Magical Burst 5.0 Alpha

I decided to try taking a more incremental approach to what will hopefully be the last leg of the development of Magical Burst, starting with an “alpha” that will have the bare minimum necessary to play and then filling out more and more elements of the game as I go along, hopefully better informed about how the game really works at the table while I do so. For previous drafts I put in a whole lot of work on things that ultimately wound up being wasted as the game changed, so this time around I’m going to get it out there before I get too far, and not worry too much about stuff like formatting.

I wrote quite a bit about what I’d been working on with the game in a previous blog post, but basically I drew a lot of ideas from Apocalypse World, Magical Fury, and Strike!, and simplified and refined the core system quite a bit with the aim of making everything faster and more flavorful. In any case, here it is:

Download Magical Burst 5.0 Alpha PDF

26 thoughts on “Magical Burst 5.0 Alpha

  1. Isn’t this an alpha of an alpha? And it seems like “5-0-alpha” ought to be simplified, what’s the “-0” for if not version numbering?

    That’s just my first impression before actually looking at the thing though.

    Looking at the dice notation list and action resolution, I’m a bit disappointed that there’s still non-magical non-exploding rolls, since those seem to come up rarely and I care about them even less. Non-magical skills are a cute way to add character and difference to girls as an optional rules module, but in the default rules I was hoping for less of them, not more. Then again with mundane stats gone it’s still probably a net positive.

    Not sure about the “moves”, I’m wary of the fact that they apparently don’t change depending on your goals/opponents.
    Also moves, or at least the mundane move list, should probably be after attributes. Even though I’ve played the last two drafts, when going in order on this one I found myself a bit confused when going in order. Even when I get to that part, it’s a bit on the overly perfunctory side. The same applies to references to Hope, Trauma, and Harm.
    I already know the dice roll on “help someone out” is just going to make headaches if the dice don’t fall in a way that makes sense to the narrative. I really like the other ones though.

    I feel like too many of the “What does being a girl mean to you?” possibilities are negative, either directly or obliquely. Most of your tables are great in general but I think that one could use work. Maybe the positive ones just don’t shine enough.
    Speaking of great tables, I like the bond table, that’s a great addition. Not sure about the new wish table, I feel like some of the dark stuff on the old one made things helped provide potent plot hooks, but it looks like overall not too much has changed.

    I feel like the “One Odd Thing” table looks like a great plothook table. The reason for it being where it is in the book isn’t clear, though.

    Losing magical powers is going to make sorcery harder and less fun, and weaken MG theming in general. Talents really don’t bridge the gap since before you could take an element or a power that’s useful for sorcery and let the other be more “fluffy”. And having magic that wasn’t just elemental was a lot more mystical.
    Unless more talents are coming and they just aren’t ready yet; Magical Pet certainly doesn’t seem like it should be on the short list for staying in if you’re doing a massive cutting.

    “Change the World” seems to be really limited in paradigm; sometimes you want to use magic to affect the real world in ways that are neutral or inconsequential and by current RAW that’s not really a viable thing.

    My opinion on skirmishes now is basically the same as when you explained them, and that’s as far as I got through the manuscript before remembering that it’s late and I have work tomorrow. More to come later.

  2. My thoughts, in order, as I read the new document

    -Character creation should come before the Moves section. The move section references stats that haven’t been introduced yet.
    -I won’t comment on the tables much since I almost never use them to be honest. Don’t take this as a slight against their quality or anything, I just feel like I come up with my best ideas when I’m not looking at list. Having something in front of you closes your brain off to alternatives sometimes.
    -Not sure how I feel about Base Resolve of 10. Seems a bit… lethal. I’ll probably need to play a bit before I can say for sure though.
    -I sorta miss mundane stats… oh well, even I’ll admit they didn’t come into play THAT much.
    -Not sure how I feel about 4 being the max in a stat. It seems like your stat allocation won’t affect dice outcomes that much. I need to actually see how this plays out in a game though.
    -(This is more a reply to the other commenter, but I don’t see where Magical Themes have been reduced down to purely elements. They’re called THEMES. If you wana play as someone who can see Chakra points and poke them with a rapier like you’re performing extreme accupuncture, I don’t see where the rules say you can’t.)
    -Basic talents are a nice streamlining of the magical abilities from before… however they’re alot varied. I realize part of this is because the game is an alpha draft right now. It shouldn;t be too hard for GMs to add their own, as I’ve done so in the past. However giving every single power an in-battle use and out-of-battle use might hurt some of the more… subtle ones. I might consider adding a few a “minor talents” or something for powers that have no real use in battle.
    -First Transformation outcomes are better left to the GM than a dice roll IMO. Might be worth cutting that section out (even though it’s pretty short) if you’re concerned about streamlining.
    -The “Change the World” action should be based on Magic instead of Heart or Fury IMO, but it’s a small issue. Perhaps it’s because I’m seeing it as a replacement for Sorcery at this point in my reading.
    -Sorcery is still in the rules, although it seems to overlap alot with “Change the World”.
    -I dislike skirmish rules. Abstracting all enemies into a single unit seems like it would be sorta weird it comes to them attacking the players. Also because end results are determined in a single turn, resolve seems kinda pointless, as does protecting an ally. I get the idea behind skirmish rules… but eh… I really don’t like them. (Maybe I AM misunderstanding how these rules work).
    -Normal battles have never taken me 30 minutes… then again I have never run a game with more than 3 players.
    -A note about adding additional terrain should be added, as I’ve often done so. For example, I’ve set up terrain zones that bind or do damage over time.
    -Same for status conditions such as penalties to stats.
    -Ranged and melee attacks have the same damage potential, why would you ever invest in Fury (melee damage) when Magic (ranged attacks) can do the same thing but further away?
    -No 15+ result on Protect Main Action.
    -Defensive stance essentially robs you of your ability to attack for a turn and only slows your inevitable taking of damage yourself. The stance should counter or reflect some damage if the opponent fails their attack by a certain amount.
    -Recovery feels like it should be a talent of some kind, rather than a skill availiable to everyone. If it is availiable to everyone, a roll of 11 seems too low to remove all conditions. Certain conditions like “Bound” should also be unaffected.
    -There seems to be a lack of things to spend support actions on, with movement or recovery being the only ones so far. I suppose the Talents section will pad this out though. I would love to help with this actually and write up or discuss some ideas when I have the time.
    -I LOVE the new classes. In the old versions they always felt extremely broken 9except for Knight), now they feel much balanced and less like something that could break the entire game with the right set of moves.
    -No comment on World Moves. Seems like basic GM’ing advice.
    -Can’t comment much on Youma creation. I always sorta just winged it instead of using the guides in the rules.

    Looks much more balanced than the previous version and I’m pretty excited to try it. There are a few bugs, but that’s to be expected with a rough draft and none of them are anything that can’t be worked around with some good GMing. I actually wouldn’t mind running a quick 2-3 player over play-by-post or google drive or something if it would help in your development and I can find the right people who don’t mind doing a game online as opposed to in real life. Anyway, thanks for putting this out, this is what I’ve been waiting for since I signed up for your Patreon, please don’t take any of my feedback as criticism or complaining.

    1. Ignore what I said about 10 Resolve seeming lethal, as later on I learned damage potential had dropped compared to previous versions but forgot to edit my notes.

      Also ignore grammar errors. Someday I’ll learn to spell check things before posting them >__>

    2. Heyo. Good feedback. A couple notes though:

      The thing to remember about the attributes is that the scale is very different, and 1 point does actually make a considerable difference in the outcome now.

      “Change the World” and sorcery are two very different things. Sorcery is for using your magic to generate effects, while Change the World is a move you use to summarize when a character, say, decides to use her magic to do something about the police brutality she’s been hearing about in the news

      I think you are understanding skirmishes right, but they may not be for you. But that’s why the game allows you to use or ignore either combat system as you see fit. Skirmishes deliberately discard the details of combat and generate consequences of the battle.

  3. 10 resolve is a ton considering most things to 1-2 damage and it refreshes. Getting one’s resolve hit down into untransform will /basically/ never happen, unless I’m missing something?

    Advanced Rules – Transforming – is already covered under ‘what magical girls can do’, so having it in both places seems redundant?

    Power – Binding – You use Bonds here. I’d use another term, just because Bonds is a thing in this system with entirely different mechanical effects.

    Full Youma Combat – it’s not spelled out exactly how this works. I’m assuming in the skirmish combat just players roll like in how Apocalypse World tends to work in general, and in the full combat the Youma can also roll, but this is not spelled out anywhere.

  4. Mundane Moves feel a bit lackluster.

    In terms of flavor, more dynamic language could give a better idea behind the type of game you’re trying to generate. The Basic Moves sheet is one my players go to a lot when we play Dungeon World or Apocalypse World, so the words there are worth weighing.

    From a mechanical standpoint, both Comforting and Keep Up With Life feel like they’re floating in the void of GM fiat, a bit. They don’t have much detail and there is no sense of an economy with them, and consequences are very open-ended and abstract. In particular, Keep Up With Life feels like you wanted some slice-of-life stuff but are relegating it to “roleplay it out I guess”-type mechanics, in which case maybe not having that move at all would work better. After all, Acting Under Pressure, Comforting Someone, and Helping Someone Out basically fill out all the times in “Keeping Up With Life” that feel like they should be rolled for.

    In many ways this feels a lot more abstract (at least in this alpha stage) than a game I’d be comfortable playing. One of the things I liked most about Dungeon World was the sample options it gave to you, such as “expose yourself to danger” or “fumble and hesitate”. These are vague enough that details can be filled in, but specific enough that a newer GM can just use them as-is.

    With all the research someone already has to do to become familiar with the Mahou Shoujo world, or specifically a world similar to PMMM, it would be nice if a little more was done to ease them into the game here.

    Some commentary on the actual flow of economy would be nice as well – when you arouse suspicion or do something “at a cost to yourself”, how significant should the GM be thinking of those, in mechanical terms? “Work with the fiction” is a great starting guideline, but something like “you attract unwanted attention” from Dungeon World gives both the GM and the players more concrete expectations as well.

    Rather than adjectives like “pretty important” or “minor”, maybe something like “irreparably” or “in a way that leaves you injured” could make your vision more clear.

    Of course, having that open-endedness is also a strength, but the game’s concept just seems a bit loose rather than focused to me.

    Your tables, as with other tables in your other works, are a great springboard, both for running the game smoothly and for presenting the type of game you want. I’m personally a bigger fan of Bonds phrased like in Fiasco, where you can immediately see plot threads and disasters waiting in the distance, but if you’re going for something less frantic than Fiasco yours work well.

    The entire stat of “Real” feels odd to me, since it is a bit of a cop-out. Even in PMMM, “Real” could be expanded to a whole variety of things, from ‘stats’ in the anime like shyness and tact to more story-driven things, like “what is this character’s coping mechanism” or “what is the last thing that drives them”.

    Actively using their wish as their health, like in PMMM, might make the whole thing even more slanted in that direction, though idk how you’d stand on legal ground.

    In the #Threeforged Design Challenge, there’s a game called “The Policy of Truth” where you answer questions about yourself to earn re-rolls. That could be an interesting mechanic to explore how Magical Girls deal with real life, or it could be a horrible idea. I dunno. I feel like it would mechanically emphasize the difference between real life and the “Magical, Witch-Hunting Life” though.

    Easily the best part of your writing and the game comes from the “Secrets” chart. I’d like to see more of that theme permeate the entire game, either by making the rest of game really happy but emphasizing that the GM needs to play by the secrets, or by making everything equally two-sided and perhaps worth deconstructing. Easier said than done, I know.

    Overall this is an exciting project. I know you have other RPGs in the wings, but I hope this one fleshes out a lot more. :)

  5. Shorter comment this time, but I had some potential players look over the new rules and they pointed out some things regarding the classes that I feel are worth mentioning.

    -For as much as I complained Knights were too weak before, it turned out all 3 of the players I had pitched the game to wanted to play one. When I asked them why, they told me it was because the Knight’s passive ability to block one damage per hit was easily the most powerful class in the game under this new damage scaling. If enemies did 4 damage per turn, this would reduce your total damage intake by a whole 25%… and 4 damage is pretty high under this new system. If enemies were managing 2 or even 1 damage per attack that number would go up to 50% or even 100% (although I’d probably house-rule that damage couldn’t be reduced below 1 this way).
    Anyway, I’m not saying to nerf or reduce this part of the ability. Please, please don’t do that. It fits with the flavor of the character right now and actually feels meaningful. However maybe take away the injury reduction part (overlaps with priestess)and/or bump up the other two classes a bit to compensate (more on that in a bit).
    -Defender needs clarification whether a hit of 1 damage becomes 0 damage after the penalty.
    -Multiple Knights in the same zone leaves enemies with no safe targets to attack and might be potentially unbalanced… although I personally sorta like the idea of two knights being really hard to deal with when they’re watching eachother’s backs. Still, it might be best to limit Defender to a single target rather than have it cover an entire zone.

    -Mostly fine as they are. Healing only two damage feels a little low, but that will be dependent on what other healing abilities are introduced later. Perhaps as a kind of psuedo-callback to the “Link” talent, allow Priestesses to heal more than 2 damage at the cost of one point of their own HP for every point over 2 that they heal. Sacrificing too much for the sake other people is kind of a fairly common theme in Magical Girl stuff, so it feels flavorful to allow the Priestesses talents to reflect that while also giving them a bit more flexibility in strategic usage.
    -Taking away injury removal from the Knights would also help further out the Priestess’s niche as a “support” character. It’s essential that support characters be able to do things other classes can’t really do on their own.

    -Aim should apply to melee attacks as well (although as I mentioned previously, there’s no reason to ever use melee right now since ranged does the exact same thing at greater distances with no penalties). Perhaps even be a “passive” talent like the Knight’s Resilience instead of requiring a minor action.
    -Boost needs clarification as to whether it causes overcharge in full battles. Right now it’s worded awkwardly where it does in skirmishes but apparently doesn’t in full battles.
    If Boost does not give overcharge in full battles, it should require a support action. As it exists right now, it’s essentially a free extra 4 damage as soon as you land your first 2 hits. There’s not really any strategic element or choice at play here, as there’s almost zero reason not to use it or weigh it against other options. Boost should either require an action, or have an overcharge cost associated with it.

  6. Great to see development is going on – and certainly in the right direction!
    I welcome the streamlining of mechanics towards AW-engine. As a first impression, it seems more balanced.
    My advice: Please have a strong emphasis on providing a useful character sheet (and ideally also moves cheat sheet).
    It’s the central document of the game and deserves a lot of love (see here for a good discussion:

  7. Apologies for the constant comments, I’m not sure if there’s a better way to be leaving feedback, or if posting so many is bothersome or annoying. Please let me know if it’s a problem.

    -Firstly, I take back what I said about there being no reason to use melee/Fury. I seem to have misread the previous rules for Magic/ranged where it mentions the attack range being 1-3 and NOT 0-3, meaning if an enemy closes the distance on a ranged attacker, they’ll have to fall back on melee or re-position themselves.

    -One of my prospective players pointed out that if someone makes a Sorceress with the “Power Strike” Basic Talent and then uses Boost as their specialization talent, they can potentially do 6 damage with a single attack. Considering Starting HP is 10 and other players can only do 2 damage normally, this seems a little high, even for the overcharge costs involved… then again this player was specifically min-maxing and looking for exploits for testing purposes. It might not be worth actually changing, as a good group can simply trust it’s players not to min-max. Still, it might be worth noting somewhere that damage-increasing talents can’t stack on the same turn, especially if more are added in later.

    -Bound and Dazed list a defensive modifier of +1. Should this be -1? Being in either of these states should make it harder to protect yourself, not easier. (Barrier also lists +2, despite a typical barrier not being able to dodge or fight back in any way). I’m guessing +#’s apply to the opponent’s attack roll instead, since “defense” isn’t actually a stat?

    1. Sending feedback through the comments is fine. :3

      Defensive modifiers affect the attacker’s roll, so having a positive one makes you easier to hit. It needs a better name I think.

  8. Tables are basically the same as the ones in Magical Fury. Would like the previous 4th draft tables back. As an anime-based game saying eyes are unnatural colors should be taken out. Adding the simple rules of Magical Fury was a good move though.

  9. Why are “Tsukaima” and “Youma” the sole Japanese terminology? This is incongruous. Perhaps they could be changed to “Familiar” and “Chimera”, respectively? “Familiar” is a more or less literal translation of “Tsukaima”. “Chimera” is an approximation of “Youma” that ties closer to the “Nightmare” terminology: one of the definitions is a synonym for illusion, fantasy, daydream, etc in addition to the greek monster and the biological hybrid.

    1. Familiar is nice for tsukaima, though as for youma…I suspect each Magical Burst game will have a different name for the monsters that mahou shoujo fight, as they can have many, many different origins and methodologies.t

      1. Then why call them youma at all? Why not “monsters” or “demons” (given that immature ones are called “imps”)? If a generic English shorthand for any magical creature that drops oblivion seeds is needed, I nominate “chimera” as the most evocative.

      2. Hold on a sec. According to my Japanese dictionary, youma means ghost or apparition. Looking through my thesaurus, synonyms include phantom, specter, spirit, wraith, vision, hallucination, spook, chimera, phantasm, revenant, shade, visitant, and eidolon.

        Out of all these, I would still nominate chimera as optimal since it is the only listed word that includes “mythological monster” as a possible meaning. Think of it as clever wordplay.

  10. Gave a good read. Overall I like how it’s been simplified down to make it faster to play. Granted, I have yet to play this edition of Magical Burst, but here are my thoughts from reading and comparing to v4.

    Specific Points:
    Simplification of Non-magical attributes – This is the one thing I don’t really like too much. Depending on how you played, the stats of Charm, Insight, and Tenacity (now rolled up into Real) played a big role in the non-magical lives of the characters. Which most of the sessions I ran tended to be because we had many slice-of-life shenanigans.

    Talents – Right now there’s not too much to critique. The ones there are sound, just needs a bit more options.

    Compression of range of damage – Perfectly fine, keeps math simpler. I’m personally a fan of number crunching but I know many aren’t and Magical Burst is the kind of game where you want to keep it simple.

    It’s a good start to a rework of the system. My group and I have not played Magical Burst in a good long while due to scheduling issues.

    If you want more ideas for talents or other rules, take a look at the document I created for my Magical Burst v4 game. This goes for anyone who wants to add an initiative tracker or Mankai talents to their game. Once my group wants to play magical burst again, we might pick up v5 to test it out.

  11. I would like magical boys who stay boys when transformed as well. They could have tuxedos instead of dresses. Though it’s fine if they cross-dress in their magical boy form.

    1. Male characters with female alter egos is only mentioned as one option among several. A male character doesn’t have to turn into a girl… but there needs to be a good reason he literally has girl power.

      To me, the easiest justification for a cisgender heterosexual male character who turns into a male alter ego is that he absorbed his twin sister in the womb. This results in some of his body tissues having XX chromosomes, allowing him to tap into magic without thinking or acting feminine.

      1. One of my goals for the game is to have it be about magical girls (albeit with a flexible definition of “girl,” hence the section on gender), so I don’t really want to dilute that by making magical boys part of the core game. On the other hand, I don’t want to dictate how such things work in the game, hence I’ve tried to make issues like transgender magical girls ultimately be something for the group playing the game to explore for themselves. As things stand now, making male characters is pretty much just a matter of applying some different flavor text though.

  12. I came here because I love Magical Fury, and I’m really glad to see that this version of MB integrates a lot of what made MF so appealing to me. I think you’ve done am incredible job of balancing the freedom of light rules with the structure of a more robust system!

    I think you’ve really hit the sweet spot in terms of stats and talents. It looks to me like this game will support different characters feeling different in play without constraining player choices unduly. I wish more games could manage this.

    One thing that frustrated me in MF, that appears to be unchanged in the current skirmish rules: I don’t see any real incentive for a magical girl to choose the Protect Someone or Run Away moves. I can see where the character might have motivation to make such choices, but this is one time when the mechanics fail to support the fiction. Taking either action gambles an extra Personal Consequence and does nothing to contribute to the group’s success, increasing the likelihood that all the players will face Personal Consequences and even a Group Consequence. Choosing either of these moves seems to actively make the situation worse, contrary to the intent of the fiction.

    If I may offer a suggestion, perhaps a successful Protect Someone move could prevent an ally from taking a Personal Consequence, or prevent a Group Consequence; likewise, perhaps a Run Away move could protect the magical girl from a Personal Consequence. This way, a character has some incentive to choose one of these moves instead of contributing to the fight, while still risking the success and safety of the group.

    Alternately, perhaps a really successful PS or RA move could actually reduce the Spread, thereby contributing to the fight as much as a Hit would, but in an indirect way. This would have a very different flavor from risking the group for the sake of one individual, but I find the notion intriguing.

    As for the Full Battle system, I love it! I like the abstraction of zones, and I am imagining all kinds of ways to play with them to represent unearthly geography within Nightmares. I like the way you once again achieve enough mechanical differentiation to create meaningful choices, and to make different fights play out differently, without bogging down the way so many tactical combat systems do. (I gather that this was a problem in the previous draft. If so, congratulations on turning that around so elegantly!)

    I have one question about Harm though. When a human (or untransformed magical girl) takes damage, do they take as much Harm as the damage dealt? Or do they take one Harm regardless of how much damage was dealt?

    I like the advancement system, and I’m looking forward to the specialization talents, advanced specializations, etc. The youma classes look fantastic and exciting! I’m really looking forward to taking this game for a test drive.

    Thanks for your time!

  13. Magical Burst was my group’s favorite game for quite a while and I’m super excited to give this new version a try.

    I do have one big piece of feedback–that, in my opinion, the game runs best when playing the anime tropes straight instead of going for the dark Madoka version. It made Fallout into a wonderful organic storytelling tool. Of *course* the Magic overcharge is going to put Senpai in danger and force you to risk revealing yourself in order to save him; of course the Heart overcharge is going to make you grab him by the collar and kiss him right in front of your rival for his heart. Sailor Moon didn’t need to be edgy and subversive to have drama and suspense and the occasional legitimately terrifying villain.

    Heart and Fury don’t seem to be things in the new version and that’s a real shame. The whole reason the game worked so well was my players having a constant obligation to stir things up with an emotional outburst or magical accident. I might homebrew them back in, because Trauma isn’t the same thing. Any advice for how to do that?

  14. I saw Magical Burst referenced in some comments elsewhere and thought I’d have a look but it seems there is no news on it since… well since this blog post. Have you stopped working on it? Is 5.0 Alpha essentially the final version ever released? I’ve snagged the Alpha’s download and plan on looking over it with a fellow GM but after seeing a bit of praise here and there, I’m hoping that there’s going to be more.

    1. 5.0 Alpha is the most recent, but I am planning to do more. As always, I’ve got a ton of stuff on my place and a zillion ideas percolating. :P

  15. It says one needs to disengage/reckless to move into a space with an enemy in it. I’m guessing you mean to move out of a space with an enemy in it. Either way the language on the movement move is not great. Or the flow of combat is really weird with moving into the enemy being actively difficult

  16. Hi! So I’m dipping my toesinto running magiburst 5.0 after remembering the fun i had running magiburst 4.0 and i am very much not understanding skirmish rules at all.

    I understand that it’s abstracted, but isn’t making everything to win reliant on hits just promoting blind attack by everyone over anything else? What is the point of stuff like “protect an ally” if it all resolves in one turn anyway? Why is runing away penalized so hard? Isn’t it being too abstracted/quick not good for rp?

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