Monday, 22 April 2013

Creating a magic system for USR Fantasy


Creating a magic system is kind of a tough deal. There are so many different avenues one can go down, but you always want to limit magic users so they're not too overpowered. The final piece in the puzzle for USR Fantasy (which isn't necessarily going to be the name of the game) is the magic system, and the one I currently have in there just isn't satisfying to me.

 I'm not one for spell lists. To me, big lists of spells anyone can dip into takes some of the mystery of the magic arts away from the game. Also, as far as customization goes, a big design goal for USR, a list seems a little hollow. Part of what I want the appeal of the game to be is the ability to very quickly and effectively create unique characters. There are templates, or archetypes, in the game should you want to get started with a good idea of your role, but you're encouraged to make up your own archetype and even race. I want the magic system to compliment this fluidity, allowing for no two sorcerers to be the same.

So how do you go about doing this without making sorcerers ultra-powerful? Currently the magic system is very freeform, allowing for pretty much anything within reason, the only obstacle being a target threshold. I could go ahead with this, because it does meet this design goal, but I can see it being thoroughly exploited.

The key, I think, is to create a system based on formulas. Add the right ingredients and you'll have a unique spell. This could be done with keywords, either a list of spell types like 'illusion', 'necromancy' etc, or a verb-noun combination, like 'throw element' or 'disguise illusion'. I think the latter allows for both a freeform and structured way of playing and is likely what I will go with.

The player would pay a certain number of points towards how effective they want the spell to be. For instance, a weak spell may cost 3 points while a strong spell could cost 10. A weak spell would give you 1d6 to roll for effect while a strong would be 1d10. You could then perhaps add extra points for bonuses.

Some examples of verbs that could be used: Throw, disguise, see, listen, manipulate, destroy, stop, create.

And examples of nouns: Illusion, element, dead, wound, object, person, entrance.

The problem here is that with this any sorcerer can do anything. They can both heal wounds, manipulate the dead, create illusions and more. So how do we make specialists? Well, you could have several categories, such as illusion, healer and combat. Each category has its own verbs and nouns to choose from and a player much select one of these categories when she creates a character.

It's a work in progress and there are still problems with this method, but I think it could help create a framework for a more freeform system.