Magic System: how many spells is enough?

When I’m gaming and I’ve got a magic user I like the concept that the character can, with enough time, make spell effects on the fly. Throughout almost all the inspirational fiction the magic user is not very limited in their magic variety: just their power. They can come up with something for most any situation. I like this. What bothers me is that in the RPG sense it needs to be codified and defined. Probably to keep rules lawyer/munchkin types in line.

What do you think of magic systems with a limited series of defined spells?

What if the magic system has a limited series of defined spells and a guide for making new ones as required?

In my experience most GM’s will make up new spells without batting an eyelid – every time a new magic item comes about a new spell has to also come about to make said item.

I’m very interested in people’s thoughts on magic system ‘enumeration’.

Magic System: how many spells is enough?

What are the best Sandbox RPG products and why?

Spending lots of time in the last few months researching RPG products, blogs, forums and what gamers like I’ve determined that I’m an OSR-Sandbox kind of gamer. What has become interesting is the games that I’ve purchased all reflect this, to various degrees, without me even realising until I started writing this post.

MERP – although it is solidly in another’s very famous world it is presented as a massive Sandbox ready for gaming glory.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century – a multi-galactic setting waiting for you to populate it with all the seeds of information and flavour from just the core book.

Rolemaster – doesn’t even come with a world!

Warhammer FRP 1st Ed. – a massive grim world of perilous adventure! There’s lots of gaps with guidelines for ways to fill them between cities and wild lands empty for your artistic GM brush.

SLA Industries – a planetary urban sprawl with Cannibal Sectors, ruins, and mega-dungeons and not a single map.

SLA Industries

All this brings me to ask of you: what are the best Sandbox RPG products and why are they best? What makes a product capture your attention? How do you decide if you’ll purchase an RPG Sandbox product?

For me it’s something that oozes “potential”. It has a clear world that operates along familiar daily patterns. And it has events & ongoing actions that are exciting, even if more than a little dangerous.

What are the best Sandbox RPG products and why?

My Big 15

It’s a common meme in the RPG blogosphere so I’ll bah-bah and join in.

  1. Dragon Warriors. I cut my RPG teeth on this game so my early RPG memories have no DnD in them.
  2. Tunnels & Trolls. After I got this book I started meshing it with DW but didn’t really know what I was doing.
  3. Twilight 2000. I bought it on recommendation. It took ages to save up for the boxed set. Then played it once and no-one ever wanted to play it again. I ended up using the great equipment lists in other games.
  4. Rolemaster. This became the medieval fantasy staple ruleset, heavily modified and much of it ignored, for many years of high-school gaming. The spell lists and critical strike tables still stay with me. Khara Thel grew out of the world that I GM’d with Rolemaster.
  5. Muties. This was a years of homebrewing TMNT: Roadhogs into something entirely different. We incorporated Ninjas & Superspies, Heroes Unlimited, Villains Unlimited and most of the other TMNT supplements. When the space supplement, Mutants in Orbit, came out it started morphing even further.
  6. Battlelords of the 23rd Century. In an odd synchronicity Muties was turning into Battlelords but without the aliens. Loads of gear and body armour. This took over Muties completely. We played into my late twenties.
  7. Shadowrun. Most of my SR experience was through a MUSH. The Shadowrun Detroit MUSH. It was an education in online gaming but had some moments.
  8. Morrowind. Sandbox on the computer and beautiful at that. I greatly enjoyed exploring the vast wastes and wilds of Morrowind.
  9. SLA Industries. The great setting that never really took off. I still love the production.
  10. Warhammer FRP. 1st edition. I bought this book then sold it to a mate. We played a lot and I had incredibly good luck with my character Wulf Nikenhausen starting as a Labourer with a club. In fact I has such incredible luck with rolling damage for the club that the GM called it the club of death. I bought the Hogshead book and a few supplements in a clearance sale for $20. Still love the artwork and want to use it for Khara Thel.
  11. STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl. Atmospheric shooter with survival and horror elements.
  12. Oblivion. Morrowind taken up an order of magnitude. Even with the magic item creation nerfed a bit. I’m such a fan I even like the soundtrack.
  13. The Riddle of Steel. The greatest game I’ve never played. The incredibly crunchy combat system really digs into the details of sword fighting and the Spiritual Attributes are a great way to reward roleplaying with game-mechanic bonuses.
  14. Diablo II. I put off playing it for years then when I finally did it was great fun. With the magic success chance of 57-75% it worked very nicely.
  15. STALKER: Call of Pripyat. I loved this one so much I wrote a journal about it.
My Big 15


For $13 I’ve purchased 100d6. They’re casino-dice and have a different balance since the dots for sixes remove more material than any other facing. This changes the weight distribution of the die. Casino die are properly balanced for no bias to any numbers. If figure for $13, about the normal price of a 7-die polygonal set, 100d6 means I never have to look for matching d6 again.

I like my dice to match when I roll a bunch of them.


New game, new char-gen?

Having a new group means the opportunity for a new way of commencing the game. What this time would be like is to have players come up with characters together, then hash out a party history, and record this before any actual game-specific character generation takes place. A character would have a systemless record of their BG, history, contacts and motivations. From there the character can be defined in any system. The party history would become a shared document and can be updated as the game progresses.

What I’m wondering is if others have gone through something similar and how it turned out?

New game, new char-gen?


OSR, Old School Roleplaying, seems to be gaining some kind of resurgence. I think it’s that the hobby has hit “middle age”. Yes, that sad old time when people remember their earnest and energetic fumblings through life as adolescents devoid of responsibility and any wisdom about what they don’t know but applied to RPGs.

“I want to game like that again!” is the motivation behind it. “Internal consistency, feh, emotive characters, meh, logic, what-evah!”

Well, that may be overly condensing the sentiments but that does not mean it comes from different broth.

It is unfortunately like going back to the TV shows of your early years and getting excited only to realise how terrible ($#!t) they actually are. I wouldn’t force anyone through the “Rat Patrol” but I loved it in primary school. I wouldn’t put anybody through re-runs of Macross wtih Minmei’s horrible singing but it was awesome as a young teenager. And I certainly will neve make the mistake a former friend made of again watching Battlestar Galactica and A-Team from the 80’s. I think my eyes would bleed as my suspension of disbelief snapped back in a thermo-logic-fusion-explosion.

Underlying this push to get back the magic of roleplaying is the realisation that things have mutated past their essence. Games are less about fun and more about agenda. Rules are about being simple, or sharing narrative control, or consistent in resolution mechanic for all things. The fact remains that all the rules have to do is resolve conflict at the table within the game world in a consistently understood manner. Everything else is fluff (which should never be confused with flavour: as unfortunately it often is).

OSR is a slightly complex movement to try and have fun with roleplaying again. If that’s kill things and take the stuff, or sandbox gaming, or chains of modules ending in godhood, so be it. Just know what you want out of gaming and have the courage to pursue it as a group. Abandon the post-modernist trap of naming tropes and plot-devices to take away their power. Work together at the table towards the experience you want to share. But most importantly of all, get on the same page about expectation and investment, so you can actually have a fun game together.