Thursday, February 18, 2010

Magic in Cortex, Savage Worlds and Witch Girls Adventures

This is part two of my deep delve into the magic systems of some of the games I like, in particular Cortex, Unisystem and Savage Worlds.

So. I am currently re-doing the magic system for an RPG and trying not to plagiarize myself from other games and it has me thinking.

Why don't Savage Worlds or Cortex have better magic systems?

I'll be 100% honest here, I am not a huge fan of Savage Worlds, but I do see the attraction and why it is a good game. So it is likely that there is something out there and I just haven't found it yet. I do however own every Cortex book there is (and I love the Supernatural RPG) and I usually left feeling a little underwhelmed when it comes to magic. This seems a touch odd really, given the people that worked on it and games that have come out for it. Ok, to be fair, none of the games are trying to be the next Mage or WitchCraftRPG.

Reading over both games I am struck with many of the similarities (yes there are lots of differences too, but I want to talk about them in general) they share. No surprise really. Both are products of post-d20 game design and both take the best aspects (in their author's opinions) of games that came before. Both attempt to fill the same need that GURPS, True 20 or Unisystem fills for others. Maybe that is why I am not all "ZOMG THIS IS TEH BEST GAEM EVAR!!!!" about them. Yeah they are really, really good. But they are missing something critical for me. A good magic system.

Now Savage Worlds presents a system that is designed to be used with Magic, Psionics, Mad/Weird Science or Supers. It does work and it has a nice streamlined design that I do like. In fact it really is the first game where I felt Mad Science was a great option (I disliked it in both Mage and Buffy). Cortex is more of toolkit approach in the core where the author actively supports you building a system on your own. Why thank you Jamie! I think I might just have to do that. ;)

I have made attempts over the last year to port the Ghosts of Albion magic system over to varying degrees of success (and failure). The process is simple really. Pick an attribute (typically a mental one), add an Edge (SW: such as "Arcane Background") or Asset (Cortex), combined with a skill (Savage Worlds suggests "Spellcasting" or "faith") and compare that to some target number, usually modified by the spell difficulty. Not really that hard. The system out of the box for Savage Worlds is most similar in concept to WitchCraft, where Arcane Background functions as The Gift. Then this allows you to buy more powers (Edges) that are used as spells. In Ghosts of Albion spells are not Edges, Assets or Qualities, they are things you can buy or acquire, typically via the Occult Library Quality. This frees up those character creation points, but makes for very specific effects. "Fireball" does just that, but a "Fire Manipulation" power can be at low levels effecting a normal flame or a fireball at higher ones. Arcane books then in this system then become more how-to-guides and training rather than recipes for spells. Good for WitchCraft RPG and Witch Girls Adventures, bad for Charmed, Buffy and Ghosts of Albion.

So I have to take a different approach.

So should "Spells" be Powers? Yes. I think that much is clear. Given the point economies of both systems spending a ton of points on individual effect spells will take forever. Of course that is if I am doing something like Charmed. If I stick with something like Supernatural then maybe that is fine.

There needs to be a trait (Edge, Asset, Quality or even Attribute) that grants power to perform magic. Like the Gift or Magic. It is tied to a skill, called Spellcasting or Arcana maybe. The skill then can be how you increase your personal power. Of course the Magic trait can also have levels to represent raw power and even something like Mana/Essence points. Currently neither game offers something exactly like this. But Witch Girls Adventures does.

Witch Girls Adventures is fun game I picked up over the summer and have been having quite a bit of fun with. So before I build a new magic system, let's see how one ported over might work.

WGA has a Magic attribute that typically starts out at d8 for most characters, though some have d10. Remember, this is a magic heavy game. Let's translate that to a Magic Edge/Asset. The first level you can buy is d4 and it can move up. WGA also has the Spellcasting skill. Let's move that over as well.
The basic Cortex formula then is Magic + Spellcasting and compare vs Target number. It's a simple system. WGA also various spells/powers that can be bought or learned. We can also use the basic Zap Point mechanic.

Savage Worlds is a bit different. It's power system compares your level (Novice, Seasoned, Veteran…) and then subtracts power points. In WGA every spell has a level, 1 to 6 typically, and those might correspond to SW levels. So Novice can be levels 1-2, Seasoned 3, Veteran 4, Heroic 5 and up. The power Points loss is equal to twice the WGA level. You can still take the different magical "Schools" and break them out into skills. It might even make sense to create a Magic Attribute (just like WGA) and have it ranked d4 and up and purchase the magical skills (WGA schools) just like one does normally in SW. A magic roll then is a Skill roll (plus the Wild Die for Wild Cards) compared to the TN, and then add in any raises. I would also give magic using characters power points equal to twice their Magic Attribute die. So a d4 has 8, a d8 has 16 and so on, just like Witch Girls Zap points.

I like this for Cortex, but not convinced it is any better or worse than what Savage Worlds already has now. What is does give Savage Worlds is more variety to its magic system. Like Unisystem, Savage Worlds has carved out a niche for itself and it works well in that niche. It's Pulpy with "Bigger Than Life Heroes!" and maybe not the high magic hijinks one would see in Ghosts of Albion or Mage.

I have a couple more ideas to test this out, maybe finally bringing to life that Charmed RPG I have been dying to do for years.


Oz said...

One thing that would make something like Charmed easier is that each witch had a Power that could be used easily (no chanting or rituals), and then the general magic was rituals.

In Cortex, depending on how you wanted magic to work, you would have specializations - i.e. Witchcraft/Potions, Witchcraft/Banishment, Witchcraft/Scrying, etc.. While using one's Power might be Power + Attribute (say Telekinesis plus Alertness), ritualized magic could involve Skill + Attribute, i.e.. researching a banishing would be Intelligence + Witchcraft/Banishment while casting it would be Willpower + Witchcraft Banishment. It might even require an extended task.

~HANZO~ said...

I think Cortex doesn't have a deeper magic system because it hasn't needed one. Nothing for it so far has been magic heavy. Supernatural has a glance here or there about spells but is rarely the focus of a show or of the show its self.

Savage worlds Evolved from a minis game. Noting in it is more evident of that then its magic system in my opinion. After playing a lot of savage worlds I think the magic system was one of the things my group felt most let down by.

Although I think your suggestions sound like a good fix I'm weary of the idea of working a new system for savage worlds because most the time two things come from it.

Either it turns into just another skill roll which is boring, Or you end up with a system that is twice as complicated as anything else in its bare bones system that is savageworlds.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Oz: Thanks for the ideas.

One day. One day I'll write it. ;)

~HANZO~: there is just something about SW I just don't like. I can't put my finger on it. It is a great system and I know people love it. It just didn't click with me.