Modular Magic for Cairn

First off: I’m making a thing! I’m working hard on combining, tweaking, expanding, and upgrading my Cairn-related posts into a full publication. It aims to be both a toolbox you can pick-and-choose from, as well as a neat way to combine everything together to get a sort-of Advanced Cairn, if you will. I’ve dubbed this project Block, Dodge, Parry, after the system/post that started this whole experiment!

Today, I want to highlight the magic system I’ve made. It consists of two primary parts: Sculpting and Tricks. The main goals in making this system are:

  • Giving a lot of room for player creativity, interpretation and flavor
  • Using/extending the solid risk/reward basis of the GLOG magic system, as also used in Cairn. This system is still fully compatible with the ‘default’ GLOG Magic for Cairn
  • Providing a basis for foreground growth, i.e. it’s not that your numbers go up, it’s that your character is growing in a transparent, immersive way.
    • A main goal for Block, Dodge, Parry is to have a character’s backstory be (nearly) the same as their capabilities/skills, as a direct answer to 5e’s “I’ve got a cool concept in mind, how do I translate this into a character?”. I aim for there to be minimal translation required. If you can think it, you can play it.
  • Integrating prompts for adventure. You wanna learn X? Better go find someone who can teach you X, and see if they’d be willing to train you!

Arcane Magic

You carry a Magic Tome worth 300gp. It is Bulky and contains your tags. There is no limit to the number of tags it can contain.

Casting Spells

  1. Sculpting Energy takes 2 Actions and requires a full turn1 (unless stated otherwise). You must declare your spell at the beginning of the round. Tricks take 1 Action.
  2. You have an amount of Magic Dice (d6) equal to your Gifted training2, with a maximum of 4. Choose how many you wish to invest. You need an empty inventory slot for each die you wish to invest.
  3. Roll the invested Magic Dice. For each die that shows a 4-6, you gain one Fatigue.
  4. If you get a series (e.g. 2-4 dice that match), something has gone very wrong. Take the dice that show identical values as damage to HP, then to WIL. For instance, rolling 4-3-3 means taking 6 damage3.

Design Notes

1. I’m testing using quick turns and full turns in combat. You still save DEX, but players/enemies that only want to do one thing on their turn basically get a ‘sub-round’ before players and enemies that want to do two things. More on this in another post!
2. Gifted training means training with a Magic-User to learn, well, magic. You can also take this training as part of character creation – more on Careers and Skills later, as well! Roughly put it means that you’ve dedicated a part of your life to learning magic.
3. I still need to test this somewhat simpler version of GLOG magic complications, but I kind of like this really sleek version of Mishaps.

Sculpt Energy

Any magic user can cast a bolt of arcane energy. At the cost of 1 MD, this Arcane Bolt does 1d6 magic damage + [dice] to a target nearby. [Sum] stands for the total number of MD invested into the spell.

You can learn new techniques to sculpt this energy into more intricate forms. MD added in sculpting do not contribute to damage,  besides [dice] being the total number of dice rolled.

  • Range: Invest +1 MD to reach a target far away.
  • Elements: Invest +1 MD to imbue your spell with elemental energy, such as fire, ice, or lightning.
  • Discipline: Invest +1 MD to cast a spell of a certain discipline. By default, Arcane Bolt deals damage to STR.
    • Discipline: Stun. Your spell damages DEX, instead.
    • Discipline: Befuddle. Your spell damages WIL, instead.
  • Subtlety: Invest +1 MD to cast a spell silently and sneakily.
  • Force: Invest +1 MD to make your spell forceful, blasting appropriate targets back.
  • Piercing: Invest +1 MD to make your spell capable of bypassing armor. On a 1-3, it bypasses 1 Armor, on a 4-6 it bypasses 2 Armor.
  • Blast: Invest +1 MD to change the properties of the spell into Blast, damaging all targets near a certain point. The invested MD decides how many targets Close to the impact point are affected.
  • Fast: Invest +1 MD to cast the spell as 1 Action instead of 2, allowing it to be cast in a fast turn.

Maltas prepares a mighty spell against his foes. He invests 3 MD, and chooses Element (Fire) and Blast. He rolls 3d6 and gets a 4, a 3, and a 2. The 4 determines the damage: 4 + [dice], so 4 + 3 dice rolled = 7. The 3 is only used to determine fatigue (<4, so no fatigue). The 2 means that it can damage 2 targets close to the point of impact, as part of Blast.”


A Magic User can also opt to use their magic for a Trick. This is like performing a Gambit5, except with magic. Tricks deal no damage and have a maximum range of Near.

Just like gambits, Tricks can be used to stun, shove, disarm, trip, etc.

When performing a Trick, describe the desired effect, i.e. “Maltas wants to use his magic to freeze the boots of the orc in place, preventing him from moving”.

The GM will decide on a fitting Save for the target; STR in the example, for the orc to wrest his feet free.

The caster invests a number of Magic Dice of choice, as with casting a spell. For each 4-6, the difficulty of the Save is increased by 1. As with a gambit, to make a successful Save, the target must roll under or equal to their Attribute, but above the difficulty.

Maltas invests 2 MD and rolls a 3 and a 5. The orc must roll under or equal his STR (14) but above 1, as the 5 raises the difficulty by 1.”

Design Notes

5. I’m testing the Gambit-rules of the amazing Errant in my home game. I’m not sure if I’ll keep them like this, but I like combining it with magic to give casters unique versatility.

That’s all for now! I’ll share more of this project soon, but for now, I’d love to hear what you think!

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