A different thread was getting clogged up with this stuff, and it's important enough to discuss on its own.
I. Vancian magic.
Spells are like recipes, and must be prepared beforehand. They require ingredients (material components). Certain combinations of ingredients and processes produce the same result each time. Successful spells become widespread- whole traditions and fundamentals upon which more niche applications are developed. And once cast, a spell becomes unusable until prepared again.
Does it suck? Does it only suck for the Iron Kingdoms? What are its strengths and weaknesses as a system?
+ Spells are complicated, codified, and intertextual. They feel like something that requires dedicated study and practice.
+ Spells are logical and predicable and useful. They are to magic what technology is to physics- repeatable and practical application.
+ Spells have variety. There are 'old stand-by' spells that everyone knows, and all manner of rare and esoteric niche spells.
+ Spells have set 'power levels'. A 9th level spell is always rarer and more powerful than a 2nd level spell.
+ Spellcasters have hard-coded limitations on spell-use. "Fire and forget" may seem dumb, but it keeps a wizard from casting fireball seven hundred times in a row.
+ Spellcasters have hard-coded limitations on spell selection. Packing your toolbox of daily spells keeps players from being paralyzed by too many choices when faced with a problem.
- Having to choose beforehand constrains creativity and limits usefulness of spellcasters. Gandalf would never "forget" how to cast a Light spell just because he didn't plan on needing a flashlight that day.
- Bakers can adjust recipes- sweeter, lighter, feeds more, feeds less, etc etc. Vancian spellcasters are stuck with what they plan.
- Casters end up preparing spells they don't end up using-- a waste of time and resources.
- Many low-level spells become less useful over a character's growth and increase in power.
- "There are too many named spells"
- "Magic is too scientific and impersonal"
- "Magic should be more cinematic and less bound by rules"
- Iron Kingdoms designers have always claimed to have felt constrained by Dungeons & Dragons magic system.
II. Warmachine Magic System
Magic-wielding characters have short spell lists or "magic ability" lists, often consisting of three or fewer spells. Warcasters and Warlocks have more, usually between six and nine. Warcasters/locks must expend a dynamic points source (Focus or Fury) to cast spells. These points either regenerate automatically over time, or can be drawn from other sources as needed. Other spellcasters simply have a limit of one spell per turn. Some spells are the same across many different casters, but most have mainly unique and very simple spells. Spells are exclusively combat based because they are used in a miniatures combat game, but casters presumably have other magic available that they would not care to use on the battlefield.
+ Possibility for highly customized spell/power lists that fit a character's personality and needs.
+ Small spell selection and simplicity of spells is easy for casual gamers.
+ Limited spell list keeps players from being paralyzed by too many choices (same as Vancian, above)
+ "Spell Points" (or Focus, or Fury) is fairly intuitive. You get a budget, you try to use it up but not exceed it.
- Spells require a skill check to cast. PCs could see their turns wasted on fizzled spells thanks to unlucky dice.
- Existing spells don't seem to have any underlying philosophy of mechanics in design, except that playtesting has shown them to be "balanced" with other character abilities.
- Spells effects can't be adjusted (same as Vancian, above).
- Spell lists are so short, they fail to provide enough options for practical and flavorful character decisions.
III. Some Other Ideas.
There are systems out there with relatively few spells that can be tailored based on player preferences, and systems that allow spells' effects to be altered based on how many resources are expended. There are systems where spell casting is based on mini-games, like Deadlands which uses poker hands and playing cards. There are systems where spells draw on physical resources instead of mana/spell point pools-- you cast with your hit points, or you cast with the life of the trees around you, etc etc. There are systems where spells have no limitations on how often you cast them. There are systems where magic is purely random. There are some where spells are just character abilities, and some where spells are a one-time-only event.
What have you played before? What do you think would be the best fit for the new Iron Kingdoms RPG? What sorts of magic are known to exist in the IK setting, and what rules would support simulating those known spell examples?