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Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

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  • Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

    Basically I wanted to see what people thought of my ideas. My fellow players get caught up in power gaming, quite often using the argument of "It's not against the rules in the book" to defend munchkin'ing. With M&M being very open and basically limitless in alternate effects off of a base "Magic" ability, it's easy to have too big of a bag of tricks to use. When I first played M&M I played a character with magic, and had to start self-imposing limitations so I didn't just win every encounter by creating a spell on the spot. I had naturally fantastic regeneration so using extra effort wasn't much of a concern.

    So, anyways, what I was going to do was require that magical ability was to be bought first as a ranged damage ability. The only restriction is that it can't have any benefits preventing it from being traced(can't remember what that was called, if there is one). This represents their magical potential and it requires a descriptor to define the source of the magic, like divine, arcane training, demonic, etc... That's because there can be specific spells tailored for specific types of magic, like a divine spell that prevents demonic magic in an area. There's one of two things I want to do with the base ability. The first is that it's an expression of their pure magical power and can be used as a damaging attack against a target, but it leaves a sort of magical residue for a period of time afterwards. Other wizards can try to detect this residue and identify someone using it. Using an alternate effect is a spell, which is structured in a way that a mage can detect what spell it was but not who cast it. The second is that it can't be used as a blast of damaging magical force, at least not to everything. It can only be used against others with magical ability and it's undetectable to normal eyes. It's sort of like an aura that can only be seen by those with magical sight, and can be directed to try to snuff out/overpower the magical aura of another. In this way it's limited somewhat, so the trade off is that the first alternate effect(spell) is free.

    The next part is a restriction to represent training. I figure most magical orders will have a training focus, so people who have trained with them will have access only to spells that would be appropriate to that training. To this end I was going to use the idea of domains, with those domains being defined by the players. They can choose three domains, made up by them. The alternate effects are limited to spells that fit within their domains, and I'll be pretty open as to what fits. Using extra effort is to represent them recalling a spell they learned but don't use often. After creation they are allowed to buy alternate effects that fall outside of their domains, to represent learned spells, but unfortunately these spells will require a skill roll to use. On the upside they can recognize the residue of spells that fall within their domains, or even identify them when cast. They also get a +2 bonus to save against spells in their domain. A player can actually buy multiple magic abilities, and each can have it's own domains and origin descriptor. This is to represent someone who's been trained in multiple disciplines, maybe wielding both divine and demonic power.

    I hope these restrictions don't sound too harsh, but the group will otherwise have at least one player with clever point spending strategies who can teleport around the field throwing devastating invisible explosions while also healing the party, the entire time undetectable by all senses while he has summoned minions tearing apart the enemy also. I wanted to bring it in a little bit because of my experiences with the potential of magic. I want it more to fit with the character concept and help define it, while at the same time I think a bit of limitation will encourage creativity(I can fly using this pillowcase because I have the fire domain, so I create a very hot and controlled fire in the opening so it heats the air and creates enough lift to get me off the ground, etc...). You can buy extra domains for one point each.

    Magic items will definitely come up, and I'll say I'm against creating them. I want them to be rare and special, at least for stuff beyond common things like +1 swords or a pearl that can purify a drink. I'm talking about swords that can cleave mountains or bless it's wielder to be a great king; these are magic items that require the expenditure of points. So creating potent permanent magical items is bad because it requires points to make, so you can't just go around making billions of them and getting rich. If you want a magic item for yourself, create it normally and pay character points for it. This represents you commissioning it from someone, utilizing your resources(character points) to getting them to make it. Either that or you made it for yourself, using your own potential power(character points again) and investing it into the weapon. If they find magic items, and they will, they can be bought with character points like a normal ability. I'll even allow them to buy part of the item, provided they pay at least half, and they can have it as part of their character. They can put more points into it to increase it, to the limits of the original. This also lets them have/get legendary items that grow stronger as they grow stronger. If nobody wants to buy the item they can still keep it, and it will actually be available to use by the party. It will be considered equipment but valued at it's full PL potential(for items that are above party PL), so they can potentially get a powerful item for a low price by assigning equipment points to it. The downside is that it is equipment, meaning I can do whatever I want to it and they can't complain much.

    This will likely lead to the topic of enchanting items. I'm ok with it, as long as the enchantment is of short duration. Like it doesn't have to be one round, but it can't last for months or be permanent. There will be an enchantment domain and spells that fall in the enchantment domain are ones that modify one of the inherent qualities of an item, changing something already present as opposed to adding something else. You can make a torch burn hotter but you can't make a sword coated in fire, yet you could make that sword sharper and better balanced for a short period of time. A shield can be made invulnerable to fire, but can't be made to protect against ghost attacks. If you have other domains you can enchant items with effects that fall under those domains, so either the air domain or the water domain could let you make a helmet that lets you breath underwater for a short time but you couldn't do it with just enchantment.

    For a little perspective, my group has a couple newer and younger players who are just now getting into gaming. M&M is likely more difficult to learn because of how customizable and open it is. They're so far used to more defined games, like the Heroes Unlimited game we're currently playing. Also the other players seems to like more structured games like Heroes also, although I'm slowly getting them to like M&M because it's somewhat more balanced so multiple concepts are viable. So I feel like giving them more structure and reining in their natural tendencies to munchkin might be a good thing.

  • #2
    Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

    Full disclosure, I just skimmed the OP. Is there a short version?

    I know the situation you're in -- having cut my teeth on Rifts back in the day (tangent, I've done some decent hacks of Rifts into M&M). My big question is what kind of genre game are you playing in? Is it a fantasy game, which your post led me to kind of think about, or is it a more "traditional" (for M&M at least) superhero type game?

    If it's the latter, just ban Magic as a concept. It's almost always more trouble than it's worth. Just consign it to the dustbin of "this is too much of a pain for us to worry about." Time travel is also in the books and most games don't use that. There are still loads of extraordinarily flexible character concepts out there that are less annoying.

    Part of the reason to ban it is as a means to an end. And, the end is "concept is king." All M&M characters (I'd contend all characters in all RPGs, but that's a whole other polemic) require a fairly focused concept. The temptation of the flexibility of Magic gets in the way of that. In theory, it might be fine if they had a very tightly-focused concept of magic -- necromancy, etc. But, that just invites debates at the table about what is in idiom, and nobody wants that. You're just a hair's breadth from debating Paladin moral codes at that point.

    So, I say yes to your discipline type idea. Again, concept is king. The other stuff ... less so. I'm wary of using anything too story-oriented as a balancing point. I'm not against story consequences and getting into trouble, but (a) they typically don't have the desired balance effect and often lead to annoyance on the player's part, and (b) are the sort of trouble I want to encourage, not discourage, and (c) many, if not most, players have put ranks into Craft (Justification).

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    • #3
      Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

      Originally posted by Unbeliever View Post
      Full disclosure, I just skimmed the OP. Is there a short version?
      Magic requires descriptors that determine origin. There also thematic limits of spell effects, limited to domains. You can recognize and resist spells part of domains you know.

      No making permanent magic items as an effect, they must be bought with points. Enchantmenting items for short term effects is ok, though those effects are limited to your domains.

      As for campaign setting it's a fantasy world and world like our own joined together, so magic is a big part of some adventures. Really that's the important part for this discussion, that fantasy/magic is a major part of the game world so mages are an acceptable concept.

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      • #4
        Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

        Certainly narrowing descriptors to realms of magic (vs all magic in a super genre) is an efficient way to go. Someone could be Immune to Necrotic Magic, but not to Divine, etc. Also, increasing the cost of it, or limiting to Half, would make things more exciting.

        Power stunting is going to be an issue, since players can still tend to pull plot-busting solutions out of their nether regions, so you could make a rule that you can only stunt with an HP (which becomes a currency) and Fatigue is a joke in 3e anyway.

        Some players come in with Variables, and I'd whip out the ol' banhammer on that effect. You could limit the number of array slots to something like half PL so players don't have an effect for every resistance, or even make AEs a Flaw (rather than costing 1pp per slot, they take a -1 Flaw on each slot and pay the reduced cost, e.g.

        Blast 10 [20pp]
        • AE: Dazzle 10 (Flaw: Alternate -1) [10pp]

        All these things will make the world more dangerous and therefore require players to depend on one another like in the source material.
        Penny's Build Party - Playable builds - M&M 2.5 featuring Damage Roll combat

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        • #5
          Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

          tl;dr: it sounds pretty solid. Basically, all you're really doing that's not M&M RAW is enforcing themes on magic. That'e entirely a genre issue. Superhero comics are replete with master magicians who can do almost anything. Which is annoying in itself, but you're more than welcome to sidestep that for your setting and campaign.


          Originally posted by MrTwist View Post
          As for campaign setting it's a fantasy world and world like our own joined together, so magic is a big part of some adventures. Really that's the important part for this discussion, that fantasy/magic is a major part of the game world so mages are an acceptable concept.
          Ah, yeah ... so disregard like 80% of my first post.

          Originally posted by MrTwist View Post
          Magic requires descriptors that determine origin. There also thematic limits of spell effects, limited to domains.
          As my earlier comments indicate, this. Totally do this. It'll be good (hell, I do this in D&D ...). Try and make them as obvious and intuitive as possible, or at least more intuitive than some of D&D's. Necromancy, Illusion, and Enchantment are all great; Evocation less so. Either sketch the domains or just give them some examples. Make it clear that thematic limits are necessary. Side note, if you're looking for some funky interesting domains, go google Malazan warrens.

          Originally posted by MrTwist View Post
          You can recognize and resist spells part of domains you know.
          Seems a little unnecessary to me, and might crowd out some niche, but not uninteresting concept, like Abjurer (dispels and resists a variety of magic) or Diviner (understands and recognizes other forms of magic). Not sure what you're buying with this restriction.

          If someone wants to keep this limitation, or just you want to make it the default, then put a Limited flaw on the appropriate super-senses or counterspell effects (and you could confine counterspells to be thematic as well, with the exception for the abjurer).

          Originally posted by MrTwist View Post
          No making permanent magic items as an effect, they must be bought with points. Enchantmenting items for short term effects is ok, though those effects are limited to your domains.
          Part of the core rules already. Enchanting a permanent item means spending points on making it totally awesome. Temporary Enchantments are the Artificer advantage.

          Note, this might be a useful illustration to your players of how an effects-based system works. If they're unfamiliar with them, they might think something like "I'm a fire mage, flaming swords is my schtick!" and then be annoyed when they can't have/make a flaming sword. In an effects-based system you tell the game what a fire mage is, not the other way around. You're not shackled to what Kevin or Kevin thinks it is.

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          • #6
            Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

            I was thinking of the residue and spell resistance as actually bonuses to counter the restrictions a bit. It gives a benefit to having a domain because it means you're more resistant to those spells and able to recognize when they've been used recently. You could have magical sight spells that let you detect spells cast in the recent past, the detecting ones in your domains would just be a passive bonus.

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            • #7
              Re: Trying to come up with a somewhat structured magic system for a campaign.

              I used to come up with all sorts of rule-based Functional Magic (skim through that, it might help ya out a bit), systems a while ago when I was bored. One involved "Schools," as I called them, which were: Divination, dealing with information of all types; Elemental, which was exactly what it sounds like (though it broke down even further); Material, which was basically just magic invention and arcane gadgetry; Mind, also self-explanatory; Physical, which affected the body, including shape shifting and healing; and Soul, just pure magic force, kinda a jack of all trades. Nothing groundbreaking, obviously, but still vaguely interesting, I hoped.

              Finally, another thing that might actually help you is White Wolf's Mage: the Awakening system, which has some other domains that could provoke inspiration.
              I've always said self deprecation is the purest form of humor. Probably why I'm such an awful comedian.

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