Memory based magic system

Continuing the discussion from The 1980s Satanic Panic:

After reading about the magic system of Dragonraid in The 1980s Satanic Panic, I was thinking in creating a game with a similar magic system, where is the player to know and recite the spell, not the character.

This is something I would like to include in my game. I’m not sure about removing the “search” skill from the character sheet, though, because it is something different, given that characters probably have a different life experience and skillset than players (while, regarding magic, everything is made up and thus the “experience” of the character is in fact identical to the one of the player).

In fact, I’d base such a system on words, like the two described here:

Any other ideas or resources I could consult for creating such a game?

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About the search skill: My system, which lacks intellectual stats, does have traits representing things characters are good at. Alertness is one of them, and that contributes to searching. So does Second Sight (for invisible things, secret doors, and the like). But there is not a stat for Intelligence. That’s represented by individual traits. A woodsman is “smart” at survival whereas an alchemist is “smart” at identifying potions, to give two examples.

For word-based magic systems, there is Ars Magica’s system as the model. This was the first successful magic system using the verb-noun approach. It came out in 1987. I played it for a year or so in college and the system worked. This was not really a memory-based system, though. So I’d like to distinguish between memory systems and word-based systems (which can overlap).

Issues for word/memory-based magic systems come to mind:

  1. Which language is used? The language that is the medium of the game (such as English among Anglophone players)? A second language? A conlang (partial or complete)? Invented words with no underlying meaning? A complex order of ritual actions described by the player? Each option would have a different effect and interact with the game world differently.

Also, do the players need to pronounce the words correctly? What is the leeway of error in pronunciation? Who will teach them to pronounce sounds that they do not know natively? Where does mispronouncing verge into just getting it wrong?

  1. The D&D system (which I dislike) is already, to some degree, a memory-based magic system in that players of spell-users should know the effects of their spells (duration, range, conditions). You could make the burden of memory on players by requiring the players to memorize spell stats/effects to make a spell work, via a momentary quiz. E.g., “You cast fireball? Tell me the precise dimensions of the fireball effects.” If they get it wrong, it doesn’t work or misfires. In other words, you have to memorize your spells’ effects!

I’m still brainstorming on this.

Here’s my old Magic Words post from 2015 that might give you some more ideas for words (and a handy online perchance generator here).

I have a semi-similar system that uses Scrabble Tiles to cast “spells” in The Cunning Class I wrote for Whitehack, which could ostensibly be considered a “teaching” tool. I like that it’s prop based too :slight_smile:.

I’m still ruminating on how best to leverage Tangrams for the Vancian “Slot-based” magic system…

Brigandyne is a Warhammer-like system published in 2014 in which each spell has an associated formula, presented as a short rhyme. Recitation is strongly encouraged because it gives a bonus to spellcasting, which is doubled if the player uses an appropriately grandiose tone. It’s not mandatory though, but most players do it for the bonus, and it helps setting the mood.

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ktrey, did you get to try your Magic Words? I mean in the game, not in real life! Did players use it with you? What was the result: chaos or beauty? Or both?

I’ve used this system and variations a few times over the years, with a few different bases (B/X, Whitehack, etc).

It’s fun, but it does require a degree of negotiation that isn’t normally present in traditional, codified Spell List, games. It relies very heavily on Player Skill and Creative application/interpretation of the Words and what they “mean” so it might not work out for all tables, but I found it fun to see players think on their feet and come up with unusual solutions to problems that relied on “their words.”

My Quarrel & Fable has the players memorise the spells - each of which take the form of three letter codes

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Sean, I just downloaded your Quarrel & Fable. Thanks for mentioning it, or I would not have heard of it. It looks good, containing a lot of things I like, all bundled together (especially the FF base). Do you know of other FF hacks, besides Troika? My system is not so unlike this one, sprouting from the FF bough of the Tunnels & Trolls branch of fantasy gaming.

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There’s a second edition of Advanced Fighting Fantasy put out by Arion Games which has the official descendent lisence, though there’s mostly just supplemental detail rather than new rules development.

Scott Malthouse is working on some cool T&T derived stuff though — Echoes in the Labyrinth is a good place to look

Thanks, Sean. Here in the US, AFF1e was not really seen. I never saw it and I thought I knew all the games from that period. Anyway, I got Arion’s AFF2e to run games for my kids. Frankly, it was disappointing in editing, organization, and other things you want a book you pay for to have. But it inspired me. I just found Echoes of the Labyrinth, too! Thanks again.

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Please everybody stop being shy! If you made something cool (or even if your friends did, or you don’t really think that is cool) which is rules-compliant and relevant to the discussion, just link it. It will add to the discussion at hand and we will be happy to read it. :blush: