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Freeform Magic system

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  • Freeform Magic system

    I love Savage worlds but the one major thing its missing for me is a good freeform magic system. Currently i am using a savaged conversion of the System from Mage:The Awakening but I recently picked up Dresden Files Accelerated Fate rpg and Genesys rps and liked elements of both. Here is a system I've been working on based mostly on the genesys system but with elements of Fate and and a pinch of Mage the Awakening. It s a narrative system that would require a more narrative style of play with good cooperation between players and GM.

    Sources of Magical Power – There are various ways in which people draw on magical power. Spellcasters who draw their power from their intellect and study of the arcane secrets of magic use Smarts to determine their magical ability. These include occultists who study ancient rituals and how to create pacts with magical beings, alchemists who study the mystical science of transforming and controlling matter, or hermetic mages who draw from ancient traditions that approach magic as a the science of metaphysics. Spellcasters who draw their power from their own spiritual power or service to higher spiritual beings use their Spirit trait to determine their magic. Such mages include shamans who commune with spirits, priests or priestesses of gods and goddesses, mystics who commune with the cosmos and seek to be at one with the universe, or mystical martial artists who draw on the inner power of their chi.
    When creating a spellcasting character choose one of the following new edges:

    Arcane Spellcaster
    Prerequisite – Smarts d8
    The Arcana edge allows a character to draw power from their study of the forces of magic to cast spells and affect the world through magic. This edge gives the character access to spells using their Smarts trait. The player should also choose a Tradition (see below) and one spell they cannot use. The character also gains d4 in the Arcana skill.

    Spirit Spellcaster
    Prerequisite – Spirit d8
    As above with Arcana but the character uses the Spirit trait and gains d4 in the Spirit Magic skill.

    New Skill
    Spellcasting – This determines your ability to cast spells. It functions as any other skill except that it costs twice as much experience to increase including at character creation. The only way to gain access to this skill is to have either the Arcane or Spirit spellcasting edge which gives the character d4 to start in the skill.

    Spellcasters work within magical traditions that both focus and limit their magic. At character creation a player should choose a character concept that reflects and describes their magical tradition as well as a preferred spell (+1 to roll), and a spell that they cannot do (banned spell). A spellcaster’s tradition influences choice of trappings, what magical effects they can and cannot achieve and how hard it is for them to do so. E.g. a necromancer may not do healing magic, prefer curse magic and may summon ghosts but not elementals or nature spirits, or an urban shaman may not do direct Attack magic, prefer summoning magic, and summons spirits of the city and machines rather than angels or demons. Other aspects and limitations of the character’s magic should be determined narratively in the course of play. Where the player wants to do something that seems outside of the character’s tradition even if they are technically able to do it, the GM may allow them to do it but with certain adverse side effects e.g. a necromancer may want to heal someone’s arm but do so by creating dead rotting flesh to “heal” a wound (technically Augment or Transform). This dead flesh rots again in a matter of hours and may even create greater long term damage as the rotting spreads to healthy areas of the body and may even infect the target’s mind with necromantic energy.

    Example Traditions
    Urban Shaman (Spirit Magic) - Character Concept – Consults with spirits of the city, Banned Spell – Attack, Preferred Spell – Conjure/Summon
    Priest of the Deity of Truth (Spirit Magic) - Character ConceptWorshipper of the god of truth and Justice, Banned SpellIllusion, Preferred Spell – Barrier/Protection
    Fae-blooded Mage (Spirit Magic) -Character Concept – Inheritor of fae magic of glamour and illusion, Banned Spell – Attack, Preferred Spell – Illusion
    Mystic (Spirit Magic) - Character Concept – Mystic understands the deeper secrets of the universe through communing with the cosmos, Banned Spell – Illusion, Preferred Spell – Divination
    Occultist (Arcana) - Character Concept – Ritualist who learns the names of demons and makes pacts with them, Banned Spell – Heal, Hard Spell – Transform
    Wizard (Arcana) - Character Concept – Academic mage who studies tomes of magic, Banned Spell – Heal, Preferred Spell – Augment
    Artificer (Arcana) - Character Concept – Enchanter of magical items and potions, Banned Spell – Illusion, Preferred Spell – Augment

    Spells are not specific effects but general approaches to magic that allow a spellcaster to affect the world as needed. Each spell covers a wide variety of effects depending on the spellcaster’s tradition and situation in which they find themselves.

    Attack - Attack spells include any action that directly or indirectly deals damage or fatigue to an enemy. Examples would include flashy magic such as throwing a fireball, shooting lightning, or blowing an enemy around with a wind storm or more subtle attacks such as having a target shocked by electricity from the machinery next to which they are standing or fire from the nearby bonfire or making a person suddenly feel very sleepy.

    Augment - Augment spells magically enhance characters or objects. Sometimes, the distinction is mostly narrative—it may be purely a matter of description whether a spell imbues a sword with power or improves the reflexes of the character wielding it. Although these effects are often helpful in combat, such spells can be useful in many circumstances, from helping an ally scale a sheer surface to keeping the party’s horses galloping past their normal limits. Augment could even let a character turn invisible or fly, although the difficulty for this should be high.

    Barrier/Protection – Protective spells reduce incoming damage for your character and their allies in combat or let the spellcaster protect themselves from adverse conditions of all types in or out of combat. Your character may create a bubble under the ocean so they can travel underwater, a barrier that shields them from flames as they walk through a burning building, or protect themselves from mind control.

    Conjure/Summon - Conjuration magic allows a character to summon allies and create items out of the raw stuff of magic. A spellcaster may conjure a bowl of soup, a sword or gun, a portal to the spirit world or plants to make terrain harder to traverse. This spell also allows a caster to summon magical allies, spirits, ghosts or other magical beings such as demons, angels or elementals. When doing so, the summoned being is not required to do what the summoner wants, which needs an influence spell, and needs to be dispelled to go away unless the GM determines it would want to go away of its own accord.

    Divination – Divination allows the spellcaster to uncover knowledge and gain deeper understanding of things. It may allow the spellcaster to see a beings true nature, or scry events happening far away, predict the future, and see events from the past. It also allows a spellcaster to see things mortals cannot usually see like magical sigils left by mages on buildings, or ghosts and spirits who have not chosen to manifest themselves (“I see dead people”).

    Curse – A "Curse" is any sort of affliction that applies a negative effect to a character, whether it be a penalty to an attack roll, a wasting sickness incurable by mundane means, or an inability to speak a certain name. A curse can doesn’t inflict damage but may make someone more susceptible by reducing a trait or making them unlucky or more likely to be the target of an attack for a period of time.

    Dispel - Dispelling spells counter the magic of others by dispelling or reducing the effect. It could be used to make a fireball fizzle out before it reaches its target or to remove magical warding, or close a magical portal.

    Heal/Repair - Healing magic can remove damage or fatigue from a character or cure a disease or relive pain both of mind and body. Doing things that can be done by the medicine of the setting and time is relatively easy while re-growing a lost limb or healing in minutes rather than days is much harder. The most powerful spells might cure deadly diseases or even raise the dead. Repair is similar but acts on objects rather than beings allowing a spellcaster to fix a broken machine or sharpen a sword.

    Illusion – Illusion spells convince the target that something is that in reality is not. It could be used to create a hologram or image of a person or monster, to make someone invisible to the eye (but not actually physically changing them which would be covered by Transformation), or convincing someone that their greatest nightmare is right before them.

    Influence – Influence spells are those that involve the influence or control of something. You can make a fire larger or smaller with Augment or Curse but to shape it into a shape and direct it requires Influence. Equally, a spellcaster can summon a spirit, ghost, or elemental but without Influence they don’t have to do what you want them to do! In some ways this spell is similar to augment or curse but influence is used when you are not necessarily increasing or decreasing the potency of a thing but directing or shaping it.

    Transform – Transformation spells allow the spellcaster to transform one thing into another. Examples include a shaman who transforms into a wolf or raven, an alchemist who transforms lead into gold, or a weather witch who transforms a stormy day into a sunny one.

  • #2
    Casting a Spell
    1 Describe Desired Effect – Describe what you want to do – shoot a fireball, summon a ghost, increase your memory, dispel an illusion etc.

    2 Choose Spell – Decide which spell will be best to produce the result you want to achieve. Some effects may be achievable in different ways by different spells. Also, some results need more than one spell in succession e.g. a spellcaster may make an existing fire burn hotter (Augment) and then direct it towards their enemies (Influence).

    3 Determine Difficulty- The GM determines how hard the effect is to achieve. A basic spell can have a lot of different effects but generally it will effect one person or object, do 1d6 or damage or healing, +1 or -1 to a trait or trait roll, effect the spellecaster themselves or a person within 10ft and in line of site, and if it is an extended rather than immediate effect it lasts for 5 minutes or the duration of a combat. If the spellcaster wants to increase the power, duration or range of the spell or how many people or things it affects then the difficulty is higher e.g. 1d6 to 2d6 or 3d6, medium or long range, or having the effect last for hours rather than minutes. Certain things are just more difficult than others due to complexity e.g. turning into a natural animal like a wolf is a lot easier than turning into yourself into a complex and powerful magical being like a dragon. Also some things are easier or harder to do because of your tradition e.g. its relatively easy for a shaman to summon a nature spirit but more difficult for them to summon an elemental and even harder to summon an angel.

    There are also ways of reducing the difficulty of a spell. The more time a spellcaster takes to cast the spell (e.g. -1 per turn in combat or for every ten minutes out of combat) the easier it becomes although some things may still be out of reach no matter how long the caster takes (e.g. turning into a massive dragon!). The spellcaster can also use foci e.g. objects such as a religious symbol or a circle of salt, special places such as a stone circle or druid’s grove, a time such as midnight or the full moon usually reducing difficulty by one for each.

    A cleric of the god of healing wants to heal a lightly injured comrade. This is pretty straightforward for them and is just difficulty 4. But healing a totally crushed arm would be harder (6-8 difficulty), and re-growing an entire leg that was cut off even harder (difficulty 12 or more). If a wizard or a cleric of the god of something not directly tied to healing who is not used to doing healing magic tries the same thing it would be +2 to the difficulty.
    A shaman wants to change shape into a wolf. That is not too straightforward but not too hard either, so difficulty 6. But changing into an animal that is much bigger or smaller like an elephant or an ant would be difficulty 8-10 and changing into a dragon would be at difficulty 20!

    4 GM defines limitations or side effects – The GM may determine that due to narrative or world building reasons a certain action is not just more difficult but impossible for someone of your character’s tradition e.g. a shaman in this particular setting is attuned to the spirits of nature and to them alone and so it’s not just harder for the Shaman to summon a demon but impossible as they simply do not hear their call care about it even if they do. Also, it may be possible for the spellcaster to achieve the effect, but it is outside the norm and so may have weird or adverse side effects e.g. the shaman can call the angel but has to do a favor for the angel later because the angel has no connection to the shaman the way they might for a Christian faith healer or Jewish kabbalist.

    5 Player casts spell – If the roll is equal to or above the spell’s difficulty the spell succeeds as intended. If it aces then it is a spectacular success and the effect of the spell is increased accordingly. If the player roles 1 on the trait die the spell has failed spectacularly and the player suffers backlash.

    6 GM rolls pushback dice – The Genesys system uses a narrative dice system that allows not only for successes and failures but success that still have bad side effects and failures that still provide benefits on the side. To recreate that and to reflect the unpredictability of magic use the “pushback” dice. Reality doesn’t like being messed with so it “pushes” back on the use of magic. When a spell is cast successfully the effect of the spell is as expected. But reality may exact a cost for that success. When a player successfully casts a spell the GM rolls the same kind of dice that the player character rolled for their Spirit Magic or Arcana roll. The difficulty is whatever the player rolls for their spellcasting check. If the GM fails in that roll nothing happens. If the GM rolls equal to the player’s roll the spell succeeds but as expected but also results in a minor weird side effect (e.g. the spellcaster smells of rain water for three days, or their hair changes color for a week). If the GM rolls higher than the spellcaster’s roll the spell again goes off as normal but also results in a detrimental side effect e.g. calling an angry ghost as well as the friendly one you intended to summon, or magically opening a safe but setting off an alarm while doing it. Finally, if the GM rolls 8 or more over the spellcaster’s roll (i.e. aces twice) the spell goes off but doesn’t have desired effect e.g. hits the wrong

    7 Spell takes effect – Hey presto!

    Mana - Spellcasters can also spend bennies as “mana” to increase the power of the spell (1d6 to 2d6, +1 to +2, one person affected to 2 people affected) without increasing the difficulty. Only one benny can be used this way per turn in combat.

    Optional Rule: Locational Mana – Mana may also be around in the world and spellcasters can use that when they find it. The GM can decide that a particular place is has more than a trace amount of mana and allow the spellcaster to draw extra power from that place e.g. a druid’s grove or temple to an ancient god. The GM can determine how much mana is there (usually no more than three points) and allow the player to draw on it to make their spells more powerful in that place. To do so they would have to spend at least one round attuning themselves to the mana of the place. This would be done by a spellcasting roll and the difficulty would be determined by how close the magical energy in the place is to the kind of magic the spellcaster does e.g. a druid would have an easy time (difficulty 4) attuning to the magic of a druid’s grove but a much harder time attuning to the energy of a ruined temple to a god of death (difficulty 8-10). Also, at the GM’s discretion, the nature of the place’s magical energies might affect the spell e.g. calling on dark necromantic energies has dark necromantic side effects!

    Optional Rule: Subtle Magic – In some settings, especially ones set in modern or historical periods of our own world, there needs to be an explanation why the average person doesn’t see wizards and witches throwing fireballs all over the place and thus making the reality of magic obvious to all. That could be achieved through magical organizations that enforce strict penalties against mages who cast such obvious magic in full sight of mundanes and “clean up” the fallout when they do. Or it could be that magic itself in such a setting encourages the casting of more subtle magic. In such a setting spellcasters are encouraged to work their magic in subtle ways that could be explained by mere coincidence or chance rather than in obvious falshy ways that are obviously magic. Depending on how difficult the GM wants to make it difficulty should be added for doing obvious magic in the sight of mundanes e.g. +2 for one or two, +4 for 3 to 4, +6 for 4 to 10, etc). Also, for added challenge, make obvious magic more dangerous on the pushback dice e.g. +2 or +4 to the roll making it more likely that bad things will happen even if the spell works.


    • #3
      Relevant archive thread. Link to recovered document, as the original link is dying (apparently). All the effects cost 1 PP, modified by choices, minimum 1 PP.

      Your proposal has a lot of steps and rolls that make a single casting take roughly twice as much resolution as a mundane attack. That's not Fast and it's not going to be Fun for the uninvolved players, and will quickly stop being Fun for most GMs.
      Last edited by ValhallaGH; 05-06-2018, 01:59 PM.
      I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


    • #4
      Originally posted by ValhallaGH View Post
      Relevant archive thread. Link to recovered document, as the original link is dying (apparently). All the effects cost 1 PP, modified by choices, minimum 1 PP.

      Your proposal has a lot of steps and rolls that make a single casting take roughly twice as much resolution as a mundane attack. That's not Fast and it's not going to be Fun for the uninvolved players, and will quickly stop being Fun for most GMs.
      Thanks for the feedback. So this is why i made it clear that this was a narrative system. It's not for everyone. I think by definition there is always going to have to be more steps in a freeform system. The question is whether its what the GM wants to have as part of their setting. I should also note that the setting i really am looking at this for, and the one i am currently using the adapted mage:Awakening savaged system is an investigative historical urban fantasy in which ALL the characters are mages so all of them are using the same system. The freeform nature of magic in this game allows players to resolve more situations with creative use of magic rather than with combat which is the style of play i am looking for here. For a more pulpy setting this would be the wrong system.

      More importantly the point is that as far as I can tell there really isn't an official or licensed system for freeform magic in Savage worlds. Would be happy for someone at PEG or a licensee to come up with something simpler than this.
      Last edited by scifirabbi; 05-06-2018, 03:12 PM.


      • #5
        I would make each "spell"/school a separate skill. If a Tradition has a "banned spell", it is simply restricted from buying ranks in that skill.

        This addresses the "bloat" inherent in your system, since essentially characters gain access to every conceivable power with a single Edge (and get a free d4 in the casting skill!).

        It also makes addressing issues like, "... a spellcaster may make an existing fire burn hotter (Augment) and then direct it towards their enemies (Influence)," easier to handle. Make two skill rolls with a MAP... then offer an Edge that eliminates the MAP.


        • #6
          Originally posted by Deskepticon View Post
          I would make each "spell"/school a separate skill. If a Tradition has a "banned spell", it is simply restricted from buying ranks in that skill.

          This addresses the "bloat" inherent in your system, since essentially characters gain access to every conceivable power with a single Edge (and get a free d4 in the casting skill!).

          It also makes addressing issues like, "... a spellcaster may make an existing fire burn hotter (Augment) and then direct it towards their enemies (Influence)," easier to handle. Make two skill rolls with a MAP... then offer an Edge that eliminates the MAP.
          Interesting idea. Thanks


          • #7
            When I was using Savage Worlds for a "free-form" style system I did it in two ways. I used flexible trappings and frameworks for incantations / spell work. Players got to pick 3 elements (trappings / elemental foundation) by default that fit their magical "tradition" which they got to make up. They could use any of their elements with any invocations (powers). All the spell-casters got a variation of "Elemental Manipulation" that was the power they used with their Elements to create minor, variable effects.

            For example, if a player could say how their Element would enhance a skill check, they could use Elemental Manipulation to get +2 on that check. I did a somewhat stronger version of the Elemental Manipulation power that cost 1 more PP to cast but otherwise had the same specs.

            Adding new Elements from a caster's "tradition" was an Edge.

            Two quick examples:

            Fate / Fey Witch

            Elements [Chance, Disruption, Fate]


            >> Chance: Cause an accident doing damage
            >> Disruption: Break a system causing damage (i.e. neurologial disruption, heart-attack)
            >> Fate: Lower damage (d4) but can delay damage for up to an hour (causes an accident in the next hour)

            >> Chance/Fate: Either creates a shield of protective probability that causes the character to "accidentally" move away reducing damage
            >> Disruption: A shield that disrupts the momentum or energy of attacks

            Elemental Manipulation
            >> Chance: Manipulate minor random events in the story, traffic lights, card plays, etc, can add +2 to any check where good luck could apply
            >> Disruption: Break minor systems, computers, cause minor fainting spells, break mob-mind, disrupt working stuff
            >> Fate: Catch a brief/quick glimpse of what might happen, divination visions (mostly used by GM as plot device)

            Voodoo Queen / Necromancer

            Elements [Death, Cold, Darkness]


            >> Cold: Use cold trapping in SWDXE
            >> Death: Simple death-bolt of damage to living things (or decay to non-living)
            >> Darkness: Use shadow in SWDXE

            >> Death: Decays attacks as they come in
            >> Cold: Use cold SWDXE
            >> Darkness: Use dark/shadow SWDXE, can grant stealth bonus

            Elemental Manipulation
            >> Cold: Reduce temp / minor cold effects
            >> Death: Grant locations an aura of gloom, read death-energy to know stuff about deaths / illness (often used to "read" the site of a murder while investigating, again, nice GM plot device)
            >> Darkness: Manipulate shadows / dark, create areas of darkness, give +2 / -2 on a Trait roll when appropriate

            Summon Ally
            (Player wanted to focus on voodoo summons, rather than elements)
            >> Voodoo Soul: Summons a manservant dressed in classic white islander clothes (as per novice summon)
            >> Ghost Dog: Summons a spirit dog (as per Seasoned Dire Wolf)
            >> Shade: Summons an elemental of death (something I had to write up based on Air Elemental) as per veteran

            Between allowing a somewhat stronger Elemental Manipulation and treating powers like frameworks that a player could use with any known element, the system was pretty flexible.

            Savage Worlds had too much "Crunch" for the campaign I wanted to run - there are too many nuanced custom combat rules to capture the flavor of the campaign, so I am still looking for a system (I am currently considering a card-based play system) but between treating powers as generic "frameworks" for magic and using Elements as flexible trappings, the magic system worked well and I may borrow principles from it for what I'm working on now.

            It was helpful to the players to have some structure in the "free-form" system. The combination of incantation framework and elements was more accessible to the players than a completely dynamic free-form system, which added complexity and slowed down play (we tried that too). The added structure of the incantation system opened up creativity.

            Maybe I should write up the "Incantation System" of magic for Savage Worlds as separate thing...hmmm....


            • #8
              Originally posted by jdgcoop View Post

              Maybe I should write up the "Incantation System" of magic for Savage Worlds as separate thing...hmmm....
              Would love to see it!


              • #9
                Scifirabbi I think you could look at the whole system here:

                Start with the setting rules post (should be the 1st one)
                > Add "Essence" stat equal to Spirit + 1/2 Vigor
                > For Savage Fey-Tale no core Arcane Backgrounds allowed
                > Custom Magic Fatigue Rules
                > Channeling, Sorcery & Ritualism Skills

                You can read the rules I did for Unique Rituals (dramatic story-driven events), Essence, Channeling, Magic Power, the differences between Hexes, Spells and Rituals in the Sorcery and Ritualism posts should have details about powers as frameworks with modular elements. I am not sure if the posts are clear on the rules I was using, as after playing a handful of sessions, it was clear that the Savage Worlds rules just had too much "crunch" to capture the flowing mood I wanted to capture.


                • scifirabbi
                  scifirabbi commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Cool. Thanks

              • #10
                I have always wanted to create or run a free-form system, and this looks like a great step forward. To make it fun, fast, and furious, I would add some quick-chart difficulty guidelines for such things as range, healing, damage, entangling, matter manipulation, illusions, etc as appendices to the system. I'd encourage the GM and Players to look at and absorb them, but then don't consult them during play. Emphasize that the the GM is the final arbiter in how difficult an effect should be. Tell them to expect mistakes, and that the system might get more fluid as they get used to the system and setting. This system isn't for everybody; many players and GMs are very concrete and expect rules to be spelled out for them. I'd use it for a high magic setting (or even a star wars setting), but I'm currently running and developing CyberCthulhu, where spells are very much the old-fashioned kind.


                • #11
                  Here's what I did with Clint Black's Free-Form Magic system: Trapped for Cyber-Cthulhu horror.