Alternative Magic System



I’ve been enjoying ICRPG and led a few games with it. But my son threw up his hands in frustration when trying to use the Dire Form only to learn there was only one Dire animal in the book and it didn’t make much sense for a beginner spell.

The magic system doesn’t feel well thought through and I have read many posts on this forum with great ideas to fix it. I here offer my own solution. It is only briefly playtested and probably needs much more tweaking but it incorporates some o the ideas from this forum. I would love feedback or to see other drop in replacement systems.

ICRPG magic house rules


Magic should be creative - It is not a repetitive set of spells. There should be no spamming fireball and magic missile

Magic should be flexible - It should be a tool for solving more than combat goals

Magic should be spectacular - when needed it should allow the caster to perform truly remarkable feats

Magic must be limited - It must come at a cost and used sparingly. Great magic should come at great cost.

Magic should be dangerous - It is a power that takes great skill not just to access but to control


There are domains or types of magic. At character creation one is chosen. Some creatures and objects are immune to some types of magic.

Advancement allows acquisition of a new magic domain or an increase in the level of the current domain.

Spells are not required. The caster describes what they are attempting to do based on the type of magic they wield. If they are attempting a level one spell it is roll to cast. A natural 1, they lose control of the magic and the results are chaotic. A natural 20, it is a critical hit and you add ultimate.

*This means that for beginning players the rules are even simpler than the basic system as they aren’t even tied to spells. But they are limited in power. If they want to gain power they have to advance.

Casting higher levels

Casting higher levels requires effort at one heart of effort per level. A caster who applies effort to casting a higher level cannot take a different action on their turn. If they are attacked they just have to take the damage. Hopefully they have allies who will protect them, or cast a shield or something. Multiple magic users can combine effort if the spell narratively matches the domains they are using. At the start of the turn the player decides to apply more effort or cast. If they cast it is a normal cast to roll. A natural 1 is a disaster. They lose control of the magic with much greater power. A natural 20 is a critical hit, they add as many ultimate damage dice as the level.

Level 4 is the highest level anyone has succeeded. Perhaps the DM might allow a caster to go even further in a dramatic moment.

Magical power

Each level increases the power of the previous level. A level 1 spell has d10+modifier, level 2 has 2d10+2modifier, Level 3 4d10+ 4modifier, level 4 6d10+6*modifier. Critical hits add the number of ultimates as the level cast. A most powerful level 4 spell with a modifier of 4 and a critical hit could do 60+24+72 = 156 damage. But that is incredibly unlikely. Average damage for that same situation would be about 30+24 = 54 damage. Still enough to one-shot just about anything. If caster hits 0 xp the magic explodes appropriate to its current level. On average it should take more than 4 turns to reach level 4, but lucky rolls might get you there in 3 turns.


After casting a higher level spell a caster cannot perform magic for 1, 3, or 5 turns based for levels 2, 3, and 4 respectively.

Domains of magic

This is mostly a flavor item. You could use examples from Magic the Gathering, or Avatar the last Airbender, or D&D, etc. I think a good approach is to have the player define their domain and leave it as a mysterious thing that there may be other domains not yet discovered.


Spells become more as they should be, a reference for what worked in the past. After a successful spell the player can write down what they did, the level they cast it and the effect it had (this would be in accordance to what the DM agreed was reasonable for that spell level). The user could expect a similar attempt to achieve similar results.

For example:


Level 1

Restore (1d10 + Modifier of HP)/2

Magic shield

Level 1

Surround yourself or another with a magic shield that absorbs 1d10+modifier damage


Level 2

Transform into a really mean bear with 3 hearts. When HP is depleted or when caster chooses reverts to original form with previous HP. After 1d8 turns caster must return to original form.

Guns and their Use

Firstly what you have for your table looks good.
Have you explored Advanced Magic?

I landed here with ICRPG after an exhaustive exploration of other game systems and rules because I was looking for more wonderous and free-form magic.

While the core magic is a codified method of play, I have come to the realization that GMs should be modding these core concepts presented in the book for their own table.

For example, my table’s magic system uses mana points and every caster starts the game with 1 mote (10 mana). All spells cost 1 mana per Tier of spell they are, and there are 4 tiers of magic. A character may also increase the cost of the spell to use modifiers which can change the spell to affect multiple targets, counter other spells, ignore interruptions, or even use multiple words of power in a blended spell. When a player does not have the mana to cast a spell they may still attempt to cast the spell but any mana cost left over comes out of their HP, which makes it dangerous to cast higher-level magic. It should be noted that running out of mana is a really bad thing as the character becomes MANA SICK, and casting becomes very difficult and costly.

Mana Sickness - All casting actions are HARD, this can not be circumvented. You are unable to recover mana and must rest a number of days equal to the number of Motes in your personal mana pool to end your Mana Sickness.

It should be noted that my game employs Word magic, where casters learn and know specific words of power. And how they describe the spell using that word is as important as what the spell can do.

The tier of a spell also makes it more difficult to cast, the base difficulty is equal to the Target Number of the room, then for each Tier of spell power, the Target increases by 1. Yes, my players still roll to cast spells even with a spell point system because anyone can botch an incantation, pronunciation, or translation.

[edit] Forgot to include my list of commonly known power word pairs. Casters start out knowing a specific pair of words from the list below. Casters must spend Milestone rewards to learn additional words but may only do so after they have earned their Tier 2 access in both of their stater words. Casters may only learn a number of additional power words equal to the tier rating of their Starter Words, assuming they have gained access to Tier 4 in both words they may have 8 additional words of power.

Words of Power

  • Divination \ Time
  • Beast \ Blight
  • Fire \ Life
  • Shadow \ Mind
  • Plant \ Earth
  • Air \ Lightning
  • Force \ Enhance
  • Shape \ Summoning
  • Light \ Dimension
  • Cold \ Death
  • Illusion \ Song
  • Destruction \ Diminish
  • Water \ Protection

Some may question this list but I do have lore reasons for my game world as to their pairings. Each pair is related to one of the constellations of my game world and in a way the gods or heroes of the ancient past.


I think this looks pretty good overall. I am, admittedly, very dumb when it comes to magic systems and try to keep things as simple as possible. The only thing that stands out to me , if i’m reading it correctly, is that you have to wait X amount of turns to cast the spell if it’s higher level and then also wait for exhaustion. I see how on paper having them together makes sense but I think both for the same system makes for too much wait time between spells. I also don’t want spells to get spammed but I think one or the other should be enough to handle it. That said, I think most people here use the Advanced Magic and have found a lot of success at their tables so give that a shot as well. I don’t run games for adults enough to necessitate it so beyond my gut feeling I can’t truly say one way or the other. I do really enjoy the rest and I love the idea of building up a powerful spell over multiple turns. (though could you dish out the damage of a 4 turn spell as you could blasting a 1 turn spell each turn? Not sure.)


Have you flushed this out any more? I am EXTREMELY interested in doing something along these lines.


I’ve made a similar free-form magic system in my campaign supplement. Check my post about Greek Mythology inspired resources.