Project Fantasy Ubiquity: A New Magic System

This is part of a series about making a D&D-esque version of Ubiquity.

Preface

I’ve tried to keep my Ubiquity rules generic and not setting-specific, however, the magic system does have a couple of conceits tied to it. One, like many settings, it is assumed that there was an advanced civilization in an age long ago that no longer exists. This civilization had mastered, or perhaps even created, magic, but that knowledge was lost after the civilization declined. The second conceit is that magic has been recently rediscovered. It is for this reason that no one can manipulate magic any way they like and have to rely on spells created by the ancient civilization. Additionally, because all magic users are essentially novices, spellcasters often suffer physical wounds from casting–presumably because they do not have the mastery of their forebears.

Casting a spell is an elaborate process. It involves both verbal and gesticular components, meaning a caster must be able to speak and have free hands.

The System

This magic system is a bit of a hybrid of the freeform system of Triple Ace Game’s All for One, Greymalkin Designs’ Desolation, and Wizard of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons.

Each spell has a Spell Total. This represents how many successes a spellcaster must roll in order to successfully cast the spell. Casting is an extended action. Unlike other Ubiquity games, this magic system has no Difficulty level; Each and every success rolled counts toward the Spell Total.

Channeling magical energy through the body, however, is dangerous. As such, a caster suffers non-lethal damage called Burn every round they are attempting to cast. Additionally, this damage increases the longer the caster has this energy coursing through their body. Casters suffer one point of Burn on the first round, two on the second round, three on the third, and so on. All of this non-lethal damage is cumulative and takes effect at the end of the casting attempt (whether successful or not). Like any other damage, Stun still applies.

Luckily for spellcasters, there are ways to mitigate this Burn damage:

  • Cancel Burn with Style Points on a one-to-one basis.
  • Use extra successes to cancel Burn on a one-one-basis.
  • Have a Talent, artifact, or relic that lessens or transfers Burn damage.

Spells have no “level.” A spellcaster can attempt to cast any spell they have learned. However, the Spell Total and the potential Burn damage naturally limit a magic user. As a spellcaster increases their Magic skill, they can cast more powerful spells faster and with less risk to themselves. But other than the inherent risks, there is nothing barring a magic user from attempting any spell.

Extra successes have more uses than just mitigating Burn Damage. They can also be used in the following ways:

  • Increase Opposed Roll dice on a one-to-one basis.
  • Increase Spell Damage on a 2-to-1 basis (2 successes for 1 extra point of damage)

So let’s take a look at a spell example to make sense of all of this:

Fireball

A pea-sized glowing orb shoots from the caster’s hand and explodes into a fireball at its target location. The spell is an area effect attack, thus ignoring active defense. If the caster rolls more successes than the defenders, the targets take 4L fire damage.

Range/Area: 20ft radius from target, up to 75ft away.

Duration: Instant

Opposed Dice: 5 dice

Spell Total: 9

The Fireball spell has a relatively high Spell Total, making it risky to cast. The reward, however, is large as the spell damage is high and can affect multiple targets in a 20′ radius. The Opposed Dice are what the caster rolls versus the targets’ defense rolls. The Duration is simply telling you that the effect (the damage) of the spell is immediate rather than over multiple rounds.

Example

Whispin, a novice spellcaster, is in a desperate situation as a hoard of foes approaches. He feels his only chance is to take out as many as he can in one fell swoop–a fireball! He has a pretty good Magic skill (maxed out at 10 at character creation–Intelligence 5 with 5 skill levels, for a Skill Rating of 10), but it is still a risky move as, on average, he will only have 5 successes per Magic roll. With a Spell Total of 9, he figures it will take him at least two rounds to cast the spell. That’s at least 3 Burn damage and two rounds in which the enemies can draw closer.

First Roll

Whispin rolls his 10 dice and gets 5 successes. He’s over halfway to his goal, but has also accumulated 1 Burn, though he does not take this damage yet.

Second Roll

On Whispin’s second roll, he gets 7 successes. Added to his previous successes, he has 12 total, which is three higher than he needed. This second roll also added another two points of Burn, taking the total to 3. Whispin has some decisions to make:

  • He could use the three extra successes and cancel all the Burn, thus successfully casting the spell and suffering no damage. From this point, he would roll his 5 Opposed Dice, his targets would roll their Passive defense, and he can hope to deal 4L damage to every target he beats.
  • But perhaps Whispin is afraid that these enemies have a good defense and that 5 Opposed Dice won’t guarantee he damages them. He decides instead to use 1 extra success to bump up his Opposed dice to 6 and spends the other two extra successes cancelling out 2 Burn so that he isn’t Stunned.
  • Or perhaps Whispin is pretty sure he can win the Opposed roll so instead decides to increase the damage output. He spend two extra successes to increase the damage to 5L in the hopes that will outright kill his enemies. He spend the last extra success to cancel one Burn. He still takes two non-lethal damage, which is enough to Stun himself for one round. It’s a risky move, but he hopes he can take out enough enemies that his allies can handle the rest while he is vulnerable for a round.
  • Whispin could forgo his own safety completely to make sure he downs as many opponents as possible. He spends two extra successes to bump up the damage to 5L and spends the last extra success to increase his Opposed Dice to 6. Unfortunately, this means Whispin take all three point of Burn damage, gravely injuring himself and Stunning himself for one round as well.
  • Lastly, Whispin could expend all three extra successes on increasing his Opposed Roll to 8. While this would virtually guarantee dealing damage to his opponents, he would also suffer all three of the BUrn damage.

Whispin may still have Style Points he can spend to also mitigate some of the damage, so some of these scenarios may not be as bleak as they seem.

Spell Modifiers

Spells have a set amount of successes needed to cast the spell, represented by the Spell Total. This number can, however, go up depending on the circumstances. The following table lists modifiers that may be applied to the Spell Total:

Other Magic Rules

Once a spellcaster has begun invoking a spell, they must devote their attack action to the casting process. Failing to do so ruins the spell. If the caster attempts to do anything else on his turn while casting, such as walking or defending, they must make a reflexive Willpower roll, Difficulty 2, in addition to adding 2 to the Spell Total immediately. Failing the Willpower roll disrupts the spell. If any damage from outside sources is taken while casting, the spell fails. If any Magic roll has 0 successes, the spell automatically fails and the caster takes any Burn accumulated. Once the number of successes for a spell has been reached, the caster may delay the release of the spell for a number of combat rounds equal to his Willpower or his Level of Focus.

Spellcasters cannot take the average when casting spells.

The Known Spheres of Magic

Chimeric: The Chimeric sphere of magic deals with influencing, confusing, and tricking others’ minds. Mind-altering spells and illusions are a Chimera’s specialties.

Warding: The Warding sphere of magic often deals with protection. It’s focus is on defense rather than offense.

Ecomancy: The Ecomancy sphere centers around nature and the creatures in it. Practitioners can speak and command animals and have a deeper understanding of the environment than most.

Elemental: This sphere encompasses the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. Elementalists have some control over these forces for both offensive and defensive means.

Necromancy: Necromancy deals with death. It can be used to animate corpses, create disease, wither flesh, and cause foes to simply drop dead, but can also be used to communicate with the dead for nobler purposes.

Sorcery: Sorcery is a hodgepodge of magical arts, from counter-magic to evocation and conjuration.

When a character takes the Magical Aptitude Talent, they must choose a sphere of magic to focus upon. If they wish to focus on a second sphere, they must take the Magical Aptitude Talent a second time.

Cantrips: Cantrips are simple spells that do not belong to a specific sphere of magic. Consequently, a caster never suffers the penalty for casting outside their known spheres when casting a Cantrip.

Scrolls

Scrolls are rare and extremely valued relics from long ago, scribed by a civilization long dead. They are the main source of discovering and learning new spells. The scrolls also have the added benefit of acting as the conduit of the magic, meaning the caster suffers no Burn. The magic user also does not have to gesticulate in order to cast the spell; They must only be able to read the arcane writing on the scroll. It has been discovered that anyone who can read the arcane writing can cast from a scroll and not just those with the Magical Aptitude Talent. Once a spell has been cast from a scroll, the scroll flash burns and nothing is left of it. Arcane researchers can copy scrolls to their spell books but as of yet have not been able to reproduce the magical qualities of the scrolls.

Next Week

Next week, I’ll go over the process of creating spells and my thoughts on the overall design philosophy.

2 Thoughts

  1. I have a few thoughts….
    Cancelling a spell during casting: Burn damage still applies for # of rounds, but can be offset with previous successes (maybe at a 2:1 ratio)
    Spell interrupted during casting: Burn damage still applies for # of rounds, but cannot be offset with previous successes (or offset at a higher ratio that 1:1)
    Focus Skill can be used instead of the Willpower roll for maintaining concentration when doing other things besides casting spell
    If attacked, the caster must first do their defense roll. If attack succeeds, the caster must make a Focus or Willpower roll at 2+ damage taken. If attack fails, the caster must make a Focus/Willpower roll of 2.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zelgar! I like these. I think you are right that spellcasters should have a way to cancel a spell. I think the 2:1 ratio would work. It’s still possible to take some damage, but the caster can try to diffuse the spell’s energy safely. I also like the idea that even if the caster is hit, they might be able to maintain the spell if they can make that increased Willpower/Focus roll. Nice additions!

      Like

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