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Chris Taylor's Spell Pool Magic System

Fantasy Hero

Date:    Mon, 21 Apr 1997 12:20:43 PDT
From:    Christopher Taylor 
Subject: Spell Pool

Here is the system I use for magic in my Fantasy Hero system:


In order to create a magic system for a campaign, there are two guidelines that must be followed: first, the spells and spell casting must be true to the genre and to the literature it simulates; and second, it must be a system that won't compromise the integrity of the game. These thoughts result in the following guidelines:

  1. Spells aren't totally reliable nor predictable.
  2. Spells aren't effortless powers at easy command.
  3. Magic is not a one use deal, and spells may be repeated without 'rememorization'.
  4. Spells are not normally a list of constantly available powers, rather, a group that the caster chooses individual spells from.
  5. Spells require a minimum amount of concentration to use and there are limits to the number that can be run concurrently.
  6. The spellcaster cannot be more powerful than any other character with the same amount of ability and skill, i.e., points well spent.
  7. The spells must have an upper limit of power that is allowed the character.
  8. Other spellcasters nearby will usually be able to tell that a spell has been cast.
  9. Most spells are invisible to ordinary sight when running, but can be seen clearly to those with magical ability.
  10. Magic is rare and wonderful, only a few wield it's power and these with caution.

The best way to represent these concepts the spell pool. A spell pool costs a great deal, but the spells within it cost nothing but time and money to learn. This results in a very flexible Mage who knows lots of spells, but who won't always have the best spell on hand at a given time.

A Mage may have a mix of both of these, spells that he knows all the time, and spells he must choose between. This is very expensive, and very powerful. Such a Mage is a force to be reckoned with.

Spell Pools

The best way to follow the above guidelines is a Spell Pool system. Magic spellcasters have a limited amount of spells available to them in tomes, scrolls, and other sources. These spells are all known, and can be cast by the mage. However, not all of these are ready for use at any one time. The spell caster has a pool of power, available points for spells that are ready for casting. This is based on a Variable Power Pool with a slew of modifiers on it to define the magical nature.

Spell Pools are simply a power pool with these limitations:

-1/2 Spells only
-1/2 All spells require spell roll
-1/2 New spells only attained between adventures and with time and money

Incidentally, this works out to costing 1 point extra for each 5 points in the pool, for easy math.

Example: Merlin has a pool of 50 points. This pool has a control cost of 10 points (50/2 = 25, 25 at -1 1/2), with a total cost of 60 points.

All spells in the pool must have these limitations:

-1/2 Magic roll
-1/4 Variable, spell is maximum 10 Active Points +10 per point the magic roll is made by.
-1/4 Spells may be noticed when cast with a Magic Roll as a perception roll; also each spell.

All spells must cost END and LTE.

This results in a total -1 limitation that all spells must take.

These limitations mean that the caster has definite limits to what he can achieve, but great flexibility. All spells have a skill roll to cast, the Magic Skill, based on INT. This roll is -1 per 10 active points the spell has. The caster can only keep one spell running consecutively per five INT he has, and each spell past the first is a -1 to the magic roll. All spells cost END to cast, and all use at least one LTE each cast.

Example: Merlin has an INT of 23, which gives him a base magic roll of 14-. At this point, he can keep 5 spells running at the same time, each making the next more difficult to cast.

Changing Spells

Changing the spells available in your pool takes two minutes per real point in the spell to be readied. The caster can place as many real points in spells as he has points in his pool (Merlin above could put 50 real points of spells in his pool). The exact arrangement is up to the player, and need not be the total points. As long as there are not more Real Points of spells than the pool has total points, and area spells the caster actually knows, the pool can be filled in any way desired.

Forgetting Spells

If the Mage spends more than five hours asleep or unconscious, the spells in the pool are not fresh enough to use, and must be refilled. There are items and herbs that might be encountered that can prevent this loss of information.


Cold Iron does not normally affect magic by it's mere presence. It is true that certain spells might be affected by cold iron, but in general magic is unaffected. However, the weight of iron, and everything else the Mage carries does. Spellcasters don't wear plate mail and carry lots of weapons for the simple reason that magic often requires delicate control and complete freedom of movement. The DEX roll/DCV modifier of armor worn is also the subtraction to the Magic Skill. Any PER subtraction due to a helm is also applied as a Magic Skill modifier.


All spells cost endurance to cast. Base powers that do not normally cost Endurance to cast get the -1/2 limitation on them 'Costs END'. This END cost may be halved, but never bought to no END cost. In addition to the END cost, all spells are draining on the caster, and one Long Term Endurance must be paid per spell cast, minimum. This is true whether the END used came out of an item or not. Spellcasting takes a lot out of a person, even if the raw power is from another source.

A special rule for Fantasy Hero is that all spells are assumed to have the advantage "Can use natural or END Reserve Endurance" given in the description for the power Endurance Reserve. This costs nothing extra, it is assumed for the sake of magic items and certain spells. It is part of the special effect for magic, and is free in this system.

Advanced Spellcasting Information

The information beyond this point is more complex, and describes the more advanced limitations that magic suffers. Those who only wish to have characters with simple magic should not feel it necessary to read the rest, as the GM will answer any questions and point out what you need to know. The next bunch of information contains a lot of "gamespeak" for lack of a better term, and rules.

Maximum Power Levels

There is a power level of spells that the Mage cannot safely exceed. Normally with power pools, the power level of spells within it is active points equal to the pool’s points. In Fantasy Hero this can be exceeded… at a price. This maximum active point cost is called the MAX for a mage, and represents the limits of his training and skill.

Example: Merlin has a Spell Pool of 50 points, and thus can cast any spell with up to 50 active points in it. This means that Merlin has MAX of 50; he may attempt to cast spells with more power than this only with great risk.

Should the spellcaster try to cast a spell that is over the MAX he can handle, the magic roll subtraction for that spell is doubled. If the roll is failed, the spell's power overwhelms him, and explodes for 1D6 per 5 points over MAX in damage to the caster, no defenses, full damage (including BOD). The backfire is applied to general body, rather than any one area. This is in addition to any side effects that the spell may have. While it may be useful to overextend your training and power, there is a very real danger.

Example: Merlin tries to cast Earthquake, a 120 point monstrosity. Since his MAX is 50, and Earthquake costs 120 Magic Points, the magic roll of -12 is doubled to -24! Not surprisingly, Merlin fails his magic roll, even after taking extra time. The mana backfires out of Merlin's control, and he is hit with an NND full damage attack. For this spell, the damage is 14D6 (120-50 = 70; 70/5 = 14). This will tend to utterly destroy most mages (since it will do more BOD than they have in one attack, and impair their entire body at once). Merlin is horribly damaged, he took an average of 49 STN and 14 BOD.

Magic Skill

The spell roll is the measure of training and discipline that the caster has for spells. How well this is made by defines the power level that is achieved, and represents the caster's concentration. The spell roll is based on INT, with a base of (INT/5)+9. Without this skill, no spellcasting is possible.

The most a Magic Skill roll can start at is based on the Spell Pool a character has. The pool represents the most skill that he has achieved, and the spell roll reflects this. The roll is a maximum of 11 plus the character's MAX/10, or the INT-based roll, whichever is higher. This may seem high, but the powerful spells are difficult to cast, with larger roll subtractions. Should the caster's INT roll be higher than his MAX will allow, then it is used instead. This will likely only be true for the beginning mages, as power level will outstrip INT roll in the more mighty spellcasters. This roll maximum can be exceeded by experience spent.

Example: Merlin has an INT of 23, which gives him a base magic roll of 14-. His maximum starting roll, however, is 16- (from Merlin's MAX /10 [5] + 11), which he understandably buys.

The Magic Skill is one skill that will generally exceed the campaign limits for skill rolls, simply because of the following information. Each ten active points of a spell is a minus one to the caster's magic skill roll. In addition, each spell run consecutively is an additional minus one to the roll. Other modifiers include -1 for a half move, and various ones applied due to distractions and external problems.

Certain areas are mana poor or rich, and will modify this roll as well. If the spellcaster takes damage, or is hit, the magic roll must be rerolled at -1 per 2 BOD total the attack did, before defenses. Note that if the Active Cost of a spell is 5 or less, there is no subtraction to the roll. If the Mage takes BOD damage at all, the spell fails, and any side effects are applied.

Critical Failure

Occasionally, the caster is going to roll very poorly, such as an 18. The nature of magic makes it so that a failed roll is usually dangerous, although only in some cases harmful. The likelihood of an otherwise innocuous spell exploding in the face of a caster is low, but possible. For each point the roll is failed by, there is a chance the spell will blow up. the roll is one per point failed by, plus two for a natural 18. If this chance goes off, the caster takes one D6 damage per point the roll was made by. As you can guess, this is rare.

Example: Merlin tries to cast Dream Sight so he can travel about in spirit form and look around an area. He fails the roll, unfortunately, missing the roll by 6; he must have sneezed in the incantation. The GM rolls to see if the spell has a critical failure, and rolls 5, under the 6 Merlin failed by. Merlin takes 6D6 of energy damage as the mana is released in a cascade of power on Merlin.

The damage will be spectacular, but minor, and will never occur if the spell has a side effect (since the spell already blew up if a side effect goes off). Nobody said spellcasting was safe.

Multiple Spellcasters

Spellcasters can work in concert, casting a spell together. In this manner, they can work spells as a group more powerful than is individually safe. Each spellcaster after the most powerful adds half their MAX to the group rounding up. Each additional spellcaster also adds one to the magic roll of the most powerful Mage as well. All must make the magic roll, and if the spell fails, all pay the price.

Example: Merlin and his four 30 point pool buddies want to cast Dream Magic together for Merlin. Dream Magic has an active cost of 75, well beyond all their MAX separately, but together, Merlin's pals all add their MAX of 30 to his MAX of 50, for a grand total of 130, which can cast this spell comfortably. Each buddy has a Magic Roll of 14-, plus four from the group (for a total Magic Roll of 18-). Dream Magic has a Magic Roll subtraction of -7. Thus Merlin's ends up at 9-, and his buddies at 7-. Not surprisingly, they fail.

Everyone pays some END and LTE, Merlin takes 2D6 full damage NND, and his hapless buddies take 4D6 NND; 1D6 for each -1 over the MAX of each mage. His buddies may not be buddies anymore. In fact, they may be in the hospital.

It can be beneficial to combine to cast spell, but not to fail in doing so. Still, like any risk, the benefits grow to meet the danger. The Endurance cost is evenly distributed among the casters, with excess going to the most powerful.

Special Effects

All of magic is assumed to have a single special effect, "Magic." This is applicable for such effects as Dispel and Suppress, which can target a special effect for a +1/4 advantage. Within this special effect are sub effects, such as a flame attack or flying upon gusts of wind. These sub effects function the same as standard special effects as defined in the Hero rules. Magic should be considered to be a "super effect."

Last modified: 2001-Oct-21 00:17:39

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