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Magic Goes Awry

Magic Goes Awry: A high fantasy role-playing system that is light on rules and heavy on magical mayhem

A new version of this game is coming out soon! Follow me on twitter (#MagicGoesAwry) if you want see updates and announcements when the new version is out. Or if you want to receive an email announcement, you can join the mailing list (be sure to confirm your subscription).

This is a role-playing game designed for people who want to create a fun and interesting high fantasy story together. My goal in creating this game was to capture the fun of Dungeons & Dragons in a game that was free and accessible to a much wider range of people. I created this game to have little math, fewer things to keep track of, and more room for creativity while still having enough options and detail for people to create a diverse range of fantastical characters with exciting abilities.

Right now, this game is in the alpha testing phase, so the game is still being tweaked and adjusted. If you want to help me improve this game, please give me feedback by filling out the Magic Goes Awry Feedback Form. Thank you!

If you want to check out some actual play examples of this game system, you can listen to character creation and game play in my podcast:

Also, if you enjoy this game, please consider making a donation so that I can keep improving it and producing more content. You can make a one time donation with Ko-fi (Buy Me a Coffee) or give me ongoing support with Patreon. Thank you!



Become a Patron

 

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

 

Starting Information

In this storytelling game, the participants take on one of two roles: the players or the game master (GM). The players each create one of the main characters of the story (called a player character, or PC). Each player decides what actions their character takes in the game. Dice are used to figure out how effective the character’s actions are and if there are any unexpected results. The game master creates the world, the other characters, and the main challenges of the story. Using the results of the dice rolls, the game master determines the exact outcomes of the characters’ actions.

Part of making this game accessible is welcoming people who have never had a chance to play a role-playing game before. It is my aim to limit jargon and add the extra pieces of information needed to make the rules accessible to new players. In addition, if you are new to role-playing games and want to learn more, you can find general information and advice on the New Player Information page.

 

Player Character Creation

The following instructions give the process by which players create their characters.

The decisions you make in each step of character creation can be tracked on your character sheet, which is a special form designed to be a quick reference for character details like skills, abilities, and items. I have created separate character sheets for physically focused characters and for magically focused characters.

Although the steps are listed in a specific order, feel free to do them in whatever order works best for you. Some people will find character creation easier after reading the “Playing the Game” section below.

  1. Choose a class for your character. This determines your character’s main abilities. Your options are:
    • Mage: a person who casts arcane magic (wizards and sorcerers can be made using this class)
    • Fighter: a physical combat specialist (soldiers, rage warriors, and hand-to-hand combatants can be made using this class)
    • Bard: an entertainer who imbues their performances with magic (minstrels and swashbucklers can be made using this class)
    • Cleric: the worshipper of a deity, who can cast divine magic (priests and paladins can be made using this class)
    • Druid: a person who specializes in nature-based magic and abilities (nature wizards, witches, and rangers can be made using this class)
    • Rogue: a person who specializes in agility and cunning (thieves, swashbucklers, and alchemists can be made using this class)
  2. Choose a species for your character. Your options include, but are not limited to, human, elf, dwarf, gnome, halfling (hobbit), orc, goblin, troll, cat-person, lizard-person, werecreature, merperson, centaur, satyr, fairy, talking animal, anthropomorphic animal, magical machine, vampire, half-demon, or half-angel. Each character gets one species trait off of the “Species Traits” list.
  3. Choose numbers to represent your character’s ability to do mind and body tasks. Mind includes magic, knowledge, social skills, and awareness. Body includes physical skills, strength, dexterity, and endurance. The higher the number, the better you are at those tasks. You have three options for numbers:
    • Mind 5, Body 3
    • Mind 4, Body 4
    • Mind 3, Body 5
  4. Choose two types of defensive training off the “Defensive Training Options” list.
  5. Each class comes with one specific skill (listed below). Choose seven additional skills off the “Skills List.” These eight skills are the ones your character is an expert in.
    • Mage: Arcana
    • Fighter: Athletics
    • Bard: Performance
    • Cleric: Culture
    • Druid: Nature
    • Rogue: Acrobatics
  6. Go to your character class information page (the links to these are below) and determine your class abilities. Note that the key thing you want to keep track of is what your character is an expert at, when your character is considered prepared (if you have chosen any abilities that involve that), and what the limitations of your character’s abilities are.
  7. Choose one item off the following list. This is in addition to any items you gain from your class abilities and skills. All characters start with the following items: backpack, bedroll, blanket, soap, fire-starting kit, waterskin, chalk, rope, twine, enough rations for several days, a few coins in a pouch, and any non-magical adaptive device the character could benefit from.
    • Magic weapon: Three times a day you count as prepared when using this object to make a physical attack.
    • Enchanted defensive item: Choose an item that matches a defensive ability your character has. Your options are magic armor, a magic shield, an amulet of dodging, an enchanted magical outfit, an enchanted staff, or an amulet of deflection. Three times a day you count as prepared when using this object to defend.
    • Bag of coin: This is enough money to buy a magical item, throw a splendid party, or pay for a significant service (such as chartering a ship for multiple days).
    • Set of books: Choose a knowledge skill. That is the topic of the books. Whenever you take the time to consult the books you count as prepared on a knowledge roll about their topic.
    • Ring of luck: Once per day reroll a single roll.
    • Magical adaptive device: An adaptive device with one magical property. This property can be related to the function of the device, such as a levitating wheelchair or a cane that prevents the holder from tripping. Alternatively the property can be independent of the device’s main function, such as a prosthetic that allows its wearer to transform into an otter or a hearing aid that grants the ability to speak with plants. Keep in mind that the device’s property should be significantly more specific than a type of magic (for example, shapeshifting into a specific animal rather than any animal).
    • Or choose two ordinary items or one specialty item off the “Items List.”
  8. Now it is time for the finishing touches.
    • Name your character.
    • Choose a manner for your character. This is how your character generally behaves. Some possible manners are adventurous, awkward, broody, earnest, enthusiastic, innocent, jovial, otherworldly, overconfident, passionate, savvy, scholarly, or secretive.
    • Choose a goal for your character. This is what drives your character. Some possible goals are fight for an ideal (choose your ideal), help others, impress others, create (this could be creating art, order, or community), enjoy, gain (wealth, power, status, skill, or knowledge), learn, teach, discover, solve problems, survive, prove yourself, or serve (this could be serving a group, an ideal, or a deity).
    • Decide on a physical appearance for your character. What are their most notable features? What are they wearing?
    • Make a few decisions about where your character came from and what their past has been. This is their backstory. Note that it is fine to leave some areas of your character’s past open so that you can fill them in later during play.
    • Decide what relationship your character has with the other player characters. Note that relationships do not need to be symmetric (for example, one character can idolize a second character, while the second character considers the first character a rival). Options include stranger, sibling, childhood friend, trusted comrade, rival, distrusted ally, disliked ally, despised ally, saved your life, owes you their life, teacher, student, beloved, crush, knows your secret, you know their secret, your idol, they idolize you, respects you, you respect them, thinks you are misguided, you think they are misguided, needs your help, you need their help, your protector, you protect them, hired you, you hired them, needs your guidance, and guides you. For types of relationships that are likely to cause animosity and conflict between player characters, please be sure everyone is comfortable with that outcome before selecting that relationship.

 

Playing the Game

This game uses six-sided dice to decide the outcome of events. When your character attempts an action that has a significant chance of failure, roll a six-sided die to find out how it goes.

  • Roll an additional die if your character is an expert. Both skills and class abilities have rules for when someone is considered an expert.
  • Roll an additional die if your character is prepared. Characters are prepared if they are acting on specific knowledge, they have an item or ability that allows them to be prepared, or they have previously taken a specific action to prepare (see “Being prepared”).
  • Roll an additional die if someone has helped your character (see “Helping”).

The game master will help you determine how many dice to roll based on your character and the situation. Note that no more than four dice can be used for a roll.

 

Roll your dice and compare each die result to the appropriate number.

  • If you’re using mind (magic, knowledge, social skill, awareness), each die with a number that is less than your mind number counts as a success (rolling your number ).
  • If you’re using body (physical skills, strength, dexterity, endurance), each die with a number that is less than your body number counts as a success.

 

The number of successes from the dice roll determines the outcome of your character’s action.

0 successes is a failure. Your character’s action is not successful and the situation is becoming more challenging. This could be the result of an error your character made, but it could also be the result of someone else’s action, an unexpected circumstance, or a new development. The purpose of this is to create a change in the story that drives the plot forward. The game master will describe what happens.

  • The intensity of the consequences will match both the difficulty of the action and the danger in what is being attempted.
  • See “Plot advancing challenges” for details on possible outcomes of failed rolls.

1 success is a partial success. Your character’s action is successful, but just barely. The game master will create a limitation, side effect, or complication that accompanies their action. This is a milder version of the plot advancing challenges that come with character failure.

2 successes is a solid success. Your character accomplishes what they intended to.

3 successes is an outstanding success. Your character is extremely successful. The game master will create an additional benefit that the character receives as they accomplish their goal.

 

Plot advancing challenges: These are possible outcomes for failed rolls.

  • Magic rolls: When magic is being used, a failure means the magic has gone awry. Options include creating the opposite of the desired effect, the magic affecting a different set of people than desired, negative consequences to the caster, or the creation of strange, unexpected effects. There will usually be some relationship between the unexpected effect and what was attempted, though the connection might be quite bizarre. Magic gone awry can benefit opponents, hinder protagonists, or just make the overall situation more challenging.
  • Knowledge rolls: The most common result of a failed knowledge roll is a lack of information. For example, in the heat of the moment, the character can’t remember what they learned about zombies. However, if the character has no training in the type of knowledge they are attempting to use, the game master can instead decide that the character remembers a false piece of information. If the character has training in this type of knowledge, the game master can decide that the character remembers an unproven theory that contains both false and true information.
  • Awareness rolls: The most common result of a failed awareness roll is a lack of information. For example, the surrounding crowd is too noisy for the character to overhear what two people are whispering to each other. However, if it is appropriate to the situation, the game master can instead have the character perceive things in a misleading way, such as hearing a phrase out of context.
  • Social rolls: Something has gone wrong with the social interaction. Options include an accidental insult, an ineffective lie, an interruption, a misunderstanding, a person jumps to a false conclusion, an unexpected reaction (such as a character trying to intimidate a skilled warrior and instead being challenged to a duel), social awkwardness (such as a character stumbling over their words), and physical awkwardness (such as a character spilling their drink on the person they are talking to).
  • Physical rolls: When physical actions fail, something has prevented the character from being successful. Options include a fumble, an object breaking, an opponent’s successful action (such as a talented enemy warrior tripping an attacking fighter), an unexpected feature of the environment (such as a stealthy rogue moving silently and setting off a magical alarm), or the appearance of a new obstacle (such as a detective secretly tailing a suspect that is suddenly blocked by a group of children who are chasing after a ball).

Successful social rolls: It is my strong recommendation that even when players get two or three successes in their rolls to accomplish social tasks (such as an attempt to convince someone that a thief is after their family heirloom), that those characters who are being interacted with retain some agency in how they respond to the successful roll (to continue the example, the person may believe that a thief is after their family heirloom, but they still aren’t going to entrust a total stranger with the protection of their heirloom). This is meant to ensure that the characters of the game world are able to retain their personalities and core values in their interactions with the players’ characters. In those times when the characters don’t get their desired result because it goes against the nature of the character they are interacting with, the game master should ensure that something useful comes out of their successful roll (for example, the person could share a useful piece of information with them).

Being prepared: There are multiple ways that characters can prepare themselves.

  • Characters may take actions in the story to prepare. If these actions are simple things that the character should be able to do with little risk, then no roll is needed (such as using a hammer to chip off a small piece of an unusual rock to prepare for inspecting it).
  • Some preparatory actions come with a significant risk. This risk might not be known to the players (to build on the example above, if the unusual rock is actually a creature, then trying to chip a piece off is no longer easy and low risk). When this is the case, the game master will call for a roll or an appropriate skill or ability.
  • If you have an item or ability that allows you to be prepared under a certain set of circumstances, then as long as those circumstances apply, you are prepared.
  • If an item or ability says that three times a day, you are prepared when doing something, then three times a day, you can choose to activate that item or ability to receive that bonus (no dice roll needed).
  • Certain magical effects, like magical enhancements, can also count as preparation.

Helping: If you want to help someone else, explain how you try to help and make a roll. If you succeed, they will get to roll an additional dice. Certain magic abilities (like a cleric’s enhancement magic) are a way to directly help someone.

Turn order: Turn order is about figuring out when each character gets to take an action. This is used in time-sensitive situations where everyone is acting at once (like combat). In less time-sensitive situations, players and opponents can take actions whenever it makes sense for the plot. The following turn order system is designed specifically to work well with the mechanics of this game. It is experimental, and while I believe that it works well for Magic Goes Awry, you are welcome to experiment with other options.

  • The game master uses the plot to decide whether the player characters or their opponents take the first action.
  • The actions of the protagonists and their opponents alternate back and forth, with the failure or success of each action advancing the plot. This happens until each involved character has taken an action. This is one round.
  • Once a round is complete, a new round starts.
  • Each round, the players decide what order their characters act in, and the game master decides what order their opponents act in.
  • When the player characters take their actions, the players roll to find out what happens based on the skill or class ability they are using.
  • When opponents take actions, the players roll physical defense, magical defense, or an appropriate skill to defend against the opponent’s action.
  • Once the situation stops being time-sensitive, turn order is no longer necessary.

Play style: The big question none of the above rules answers is, “What is an action? How big or small is it? How big of an effect does it have?” To some degree, this is up to the game master to decide. My suggestion is to treat one dice roll to create a magical effect as a single spell and one dice roll to use a physical ability as several smaller actions together (for example, climbing up a cliff, a charge and several swings of a sword, or multiple shots from a bow). Lumping multiple smaller actions into one dice roll will advance the plot faster, and there will be larger effects from character actions. With this system, simple challenges and easy combats take one to two rounds to complete, whereas a really tricky challenge or tough fight might take four to six rounds to complete.

Character death: This is a tricky topic for any role-playing game, and something that has been discussed in depth in other places (for example, Character Death, and Four Dangers of Unplanned Character Death). Game systems that create explicit systems for character death never meet everyone’s needs and can lead to hurt and frustration. That is why I don’t have a premade system for character death. What I’m hoping participants will do is have a conversation with each other about character death and what each person wants to experience. Some people enjoy a feeling of risk, while others will enjoy things the most when they know none of the main characters will die unexpectedly. There is no right or wrong way to feel. As you start this conversation, here are some options for you to consider:

  • Little or no death in the game.
  • Enemies will sometimes die, but not the player characters or their allies.
  • Anyone but a player character can die at a dramatically appropriate moment in the game.
  • Specific players are open to making secret agreements with the game master for their character to die at a pivotal and dramatic moment in the game (usually at the end of a story arc).
  • Players have control over their character’s life and death. They may choose to kill their character at a dramatically appropriate moment if they desire, but the game master won’t kill anyone’s characters.
  • Based on the plot, the game master is free to kill any characters (including player characters) if it is a logical outcome of the circumstances.
  • To create a feeling of constant risk, some kind of wound system is used to track character life and death.

 

Creating Adventures

Game masters create the world and set up situations. The group then plays to find out how the player characters deal with those situations. Each player narrates what their character is doing. The game master helps by asking question. Each time a character takes an action that has a significant chance of failure, it is time for a roll. The result of each roll is used to move the plot forward.

Certain situations may involve active non-player characters (other characters that are controlled by the game master). In these cases, the game master can choose to have the non-player characters take an action in-between player character actions. Any time that action directly affect a player character, the player can make a roll to use one of their defensive abilities. Dangerous or rapidly changing environments can work in a similar manner, with the situation changing in-between player character actions.

Below are some different tools that have been created in order to assist game masters in creating their world and setting up the challenges of the game.

 

The Crossroads Adventures

This is a set of quirky, ready-made adventures that I am creating for those who want a detailed adventure to work through. The Crossroads Setting will also have a list of characters, locations, and monsters for game masters to work with.

These adventures are set in my Crossroads setting that I am developing. They are whimsical adventures that take inspiration from fairy tales and medieval culture. Each of these adventures was created to be played on the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast series, and the text of each adventure is planned to be released with the podcast episodes. This is very much a work in progress.

Crossroads Character Creation: This character creation sequence is designed for any of the adventures that I have created for the Crossroads setting. The sequence starts with a bit of background and setting information to get players oriented. Next is the character creation itself. Afterwards there is a mini adventure to give the players a taste of game play.

The Owlbear Reintroduction Program: The podcasts of this adventure are currently being released.

Life in the Adventurer’s Academy: Planned adventure.

The Haunted Mill: Planned adventure.

 

Tools for Building Encounters

This will be a collection of tools and advice designed to help game masters creates their own unique challenges and opponents for the players to overcome.

This section is currently being written. More soon!

 

Additional Information

Character advancement system: In addition to single-session games, Magic Goes Awry is designed for ongoing games that take place over multiple sessions. This is a rough draft of what the character advancement system is going to be.

  • Level 1: Character creation. In the current version of the game, all characters gain four main class abilities during character creation. For games with advancement, this system requires starting characters out at a less powerful level by reducing the number of defensive trainings from two to one (step 4 of character creation), reducing the skills from eight total skills to five (step 5), and reducing the number of class abilities from four to two (step 6).
  • Level 2: Gain a skill.
  • Level 3: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 4: Gain a defensive training.
  • Level 5: Gain a skill.
  • Level 6: Gain a skill.
  • Level 7: Gain a class ability. (This is the level of the standard game characters.)
  • Level 8: Gain a skill.
  • Level 9: Gain a skill.
  • Level 10: Gain a class ability.
  • Level 11: Gain a skill.
  • Level 12: Gain a skill.
  • Level 13: Gain a class ability.

Optional rules: An alternate dice-rolling system, which produces more frequent failures, can be found on the “Optional Rules” page.

Coming soon: Website editing of Magic Goes Awry (fixing typos and clarifying language). Printable character sheets. More accessibility features (links to dice-rolling programs; plus, I am going to do more research on how to make this website and game as accessible as possible). Additional discussion of things like hit points (wounds) and initiative (turn order) that addresses these features, which are common to many games like Dungeons & Dragons (possibly with rules for those who want them). Optional rules for race/species abilities. Additional items and services for the items list. Additional game master information for building encounters and running games. Possibly some example monsters and a mini game module. Different versions of the game for different purposes (a simplified game for short game sessions and a version for games with advancement). Any awesome class abilities that I manage to think up.

Licensing: Magic Goes Awry, the Crossroads Setting, and the Crossroads Adventures are all copyright Fay Onyx, 2018.

5 Responses to “Magic Goes Awry”

  1. Gryphyl says:

    This looks good so far! Looks like you missed out a number on point 3 of character creation though (“Choose your number, from 2 to [?]”). I’m guessing it should be 5?

    Also, you say you can only roll four dice in very special circumstances – but if you do roll four dice and succeed on all of them, does anything extra happen, or is it still a crit the same as with three dice?

    • FayOnyx says:

      I replied to you. I’m sleepy so it didn’t go in as a reply to you and is just in the main thread instead. Thanks for your comment!

  2. FayOnyx says:

    Thank you Gryphyl! It is supposed to be 5 and I fixed it.

    Also, good question! I think I’d leave that up to the game master to decide based on how epic the game is. I’ve done the math and for a character doing what they are best at it is nearly a one in five chance of getting four successes when rolling four dice, so it isn’t going to be super rare.

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