immune to different effects, or highly resistant, but they'll usually be able to at least get their subtler tricks in. (None of the 3.5 stuff, where enemies are divided between "Mind slaves" and "Immune to everything I've got.")

2015-08-25, 01:37 PM
The only problem I'm seeing a a first glance is that charm/dominate is going to be "frustratingly random" rather than just "difficult but worth it" if you don't have some sort of option to reduced cohesion damage from spells either by using a smaller number/die or by flat-out being able to say " I'm tempering this spell so it can't drop them below 1." Perhaps, just as a random idea, a combination where you if you drop your damage enough you ALSO get the "no KO guarantee"?

Also, now that I think of it, do the cohesion maximums on targeting apply only at the time of being targeted or does an arcanist who recovers investment after being ensorcelled into thinking he is a baboon for a turn or two suddenly snap out of it?

2015-08-25, 01:52 PM
The only problem I'm seeing a a first glance is that charm/dominate is going to be "frustratingly random" rather than just "difficult but worth it" if you don't have some sort of option to reduced cohesion damage from spells either by using a smaller number/die or by flat-out being able to say " I'm tempering this spell so it can't drop them below 1." Perhaps, just as a random idea, a combination where you if you drop your damage enough you ALSO get the "no KO guarantee"?

Good point. For "Dominate" I was mostly thinking of a longer-term effect, like if you wanted to get an agent inside an enemy organization or something. For tactical stuffs, I was thinking about something where they basically got a few "special" Cohesion points that represented your control over them. These couldn't be used for casting, and if they went away the effect would end. (So, you might knock them to 0 Cohesion, but bring them up to 4 Control, and their allies could snap them back out of it by doing 4 fear damage to them or something. WIP.)

Also, now that I think of it, do the cohesion maximums on targeting apply only at the time of being targeted or does an arcanist who recovers investment after being ensorcelled into thinking he is a baboon for a turn or two suddenly snap out of it?

The effects definitely persist even if cohesion is recovered. Analogy I'd use is that it doesn't matter if you repair the wall, once the enemy is in the courtyard.

2015-08-29, 03:49 PM
I like this concept: It feels very neat and allows for different styles of magic to feel very different.

I do, however, wonder if the Arcanists won't be somewhat frightening to newer players, since they'd have to keep track of several different pools of energy that are constantly bleeding into each other.

2015-08-30, 06:49 PM
Having a negative Charisma modifier seems pretty suicidal.

Huckster could be Trickster, Charlatan, Opportunist (but that's too vague), Fated, Blessed, Chaos-mage, Zealot... there are lots of terms that sort of work but I'm also having issues finding exaclty the right word.

I'd need to see some numbers before I can really say whether Channeler or Arcanist is better; I like your design and there seems to be room for both of them. It will be about balancing spell costs versus starting Perception Attribute and Int + casting score.

Some way to limit the buff stack seems pretty reasonable too. Think about the kind of world you want to build; if all mages walk around with buffs on then maybe the only limit is the Incarnum-like chakras. Lesser mages only get one or two, and you maybe get to four if you're really great. Most everyone has some protection. You might have it interact somehow with armor if you want to preserve the idea of an unarmored mage; maybe wearing armor limits how many spells you can have up based on how heavy it is.

Your other idea of a penalty to max Cohesion would also work, and then you could be more generous with slots for buffs. Walking around with five buffs might make you seem invulnerable, but now you can only cast a couple spells before blacking out so it's pretty silly. People would probably still use twoish buffs, depending on how good they are, but you could also see people go without buffs for maximum staying power or to have a little more juice to put into spells.

This looks very interesting.