A different sort of framework for spells & magic

A different sort of framework for spells & magic

A different sort of framework for spells & magic

I came up with this idea working on #Stonetop, but I’m unsure whether I’ll use it. I think it might make more sense for a more magic-rich game. Anyhow, figured I’d put it out here for feedback. And maybe someone else will pick it up and use it.

The core idea: spells are something that theoretically anyone can learn and do, but they require that you draw on power (usually power from beyond yourself).

First, spells would be things that could be learned from various sources: ancient writings, spirits or sorcerers willing to teach you, etc. Very similar to the spells in core DW.

We’d have two additional basic (special?) moves:

Study a Spell

When you spend a few weeks studying a spell with the intent to master it, roll+INT. On a 10+, you have mastered the spell and can now cast it. On a 7-9, you haven’t mastered it but you make progress; take +1 forward to study this same spell again.

Cast a Spell

When you draw on a source of power to cast a magic spell, roll +INT. On a 7+, the spell is cast but choose 1 (on a 10+) or 2 (on a 7-9):

– The tags of your power source manifests strongly in the spell’s effects

– You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot

– Unless you can provide more power, the spell’s effects are diminished

Whatever you choose, the GM will fill in the details.

Sources of power would be associated with tags, such as:

fiery – consuming, impassioned, destructive, bright

icy – cold, calm, static, numbing

electric – fast, blinding, stunning, powerful

thunderous – loud, forceful, obvious, terrifying

dark – numbing, hiding, deceptive, despairing

light – illuminating, invigorating, hopeful, bright

stony – solid, strong, unmoving, unchanging

green – growing, invigorating, changing, entangling

aqueous – flowing, smothering, cleansing, life-giving

bloody – emotional, raw, living, wild

airy – delicate, agile, insubstantial, unbound

chaotic – unpredictable, formless, changing, destructive

axiomatic – absolute, inflexible, idealistic, unchanging

necrotic – deathly, decaying, enervating, poisonous

So… by default anyone can learn a spell, but you need a source of power to actually cast one. And if you cast a spell harnessing power appropriate for the spell (e.g. use fiery power to cast magic missile), then that choice of “the tags of your power source manifests strongly” is a no-brainer: flaming magic missiles! But if you use dark power to cast the Light spell, that choice could result in a flickering, pale light that doesn’t reveal all it should.

Now, the primary spellcasting classes would have some moves to enhance this, such as:


When you spend time (an hour at least) drawing on the magic from a place of power, gain 1-3 charges. The GM will tell you how many, and what tags are associated with them. Record them below. You can hold no more charges than your CON. Among other things, you can expend a charge to cast a spell. If the spell requires more power, you can expend an extra charge.

Maker of Talsimans

Requires Siphon, level 6+

When you use Siphon, you can store charges in one or more specially prepared objects that you carry on your person. Each talisman you carry is a burden greater than its physical mass, with a Weight equal to charges it holds. Should anyone but you handle a talisman, its charge dissipates unpleasantly but harmlessly.


When you counter a spell or magical effect that would otherwise affect you, roll+INT. On a 7-9, choose 1. On a 10+, both.

• You suffer a diminished effect (though others are affected normally)

• You can Siphon the power or draw on it to cast a spell of your own, right now.


Requires Siphon, Counterspell, level 6+

When you consume a spell or magical effect, roll+CON. On a 7+, you gain 1 charge. On a 7-9, you diminish the magic, weakening it or reducing its effect. On a 10+, you negate the magic entirely.

Deep Roots

Requires Siphon

When you get a few hours uninterrupted sleep on bare soil or natural rock, gain 1 charge (either green or stony, your choice).


requires level 6+

When you cast a spell, you can mark a debility to draw on your own body as a source of power (chaotic).

Blood Magic

When you spill the lifeblood of a helpless or willing creature, you can draw on its power (bloody, plus whatever else the GM tells you) to cast a spell or Siphon it away as a charge.

15 thoughts on “A different sort of framework for spells & magic”

  1. I don’t know if time in Stonetop is typically long-term, but I don’t know how often I run into having a few days, let alone a few weeks, to do something in DW. The following are just off the top of my head from first glance:

    So on a 7-9 for Study a Spell, you gain +1 to Study a Spell again? With no immediate benefit? Not sure I would like that. I think a 7-9 would be more likely to result in being able to cast a spell, but not as well. Perhaps you have to have 5/5 Mastery to use a spell to the fullest potential. You start with 0/5. You gain 2 points on a 10+ and 1 point to mastery on a 7-9 (perhaps even with some other complication). 0/5 is a -2 to your roll to cast it, 1/5 is -1, 3/5 is 0, 4/5 is +1 and 5/5 is +2. This way you have to study multiple times to learn it well but can use it along the way with the feeling of mastering it. Just the first idea that came to mind.

    I may also be reading this wrong, but it seems that Cast a Spell has two negative and one positive effect to choose from. Is that intentional?

    I like the areas from which you can draw power, those are definitely the most interesting part of this casting system for me. Using a debility to draw power from is an especially interesting way of incorporating debilities as benefits.

  2. Yeah, Stonetop is a lot more slow-burn than most DW games. The learn a spell move would be a between-adventures sort of thing.

    Another way to work it… each spell could have a stat. When you first learn the spell, you set it to -1 (if you get a 7-9 to learn it) or +0 (if you get a 10+).  Then it increases each time you cast it successfully, with a max bonus of +INT.

    On the cast a spell move, the “tags manifest strongly” is either good or bad, depending on whether your power source aligns with the spell you’re casting.

  3. It’s very interesting you’re going down this path. I’ve been thinking a lot about magic lately, and dipped my toe in this pond but you’ve gone much further.

    The counterspell/siphon loops looks really interest, and a neat way to bring about magical duels like we see all the time but don’t often have much place, mechanically.

    Be interesting if one of the risks associated with trying to absorb hostile magic is that you need to place yourself directly in its path. You can’t whiff at it from the sidelines.

  4. I take a “less is more” approach to rolls, so I would simply strike the Study a Spell move, and say you can master a number of spells equal to your level.

    Cast a spell needs at least one more option. How about:

    – The spell affects either more or less than you intended it to.

    – The spell’s effects only last a short time.

    I like the “charges” and talismans system, though for a dedicated spellcasting class putting talismans behind level 6 may be too harsh.

  5. I don’t like the Study move. It’s boring, especially the 7-9 result. Maybe you could simply treat it like a Defy Danger. So 10+ it’s ok, while 7-9 it’s a success with cost. What is the cost? As usual, GM choice, maybe related to the spell nature. Maybe you simply need more time. Maybe you need to buy some rare ingredient to boost the magic while learning it (or maybe forever, something like “if you want to launch Dark Reaper Hex, you need to be high”), maybe you learn the spell, but you need to forever forget another spell you learnt before. Maybe you stumble while studying it, so the first time you’ll launch the spell in a tense situation, you’ll get heavy side effects. Etc.

  6. Like many otheres I don’t like the study a spell.

    If you are using a few weeks with a master to learn a spell, that should be enough cost to just learn it there and then.

    If you study a spell like from a ward or even a scroll I think there should be a chance that it backfires. Like opening a dimential rift, teleporting the chrecter(s), marking the would be spellcaster for life or something else that is fun 🙂

    On the overall magic, it sounds to me like the wizards ritual move, just with a bit more panache. (I really like the idea, that the type of power you draw power from gives it a special tag.)

    I think I would play it like everybody can cast ritual magic, but only people with special training can cast “fast” magic. 

  7. I’m actually in the process of converting all most of the D&D spells to DW. I’m using memorization method of level + for number spells per day. And adapting DCC’s corruption/misfire/deity disfavor system to DW. I’ve created tags for spells as well. I’ve already got my changes up and running in our current DW game, and it’s working great so far. I just don’t have all the spells converted yet. Lacking 4th level and above.

    Our games scale slower than typical DW. We use 1-20 levels, alternating between and advanced move at odd levels and ability points at even. We like campaigns, and the slower leveling is perfect for converting the D&D spells to DW.

  8. This idea sounds allot like the old Blizzard game “Diablo”. They used tomes to learn spells. And by reading additional tomes of the same spell, you increase its power and level.

    Blizzard then did away with this mechanic and invented the “Skill Tree” for ‘Diablo 2’ which just about every RPG uses today in the video game industry.


    I think the Red Mage uses a type of Skill Tree too called Crimson tree of Ygg.

  9. Michael Prescott 

    Be interesting if one of the risks associated with trying to absorb hostile magic is that you need to place yourself directly in its path. You can’t whiff at it from the sidelines.

    I think that’s already there?  The basic counterspell move only triggers if you attempt to counter magic that’s affecting you directly.  If you do, and miss, then it’s hard move time.  The most likely hard move is “and the spell takes effect, fully.”

    The manavore isn’t quite so specifically throwing yourself in a spell’s path, but the trigger is when you consume a spell.  I don’t think you can do that from the sidelines. 

  10. Regarding the Study a Spell move… agreed that it’s a titch boring and (like I said before) only appropriate for a slow-burn type of game with lots of downtime.  

    The Stonetop setup makes it so that there are regularly weeks or months passing between adventures, which makes the “spend a few weeks studying it” a less dramatic cost. In a more traditionally paced, more mobile game, I’d go with something a lot less restrictive.

    Regarding it being “boring…” yeah, I can see that. I have some more interesting versions lying around that involve accumulating progress and meeting requirements (like “you need to study in the presence of X” or “you need to acquire Y first”).

    Mostly, I wanted this to be a quick sort of resolution for “you had time to study it, did you learn it? Or did something go wrong?”  And the “something went wrong” could spur an adventure.

  11. Rasmus wernersen 

    I think I would play it like everybody can cast ritual magic, but only people with special training can cast “fast” magic.

    Now that is interesting, and has some possibilities.

  12. Jeremy Strandberg yeah, slow and fast magic has been a thing in my games for a long time. I love it as a concept.

    I use good ol vancian style for slow, except you don’t forget a spell you just have to prepare each use and when it’s used it’s gone until you can perform the ritual again.

    Fast magic should basically be move +tags and a few complications listed (maybe each tag has an up and downside like AW’s moonlighting gigs)

    Like using vital to heal yourself or someone but on a 7-9 they also take a debility “your knife wound is gone, but you are going to feel ill for awhile” kind of thing.

    Destructive magic should be all about unintended consequences. Backlash, collateral damage, vaporizing half a building when you just wanted to pop a locked door, etc.

  13. I worked up a version of this for warlock/patron-based magic. The core moves:

    Contract (based on the move from the Warlock playbook). You bind yourself to a patron and gain Boons, an Obligation, and choose your patron’s tags (from OP’s examples or write your own).

    Obeisance. When you satisfy your Obligation, gain 1-devotion.

    Siphon. When you draw power from your patron, spend at least 1-devotion and roll +devotion spent.

    On a 10+, gain 3-power and choose a tag from your patron’s list for each power.

    On a 7-9, gain 2-power. You choose one tag and the GM chooses one.

    On a 6-, gain 1-power anyway, but the GM chooses the tag.

    Invocation. When you do magic with your patron’s power, spend at least 1-power and roll +power spent. On a 10+, choose one; on a 7-9, choose two.

    -The tags of your power source(s) manifest strongly in the spell’s effects

    -You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot

    -Unless you can provide more power, the spell’s effects are diminished

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