[D&D] Skill-based Magic

edited November 2007 in Story Games
I've never done a d20 system house rule before, so I'm not sure how this system might be improved, or how a clever player might break it. Here's the idea:

* There are no "spells" or "spell slots."
* A magical effect is tied to a particular Knowledge sub-skill. Blowing down the gates of a castle, for example, would be Knowledge: Architecture.
* To see whether you know the mystical principles underlying this effect, make a Knowledge skill check.
* The desired effect is classified as Apprentice (DC 10), Journeyman (DC 15), Master (DC 20) or Grand Master (DC 25).
* Magic would generally require gestures, speeches, candles, pentagrams, voodoo connections, etc.
* Magic would also come with certain "laws" - nothing longer than an hour, gotta touch the target, etc.
* Circumventing these restrictions is a matter for Spellcraft - tweaking your knowledge to achieve specialized effects, like longer duration, silent casting, etc.
* Casting is done with Concentration: maybe you know what to do, but doing it right is difficult. Concentration DC is probably 15 + level.
* If you miss your Concentration DC by 5 or more, there's a freaky mishap.
* I guess you can Take 20 on the Concentration check by doing everything juuuuuust right, but it takes a long time. Think Gandalf at the gates of Moria.

Under this system:
* Wizards can improvise spells, rather than using slots, but will probably take longer after much thought.
* Meta-Magic feats go away, replaced by Spellcraft and the feats which boost it.
* Item Creation feats might get folded into Spellcraft & Use Magic Device.
* Anyone with the requisite skills can bumble through a spell or two.

Still to be Resolved:
* I'd like to throw Decipher Script in there for something useful.
* Exactly what types of effect rank as Apprentice, Journeyman, Master, Grandmaster
* Exactly what's possible using Spellcraft
* Role of Druids, Clerics, Adepts in this system.
* Could Experts with the specific skills cast spells too? I'd like to say no...

Comments

  • It's hard to comment when what you want isn't really nailed down yet.

    For defining the laws of magic, have you seen the game Mortal Coil?

    More importantly, what gameplay experiences are you looking to eliminate from D&D, and what do you want to create instead?
  • Potential problems:
    1. How would you deal with multiclassing?
    2. How would you deal with players always whining that their favorite knowledge skill applies.
    3. 25 DCs for skill checks aren't very hard. You could have 1st level character getting them.
  • There was one approach with skill-based magic, called Truenaming, in the Tome of Magic. Wasn't very good.

    After all there is a reason, that special stuff is not tied to skills in D&D. A very wise concept, by the way.
  • Green Ronin's Psychic's Handbook and True Sorcery, Monte Cook's World of Darkness, and ENWorld Press' Elements of Magic have all worked up skill-based magic for d20. MCWoD and EoM are well-regarded, afaik.

    Also, Concentration is usually performed as a reaction to an effect or as part of another action. Rather than allow Take20, I'd assume that any spellcaster who was not in a distracting situation would simply not need to worry about making a Concentration check. As for tying spellcasting to Knowledge sub-skills, you end up hamstringing the core spellcasting classes, as they all get only 2+Int bonus skill points per level. You'd need to re-jigger them, else wind up with bards being the most powerful casters in the game. Granted, that would certainly be a change from the usual. :)

    Since casting spells are these classes core competencies, I would tie casting to something other than skills. A caster level check would make more sense. I dunno about possible "freaky mishaps" being the only consequence, either.

    In all, though, I generally don't like skill-based systems unless they're backed up with some core magic ability that is sure-fire. Otherwise, you drastically change the feel of the game.
  • Ryan's right, of course. You need to decide what you're trying to achieve before we can suggest how to get there. E.g., "Could Experts with the specific skills cast spells too? I'd like to say no..." That sounds like something you need to tell us--not the other way round. For going on 6-7 years, I've tinkered with a very high-magic setting in which the world is literally awash in the blood of the dead god of magic. Everyone can do a little magic. And, of course, you've got the other end of the spectrum, say Conan, where only a rare few have access. Keep in mind, you can also tier the access by tweaking the relevant skills as class skills for some classes and cross-class skills for others.

    Green Ronin's True Sorcery is the product of lengthy development, starting with the Psychic's Handbook --> Black Company --> True20 --> True Sorcery. It's been put through the wringer pretty good and is pretty stable. I'd pick that up and comb for more ideas.
    Posted By: 1of3After all there is a reason, that special stuff is not tied to skills in D&D. A very wise concept, by the way.
    Pffft.
  • Posted By: buzzIn all, though, I generally don't like skill-based systems unless they're backed up with some core magic ability that is sure-fire. Otherwise, you drastically change the feel of the game.
    Isn't that the point? In any case, the issue can be handled with Take 10 rules. E.g., when a caster has a certain level of proficiency with the relevant skill, he can Take 10 and accomplish that level of magic without risk of failure (provided he is not being harried or distracted). In my experience, these systems result in great moments of tension when the mage is trying to pull off something at the outer limits of his abilities--a nice analog to the fighter trying to pierce the dragon's scales with his sword.
  • One thing to consider...

    It sounds like you want your magic to move more into research-based, preparation-based, solutions to major problems ("How can we get the troops through the fortress's gate?"). It's less "blasting fireballs" and more "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". If that's what you're going for, that's awesome. But:

    What will be left for the magician to do in combat?

    Make sure you have this covered. Maybe he or she can create little magical "bombs" and "grenades" and the like, or something...
  • edited November 2007
    Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonIsn't that the point?
    Most likely. :) It's just that a lot of infrastructure has been built off the existing methodology, so you gotta keep an eye out for ripple effects. Such as...
    Posted By: Justin D. JacobsonIsn't that the point?
    In any case, the issue can be handled with Take 10 rules. E.g., when a caster has a certain level of proficiency with the relevant skill, he can Take 10 and accomplish that level of magic without risk of failure (provided he is not being harried or distracted).
    Right, but that means that the caster is least effective in those moments of greatest tension, i.e., combat. That's a 180 degree about-face from D&D as-written. If the party's casters can't reliably use magic to defend themselves or attack opponents, then non-casters need to be more concerned about protecting them.

    Ergo, I'd worry that this could make the game less fun for players of caster PCs (and the players of PCs who end up having to defend them), unless there is minimal combat. And, in that case, I'd wonder why you're using D&D/d20 to begin with.

    I'm not saying the concept is without merit. Just food for thought.
  • The more I think about this, Buzz is probably right. This started out as an attempt to make low-level (i.e., character-level 6 and below) D&D Magic more closely resemble what's found in a lot of sword & sorcery stories, where magicians generally can do a lot of crazy stuff given a ton of time to research and prepare. But that, as noted, this doesn't work well for combat, which is in a way completely fair as in those stories, fighting dudes and casting spells are two completely different scenes. It'd be better to just use a different system if I wanted to be so doctrinaire about this.
  • ...unless, as I suggested, the magician becomes more of a sort of "engineer" or "sapper" type, preparing powerful weapons before the combat itself--magical "grenades", traps, preparing the battleground in some way to give the party an advantage, etc.

    Perhaps he or she would even be the "tactician" and leader of the group, giving them a more active role in combat. This could be strengthened by some ability like the ability to "send thoughts", allowing that character to coordinate the group's tactics in the heat of combat or over large distances.
  • Posted By: James_NostackBut that, as noted, this doesn't work well for combat, which is in a way completely fair as in those stories, fighting dudes and casting spells are two completely different scenes.
    Of course, if fighting dudes and casting spells are two completely different scenes then you don't have to worry so much about "balancing" spellcasters by making them totally suck at fighting dudes.
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