- Magic systems should be fun.
- Magic systems should offer a lot of variety.
- The classic D&D spells are the lingua franca of rpg magic.
- It is good when magic is mysterious and wonder-producing.
- It is convenient and practical when magic is mechanical and predictable.
Perhaps the thing to do is to use the established spell lists as a catalog of effects for the GM's benefit, not as a menu for player's to pick from. You get the ease of established mechanics and spell effects that are compatible with other products, while keeping things murky enough that magic never loses its wonder.
Here's a great magic system that does exactly this: Spirit Magic by Brett Slocum. Instead of casting spells, it is a system for negotiating with spirits, who create spell effects for you. But the players never really know what they're going to get. The results could be better, worse, or completely different from what they had in mind. And there's nothing to stop you from randomly grabbing something other than the standard D&D spell list and throwing wholly unexpected effects at them.
I feel like this addresses most of the above assumptions. Except variety. I don't want to force every spell casting PC to be a spiritualist. So, I need other systems that reskin and obscure the established system in entertaining ways.
Beseeching the Gods
Goblin Punch's thoughts on Clerics without spell lists has a lot to offer in this regard: Towards a Better Cleric by Arnold K. Basically, use his Faith system, but keep the Cleric spell list handy for basic parameters of what favors a god is likely to grant.
More! More variety!
I think there might be something to do with the Scientist, an NPC class that John Stater introduced in NOD #2. The Scientist researches and constructs devices that have spell effects: big, wheezing cabinets that spit out prismatic rays; brazen heads that answer yes or no questions; DaVinci's flying screw. I like that it doesn't impose science on fantasy, but builds what a scientist would look like in a crazy magical environment. It would need some massaging to be a playable class, however.
Not enough! More is needed!
Sourcing the Crowd
Do you know any similar systems out there? Systems that don't create new spell lists, but which make players access the old ones in new ways? Alchemists, tinkerers, rune-casters, etc.?
Your help is much appreciated!
Brett Slocum also offers up the Mechanical Artificer. I feel like something halfway between this and Stater's Scientist would hit the sweet spot, for me.