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I'm a newcomer to Fate Core, and working out a magic system is daunting. I have read over the core and glanced through the system toolkit as well, but some experience-based advice would be helpful (particularly from those who have played superhero games in Fate with defined magic systems).

I'm trying to capture the "warrior" magical girl genre. Some popular examples include Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure, and Madoka Magica. It's a superhero subgenre about characters who temporarily transform into more powerful, magical versions of themselves in order to fight evil.

Again, I want to do this in Fate Core. Drawing inspiration from FAE (or even setting-specific or third party Fate strains) may be appropriate if it supports my goals. However, I think Fate Core has the tools I need. It's just a matter of arranging them into a system that works.

The key things I want to establish:

  • PCs will have both an "unpowered" and a "powered" form that they move back and forth between. The narrative reason is the conflict inherent in leading double lives. Some low level supernatural abilities may exist in the "unpowered" form, but ideally, the PCs only have access to their highest tier of magical ability when "powered."

  • The powers will be mainly useful in combat. The point is to get them engaged in battle with lower tier "monsters of the week" as well as more powerful commanders that control or lead the monsters. That doesn't completely rule out other kinds of powers (or creative non-combat uses for powers), but this is why the characters transform -- to fight evil.

  • PCs could either have generalized arenas of power (e.g. the ability to manipulate water) or specific attacks with finite effects (e.g. Sailor Mercury's "Mercury Aqua Mist" attack creates an icy fog to obscure visibility). The two could also be combined into a general mastery of an element/concept accompanied by powerful "finisher" moves.

  • All PCs should have roughly equal power levels. Although it's common in the genre to have an especially powerful leader supported by a less powerful team, this is not what I want to model. It will be more fulfilling for the group if everybody is on equal footing. I will likely provide a template that players can customize to suit their characters.

  • Running out of power will probably not be a concern. If my group decides it wants to have "mana" of some sort, I think I can do it pretty painlessly with an extra stress track. Otherwise, the characters should normally be able to transform when necessary to fight evil and remain transformed until they're finished.

  • What might affect a PC's ability to transform is emotional state (being in abject despair, losing the will to continue fighting, etc.). There is also the possibility of requiring an item to transform -- that will be up to the players. If included, transformation would require the item.

What parts of the game would you recommend to accomplish this? I'm currently leaning toward a combination system if it's doable. I like the specific attacks because shouting out a named one is a flavor bit synonymous with the genre in my mind. Still, I want flexibility in combat so that no one gets stuck spamming attacks.

Possible solutions:

  • Making a Magical Powers skill that everybody takes and flavors it the way they want it. Having a skill is probably best suited to the "general mastery of an element/concept," given the four basic actions. That leaves me at a loss for adding specific "finisher" attacks, and I'm not sure how to best create them.
  • Using Stunts to represent specific attacks (in the "adding a new action to a skill" vein). The problem is that you really don't get a lot of stunts. Having made a character for an SotC game, the stunts really helped me define her above and beyond her skills. I'd like to leave the stunts free so my players can use them that way, too. I could toss in a few bonus stunts, I suppose.
  • Using aspects as magic. The Aspect could cover the "Alternate Form" thing and work in tandem with a "Magical Powers" skill. The "Stormcallers" example starting on page 82 of the toolkit gives me some good ideas on how to use an aspect in this situation. But for their combat powers, I don't think this is ideal.
  • Creating Extras for magic. Extras are the feature I understand the least right now. The core suggests them for supernatural abilities, but I'm struggling to differentiate them from other components of the game. When should something just be a skill/stunt/aspect/etc. I create, when should it be an extra, and what benefit is there? I'm still unsure.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really want to answer, but I need more information about this genre and how you want to play: Genre questions: Do the characters risk running out of juice in the middle of a fight or do they only transform when dramatically appropriate? Do the girls find clever uses for their powers and turn them into signature moves? Is there tension between cooperation and competition? Game questions: Do you want hard decisions about power management to be part of the game? Is there significant differentiation between power levels of your PCs? \$\endgroup\$ – gomad Oct 31 '14 at 10:25
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Combine approaches and extras to create different narrative justifications for powered and unpowered actions.

Because of the limitations of approaches this probably won't be really viable for a long-form campaign story lasting months-worth of sessions. Still, if you're going to be playing shorter games (a month per campaign, tops) this is an elegant option. If you want to use skills, read this anyway because I'm going to bring skills into it at the end.

I've experimented with this for a werewolf game, actually: by using approaches, your characters can have the same problem-solving attitudes regardless of their form: a Forceful cowboy turns into a Forceful werewolf, and a Clever schoolgirl becomes a Clever magical warrior. When they change form, the narrative shifts to give them justification for using their approaches in more magical and combat-oriented ways: a cowboy can't bite people but a werewolf can, and a schoolgirl can't create magical illusions but a magical warrior can.

(This doesn't work with skills because skills represent what-things-you-can-do-ness while approaches represent how-you-do-things-ness.)

You can represent this shift narrative by clever use of aspects and extras. Aspects should generally be phrased so they're relevant in both forms, which can be difficult but gets easier with practice. It's nigh impossible to give generic advice for specific aspect creation needs like this; the best I can say is that focusing on personality and relationships makes it easier to keep aspects relevant between forms.

Now, extras! There are many ways to craft extras around this. (Extras are for when you want to give effects that stunts can't handle, either because it's too many stunt's-worth of effects, or because a single effect is too complicated or powerful for a stunt to handle gracefully.)

Extra: Moon Infusion
Permission: An aspect indicating your magical nature.
Cost: At the start of each session I'm in, the GM's pool of NPC Fate points increases by 1 for each action I can use magically.
Benefit: Because I am secretly a champion of the Moon goddess, once per session I can reveal my warrior form. When I do, I gain the aspect Infused with the Light of the Moon (with one free invoke) for the rest of the scene.
This gives me magical context for using my actions (like flying, and shooting rays of cleansing light). When you take this extra, pick the actions (Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, Defend) I can use magically.

I chose to make the extra's cost a "make the NPCs stronger" effect (increasing NPC Fate points) rather than a "make the PC weaker" effect (reducing PC Refresh) because, frankly, it's more interesting to face stronger opponents than to have your own power balanced out. In play it's effectively similar: the opposition scales according to the power the PCs bring to the scenario. The exact cost may need a little tweaking depending on your game. I've borrowed the basic concept from the RPG, which is a wealth of resources for this sort of thing.

Don't worry about including "running out of power" type mechanics in these extras: that's what consequences are for. Just as a gunfighter might take a mild consequence of All out of ammo, a magical girl might take Overcome by doubt or Cut off from my power.

But what about skills?

I started with approaches instead of skills because they're easier and more obvious to use with transformations.

On the face of things it's still pretty straightforward: Just as having a loaded gun lets you use the Shoot skill, having sparklemagic attacks lets you use it too. However, a schoolgirl probably doesn't have a lot of ranks in Shoot, so we need a new level of complexity in representing the transformation if your game uses skills instead of approaches.

Extra: Moon Infusion
Permission: An aspect indicating your magical nature.
Cost: At the start of each session I'm in, the GM's pool of NPC Fate points increases by 2.
Benefit: Because I am secretly a champion of the Moon goddess, once per session I can reveal my warrior form. When I do, I gain the aspect Infused with the Light of the Moon (with one free invoke) for the rest of the scene. This gives me magical context for using my actions (like flying, and shooting rays of cleansing light).
My abilities are different when I'm a warrior: when you first choose this extra, shuffle my skill ranks into a different configuration representing the talents of my magical form (the new configuration must still follow all the game's rules about skill ranks and caps). Whenever I reveal my warrior form, my skills change to their new configuration. They return to normal when I do.

Now we've got a girl whose abilities radically change but her aspects stay the same--so she's still the same person, but she has a different set of competencies when she's transformed.

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There are more detailed ways to do it, but off the top of my head;

An Extra ("Alternate Form") with the prerequisite, "Must have 'Magical Girl' as an aspect".

This Extra allows access to additional Skills and Stunts as per the character's concept; these can be restricted to the Alternate Form only if you desire.

Skills: I'd make each power a skill. IE, "Control Fire: +4". Stunts can then be added as per the existing rules.

There's nothing wrong with increasing the number of Stunts available to a character, so raise the limit as high as you like, including the starting number of stunts if you don't want the players to spend all of their Refresh on stunts. (Optionally, making most powers Skills as above wouldn't really require a ton of additional Stunts.)

So you might have an Extra that looks as follows;

  • Extra: Alternate Form - Moon Girl
  • Prereq: Must have "Magical Girl" as an aspect
  • Description: Allows you to use the "Power of the Moon" skill, but only in your alternate form.

Power of the Moon: This skill allows you to do Moon things. Can create an Advantage, Defend, and Overcome.

Stunt: Moon Blast - Allows you to use Power of the Moon to Attack in a conflict.

(Note that I would just allow Power of the Moon to attack by default; I just included the stunt as an example.)

There are lots of more detailed ways to do it, but this is a quick-and-dirty approach that would be pretty flexible.

Defining a new skill

So, you've never created a new skill before. How do you do it? Here's the approach I use.

  1. Name the skill and describe what it does.

This part's pretty straightforward. You give the skill a name, hopefully fairly descriptive of what it does. For example, "Moon Power". The tricky part is, that's pretty broad. That may be okay for you... for example, if you're playing FAE and it doesn't really matter if your power specifically allows you to create Moon Shields or Moon Blasts. If you come up with a novel application of "Moon Power" and your GM lets you, wing it.

Otherwise, as a GM you will probably want to define the power in terms of what it does. Is it an aura? Does it fire cosmic rays, let you shape shift, or teleport? Do you want it to be a single skill, or cover a "package" of skills that make up your skill set? (F'rex, a Teleport skill, a Moon Shield skill, and so forth).

  1. Define the Skill's available Actions

Does this skill allow you to Attack, Defend, Create an Advantage, Overcome, or some combination of the above? Can you create a stunt to allow it to do one of these things if it doesn't normally? Defensive skills (shields, etc.) should allow Defend actions. Offensive skills, make an Attack. Nearly all of them should probably be allowed to Overcome or Create an Advantage, as most "utility" skills fall into that category.

  1. Fit it into the skill pyramid/columns

Okay, now that you've got your skill, do you want it to come free as part of the Extra, require the player to spend skill points or slots on it from their initial allotment, or simply give the players additional ranks/points to spend knowing they will need to buy extra skills? Also, do the powers have their own set of skill columns or do they fall into the existing skill system for advancement?

Example:

Power of the Moon: Can be used to Create an Advantage, with the thematic narrative of "moon mists", "lunar light", or "really annoys werewolves". Can Overcome via similar narrative (or destructively, if Moon Blasts are used). Can Attack via "Moon Blasts", beams of lunar energy. Can Defend in the form of a Moon Shield, an aura of lunar energy that absorbs damage and harmful magic.

Stunt: Wolfsbane - +2 to all Attack or Overcome rolls versus werewolves during a full moon. Stunt: Lunicycle - Can alter the phases of the moon (new moon, crescent, full, etc.) with a roll of Success (+1) or better. Character can shift the moon a number of phases up to the number of Shifts gained on the roll. This costs a Fate point.

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