EDIT: Simplified the consequences of rolling a 1 further so the only reference a caster should need is the magical mishap table.
As alluded to in my post trialling the Channeller class for a previous version of Off-White Cube, my preference is that those barmy fools who think dabbling in the arcane arts is an excellent idea should do so at their own risk.
My favourite quote on the matter comes from Terry Pratchett in Going Postal:
“Not doing any magic at all was the chief task of wizards—not “not doing magic” because they couldn’t do magic, but not doing magic when they could do and didn’t. Any ignorant fool can fail to turn someone else into a frog. You have to be clever to refrain from doing it when you knew how easy it was. There were places in the world commemorating those times when wizards hadn’t been quite as clever as that, and on many of them the grass would never grow again.”
Just like combat shouldn’t be a risk-free walk in the park, nor should magic be a ‘skip obstacle’ which clearly is the optimal thing to do in a given scenario.
Unfortunately, too dangerous a magic system can mean that nobody wants to use it at all, which would be a shame. The Channeller didn’t see a huge amount of use in the Barrowmaze before eventually being dropped from the more recent draft of Off-White Cube. A 5-in-6 chance at best of avoiding a negative effect when casting the most basic spell, and a substantially higher likelihood of consequences coming from trying more powerful spells, meant it wasn’t worth the risk.
Our current setup uses casting points – de facto mana points – rather than slots to encourage flexibility with spells, but the most fun has always been had when trying to use a spell for something not specified in its description. Spell lists tend to limit creativity, and are a pain for a GM to reference when controlling NPC casters.
So here’s another attempt at a d6-friendly word-based magic system to either sit alongside or replace a Vancian spell system. Not quite as chaotically dangerous as would befit the Pratchett universe, but one which should hopefully cause players to think carefully before unleashing their character’s magical potential.
A caster can learn magic words (usually verbs and nouns) which they can combine whenever they want to cast a spell.
There is no limit to the number of magic words they can know, and they can be mixed and matched freely, but to use a word in a spell they must be carrying enough magic reagents for it. These are usually mundane ingredients which can be easily bought or, with a bit more effort, scavenged. Enough reagents for a magic word take up an inventory slot (or around 10% of a character’s carrying capacity).
Casters have a pool of magic dice to ‘power’ their spells (d6s). For any class fully dedicated to magic, the number of dice in their pool is usually equal to their level.
Casters can start off with two magic words – roll once on each of the following tables:
To cast a spell the player must combine a magical verb and noun (for which the character is carrying the appropriate ingredients) and explain the intended effect to the GM. Player and GM should agree a suitable tier for the spell.
(If a target of the spell would rather not be affected, they may attempt to save to avoid or reduce the effect – if a minion is hit with a powerful tier 5 spell, then a save probably shouldn’t entirely negate it.)
Use the table below as a rough guide, but the GM has the final say:
|Total Levels (HD) |
|2||Up to 4||Near||1 day|
|3||Up to 9||Far||1 week|
|4||Up to 16||In sight||1 month|
|5||Up to 25||A visited |
Upon determining the spell tier, the caster can choose how many of their magic dice to commit to trying to successfully produce the spell.
Roll the dice:
- if any of them roll higher than the magic tier, the character succeeds in the casting the spell. Any die that rolls higher than the magic tier is used up by the caster’s efforts and can’t be used again until after a full night’s rest.
- if you roll a 1, then a complication has occurred. For each d6 that rolls a 1, the caster must choose to either:
- sacrifice the reagents for one of the words used
- have an inventory slot (or around 10% of their carrying capacity) filled with exhaustion until they can recover with a full night’s rest
- roll on the magical mishap table below:
|1||d6 NPCs from your past turn to stone||Your skin becomes reflective||You grow to 8ft tall||Your tongue grows forked & lisps heavily||The nearest animal becomes sentient||Your appearance switches to that of an acquaintance|
|2||You get 4d6 years younger||Your incisors grow incessantly||You shrink to 4ft tall||A nearby book character comes to life||One of your possessions becomes sentient||Spider silk strands stick to all you touch|
|3||You age 4d6 years||Your toes turn into fingers||You can only speak in a whisper||You can only see in shades of purple||You have the body mass of a sealion||Your dreams show somebody else’s life|
|4||Save every morning or you into a cat for the day||You change gender||Tusks emerge from your jaw||Your hands are scalding to the touch||You attract cats. A lot||All alcohol within 5 miles becomes vinegar|
|5||Your sweat corrodes metal||You lose all hair and it doesn’t grow back||Your flesh turns to wood||All plant life within 1 mile withers and dies||You are blinded but have echolocation|
You know of a long-forgotten castle and the secret to getting in
|6||A morally-opposite copy of you appears||Your hair grows 1ft a day||You can only eat, but can live off, grass||A fearsome creature is hunting you down||Your nose seals up. You need no breath||Permanently add +1 magic dice to your pool|
Note that the spell may still be successfully cast even with a full array of disastrous consequences, so long as at least one die rolls above the magic tier.