Bare Bones – RPG Magic Systems – Part 3

In an effort to be constructive rather than just critical, I’m dreaming up some alternatives to the standard “list of spells (gained by level up or purchase) that you can cast with MP” magic system that forms the standard for RPGs. If you want to read the prior systems, check out parts 1 and 2 (I’ll maybe post links here someday). Okay, time for another magic system.

System 3: Building Blocks

Like the interesting inputs, this is certainly not a unique idea (I’m sure the style system has been done in some way before as well, but I’m not familiar with an actual example). My favorite example of this system comes in with Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Spells in that game do use MP, but they are formed by choosing magic symbols to create the spell in the first place. Each symbol has a specific meaning, and combining multiple ones can result in interesting effects (though it’ll mostly be about your basic spells with a tone of power symbols to make them stronger).

There’s a whole lot of interesting things you can do with those humble beginnings. You can eliminate the giant list of pre-built spells, and instead let players build the desired effect with each casting (element + damage + size of area or swap out damage for resistance, or weakness, or all sorts of things). Let the player have a list of favorites that they can fill out, letting them skip on building their most used spells, but give them the fun of assembling everything else (discovery by trial and error would be a lot of fun in this sort of system).

If you want to gate access to certain levels of spells, you don’t have to release a huge batch of new spells over the course of several levels (or locations) – just grant access to the new power level building block. Want to limit the amount of modifiers they can put together? Make spells have their own syntax (for example: type + target + effect + other), and adding to that syntax prevents the spell from working. Or make the components tetromino structures that have to be arranged within a certain area – if it can’t fit, it can’t be combined and cast.

Here’s some points for a sample building block system:

* There’s no such thing as magic casting – there are powerful magical components in the world, but their power cannot be unlocked with simple words, motions, or intent. To use these magical components, they have to be assembled into bullets and fired with Casting Cannons.
* Each spell shell has a maximum capacity for components.
* Basic components determine type of spell (elemental or otherwise) and effect of spell (damage, healing, de/buffs).
* Larger cannons allow for larger shells (and thus more components for more powerful spells).
* As larger mixtures are put together, components can be combined to gain more powerful or unexpected effects.
* For an added bonus, components aren’t exhausted by using them – they are just temporarily drained, meaning the same spell can’t be fired multiple times in a row.

Depending on components and resultant effects, there’s a huge opportunity for interesting magic in the above sample. Actually, now that I’m looking at it, I really want to make a game using that system, if only so I can play it.

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