I thought it was about time I elaborated on the spells and the spellcasting process in Magic: the Multiverse, before I put them up on that section of the website. There are several problems about how the spellcasting model of the card game could be slotted into a roleplaying context, mostly to do with the large number of keywords and in particular the zones that regulate the spellcasting process in the cardgame. What they represent in the narrative of the game is discussed in this article on the Magic: the Gathering website. I’ll give a brief outline of the spellcasting process here before discussing the conversion process.
To begin with, an outline of the spellcasting model of the cardgame. Spells are drawn from a repertoire (called a library) into readiness in the player’s hand, from which spells can be cast. Certain spells can be cast at any time (including in response to other spells; this includes all countermagic), others only during a players’ own turn. Some spells are cast and are gone, others remain in play and carry on having an effect. Some summon creatures, whether as cards or tokens. All of this can be relatively easily simulated with roleplaying mechanics.
When spells are resolved (through being countered, having their effect and finishing, or leaving play another way), they go to an area called the graveyard. This represents two different things, according to the article: it is both a physical place where creatures go to die, and the more conceptual space which represents history more generally, the past full of previously cast spells. This dichotomy is a little difficult to simulate in a roleplaying game, which I’ll discuss in a second.
There’s also the “removed from game” zone, now called Exile, which is where spells that are obliterated go: spells can be relatively easily brought back from the graveyard, it’s much harder to bring them back from Exile.
So how is all this adapted into a roleplaying game? Spellcasting characters have a repertoire of spells to choose from, and spells they can readily cast. These aren’t the same thing; spells that a character knows and those they have to hand need to be kept separate. This could be quite similar to the readied spell slots of Dungeons & Dragons (seven spell slots, to represent a standard MtG hand size), although I really don’t like the idea of having a daily quota of spells that replenishes through rest. This also isn’t the way that MtG novels appear to portray spellcasting; casters get tired and unable to cast spells through lack of mana, not lack of memory. And from what we can see in the novels, mana replenishes a lot quicker than on a daily basis.
This might just be because the characters in the novels don’t cast flurries of spells like in the card game, but any roleplaying game needs to account for this sort of possibility. My initial thought to avoid the refresh mechanic (should it be avoided? I think so, but let me know below if you disagree!) is to allow a player to choose if a spell goes out of a character’s repertoire. While this may seem slightly overpowered, this will hopefully be balanced by other game mechanics, which I’ll explain below.
A problem that’s linked to this, but indepedent of it, is that of limiting when particular spells are cast. Repeated casts of Wrath of God will make the game somewhat boring, for example. To get round this, Hypersleeper and I developed the notion of “greater” and “lesser” mana. Lesser mana is used to cast spells that don’t have more than one of a particular mana symbol. This can be replenished quickly (on a per-turn basis during turn-based combat, for example), so you can cast relatively minor spells on a regular basis. Greater mana must be used to cast spells with more than one of the same mana symbol in its casting cost. For example, Wrath of God would cost 2 lesser mana and 2 greater mana. Greater mana replenishes at a slower rate than lesser mana. So you cast lots of spells using greater mana, you’re likely to run out of mana fast.
This requires that mana replenishes, as it does in the card game at the start of each player’s turn. The novels portray mana as regenerating slowly over time, so the untapping mechanic is convenience rather than reality. If we simply make it that a character recovers 1 lesser mana per combat turn, while they recover greater mana at a rate of 1 per day. This can be mana of any colour.
This means that keeping spells with lots of greater mana costs in your readied spell slots is a bad idea. There are also different kinds of spells, which have different casting restrictions. In order to simulate countermagic and other instant-level spells without having a series of actions that interrupt the turn sequence, the normal turn sequence of roleplaying games need to be suspended, and a system like the ticks used in Exalted needs to be brought in. The different kinds of spells’ properties and casting times are outlined below.
Sorceries – in MtG, these are one-time non-creature spells that can only be cast in your own turn. They are in many ways the most basic kind of spell. Either they have a standard casting time based on their type, or their converted mana cost. I’m not settled on which of these options would be better.
Instants – as their name suggests, these one-time spells can be cast instantly; that is, at any point, including an opponent’s turn. These should take maybe half the time of sorceries to cast, or half their converted mana cost. If the tick-based turn system is being used, announced actions take a certain number of ticks to resolve, and changing actions mid-flow generally has some sort of penalty. To represent snap casts of countermagic or some sort of spell, the penalties for casting instants in this way should be less than other actions.
Enchantments – these spells affect either entities or the world, and remain in play once cast. They can only be cast during a player’s turn. These should take at least the same amount of time as sorceries, maybe more to balance out their longer-lasting nature. So they can either take double the standard time of sorceries, or double their converted mana cost.
These spells don’t leave a character’s readied slots when cast, but if a character wants to bring new spells from their repertoire to their readied list they must move a spell from their readied slots to their graveyard, unless they have a way to increases their number of readied slots beyond seven.
These deserve their own discussion section, as they’re one of the most frequently cast spells in the card game, but I’m not sure they should be in the roleplaying game. If they were, the game would become a mini-wargame, with tactical maps and the like. I know this is the way some people like playing roleplaying games, but I want to keep the option open for those who don’t want to play this way, so creature spells need to be toned down to account for this.
This can be done through a tension that exists within the game; a debate about what creature spells are. Are they pulling actual creatures through the Blind Eternities to serve the summoner, or are they magical images of the creatures in question? This has never been completely answered by MtG’s flavour department. This can be exploited to our benefit when designing this system. Some spells cause creature tokens to be created, rather than being creature spells themselves. Spells like this can be considered to be magical images of creatures woven out of aether, and creature spells are summoning actual creatures.
In order of them to be actual creatures, the planeswalker would need to have secured the creature’s allegiance in order to guarantee their willingness to serve when summoned. This limits the pool of creatures to those the planeswalker has personally secured; there is not a limitless reservoir of creatures to draw on. So creature spells summoning actual creatures (not generating tokens) would go to the graveyard because the thing they summoned is already here and can’t be summoned again. Planeswalkers may return the creatures they summoned at any point, but note that this doesn’t return the spell to their repertoire immediately; creatures need time to recouperate after being sucked through the Blind Eternities.
Artefacts are another kettle of fish altogether, one that I haven’t completely figured out. The rough picture I had in my head was that the casting cost of the artefacts were their “activation” cost for one scene of a roleplaying game, not their “summoning” cost, so they don’t go to the graveyard when cast, but they still take up a slot in character’s readied spells.
To round these notes off, there are various mechanics around card hands in the card game that can be quickly and easily simulated in a roleplaying format:
Card drawing – the mechanic of drawing a card every turn can be dispensed with entirely, as cards aren’t cycled through in the same way by casting. Rather, when a character has an empty readied slot, it is automatically filled with a spell of their choice from their repertoire (there are no cards, and so no way to randomise the draw), up to the usual maximum of sevens slots.
Some cards have effects of card drawing. This can be represented by an additional temporary readied slot for every card drawn, until the end of a full tick cycle.
That’s it for now. I’ll post these rules up in a clearer format with less discussion in the Magic: the Multiverse section of this website soon, along with an outline of the turn sequence mechanics that will make several of these points make sense!