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I'm currently reading XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery by Tracy and Curtis Hickman, published in 2009.

The "deconstructed" magic system in their XD20 roleplaying rules caught my eye - magic-user players simply make up a spell they want to cast on the spot. The DM gives them a target number they have to beat on a 1d20 roll to successfully cast the spell, and they roll another d20 for degree of success.

This magic system is refreshingly simple and sounds fun, especially for young players. Has anyone tried it? Are there balance issues? Potential for abuse?
As a point of comparison, use D&D 5th edition.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What are you looking for the balance to be compared against to see if it's unbalanced? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jun 22 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Good question - let's say D&D 5th edition. \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Jun 22 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ On further consideration, this doesn't look like a system introduction and rather like a sheer interest in mechanical balancing of a subsystem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jun 22 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how you compare two systems for 'balance'. Are you asking if the melee to magic balance is equal in both? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jun 22 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Primarily asking if it's an overpowered magic system - spellcasters have a huge amount of leeway in the XD20 system, I'd think the DM would be kept on their toes all the time. Or maybe not with an experienced DM? \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Jun 22 at 16:17
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I haven't played XD20, but I have played and GMed using other "microsystems", such as Roll for Shoes and Simple D6, that are based on similarly flexible "player decides what they want to do, DM sets difficulty, player rolls" mechanics.

Based on that experience, I'd say a system like that is exactly as balanced as the DM wants it to be.

If the DM wants to play favorites or just be randomly inconsistent, they obviously can be. And if they want to be reasonably fair and balanced in setting the difficulties and narrating the degrees of success, they generally can also do that.

Of course, being only human, they probably won't be able to make different characters with different abilities perfectly balanced. But then, no system can do that. And at least, since this system does have a human in the loop, they can dynamically adjust the balance if they notice during the course of play that one character is being a lot more successful than another in a way that makes the game less enjoyable. With more mechanical systems, like D&D, the DM has fewer options for that (although fewer certainly doesn't mean none at all).

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