Best RPG Magic System

What is the best RPG magic system and why? I would say D&D, even though I doesn’t make sense to me. But, it has a crazy range and variety of spells. It colorful and fun.

What are some other great system and why? I tried The Dresden Files and enjoyed it, but aspects are clumsy and difficulty to me. Are there any other suggestions out there for me to look into?



Don’t pay the Ferryman (pbta) has a great magic system!

The nine playbooks (classes) each have 9 spells, which are in the playbooks.

If you want to buy more spells later you can, in batches of 3. If you want to buy a magical ability later to boost your casting, you can. But you don’t have to do either.

The game encourages you to skin/describe your spells/powers as you see fit, so your spells may be seen as war cries, martial arts kata, tunes on a bagpipe-whatever.

If you use an ice or water spell when its raining/while standing in a river, you get a bonus, because the environment boosts your spell.

When you cast, if you get a mid-range result YOU (the player) choose the side effect, and the Moderator weaves that into the plot. Thus casting is interactive and keeps the story going.

I’m at risk of sounding like a broken record but I love the DCC magic system!

Each spell has a number of physical manifestations which add flavour and description and there are also mercurial effects when a new spell is cast which can work for or against the caster. As an a example I had an Elf character who would teleport towards his target every time he cast sleep. Handy for the coup de grace when the spell went well, less useful if it didn’t go off!

To cast a spell the player rolls a die (typically a D20) and adds Intelligence or Personality mods (Wizard/Elf or Cleric) and level to get the spell check result.

The spell usually goes off on anything over an 11, a higher result is generally better but some spells can go nuclear on a high roll and that’s not always desirable!

A low roll generally ends up with the spell being lost for the day, but rolling a nat 1 can result in a misfire or corruption and so on.

There’s also the ‘spellburn’ mechanic where the caster can temporarily ‘burn’ physical stats to represent, for example, a blood letting ritual to add points (Strength, Agility, Stamina) to the spell check.

Initially I found the inevitable pause while players looked up the relevant spell table to be too time consuming but printing a spell book or simply referencing a page number on a character sheet is a quick fix for this.

I accept DCC isn’t for everyone but for years my default D&D character class was always fighter or dwarf. DCC has brought me so much fun playing casters and clerics!


Right on! Thanks for the suggestions. I have never heard of Don’t play the
Ferryman but will check it out.

The only DCC game I played was at a Con years ago and had no magic in it. I will chase down the rules for that too.

It’s a strange hobby, where I read rules for fun and have no expectation of playing said game(s).

Thanks again!

I think that Gurps or Shadowrun 2.0 has a great system, where you can build spells so difficult/big/nasty that the mage can blow themselves up, and might do so willingly to be the guy who turns to the team and says: “Don’t worry about it guys, I got it! FLY YOU FOOLS!!!”

I’m guessing you may have played a funnel (running a bunch level zero characters without a class?) These make for really fun con games and are definitely part of the DCC experiance but you do miss out on some of the higher level fun that DCC offers.

Here’s a link to the DCC Quick Start PDF Enjoy and feel free to drop me a line or shout here if you have any questions.

I think you just put the finger on the weakness of the xCC systems. Their funnels make great games that demo very, very well. The system transitions into really good module play, but there are only very light long term campaign or gazetteer sort of meta narrative considerations made to the system.

For example, the DCC Magic System is great, but the long term effects of magic are as follows.

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Yeah, there aren’t any epic scale published campaigns but in my experience episodic campaigns are more sustainable and they certainly suit the group I’m running for now, though I’d love to reboot my current campaign and restart in Lankhmar and try to thread a meta plot through the modules.

As for corruption, in my experiance it isn’t actually very common - on most spells even rolling 1 will only give something like a 50% chance of it happening.

(But that’s an epic piece of Doug Kovacs’ art, well worth sharing!)


My copy of DCC arrives Wednesday. I am looking forward to giving it a read.


So true! I love reading rulebooks and settings, even when I know it won’t make it to the table because of time and reasons…


I much prefer freeform magic systems, of which Mage (either version) is the best around. For lists…i think changeling the lost. Their powers are clauses in contracts with forces of the world that you bargained for (fairy bargains are great! )


I have not played it much, only at a game con or two, but Burning Wheel has a very interesting take on magic. I would like to get my group into it but they’re like “what more books to buy? No thanks.” Or some variation of similar complaints. Lol :hushed:

I can’t say it’s the best, because that’s a hard thing to judge, but I can say that I had a DCC game where our wizard killed a random person he knew every time he cast Rope Trick, so the party introduced him to everyone they met when they arrived at a new village, and for that alone, I appreciate it.


Years ago I bought The Burning Wheel, on word of mouth, but have never player it. Sadly, it’s buried somewhen in the garage and may never be seen again. What are it’s board stroke? What makes it’s magic system unique?

I have never played Mage either, but would certainly give it a try. I am not big fan of open ended magic system unless that is what the game focuses on. Super flexible, do any thing systems can be a drag if you are not the mage. I ran Dresden Files for a couple of years and dug it, but the rules were more than a little slanted toward casting magic. Which on some level makes sense, it just is not fair to the other non-spell casters. The Accelerate version seems more balanced, but I haven’t ran it but a couple of times.

I didn’t say it in the original post, but I am designing my own game and am working on the magic system. My game is going to be a weird west game. Magic will be a crucial element, but I don’t want it to be a dueling wizards game. Although, having just written that, it does sound fun.

The way I understood the magic in The Burning Wheel, is the player picked 2 characteristics, say like shadow and fire. Then the player would explain what he wanted his spell to do, then the game master and player developed a level appropriate spell effect. As I understood the class it had no spell list only what was developed. Now I may not be totally spot on with my description because I only played the game at conventions. A couple of 4 hour slots is no where near enough time for picking up all the rules and mechanics of a game. The gamemaster was very easy to work with and most likely had me use a simplified set of rules for game speed. So the way it played for me was, I wanted to make the shadows heavier. So I made the spell “deeper shadows” when I cast it the DM had the shadow areas extend out and cover the party better. Increasing stealth.
Hopefully I’m explaining this right. Spells were more freeform may be a better way to say it.

Thanks! Sounds interesting. It would be very dependent on GM and player synergy. Get the wrong match and it would be awful. Of course, that is true in general for role playing. That said, I bet some cool stuff would come out of it.

There were several things I enjoyed about the system, a cool inner party debate mechanic should where to go or how to do it became an impasse. The Gamemaster was a great guy who ran an awesome game. This may have caused me to become more a fan than the game warrants, but it was a lot of fun. :grinning:

Freebooters on the Frontier.
Magic may be somewhat like DCC.
You roll your spell names randomly on a table. This generates evocative names like:
“Love Cube”
“Portal Cloud”
“Zalfant’s Invisible Helm”
“Munnonish’s Befuddling Truth”
“Quicksilver Pattern”
(the last two were actual spells my magic user had)

Each spellcaster has a certain number of power points, which can go up as player levels. A 1st level player typically has 2 points.

Finally, you have a table that has 4 dimensions: Effect, Range, Area of Effect, and Duration. Then you can spend points in each dimension. For example, if you want the effect to be major, that costs 3 points. If you want the range to be touch, that’s 0 points. Etc etc.

When you cast a spell, you decide on how many points per the table. Then you roll. Depending on the roll, you can either have everything go great; or middling (you cast the spell, but forget it); to disastrous (you forget the spell, it damages someone close by - probably one of your companions, and draws unwanted attention).

It’s a pretty sweet system, and both furthers the fiction forward aspect that drives most PbtA games; but also has that grittiness of old school fantasy games.

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For totally customizable magic/spells I would use HERO (Champions), GURPS, or Wild Talents. It would require a bit of system mastery but you can do/create exactly what you want.
(You could throw TOON in there too.)