About a year ago, Robot Vikingâ€™s Pillager-In-Chief wrote an article for io9 brainstorming ways for making Magic: the Gathering into an RPG. Unaware of this, the west coast Vikings decided we would try to make a Magic RPG work. We later discovered Edâ€™s article and we shamelessly stole some things from it, but with some twists of our own.
For character creation we decided that the players would choose a primary color and a secondary color. They would then receive 30 random cards of their primary color, 15 random cards of their secondary color. From these cards they would each compile 40 card decks, sort of like you would in a sealed deck tournament. Initially we discussed doing random fifteen card packs, but we decided that since this was just a one-shot there wouldnâ€™t be much time to add to the decks and specialize. The downside to this was that for reasons understood by neither myself or the co-GM all the players but one played some variant of white, with the other playing black and red, mostly because he was late and wanted to set himself apart.
For non-combat skills we thought it would be interesting if players had skills sort of like the planeswalker cards. They each had two primary skills, and two secondary skills. The players would gain and spend counters based on the skills they used. Primary skills would give them one counter, secondary skills cost one counter and any other skills cost two counters.Â Skill tests were resolved with a fairly loose system of revealing the top card of the library and if the card contained an applicable mana symbol it was a success, counting lands. This meant that people were pretty successful with skills tied to their primary color and occasionally successful with their secondary colorâ€™s skills.
For the most part we used Edâ€™s list of skill/color associations, but we also gave things some overlap, for example, stealth skills worked for either blue or black whichever the character had access to. The counter system actually worked fairly well as a way of integrating the role-play aspects of the game. Having a tangible poker chip thrown in your general direction for doing things your character likes was a great incentive to stay in-character, and the cost of chips for doing things out-of character, like that blue-white character doing heavy lifting, really helped drive home that this was a strenuous task that was to be avoided. Itâ€™s probably an unnecessary complication, but itâ€™s a great way for people to stay in character. I might implement a similar system in other games I run.
For combat we adhered to the core rules of magic, with a couple of changes. First, we allowed the players to â€œcarryâ€ three lands in play, in an effort to make the game progress faster. Second, the GM encounter deck didnâ€™t use lands, which allows the GM to scale the encounter quite a bit, and functioned like a Horde deck in the Horde magic variant. Damage dealt to the GM mills cards from the encounter deck, thus reducing the length of the encounter. This system worked quite well until the end of the night when we brought out the big boss fight and didnâ€™t reset the board from the last fight. We tried to use the boss decks like actual decks, lands and all, not thinking about the six land advantage the players had on us. Nicol Bolas went down in three turns, as did two of the Ravnican Guildmasters, though Jarad survived a couple more turns, mostly by looking like the lesser threat.
Verdict: Qualified Success
All in all I think the night was a great success, with the only major failure being user error at the end. I would do it again, but I did discover that Magic is not designed to be a quick combat system. Itâ€™s up there with D&D 4E for the longest combat times. Skill resolution was a little tricky, but we came up with a quick and easy system for it. I think it has merit with some refinement, but who knows when the time will come to play again. Any questions, comments or critiques? Feel free to comment, Iâ€™ll be here.