BITS – Here Be Magic

Awhile ago I explored with you spells and magic systems.

Looking back, between modern D&D, the old-school revival (OSR), and a more free-form approach, that post was a bit… scattered ๐Ÿ™ƒ

So I went back to the drawing board. I touched on a few changes in BITS in the two-year review, but I did even better: there now exists the sci-fantasy-trope As Above, So Below prototype.

The AASB two-pager project forced me to distill what magic can and ought to be in a Body-Insight-Thought-Specialty roleplaying game system.

With those efforts combined, it is time to reintroduce the magic in BITS in a general form fit for any BITS game (and your own homebrew too ๐Ÿ˜‰).

A Special Kind of Threat

“Threat” is the common term of what to roll at or above to succeed at some tricky, dangerous, or failure-is-consequential action.

Every creature or being in a game has its own threat – an abstract capacity to enact its own will on others or to prevent others from acting on it. When rolling normally, that threat is what is rolled for.

Magic is different. Spells ignore the threat of the target (a person, place, or thing), instead rolling for the level of threat inherent in the spell itself. The effect is instantaneous on target, ignoring all defenses!

Trivial spell? Trivial roll. Bigger, badder magic? Bigger, badder numbers to roll for ๐Ÿ˜ถ

As is with most rolls, magic rolls get to add a BITS to the roll, specifically the Thought quality – the smarter, more forceful-of-will a caster is, the easier the use of their magic!

When using magic, roll for the threat of the magic, not the target. Add Thought to the roll.


Magic is dangerous. Spells are fickle, near as likely to burn the hand that casts than the target.

Early on, BITS settled to handle critical failure when rolling doubles under the threat number. (e.g. a 2 and 2 when the threat is 5+.)

Crit failures – regardless of what is being done – are always bad. When it comes to magic, such failure can be catastrophic ๐Ÿ’€

When magic critically fails, the caster becomes the target. Whatever was going to happen happens in its opposite or causes harm, too.

Say a healing spell was meant to help an ally. A crit failure would harm the magician in equal amounts to what was supposed to heal, while the ally gets nothing.

Sometimes allies are not so lucky. Take a mage’s fireball spell, meant to immolate all in a nearby room before their friends rush in. Crit fail in the casting, and the room the mage is in fills with fire, setting ablaze friend and foe alike.

Summoning a creature from the ‘other side’ to fight alongside the party? The summoning happens, but the creature joins the opposition.

Magic is dangerous. Users are advised to proceed with caution!

Critical spell failure targets the caster and must harm or inconvenience them in proportion to the magic used.

What About Armor?

Many game systems require magicians to not wear any armor to be able to use magic. Sometimes this is a soft requirement (e.g. “magic can only be cast wearing lite or no armor”), sometimes this is hard (“mages cannot wear armor, full stop”).

To me, this is silly. BITS aims to be more practical and economic in its approach – by failures targeting the gear and pocketbooks of magicians!

On critical failures, a mage can be utterly wrecked. Only once, this is a painful outcome. Bad dice rolling failures again and again, magic becomes annoying.

So to encourage bigger, wilder magic use, a magician can channel a crit failure into anything that lacks a will that they are wearing or hold in their hands. When channeled, the magic effect doesn’t happen (e.g. a fireball does not explode), but the item that was channeled? Gone – turned to ash, dissolved to vapor, crumbled to dust.

The lesson here? Critical magic failure can be prevented, but at a cost. That cost comes in the form of the hard-won gear and materials a magic user has. Therefore, mage’s are encouraged to use their special powers while softly discouraged from investing too heavily in heavier, more expensive weapons and gadgets.

Magic users may choose to channel crit spell failures into what they wear or hold, the item chosen destroyed in the process to prevent the failure’s effects.

Tools of the Trade

Gear here to help magicians: scrolls, runes, tomes, icons, idols, fetishes, wands, scepters, staves.

These items come in +1, +2, +3, and more varieties like every other kind of item in BITS. Yet, instead of inflicting harm on another (e.g. 2 damage for a tier-2 sword), focusing gear adds to the rolls for magic in addition to Thought already added.

Some magic gear helps focus spells – add this gear’s value to magic rolls in addition to Thought.

Optional: Fields of Magic

This is a great way to segregate the kinds of magic a player might be able to rely on. If magic use is just a bit too powerful, restricting magic to fields of study or inheritance can make all the difference.

While these groupings can take virtually any form, a few examples (which could be further isolated by what foci they are allowed to use, how they improve their magic, and how they might increase their powers):

  • The 6 distilled from D&D magic (D&D has unbalanced spells that I rebalanced during As Above, So Below‘s development – will make a post on it later).
    • Divinity – Spells involve blessing and cursing targets.
    • Energy – Spells involve the heating and cooling targets.
    • Form – Spells involve making something from nothing and change.
    • Life – Spells involve decaying and rejuvenating targets and the environment.
    • Mind – Spells involve knowing what targets know and bestowing ideas into others.
    • Sensorium – Spells involve the senses and illusions.
  • Power (pure-magic) and Pyro (fire, natural forces) (inspired by the Souls games).
  • Pact-making (devotion to angels or demons), Learned (from books or teachers), and Inherited (born with it).
  • Item-only (spells are written or imbued – can only be used with the host item, perhaps only a few times too).

Buttress magic’s power by guard-railing its use via who uses what kinds of magic magic and how.

Making Magic

Magic by any stretch of the imagination is chaotic, and chaos is everything.

That in mind, no list of spells or rituals could be as encompassing as a player’s imagination, or the situations one encounters while playing.

For BITS, refer to this handy table of the minimal threat appropriate for different spells (the Game Moderator ultimately will need to make a decision here, so treat this as a tool and starting place in that verdict). Using the largest threat for what is wanted to be done:

Threat (D&D slots)RangeTargetsEffect
5+ easy (0, 1)Melee (~5m)11, Trivial
7+ moderate (2, 3)Throwing (~10m)2, Minor
9+ hard (4, 5)Shooting (~100m)All in Area3, Major
11+ very hard (6)Siege (~500m)4, Awesome
13+ unlikely (7, 8)Horizon (~1km)All Areas in Range6, Epic
15+ impossible? (9+)EverywhereEveryone10, Godly
+2 to threat if the spell lasts (about 10 real-minutes).
Optional: Disadvantage for a spell effect greater than Thought value.

Wrap Up

Magic in BITS is quite powerful and quite dangerous – usually to the target, but could be to the caster too.

Adding the user’s Thought quality along with any foci support, a magician has the flexibility to fulfill their role in any situation during play.

Magic spells are unbounded in BITS play while worthy of the utmost respect, just as is a player’s imagination.

BITS is such a thorough system – easy to understand, fast to play, capable of being scaled up or down in complexity, modular enough to plug-and-play virtually any theme or IP…

I am just so proud of where this has come ๐Ÿ˜

Tell me your thoughts. Favorite magic system out there BITS could assimilate? Things you would like to do not yet covered in BITS?

I am all ears and all thanks – take care, witches and wizards aplenty! Cheers to your play~

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns, maker of games and stories.

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