Comparative Review: Castles & Crusades, RuneQuestII, Warhammer FRP2
Part IV Magic
The three games that I'm comparing have very different approaches in their magic systems. The attitudes to magic in the settings vary greatly with it really being treated as an accepted part of life in C&C or Gloranthan RQ, while in WFRP's Old World spellcasters bear an implied taint of chaos. This applies even to the members of the Imperial wizardly orders and any magic user should have good reasons to fear the witch hunters. The rules in each system are different, but broadly speaking C&C uses slots while RQ and WFRP use magic points. WFRP has risks associated with spellcasting with these being greater as the power of the magic increases.
Castles & Crusades
C&C's magic system is the simplest to describe as it uses what is called a 'vancian' spell slots system that was pioneered in OD&D. These is a split between the arcane magic of illusionists and wizards and clerics and druids using divine magic, but mechanically there is not a massive difference in practice. There is no need to make a roll to see if the casting succeeds, but the target of a spell will often be able to make a saving throw to reduce or avoid being affected.
Spells all have an associated level from 0 to 9 which is used to control which spellcasters have access to them and the level also gives a rough indication of the power of the spells. The spellcasting classes all have a number of slots based on their level which controls how many spells of a given level they can cast per day, this can be increased by a high Intelligence score for Wizards and Illusionists or high Wisdom score for Clerics and Druids. There is an example of this with my character generation appendix B. This can mean that at low levels an arcane caster can become fairly vulnerable after they have used all their daily spells particularly as their only missile weapons are darts and thrown daggers and they will not be able to wear armour meaning that melee is not viable for them. Actually one advantage of C&C over the original versions of D&D is that first level casters will have more than one spell per day so are able to be a bit more use to the party than the one shot weapon an OD&D or 1e Magic User was.
Divine casters can wear some types of armour and use a wider range of melee weapons making them able to keep involved in the action more at low levels than arcane casters. Personally I often like to play clerics as there is a lot of scope for role playing with their engagement with the gods and in why they are out there adventuring.
Magic items can be made by spellcasters, but this is a lengthy process. The level of magic item appearance is much lower than 3e D&D where all Wizards had Scribe Scroll as a first level feat meaning that even low level parties could have huge numbers of spells available after a few adventures. There is not the same tendency for the 'old magic shoppe' to be a feature of settings.
RQ has a split between common Battle Magic and the more powerful and harder to use Rune Magic. Battle Magic is able to be taught to pretty much any character with the limitation on casting from the amount of Power that the character has, so Power does act as magic points. Battle magic spells have a financial cost to learn with this being greater for more powerful spells. A character can keep casting a known battle magic spell while they still have current power points, but an opposed spell can become less effective as it will have to overcome the current Power of the target. The limits on spells known is set by the Intelligence of the spellcaster with number of power points for the spells held in memory being equal to the Int score. So a character with an Int of 11 could have say Bladesharp 3, Healing 2, Strength, Detect Enemies, Speeddart, Detect Magic and Light in memory and any other spells they knew only as options.
There are various ways of storing more Battle Magic spells and Power such as a matrix with a spell held in it or a crystal with a bound spirit that has Intelligence to learn spells and Power to cast them to supplement the character's own abilities. This can mean that experienced characters do have very large amounts of magic available to them and the start of combat consists of large numbers of spells being cast to defend or strengthen the combatants.
Rune Magic is very powerful and requires characters to sacrifice permanent Power points to obtain it. Rune magic is mainly available to experienced characters who can achieve Rune Lord or Rune Priest status though a cult may allow an Initiate member to learn a limited amount of rune spells at a cost. Rune spells can be cast repeatedly by those that have learnt them and are powerful in allowing multiple casts of Battle magic spells or in allowing the caster to protect himself.
Magic items are relatively easily made with Alchemists being able to brew potions of most battle magic spells and Rune Lords and Priests can have the Matrix Creation spell to store a battle magic spell upon an object. Though a Matrix does not provide the power to run the spell.
The pervasiveness of magic in Glorantha is shown by the RQ magic system which helps integrate the setting and the system. The weakness of the earlier RQ rules is in not really elaborating on how magic might be used within society by farmers, etc though healing spells would obviously aid in many lives. There is little in the way of mechanical detail about failed casting attempts unlike fumbles in melee.
WFRP has both regular and ritual magic with several subdivisions within the mainsteam of magic, particularly a split between arcane and divine magic. WFRP uses magic points, but rather than being used with each spell cast a target number has to be reached with the character's Magic characteristic giving the number of dice that can be rolled. Material components can be used to provide a bonus to the roll and help to achieve the target number. If all the dice come up as '1' then the spell automatically fails regardless of the target number, but as the system is based on rolling scores above a target number it would be quite rare to succeed anyway if a 1 is rolled on any of the dice. In this situation the caster also has to make a Willpower test or recieve an Insanity Point.
Arcane magic in WFRP is risky with casters being able to end up with the effects of Tzeentch's curse causing various bad effects on them. This happens when the same number comes up on more than one of the casting dice, so is much less likely for low level casters with a magic of one except when they roll an additional chaos die. The chaos die is usually seen for Hedge Wizards or other untrained arcane casters and they have a high risk in using spells frequently from this as well as the commmon attitude towards magicians in the Old World. The divine casters do have the risk of being struck by the Wrath of the Gods, but this is usually less damaging than Tzeentch's curse and the chaos mainfestations. Spellcasters do take penalties on their die rolls from wearing armour making it hard to go into battle in full plate and still use magic effectively.
Ritual magic in WFRP can be used in a similar fashion to normal magic, but requires planning for the time and resources needed. It does give much more powerful results but at at higher cost if things go wrong. Magic items are quite rare in WFRP as the setting tends to discourage their posession and use and unlike D&D type games it is not common to have even experienced characters with magic.
My feelings about this are that the Magic systems in the three games all work well, but I like the Warhammer system the best for its integration with the game world where casting spells is potentially dangerous due to the taint of chaos that can happen. In WFRP a spellcaster could cast many more spells a day than a C&C caster who would run out of slots or a RQ character who would run out of Power points. However the risks of spellcasting in WFRP make it less likely that this will happen. Compared to 3e D&D I prefer C&C as it has a greater restriction on the creation of magic items which helps keep the availability of these down to the level that the GM prefers by default rather than requiring house ruling to limit it.
RQ's magic systems do capture the flavour of a world where there is pervasive magic use and the most powerful Rune magic comes at a cost for its users. The magic system in RQ can be criticised as being very combat focused in the base rules.
The rest of the review can be found in the following posts:
Part 1 Settings, Characters and Advancement
Part 1a Character Creation
Part 1b Characters and Careers
Part 2 Equipment and Encumbrance
Part 3 Melee
Part 5 Conclusions