Manaburst Research – Trappings of Magic

Although I haven’t been writing much about it, I’ve been making some notes on how I plan on using the Spirit of the Century system to run a Magic: the Gathering-inspired campaign for my group that I’ve previously mentioned.  One of the unknowns I since the beginning is how to handle magic – a decision made harder since I really have no idea how magic works in MtG’s Multiverse.

Sure, that card game has its mana-powered magic, but it’s made for a turn-based card game and can be considered slower and less fluid than I’d like for our campaign.  I still had two questions to answer before I could design my magic system: how exactly does one gain and spend Mana, and does summoning pull a preexisting creature to the summoner, or does it create a simulacrum.  To answer these I decided to ask WotC directly… so to speak

I’m a recovering Dragonlance fan and I haven’t read any game fiction in years, but I decided to dip back into the pool and pick up Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum, the most recent MtG novel.  Overall the experience was about as expected – the story was pretty slow and none of the main characters were really likable – but I was able to get what I was looking for out of the book and have decided how to handle the three main aspects I had questions about.

Mana Pools/Use

I knew early on that I didn’t want to make magic a multi-part process, where a character has to access mana somehow for each separate spell.  So when one of the main characters in Teeth described needing to rest to replenish her mana for more intricate sorceries, I found basis to apply a pool-type mechanic into the game where mana is stored and used over time until time is spent replenishing a supply.  Right now I’m leaning towards adding a stress track to be consumed through spell use.  If the character exceeds the track, they would start suffering Consequences that could make spellcasting and/or recovering mana more difficult.

The only outstanding issue is how close  I want to match the game.  My preferences would be to have a single stress track for all mana, but it would make more “in world” sense to have each color of magic be its own track.   In order to make a multi-color mage less enticing, I’m probably going to have to penalize all of a character’s pools if they have more than one – perhaps rationalize it along the lines of that the body can only contain so much mana at a time.

Summoning

I was worried at first about summoning in general, mainly because I wanted to keep it simple and without moral issues.  I didn’t want players to worry about pulling guardsmen from their families at night and getting them killed, or effectively causing a breed of animals to go extinct by their efforts.  Sure, there are many possible story elements that could accompany those issues but they aren’t issues I want the game to be about.

Instead I’m going to go with how I interpreted how summoning worked in the novel, and have planeswalkers craft mana into facsimiles of what they’re summoning.  Instead of pulling a Lion or a Vampire or a Merman from somewhere, the summoner uses their magic to create a manifestation of the idea of the creature type in question.

Planeswalking

This one is where I’m really going to have to diverge from the source material.  In Teeth, mention is made of the ability to planeswalk at any time.  And although a reason is given during the expedition that takes place in the book isn’t done using magic flight, there’s no rationale as to why the characters couldn’t planeswalk to another plane, then planeswalk back where they wanted to go.

I don’t want planewalking to be the get-out-of-jail free card, nor do I want it to be the solution to every problem, escape from every danger, or the like.  I want the characters’ journey to be part of the game, and giving them the ability to sidestep that or simply bypass entire planes at will is counter to how I want the game to run.

So instead I’m going to restrict planewalking to be along set connections between the planes.  Characters will not be able to go wherever they want simply at will – they will have to travel across some planes to get to others, and will have to find specific places of power to actually planeswalk.  I already have some explanations for the restricted travel in mind, but like so much else in the campaign it’s going to be adjusted according to the background the players create for their characters.

With the so-called metaphysics of spellcraft set, the only thing that’s left is the actual system design.  Spirit of the Century is flexible enough I should be able to create a few plug-in systems for what I want with little difficulty.  I already have some rough ideas sketched out; I’ll be posting the details as I get them nailed down.

Unless something else comes up, I’ll be starting this campaign when our current one ends some time in October, when that game’s gamemaster moves away.  That leaves me with plenty of time to make sure everything’s finalized, but with none of the players having any experience with FATE I want to make sure that I have plenty of resources and cheatsheets ready so the game isn’t slowed down by the new system.

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