Silly magic question of the month


So…what does an open magic system mean to you?

No wrong answers, just a point of interest for me.


Ironically, for me Open Magic is all about the guard rails, otherwise its just wish-granting. However broad the scope of influence or reality bending, there should be at least an X,Y axis of Cost / Scope. I need some boundaries for the sandbox - not for game balance or making sure a guy with a sword and magic user are comparable - but because HOW magic works is at least as interesting as WHAT it does (and is often more mysterious). Those boundaries provide incentive for creativity, help me build games that can be challenging and rewarding for the player and provide an opportunity for cooperative world-building, too!


For me it is that the exact limits of any given magical power are not codified. But I agree that it’s important that there still is some structure.

Whitehack has an interesting system that basically boils down to three rules:
Magic is paid for in hp.
The cost is relative to the magnitude.
Once a cost is set for a given spell, it won’t change.


I’m very much wanting to comment to these!!! But I don’t want to taint the sample…ugh!


What you could want is a simple formula: mana multiplied by might or something. So, when a player says:“I want to do this, or that!” All you have to do is blend that desire into a formula and give 'em a DC.
Of course, I’d say to put some risk to failing magical spells. So spellcasters have to actually consider if what they’re asking is too much of a risk…


Ok, I’m clarifying…”what does an open magic system mean to you” not how would you run or why not run an open magic system…

But I have some ideas, to do it simply…but my card idea last year seemed simple, and it overrode the game too much…


Whitehack is one of my favorites. Great call.


One of my favorite magic systems of all time was/is Ars Magica - you created spells by combining techniques and forms. Though I’m sure if I looked at it now it would not feels as fun as it did when I played it.

To me it has the right amount of openness while still having some structure


Open magic means being able to tinker together the effects I want quickly and effectively from a small number of modular bits that reward flavor rather than punishing you for it and are more interested in what your magical tradition is and how it works for you than trying to force you into a cookie cutter list of spells or templates.

So I have a character who’s a regular wizard–I can cast a d8 of whatever flavor of damaging effect I want, add or remove a d8 of effort from a task, be able to instantly move at my move speed ignoring obstacles. But now if I’m a dream mage or a plant mage I can do similar open ended things but if I tie them to my path of magic I can do them more cheaply.

That kind of thing?


For me open magic system is something with loose guidelines that allows players to invent cool magic effects on the fly.

I loved the aforementioned Ars Magica magic system which basically consists of [what you do] [to what you do it to]. For example Creo Ignem creates fire while Perdo Ignem puts out fire Etc. Really simple examples.

I also love the Sphere system of Ars Magicas sort of inheritor Mage the Ascension. There you have Spheres of influence that you control and your level of those areas decides what you can do with them. And of course having multiple Spheres allows you to combine them. It generally goes like so 1st level of sphere allows you to influence yourself in a way suitable to the Sphere, generally sensing things. Like Life Sphere 1 allows one to sense the presence of living things or someones health. 2 allows you to influence yourself in greater ways, Life 2 would allow you to heal yourself or do minor changes to your form, 3 allows you to do things of level 2 to others and make major changes to yourself etc.
For me it is very creative fun system.

Other fun and open magic systems are those found in Dark Ages: Fae and in Changeling the Dreaming 20th anniversary edition (which borroved heavily from the DA: Fae). These systems have more actual defined spells but allow you to go crazy with freeform magic, for a cost. But even the cost is mostly cool so it makes for amazing fun games.

Scion 2nd edition has a sort of open magic system, that is it has clear borders on what you can do and the freeform system in this one is generally weaker than actual learned ”spells” (of which you get only a few) and are limited to one use per scene. I kinda want to like it but it just is so limited compared to those above and especially with the limit of once per scene. I get such a limit might be needed for effects like causong a localized earthquake but it also applies form a spell to give you a minor boost for your investigation roll for example. Well it might also be that I am still just learning it and it’s limits.

Those are the ones I currently use the most so they pop right into my head when discussing these things but I am sure to miss something here.


In contemplating this occasionally I always run up on limitations vs costs.
Mana mechanics slows things down. I love cards listing effects and costs. But requiring accounting or even making it mini-game distracts from a primary game, but by doing that, give reason for magic users to see the world differently…kind of distracted, for their world is different.

It can add tone for the magic characters, but slows play for others, adding some GM bookkeeping…and I didn’t like the results.