GURPS has well-defined powers, interactions, and logic.
I dislike GURPS dice systems.
The Old World of Darkness has excellent atmosphere and supporting splatbooks. Its dice system is interesting but clunky. Its emphasis on Storyteller interpretation and encyclopedic knowledge of obscure rules is downright unworkable. Its Sphere system is pretty bad.
Ars Magica has clear, simple rules that are fairly concise and yet highly detailed and flexible. Its verb-direct object system is much clearer than Mage Spheres. On the downside, Ars Magica is thoroughly wedded to the pseudo-medieval, pseudo-Aristotelian setting.
What are my priorities?
- A point system that looks more like Mage’s Quintessence than it looks like Torg’s Possibility Points;
- Well-defined, logical, clear-cut rules that allow complex combinations of story elements without judgement calls;
- Non-clunky dice systems;
- Absence of metaplot distractions;
- No need for encyclopedic memorization;
Ideally, I would like to be able to open up the Mage rulebook and see that the Spheres have been redefined by the Ars Magica rules designers, and the spell examples have been worked through by the GURPS designers and playtesters.
In Ars Magica, there are five basic verbs, and ten direct objects, but there are also variable spell levels. The 3rd edition rules list spells of various levels/magnitudes, with 30/”sixth magnitude” being a decent starting level. Thus Ars Magica is not just 5*10, but rather 5*10*6 or more. However, not every combination of verb, noun, and magnitude is used. The basic rulebook probably specifies fewer than 300 spells.
Mage has five levels for each of nine Spheres. However, one might argue that some levels have multiple uses and thus resemble “multipowers” more than anything else. For example, Correspondence 3 allows personal teleportation, wards against teleportation, and also perception of multiple physical locations.
Furthermore, Mage spells often use combinations of any number of Spheres, whereas Ars Magica (so far as I know) always combines one art with one form.
Looking at the Mage wikia, it seems that some spheres have as few as five powers in five levels, whereas Prime has as many as 25 separate effects in five levels. The following table seems to display them acceptably, although there is a distractingly large blank space between this text and the table.
|1||Immediate Spatial Perceptions||1||Sense Life||1||Spirit Senses||1||Time Sense||1||Sense Fate and Fortune||1||Perceive Forces||1||Matter Perceptions||1||Sense Thoughts and Emotions||1||Etheric Senses|
|1||Empower Self||1||Effuse Personal Quintessence|
|2||Sense Space||2||Alter Simple Patterns||2||Touch Spirit||2||Time Sight||2||Control Probability||2||Control Minor Forces||2||Basic Trans-mutation||2||Read Surface Thoughts||2||Weave Odyllic Force|
|2||Touch Space||2||Heal Self||2||Mental Impulse||2||Fuel Pattern|
|2||Summon Prime Weapon|
|2||Activate Quintessential Matter & Forces|
|3||Pierce Space||3||Alter Self||3||Pierce Gauntlet||3||Time Manipulation||3||Affect Predictable Patterns||3||Transmute Minor Forces||3||Alter Form||3||Mental Link||3||Channel Quintessence|
|3||Seal Gate||3||Transform Simple Patterns||3||Dreamwalk||3||Sublimate Quintessential Matter & Forces|
|3||Co-locality Perception||3||Activate Quintessential Life|
|4||Rend Space||4||Alter Complex Patterns||4||Rend and Repair Gauntlet||4||Time Determinism||4||Affect Life||4||Control Major Forces||4||Complex Trans-formation||4||Control Conscious Mind||4||Expel Base Energy from Matter & Forces|
|4||Co-locate Self||4||Transform Self||4||Bind Spirits||4||Astral Projection||4||Sublimate Quintessential Life|
|4||Permanently Enchant Matter & Forces|
|4||Suffuse Matter & Forces|
|5||Mutate Localities||5||Transform complex Patterns||5||Forge Ephemera||5||Time Travel||5||Affect Thought||5||Transmute Major Forces||5||Alter Properties||5||Control Subconscious||5||Expel Base Energy from Life|
|5||Perfect Metamorphosis||5||Outward Journeys||5||Time Immunity||5||Untether||5||Alter Quintessential Flow|
|5||Forge Psyche||5||Nullify Paradox|
|5||Permanently Enchant Life|
|5||Fountains of Paradise|
I can worry about reformatting that mess if I decide that wordpress is capable of loading theme customization tools within a reasonable period of time.
At any rate, three spheres seem to have no more than five powers; others have 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 25. It could be that I am simply failing to notice some of the powers, but the total of currently listed powers is only 84.
I could take the opportunity to neaten up some of the aspects of Mage Spheres that I never liked. For example, I had always thought it silly that Correspondence 2 was separate from Time 2. They tend to get used together. They ought to be a single category. If I could condense the 84 powers down to 50 powers, the result might be a homebrew game with notable differences from Mage.