House Rules & Rule Constructs

This article originally appeared, in much the same form, in Adventurers Club issue #21 (summer 1993). Some minor revisions have been made since then.

The Art of Magic

New magic rules? What, Where, Why?

The following article details an alternative to the magic system described in the new Fantasy Hero. The system described therein, while being well thought out and internally consistent, was not really right for my campaign. I wanted a system that made the different broad types of spell-caster radically different from each other. Taking a cue from other fantasy game systems; which each had 2 or 3 different spell-caster types, each differing by nature of the source of the magic; I set out to make up 2 game-mechanically different types of spell-casters (based upon the most frequently used types: the mage and priest), a concept used in the Fantasy Hero book, but not to my personal satisfaction. The third type, the mentalist (psionicist) was added as an afterthought when a player wanted to play one.

There are a few oddities to my system that some players may not appreciate, the most important being that it makes things difficult for the player who wishes to run a part-time spell-caster (the classic jack-of-all-trades who seems to have every skill in the book plus spells). I have no objection to the type, but under the existing system it was easy for the part-time spell-caster to out shine the dedicated spell-caster, which I did not like, thus one aspect of this system (the high cost of making a spell caster) discourages the type without making it impossible.

The other primary oddity is the use of variable power pools, that most dreaded of frameworks that every source say doesn't belong in a hero-level game. Well, under proper GM supervision, anything can belong in any level game; remember that.

For the classic mage

Who, through research, learns to manipulate the power which flows throughout the world.

We start by creating for the character a variable power pool with the following limitations (others may be added as conceptual of course):

Total limitation on Pool Control -4 (plus any other as conceptual). Once a mage has learned the spells from his book he knows those spells, and may continually cast them for as long as he has the END to do so, until he chooses to study a different batch. In this way the size of the variable power pool (as well as the character's INT) represents how much spell knowledge the character is capable of keeping straight in his head at a time. The larger the INT of the character, the more points he can have invested in his variable power pool, the more proficient he is at magic.

Mages spellbook may be added to with spells acquired in adventuring; found book & scrolls, acquired from other mages, and such (the GM may wish to impose some type of skill check to see if the character is capable of learning the spell, perhaps the same skill used to manipulate the pool and cast spells); or by researching to create a spell: the player should work with the GM, the character should have the Inventor/Spell-Research skill, and the process should be assumed to take quite a bit of time (maybe 1 day per 10 active points?). Spell research should also be fairly expensive (just to slow down the player who want to write up every spell they've ever dreamed of), possibly some multiple of the active cost (ie. 10 gold per 1 active point in a silver standard economy).

For the priestly magics

Which are granted to the character by some greater being or concept.

For the priest character the player should merely buy each spell individualy as is normally done for Fantasy Hero (unless the Church Familiarity and School Familiarity skills described below are being used, then the character must have the proper familiarity first), being that the priest does not study to learn his spells, they are much more like deity granted powers. The player and GM should decide on a deity or deity type and create a full spell list for that deity/church that all priests of said deity are capable of eventually casting. The Priest character should have some type of skill roll associated with the casting of the spell. To balance out the power levels between priests and true mages the priest character should take as a disadvantage "May Not Learn Spells Whose Active Cost Exceeds EGO (or whatever stat is appropriate)." Treat as a physical limitation, slightly imparing, all of the time: 15 points. For the player to add spells to his character he must simply pay the points and add the spell to his sheet.

Adding spells to the master list for the deity/church is treated very much like the process for mages adding spells to their book. The player should work with the GM, the character should have the Inventor/Research skill, and the process should be assumed to take quite a bit of time as well as costing the Priest something (if not money, perhaps something similar to organizational brownie points, awarded whenever the priest does something exceptional appropriate for the god's ideals - not necessarily combat effective, but appropriate none the less; at perhaps of cost of 10 brownie per 1 active point) although money would work. Once added to the Church Spell List the GM should assume that any priest of that church would have access to that spell now.

END for magic using characters

(how to keep the spell-caster from running amok).

All spells should cost some END to use (even if it's just 1 pip) to represent that it is an active and difficult decision to be using said spell as well as to insure that the spell won't last forever. If the player/character wishes to create a permanent effect he should work with the GM to create the effect.

Instead of using the character's END to power the spells, buy for the character (mage or priest) an END Reserve which takes all day to recover (this effect may be accomplished anyway the GM sees fit, my method was to spend 1 point for REC and just tell the players that the battery recovers after a nights sleep) thus allowing the character to either explode into a short-lived blaze of glory, or moderately cast spells all day. This keeps Fantasy Hero magic from feeling like Champions super-powers. The END Reserve may be as large as the player is willing the pay points for.

New skills for the magic users

It is recommended that all magic using characters specialize in schools or churches (more than one if desired) with familiarities to reflect the school specializations.

School Familiarity (mage). Treated rather likeWeapon Familiarities. Cost is 1 point for a familiarity with a spell (ie. fireball), 2 points for a familiarity with a school of spells (ie. fire spells), and 3 points for a broad group of schools (ie. elemental school - fire, water, earth, and air). Without the familiarity the character may still cast the spell but with a penalty of -3 to the magic skill roll (as well as -3 to OCV for an attack spell).

Church Familiarity (priest). Similar to School Familiarity (mage) - 1 point for a spell, 2 points for a church, 3 points for a broad group - except that without the Familiarity the priest may not know the spell at all. For example: a Priest Character has Familiarity - Church of Purity (the Church of Purity is a spell list from the Fantasy Hero Companion, pg. 139). Being as the priest has this Familiarity, at any time the character has extra experience points the player may pay the points, and add the spell to the character sheet (assuming that the spell falls with the active point limit for the character). If this is the only Familiarity that the character has he simply may not learn any spell outside of that church list.

Spell research. Not really a new skill, just a standard renaming of the skill Inventor using magic as the science. Presumably the character will have a knowledge skill of magic (the science of magic?) and a knowledge skill of his school of magic.

Other notes for spells

Side effects. When writing up spells it is strongly encouraged to use the limitation Side Effect for all but the mentalism type of magic.

On the effects of INT Aid (or whatever the magic-roll stat is for your mage). An increase to the stat will allow the mage to memorize and cast spells of greater active point cost than he normally could. In this case the GM may wish to consider treating the spell as being difficult (-1 to magic skill roll per every 5 active points as opposed to -1 per every 10). The other implication of is that mages should be allowed to copy spells into their book that they are not currently capable of casting (thus the mage doesn't lose a newly found spell before he has a chance to really use it).

Spells for newly created characters. The average mage will start the game with around three to six spells from his school which his mentor graciously allowed him to copy into his book. The spells that the mage starts with should be simple, basic spells from the school. The priest character will start the game with as many spells as the character can afford to pay the points for (the same holds true for the mentalist if they are going to be used in the game).

Sample Character Archetypes

Guide to abbreviations: WF = Weapon Familiarity, SF = School Familiarity (see above), CF = Church Familiarity (see above), KS = Knowledge Skill

Adventuring Wizard

Characteristics Disadvantages 75+
8 STR -2 Reputation 8- 5
10 DEX 0 Psych Lim: Reckless Curiosity 15
10 CON 0 Watched by former teacher 10
8 BODY -4 Distinctive Features 5
23 INT 16
13 EGO 6
13 PRE 3
12 COM 1
2 PD 0
2 ED 0
3 SPD 10
4 REC 0
20 END 0
17 STUN 0


30 DisadvantagesTOTAL 105
Skills and Talents
1 WF: Sling
3 Riding
46 Magic Pool
5 Pool Control
10 END Reserve (90 END, Recovers after a nights sleep)
3 Magic Skil (pool manipulation INT-
2 SF: Spells from School of Body Manipulation
2 KS: Magic 11-
3 KS: School of Body Manipulation INT-

With little or no changes (perhaps dropping the limitation "must have x points in school" you can use the spells from the Fantasy Hero books (ie. College of Body Manipulation out of the Fantasy Hero Companion, pg. 105). This mage can cast any spell from that school whose active cost is 23 or less and can have up to 46 real cost points worth of the spell ready to go at any time. He can also cast any other spells that he may know from other schools, but at -3 to Magic Skill roll (as well as -3 OCV if applicable) because he doesn't have any Spell Familiarities other than the one school. He is currently incapable of researching new spells as he doesn't have the Inventor/Spell-Research skill.

Adventuring Priest (kind of an oxymoron, huh?)

Characteristics Disadvantages 75+
13 STR 3 Strict Religous Code 20
13 DEX 9
10 CON 0
10 BODY 0
13 INT 3
18 EGO 16
13 PRE 3
12 COM 1
2 PD 0
2 ED 0
3 SPD 7
4 REC 0
20 END 0
17 STUN 0


30 DisadvantagesTOTAL 95
Skills and Talents
3 Oratory PRE-
3 Conversation PRE-
3 Perk: Priest
3 Paramedic (basic healing - field medicine) INT-
3 Bureaucratics PRE-
2 CF: Church of Healing
3 KS: Religious Dogma INT-
2 KS: Religious Procedure 11-
3 Faith (spell casting skill) EGO-
2 WF: Common Melee Weapons
5 +1 w/ Common Melee Weapons
2 +1 w/ Mace
9 END Reserve (80 END, Recovers after nights sleep)
5 Spell of Wounding
2 Defense Field
5 Dispel
1 Dectect
4 Major Healing
4 Restore Mind

The spells used for this character were all taken from the Church of Healing (Fantasy Hero, pg. 239) and used just as they appear in the book.


the bastard magic (this is not recommended for all campaigns). Theoretically the weakest of the three types of magic, but also the least restricted in regards to GM imposed limitations upon the spells, mentalism is defined as its own type of magic, separate from magery or priestly abilities. If you wish to include mentalism (psionics) into your fantasy campaign it is suggested that you lump Mind Link and all exclusively mental powers together and restrict the other two types of magic (mage and priest) from using them. These effects will become the exclusive baliwick of the mentalist. Base stat will be EGO (naturally). No spell may be more active points than the character's EGO (like the priest, treat this as a 15 point physical character limitation). Mentalists need not attach a skill roll to their effects, although the Concentrate limitation should be required. Unlike the other two types of magic, mentalism effects burn personal END, not a battery. It is also recommend that the Long-Term END Loss rules be used. Spell effects will also be limited by the Game Master to only those effects the GM feels fall into the realm of valid mental effects. (There may be some cross-over between the three types of magic).

On School Familiarities for mentalism. Use only if there are going to be individual schools of mentalism (GM option)


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