So, at this point, I’m faced with an interesting dilemma: the nascent game is forming like a nebula out of vague ideas, and because the magic system is the most massive thing in the cloud, so to speak, everything else is coalescing around it. I don’t see this as necessarily a problem – if what I’m envisioning as the direction of the final product holds true, it’ll actually be rather appropriate – but at the same time, there has to be more substance to characters.
The idea I’m toying with so far is a mutation of FATE Aspects that appears in Freemarket, curiously enough, which is the idea of “tags”. Each aspect of a character comes with three keyword, such as your genetic background (your character’s inborn characteristics might be listed “Tall, Nimble, and Perceptive”), your gear (a field repair kit might get “Portable, Nanotech, Built-in Scanner”), et cetera. I want a little more crunch to the implementation, so I’m thinking of making them stats: you basically pick five, rating them 4-3-2-1-0 (because I’m kind of a math geek and like triangular number arrays). You roll against the most applicable one, but you get a bonus of +1 to the roll for each additional one you can pull in as relevant. Two of these will be mandated as Class and Social Status traits, which means they pull double duty: not just stats, but also, to use White Wolf terminology, Backgrounds. You can choose to define yourself as belonging to a noble house, for instance, but there’s a big difference between rating that at 4 versus 1 or even 0.
Numerically, we’ve also got a resolution scale coming into focus. If we use the time-honored “die roll plus stat” approach, then we have a possible scale of results from a lowly and unlucky -4 (stat 0, roll four minuses) to a very unlikely height of +12 (stat 4, four pluses, all four other traits somehow relevant).
As I’ve intimated before, I’m leaning in the direction of free-form magic, not unlike Spectrum, in which magic is simply a class of special actions, not a particular skill: the setting is pretty firmly going to assert that all player characters have magic, which all functions more or less the same mechanically, even though in the fiction they have different narrative explanations and can look pretty wildly divergent. I’m not entirely sure of what the linkage between these character-defining traits and what I envision as “the magic traits” will be, yet, but there’s a hazy vision slowly coming into focus.