Author’s Note: This is a revised version of my article on Improvised Magic (May 13, 2011). All costs have been playtested and run through a spreadsheet to number-crunch every official spell into this system. Consider this the final version.

In many games with magical power, it isn’t that mages codify the supernatural so much as they enforce their will on the world and the supernatural provides the effect. As they practice, they become able to generate the same or similar effects over and over, so often that they “learn” a spell. Still, sometimes in a game with a limited number of known spells you yearn to have the ability to improvise something off the cuff, even if you know it won’t be as easy as casting a spell you already know.

So, I present the following thoughts for the generic AGE system. I am not sure whether this fits Dragon Age specifically, but I don’t think it matters for canon. If it works for your table, use it, or modify it. These ideas were inspired by Shadowrun and the discontinued Dragonlance Fifth Age game.

Improvised Spell System

When a mage improvises a spell, he decides on a clear effect and then uses the following charts to place it into game terms. With that final context decided, the player can cast his spell. Each component of the spell adds to the total Value of the improvised effect. This value is important in determining the TN and the mana cost.

Casting Time:

  • +4        Free Action
  • +3        Minor Action
  • +2        Major Action
  • +1        1 Minute
  • +0        10 Minutes


  • +2        Magic x 2 in yards
  • +1        Magic in yards
  • +4        30 yards
  • +3        20 yards
  • +2        10 yards
  • +0        Self or Melee

Area of Effect:

  • +0        Radius
  • +0        Square
  • +0        Cone (1/4th as wide as long)
  • +1        Per 2 yards of measurement
  • (Note: A 2 yard radius effect is +1, a 6 yard Square is +3, and an 8 yard cone is +4)


  • +0        Instant
  • +1        Dragon Die in rounds
  • +2        1 Minute
  • +3        10 Minutes
  • +4        1 Hour
  • +1        Concentration: Caster spends a Minor action each round to keep the effect going.


Bonuses and Penalties:

  • +1        Per 2 points added or deducted from a single roll
  • +2        Per point added or deducted from an entire Ability
  • +3        Per point added or deducted for any broad activity
  • +4        Per point added or deducted from all actions
  • +5        Per point added or deducted from all rolls
  • (Note: The difference is subtle here. The first would be a bonus to Communication (Deception), the second a bonus to Communication, the third a bonus to all interaction tests. A bonus to all rolls includes free actions used as reactions to other character’s tests, while the all actions level would only be Major and Minor actions.)


  • +2        Per 1d6 of Health recovered
  • +3        Target recovers caster’s Magic in Health


  • +2        Per 1d6 of Damage dealt
  • +1        Target takes the Dragon Die in damage
  • +2        Target takes the caster’s Magic in damage
  • x2        Damage is penetrating
  • (Note: Damage that is partially penetrating only doubles the cost for the penetrating damage code)

Misc Effect:

  • +4        Simple Effect (Change appearance or affects only one type of target)
  • +8        Moderate Effect (Cure disease or poison or affects only enemies)
  • +12        Major Effect (Change shape or unaided flight)
  • +16        Extreme Effect (Resurrect or Summon Planar Creature)
  • +20     Implausible Effect (Wish Spell)
  • (Note: this requires GM adjudication, but essentially if the change is so minor that it’s almost impossible to notice it’s Simple, if it’s noticeable but not blatantly supernatural it’s probably Moderate. Blatantly supernatural but somewhat believable is Major. Extremely unnatural is Extreme, and things that break all the rules of nature are Implausible.)

Add up the points for each category that applies, this is the Value of the spell. All spells without a range are centered on the caster or have a melee range, all spells without an area affect just a single target.

This will be a total Value of +1 or more, and can rise as high as 13 or more. The spell starts with a TN of 12 and a Mana cost of 2. For every point the TN is raised, you lower the Value by 2. Whatever Value is left must be paid as additional Mana points. Note, penalties from duress that would affect normal spellcasting also affect improvised casting.


Morrigan wishes to cast a spell that makes her opponents believe she has turned them into mice. It’s an Entropy spell that messes with the mind, effectively stymying the foe and preventing them from fighting in combat. The GM decides that’s fine, and says that it is resisted by Willpower (Self-Discipline). He also decides that it is a Moderate effect, it’d be Major if she actually transformed them, but it is only a debilitating illusion. Morrigan’s player decides she wants to be able to affect all enemies within a radius of 6 yards of her position, she wants to cast it with a Major action, and she wants the duration to last 1 minute.

  • Casting Time: Major action +2
  • Range: Self +0
  • Area of Effect: 6 yard radius +3
  • Duration: 1 minute +2
  • Effect: Moderate level effect, cannot take Actions +8
  • Bonus Effect: Moderate, only affects enemies +8

Those add up to a Value of 23. Morrigan has a high Magic, so her player decides on a TN of 15. This lowers the Value to 17, so the spell costs 19 mana.

Consequences for Failure

The GM needs to decide what, if any consequences there are for failure to cast an improvised spell. If used in Dragon Age, failing to cast an improvised spell should incur undesired attention from the Fade, just like failing to cast an advanced spell in that setting. Perhaps in a setting such as Conan, failure to cast a spell using this system incurs 1d6 penetrating damage to the caster’s frame, or a cumulative -1 penalty to all Actions which persists until the mage has had a full night’s sleep. Perhaps the player can decide which consequence he wishes of the two, or he could name some other form of backfire that would cause him a setback? The GM really needs to decide ahead of time what would occur, because in a setting with unpredictable or dangerous magic, there should be a definite fear of setting a TN too high just to save mana when improvising a spell. It adds tension, just like the tension inherent to needing to entangle a raging monster that is yards away from your helpless friend.

Repeated Improvisation of Effects, or Creating New Spells

As an optional bonus, if the character improvises the same spell effect (including range & area of effect) over and over, it becomes practiced, and he lowers the TN by 1. If he does it so often that it should really be a “known spell” he  lowers the TN by 2 and halves the Mana cost. He can even choose to learn his improvised spell at his next opportunity to learn a spell. The GM should consider if other flourishes, or minor bonuses apply to a fully codified spell. Once the process is finished, the spell can be taught to other spellcasters.


Morrigan’s player decides to learn her Men to Mice effect as a spell when she attains level 8. She and the GM work on the actual text of the spell. She decides it should have a relatively high requirement, so the GM tosses in a bonus to the effect, letting her extend the duration.

Morrigan’s Men to Mice

  • Magic School: Entropy
  • Spell Type: Attack
  • Mana Cost: 10 MP
  • Casting Time: Major action
  • Target Number: 13
  • Test: Willpower (Self-Discipline) vs Spellpower
  • Requirement: Entropy Magic (Journeyman)

All enemies within 6 yards of the caster must succeed at a Willpower (Self-Discipline) test versus your Spellpower or immediately feel their limbs seize, their hands begin to uncurl causing them to drop whatever they are carrying, and begin to shrink until they are mere nothings in your presence. They believe they have transformed into mice and are incapable of taking any actions for 1 minute while the illusion persists. At the end of the 1 minute duration, you may expend an additional 2 MP to keep the spell in force for another minute, you may spend a maximum of 10 mana on this spell per casting, so the maximum duration is 4 minutes.

Final thoughts

This is not intended as a full replacement for the current spell system, nor is it to simulate the ability of mages to perform minor magical actions for flavor purposes (i.e. cantrips), but rather as an augmentation for mages in high magic settings where they can improvise an effect on the fly. It might work as a full replacement in a setting such as Conan, where magic is less codified and more costly.

Version 2.0