Magic: The Gathering RPG
To begin with, I can’t take credit for all of the ideas that went into this. Many of them came from the people who designed this magic rpg here: http://1d4chan.org/wiki/Magic:_the_Gathering_RPG. However I wanted to change some things and bring elements of other RPGs into the game, so I have changed, removed and added many things to this version.
Like other RPGs to play this one you’ll need someone to run the game, a Game Master or GM and a few players (though you could run with a single player depending upon the campaign). Since the game is based around Magic: The Gathering card game, you will also need to have a collection of cards. My recommendation, if you don’t have a large collection to pull from, is to buy a deck builder's kit (usually about $20) to get started.
Note to the GM’s:
The rules of Magic: The Gathering are always being updated and revised. Abilities are added and changed as the game evolves. It is therefore important for the GM to use their own judgement and discretion when deciding what and how things work. You always have the final say in how an ability may work within your setting and rules. This brief write-up should just be taken as general guidelines for how you want to run your game. If you make a ruling on a named ability though, you may want to write it out so you use it every time.
The setting of any rpg is vital to the story and giving structure to the rules of the game. Since Magic: The Gathering takes place in a nearly unlimited Multiverse the setting you create can be almost anything you would like. There are many ‘classic’ settings in Magic where you can place your campaign, but don’t feel like you have to use them if you want to create your own world.
A few things to keep in mind when creating a setting is what kind of playable races will be available to your players. Try to keep things simple, if you try to do too much you’ll end up with too many details to keep track of. Each race should have some sort of passive or active ability that fits in with your world. Examples will be provided in the Character Creation section.
You’ll also want to make sure to put enough thought into the story and areas that they’ll take place to keep players engaged. Part of this is where combat will take place. Please read the Combat section to help plan and prepare these areas. All these things should be taken into consideration when players are creating their characters.
Know your cards:
Since this game uses magic cards for most of it’s combat and flavor, it’s important to know what the cards look like and what the different parts of the card are. From MTGSalvation we get this breakdown of a typical magic card:
Some of these things are more important than others. In particular the Mana Cost, Type Line, Text Box, Power and Toughness (these are only for creature cards) and Expansion Symbol. Besides what’s described above, these parts of the card interact in different ways with this system. I will try to refer to a particular part of a magic card by underlining what it relates back to. For now, some things you should know for each of these that’s not explained above:
The symbol itself isn’t so important as the rarity of each card. Typically a black symbol means common, silver means uncommon and gold means rare. There are also red symbols which are mythic rares. The rarity changes card cost and the number of cards that aren’t common should be limited in some way, for example only 3 uncommons and 1 rare, etc depending on your campaign. The more cards of higher rarity, the more powerful the deck (usually).
The mana cost of a card usually consists of 2 parts. Colored mana symbols, such as the two mountains on the Shivan Dragon above, and colorless mana, which is the grey circle with the number 4 in it. This means that the Shivan Dragon has a converted or total mana cost of 6 since it needs 2 mountains and 4 colorless mana. When a card has a cost given as colorless mana, that means that any type of mana can be used for the cost. For the Shivan Dragon you could use 2 mountains and any combination of other colors, or 6 mountains if you wanted.
In the text box you can have a number of things, but usually some combination of keyword abilities, card specific abilities and flavor text. Flavor text is interesting and sometimes amusing, but has no effect on gameplay (unless ruled so by the GM of course). Keyword abilities are things like Flying or Trample. They have an effect, but are common, so instead of writing it out fully, a keyword is used to say the creature has the ability. The Shivan Dragon has Flying for example. There are many different keywords so unless the card describes what it does, you may want to have this MTGSalvation list or memorize the ones for your cards. The card specific abilities are ones not common enough to have their own keyword (even if some of them are fairly common). Shivan Dragon has the ability to increase its power by 1 for each mountain spent on its ability. Some abilities require a cost of some kind, these are called activated abilities and the most common costs are using your mana (represented by land cards) or tapping the creature. Tapping something means that you turn it sideways to represent it being used (the symbol is a curved arrow that looks like this: or a T in a grey circle tilted to the side.
Artifacts, Creatures and Enchantments (Planeswalkers too, but we won’t be using them in the RPG) are considered Permanents, meaning they typically stay on the field after being cast. Lands are also Permanents, but they are special and do not count against the maximum number of Permanents a player may have. Sorceries and Instants are played and then leave the field.
It is also important that everyone playing understands the basics of how to play Magic. There are many videos, guides and games that can teach you how to play. The general rules of how to play aren’t terribly difficult to learn (yes, I know that the rules get really complicated on card interactions, but for the RPG, the last call on these is always up to the GM, not necessarily the official rules) and you may want to play a few simple games first before trying this RPG and modifying as given.
Making a Mage
The Attributes of a player character control how they play their character decks and how they should be constructed. They are not however directly associated with any particular color. The Attributes are as follow:
This is the life(or HP) of the player and governs how much physical damage they can take and is affected like a creature's toughness when modified by cards. If a player's life is reduced to 0 or below, they become unconscious and can no longer fight. Any permanents that they had in play are removed. Anything that would modify toughness can be used to modify life, but the additional toughness would be added as life tokens instead. These tokens can be lost just like life, but cannot be regained once lost and must be lost before a player's base life. Life tokens are like temporary HP, are lost first when damaged and cannot be given back as a function of a card that lets a player ‘gain life’.
This is the physical damage a player can deal and is like a creature’s power when affected by cards. This is a way in which the wizards themselves can deal damage to other players and creatures. Any strength added by cards to a player are given in the form of strength tokens that add to the base strength. Each time a player deals damage themselves, one of these tokens is lost until they reach their base strength, this includes any tokens added by permanents such as artifacts or enchantments. Anything that would reduce a creature’s power can also be used to reduce a player’s strength during combat, affecting strength tokens first, then applying to base strength.
This is how many permanent effects a character can maintain at any one time. Summoned creatures, conjured artifacts, and enchantments all count as permanent effects, but basic lands do not. Tokens do not count as permanent effects. Sorcery or Instants do not count against a player's focus. At the end of a player’s turn, if they have more permanents in play than their focus allows the player must remove a permanent they control from the battlefield and remove it from the game. Players may take damage from this as described in the combat section.
This is how many spells a character can have prepared for use at any given time. This acts as the player’s base hand size. If a card or ability would cause a player to draw more cards than their memory allows, excess cards do not have to be discarded until the end of their turn. This also controls how many actions a character can take on their turn. An action consists of either playing a spell from their hand, using an ability of a permanent they control, or attacking with either creatures or themselves at the cost of one action per attacker.
This is the character's priority in spell casting as well as in turn order. This functions as an initiative modifier at the beginning of combat when rolling to see who will go first. Any ties in initiative are given to the highest speed, but if those are tied an additional roll can be made to determine the order. A player's speed can also determine whether a player can respond to a spell outside of their own turn. To respond to a spell or ability that is played on another player’s turn, each player must make a speed check, rolling 3d6+speed. If the responding player wins, their action goes before the other player, if they lose, then they can respond, but must wait until the end of the other player’s action or until their spell resolves. If multiple players wish to respond to the same thing, then all players roll speed checks and spells or abilities are resolved in the order of the rolls.
This is how much Mana a character has access to. A player may have a number of lands up to their channelling score which they can tap for mana. It also controls how quickly mana is drawn. A player’s mana deck is separate from the rest of their deck and is made up of any color combination of basic lands up to their channeling score. On a player’s first turn and second turn, they put the top card from their mana deck into play; this does not count as an action. On each successive turn a player must roll 3d6 to channel mana from their mana deck. If they roll equal to or lower than their channeling score, they may play a mana on that turn. They may add +1 to their channeling score for the purpose of this roll at the cost of one action per +1. Mana added from spells or abilities of creatures does not count against a player’s total and any spell or ability that would search a deck for a land would instead search the player's mana deck. Any spell or ability that would put a land from play in the graveyard would return it to the bottom of a player’s mana deck instead. Lands that are removed from the game are set aside for that combat, but are returned to the deck at the end of the combat.
Both inside and outside of combat, players may also attempt to influence the world using different skills. These skills are affected by the color make-up of a player's deck and also by a player’s race and class. Skills are used when a player wants to attempt to do something, and the outcome is not certain. The skills and colors that govern each are as follow:
Black+Blue – Subtlety and Deception
Black+Green – Resourcefulness and Survival
Black+Red – Intimidate and Overpowering
Black+White – Thievery and Appraisal
Blue+Green – Innovation and Understanding
Blue+Red – Creativity and Crafting
Blue+White – Diplomacy and Bargaining
Green+Red – Athletics and Animal Handling
Green+White – First Aid and Healing
Red+White – Inspiration and Leadership
In order to use a skill the player must first explain what they wish to do and which skill it falls under. The GM may then give the player a difficulty target, or create one in secret, and allow a skill check. This is done by rolling 3d6 and adding x, where x is the number of basic lands of the appropriate type for the skill within a player’s mana deck modified by any abilities from race or class. A skill is considered untrained if the player does not have any colors relating to that skill in their mana deck.
As a benchmark for what the standard of reference to determine success might be, you can use the following:
If a player is untrained in a skill, they can still attempt it by rolling the 3d6 and adding appropriate race or class modifications, or, if appropriate, suggest another player make the check in their stead. Both inside and outside of combat, player cooperation is paramount.
Each player creates a background for themselves, within the GM’s setting, and some of their character’s personality traits. Once the setting has been given, characters should start by choosing a race and class (these should be considered at the same time).
These can change, be added to or modified for the GM’s Setting. More examples can be found here: http://1d4chan.org/wiki/Magic:_the_Gathering_RPG#Races. For ability ideas try looking at the Vanguard set or customize your own races, just try to keep them balanced.
A player’s class determines the kind of deck they may wish to make as it gives extra bonuses that benefit certain kinds of play. These classes are also suggestions and can be changed, added to or modified based on the setting.
A player begins with a single rank in any class and as they progress can increase their rank in their starting class up to its maximum level or add a secondary class, though only if their starting class is rank 2 or higher. A player may only have one class at its maximum rank however and a maximum of 5 ranks distributed in no more than 3 classes. A player has all the abilities of each rank of each class they have unless a higher rank ability replaces/modifies a lower rank ability.
The abilities granted by classes are split into two categories: Passive and Active, denoted (P) and (A) respectively. Any active abilities granted by classes that are used in combat take one action to use. This may be in addition to any other action required to use a card, such as playing a spell or attacking.
A Summoner focuses on bringing creatures out to fight for them and commanding them in battle. Summoner’s have +1 Memory and -2 Life.
Spellslinger’s use instants and sorceries to great effect, often obliterating foes with their spells before they have a chance to use them or bolstering their own party with healing and buffs. Spellslinger’s have +1 Channeling and Speed, but -1 Strength and Focus.
A Warmage focuses on increasing their own Strength and life to wade into combat themselves. Warmage’s have +1 Strength and +2 Life, but -2 to Memory.
Enchanter’s can extend the abilities of noncreature permanents to affect multiple targets and greatly bolster a party’s capabilities. Enchanter’s get +2 to Focus and -1 Strength and Speed.
Once a player has chosen a race and a class they apply any modifiers to the base stats, which are as follows:
The character creation process is then continued with the creation of the player's starter deck.
GM’s may use any method to create a starter deck for each player, but may want to keep in mind some guidelines. Keep starter decks small. Since mana isn’t part of the main deck, a starting deck between 15 and 30 cards is ideal. Limit the number of more powerful cards in a starter deck. Keeping most of the starter deck as commons, with only 2 or 3 uncommons would be best to begin with. Keep things fair, so if one player is starting with a rare, allow one for each starter deck, maybe make players have to work it into their character backgrounds to include it.
Here are a couple possible methods for creating starter decks:
Preset: As the GM, create several different starter decks and allow the players to each choose one and then trade cards on a one-to-one basis. These should, again, be between 15 and 30 cards.
Booster: Put together sets of cards, between 10-15 per set, of each color, making a few for each color, and let players choose or draft from sets until they have a starter deck of between 15 and 30 cards.
Buy: Allow players to customize their deck from available cards using a point-buy system. For instance, giving each player 50 points to buy cards, where each card's cost is equal to its converted mana cost +1 for each keyword ability or non-keyword ability on the card for creatures and +1 for each effect or ability on non-creatures modified by its rarity (e.g. uncommons are cost x2, rares x3 and mythics x5). This method would allow maximum creativity and control in decks from the start, but would probably take the longest.
In any case, once each player has a starter deck fitting the GM’s specifications, they may then choose the color combination (no more than two colors for a starter deck) for their mana deck consisting of basic lands equal to their Channeling score (non-basic lands could be added later). Both the starter deck and mana deck are required for play.
An option for more advanced gameplay may include making a distinction between types of creatures, those who are sentient and those with only animal-like intelligence. This difference may make the game more challenging, but could also make it more rewarding as well. For instance, a player who summons a bear to fight for it, wouldn’t face any trouble, but if summoning an elf, would have to make a skill check to convince it to fight for it, or else the creature may flee the battle and return to the bottom of the player's deck. Making this distinction may also modify rules for skill checks using your spell deck. It could also give you the option to ‘level up’ specific creatures if you want to add a new level to your deck, reflecting the growth of the creature when it is not being used in combat.
As in most RPG’s players should be rewarded and become more powerful as the game progresses. Most of the development will be in the players growing and changing deck, though they should also gain ranks for their classes and be able to increase their Attributes.
A suggested way to ‘level’ characters is to award growth points at the end of combat, skill test, and/or game sessions. These points could be spent on Attributes or increasing Ranks in a class. The awards given and the cost improvements is up to the GM, but suggested costs and awards are as follows:
Random Encounters: ? point
Planned Battles: 1-2 points
Multi-Enemy Battles: 2-3 points
Boss Battles: 3-5 points
Normal Skill Test ? point
Creative Skill Test/Spell Use ? point
Awards could be given immediately, or at the end of each session as GM dictates, though improvements should only be added when players are resting or in a town, etc.
+1 Life: 1 point each
+1 Strength: x points, where x is current strength
+1 Focus:2 points
+1 Memory: 2 points
+1 Speed: 2 points
+1 Channeling:2 points
Rank 1:2 points
Rank 2:5 points
Rank 3:10 points
Players should keep in mind that buying class ranks follows a progression. They cannot buy Rank 1 of a second class until they have their starting class at Rank 2 or greater and cannot raise a second class to Rank 2 until their starting class is Rank 3. Players may also not buy more than 5 Ranks among the classes. This means that the final distribution of Ranks can only have so many configurations. Starting class at Rank 3 with a second class at Rank 2, Starting class at Rank 3 with a second class at Rank 1, and a third class at Rank 1, or Starting class at Rank 2 and each other class at Rank 1. Players reaching Rank 3 must choose one of the abilities given by that Rank and cannot change without GM approval and possible cost.
A character's decks will also change and evolve as the game progresses. The GM can award spells as combat or skill check rewards to the party or individuals. Spells can also be purchased and bartered from merchants or others. They may be given as quest rewards as well. The bartering system for cards should follow what is outlined in the Buy method of starter deck creation. The GM may allow players to stockpile ‘Mana’ and currency or allow players to keep a side-deck as their ‘wallet’ or ‘money purse’. Players can also trade cards amongst themselves outside of combat at GM’s discretion.
This would also where, for an advanced game upgrading creatures should be discussed. It would be a lot of work to track upgrades to a single creature throughout a campaign, so I propose an alternative for upgrading cards. After a predetermined number of battles in which a creature or spell is actively used (i.e. is played from a player’s hand), which can be tracked on the spell list, players may trade out that card for a card of the same type and subtype that is one rank higher. For instance, after 10 battles a common could be traded for an uncommon, after 25 battles an uncommon for a rare, etc. For spells, the upgrade would be at GM’s discretion. All of the character progression should be roleplayed as much as possible including these “improved” spells.
Another alternative for an advanced game may be for players to roleplay how their decks grow and evolve. This could include crafting of spells and artifacts given enough time and appropriate skill-checks. These crafted spells and artifacts may completely replace old spells as ‘upgrades’ or ‘improvements’ or older spells may be sold to pay for the materials for the newly crafted spells. Players may also spend time exploring and befriending creatures to add to their decks or by making contracts and agreements with willing creatures.
Combat has changed in many ways from the standard card game for this system, though many cards will still function as printed. For many other cards, GM’s may have to make decisions on how they will affect players and creatures in combat. Players are on the battlefield during combat, though they may only attack or block unless they have Vigilance. You can use a miniature to represent your character, or each player can design their own ‘card’ for combat with appropriate abilities and Strength/Life.
Players and GM should roll initiative to determine combat order. However, surprise rounds can also occur if the party strikes unexpectedly or are in turn surprised by an enemy. In the case of a surprise round, each participant (it does not necessarily have to be the entire party) gets an initial turn before other combatants defenses can be set up.
Unless otherwise stated, anything you could normally do during one of these phases in a regular magic game can be done in this game. Some additions have also been noted. It would be useful for each player to use a die to keep track of the number of actions they have left each Round of combat, a Round being from the player’s Untap phase until their next Untap phase.
Untap: Players begin each Round with their full number of actions.
Upkeep: Players may move creatures from one row to another.
Channel: On a player’s first turn and second turns, they draw the top card from their mana deck and may put it into play; this does not count as an action. On each successive turn a player must roll 3d6 to channel mana from their mana deck. If they roll equal to or lower than their channeling score, they may play a mana on that turn. They may add +1 to their channeling score for the purpose of this roll at the cost of one action per +1. Mana does not have to be played during this phase, it only decides whether or not they gain a land. Whenever a land is played however, it still does not count as an action.
Draw: Players may draw a card at the cost of one action. Players do not have to draw a card if they do not wish to, but if they do, they may only draw one card in this way. Additional cards may only be drawn as the result of a separate spell or ability.
First Main Phase: Players may use actions to play cards from their hands or use abilities from permanents they control.
Combat Phase: Players may spend actions to attack with creatures or with their character. Remove a Strength token from a player who attacks at the end of the phase.
Second Main Phase
End/Regeneration Phase: If players have any actions left at the end of their turn, they may choose to remove damage from their non-token creatures at the cost of 1 damage per action. Token creatures cannot regenerate in this way. Players may want to keep actions in their pool to cast instants, but if they do, they cannot regenerate before this phase ends.
During each turn players receive a number of Actions equal to their Memory score. This is how many things they may do during each round. It is recommended that players track this using dice or tokens. Actions are spent in many ways; Playing a card from your hand, using an ability on a permanent, attacking with either yourself or a creature you control, using a class or race ability, increasing your channeling score for the turn or to heal creatures you control during the end step. Actions do not regenerate until the player's next untap step. This means that players who may wish to use creature abilities or spells on opponents turns, must keep actions available during the opponent's turn. Blocking does not require any actions.
The biggest change to combat in this RPG is the setting or arena of combat and how it restricts abilities in play. Each arena is designed by the GM and can contain elements that restrict what is allowed through terrain or magical effects. For instance fighting indoors can negate flying, a magical field could prevent life gain, or rocky terrain may make attacking require 2 actions instead of 1. Anything is possible and combinations of features can make every combat arena different.
Along with the Combat Arena, combat will include attack rows. All this means is that creatures will be played in one of two rows for the players: Front Row and Back Row. These two rows will limit what a creature is able to do. Each player will keep his rows in front of themselves and, at the beginning of combat, place themselves in one of the two rows.
The Front Row is mainly for attacking. The front row is also your first line of defense. If an attacker is not blocked by creatures in your first row, the player forfeits the chance to choose their blocker and the attacker may choose which creature or creatures will block from the Back Row. The Back Row is where you should put creatures with useful abilities or those who need healing. Creatures in this row may not attack unless they have flying or reach. During the End/Regeneration phase, only creatures in the Back Row may have damage removed.
When a creature enters the battlefield under your control you must place them in one of the two rows. Creatures may only be moved between rows during the upkeep phase. Opponents will likewise organize their creatures into rows, but may have more than two, though all rules of the Back Row affect any intermediate rows except for healing, which can only occur in the back row.
To make it more realistic, all damage is cumulative, using tokens (or dice) to denote damage to a creature. Most abilities work as in the normal game of magic when dealing damage to opponents creatures, but may need to be modified when it comes to damage to players. Deathtouch is probably the best example, for while it would still ‘kill’ summoned creatures, a player would become paralyzed for their next turn, unable to Channel land, draw cards, or play any spells from their hands (but still able to attack with creatures or use abilities of permanents already summoned as long as they are not attached to the player). Poison counters would persist between combats and would have to be ‘healed’ to be removed (heal check or priest in a town, etc.).
For the purpose of gameplay, creatures that are killed would be said to have been ‘knocked out’ and the graveyard would be more like a triage center for those creatures. Though the idea is just for game ‘flavor’ and all effects still act as though it is a graveyard.
Players must make sure that they are tracking their Focus as combat continues. This may not be important in short combats, but for longer combats it is absolutely vital for players to track the number of permanents on the field. This can be done with dice or tokens. When a player has more permanents on the field than their focus allows, at the end of the turn they remove permanents in play from the game until they reach their maximum focus. For each permanent removed this way they take one damage as mental backlash unless they can make an appropriate skill check of 15.
Combat ends when either the opponent is defeated or all creatures on the opposing side have been defeated or incapacitated (in instances where there is no opposing wizard). When combat ends any unconscious players are revived and all party members gain 1d6 life up to their maximum and all tokens on players are discarded. All graveyards and permanents in play are shuffled back into their decks.