Magical Burst 2013

Needing to step away from Beyond Otaku Dreams, I ended up getting back into Magical Burst. (Also, making some notes for the alternate settings for Golden Sky Stories.) Getting away from Magical Burst (I was last seriously trying to work on it in October of last year) was apparently the right thing to do, because I feel like I’m coming at it with fresh eyes, and making some important changes that feel just plain refreshing.

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One thing that’s been on my mind lately, something that I think not very many people would be in a position to notice, is how different designing and translating games are. As a translator I get very intimate with the actual text of the game. While I don’t remember every word of Golden Sky Stories, I’m exceedingly familiar with the contours of the text, with what goes in what sections. In contrast, when I have my game designer hat on I have an image of the rules in my head, and it’s a struggle to update the text to fit that image as it changes over time. Last month I had a bunch of ideas for Magical Burst (while I was at an anime convention as it happened), and coming back to the actual text is weird because the game in my head has changed so much from what’s in the Word doc. It feels weird that I come across references to relationships taking Strain when in my head I have the much more straightforward system of them having levels that can be gained or lost.[1]

The single biggest thing is that I’m significantly reworking certain key aspects of combat. I decided to implement a “Battlefield” system inspired by Nechronica and Meikyuu Kingdom, basically because it’s something I really, really like. I was never quite happy with the combat system in Magical Burst before, and this gives me a place to implement one of my favorite new game mechanics to come along in a while. I had been thinking of trying an Engagement system like in Arianrhod and 13th Age, but I find the Battlefield map approach far more interesting, and easier and more fun to hang mechanics off of. (It’ll also be a bit of a trial run for implementing a similar system in Slime Quest, which is going to be an altogether more involved project.) I’ve talked about it at great length before, but the core concept is that combat takes place on a semi-abstract map with a small number of positions/areas arranged in a line, and stuff like range and movement is in terms of this set of positions. This provides a potentially fun element of tactical combat while vastly reducing the overhead of having map-based combat at the table.[2]

I also decided to make Magical Attribute assignments semi-permanent. I never really liked the concept of swapping them around on the fly, and it was really an attempt to solve a problem (how to go about tying Heart, Fury, and Magic stats to something meaningful) rather than something I like on its own merits. I’m changing it so that you can rearrange them only when you take certain advancement options. This in turn reverberated through a bunch of other elements of the system, so that it was no longer necessary to have the rule that no two Magical Attributes could have the same value, and didn’t make sense to have relationships follow those types. (And the concept of Fury relationships was throwing people off anyway.)

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That’s in addition to the other stuff I was talking about previously with specializations (which give characters more special abilities to emphasize Attack, Defense, or Support), and making Magical Effects into Magical Talents, of which there are a lot more available. One of the things I really like about Magical Burst overall is that it puts my diverse RPG inspirations on full display all at once. It’s traditional, hippie, and Japanese all at once, combining elements of games like D&D, Don’t Rest Your Head, Nechronica, Smallville, and Apocalypse World. The tactical combat aspect might seem a weird approach to the game, but it’s making me a lot more excited to play it.

At this point I’m thinking I’d like to make it a goal to finally publish Magical Burst in about a year or so, though of course I don’t expect life to be so straightforward. The part about how I want the tie-in novel to be ready is going to be a big deal, since that thing is still a first draft and needs a ton of work. On the other hand a new draft of the rules shouldn’t be *too* far off, and I intend to keep a free version available regardless.


[1]The main inspiration for this was the fan-made “Magical Burst ReWrite,” which I’m trying to borrow ideas from (there are several that are too good to pass up!) without plagiarizing.

[2]One of the issues with the 3rd and 4th Editions of D&D is that while doing stuff with a grid can be a lot of fun, you have to put a lot of effort into what is normally a single-use set piece to make it that way. A Battlefield map is both totally reusable and relatively easy to customize (just attach special effects to certain positions).

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14 thoughts on “Magical Burst 2013

  1. Yeah, the relationship ‘level’ scheme is one I’ve been using since I picked it up, as it’s just a much cleaner way of representing it.

    I’m not sure how I feel about ability swapping going away. I always felt like it just needed more things that played off it – the tactical value of being able to prioritize offense/defense/etc is nothing to sneeze at, especially with how it shapes the flow of combat. Maybe I’m just biased in favor of those ‘gotcha’ moments when you catch a youma (or PC!) switching to low Support just in time to take an opposed Support effect to the face, though.

  2. Totally agree with the semi-abstract map. It is one of my favorite features from MECHA and I am using it in my JRPG emulating tabletop RPG where it looks like a big crystal. Thematic, tactical but easy to throw down.

  3. Okay, this sounds awesomesauce with a hat now. It’s also really starting to sound like you’ve got a lot of “inspired by PMMM” without actually being PMMM.

    1. Thanks. :3 Magical Burst gets a lot of inspiration from Madoka Magica, but it also has the instability of magic as a central element. Magic in PMMM has lots of sinister secrets behind it, but it does what you want it to.

  4. Hey Ewen, do you think you could expand on the Nechronica battlespace rules you’re using? I’ve been hacking Nechronica and Apocalypse World together for running a certain despair-filled bio-mecha game and want to add a few more tactical decisions than pure AW provides. Insight appreciated!

    1. Sure. The thing I’ve taken to calling the “Battlefield” mechanic (after what it’s called in Meikyuu Kingdom) is where combat takes place on a linear map with 5-6 areas arranged in a row (though for Slime Quest/Slime Story I’m planning to have 7 areas). Movement and range and so on are in terms of areas on the map, so a melee attack could have a range of 0 (can only affect targets in the same area), and a medium range attack could have a range of 1-2 (so it can affect targets 1 or 2 areas away, but not in the same area), and so on. Characters can usually move only 1 area per round unless they have some kind of special ability. From there stuff like AoE attacks, opportunity attacks, forced movement, etc. is pretty easy to implement. Nechronica also gives names to the specific locations, and some character types have abilities that let them jump to a specific named area. Another neat thing about the Battlefield thing is that it should make it very easy to introduce variations on the map; it would basically be a matter of setting up a suitable number of areas in whatever arrangement seems interesting. And you can put obstacles and special effects into map areas too.

      Nechronica uses an action point system though, which is something I’m specifically not using for Magical Burst. MB has a simple action economy (you have a Major Action and Minor Action each turn) and I’m going to try an initiative system like in Marvel Heroic (where the current player decides who goes next). I’ve kind of gotten tired of d20 style initiative rules, and I’m looking for more interesting and efficient variations on the concept. The action point system is very fiddly, but it does at least make initiative more interesting, since you get to weigh actions against how long they will delay you being able to act again.

      An interesting variation on the Battlefield is the “plot” system used in Shinobigami (though I have no idea why it’s called the “plot” system), where each player secretly picks a plot number from 1 to 6 (at the table you set a die up with that number with your hand covering it and then reveal). The plot numbers then serve as your position on a battlefield like map, and they’re your initiative number, *and* the higher it is the higher your chances of a Fumble result. It’s a rather odd, unconventional system, but it really captures the feel of ninjas flitting around and clashing at lightning-speed. They used a similar system for their more recent Elysion RPG, with the twist that there’s a special zero position that goes last but can target any of the other plot numbers.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Ewen.

        I’m including the range and ‘Volume of Fire’ rules from The Regiment, an AW hack for WW2 warfare, and the ‘fictional’ distance system of Nechronica and Meikyuu would fit well with variable distances. That way I can combine weapon distances, as you say, with the distance, and the other benefits you mention.

        The one thing I will not include are opportunity attacks – I’ve grown to dislike them as they dismay players from taking certain actions, and can bog down combat.

        Because I’m using the *World system, there is no explicit initiative or round rules – because of that, I will likely add the option to move 1 area per action made by each character.

        I was playing with it earlier when I was using Action Points, but because they are so valuable in the Nechronica combat system, I was worried about them dominating character builds. AP boosting (because it effects action economy, and initiative, and action order) is a problem I faced in my playtests. It is still an excellent system for modeling a death spiral effect, where damage to your character actually effects their, well, effectiveness.

        The combination of the VOF rules and ‘battlefield’ ranges would mean that I could include equipment/upgrade/body locations, which is always fun. Lose an arm? Oop, no more holding up that big ol’ gun!

        Anyway, thanks for the chat, I look forward to reading more about your progress with Magical Burst in the future.

  5. Has there been more work on this since this post? I’d be happy to see a new PDF one of these days, and I know I’m not the only one.

    If you’re concerned about plagiarism from a legal standpoint, well, you can’t copyright math. If your concern is more ethical, because it’s not that easy to get permission, remember that everyone involved in it primarily wants to make Magical Burst a better and more mathematically sound game. If you want explicit permission, you have it for my stuff. That would include the raises system, though I mostly cribbed that from FATE anyway, and the third paragraph of Sorcery, though my version listed a number of explicit examples including multiple targets or effects. And raise to double the amount (as well as a bunch of other things) two to make permanent are the only specifics I recall off the top of my head.

    1. I have made some progress since this post, though obviously not as much as I would like. Golden Sky Stories has been eating up a huge portion of my free time, and it’s kinda hard to dedicate myself to other projects with $85k of other people’s money hanging over me. (The good news there is that we’re just about ready to go to print and thereby send the physical products on their way, which will take a huge amount of pressure off.) I’m still working out what exactly I want to do with both extra free time and an established publishing company and audience, but finishing and fully realizing Magical Burst is going to be a high priority no matter what.

      I think when I said “plagiarism” I was maybe being a little paranoid, but I do want to both not take other people’s work directly for a project I intend to make money off of, and to generally hold myself to a high standard creatively.

  6. Hey, I’m writing a magical girl story(well, it’s intended to be a webcomic) and I’m working out a magic system. I really like the way magic works in your game, and was wondering if I could use concepts like overcharge, fall out, and oblivion seeds?

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