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Lionheart SPECIAL System, Installment 6: Magic


Lionheart is a computer role playing game that is being developed by Reflexive Entertainment in conjunction with Black Isle Studios. The game is an original title which uses an updated version of the SPECIAL character development system (from Fallouts 1 and 2) in a quasi-historical medieval Europe. Lionheart diverges from traditional high fantasy by placing the player on Earth in the 16th century in which history has taken a different path and magic has been released upon the world. Using a mix of historical and fictional locations and characters, the player progresses through a deep story while advancing through the classless character system.

In this series of articles, designers of the game will discuss various changes that have been made to the SPECIAL rules system from how it appeared in the Fallout series.

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Magic in the SPECIAL system and Lionheart

Author's Note: We are constantly tweaking and changing both large and small aspects of the magic system. To be honest, we still aren't completely happy with all aspects of it. So some of this is going to change, but hopefully this installment will give you a good idea of what to expect.

One of the largest challenges in the creation of the game system for Lionheart was the incorporation of magic. Figuring out how to make the game real-time was fairly trivial from a design standpoint (I don't think the programmers would agree with me), but making cool spells that function as part of a system that is already known and loved by wasn't.

First we needed to understand for ourselves how magic worked without the rules. We knew the Disjunction caused magic to be released upon the world, but for a long time that was all we had decided. Then at one point it was suggested that Earth and humankind were not magical creatures inherently, but that spirits were. So if spiritkind (as we named them) were the main thing to flow through the breach of the Disjunction, they would infuse themselves into the Earth, the animals, the plants, and even humans. Some spirits would be cognizant and some would not, some would be malevolent while others would be charitable. And the hosts of these spirits would remain essentially unchanged and non-magical. This meant that only things that were infused with a spirit would actually have magic, some would be influenced and that some might learn how to work with their spirits for good or ill. Hence the magic system for Lionheart was born.

We also decided very early on there would be three different classifications for magic. These classifications are:

Tribal - Tribal magic is magic of the earth. It revolves around spoken ritual and knowledge of the spirits and how they interact with the body of man and the body of Earth. Tribal spells involve everything from controlling animals to amplifying damage to the dark arts of necromancy.

Thought - Thought magic is the magic of the mind and the elements. Thought magic primarily involves the creation and control of elemental energies like heat, cold, and electricity. By controlling these elements the wielder is capable of both protecting themselves and unleashing horrible energies.

Divine - Divine magic is based on the worship and control of spirits. Divine magic is generally associated by the wielder with a ‘higher power'. Divine magic is used primarily for protection and healing, but is also used to enhance character prowess in many ways.

Each of these categories had spells created for them, but we weren't exactly sure how powerful the spells should be or how often you could cast them, or anything… the joy of game design is making this stuff up. We went through a number of different designs while trying to figure out the best way to implement spells into the SPECIAL system:

Plan 1 (nope)

The original magic plan was that every spell worked pretty much exactly like a weapon attack. In fact, the magic skills would have worked just like the other combat skills like One-Hand Melee Combat. They took roughly the same amount of time, used the same equations and rolls, did similar damage, etc, etc. This could have been pretty cool and as a design it fit within the system perfectly, but it lacked flare. Instead of a mage casting monstrous spells, he was always limited to machine gun types of spellcasting. While this didn't seem all bad and would have made balancing easier, it also didn't seem all good either.

Plan 2 (uh-uh)

The second plan, one which was actually in place at one point, was to have each spell be its own skill. The spells were grouped by the type of magic they were and had various prerequisites such as other spells and certain cumulative spell skills. This probably could have worked if we only had 10 spells in our game, but there are currently 60 spells in Lionheart. What this meant was that while a melee-type could concentrate on only a few skills, a magic wielder would have to focus on several. Regardless of whether or not this is fair, it creates a balance nightmare. If you know the mage will need to buy into more different skills, then you have to make each point of skill more powerful (when compared to a melee-type). But if you make each skill point worth more, then the powergamer has a freebee exploit.

Plan 3 (The Current Plan)

Instead of having each spell be its own skill, groups of spells make up a single skill. For example, there are skills for Fire, Cold, and Electricity magic under the Thought magic category. When you are purchasing skills, you only spend points on the spell group and as your skill increases, you eventually learn new spells. Your spells get better as your skill level increases.

For example, imagine a female Demokin character who has decided to start spending points on her Fire magic skill. After she has added just a single point to the skill, she gets the spell Fire Orb. Of course, her skill in Fire is one, so she would totally stink at the spell. She could cast it, and it would always hit, but it would be easily resisted and do just a pittance of damage. So she spends several more points in her Fire skill making it a decent first level weapon. After a few more levels she gets her Fire skill up to 25 and she gains the Fire Circle spell. While this spell doesn't do as much damage as her Fire Orb (which has been doing more damage as she increased in skill), it affects all enemies around her and provides some protection from blows. At a Skill of 50 she gains Flamethrower, at 90 she gets Fireball, and at 120 she gets Immolation. These spells provide her with a wide range of attack options within the fire realm, everything from weak fast area effects to devasting but slow area effects.


There is mana in Lionheart. As noted under Plan 1 above, we considered a mana-less system, one based entirely on time, but felt in the end it wasn't all that exciting. We never considered a memorization system. That left us with a mana system, and while it was hotly debated, that is what we finally went with for the magic system. The mana in the game is used as a limiter against casting too many big spells.

Mana is a function of a character's Charisma and Perception. There are two reasons for this. First, Intelligence determines the skill points you achieve going up levels. Second, and much more importantly, since the magic system revolves around the idea of symbiotic spirits, the amount of magic a human has access to is determined by his ability to understand and influence the spirit within him. So it makes really good sense for balancing and even better sense for world continuity.

Some Spells


Type TRIBAL Skill Life Magic

Backlash surround the caster with an aura of energy. Whenever an opponent does damage to the caster, this energy field lashes back at the opponent returning a portion of the damage they inflicted upon themselves. As the caster's skill increases, the amount of damage returned to the attacker is increased.

Holy Fire

Type DIVINE Skill Sublime Magic

Upon casting the Holy Fire spell surrounds the wielder in purple hued flame. Extending in a radius around the caster, the flames give off no heat, but they do damage foes with raw positive energy. The damage, duration, and radius of the spell are determined by the skill with which it is cast.

Divine Strength

Type DIVINE Skill Enhancement Magic

Casting this spell will increases the player's Strength for a limited amount of time, and as the spell gets better, it increases Endurance. Duration and advancement amounts are both increased with skill.

Static Charge

Type THOUGHT Skill Electricity Magic

When Static Charge is cast the caster is immediately infused with electrical energy which is dumped in radius around them. This raw electrical energy will damage all enemies, who do not resist it, within the radius of the spell. The damage and radius of the spell are determined by skill.

Previous installments

  • 2002-07-29: Installment 1: Races & Attributes
  • 2002-08-12: Installment 2: Skills
  • 2002-08-26: Installment 3: Perks
  • 2002-09-09: Installment 4: Traits
  • 2002-09-23: Installment 5: Combat

    Average Reader Ratings: 6.15 (59 votes)
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