Jen and I are gearing up to run a vaguely Mage-style modern occult campaign using the FATE playtest rules. Which means we need a quickly homebrewed system for freeform magic!
So provided for your enjoyment and mine is an adaptation of the spectacular Dragonlance: The Fifth Age freeform magic system into FATE. This provides a framework for your players to quickly design their own spells, using the FATE rules.
I’ve included design notes, explanations, and optional rules in Italics throughout the rules.
Magic-User (Stunt) (Feel free to flavor the name to taste)
You may spend a Fate Point to attempt to mystically bend the laws of reality.
(Phrasing this as a Stunt that requires a Fate Point simulates Dragonlance’s dual requirements on spellcasters—that they have exceptionally well trained mental attributes and a set pool of spell points available per day—without adding any new subsystems to the game itself)
Designing a Spell
Magic is a complex, mercurial process, different for each person who uses it. Therefore, rather than set spell lists, you’ll design every spell you want to use on the fly, based on five key descriptors (Invocation time, Range, Duration, Area of Effect, and Effect).
Once you’ve decided what you want your spell to do, consult the sections below. They provide an opposition level associated with each of the categories you’ve laid out—so the more powerful the spell, the more difficult it is to conjure into reality.
Then, once you’ve got the difficulty associated with your spell, you’ll attempt a Mystic Lore skill check to see if the spell you cast is successful.
(Optionally, you may instill additional skills based on fields of magic—Necromancy, Time magic, Evocation—or even just a dedicated Magic skill, and require rolls to be made with that.)
Category One: Invocation Time
Is your spell a carefully-researched ritual, taking hours of careful research? Or is it cast on the fly when your back is to the wall?
The longer a magic-user spends preparing a spell, the more likely it is to succeed. The Devil is in the details, after all.
- 2 Hours: -4
- 1 Hour: -3
- 30 Minutes: -2
- 15 Minutes: -1
- 1 Minute: +0
- 1 Round: +1
- Instant: +2
Continue doubling the time required for each additional -1 shift (rounded down).
Category Two: Range
Does the magic of your spell crackle from your fingertips? Or is it felt across the world? The further your spell reaches, the more difficult it is to control.
- Melee Combat Range: +0 (You have the most control over the arcane when you can establish a physical connection with your target).
- Within the Same Zone: +1
- One Zone Away: +2
- Two Zones Away: +3
- Each additional zone: +1
Category 3: Duration
Is your spell over in a moment? Or does it last all night? (Stop snickering, you). Bending the laws of reality is a demanding process—and making changes stick around only makes it worse.
- Instant: +0 (most spells are over in an instant—stress is dealt or it isn’t, either you scare your foes or you don’t.)
- 1 round: +1
- 1 minute: +2
- 15 minutes: +3
- 30 minutes: +4
- 1 hour: +5
- 2 hours: +6
- 4 hours: +7
- Continue doubling the time required for each additional +1 shift (rounded up).
- Permanent: +20 (You can see why making a magic item is a big deal.)
Category Four: Area of Effect
Are you targeting a specific spot? Or are you blanketing the world in magic? The broader your target, the more difficult the spell is to accurately predict.
Target-based Area of Effect
- Single target: +0 (When you have a single target, it serves as a mystic totem, providing added focus, and lessening the difficulty of the spell)
- 2-3 targets: +1
- 5-10 targets: +2
- 11-20 targets: +3
- 21-40 targets: +4
- 41-80 targets: +5
- 81-160 targets: +6
- 161-320 targets: +7
- 321-640 targets: +8
Continue to double the number of targets for each additional +1 shift.
Distance-based Area of Effect
- Within arm’s reach: +0 (again, physical contact provides a mystic focus point)
- Across One Zone: +1
- Across Two Zones: +2
- Across Three Zones: +3
- Across Four Zones: +4
- Each additional zone: +1
Time-based Area of Effect
(This category is mainly used for scrying and related Divination spells)
- 1 minute: +1
- 1 hour: +2
- 1 day: +3
- 1 week: +4
- 1 month: +5
- 1 year: +6
- 1 decade: +7
- 1 century: +8
Category Five: Effect
Here’s the tricky one. Is your spell a killer, or a tickler? Does it heal or harm? There are a number of different ways to quantify exactly what your spell does, and how powerful it should be. Generally, though, we’ve tried to lump spells into two primary categories—how they would work out of combat, and how they’d work in combat.
- Fluff/No tangible effect: +0
- Troublesome/Creating or removing an Advantage/Aspect: +1
- Slightly Painful/1 Stress: +2
- Very Painful/2 Stress: +3*
- Dangerous/Mild Consequence: +4
- Crippling/Moderate Consequence: +5
- Incapacitating/Severe Consequence: +6
- Deadly/KO’d/Revived: +7
*For campaigns with higher stress limits, add additional options after this (3 stress: +5, 4 stress: +6, etc.), and increase the difficulties for consequences accordingly.
Magic Missile: Because you can’t have a proper wizard without it.
Invocation time:Instant (+2)
Range: One Zone away (+2)
Duration: Instant (+0)
Area of Effect: Single target (+0)
Effect: 1 stress (+2)
Total Difficulty: 6
Teleport: I want to design a ritual spell that will allow me to teleport into my archrival’s throne room to rescue the princess. So let’s follow the process:
Invocation time:I have a little time to spare—but not much. Let’s say a minute (+0).
Range: His throne room is roughly five zones away (+5).
Duration: Instant, obviously—either I teleport or I don’t (+0).
Area of Effect: Single target, myself (+0)
Effect: Since we covered the distance I’ll be travelling in the Range section, and I won’t be adding any advantages to my spell, we can leave this at Fluff. (+0)
Total Difficulty: +5 Now, if I had two hours to put together a spell circle (a -2 reduction to my Invocation Time), I could do it easily with a +3 difficulty.
Mystic Pizza Focus
As you can see, spells get very difficult very fast. Which is why many wizards have mystical focuses—a Staff, Summoning Circles, Special words and phrases, Spellbooks, and the like—to help them concentrate and put all their energy into the spell. These are simply represented by additional Aspects tied to your magic usage. These Aspects provide additional ways to pump Fate Points into spells, boosting your magical power when you need it most. Additionally, as always, these Aspects can provide prime ways to collect extra Fate Points through compels.
For example, Jack Lightning, urban necromancer, has “Only Read the Obituaries” as an Aspect. So when he needs to conjure a spirit (a +7 difficulty), he can tag that Aspect to give himself a +2 bonus, effectively lowering its difficulty to a +5—well within his limits with a +4 Necromancy skill.
However, later on, when planning an ambush on an opponent, he can compel that same Aspect, saying he had no idea the guy he was ambushing was the mayor—he only reads the Obituaries.
Often magic-users gather together, using their powers as one to achieve far greater results.
Multiple people with the Magic-User stunt may assist one another with the associated Arcane Lore check, just as they would with any other skill.