Monday, February 13, 2006

High Fantasy Fudge, Part 2

"High Fantasy Fudge" consists of three independent parts: Character Creation, Magic, and Weapons. This is part two, Magic.

Are you tired of dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl and having to wait two years for your character to level up and become the hero you wanted him to be? Were you drawn to roleplaying because you wanted to participate in epic tales in the style of your favorite fantasy novels? "High Fantasy Fudge" is a build of the Fudge rules designed for this type of play. This article aims to recreate the feel of epic or literary fantasy, such as the worlds of Tolkien, Eddings, 1001 Arabian Nights, Homeric epics, or the legends of King Arthur. The character creation rules encourage strongly archetypal characters like Beowulf, Hercules, Merlin, or Robin Hood.


These rules present a set of guidelines for a generic magic system. Be sure to add spice and flavor to the system by choosing the parameters carefully and selecting colorful spells and abilities!

To create a magic-using character, you must select an appropriate Gift that explains your talents or background (e.g. "Feyborn," or "Trained by the Order of Wizards"). This gift grants you a Specialty that defines the nature of your training or talents (e.g. "Born Capable of Controlling Fire," or "Completed Elementary Education at Pigpimple's School of Wizardry" -- in the second case, the GM will need to work with the player to define a "training" gift.) In exchange, you should take a Fault. Ideally, this Fault will be related to the character's Gift. This could take the form of a geas, or a mark that ostracizes him or her from normal society.

A character gifted with magic gains a new Trait (or attribute) called "Wizardry," "Magical Aptitude," "Sorcery," or whatever seems most descriptive. It begins at a level of Terrible. Each Trait/attribute level spent on this attribute increases it by one level. A Specialty may also be "spent" to increase it by one level. In either case, two levels (or Specialties) are required per increase above Fair.

To widen the scope of the magical character's ability, Abilities or Specialties may be added on top of this basic talent:

A magical Specialty represents a broad field of knowledge or ability (e.g. "Fire Magic," "Song Magic," "Necromancy," "Telekinesis," "Potion-Brewing," etc). An additional Specialty may be purchased with one Trait level.

Abilities, on the other hand, are narrowly defined magical talents, like spells (e.g. "Fireball," "Charm with Song," "Garbonzo's Floating Circus," "Brew Love Potion," etc). Magical Specialties and Abilities do not grant any bonuses unless "stacked."

Example: You may select "Fireball" as an Ability twice, granting you a +1 when rolling your Wizardry Trait to create balls of flame.

In regular Fudge, an Ability or spell will cost one (or more) skill levels, as decided by the GM. A Specialty has a cost of one Gift (or more, at the GM's option).

When a character tries to use a magical ability, the player must describe the desired outcome. You may only attempt effects that fall within a Specialty or Ability your character has. If your Specialty is "Fire Magic," you cannot attempt to seduce a princess with a magical song.

The GM then sets the basic difficulty as they see fit, given the world and flavor of magic within it (see sample guidelines below). If a target's resistance must be overcome, an appropriate Trait of the victim (usually Valor, sometimes Might) becomes the difficulty. If the Trait level is lower than whatever the GM deems an appropriately difficulty level, it is ignored. The player then rolls their Wizardry trait, trying to meet that difficulty level.

If you fail the roll, the magical effect is not what you intended, and you temporarily lose a level in your Wizardry attribute. The GM should consider her game world to determine how these levels are regained -- they may return at the rate of one level per day or require rituals, sacrifices, prayer, or a sip from a magical river.

You could easily change the flavor of magic by reducing a different attribute or Trait instead of Wizardry. The lost level may be automatic, or a failed Wizardry roll may force a roll on that attribute (at the same difficulty as the magical attempt). If using this option with "High Fantasy Fudge," you may want to add another attribute (such as Sanity or Health) for this purpose. Such an attribute would default to Fair, and could be increased by lowering any of the other Traits. In a regular Fudge game, you might want to look at your attribute list and see if anything appeals to you -- reducing Strength gives a generic "magic is tiring" flavor, but reducing Willpower or Reason might create a more unique type of magician!

Example: A Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde character might turn into a beast if he abuses his powers. A failed magic roll against a difficulty of Good would force a roll on his Charm attribute against the same difficulty of Good. On a failure, he will lose a level of Charm. At first, simple effects would be pretty safe, but as the Charm attribute decreases, uses of magic become more and more certain to turn Dr. Jekyll into a demented, disgusting beast. In his case, Charm would probably return to its starting level overnight.

Advanced Options

Detailing Magical Aptitude

A magical Gift gives your character three new attributes instead of just one. These attributes are Finesse, Attunement, and Power. All begin at a level of Terrible. Each attribute level spent allows the player to increase one of these by one level. With "High Fantasy Fudge," each Trait level spent allows you to add two levels to these new attributes (increasing one by two levels, or two by one level each). A Specialty may also be spent to increase one of these attributes by one level. In either "High Fantasy Fudge" or regular Fudge, it takes two attribute levels (or Specialties) each time you wish to raise Power above Fair, however.

Power determines how much ability a magician has to alter the world through magic. Finesse determines how subtle those changes are, and how much control the magician over the magic he or she uses. Attunement determines how well the magician understands magic, and how well tuned his or her magical senses are. Attunement might be used to analyze magic, use magical devices, cast divination spells, sense magical traps, or to determine how quickly a new spell can be learned, as well as for initiative in magical duels.

When attempting a magical effect, roll Power. This determines whether you are strong enough to achieve the effect. In addition, the GM may require a Finesse or Attunement roll of a minimum level, or simply to see how successful the attempt was. (For instance, a fireball may take a Finesse roll to aim properly.) Unless it's vital to roll, the GM can just use the trait level as is to determine the effect achieved.

Character Options

"Latent" Magic: In character creation, "Latent" mages can add two free levels to these attributes (distributed however they wish) instead of selecting a Specialty. This option allows for the creation of talented youngsters whose gifts have not yet been unlocked or trained. Another way of handling a talented youngster would be for the GM to grant a +1 (or +2) level bonus to an inborn Specialty that is highly (or extremely) restricted in scope.

The Olde Style Option: All wizards must take the Forgetfulness fault and the Memorize skill (in "High Fantasy Fudge," it is an Ability based on Lore -2). Whenever a spell is cast, a Memorize roll must be made against the difficulty of the spell. On a failure, that spell is forgotten. For this reason, wizards must carry a great tome everywhere to refresh their memories. All spells must also have long-winded and arcane sounding names. Under this option, wizards should rarely (if ever) have Specialties (check with your GM before taking one). To fully simulate this style, mages should not be allowed to learn spells of a level of their Wizardry/Power or greater.

Player's Options

You may expend a level of Wizardry (or Power) to temporarily increase your Wizardry (or Power) by one level (or to your normal maximum, whichever is better). If using detailed magical attributes (see above), this also temporarily reduces your Finesse by one level. Both adjustments only apply to that particular attempt. The expended Power, on the other hand, is not regained until the GM feels sufficient time has passed. (The GM may also allow you to trade Finesse for Power, at a two for one ratio, when attempting magical effects.)

Expending Power in this way may be done even after a roll is made, but even if you can raise your roll to a success, you will lose a level for having failed initially. For instance, if the difficulty of a roll is Good, and you roll a Fair, you would normally lose a level of Wizardry/Power and the magical attempt would not succeed. If you expended a level right there and then to increase your Wizardry/Power to Good, you would succeed but lose two levels of Wizardry (one for the failure as well as the one you expended to turn it into a success). If you had expended the level before rolling and succeeded on the roll, you would only have lost the one level.

Expending all your Power or Wizardry levels before casting the spell will leave the caster spent or maybe even unconscious. If the roll is failed and an additional level lost, the wizard may die or lose his abilities! The consequences of losing all your Wizardry levels are left to the discretion of the GM. The players may or may not know what might happen before they try, depending on the game world.

If death from magic is a possibility, magicians may opt to cast a "death curse." The magician expends all their available levels of Power or Wizardry, plus one, and the spell is cast. The magician dies even if the attempt is successful.

There are many other ways to extend this system, if a GM or player is willing to tinker with it. For example, if you want worn out mages to gradually lose control over their magic, any Power roll that is failed by two levels may reduce your Finesse by one level. Or, any Power roll missed because of fatigue may have the same effect.

Magical Resources: the Consequences of Abuse

For more flexibility, a given style of magic will define the consequences of using too much power. The consequences may differ from race to race, be based on school of magic, or even defined by each player in a unique way.

For each magician or type of magic, a "resource" needs to defined. Missed magic rolls deplete that resource. The resource should be assigned a damage track, just like in regular Fudge. The type of resource selected will determine the "flavor" of magic. If the caster himself is the resource, he risks his own life, but may always access his talents. If "fatigue" is chosen as a resource, the caster does not risk death. In this case a Near Death result simply means that the caster falls unconscious. However, "fatigue" penalties will apply to the caster's attempts at magic, whereas wound penalties might only apply to physical actions.

On the other hand, if the resource is something external to the caster, he or she is not under any risk, but that resource may be lost. (Example: In the Agyris setting, some magic users cultivate small gardens of mana-enhancing plants. A bad spell failure may cause the plants to wither and die, leaving the owner without his or her abilities.) If the resource is destroyed, the caster may pass out and will certainly lose their abilities until it is restored.

Each degree of failure (each Fudge trait level by which you missed the difficulty) corresponds to a wound category on the wound track.

RD -1 Scratched
RD -2 Hurt/Damaged
RD -3 Very Hurt/Seriously Damaged
RD -4 Incapacitated/Critically Damaged
RD -5 Near Death/Destroyed

Notes: If the caster is his own resource, he could potentially kill himself by attempting a spell that is too powerful. If you need a guideline for spell safety, a spell with a difficulty one level below the caster's Power is safe, and even a spell equal to Power or Wizardry cannot kill the caster outright. Either makes a good guideline for a teacher or school.

Sample Guidelines for Spell Difficulty

Difficulty Level Standard Fudge damage Wound Effect Weight Moved Description
Terrible Itch Itch Pencil Cantrip, child's play.
Poor 1 Stun Heavy Coin Easy: Detect magic, create simple lights.
Mediocre 2 Hurt Knife, Squirrel Moderate: Climb a wall easily and safely.
Fair 4 Hurt Treasure Chest (with Fair strength) Attack someone with fire.
Good 6 Very Hurt Adult human (with Great strength) Teleport a short distance.
Great 8 Incapacitated Boulder (with Legendary strength) Fly like a hawk, create a huge fireball.
Superb 10 Near Death Truck, Carriage Teleport to another kingdom, restore a man on the edge of death to full health.

With regular Fudge rules, either halve the damage or move difficulty one level higher for defensive spells and apply as DDF. If using "Weapons," the third part of "High Fantasy Fudge," then the difficulties translate directly into damage and armor values (see below). For area of effect spells, increase difficulty by one level for every increase or doubling of area or number of targets. The GM should also select some default durations for effects and apply the same logic.

A sample duration scale:

  • Instantaneous
  • 1 round
  • 5 rounds
  • 1 minute
  • 10 minutes
  • 1 hour
  • 6 hours
  • 1 day
  • 1 week
  • 1 month
  • 1 year
  • Permanent

Example: A player wants to cast a spell on his friend, allowing him to float above the forest. The GM declares that this spell has a difficulty of Good, and will last 10 minutes. If the player is willing to increase the difficulty to Great, it will last an hour, and if he is willing to increase it to Superb, he could cast the same spell on several people at once.

In some settings, durations of magic may have bizarre conditions that will determine their duration (until the next full moon, until kissed by a prince, for a year and a day, etc).