Project Fantasy Ubiquity: Creating Spells

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

Last week, I went over my magic system. This week, let’s dive into how to create spells. This portion is very much a work in progress. I’ll show some examples as well as the problems I have ran into. But first, allow me to explain some of the design philosophy of the magic system.


When I saw the free-from magic system in TAG’s All for One, it was a revelation. I really like the idea of players getting to use their creativity with magic on the fly. But my main issue with the system is that it works against one of the main advantages of the Ubiquity system: speed of play.

A player has to decide what kind of magical effect they want to produce, go through the charts to determine the Complications for the spell with the GMs help, and then finally roll. And again, while I love this creative and collaborative approach, it slows the game down. This is why I went with a fixed spell approach. It goes faster (especially useful for convention games) and it will be familiar to D&D players.

The Burn concept comes from Greymalkin Games’ Desolation. Of course you could call it whatever you like, but its purpose is to give magic a feeling of danger as well as naturally limiting a magician’s spellcasting; No GM wants a player casting Fireball every round.

I really liked the Burn concept because it reminded me of older editions of D&D where magic was dangerous and always required a roll. It bothers me that in the newer editions of D&D there are spells that require no roll and always succeed. Where’s the danger?

The Spell Creation Chart–a Work in Progress

I must preface the Spell Creation Chart with the caveat that this is a work in progress. Every time I think I have it figured out, I create a spell where the Spell Total just doesn’t seem right. I’ll tinker with the chart, fix the spell I was working on only to find that a different spell now doesn’t make sense.

This problem only exists because I have a desire to create a tool where you plug in your spell parameters and it pops out the Spell Total. I feel like a perfect solution exists, I just haven’t “cracked the code,” as it were. You could just as easily assign a spell a Spell Total that just feels right to you. Or you could say 0-2 is Easy, 3-6 is Medium, 7-10 is Hard, and 10+ is Very Hard, put each spell into one of these categories, and then give it a set Spell Total. But as of yet, I haven’t given up on a Spell Total Chart that works every time.

Here it is in its current form:

Range: This is the distance the spell may target. Touch means the caster must be in physical contact with the target. Touch is also the modifier casters would use to cast something on themselves.

Duration: This is how long the spells’ effects last. For instance, damage from a lightning strike is instant, while the ability to breathe underwater may last an entire scene.

I added a column for both Combat and non-combat. I quickly realized innocuous spells like Light had high Spell Totals because of the duration column. In order to get these Spell Totals lower, I added the non-combat column.

Area of Effect: This describes how many targets or how big of an area the Spell affects. If using a grid, the Radius column counts a 5′ square as the Target square and then measures out from that point.

A spell can have both a Range and an Area of Effect. For instance, a Mass Heal spell may have a Range of Touch (centered around the caster), but an Area of Effect of a 10′ radius.

Effect: This describes what the spell does. The Primary column is for spells that modify a target’s Primary Attributes, for good or ill. Likewise, the Secondary/Skills column is for spells that modify Secondary Attributes or Skill ratings. The Size column is for the conjuration of objects or creatures, choosing the appropriate Size of what is being conjured. The Damage column is used for spells that are doing damage, either Non-lethal or Lethal, to a target. The Other column is for anything that does not fit into one of the other categories. For instance, walking on air is not an Attribute or skill, it isn’t dealing damage, nor does it have a Size, so the Other column would be selected and a +2 Modifier would be added to the Spell Total.

In many other charts, Non-lethal Damage is often double the Lethal damage it is paired with. However, I find that Non-lethal damage is just as effective as harming and limiting the actions of targets, so I have lowered the Non-lethal damage. While Non-lethal damage does heal faster than Lethal, I’d still rather deal 4NL to an opponent if it disables them rather than 2L.

Opposed Roll: The appropriate Modifier is added to the Spell Total if the spell uses an Opposed Roll. The number of dice listed is how many dice the spellcaster will roll against their opponent.

A Spell Example

Ray of Frost

Caster shoots a ray of frost from his fingertip at a single target. It is a ranged touch attack, thus ignoring passive defense, except armor bonuses. If the caster rolls more successes than the target, the target takes an automatic 4NL cold damage.

Range/Area: 1 target, up to 50ft away

Duration: Instant

Opposed Dice: 5 dice

Spell Total: 4

This is a pretty good spell for a reasonable Spell Total. Let’s look at how we came to this Total:

Range: 50′ away; +2 Modifier

Duration: Instant; +0 Modifier

Area of Effect: 1 Target; +0 Modifier

Effect: 4NL damage; +1 Modifier

Opposed Dice: 5 Dice; +1 Modifier

Spell Total = 4

And of course, other Modifiers may be added to this total, like the Casting outside a Known Sphere +2.

Final Thoughts

As I stated previously, I keep changing the charts as I find oddities, but it still isn’t perfect. For instance, let’s look at Death Touch:

Death Touch

This spell allows the caster to make a Touch attack (ignores passive defense, but not armor bonuses) that deals damage to one target. If caster gets more successes on opposed roll versus the target’s defense roll, the target takes an automatic 2L necrotic Damage. This attack heals Undead.

Range/Area: One target, Touch

Duration: Instant

Opposed Dice: 5 dice

Going through the Modifier charts, this spell has a Spell Total of only 1! I’ve upped it to 2 as I feel all spells should have a Spell Total of at least 2. Granted, the spellcaster has to be in close contact with his opponent, but a Spell Total of 1 calculated by the charts doesn’t seem right.

There are other spells that have similar issues, so I am definitely open to suggestions. Perhaps in the end, a completely different method of determining Spell Total is necessary. But for now, I was so impressed with All for One’s method that I started with those charts as inspiration.

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