Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Why Don't You Use Magic?

This is a pretty straight forward story game, with elements of party card games such as Apples to Apples, You've Got Problems and the one that shall remain nameless. There's a little bit of set-up before you can begin to play, but there's some help with that in the guidelines below.

All I Do is Magic

This is going to be one of those games where you can play pretty much any kind of character you want, but not absolutely any kind, because you need a little bit of consensus around the table. You all have to agree to play in a particular setting and then to create characters who are not considered extraordinary in that setting; so, if you go modern day, then play taxi-drivers, retail clerks, police officers and so on, but don't be the President, the Queen, a movie star, etc. On the other hand, if you all agree to play that type of game, maybe something set at an exclusive resort or international event, then those characters would be perfectly acceptable. The same goes for other assumptions, such as playing in a fantasy world with elves & dragons, a comic-book world with aliens & robots, and so on.

Once you've agreed the setting, talk about the characters you're going to play and write down a few notes about them: you want a name, a short outline and a plot thread that can be as simple ("Get through the working day with as little stress as possible") or as strange ("Hide my neighbour's body somewhere out of sight before my in-laws come around for the anniversary dinner we're having tonight") as you like.

Here's the thing that makes this game different though: all the player characters can do magic, but not only that, magic is just about the only way they can make anything happen. Come up with any reason you like for this: maybe they found a spell book, maybe they all belong to the same coven, maybe it was just some freak accident, but they all have the power to cast spells. Before you can begin playing, you need the Spell Book: this is a deck of cards, with a very simple suggestion for a type of spell on each one. You need a deck of at least 40 cards, but you can have as many as you want if you can think of that many different spell types; you can prepare the Spell Book in advance or you can create it at the table as a group activity. The latter method works best for some groups, particularly if you are going off-piste in terms of the setting, e.g. if you want to use super-powers or weird science instead of spells, then you probably want a slightly different flavour of spell card.

If you want 40 ready-to-cast spell types, just copy out the list below, one per index card:



When you've got your full Spell Book, give it a quick shuffle and deal out one-quarter of the cards, so 10 in this case; turn those cards over and draw a circle in the upper right corner of each one. This represents a coin, meaning those cards have a Price when they are part of a spell. Put those cards to one side and draw another one-eighth of the total from the deck, so only 5 cards this time; put an X in the top right corner of each of those to mark them as Hexes. Now deal each player 3 cards from the Spell Book before shuffling the Price and Hex cards back in, so no-one starts the game with any Price or Hex cards in their hand. You are now ready to begin play!

Magic as a Way of Life

You're going to tell a story about the characters you've created, with each player taking it in turn to have their character's story placed under a magnifying glass; not just to see them more closely, but also to make them burn! It's up to everyone else to screw around with your character's life, making it harder for them in plausible ways and presenting you with obstacles to overcome. You can team up with other characters, tell intersecting stories or be completely independent of each other, that's up to you, just so long as you participate in making life hard for the other characters when they're the focus.

When you are the focus and your character is presented with an obstacle, you have three options:
  1. Walk away: you can always choose not to engage with an obstacle, but you don't get anything for doing so. If you need to be on the other side of a locked door, then walking away won't get you through it, but you might find another way in.
  2. Tackle it: if you want, you can try to tackle an obstacle without magic, using whatever mundane skills and abilities your character has... but it's hard & risky. For one thing, you can't just make up your character's abilities and if you haven't already mentioned or demonstrated that they can do it, then you probably can't. If it's an edge case, so you could say that it's implied that your character has that ability, you can have a go but it'll be even harder. Whatever the case, draw 5 cards from the Spell Book and turn them over; if there are any Hexes, you fail; if it was an edge case and there are any Prices or Hexes, then you fail. You succeed at what you were doing otherwise, but you have to discard all the cards in your hand and the other players choose three new spells you get from those you have drawn, discarding the other two.
  3. Use Magic! This is what the game's all about: if you can narrate a plausible method of using one of your spells to overcome an obstacle, then you can try it. Just show the spell card and describe how it ought to work, then draw 1, 2 or 3 cards from the deck; if you don't get any Hexes, you succeed!
When you cast a spell, the number of cards you draw depends on how strong a magical effect you need to produce to make what you said happen:
  • If it's small, light, close, personal and/or brief, draw 1 card.
  • If it's big, heavy, far away, effects another and/or endures, draw 2 cards.
  • If it's simply epic, draw 3 cards.
For example, with the Invisibility spell, I could:
  • Turn myself invisible for long enough to get past a guard, by drawing 1 card.
  • Turn a wall invisible so I can see through it, by drawing 2 cards.
  • Turn everyone except the person I'm chasing invisible so they can't hide in the crowd, by drawing 3 cards.
When you draw the cards, show them:
  • If none of them are Price or Hex cards, the spell works just fine and has the exact effect you intended.
  • For each Price drawn, the spell has an unwanted effect of some kind, but this is never more powerful than the spell being cast, so if you used 'Create Fire' to create a single small flame, then the Price can't be that the whole city burns down... but it could burn all the paper currency you have on you.
  • For each Hex drawn, you have a choice: you can abandon the whole spell, so it has no effect at all, or you can accept a curse; again, this can't be more powerful than the spell you were trying to cast, but it will linger until you find a way to get rid of it. So, following on from the above example, maybe from now on, all paper currency bursts into flames when you touch it or get too close.
It's up to all the other players at the table to decide what consequences Prices and Hexes have when drawn, following the guidelines above, but it's up to the player in the focus to narrate how their magic
overcomes any obstacles. Once an obstacle has been overcome, it's fully dealt with and can't be used to harass the player with anymore, unless they themselves bring the narration to a point where they have deal with it again. So, if they get through a locked door, it's not going to be a problem for them again unless they tell someone to go and lock it back up or otherwise draw attention to the fact that it is now unlocked. When you run out of cards to draw from, just turn over the discard pile and shuffle it to make a new Spell Book and just keep playing until it stops being fun!