Skip Navigation Links
High Fantasy HERO
Campaign GuidelinesExpand Campaign Guidelines
Abilities / Spells / ItemsExpand Abilities / Spells / Items
Race PackagesExpand Race Packages
Profession PackagesExpand Profession Packages
PsionicsExpand Psionics
MagicExpand Magic
Shrike High FantasyExpand Shrike High Fantasy
Conversion Styles
D&DExpand D&D
WarhammerExpand Warhammer
World of Lone WolfExpand World of Lone Wolf
From Shadowcat
From eepjr24
From CorvenRen
From CourtFool
Misc Fantasy Characters
Contact Webmaster
Skip Navigation Links
Killer Shrike's Magic System Theory

Shrike Magic System Design

Magic Concepts Control Factors Balance Concepts System Schemas
Determining what is fair and balanced in a Magic System for a given campaign is a fine art and may require tinkering as a campaign progresses. When comparing two Magic Systems to one another there are many considerations to be made including the intended campaign paradigm they are meant for, flexibility vs. raw power, usability vs. cost, and so on.
This requires some careful thought on the part of the GM, perhaps with some play testing to determine which Magic Systems are suitable for their campaign and preferences and which ones are not. However there are a few rules of thumb which might prove to be useful when eyeballing Magic Systems.
  • A Magic System that favors consistency over raw power will have an overall greater effect on a setting and general game play than a similar system which favors power over consistency.
Take two otherwise identical systems, one of which requires Activation Rolls or RSR on all Power Constructs, and the other of which strictly forbids both.
The system with Activations or RSR's will be generally cheaper in Character Points than the other, allowing more abilities, or higher Active Point abilities, or a combination of both to be bought on the same total points.
However, the system with abilities that work 100% of the time will have a statistically greater impact on a game over a long enough time period of usage.
  • A Magic System that does not have a finite number of uses or significant limit on the frequency of usage will be generally be more useful and have more impact on a campaign than a system that has a finite or strict limit on usage over the course of a time bracket if the GM has more than one encounter per "game day"
  • If the GM typically only has one encounter per "game day" the practitioner with a finite limit of effects might be more effective than the unrestricted practitioner if their finite usage is otherwise effortless.
Take two otherwise identical systems, one of which is based on END and the other based on Charges. The Charge based system is more "fire and forget" and can have some very powerful Spells that once activated don't require maintenance and which are also likely very cheap unless they have a very large number of Charges or are particularly long lasting. If the GM tend to have a single encounter per game Day the practitioner of this type of system will be mighty indeed, as they can safely go all out with their cheap "fire & forget" abilities. However, a practitioner of the other system using an END Reserve or even personal END will have more impact on the game overall if the GM has more than one encounter per game day, as they will have time to REC their END and be fresh for the next encounter in most cases.
  • A Magic System that is inexpensive will have practitioners that are overall more well rounded and thus subjectively play out "more powerful" than a system that is objectively superior in terms of Active Points, effect, or breadth of abilities but greater cost.
Take two different systems, one VPP based and the other EC based.
The practitioner of the VPP System has the capacity to use a broad range of highly specific finely-combed abilities, but their VPP requires constant pumping of Character Points to grow; and to increase his overall Active Point limit with one ability he has to expand the entire VPP.
The EC based practitioner starts the game with an Attack ability, a Defense ability, and a Movement ability in their EC; overall their abilities cost less than the VPP based Characters, and with their extra points they buy another point of  SPEED, some Skills, and a couple of 2 point OCV Levels with their Attack ability.
While the VPP based practitioner is objectively the better Magic User of the two, the EC based practitioner might be the more effective character in real terms.
  • A Magic System that has unrestricted effects and base Powers might have more impact on a setting than a system which is otherwise more advantageous but has restricted effects or base Powers.
Take two different systems, one of which has a flat cap of 60 Active Points on all Power Constructs but can use any base Power and can achieve any effect that can be bought on 60 AP, the other one of which has no AP limit but can't use a list of base Powers including any Stop Sign Power.
Of the two, the lower powered system that allows powers like EDM  or Resurrection or Desolid could have much more actual effect on a campaign than the system which does not allow such abilities, even though the individual abilities of the restricted system are more powerful in measurable effects.
  • A Magic System that has some effect on the environment, has random effects, or requires interaction with some other entity will have more impact on a campaign setting than a system which does not.
Take two otherwise identical systems, one of which requires the worship of a "deity" and adherence to a particular code of conduct, and one which does not. The Magic System that requires a deity has more impact on the setting of the game than the system that does not.
This deity must be detailed and integrated; further if it's part of a pantheon of polytheistic deities then they too must be detailed along with interactions between the deities and by extension mortal organizations dedicated to all of them; further some amount of back-story is necessary to "tie" the deities into the history of the setting and the current status quo of the world.
More mundane organizations or demographically based concepts have a similar effect. If a Magic System is based on the concept of inheritance then there is an entire sub strata of bloodlines, racial basis, migration, and so forth to consider. Similarly if a Magic System is based upon scholarly study rather than inborn talent, learning magic from tomes, and a proliferation of knowledge in a mentor to student fashion then it begs a sub-culture of learned masters, libraries, and perhaps colleges, guilds, or the like as well as some kind of social contract between mentor and student.
Similarly a Magic System that requires some unusual component(s) or energy source(s) to work impose on the GM a need to populate the setting with such components or energy sources, and to deal with any logical "ripple" or fallout effects of such proliferation. For instance a Magic System that relies on ambient energies requires the GM to define one or more types of ambient energies, determine how much a given area has at any particular moment, how quickly it recovers, and so forth. Logic ripples from there might include "camping" on spots with high ambient area, meta / tactical ideas like depleting an areas ambient energy to inconvenience opponents, and other related ideas.
Similarly a Magic System that requires eye of a basilisk tears of a terrasque type components have a corollary requirement for basilisks, terrasques, or what have you to exist; more extreme or conceptual components rather than physical components like souls or essences require a subset of rules concepts defining how to interact and collect such things. Magic Systems that are parasitic or otherwise have a negative effect upon others cause similar fallout; if a Magic System requires the life energies of others to fuel for instance, there would reasonably be social ramifications at the very least.
Systems that are reasonably self contained and don't impose assumptions upon a campaign setting will likely have much less impact upon the setting overall, regardless of the relative power of the Magic System with baggage and the Magic System without.
  • A Magic System that allows rapid gaining of new abilities can have more impact upon the game than a system which does not even if the rapidly gained new abilities are not very powerful in overall terms.
Take two different systems, one of which is very powerful in terms of effect, and the other one of which is weighted more towards functionality/utility.
The guidelines of the powered-up system makes it difficult to acquire new abilities, but the guidelines of the utility-oriented system allow a new minor ability to be acquired as quickly as every session or adventure depending on how often experience is awarded.
The GM has time to gauge the powered-up system's abilities and plan accordingly, but the utility system can add abilities so quickly and by extension probably has many more abilities overall that it can be very difficult for the GM to keep pace and take all of their abilities into account.
 The powered-up system's practitioner might roll more dice, but the utility-based practitioner might throw the GM's entire plotline out of whack with a single use of an overlooked ability and thus have more real impact on game play.
  • A Magic System that requires Limitations will be less expensive in terms of Real Cost than an unlimited Magic System and thus have more points left over for more abilities.
  • However a Magic System with abilities that can be freely activated will be more effective overall than a system that specifically restricts activation of abilities.
  • Systems that restrict activation of abilities are easier for a GM to plan for than those that allow abilities to be freely activated.
This one should be pretty obvious, but take two different systems, one of which requires that all abilities take 0 DCV concentration, and the other of which does not. The required Concentration Magic System is automatically rendered a primarily non-combat pursuit and heavily weighted towards utility and other non-combat abilities. Practitioners of this system will generally only use their abilities either when they feel safe or when they are doomed if they don't, which makes for a much more conservative and thus easier to predict Magic System.
The abilities of this Magic System cost literally half as much as they normally would, allowing practitioners to have twice as many Magical Abilities, or twice as powerful Magical Abilities for the same cost, or unrelated abilities that presumably make the Character more capable overall. In some regards this could make the Character more useful or broadly capable than the practitioner of the Magic System that does not have any initialization hindrances on it's abilities.
However, the unhindered Magic System always works, can be used whenever it seems fortuitous, and functions well in "heightened circumstances" without endangering the practitioner. Over a long enough period of time this sort of consistency can have an over all greater impact than the cost savings aspect of the hindered Magic System.