Monday, January 21, 2013

Magic Systems: Art or Obsession?

Why are so many gamers obsessed with having a "magic system" in FATE Core? After the Magic System Toolbox preview was published, a chorus of voices demanded a "generic" magic system. I don't get it. A magic system serves a purpose in Dungeons & Dragons, in GURPS or whatever crunchy system you prefer.
Usually, the purpose of the magic system is making a character more powerful or breaking the game rules. Also, usually it doesn't mesh very well with the rest of the system: low-level wizards are cannon-fodder compared to a low-level fighter, and that supposedly makes up for a reversed situation at higher levels. But in reality it doesn't.

FATE Core doesn't emulate physics, it emulates story. FATE Points, aspects, stunts and skills lend your character weight in the story. They only remotely relate to physics. An aspect can be invoked or compelled, stunts add a new action to a skill or add a bonus to an action or create a rules exception, skills let you overcome an obstacle or create an advantage or attack or defend. These are the narrative currencies of the game. This way, each character gets to be equally awesome. The Extras chapter in the FATE Core preview even talk about the costs of Extras in terms of aspects, skills or stunts/refresh. This abstract measure is used for balancing.

In my opinion you don't need a magic system. All magic can expressed in skills, stunts and aspects. The Magic System Toolkit goes on to illustrate that and even hands you systems for summoning, something the FATE Core rules don't really hint at.

In FATE Core, magic shouldn't be an excuse to be more awesome or rules-breaky than everyone else, because FATE Core allows you to create characters with the same narrative weight. An eloborate system also tends to add complexity on top of a simple and elegant system. A real magic system with bells, whistles and complexity only makes sense, if the campaign revolves around magic and magic-using people like witches, wizard & superheroes. Because then, you need to differentiate between the magic-users or they will all feel pretty much the same. In all other circumstances, it is enough to define the magic the character uses (as opposed to a whole system) or the group sees in action (usually by fighting enemy spellcasters). That can be handled easily with aspects, skills and stunts without need of a complex system.

Just my 0.02 €

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