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Sample Magic System

Sample Magic System: Fudge Magic

Who can cast: Magicians only (supernormal power needed).

Levels of Power: yes. There are two game effects: the greater the power, the easier it is to cast more powerful spells; and power levels act as a reserve in case of severe failure, which temporarily drains Power. Voluntarily draining a level of Power can also guarantee success for one spell.

Source of Power: manipulation of local area mana.

Reliability: Fair.

Time to cast spells: depends on potency of spell (one minute to days). This can be sped up by taking a penalty to the roll.

Spells: improvised. Exact wording isn’t important, so magic books tend to be collections of effects, not formulae.

Material Components: none needed, but good use can give a +1 bonus to skill.

Drawbacks: casting non-trivial spells is fatiguing; severe failure causes distress.

Societal constraints: none magic is rare, but not unheard of.

This system is based on the conviction that a player using magic should never be blasé, there should always be some tension and excitement when a character casts a spell, or the magic has gone out of the game. Too often in a role-playing game, the player running a magician uses tried-and-true spells so regularly that spell-casting becomes mundane. Since “mundane magic” seems a contradiction in terms, Fudge Magic attempts to instill a little excitement into spell-casting.

There are many ways to achieve this. Fudge Magic has chosen the following limitations:

  1. The mana available for a specific spell result gradually becomes depleted in a given area. That is, casting two fireballs in a row is harder than casting one fireball and one lightning blast, for example.
  2. Magic is an untamable force; there is a skill cap for casting spells.
  3. Magic is somewhat risky to use there are penalties for severe failure.

Options are provided to alter these limitations for GMs who dislike them. In fact, Section 7.193, Spell- Casting Skill Alternatives, is essential for Faerie races and demigods, who have much more dependable magic powers than humans. (Unless the GM is generous, such characters would have to buy higher skill levels normally if using the Objective Character Creation system. Taking some faults to balance such Powers is in keeping with the nature of demigods and Faerie races.) See Section 6.31 for sample characters using Fudge Magic.

7.11 Magic Potential

Magic Potential is a Supernormal Power. (A suggested cost in the Objective Character Creation system is two gifts for each level of Magic Potential. This can be reduced in a magic-rich campaign.) A character with at least one level of Magic Potential (usually abbreviated to Potential, sometimes simply called Power) is referred to as a “magician” in these rules substitute your favorite word. Only magicians may cast spells. (However, see Section 7.192, Magicians & Non-Magicians, for other options.) Magic Potential may be taken more than once, but each level counts as a separate supernormal power.

Each level of Magic Potential must be bought as a specialization.

Specializations can be suggested by the player or set by the GM. (In the latter case, she should make a list of acceptable magic specializations.) The categories can be as broad or as narrow as the GM wishes the broader the terms, the more powerful the magicians.

Examples of specialized Potential: Alter Inanimate Material, Augury, Combat Magic, Communication Magic, Defensive Magic, Elemental Magic, Flying Magic, Healing Magic, Illusion, Information-Gathering Magic, Mind Control, Necromancy, Only Affects Living Beings, Only Affects Sentient Beings, Only Affects Technological Items, Shapeshifting, White Magic (cannot harm anyone, even indirectly), etc.

A character may have Power levels in more than one specialization, unless the GM disallows it for some reason.

Certain disciplines may have societal constraints: in most cultures, studying Necromancy is offensive and probably illegal. Mind Control, Invisibility, Teleportation, Illusion Magic, etc., might all be limited to government-approved magicians, at best. It’s even possible that such magicians will be outlaws. Anything that can be used easily to commit a crime (especially assassination or thievery) will be difficult, if not impossible, to learn openly in most cultures. If a given culture allows such magic openly, it is sure to have powerful defenses against being damaged by it.

Narrow specializations should probably cost less than one supernormal power: perhaps each specialized Potential is worth one gift.

In order to cast a spell of a given result, the magician must have at least +1 Potential specialized in that type of magic (on the character sheet, that is: he may be temporarily reduced to 0 Potential). Someone with +1 Potential:

Combat Magic and +2 Potential: Information-Gathering Magic could not cast a spell to create food in the wilderness, for example.

Failing a spell miserably causes the temporary loss of a level of Magic Potential (see Section 7.15, Resolution).

When this happens, the magician faints for at least one combat round. He needs a Good Constitution roll to wake up (roll each round). When he comes to, the magician may function normally, even attempting to cast the same spell again if he hasn’t dropped below 0 Potential.

If a magician has two or more types of Potential that are appropriate for the spell being cast, and a loss of Potential is called for, the GM decides which type of Potential is reduced. For example, a magician has one level of Combat Magic and two levels of Fire Magic, and fails miserably on a fireball spell. The GM could say that he has lost either his one level of Combat Magic or one of his Fire Magic levels, but not one of each.

If a magician drops to -1 Potential in any given specialty, he immediately falls into a coma, lasting anywhere from an hour to a day (GM’s decision). When he wakes, he must roll against his Constitution: on a Mediocre or worse roll, he takes a point of damage. He checks Constitution again at the end of every day he is active a failed result means another point of damage. These wounds cannot be healed until he recharges his Magic Potential back up to level 0.

A magician with 0 Potential may still cast spells; a magician at -1 Magic Potential, however, cannot attempt any magic spells that would involve that specialty. He may still cast spells of another specialty. For example, a magician who falls to -1 Encyclopedic Magic can no longer cast a spell that allows him to open his blank book and read a magically-appearing encyclopedia entry on a specified topic. But he can still cast spells using his Animal Empathy Magic, allowing him to call and converse with wild animals, provided that Potential is still 0 or greater.

He must still make a Constitution check for every day he his active, however, to see if his -1 Encyclopedic Magic Potential is causing him wounds.

Magic Potential may be recharged only by resting for one week per level. (GMs may alter this time to taste, of course: resting for one day is sufficient for more epic campaigns.) For example, a magician falls to -1 Potential.

Resting one week will bring him up to 0 Potential (and cure any wounds incurred by being active while at -1 Potential). A second week of rest will bring him up to +1 Potential.

No character may gain Magic Potential levels beyond his starting level except through Character Development (see Chapter 5).

7.12 Spells

When a magician wishes to cast a spell, he describes the result he has in mind. The GM assesses how powerful such an effect would be, based on how prevalent magic is in her campaign. In a low-magic campaign, even a simple spell such as levitating the jail keys to an imprisoned character would be taxing. In a high-magic campaign, however, that would be a trivial spell, and even shooting forth a flash of lightning from a fingertip wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

The potency of the spell can be modified by the magician’s appropriate Power level. An “average” magician has three levels of appropriate Power when casting a given spell. (Modify this number up or down for harder or easier magic.) That is, a spell is more difficult for a magician with less than three levels of an appropriate Power. Likewise, a magician with four or more appropriate Power levels treats a spell as more trivial than it would be for an average magician.

“Appropriate” Power does not have to be all of the same specialization so long as each Power governs the spell in question. For example, a spell to make a sword fly up and attack a foe could be governed by Flying Magic, Combat Magic, and Control Inanimate Material. If a magician had one level of each of those types of magic, the spell would be of average potency for him.

A spell is then Trivial, Average, or Potent. (It may also be Very Trivial, or Very Potent, if the GM wishes. In fact, the players will undoubtedly propose truly awesome spells, which should be labeled as Extraordinarily Potent, or with some other impressive adjective.) The GM tells the player what the potency of a proposed spell is any magician character would have a fairly good idea of a spell’s potency.

The spell’s potency determines the Difficulty level. A spell of average potency has a Fair Difficulty level, while a Potent spell has a Difficulty level of at least Good.

Likewise, a Trivial spell has a Difficulty level of Mediocre or Poor.

The GM also decides the duration of the spell if it succeeds seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. The character may try to adjust this, subject to GM approval.

For example, the magician can voluntarily take more fatigue or reduce the scope of the effect or accept some other penalty to lengthen the spell’s duration.

Rolling a higher relative degree can also mean the spell lasts longer. Some spells have permanent effects: healing (until wounded again), busting a hole in a wall (until repaired manually or by magic), teleporting to a distant place (until you come back), and so on. Of course, even these spell effects may be temporary in a given GM’s world: healing only lasts a day and the wound reappears, or a hole in the wall fixes itself after a few minutes, or a teleported person automatically returns after an hour in the other location. . . .

The GM also needs to determine if there are any drawbacks to casting a spell. Fudge Magic assumes that spells are tiring to cast, and a magician reduces his Fatigue at- tribute when casting. The more potent the spell, the more the fatigue. (Fatigue is regained by resting, of course. If Fatigue goes below Terrible, the character passes out. The GM may have separate Fatigue attribute, or base it on Endurance, Constitution, Strength, etc.) A GM who dislikes the idea of keeping track of fatigue can change the drawback to something else. Perhaps a magician has a limited number of spells he can cast in a day (or in an hour). In this case, he may have a Spell Point attribute, which is drained by spell casting and regained simply by the passage of time. (A trivial spell won’t drain any Spell Point levels, while an average spell drops a magician from Good Spell Points to Fair, for example, and more potent spells drain two or more levels at a time.) Draining spell points would not necessarily make the magician tired in this case, and Spell Points would regenerate whether the magician was resting or not or they might only regenerate with sleep.

Or maybe each spell affects a magician’s Sanity attribute, and he needs to convalesce to restore it. Or, equally entertaining, a spell might affect the sanity of anyone who witnesses magic! Reduced sanity can manifest in many amusing ways. . . .

7.13 Mana

Mana is an energy source capable of manipulating matter, time and space. It can be tapped only by those with Magic Potential.

The GM determines the availability and density of mana in a given game world, just as she does the average potency of a spell. Mana density can affect two things:

how large an area is needed to fuel a given spell effect, and (optionally), how easy or hard it is to cast a spell.

When a spell of a particular effect is cast, the magician draws a specific type of mana to him to create the effect.

The next time this same effect is desired, it will be harder to do: he has drained some of that mana type in the local area.

The size of the area is defined by the GM. For most fantasy worlds, assume it’s about 50 yards or meters in diameter. In a low-level magic campaign, the area is the size of a town or even city. (This would give meaning to the old line, “This town ain’t big enough for both of us” dueling wizards!) On the other hand, a high-level magic campaign is so mana-rich that the magician can simply take a step or two and be in a new area. Note that the area governs which spells can be cast without penalty: if one magician casts a healing spell, a second magician will be at -1 to cast a healing spell in the same area within the next 24 hours. (Mana may recharge at a different rate in a given game world, of course.) Note also that a magician may be unaware of what spells were cast in an area before he arrived. . . .

In a mana-rich area, spells may also be easier to cast: +1 or +2 to skill level. Likewise, in a mana-poor area, spells can be harder to cast: -1 or more. The GM decides if this rule is in effect.

Mana is dispersed and weak in a world such as modern Earth. The average fantasy game world will have much stronger mana, and some high-magic campaigns will simply reek of mana. In any given world, it is possible to vary the amount of mana. Some lands may be mana-rich, while neighboring areas are mana-poor. Mana may flow in currents, or in tides with the phases of the moon.

There may be “rogue” mana streams that change course and invade new areas, or a mana drought may afflict a given locale. Astrological alignments can affect mana, too thus even here on mana-poor Earth there will be places and times of the year when cultists gather to call forth unseen powers. . . .

A PC magician would know the general mana level for at least his home area. He may or may not know whether it fluctuates periodically, or if far lands have different mana levels. In order to determine the mana level of the local area at a given time, a magician must cast a spell specifically to that end.

7.14 Skill

Spell-casting is a skill that must be learned. The default is Non-Existent, and, due to the element of uncertainty in Fudge Magic (mentioned in Section 7.1, Fudge Magic), the maximum base skill level is Fair. This cannot be raised permanently but see Section 7.193, Spell-Casting Skill Alternatives.

One generic Spell-Casting skill is assumed, but the GM may require more if she breaks magic down into different types. It should cost one level just to get a Spell-Casting skill at Terrible.

Spell-casting skill may be modified (to a maximum of Great) by the following:

  • Taking an average time to cast a spell: +0. (Note: the GM assesses the average time for any given spell proposed. Potent spells might take all day, or even longer, while Trivial ones might take one to five minutes.)
  • Taking a long time to cast a spell carefully: +1. (Relative to each spell, of course. For a Trivial spell: taking a half an hour or more.)
  • Casting a spell much more quickly than normal: -1. (For a Trivial spell: one combat round of concentration.)
  • Using normal effort to cast a spell: +0.
  • Using extra effort to cast a spell (more fatigue than normal, or counts as two spells cast if there is a limit per day, or reduces Sanity more than normal, etc.): +1 or +2.
  • Using less effort than normal to cast a spell: -1 or more. (Reduced fatigue, or it only counts as half a spell against a daily limit, etc.)
  • First spell-casting of a particular effect in a given area within 24 hours: +0. (See Section 7.13, Mana, for the size of an area.)
  • Additional spell-castings of a particular effect in a given area within 24 hours: -1 per casting.
  • For using authentic magic formulae: +1. (The Law of Contagion or the Law of Similarity, for example see James Frazer’s classic anthropological study, The Golden Bough. Both Laws require some physical component: a feather to cast a flight spell, a piece of the subject’s hair to heal or hurt her, a drop of water that becomes a water jet, a stick that becomes a staff, a bearskin to change the magician into a bear, etc. Drafting the spell in poetical form earns an additional +1, if the GM is willing.)
  • Multiple magicians casting a spell that they have all tried before: +1 (for 2 to X magicians) or +2 (for more than X magicians). (X is set by the GM, anywhere from two to ten, or even more for low magic campaigns. One magician is assumed to be the primary caster: roll only once against his skill.)
  • Mana-rich area: +1 or +2 (optional).
  • Normal mana area: +0
  • Mana-poor area: -1 or more (optional).

Other modifiers may also apply, such as in a spell to search the mountains magically for someone you love (+1) or searching for someone you’ve never met (-1).

7.15 Resolution

Each spell is then resolved as an Unopposed action: the Difficulty level is dependent on the spell potency. Spells of average potency have a Difficulty level of Fair, while more trivial spells have difficulty levels of Mediocre or Poor. (No spell has a Difficulty level of Terrible magic just doesn’t work at that level.) More potent spells have Difficulty levels of Good to Superb, or even beyond Superb if a truly powerful effect is desired.

If the magician surpasses the Difficulty level, the spell occurs as he described it. The better the relative degree, the better the result. The magician suffers -1 (or more) to his Fatigue attribute if the GM deems the spell is fatiguing. (If the GM has chosen some other drawback, of course, apply that instead.) Sometimes a skill roll is then needed to do something with the end result of a spell. For example, a fireball needs to be thrown accurately: use the Throwing Skill and Ranged Weapon rules in Chapter 4.

If the magician equals the Difficulty level, then a watered-down version of the spell occurs. Either it will have a short duration, or reduced potency, or there is a time lag before the spell takes effect, etc. There may be an unexpected side effect, though it won’t be harmful to the magician. There is no penalty for the magician beyond a possible -1 or -2 to Fatigue, at worst.

If the magician rolls below the Difficulty level, however, he is adversely affected. The energy inherent in mana lashes out at the magician’s psyche instead of being focused as desired. There may (or may not) be some visible magical effect, but it will not be the desired effect, and, if he rolled poorly enough, it may even be inimical to the magician’s goals or health. . . .

On a failed roll, the magician is stunned for one combat round (no actions or defense) and takes at least -1 Fatigue. A Terrible result always fails.

If he rolls a result of -4, the spell automatically fails (no matter what the resulting level) and he also temporarily drains one level of his Magic Potential see Section 7.11, Magic Potential, for effects. (This is the “riskiness” of magic mentioned in Section 7.1, Fudge Magic.) Examples: Barney casts a spell, Create Pizza, of Average potency in a normal mana area and gets -3: a Terrible result. The spell fails and Barney is stunned for a combat round, but he does not drain a level of Magic Potential because he did not roll a – 4. Later, in a mana-rich area (+1 to cast), Barney takes a long time (+1) to cast Detect Food, a very Trivial spell (Poor result or better needed for success). He has temporarily raised his skill to Great, the maximum allowed. He rolls a -4 result, which is a Poor rolled result. Although the rolled degree is good enough to cast the spell, Barney still fails because he rolled a -4 result. Barney not only doesn’t detect any food, he also exhausts one level of Magic Potential ouch!

7.16 Personal Magic Resistance

If the spell is one which attempts to Control another being either mentally, physically or spiritually Opposed action rolls are also called for. First, the magician casts the spell (as above); then he has to overcome the Personal Magic Resistance of the subject. Magic Resistance may be an attribute or gift (Willpower is a good choice, if there is no specific anti-magic trait), as the GM desires. Magic Resistance may even be a different attribute for different types of spells (a mental attribute for attempts to control the mind, etc.). Note that this second roll is Opposed the subject of the spell gets a chance to resist it, and so can influence the result.

If the GM is willing, the magician may use the result he just rolled as his skill level for the Opposed action. That is, if he rolled a Great result on the spell, he rolls the Opposed action as if his skill were Great. Otherwise, he uses the same level he rolled initially against.

“Control” can mean many things to different GMs. Personal Magic Resistance would resist an attempt to read someone’s mind to one GM, but not to another. However, Magic Resistance does not resist any spell that calls or creates physical energy to lash out at another being. If the magician successfully creates lightning to blast the subject, it is not resisted by Personal Resistance; it is treated as a physical weapon.

7.17 Certain Spell-Casting

Sometimes a magician desperately needs a certain result.

In this case, he may opt not to roll the dice at all, and simply drain one level of Magic Potential for a guaranteed success. He takes the usual penalties for losing a level of Potential see Section 7.11, Magic Potential.

This means he’ll faint be unconscious after casting the spell, which limits the utility for certain spells. You can’t control someone’s mind when you are unconscious, for example. . . .

The GM may restrict this to Trivial spells, or non-Potent spells, or have no restrictions at all, beyond requiring the normal fatigue (or other) penalties. If the spell is one that could logically be resisted by the subject, however, the subject still gets a Resistance roll. In this case, the magician rolls as if his skill were Great.

7.18 Enchanting Items

Items may be permanently enchanted in this system.

The magician works for a number of weeks or months (as required by the GM), depending on the number and potency of the spells desired, and the general availability of magic items in the campaign. At the end of each month (or week), the magician rolls against two skills:

Spell-casting, and the appropriate Craft skill for the material being worked. The usual penalties apply on failing a spell roll. If he surpasses the Difficulty level on each roll, the spell is slowly being set into the item, one stage at a time. On a roll that only matches the Difficulty level, the work counts as only half a time period, but does progress the enchantment.

Obviously, a mana-rich area will attract magicians, especially enchanters.

7.19 Fudge Magic Options

These options offer ways to make Fudge Magic more sweeping, more reliable, less risky, and even make it available to non-magicians.

7.191 Generalized Magic Potential

Some GMs may want the players to have sweeping powers.

In this case, each level of Magic Potential allows a character to try any magic effect desired. This is in keeping with certain fictional settings in which learning magic involves general principles rather than specific spell effects. This makes for a very free and open game, which may or may not be to your tastes.

This system still allows specializations. Simply use faults to limit a magician’s ability to cast certain spells. See Section 6.311, Character Examples, Brogo the Scout.

7.192 Magicians & Non-Magicians

The GM may allow non-magicians to cast spells. In this case, it is risky, as there is no Magic Potential “cushion” one severe failure is enough to devastate the character. Still, in an emergency, it may be worth the risk. Such a character would still need to have some Spell-casting skill, however. (But see Section 7.193, Spell-casting Skill Alternatives).

As a substitute for Magic Potential specialization, the GM looks over the character sheet (checking traits, personality, and character background) and decides if a proposed spell would be appropriate for the character. The character must have some aptitude in the proposed spell subject, or he may not cast such a spell. For example, a trained fighter with no knowledge of book learning or foreign languages could conceivably try a combat spell, but not a spell to translate a book written in an unknown script.

Of course, the same spell is of greater potency for a nonmagician than for a magician. This probably means that a non-magician will only have a chance of casting a spell that a magician would consider trivial.

7.193 Spell-Casting Skill Alternatives

Since tastes differ, and Fudge Magic tends to be undependable (see Section 7.1, Fudge Magic), three options are provided for more reliable spell-casting:

1. Use the basic Fudge Magic system, but allow a magician to improve his chances of casting a spell beyond Fair. At a cost of one gift (or even supernormal power), this may be raised to Good. At a cost of two more gifts (or supernormal powers), casting skill may be raised from Good to Great, the maximum.

2. GMs who want magic to be a lot more reliable can simply treat Spell-casting as any other skill.

That is, it costs the usual skill costs to raise it to Good or even Great. Superb Spell-casting is not recommended for any but inherently magical races, even in high-level magic campaigns.

3. Spell-Casting is equal to the Willpower attribute, or perhaps Willpower-2. (There may still be a ceiling of Great, Good, or even Fair for Spell-Casting, regardless of the level of Willpower.) This is especially appropriate for games in which nonmagicians can cast spells see Section 7.192, Magicians & Non-Magicians. This is a potent option because the player doesn’t have to buy Spellcasting skill for his character.

7.194 Less Risky Spell-Casting

To make spell-casting less risky (not necessarily a good thing see Section 7.1, Fudge Magic), make it harder to drain a level of Potential.

Examples (apply as many or as few as desired):

1. A magician cannot deplete a level of Magic Potential if he is attempting a Trivial spell. That is, if he rolls a -4 on a Trivial spell, he fails the spellcasting, but doesn’t lose a level of Magic Potential.

2. A magician cannot exhaust a level of Magic Potential if he is attempting a Trivial or Average spell.

3. A magician cannot deplete a level of Magic Potential if he takes enough time to get a +1 bonus for slow and careful spell-casting.

4. A level of Magic Potential can only be depleted on a hurried spell-casting attempt that fails badly.

5. A magician cannot drain a level of Magic Potential on the first spell cast each day, or when the moon is full, or if the mana level is low (not enough mana to backlash potently), etc.