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I'm trying to cobble together a solely magic-based campaign that will have a really flexible system of magic. I've always been a fan of the D20 system, but it does have its limitations: for this purpose, D20 has way too many cumbersome concentration checks.

What would be some good rules that would leave strategy and a small element of chance, while making magic simple, fast paced and engaging?

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Welcome to the site! Is this a D&D/Pathfinder game or a different kind of d20 system? Are you expecting people to cast spells from the standard spell list until one person gives up? What do you know about systems like Mage: the Ascension/Awakening, Ars Magica and the Dresden Files RPG which make magical duels more of a skill check than a combat? –  Simon Gill Dec 31 '12 at 17:13
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This seems to be more of a d20 criticism than a solid question. Focus on the gameplay elements you want to develop. –  MadMAxJr Dec 31 '12 at 22:05
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One of the most amusing ideas for a mage duel that I've heard was for 3.5's Wizards: the two incredibly-intelligent Wizards sit down and read each other's list of prepared spells and contingencies (using Craft Contingent Spell) over a cup of tea. Both being super-smart, they could tell who would win, and could agree that it was better to just accept this than waste their resources on the actual fight. Not an answer, but seemed worth mentioning for an alternative image of the duel. :) –  KRyan Jan 2 '13 at 5:52

3 Answers 3

I think I know what you're getting at so I'll give it a go.

The D&D 3.5 texts mention mage duels being set up in a pistols at dawn / fencing kind of fashion. This was, as the books described, a very formal affair. It was very tedious like you say because of 'rounds' and formal arrangements. The thing I learned from all this though is that mages can duel and fight in a one-on-one fashion even in regular d20 combat.

The specific details do depend on your system, but I suggest including things that need Concentration and Spellcraft checks and the like. It allows for strategy, and it means you have more than just the linear Magic-vs-Magic - unless of course a Harry Potter-esque style is what you're after!

Magic will be naturally more fast paced then melee combat in a D20 system as you don't need to worry about being in melee range or moving through threatened squares, but you always could mix it up with touch attacks. This is very strategy based, but strategic to the player and not the rules so much. Try easing the players into the setting that allows the exploration of magical combat and duels maybe.

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Deleted comment war. Approved edit as it improved the answer. –  mxyzplk Jan 4 '13 at 22:06

Since you're looking for "solely magic-based", you might consider looking into some of the systems originally designed for superhero roleplaying. They tend to focus on powers and combat/duels, and several of them are designed with quick/simple mechanics. Most of them are designed to let you build unique powers, which makes them very flexible, but they can be easily adapted to describe fixed spells and items and such. I've had some experience using the Hero System for high-fantasy gaming (i.e. magic-heavy) and with a little creative structuring it can give you some nice results.

I'd start by reviewing this question: Superhero cinematic gaming -- looking for a system. They had some good recommendations, and "quick" was one of the criteria they were looking for as well.

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Deadlands is a Weird West roleplaying setting that was published with several systems. One particularly clever mechanic centered around dealing out hands of poker to cast spells—with the backstory that Hoyle was secretly a sorcerer and disguised his craft in Hoyle’s Book of Games.

In short, you could adopt a similar system but for competition instead of spellcasting. You could use a magical attribute to determine how many cards a player draws, and the player who makes the best five-card poker hand wins.

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