A hazy idea for a new OSR magic system

Work hours have been a bit chaotic this month, with frequent evening hours and weekend workdays, so I have not really spend much of the long hours of tinkering with ideas that usually lead to me writing things. But all the overtime hours will get me a lot of shorter workdays after Christmas and there’s not really much to do in a gardening store in January anyway. There’s a lot of ideas floating in my mind that I want to pursue further on lazy afternoons and loudly proclaim my conclusions.

Right now I am occupying my free periods during the day with thinking about adapting my new idea for a magic system to an OSR rules system. Which actually turned out a bit more tricky than I thought.

The main concept is that all characters have an amount of spellpower that is calculated by adding the modifier from Wisdom to the number of levels in the mage class. A 4th level mage with a Wisdom of 16 would have a spellpower of 6 (4+2). Any time a spell is cast or a ritual performed, there is a chance for a missfire based on the character’s current spellpower score. At the end of the casting the spellpower score is reduced by a certain number. Dabblers in magic have a high chance of misfires when performing rituals (which does not require any specific character class) but so do even experienced mages who have already cast several spells that day. I like the concept but don’t have any good idea for how to calculate the chance of failure and how to make a die roll to check for a missfire.

I also think about having three categories of magic. Spells, which take one round to cas; incantations, which take 1 minute to cast; and rituals, which take 1 hour to cast. Only characters of the mage class can learn spells and incantations of limited numbers, but rituals are open to anyone who gets his hands on the instructions. However, I found that I have really very few ideas for traditional spells that would fit with my image of how magic performs in action.

One interesting oddity I noticed a few days ago is that all the effects I wanted my old magic system to do no longer fit with the new system. And a good number of things I deliberately chose to exclude seem highly appropriate for the new system. (Except teleportation, which is still out.) My old approach was highly inspired by Star Wars and Avatar, which spells being extensions of the body and mind. Now I feel much stronger drawn to witchcraft and sorcery that focus on dealing with external supernatural beings. Having just read Hellboy again (a review is one of the things I want to write) probably had a huge impact on that change of mind.

Ancient Lands: Magic

In the world of the Ancient Lands, there is only a single supernatural force at work. Life force, magic, spirits, souls; it’s all the same basic energy that is found inside and between everything. This energy is what gives living creatures their strength and make them grow and heal injuries and disease. It is also what creates the souls of mortal creatures and in places where the energies of the landscape are strong, they manifest in sentient spirits of great power.

The arts of magic are the mastery of the ability to not just call on the life energy within oneself, but to extend ones mental control to the energies around one and even inside other objects and beings. When casting a spell, a mage is sending a ripple through the energies surrounding him to manipulate the energies within creatures and objects to his desire, just as normal people control the energies within their arms and legs. Magic spells can make plants grow or move, split or shove away rocks, create lightning and set things on fire, and even take some control over other creatures thoughts. To be able to manipulate the life force and magical energies at a distance, mages needs to build up a reserve of energy separate from their own life force, which they accomplish by many years of training and meditation. Once this reserve is spend, they can no longer cast any spells until the energies are restored. People who have mastered magic, and creatures that are naturally magical, require almost no effort to regain their spend magical energy. Their energy reserve has become a natural part of their own being and during rest energies from the surrounding environment automatically move in to fill the void and restore the natural balance of energies. Compared to the amounts of energy in the natural world, even the most powerful spellcasters can store only such a small amount that there is no noticable drain of life force in the creatures and plants arround them.

Blood Magic

In the earliest days of the mortal races, the magical abilities of spirits and other magical creatures was not yet entirely understood and the earliest mages did not yet have the ability to create reserves of magical energies to power their spells. But they realized that magical energy and life force is essentially the same and in no other part of a mortal creature is its life force as strong and concentrated as in the blood. Not only could these early mages use the energy in their own blood to cast their spells, they could also use the life force of other living creatures.

When the more common forms of magic were discovered, this blood magic was soon abandoned. The storing of magical energies from the environment is not only much more effective, but also much less painful and gruesome. However, unlike many shamans and witches would like to believe, the traditions of blood mages never entirely disappeared and continued to exist in some small remote places for all the thousands of years. Pure, traditional blood mages are almost unheard of in the present age. The advantages of using the magical energies of the surrounding natural world are just too great for any mage to ignore. But there are still some advantages to blood magic, which allowed the ancient traditions to survive. By drawing the life force from their own blood, blood mages can significally extend their reserves of magical energy and even make their spells stronger and more powerful than they would usually be able to. And by using the life force of other living creatures, blood mages can have access to vast amounts of magical energy for prolonged rituals and large scale magical effects, that would take ordinary mages days or week. Because of the violent and gruesome nature of blood magic, most people regard it as savage and horrific, but contrary to common believes, blood magic itself does not have a corrupting effect on those who use it or are affected by it.

Demonic Energy and Corruption

Outside the natural world that consists of the material world and the Spiritworld exists a realm of infinite time and space that is simply called the Void. Just as there are spirits in the natural energies of the spiritworld there are also beings born from concentrations of the energies of the Void, called demons. When mages learn a way to create a connection to the Void, it allows them to draw some of its energies to their own world and use it as an additional source of magical power in addition to their own. With these energies they can create spells that can not be cast with magical energies of the natural world and it also greatly increases the number of spells they can cast before their reserves are exhausted.
However, the natural world and the Void are realms of completely different laws that are conflicting with each other and bringing energies from the Void into the natural world causes it to become warped and twisted, an effect known as corruption. The demonic energies are toxic to any living things that are affected by it. Mages who have mastered their use can learn to resist its effects and may show only very little signs of the massive exposure they recieve from many years of casting demonic spells. However the land around their homes and lairs becomes significantly affected, making these places hostile to all living things, turning them weak and sick and eventually killing them.

But corruption is not simply a drain of life force, but a warping and twisting of it, and corrupted life force is still able to support life, at least in a manner of speaking. When creatures becomes entirely corrupted but do not simply fall dead, they turn into the undead. Zombies and skeletons are corpses that have become powered by corrupted energy after their death, while those who have never really died become ghouls or wights. In rare cases, a person dies but the corrupted energies that have been part of him continues to exist as a faint afterimage of a creature known as a shadow. When the corruption has been so complete that the soul itself has become corrupted, it continues to exist even after the body has died as a wraith.