Dev Update: Freeform Magic (WIP Bare Knuckle Edition)

Okay, the first draft of the new magic system is done-ish. EDIT: this is a "Work in Progress" style draft - there's still much to do. It's rough and needs editing and polishing. It's probably incoherent at this point to anyone but me. So tomorrow I will start work on the presentation and streamline it.

There are connecting paragraphs missing still, and the whole thing needs organization. I also plan to add a list of enumerated spell examples at the end. Here is the rough draft of the work in progress. The durations and effects are basically filler text at this point, which will probably see a lot of changes.

Freeform Magic

The casting of magic spells is part of some settings. This optional system can be used as a guideline for how to handle spellcasting. This system doesn’t include a list of “rote” spells. It is a flexible, contemporaneous system, though the GM and players should discuss the limitations of magic within the setting at hand. The GM should consider whether certain applications of magic should be banned or “gatekept” behind special perks.

These mechanics describe how to quickly adjudicate spells, but the final arbiter of what is possible to do with magic depends on the details of the setting.

In many settings, the use of spells will require that the caster has a perk, such as Sorcerer. In addition, the caster will need a particular skill, for example, “Spells” might be a Wit or a Charm skill depending on whether magic is dependent on knowing complex lore for the former, or depends on the caster’s force of will in the latter.

These rules will presume that the GM has designed a setting where “Spellcasting” is a Wit skill, but it should be trivial to adjust this to the particular of your game.

In this case, Spellcasting only works for characters who have the Sorcerer perk. It’s possible that in very-high magic settings, the GM might decide that a perk isn’t necessary to use magic, even if it remains true that not everyone can cast magic. This would mean that all player characters could use magic, and beyond that, only the NPCs that the GM grants that power.

Similarly, the GM might decide that it’s appropriate to offer spellcasting under different skills. Perhaps elementalism is a skill, conjuring is another, and so forth. Many “flavors” of magic might stand side by side or everything might be lumped into a single category.

Casting a Freeform Spell

The caster must first describe the intended effect of the spell. Spells should have a clear purpose and defined effect, and that effect should thematically make sense. For example, a caster might want to cast a “fire lash” at a target. The caster describes it as a whip made of flame, that erupts toward the target. That sounds like a damaging spell. There’s no reason for the spell to coincidentally have unrelated characteristics, like the ability to breathe water or to also heal a friend. Spells must remain along the theme defined in their descriptions.

The caster is not obligated to make the impromptu spell any more powerful than exactly what they need. For example, if last round they cast their fire lash spell at a target far away and needed a long range in order to reach the target, they can select a shorter range the next time they cast in order to attack a nearer target. Every spell may be independently calculated to take advantage of lesser needs.

Compare the base target number required for each component of the spell. Range, Duration, The highest TN is the base target number. For example, suppose that the character wants to cast a spell that will transform him into an ogre. In this setting, an ogre is a being one size bigger than a human.

When selecting the range, the choice is obvious. Since the caster is casting the spell on themselves, they choose “self” (TN5.)

When selecting duration, the caster has a choice. Since they need to keep the spell going, it must be sustainable or have a long automatic duration. Moderate (TN 15) would allow them to sustain the spell at the cost of incurring a multi-action penalty as long as they keep the spell sustained. Hard (TN20) will mean the spell persists without the need to be maintained for an hour or the remainder of the scene. Since the caster expects things to go poorly after the transformation, they choose the latter, Hard (TN 20) so that they don’t have to deal with the penalty when they are an ogre.

Choosing the target is easy. They are casting the spell on themself, so Very Simple (TN 5) is good enough.

Lastly, comes selecting the effect. This one is the most up to interpretation. The spell doesn’t cause damage or heal directly, so the caster ignores those charts. Looking at the non-damaging effects, they see that the description of Hard (TN 20) fits the bill exactly.

The TNs of the spell are 5, 20, 5, and 20. Since 20 is the highest number, that is the TN for the spell.

Optional Rule: Advanced calculation.

When calculating the TN of the spell, calculate base TN as normal. Look at the numbers remaining for the other 3 spell factors and add to or subtract from that TN as the chart below. 

Base 5 10 15 20 25 30

5         0 0 -1 -2 -3 -4

10         - +1 0 -1 -2 -3

15         - - +1 0 -1 -2

20         - - - +1 0 -1

25         - - - - +1 0

30         - - - - - +1

This chart adds +1 to the TN for each category that is the same level as the base TN, and takes 1 away for every level below that number. 0, or no modifier for the next level less difficult, -1 for the next, etc. The exception to this rule is that when a spell has a TN of 5 in every category, don’t calculate modifiers at all, the final TN will remain 5.

Looking at the ogre transformation spell example above, under this calculation, the base TN and associated TNs remain the same. The Base is TN 20 (the highest number.) There is another TN 20. The modifier for any TN equal to the base TN is +1, which is also shown on the chart. Next we have a Very Simple TN  5, which is three TN categories lower than Hard TN 20, or -2 according to the chart. (Remember that we count down three steps: “zero, minus one, minus two.”) We finally have another TN 5, which is another -2 modifier.

Base TN 20 +1 -2 -2 = 17. The final spell TN is 17.

This optional rule rewards careful selection of spell characteristics, but it takes more time, and the player might need the aid of a chart.


Very Simple (TN 5) Self/point blank/touch

Simple (TN 10) (5/10/30)

Moderate (TN 15) (10/30/100)

Hard (TN 20) Everything within line of sight counts as short range.

Very Hard (TN 25)  Any distance, beyond where the caster can see.


Very Simple (TN 5) Instantaneous

Simple (TN 10) Up to 1 round. The spell lasts until the caster’s next turn. It may not be sustained.

Moderate (TN 15) The spell persists as long as it is sustained (see below.)

Hard (TN 20) The spell persists for the remainder of the scene or up to 1 hour.

Very Hard (TN 25) The spell persists for up to one day.

Legendary (TN 30) The spell is permanent.


Very Simple (TN 5) The spell only targets the caster.

Simple (TN 10) The spell targets one being other than the caster or an object.

Moderate (TN 15) The spell targets everything in a small area of up to 5 paces across.

Hard (TN 20) The spell targets everything in an area up to 15 paces across.

Very Hard (TN 25) The spell targets everything in an area up to 30 paces across.

Non-Damage Effects

Non-damaging effects are the most difficult to adjudicate and require the most give and take between the player and gamemaster.

Very Simple (TN 5) The spell can produce obviously magical effects that can’t change or alter any target, or very minor abilities.

Simple (TN10) Minor abilities. Breathe water. See in the dark. Clumsy telekinesis.

Moderate (TN 15) Spells that control the mind or perception of another that may be sustained. Spells that enhance the target’s armor or combat ability.

Hard (TN 20) Spells that grant greater abilities. Flight. Transformation into a tough creature no more than one scale factor larger or smaller than the caster. Spells that control the mind or perception of one or more targets that last an entire scene.

Very Hard (TN 25) Spells that only the most skilled sorcerers can do. Minor abilities may be made permanent, but the sorcerer still must sustain the spell, so incurs a multi-action penalty until the caster allows the spell to lapse.

Legendary (TN 30) Resurrecting the dead. Time travel. Wish. Spells at this level may be made permanent without the caster sustaining them.

Damaging Effects

Simple (TN 10) Normal damage potential. As the casters attribute. (Wit if spellcasting is a Wit skill, Charm otherwise.)

Moderate (TN 15) Great damage potential. As the caster’s casting skill.

Damaging spells may be sustained, but this counts as one action every round as long as it’s sustained. Every round the damage is sustained, the caster must make another casting check at a TN 5 higher than the previous round. (This casting check is not a separate action. It is part of the action necessary to sustain the spell.)

Healing Effects

Very Simple (TN 5) Waking a sleeping character or returning an unconscious character to consciousness without healing them.

Simple (TN 10) Allowing the target a single check as natural healing.

Moderate (TN 15) Healing one wound level, automatically (the target doesn’t need to make a healing check)

Hard (TN 20) Healing two wound levels automatically (the target doesn’t need to make a healing check.)

Very Hard (TN 25) Healing 3 wound levels at once.

Gamemasters may want to limit the amount of magical healing a character can receive. A suggestion is that a character may only receive magical healing once per day (between scenes) and once per scene otherwise.

Rote Spells (Optional rule.)

Under this rule, characters can learn specific spells. Unlike the flexible casting rules above, the formula for the spell never changes. Characters learn two rote spells for every whole die in their casting skill. They may learn additional spells at a cost of 3 character points apiece.

These rote spells are easier to cast. It is recommended to use the optional advanced calculation rules to come up with the TN, then subtract 3 from that. As always, the GM should keep an eye out for spells that would break the game if abused. One way to help balance that can be to require the spell to be highly defined. For example our “ogre transformation spell” used an example above is exactly that - a spell that transforms the caster into an ogre. It doesn’t transform the caster into anything else other than an ogre, even if of similar size, because that’s how the player defined it. There’s no reason that the GM must be that specific, but if the spell seems to be near the edge of what’s going to break the game, (and there’s no reason an ogre transformation spell would in a high fantasy setting), being nit-picky and specific is a way to hem a spell in a bit.

Using our ogre transformations spell from the advanced calculation example above, the TN of this spell as a rote spell would be 17 - 3 = TN 14


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