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18 July 2013 @ 08:30 pm
Dungeons & Design 10.5: Magic, Part 2  
I always forget something.

Effect-Based Spells vs Exception-Based Spells
Basically, this is the collision between a superhero-style powers system--or a True20 magic system--and a D&D-style many spells system. In an effect-based system, the powers are called things like "Blast" or "Armor" or "Element Control," and everything beyond that either comes from changing the flavor. Want a fireball? Add the fire tag to Blast (if the system supports it), or otherwise just say it's a fireball. Want an iceball? See fireball. Exception-based systems are like D&D, where instead of Blast you have Fireball and Delayed Blast Fireball and Ice Storm and Melf's Minute Meteors and Meteor Swarm and Burning Hands and and and.

Neither of these is automatically better. Effect-based systems reduce the number of possible rules collisions or edge cases that break things and make it relatively easy to include new powers without having to write a bunch of text. Exception-based systems have much greater variety and avoid the problem where powers start feeling samey--finding a scroll so your wizard can finally learn Meteor Swarm is way more exciting than finding a scroll so you can finally learn Blast +2, Fire. It's really the same as the D&D magic items debate: a +5 sword is boring, but Stormbringer is awesome.

Having read Runequest 6e, I'll probably cheat and take their approach. It's built on an effect-based system, but it specifically says you should tailor the magic to the group that has it. A necromancer with the Wrack spell causes the flesh to rot off their target's bones, but can't use it on undead or inorganic targets. A pyromancer hurls a ball of flame that sets the target on fire, but also their surroundings. This does mean that some groups' versions of spells will simply be better than others, but I'm not sure that's a problem. It also requires some work, but not as much work as converting dozens or hundreds of D&D spells to mesh with a lower-hit-point system and new way of calculating damage. The Grim 'n' Gritty rules don't even try--they basically say, "Either magic is really limited or non-casters die."

You might think this is just asking people not to look behind the curtain, and in a way it is, but I've already tried it with spells in the DELTA GREEN game I'm running and it works pretty well there. The one character who keeps copying and poring through the ancient tomes and mad cultist's scrawlings they confiscate has found what mechnically is the same spell more than once, with a different name and some different ingredients and ritual steps listed each time. Which one is right? Is either of them? Well, he hasn't cast the spell yet, and if he does, I'll put on the viking hat.
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