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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Content>Magic>Magic Systems>Magecraft>System
Magecraft System


Magecraft System Magicians Magecraft Variations
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GM Notes on Magecraft
Magecraft (MAYJE-kraft), practitioners of which are generally called Magicians (mah-JISH-uns) or Mages (MAY-jez) or Magi (mah-GHI), is a flexible and adaptable Magic System allowing a very broad selection of abilities and a high degree of individuality among practitioners.
Magecraft is a very "practical application" oriented style of Magic; rather than undertaking a broad or theoretical study of Magic Magicians instead learn how to cast specific Spells. A typical Magician might know only five to ten Spells, but they will typically be very powerful.
However, as Magecraft lacks any concept of "Spell Levels" or stepped echelons of ever more powerful effects there is no reason for a Magician to learn redundant abilities that are just more powerful versions of an ability they already know. Instead they just increase the effectiveness of the abilities they do know as they go, making them ever more powerful. Thus Magicians don't waste effort (or Character Points) on repetitive abilities, and their abilities never become obsolete. With a well chosen offense, defense, and mobility Spell plus a utility Spell or two, a Magician has all their bases covered.
Casting Model
Magicians use what I call a "Bundled Casting" Model, which is Skill based. Each Magician purchases the Spells that they know how to cast as special Spell Skills that "bundle" all aspects of a single Power Construct or Compound Power into a single "3d6-roll-under" Skill with Active Point limits determined by the level of the Skill roll.
Each Spell does not have to use the full Active Points Available to it; a Magician might buy their Skill Roll up without raising the Active Cost of the Spell to increase their probability of success for example.
Magecraft Spells are designed as Power Constructs (including Compound Powers) but imbedded into a Spell Skill rather than paid for directly.
Each Spell Skill is a GEN Skill (11-) and costs 3 pts; each +1 to that Skills Roll costs 2 pts.
An 8- Roll with a Spell Skill can also be taken as a Familiarity for 1 point, though this is rarely practical.
Each Spell Skill has a number of Active Points available to it equal to the Skill Roll x 5. Thus the Power Construct in an 8- Spell Skill can have up to 40 Active Points, while a Power Construct in an 11- Spell Skill can have up to 55 Active Points, and a Power Construct in a 20- Spell Skill can have up to 100 Active Points.
A Power Construct in a Spell Skill does not have to be designed to use all of the Active Points available to it; a Magician might have a Spell Skill with a roll higher than it needs to be so that they have a better chance of successfully casting the Spell. For instance, a Magician might have a Spell Skill with a 14- roll; the Power Construct represented by that Spell Skill might only have 45 Active Points even though it could have up to 70 Active Points.
To use a Spell a Magician simply makes a Skill roll with the appropriate Spell Skill. If the Spell Skill roll succeeds then the Power Construct represented by the Spell Skill is activated, otherwise nothing happens save that any Endurance Costs must be paid and any applicable Side Effects take effect.
Spell Skills suffer a penalty equal to the Real Cost / 10 of the Power Construct represented by the Spell Skill rather than the typical Active Points /10.
Due to this, Spell Skills that represent a Power Construct that has Limitations are easier to cast than a less limited version of the same Power Construct.
For example, a Spell Skill for a Power Construct with 90 Active Points and a total of -1/2 in Limitations would have a Real Cost of 60 points and would suffer a -6 penalty (60/10) to the skill roll each time the Spell Skill is used.
If the same Power Construct instead had a total of -1 in Limitations it would have a Real Cost of 45 points and would only suffer a -4 penalty (45/10, rounded in the character's favor) to the skill roll each time the Spell Skill is used.
To create a Spell Skill, simply design a Power Construct, divide it's Active Cost by 5 and then purchase a Skill with at least that high of a Skill Roll instead of paying for the Spell normally.
EXAMPLE 1: Doran Murfon can use the following Power Construct:
Mage Bolts: EB 12d6 (vs. ED), Reduced Endurance (1/2 END; +1/4), Variable Advantage (+1/2 Advantages; Limited Group of Advantages (Affects Desolid, No Range Modifier, Explosion, AoE 1 hex Accurate); +3/4) (120 Active Points); Extra Time (Delayed Phase, -1/4), Gestures (-1/4), Incantations (-1/4), No Knockback (-1/4) (uses END Reserve); Real Cost: 60 points
However, Doran does not pay the Real Cost of this Power Construct directly; instead he buys a Spell Skill called "Mage Bolts".
  • Required Skill Level: The Power Construct has 120 Active Points, thus the Spell Skill corresponding to it must be bought as at least a 24- Spell Skill.
  • Real Cost penalty: The Power Construct has a Real Cost of 60, Doran suffers a -6 penalty to his skill roll, for a modified skill roll of 18- (however, other penalties may apply).
  • Endurance Cost: Because the Power Construct has 120 Active Points it would normally cost 12 END to cast, but thanks to the 1/2 END Advantage it instead costs 6 END each time Doran makes a Mage Bolts skill roll - even if the roll fails.
MAGE BOLTS 24- (18- with -6 Real Cost penalty)
Real Cost: 29 points
EXAMPLE 2: Doran Murfon  can also use the following Power Construct:
Arcane Aegis: FF (9 PD/9 ED), Hardened (+1/4), Reduced Endurance (0 END; +1/2), Persistent (+1/2), Invisible to Hearing, and Sight Groups (+3/4) (54 Active Points); Gestures (Requires both hands; -1/2), Extra Time (Full Phase, Only to Activate, Delayed Phase, -1/2), Side Effects, Side Effect occurs automatically whenever Power is used (Costs AP/10 In END When Cast; -1/2), Incantations (-1/4), Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4) (uses END Reserve); Real Cost: 18
Doran does not pay for this Power Construct directly; instead he buys a Spell Skill called "Arcane Aegis". Because the Power Construct has 54 Active Points, the Spell Skill corresponding to it must be bought as an 11- Spell Skill at the minimum.
Real Cost: 3 points
The Arcane Aegis Power Construct has a Real Cost of 18, so when Doran wants to cast the Spell he must make an Arcane Aegis Spell Skill Roll at a -2 penalty (Real Cost/10), which is a 9- Skill Roll. If  the Skill Roll is successful the Arcane Aegis effect is activated. Whether the Spell Skill roll succeeds or not Doran pays 5 END for the attempt.
10 point Overall Skill Levels, 8 point All Skill Levels, and 5 point Skill Levels bought to apply to Magecraft Spell Skills can be used to improve Spell Skill rolls (except for 1 point Spell Skill Familiarities).
12 point Overall Skill Levels, 10 point All Non-Combat Skill Levels, and 6 point All Magecraft Skill Levels can be used to improve Spell Skill rolls (except for 1 point Spell Skill Familiarities).
There are a number of restrictions and optional restrictions which apply to this type of Magic Use, as follows.
The HERO System generally doesn't set arbitrary duration limits; unless a Power Construct self-limits, an END cost can no longer be paid, or so forth an effect might reasonably be "on" indefinitely.
To curb potential abuses and maintain game balance, it is assumed that a Magecraft spell that does not have a well-defined or obvious duration cannot have a duration that exceeds 1 time increment + 1 additional time increment per level of success made on the skill roll to cast that spell. For combat spells the time increment will generally be a Turn, for non-combat spells the time increment is generally a Minute or perhaps an Hour for relatively minor effects.
Exceptions to this rule of thumb can be negotiated on a case by case basis to model a given effect.
By default, a practitioner of Magecraft is allowed to purchase their Skill Rolls as high as they wish to (and can afford the character points for); though regardless of how high of a skill roll a character has a "natural" 18 is always a failure per the standard HERO System skill resolution rules.
However, some GM's may wish to limit the Magic System by "soft capping" the skill roll, which is to say that no matter what a character's modified skill roll actually is, it is treated as being no higher than some value. Some GM's might cap at 17- (which is already implicit as a skill roll of 18 always fails), others might set a lower bar such as 16-, 15-, 14-, or even lower. This is a matter of personal preference and intended severity.
For instance, Bob the GM decides to institute a soft cap for Magecraft of 16- in his campaign. One of the PC's, a Mage named Nur-fed, has a Spell Skill that would normally be 21- after applying the Real Cost penalties and thus practically guaranteed to succeed (failing only on an "18" under normal circumstances); however due to the soft cap in effect the skill roll cannot be better than 16-.
This option is NOT in effect in my campaigns unless explicitly turned on for a given setting.
There is no upper limit on the number of Spell Skills a Magician can know; they can have as many as they can afford. However due to the efficiency of the Magic System at the lower end there is a minimum requirement (to discourage dabbling). This option is in effect in my campaigns unless specifically turned off for a given setting.
In order to be a Magician and use Magician Spell Skills a character must have at least five (5) Spell Skills and spend at least 25 points on Spell Skills. Individual GM's may remove this restriction or replace it with some other arbitrary limit.
With new Characters this is easily achieved as part of the Character's design, but if a Character in-play decided that they wanted to become a Magician then they must first save up 25 Character Points in addition to any other in-game necessities of finding a mentor and spending enough time to learn the Spell Skills before they could become a Magician.
EXAMPLE: Vaelen is a Character that has been played for a while by Terry. Terry decides that he wants Vaelen to become a Magician, and consults with the campaigns GM. The GM agrees to allow it and thus in game Vaelen seeks out and makes an arrangement with a Magician mentor and begins to learn the ways of Magecraft, but until Vaelen has 25 Experience Points available to "buy into" Magecraft all he can do is "study and practice" in game. Once Vaelen has acquired the necessary Experience Points and put in the required time to learn his initial complement of Spell Skills, it all sets in and he is able to use his Magecraft Spells.
Magic Spells have very broad Special Effects. In addition to any specific SFX that a particular Spell might have such Electricity for a Lightning Bolt Spell or Fire for Flamebolt Spell, all Magic Spells also automatically have the additional SFX of Magic, plus either Arcane or Divine (Generally Arcane for systems based on Magecraft, but not necessarily), and the type of Magic (Magecraft) as additional SFX. These mandatory SFX cannot be altered by any means, including Variable Special Effects.
Thus an Arcane Magic Magecraft Spell is always recognizable and interactable with as Arcane Magecraft Magic by the appropriate detects, senses, and Adjustment Powers.
Additionally all of the Spells cast by a particular Magician have a "signature" that identifies the Spell as theirs and that can be interacted with by other Spells. A Magician can attempt to "disguise" their signature when they use a Spell Skill; to do so they declare their intent and take an additional -2 penalty to their Spell Skill roll. Penalty Skill Levels cannot be purchased to offset this penalty, but Skill levels can be.
EXAMPLE: Vaelen casts Jolting Arc: RKA 2d6 (vs. ED), AOE (3" Any Area; +1) (60 Active Points); No Range (-1/2), Gestures (Requires both hands; -1/2), Extra Time (Delayed Phase, -1/4), Incantations (-1/4), Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4) (uses END Reserve). This Spell as cast by him has the following SFX: Electricity, Arcane Magic, Magecraft and is also recognizable as having been cast by Vaelen.
Triggers deserve a special mention in conjunction with this Magic System. It is expected to be fairly common for Magicians to have Triggers using Command Words as part of some of their Spell Skill's Power Constructs, allowing them to basically cast a Spell earlier in a given day when it is convenient and float the Spell Effect until it is needed later.
In moderation this usage of Triggered effects is an acceptable and even desirable aspect of this Magic System. However if not restricted, it is open to abuse by unscrupulous players. Thus as a Campaign Groundrule a Magician may only have one Trigger active for a given Spell Skill at any time.
It should be pointed out that it is common for people to forget that all Advantages built into a Power Construct must be used when that Power Construct is activated. Thus unless a Power Construct is designed somewhat unusually it normally is only usable via it's Trigger mode. It. Effectively this means that in most circumstances if a Magician as a Trigger active for a Spell Skill they must use that prepared Trigger before using the same Spell Skill again.
EXAMPLE: Doran Murfon has a Spell Skill for the following Power Construct, which uses a Trigger:
Prepared Jolt: RKA 4d6 (vs. ED), Trigger (Command Word; +1/4) (75 Active Points); Gestures (Requires both hands; -1/2), Extra Time (Delayed Phase, -1/4), Incantations (-1/4), Concentration (1/2 DCV; -1/4) (uses END Reserve)
The "Trigger (Command Word; +1/4)" means that Doran can do things like make a Spell Skill roll in relative safety in the morning and paying the END cost, and then let the effect "hang" until he activates the Trigger later.
This basically means he starts altercations later in the day with a "free" attack effect that can be activated as a 0 Phase Action. Additionally, his END expenditure will have likely recovered in the meantime, and he doesn't have to risk failing a Spell Skill roll when it really matter.
This is a very important consideration for this style of Magic. For instance, if Doran had several different Triggered Attack Spells he could  potentially "float" them all in the morning and then activate them all at once at the very beginning of an encounter for a Fantasy version of an "Alpha Strike".
As this Magic System is skill based, as an optional restriction Magiciancs may suffer from situational skill roll penalties. The adjoining table has some example penalties appropriate for Magecraft. This option is in effect in my campaigns unless specifically turned off for a given setting.
By default practitioners of Magecraft can use Armor, but to avoid so-called "tank mages" a GM might optionally choose to impose Spellcasting penalties for doing so as indicated by the following table. This option is in effect in my campaigns unless specifically turned off for a given setting.
All penalties are cumulative; thus wearing Light Armor, Gauntlets, and a Shield would result in a net -3 penalty to all Spell Skill rolls, while wearing Fully Enclosed Plate with Gauntlets would result in a net -6 penalty.
Magic Skill Penalties for Wearing Armor
(All penalties are cumulative)
Light -1 to Spell Skill Check
Medium -2 to Spell Skill Check
Heavy -3 to Spell Skill Check
Shield -1 to Spell Skill Check
Tower Shield -4 to Spell Skill Check
Gauntlets -1 to Spell Skill Check
Fully Enclosed -2 to Spell Skill Check
Penalty Skill Levels can be purchased at the 3 point level to offset these penalties for all Spell Skill rolls.
PSL: Offset Armor Casting Penalties With All Spell Skills
Real Cost: 3 points per level
There are some limitations on the design of Power Constructs (Spells) used with this Magic System, as described below.
Magecraft Spell Design Restrictions
  • No Spell may be on Charges
  • No Spell may have No Conscious Control (NCC)
  • No Spell may be Independent
  • No Spell may have an Activation Roll
  • All Spells must either cost END by default or take the "Costs END" Limitation
    • Spells may take Reduced END
    • Spells may take "Costs END Only to Activate" where allowed by the rules normally
      • All Costs END only to Activate Spells must have a defined termination, expressed either as a duration or a specific and reasonably common event
    • Spells may be built with Reduced Endurance (0 Endurance), but must take a Side Effect that always occurs automatically whenever the Power is used (Costs AP/10 In END When Cast) as a  -1/2 Limitation.
  • Spells may not be imbedded in a Universal Focus, but a Personal Focus required for activation is allowed
  • All Spells must have at least -1/2 in Limitations
  • No Spell can Require a Skill Roll to be cast; the Spell Skill itself serves this purpose.
    • A Spell may Require an additional Skill Roll other than the corresponding Spell Skill to take effect.
Magecraft is incompatible with Charges of any sort, No Conscious Control, and Independent. Magecraft Spells may not be built using any of these Limitations.
The single greatest restriction on this Magic System is that all Spells must cost Endurance to activate. This serves to restrict the frequency of Magic Use over a short term period, such as combat scenes, but grants practitioners of Magecraft the ability to take part in multiple encounters over the course of a day.
It also prevents or discourages certain Power Constructs from being used by Magicians due to mechanical conflicts or inefficiency. Note however that Magicians that have END Reserves can get around many of the inconveniences the mandatory END costs.
Continuing or Constant Spells are possible with Magecraft but unless they only cost END to activate they will deplete the Magician's END quickly.
Magecraft is an internal sort of Magic and thus Universal Foci are inappropriate. There is no way to "take away" the Magic of Magecraft Spell Skills by absconding with an inanimate object, and similarly a Magician cannot just lend out a gizmo that allows someone else to use a Spell Skill. However Personal Foci are permitted (though not encouraged).
All Spells must have a minimum of -1/2 in Limitations upon them. Common choices are Incantations, Gestures, Extra Time, and Concentration, but any Limitation that is not specifically restricted is sufficient, subject to GM veto.
All Spells require a Skill Roll with the Spell Skill itself to be cast for no Limitation value. No Spell may take the Required Skill Roll Limitation on a Power Construct to indicate the associated Spell Skill, but RSR may be used to indicate that other Skill or Characteristic Rolls are required in conjunction with a Spell Skill roll.
Magicians do not create Magic Items; their Magic is far too personal for that.