What games system out there have a good ruleset for a covert magic system. For the lack of a better word I use covert in meaning that magic isn't obvious. Not that the magicians would have to hide, but that they aren't slinging fireballs, they are placing curses.

Magic like this could always be hidden as a dumb luck, or accident. It isn't instant and obvious.

Think how in the real world people believed in witches and tribal wizards, voodoo. No one expects them to go out and fly on a broom, but they could give a infertile man a potion and he would suddenly make his wife pregnant (skeptics would say one in a million). A gunman could easily attack a powerful wizard and not fear he has stoneskin and answers with a chain lightning, but he could have a protective charm necklace that would make it seem that the gunman was inaccurate, and later on the gunman would be hit by a lightning, but that's just a coincidence isn't it.

The magic system does not have to be the games default system, but mention what book introduces it then.

Also it's perfectly acceptable that magicians could get powerful and make deal with demons, change the weather and such powerful effects. Just not lightning coming out of his hands.


Some mentions have been that the question is too broad so I'll try to narrow if further. Also there seems to be a bit misunderstanding that I'm talking about the magic being quite or undetectable and while that is a part of what criteria is it's not the heart of it.

I'm not looking for magic system that can make magic harder to see for the sake of it being undetectable, I'm looking for a magic system that models what people in the real world thought magic was like, not what people in a Tolkien fantasy setting thought magic was like. One of those believes was that magic was covert and perhaps it was my mistake to focus on that too much. I'm just not sure what word I could use to describe what I'm after.

In the Salem witch trials I doubt (don't know the subject well enough) that people claimed they saw the woman slinging fireballs. They claimed that a woman begging for money, but was refused muttered a few curse words under her breath and later on all the livestock died.

While this could probably be modeled using D&D magic system, that she used some sort of undetectable, delayed, remote fireball spell, it's not what I wan't. I want a spell system specifically modeled to represent these kind of spells.

Rituals, spells that take time and need to be prepared, not one you can whip out in the middle of combat. Occult magic would probably best describe it.

We might see this in movies like Serpent and the Rainbow and The Ninth Gate and would fit best with a modern setting or a low fantasy setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question might get closed. System recommendation questions that ask for a list instead of looking for one best answer tend to attract many very low-quality answers, so they get closed preemptively as unsuitable for the site's Q&A format. Also, questions that underestimate the frankly enormous number of games that exist tend to be closed as "unconstructive." You might need to reword this to keep it open. If you can't reword it, you might want to ask instead in chat, or at a completely different forum site where free-ranging discussion is OK. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 2 '12 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question is borderline OK, but it could have more focus - there are 100 systems that meet this criteria. What more do you want out of a system than "quiet" magic? Do you want the magic to work a specific way otherwise? Feel free and be more specific, there will still be a variety of answers. Do you want all magic to work this way? Or just to be able to have a character/set of people whose magic does (the "take feats" answer for example). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 2 '12 at 23:57


Before making my two recommendations, I'll discuss the systems that could do this kind of game relatively easily, restricted to ones I've played.

Specific Games

Two systems come to mind immediately:

White Wolf's Mage: The Ascension and its sequel for the nWoD engine.

These two don't prohibit non-coincidental magic, tho they do punish it.

Generic Systems

Moving on to Generic Systems...

GURPS has rules that allow magic to be performed inobviously, tho' much of the catalogue of spells are obvious in effect. In order to use it you'd need to enforce a house rule that spells have to be cast inobviously. It has extensive enchanting rules, as well.

Hero System can do so simply by buying magic with the advantage "invisible power effects." Potions, etc, are bought as charges usable by others. Noting that this is a "build your powers" system, it's very flexible. The game overall is a bit math heavy.

BTRC's CORPS can easily do this, and it seems the default assumption for the powers system. The system is available only in PDF at present, tho' used copies of the print edition occasionally turn up. Since the system is entirely build your own powers, it's extremely flexible.

BTRC's EABA can do this as well. EABA is currently supported, unlike CORPS. (Same author, similar starting point, similar results.)

Weak Recommendation #1

Of these, my personal recommendation would be Mage (either edition). It explains why coincidental magic is the norm. It's quite playable, and has a good amount of setting conflict and support.

Weak Recommendation #2

CORPS. The system is relatively sturdy, has only 4 books for rules, two of which are design systems. CORPS, CORPS VDS, and 3G3: Guns Guns Guns comprise the BTRC ruleset; the CORPS Companion is by a third party under license.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also recommend Mage and there is nothing in making a house rule that would ban vulgar magic, so only coincidental magic is possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Sunzi Aug 5 '12 at 20:15

In Unknown Armies, magic is broken down in two types: adepts (utterly driven by compulsions allowing them to do magic) and avatars (followers of patterns of reality). Magic can be overt but the repercussions are bad for everyone. Imagine being in a room all your enemies, allies, and friends. As well as yourselves, there is a sleeping tiger pack in the room. The more overt the magic, the more loud it is, risking that the Tiger awaken. Ever woken large amount of predators with loud noises?...

Shockingly enough, I think that both your references are quoted in the main rule book. Certainly it is worth getting the books that inspired the movies: Wade Davis' Serpent and the Rainbow and Arturo Peréz-Reverte's The Dumas Club.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ha, now that you clarified the question I was going to come post Unknown Armies as an answer myself. Best modern occult type game hands down. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Aug 4 '12 at 2:41

I would have to defer to the two main AEG RPGs: 7th Sea and Legend of the Five Rings.

In 7th, the canon plot says that the more overt (and incidentally dangerous) magics have been hunted down by the Inquisition. The ones that are still around are embedded into their native countries' culture and can be obvious but also have very subtle builds.

To swing the pendulum to L5R, there specifically rules for casting stealthily and it is usually the easiest with the illusory / mind affecting magics because they are rooted in the element of Air. As long as nobody catches said spellcaster in the act, the source can only be suspect and that's if someone thinks a spell is behind it.

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While not a good system for this, D&D 3.x.finder's silent and immobile spells falls in this category, as well as a bard with the proper feat or a complete scoundrel's trick

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