In 2017 Fantasy Flight Games released their Genesys Role Playing game. As a generic system, it is suitable for any world you can dream of. All you need is your imagination. I love the Genesys system for a variety of reasons, but one of the things I love most about it is how it handles magic.
In so many tabletop role playing games, magic can be confusing, under-powered or overpowered, or both. Often time it depends on how much a character can learn, and what spells they prepared. This is all well and good, as far as it goes. However, it often falls into the trap of spell casters being weak at low levels and super strong at higher ones.
The Genesys magic system solves this issue in an intriguing and novel fashion. Unlike Dungeons and Dragons or other games with magic, Genesys does not have spell lists. Characters don’t learn or memorize spells. They don’t have spell slots to fill or even spell levels.
How Does Genesys Magic Work?
When you want to cast a spell in this system, you just say you are going to cast a spell. Simple, right? In fact, it might be a little too simple, but that’s where the fun comes in. Under the rules, characters can cast spells for any reason, mundane or fantastical.
However, when you cast something that would replace a skill, the target number is higher. The reason for this is to keep magic from becoming a catch-all replacement for other skills. Basically, it keeps spell casters from abusing their mystical abilities. So yes, a player could use magic to unlock a door, but the task is more difficult for them than someone using a lock-picking skill.
I can hear you asking: If you don’t learn spells, how can you cast them? That’s where the genius of this system shines. As I wrote above, you simply say you want to cast a spell and roll the dice. Sure, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not much.
First, you decide what kind of spell you want to cast, or what the effect you want to happen. For example, if you want to charm an NPC into following your bidding, you describe what that spell would do. Genesys is a narrative system and is therefore quite open in terms of what players can and can’t do.
Example of Social Spell Casting
Let’s take the example of the charm spell I mentioned above. In the rule book there are categories of spells, but no specific spells. The categories are attack, augment, barrier, conjure, curse, dispel, heal, and utility. Most of these categories are self-explanatory, but none of them clearly indicate where our charm spell would come into play.
So, let’s say we want to charm our opponent using utility magic. First, we find our magic skill: it will either be Arcane, Divine, or Primal (the three types of magic in the basic Genesys rules). Then we decide upon the difficulty of the task.
Looking at our character sheet we see that charm is a social skill. This automatically increases the difficulty by one purple die. This is an opposed roll against an opponent’s Cool skill, so you would add one to their skill in order to account for the increased difficulty.
Now, we need to differentiate between the effects of the spell version of charm is compared to the skill. Because we are dealing with magic, the GM might rule that the spell is harder to resist than the skill and award the caster a blue boost die. Or, the GM might decide that the charm effect last longer or allows the caster a greater amount of control over the target if they succeed.
Once the dice pool has been assembled, you roll the dice, read the results, and decide what happens. Success could mean that the spellcaster can issue orders to the target, or turn them into a friend. As a potential drawback: failure could mean the targeted opponent cannot be the target of a charm spell or skill for a certain amount of time. It’s up to you, and that’s what makes Genesys so fun.
What About Combat Magic in Genesys?
Most players don’t play spell casters in order to run around charming town folk or unlocking bolted doors. Yes, you can use the mystic arts in these situations, but let’s face it, if you’re playing a magic user, it’s because you want to wreak havoc with powers no mere mortal should possess. Well, not to worry, this system has you covered in warm blankets on a cold day.
There are several possibilities for destructive combat magic under these rules. And, once again, the rule book is just the beginning. Really,your imagination (and how far the GM will let you take things) is your only limit.
There are several types of combat magic in this system, but I am going to focus on spells used for attacks as they are the most likely to come into play.
Casting a combat spell is similar to the mode used for casting a social one with a few key differences.
As with any skill check using the Genesys system, you first have to find your relevant skill. In this case, it will be one of the mystical skills: arcane, primal, or divine. Once you know that, you have a better idea of how successful your spell will be.
Once you have determined your skill level, you now need to decide how powerful you want your spell to be. All spells start at difficulty level one (1 purple die). For additional effects, you add purple die to the die pool to simulate the increased difficulty. You can increase the range of your spell, add a quality such as fire or ice to it, give it an area of effect property, or more.
The Price of Spell Casting
Magic has a price in Genesys, no matter how powerful it is. There are a few reasons for this. One, if magic was not limited in some way, player would easily abuse it. That’s nothing against players, just a fact about people. If you give someone something that can break the world, they will probably try to do just that.
Two, if magic had no limits, then there would be little reason to play anything other than a spell caster. By adding limits to magic, the creators have ensured that the other classes remain viable options.
Third, magical limitations make the player think twice about using spells when other options exist. Magic should not be a means to solve every problem a group encounters, and it definitely shouldn’t be an easy means to do so.
How does Genesys solve this problem? Well, it makes magic dangerous to use by inflicting immediate strain damage to the caster. Strain is a measure of your ability to undertake difficult tasks. You can recover strain fairly easily, but it also runs out quickly, and if you run out, you fall unconscious.
Additionally, using magic to accomplish mundane tasks is more difficult than using a similar skill. Furthermore, if the GM deems appropriate, the character can suffer further strain from spell casting, or have any other number of damaging effects occur. All of these are ways to mitigate the potential game breaking ability of magic.
Worth a Try
If you have been looking for a different kind of magic system that allows for supercharged spells but is easy to use, check this one out. Overall, the Genesys system is fun and sensible. Their version of magic is no exception.
Have you used this system? What are your thoughts on it? What do you think of my thoughts on Genesys magic and what it can do? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading.