SAGA System: Fighting the Good Fight

[This article originally appeared in the Legends of the Lance newsletter.]

In the SAGA System rules for Dragonlance: Fifth Age, heroes use their Strength to perform actions in melee combat, like hitting their opponents. Characters with high Strength codes are also better trained in the use of melee weapons.

This approach causes difficulties with some hero concepts players may have: What about the wiry swordsman who’s deadly with a blade but not particularly brawny, or the strong hero who can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Additionally, some players may have difficulties equating combat skill with brute strength.

Worse yet, based close combat ability on Strength makes physically powerful monsters in the game nigh-unbeatable, due to the massive differences in Strength between, say, a human and even a small dragon.

One option for handling these concerns is to introduce a new ability to the SAGA System: Fighting (or Prowess, or something similar). Fighting takes the place of Strength and is aligned with the suit of Swords. It measures the hero’s training in melee combat, both armed and unarmed, and the ability to use different weapons effectively. The Fighting ability code works the same as the standard Fifth Age Strength Code; an “A” means the hero is trained with all melee weapons, a “B” is all but very heavy weapons, and so forth. If a hero does not have training in a particular weapon, the hero suffers a one level increase in difficulty when using it.

To make room for Fighting, the Strength and Endurance abilities are collapsed into one ability (called Strength), measuring the hero’s overall muscle and stamina, and aligned with the suit of Helms. It is used for actions involving brute Strength (like breaking down doors and bending bars), as well as all actions Endurance is normally used for.

Fighting is used to make melee attacks, and it is also used to avoid melee attacks, representing the hero’s skill in parrying and blocking. So attacking in melee combat is an average Fighting (Fighting) action, as is avoiding an attack. The Narrator may also wish to allow heroes the option of using Agility to avoid melee attacks, giving nimble heroes a better chance of getting out of the way. If the attack hits, the hero’s Strength still determines damage normally.

Strength is still used as the action ability for close-in unarmed attacks like wrestling, representing the advantage greater Strength provides the attacker.

The Narrator should choose the Fighting score for characters and creatures in the game. Creatures may have Fighting equal to their Physique, or the Narrator may choose to give them a lower fighting score to represent creatures that are physically very strong (high Physique) but not particularly swift or accurate (lower Fighting). This also gives heroes more of a “fighting chance” when going up against larger, more powerful creatures.

A Magical Miscellany for SAGA

Variant Magic Styles for the Saga Game System

The Dragonlance: Fifth Age game presents a system of magic used by the heroes of Krynn in the Fifth Age. It relies on the flexible, story-oriented nature of the SAGA System rules. However, this system is by no means the only style of magic possible in the SAGA System. The basic game system is extremely flexible, and capable of simulating magic from many different fantasy settings, even mixing-and-matching different magical styles within the same setting.

Note that the term “magician” in the following descriptions refers interchangeably to either sorcerers or mystics from the Dragonlance: Fifth Age rules. Where sorcerers or mystics are specifically intended, those terms are used. If desired, the Narrator can choose one option for sorcerers in the game and another for mystics, mixing and matching to create several different types of magic.

Spell Gathering

In this system, magicians have no spell points of their own to cast spells. Instead, spell points (magical energy) is gathered from the environment by drawing cards from the Fate Deck, which represents the local magical energy available. If desired, the Narrator can use a separate Fate Deck for spell gathering, so the players’ own hands do not deplete the deck.

Each school or sphere is aligned with a particular suit of the Fate Deck (see the Suit Alignment Table). Cards for that suit count their full face value towards the cost of the spell. Cards from other suits count as only 1 point each. The magician must gather enough cards to successfully cast the spell. The first card draw takes no time (the caster simply “grabs” whatever available energy is nearby). Each additional draw takes one minute. This means only the weakest and simplest spells can be cast quickly. If desired, the Narrator can vary the speed of gathering. For rapid spellcasting, allow casters to draw a number of cards equal to the appropriate ability score (Reason for sorcery, Spirit for mysticism) immediately, then one additional card per minute. For slower castings, eliminate the free first card, or require each draw to take 10 minutes or more.

A magician can draw as many cards as his or her appropriate ability score (Reason or Spirit). If the magician does not gather enough power, or stops gathering before gaining enough power to cast the spell, it dissipates harmlessly. If the magician draws the 10 of Dragons while gathering power, the spell misfires immediately in some way determined by the Narrator.

Once the necessary power has been gathered, a normal action is still required to cast the spell, as described in the Fifth Age rules. The magician must gather enough additional power to overcome the target’s resistance or the spell automatically fails.

The Narrator must decide how quickly the “pool” of magical energy (the Fate Deck) recovers. It may do so immediately after each spell, in which case magicians cannot deplete the magical power around them. Alternately, the local magical resources may only recover each day, or even slower, forcing magicians to husband power and not become overly extravagant with spellcasting. The geographic size of a magical pool is also important. If it is limited to only a mile or two, then a magician can find more energy only a short distance away. If it is many miles, then magicians may fight to control the magical power of a given area.

Suit Alignment Table

Fate Deck Suit Sorcery School Mystic Sphere
Swords Pyromancy Channeling
Helms Cryomancy Healing
Arrows Aeromancy Alteration
Shields Geomancy Animism
Orbs Enchantment Meditation
Moons Divination Sensitivity
Hearts Spectramancy Spiritualism
Crowns Hydromancy Mentalism

Spell Memorization

Magicians do not have spell points. Instead, magicians memorize their spells. Once cast, the spell is forgotten until it is re-memorized, similar to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons systems of magic.

The magician builds spells in advance according to the normal spell system in the Fifth Age rules. All spells are limited to no more than (attribute x 2) cost. Use Reason for sorcery and Spirit for mysticism, so a sorcerer with Reason 7 cannot memorize a spell with a cost greater than 14. Heroes add their number of Quests to this total, so a Reason 7 hero with 5 Quests can memorize spells with a cost up to 19 points (7 times 2, plus 5).

A hero can memorize a number of spells equal to his or her appropriate ability, plus an additional spell per Quest. So a Spirit 5 mystic can memorize 5 spells, plus one per Quest. Memorizing a spell requires a number of minutes equal to the spell’s cost. Sorcerers must have a spellbook to memorize from. Mystics need only quiet, uninterrupted meditation to memorize spells.

Casting a memorized spell requires an average Reason or Spirit action, opposed by the target’s ability, if applicable.

Spell Components

Rather than magicians having their own spell points, spell points are stored in objects, which are used as part of the spellcasting. These objects may be virtually anything allowed by the Narrator, from simple herbs, minerals and animal parts to exotic and rare ingredients. Without the proper components, a magician cannot cast spells. The number of spell points contained in an object varies according to the Narrator’s judgment. Generally, more common items have fewer spell points, while rarer items have more. Narrators may want to use the rules from Heroes of Sorcery to allow magicians to draw spell points of existing magical items as well.

Source Magic

Magicians do not have spell points. However, other living beings do have them, and magicians can draw on them to perform magic. However, the other being must willingly give spell points to the magician, they cannot be taken against his or her will (except, perhaps, by some dark and evil rituals). Magicians need “sources,” companions willing to supply magical power for them to cast spells.

The availability of suitable sources varies depending on the effect desired. If sources can be any living being (even friendly animals), then magicians are likely to have many pets and familiars, along with servants and traveling companions, to provide a ready source of energy. Cities and towns may require citizens to volunteer spell points to help magicians with municipal work and the defense of the area.

If sources are rarer, such as only allowing certain people to act as sources (perhaps only those with high scores or codes in Perception or Presence), then magicians will carefully cultivate possible sources. If each magician has only one source, then the source and the magician have a very close bond and must work together as partners. Each is powerless without the other.

Life Magic

Magical power (spell points) comes from the life force of living things. Using magic results in the depletion of this life force, leading to death. This is similar to the defiler magic from the Dark Sun campaign setting. Generally, life force must be given freely to the magician, or taken from non-intelligent life like plants (again, certain evil, arcane rituals may be able to alter this).

Plant life (along with small insects, lichens and similar simple life forms) have roughly 1 spell point per square yard in size. A hundred square yards of grass and plants yields 100 spell points. An average adult tree provides 20-30 spell points. Plant life drained of spell points turns to ash, and the ground there will not grow plants again until rejuvenated in some way.

A creature or character has as many spell points as its Endurance squared. For every amount of spell points equal to Endurance used by the magician, reduced the being’s Endurance by 1. When all its spell points are used up, the being dies. Heroes have spell points based on the cards in their hand. A hero can spend cards from his or her hand to give a magician spell points, the magician gets a number of points equal to twice the card’s face value. If the donating hero is reduced to 0 cards, the hero falls into a coma and is dying.

Magicians in a setting where life magic is common may decimate the environment, and may be hunted or outlawed for indiscriminate uses of magic.

Power Sites and Ley Lines

Magical energy comes from certain sites and places (or times). These places are often connected by “ley lines” that carry magical energy along the surface of the terrain, much like invisible, magical rivers. Each site or line is rating according to how much magical energy it supplies. A site may provide a certain number of free spell points automatically each minute, or it may allow a magician to draw spell points from it (as described under Spell Gathering). For example, a ley line may provide any magician standing on it with access to 12 spell points per minute, which means that any magician standing on the line can cast any spell with a cost of 12 or less for free. The magician cannot cast any spells with a cost greater than 12 unless some other source of spell points is available.

If power sites and ley lines are the only sources of spell points in a world, magicians are likely to fight over control of them. Even if they are not the only sources of magical power, magicians will still wish to control power sites for the advantages they offer.

Learned Spells

This option reduces the flexibility of magicians and makes their spells more predictable. Magicians can only cast spell effects they have specifically learned, rather than having access to all effects from the schools they know. Heroes get starting spells equal to their appropriate ability, plus one additional spell per Quest. Heroes should design their individual spells and keep track of them. For example, Hermod the Enchanter has Reason 8 and 6 Quests, so he knows fourteen spells. Hermod’s player designs the spells his hero knows based on Hermod’s available schools and shows them to the Narrator, who approves them.

Learned Schools

Magicians are able to learn additional schools or spheres over time, one additional school or sphere per increase in the magician’s Reputation. Experienced magicians can become very flexible and powerful in this way. For example, a sorcerer with a Reason Code of “A” in the SAGA System begins as Rabble, knowing three schools of Sorcery. The sorcerer can then learn an additional school upon becoming a Novice, and upon attaining each new Reputation level, until becoming a Legend, when her or she will know all nine schools of Sorcery. If hero who knows both sorcery and mysticism gains an additional school or an additional sphere per increase in reputation.

Expansive Magic

Magicians have access to all spheres or schools of their chosen type of magic. Magic can do anything, limited only by the ability and energy (spell points) of the magician. This option should be limited to fantasy settings where magicians are superior to all other types of characters, since they have the greatest flexibility and range of powers. However, magicians are still limited by their abilities and their available spell points, so they are not all-powerful. Narrators choosing this option should be careful to control the power of magicians to keep them from completely overshadowing other heroes.

Catastrophe Magic

Magicians have access to unlimited magical power. However, the more they use, the more likely for bad things to start happening. This makes magicians reluctant to overuse their powers, lest disaster strike. Magicians do not have spell points of their own. Instead, as they cast spells, the cost of the spell goes in a “catastrophe pool.” Once this pool exceeds the level of the magician’s appropriate attribute, squared, bad things start to happen. Each time a magician over the limit casts a spell, draw a card from the Fate Deck and add the amount by which the magician is over the limit. Dragon cards are considered trumps for this draw. Add the total together and consult the Catastrophe Table. The effects may represent a magical backlash or misfire, divine disfavor, the loosing of uncontrolled forces of chaos, or anything else appropriate to the setting’s magic.

The catastrophe pool is reduced by 1 point per hour. The Narrator can vary this rate of reduction in order to make the use of magic more or less risky, and therefore more or less common, in the game.

Catastrophe Table

 Total Effect
 4  Minor Mishap: The spell goes wrong in some fairly harmless way.
 8  Major Mishap: The spell goes wrong in a major way, affecting the caster or any companions.
 12  Minor Setback: The caster suffers from some minor problem, like a paralyzed arm that lasts for a day and increases the difficulty of all Dexterity actions by two levels, or being surrounded by a glowing light like a torch for several days, attracting monsters and strange looks.
 16  Major Setback: The caster suffers from a major problem, like being struck blind, deaf, or dumb for a day, being rendered unconscious for several hours, and so forth.
 20  Minor Injury: The caster suffers from a minor injury that lasts for at least a month and increases the difficulty of certain actions by two levels. For example, suffering a limp (affecting movement and Agility actions), a stutter (affecting Presence actions), or weakness (affecting Strength actions).
 24  Major Injury: The caster suffers some permanent, lasting injury that permanently reduces an ability score by 1. The Narrator can draw a card from the Fate Deck or choose an ability related to the spell cast.
 28  Minor Disaster: A minor disaster occurs around the caster. This includes a building or cavern collapsing, a sudden storm, an attack of monsters, an explosion or something similar. The disaster should provide an additional threat for the heroes to overcome and should hamper their plans in some way.
 32+  Major Disaster: A major disaster strikes the area around the caster. This includes earthquake, forest fire, hurricane, tsunami, plague of vermin (insects, frogs, rats, etc.), sudden darkness, and similar catastrophes. Additionally, the magician is rendered nearly helpless (0 in all abilities) for a number of hours equal to a draw from the Fate Deck.

SAGA Rules Options

I’m primarily a Narrator for the Marvel Super Heroes game rather than Dragonlance: Fifth Age, so I am somewhat more familiar with the Marvel version of the SAGA system. I’ve got some various ideas based roughly on the differences between Marvel and Dragonlance. Feel free to use or experiment with them as you like.

To illustrate these suggestions, I’d like to take the example of a fight between a group of three heroes and two yeti, as it might be played out using the Dragonlance rules. The yeti are Co 7, Ph 16, In 5, Es 7, Dmg +6, Def -2. The heroes have various abilities which are mentioned below.

We assume that neither side surprises the other. Two of the heroes choose to close to melee range with the yeti, while the third (a sorcerer) remains at near missile range to toss spells. The two heroes who closed each attack a yeti while the sorcerer prepares a flame bolt spell.

The heroes in melee each have Strength 7 and broadswords (+6). The base difficulty to hit the yeti is average (8), plus their Physique (16), or 24. Not surprisingly, both heroes miss. The sorcerer’s flame bolt spell has a total difficulty of 11 (instant invocation, near missile range, instant duration, individual area, 9 damage points). Add to that the yeti’s Intellect of 5 for a difficulty of 16. The sorcerer has Reason 8, plays a couple good cards and succeeds, doing 9 damage points to one yeti. Fortunately he expended an extra 7 spell points to make sure he accounted for the yeti’s resistance. The sorcerer is down 18 spell points.

The heroes in melee must now avoid the yeti’s attacks. They have Endurance 7. Avoiding the attack is an average (8) action, plus the yeti’s Physique (16), a difficulty of 24 again. Not surprisingly, both heroes fail their actions. Each yeti does 22 damage points (16 +6). Each hero has Def -4 and takes 18 damage points, since they’re both adventurers, it brings one down to 1 card and the other down to 2 cards (he had a damage trump). The fight continues… now, let’s look at some options.

Agility to Avoid Attacks

As several folks have pointed out, Marvel uses Agility for all defensive actions in combat rather than Endurance for melee attacks, like Dragonlance. This certainly changes how combat works in Dragonlance, making high Physique monsters considerably easier to hit in melee. Take the yetis mentioned above. The difficulty to hit them normally is 24 (average action + Physique 16). Under this option, the difficulty is 15 (average action + Coordination 7). Still no cakewalk, but closer to daunting rather than impossible. The damage done remains the same, and their high Physique still makes yetis fairly tough to kill. A Strength 8 hero armed with a broad sword (+6) does 14 damage points. Minus the yeti Defense of 2 that’s 12 points. Two such blows will kill a yeti, which seems about right.

By the same token, heroes use Agility to dodge all attacks rather than just ranged attacks. This does tend to reduce the value of Endurance in combat, but I’m not certain that’s necessarily a bad thing. Assuming their Agility is comparable to their Endurance, the heroes in the example will have just as hard a time avoiding the yeti’s attacks as before.

Shield Use

Rather than just adding to Defense, a hero has the option of using a shield’s bonus as either Defense or a bonus to avoid attacks for that turn, representing the shield’s ability to turn away attacks. So a hero with a kite shield (-2) could gain either -2 Defense or a +2 bonus to defensive actions, depending on how the shield is used. This option works with either the Endurance or Agility systems for resisting attacks.

Action Total for Damage

In Dragonlance, an attack always does the same amount of damage. A Strength 8 hero armed with a broadsword (+6) always does 14 damage points when he hits, regardless of how well he hits. In Marvel, the damage of an attack is based on the hero’s Action Total for the attack action, plus any bonus damage for weapons. For example, a Strength 8 hero attacks a foe and generates an action total of 16. The hero’s base damage is then 16, plus any weapon bonuses. So the aforementioned warrior then does 22 damage points.

Note that this significantly increases the amount of damage heroes can do in combat (especially with trump bonuses for certain weapons). However, it also makes “critical hits” possible, where heroes who score significantly high results inflict more damage. Narrators may wish to consider combining this option with the next one.

Endurance for Defense

In Dragonlance, heroes have no Defense except for whatever armor they wear (along with protective magic and similar things). Some creatures have inherent Defense. In Marvel, heroes and characters have a base Defense based on their Strength (Endurance or Physique in SAGA terms). Implementing this option in Dragonlance increases the Defense of heroes and tough creatures, although it should only be used in combination with a system for allowing heroes to inflict more damage (such as described above).

If this system is used, Narrators should considerably reduce the Defense of most creatures, letting them use only their Physique as Defense and giving additional Defense only to creatures with strong natural armor. For example, a gargoyle and a unicorn are both Physique 16. However, a gargoyle has a tough stone hide, so the Narrator lets it retain its -3 Def bonus, but drops the unicorn’s -4 Def, it’s Physique makes it tough enough under this system.

Variable Health

In Dragonlance, characters have health (“hit points”) equal to their Physique score. In Marvel, characters have a variable Health score unrelated to their Strength (Physique), which is used as defense. The Health score is generally based on how important the character is (thugs have low Health, while master villains like Dr. Doom have very high Health). This option can make certain characters and creatures in Dragonlance tougher or weaker as the Narrator requires, but setting the character’s damage points at a level higher or lower than his or her Physique. One such option I’ve seen is to give important characters a bonus to health equal to their number of Quests, so legendary heroes are tougher than mere novices with the same Endurance.


I have a number of variant magic systems posted on my web page for people to look at. What I’d like to suggest here is a separation of the difficulty of a spell from its cost in spell points.

In this option, spellcasting works like a normal attack action, using Reason or Spirit in place of Strength or Dexterity. The spellcaster makes an average Reason (Perception) or Spirit (Presence) action to cast the spell, paying the spell’s cost in spell points. The Narrator can decide whether or not the caster needs to pay spell points to account for the target’s resistance or not. Some spells affecting objects may be resisted, such as a spell intended to knock down a stone wall being resisted by the wall’s Strength. Narrators may have some spells resisted by different abilities, like resisting some physical missile spells using Agility, or a resisting a spell that inflicts pain with Endurance or Spirit.

Generally, this makes spells easier to cast, but doesn’t allow spellcasters to cast more spells, since they cost about the same number of spell points.

Doom Pool

In Marvel, Dragon Cards (there called Doom Cards) do not cause mishaps. Instead they are played normally, with the limit that Doom Cards are never considered trump. Any Doom Cards played go into a “Doom Pool.” At any time, the Narrator may draw cards from the Doom Pool to increase the difficulty of any action performed by a hero. The Narrator MUST use all the Doom Cards by the end of the adventure.

Now, I’ve been told by Marvel Creative Director Mike Selinker that the Doom Pool system wouldn’t work as well with Dragonlance because the distribution of cards is different between the DL and Marvel Fate Decks. However, I haven’t really tried using it, so I can’t say if that’ true or not. If anyone out there has tried using a Doom Pool mechanic with Dragonlance, I’d be most interested in hearing how it worked out.

So, to close let’s look at our sample combat again, using the options I’ve mentioned:

Once again, the heroes choose to close with the yeti while the sorcerer prepares a spell. The base difficulty to hit the yeti is 8, plus their Coordination of 7, or 15. The heroes are both Strength 7. One plays an 8 of Orbs for a 15, the other plays a 4 of Swords (a trump) and draws a 6 of Helms for a total of 17. The first hero inflicts a base 15 damage points (his action total), plus 6 for his broadsword, for a total of 21. The yeti subtracts its Physique of 16 for this damage and takes (21-16) = 5 damage points (The Narrator decided that yeti did not merit any additional Def apart from their high Physique). The second hero does a base 17 damage points, plus his sword bonus, for 23 damage. The yeti takes 7 damage points.

The sorcerer casts his flame bolt spell. He marks off the 11 spell points the spell costs, then makes an average Reason action. The Narrator decides that the spell is opposed by the yeti’s Coordination (it can try and dodge it). The difficulty is (8 + 7) or 15. The sorcerer is successful, and the first yeti takes another 9 damage points (for a total of 14).

Now the yeti attack. Avoiding their attacks has a difficulty of (8 + 16) = 24. Both heroes make Agility actions to evade the yeti’s claws and fangs. One hero has a target shield (-3) and elects to use it to evade rather than for defense. He gains +3 to his action to avoid the attack. He plays a 4 of Shields on his Agility 6, then draws a 7 of Arrows for a total of (6 + 4 + 7 + 3) = 20, not quite enough! The other hero has no shield, so he simply plays a 7 of Shields on his Agility 7 and draws an 8 of Orbs for a total of 22, still not quite enough. Both heroes are hit. The first loses the benefit of his shield, so his Def is only -1 and he takes (22 – 1) = 21 damage points. His companion has Def -4 and takes only 18 damage points. One yeti is very badly wounded and the other is hurt, but so are the heroes. Can they win…?

I welcome any thoughts or feedback. If you actually try out any of these options, let me know how they work out.

Middle Earth: Fourth Age

This page is as a resource for players and for anyone interested in adventuring in Middle Earth using the SAGA rules system, based on a short-lived game our group played.


In the second year of the Fourth Age our story unfolds. It has been four years since the end of the War of the Rings and the crowning of King Elessar in Gondor. The ancient kingdom of Arnor has been refounded, and Beretar the senior captain of the Rangers has been named Prince-regent of Arnor. Taking the High-Elven name of Veryatar he begins plans for the rebuilding of the kingdom. Although Sauron has been vanquished from the lands of Middle-earth shadow still lies deep across parts of the land, and brave men and women of the free peoples are still needed to battle the darkness that might swallow the light of a new age.

Hero Creation

Heroes have 64 points to purchase Status, Quests, Agility, Dexterity, Endurance, Strength, Reason, Perception, Spirit, and Presence. I suggest a minimum value 3 and a maximum value of 9. For starting ability codes characters get one A, two B’s, and one D. Character roles are entirely optional; they give characters some additional advantages, but also have disadvantages to balance them out.


The Fourth age is the age of Men. The premise is that in this age the other races are beginning to withdraw from contact with the rest of the world. For instance the Elves are traveling over the sea and the Dwarves are more concerned with their halls of stone than the outside world.

Elves: The firstborn race, Elves are immortal. Physically they stand a little taller than humans, but have a slighter build. Ability scores: Ag 6 min., Dx. 6 min., En. 8 max., St. 8 max., Pr. 6 max. Ability codes: Ag. C max., Pe. B min.(can see clear as day in even minimal light). Advantages: Trump bonus to endurance for resisting fatigue and illness, heal without scaring, additional starting B code for one attribute. Disadvantages: Bound to prophecy (being so long lived Elves rarely take action without deliberate thought, and seldom involve themselves in the affairs of mortals), Enmity with creatures of the Shadow.

Dwarves: Dwarves stand about four feet in height and are of broad build. Ability scores: Ag. 8 max, Dx. 8 max, En. 6 min., St. 6 min. Ability codes, Re. B max. Advantages: Trump bonus to avoid Sorcery, poison, or fatigue. Disadvantages: No trump bonus for personality related actions with non-dwarves.

Hobbits: Of varying build Hobbits stand two to four feet in height. Ability scores: Ag. 7 min., Dex 7 min., En. 6 max, St. 6 max. Ability Codes: Ag. D max, En. C max, St. C max, Re. C max, Pe. B min. Advantages: Trump bonus for sneaking and hiding actions, may use Ag. to avoid melee attacks. Disadvantages: no trump bonus for dealing with larger races for Pr actions.

Humans: The most common of all the races. Humans come in several varieties, but only the Dunedain have special requirements.

Dunedain: The Dunedain are the descendants of the men of the ancient island of Numenor. They have traces of Elven and Maia blood which has gifted them with greater physical prowess and a longer life span. They are often referred to as “High Men”. They are the people who once founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. Ability scores: none below five. Ability codes: Pr. C min., may not have any code of X. Advantage:, Long life span (200 years or so), +3 bonus for resisting disease and fatigue, Trump bonus to Pr. when dealing with other humans. Disadvantages: Enmity with The Shadow and the Black (fallen) Numenorians.

Dunlendings: Also called Hillmen. A semi-nomadic culture in the northern parts of Eriador. They have a somewhat Scottish bent to them. No advantages or disadvantages.

Dunmen: The name given to humans of various groups who inhabit southern and south western Eriador. They have a very Celtic flavor. No advantages or disadvantages.

Rohirrim: The horsemen of Rohann. They receive a trump bonus for combat while mounted, but suffer a minus three to combat while unmounted.

Background Points

Each hero gets five background points at creation to spend among the following options.


There is a multitude of languages spoken in Middle Earth, the most common of which is Westron. All human and halfling characters speak this language for free. Dwarves speak Khuzdul and Elves speak their appropriate language as well. Characters are assumed to be able to read and write all languages with which they are familiar. For a 1/2 point characters gain familiarity with a language. For a full point characters gain fluency with a language. The only exception to this is the Black Speech which costs one point for familiarity and two points for fluency.

  • Adunaic: the language of ancient Numenor
  • Black Speech: The high language of the Enemy
  • Blarm: The language of the Dunlendings
  • Haradric: The language of Harad to the south of Gondor
  • Khuzdul: The Dwarven language
  • Labba: The language of the Lossoth who live to the far north of Arnor
  • Orkish: The language of the orks and the common tongue of the enemy
  • Quenya: The language of the Noldor Elves, considered High Elven
  • Rohirric: The language spoken by the Riders of Rohan
  • Sindarin: The language spoken by the Sindar Elves, the most common Elvish tongue
  • Silvan: The language of the Silvan Elves
  • Westron: The most common Mannish tongue


Before the hero was an adventurer they may have learned a trade or some other useful skill. A character may purchase only one skill, and this costs one background point. You can take a look at the SAGA Companion or make up your own such as Butcher, Blacksmith, Carpenter etc. Just remember that this does not give characters a trump bonus or a combat benefit, but it can open up other abilities besides those granted by the hero’s role.

Ability Codes

Ability codes can be improved with background points. A code may be improved from D to C or from C to B for one point. A code may be improved from B to A for two points. This is intended to reflect the fact that the character has devoted extra effort to training for their adventuring career.

Spell Lists

Heroes may start with either an additional sphere or school of magic for two points. This option may only be taken once per character.


Starting heroes may begin play with unique items of value no better than +2/-2. These may include any item such as weapons, armor, shields, or any item which gives a bonus to a limited non-magical ability such as boots or a cloak. These items are considered to be nonmagical but are of superior construction (such as Elvish or Dwarvish in nature).

Exceptional Ability

A hero can have one ability score of 10. The only hitch is that you must pay for the attribute out of your starting 64 points and pay two background points at creation as well.

High Magic for SAGA

This is a variant magic system for the SAGA game rules, specifically the version used in the Dragonlance: Fifth Age adventure game. It is intended to encourage magicians able to cast small, fairly simple spells often, but who have to strain in order to cast very power and complex spells. It tends to encourage a higher-magic game than found in the Dragonlance setting.

Spell Casting

Heroes and characters with an ability code of “A” or “B” in Reason know how to cast spells. Note that these rules use Reason as the basic spellcasting ability, but Narrators can change it to another ability, if desired, or even have multiple abilities to represent different types of magic (as in Dragonlance: Fifth Age).

A magician’s available magical energy at any given time is equal to his or her Reason score, for a magician with an “A” code, and half that score, rounded down, for a magician with a “B” code. (Alternately, all magicians may have energy based on their full Reason score, but different spheres of magic limited by ability code, see Spheres, below). A magician can cast any spell who’s cost is equal to or less than the magician’s energy level. If the spell is above the magician’s limit, it cannot be cast, although there are some means a magician can use to cast the spell anyway.

Example: Mikos the Cunning is a magician with Reason 8A. He can cast any spell with a final cost of 8 or less. If Mikos had only a B code in Reason, he could cast any spell with a final cost of 4 or less (half his Reason).

A basic spell takes one action to cast, has personal range, does 0 damage or has some cosmetic effect, affects one human-sized target or space, lasts for an instant, and is Average difficulty to cast, for a cost of 0 energy.

All these factors can be altered by the caster to create whatever spell is desired. The Narrator has the final say about whether or not a particular spell is allowed in the game. Most factors increase a spell’s energy cost, some decrease it. A spell’s cost can never be reduced below 0, but there is no limit to how high its cost can get.


Spells have a base casting time of instant, which is to say they require a single action to cast. By increasing the time required to cast the spell, the magician can reduce’s the spell’s cost. Each step down the Time Chart (see below) reduces the spell’s cost by 1 point.

If a caster takes any other action while casting a spell, including defensive actions, the spell fails. If the caster is injured while spellcasting, he can make an easy Spirit action, modified by the number of wounds taken, to continue the spellcasting. So a caster who is struck for 8 wounds while spellcasting must make a challenging Spirit action to continue.

Time Chart
1 minute
15 minutes
30 minutes
1 hour
4 hours
8 hours
1 day
3 days
1 week
2 weeks
1 month
1 season
1 year


A spell has a normal range of Personal, affecting whatever the magician can touch. Increasing range increases the cost of the spell by 1 per level.

Range Chart
Near Missile
Far Missile
Other Plane or Dimension


The standard spell lasts for only an instant. Each step up on the Time Chart in duration adds 1 to the spell’s cost. So a spell that lasts for 1 hour costs +4. A spell that is permanent in duration adds 20 to the spell’s cost. The magician must set some non-magical condition when the spell is made permanent that will break the spell.


The standard spell affects a single individual or up to a cubic yard of material for a cost of 0. Each step up on the area chart adds one to the cost of the spell.

Area Chart
Small Room (2 people)
Large Room (5 people)
Small Building (10 people)
Large Building (25 people)
Very Large Building (50 people)
Small Village (100 people)
Large Village (500 people)
Town (1,000 people)
City (10,000 people)
Nation (100,000 people)


The base effect for a spell is negligable or cosmetic, for 0 cost. For specific effects, the Narrator can use the guidelines below.

  • Break: This effect damages or destroys things. Every three points of damage costs 1 energy point. For non-living materials, the Narrator can assess a cost based on the strength of the material, from +1 for fragile materials like glass, to +5 for stone and +7 or more for steel or other hard materials.
  • Communicate: This effect passes on information. It is generally worth +2 cost, for things like telepathy or translating languages. For especially difficult or complex communication (like passing on days of experience and information in an instant), the Narrator may increase the cost.
  • Control: This effect causes someone or something to do something it is normally capable of. Causing something the target is inclined towards (like making a lazy guard fall asleep or making it rain from an overcast sky) is +2. Something the target is not inclinded towards is +4. Something the target is generally against is +6. Something the target is completely opposed to is +8.
  • Create: This effect creates something out of nothing (or out of pure magic). As a general guideline, Narrators can use the summoning chart from Heroes of Sorcery to add up the creation’s abilities and determine the cost.
  • Enhance: This effect improves something. Each additional ability point granted to a subject costs 2 energy.
  • Heal: This effect heals or repairs damage. Every card (or 2 wound points) restored costs 2 energy.
  • Know: This efffect reveals information. Information that could be gained by normal means is +2, information that would be dangerous or difficult to gain by normal means is +4 and information that cannot be gained by normal means is +6 or more.
  • Move: This effect moves things. Levitating a target (moving up and down) costs +2, causing a target to fly is +4 (more for especially swift flight) and teleporting a target is +8.
  • Protect: This effect shields against harm and other effects. Protecting a target against the weather is a cosmetic effect, for 0 cost. Every three points of defense costs 1 energy. Warding a target against magic (increasing the difficulty of all spells cast on the target) costs 2 energy per point of resistance.
  • Transform: This effect turns something into something else. These are some of the most difficult spells. Generally, the cost of the transformation is the gain in abilities between forms. So, assuming the form of a creature with a Physique of 16 for a target with Strength 6 and Endurance 8 costs 18 points. Likewise, turning the same target into a Physique 1 mouse costs 13 points. Every special ability possessed by the new form increases the cost by +1.


A spell’s base difficulty is Average. Reducing difficulty to Easy increases the spell’s cost by 4. For every level the spell’s difficulty increases, its cost decreases by 4. So a Challenging spell costs 4 energy less than an Average spell. An Impossible spell costs 16 energy less than Average. Spells targeted at living beings are always resisted by an appropriate ability, chosen by the Narrator. For example, a spell that hurls a lighnting bolt might be resisted by Agility, while a spell that controls a target’s mind might be resisted by Spirit. The resistance ability is added to the spell’s difficulty, but does not affect energy cost.


The system here assumes that magicians are capable of creating any effect, so long as they have sufficient energy to cast the spell. If desired, Narrators may require magicians to know specific types of magical effects, known as spheres, schools, colleges, realms, arts, techniques and similar titles. There can be as many or as few spheres as the Narrator wishes, dividing effects as desired. Some sphere may “overlap” with others, making a particular effect possible using different spheres.

The simplest division is to use the effects described above, making each a seperate sphere. A Narrator could also divide magic into four spheres according to the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), or five by adding the element of Spirit. Or into ten colleges of Mind, Body, Animals, Plants, Images, Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Magic. Or Living Things, Elements and Undead. Or Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Summoning and Transmutation. And so forth, as desired.

The number of spheres a magician knows is generally dictated by ability code. The Narrator sets which abilities provide access to which spheres and how many. The most suitable abilities for this are Reason and Spirit. For example, a Reason of “A” might provide access to three out of nine spheres, while a “B” code provides only one, as in Dragonlance, or an “A” code might provide access to five spheres, or even all of them, while a “B” code provides proportionally less. Spheres may be broken up between abilities, as with sorcery and mysticism in Dragonlance.

The use of spheres gives Narrators options for limiting the power of magicians and making individual spellcasters more unique.


Rituals are things magicians do to cast spells, all the gestures, magical incantations and various props used in magic. More importantly, rituals are used by magicians to reduce the energy cost of spells, making more costly spells easier to cast.


A magician can use material items to provide some of the energy for a spell, making it less costly to cast. The reduction in cost is based on the nature of the item. An item that represents the effect of the spell is considered “similar” and reduces cost by 1. An item that is connected to the target in some way is considered “contagious” and also reduces cost by 1. The value of the item reflects how much energy it grants. Common items are worth the base value (e.g. a bird’s feather for a flying spell). Uncommon items are worth double the base value (an eagle’s feather), Rare items are worth triple (a griffin’s feather) and Unique items are worth quadruple (a feather from a unique creature).

Components are used up (or made magically worthless) during the casting of the spell. If desired, a component can be specifically enchanted so it may be used over and over again (see Enchantment, below).


A magician can get assistance from others to reduce the cost of a spell by increasing its difficulty. If the assistants are also magicians, they add half the total of their appropriate ability score to the magician’s ability for the spellcasting action. Non-magicians add only one point each to the magician’s ability score. So a magician with Reason 8, assisted by three apprentices with Reason 6 gains a bonus of (6 x 3)/2 or +9 for his spellcasting action. This allows the magician to increase the difficulty of his spell from Average to Daunting, reducing cost by 8 and still having a perfecting decent chance for success.

The maximum number of assistants a magician can have at one time is determined by his or her Presence code. An “A” code allows up to 10 assistants, a “B” code allows up to 5 assistants, a “C” code allows up to 2 assistants, a “D” code allows 1 assistant and an “X” code prohibits the use of assistants (the magician can only work alone).


A magician may use life-energy to make up a difference in energy cost for a spell. The magician takes wounds equal to the difference in cost. So a magician with Reason 8 casting a spell with a cost of 11 can take 3 wounds in order to cast the spell. This damage is not affected by any sort of defense and is otherwise treated like normal damage for purposes of healing, except that first aid has no effect on it.

Magicians can also use the life-force of other beings to reduce the cost of spells. In this case, the being must be killed in order to liberate its life energy. The cost of the spell is reduced by the Spirit or Essence of the sacrifice. Note that this is considered a heinously evil act by most cultures, and magicians who practice such sacrifice may suffer a change in Nature as a result.

Sample Spells

Curse: Transforms the target into a monstrous creature. Desperate Difficulty, resisted by Spirit (-12), Invocation: 1 day (-7), Range: Horizion (+6), Duration: permanent (+20), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Transform (+10). Rituals: Component (a necklace given to the target by a loved one. Symbolic of the “binding” of the spell [-1]; connected with the target [-1] and unique [x4] for -8), Cost: 9.

Demon Summoning: Calls up a demon to serve the caster. Daunting Difficulty (-8), Invocation: 4 hours (-5), Range: Other-Dimension (+10), Duration: 1 month (+11), Area: Individual, Effect: Create (summon) demon (+10). Rituals: Component (valuable ruby, -3), Sacrifice (Spirit 8) (-8), Cost: 7. The magician may want some assistants to ensure the spellcasting is successful.

Fire Bolt: Hurls a spear of flames at an opponent. Average Difficulty, resisted by Agility (0), Casting Time: Instant (0), Range: Far Missile (+3), Duration: Instant (0), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Break (12 damage points, +4), Cost: 7.

Flight: Allows a subject to fly through the air. Average Difficulty (0), Casting Time: Instant (0), Range: Personal (0), Duration: 1 hour (+4), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Move (flight, +4), Ritual: Component (feather, -1), Cost: 7.

Light: Creates a hovering sphere of light to see by. Average Difficulty (0), Invocation: 1 minute (-1), Range: Melee (+1), Duration: 30 minutes (+3), Area: Large Room (+2), Effect: Create (0), Cost: 5.

Major Healing: Heals wounds a subject has suffered. Average Difficulty (0), Invocation: 1 minute (-1), Range: Personal (0), Duration: Instant (0), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Heal (up to 5 cards or 10 damage points) (+10), Cost: 9 points.

Might: Increases a subject’s Strength. Challenging Difficulty (-4), Invocation: 1 minute (-1), Range: Personal (0), Duration: 15 minutes (+2), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Enhance (+5 Str , +10), Cost: 7.

Sleep: Puts a small group of targets into a magical slumber. Average Difficulty, resisted by Spirit (0), Invocation: Instant (0), Range: Near-Missile (+2), Duration: 15 minutes (+2), Area: 5 people (+2), Effect: Control (sleep, +4), Ritual: Component (handful of sand or rose petals, -1), Cost: 9.

Teleport: Transports the caster over a great distance. Daunting Difficulty (-8), Invocation: Instant (0), Range: Cross-Country (+7), Duration: Instant (0), Area: Individual (0), Effect: Move (teleport, +8), Cost: 7.

Fighting the Good Fight

A New Combat Ability for the SAGA System

(This article was originally published in the Legends of the Lance newsletter.)

In the SAGA System rules for Dragonlance: Fifth Age, heroes use their Strength to perform actions in melee combat like hitting their opponents. Characters with high Strength codes are also better trained in the use of weapons. This causes difficulties with some hero concepts players may have: What about the wiry swordsman who’s deadly with a blade but not particularly brawny or the strong hero who can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Additionally, some players may have difficulties equating combat skill with brute strength.

One option for handling these concerns is to introduce a new ability to the SAGA System: Fighting. In Dragonlance: Fifth Age, Fighting takes the place of Strength and is aligned with the suit of Swords. It measures the hero’s training in melee combat, both armed and unarmed, and the ability to use different weapons effectively. The Fighting ability code works the same as the standard Fifth Age Strength Code; an “A” means the hero is trained with all melee weapons, a “B” is all but very heavy weapons, and so forth. If a hero does not have training in a particular weapon, the hero suffers a one level increase in difficulty when using it.

To make room for Fighting, the Strength and Endurance abilities are combined into one ability (called Strength), measuring the hero’s overall muscle and stamina, and aligned with the suit of Helms. It is used for actions involving brute Strength (like breaking down doors and bending bars), as well as all actions Endurance is normally used for.

Fighting is used to make all melee attacks, and it is also used to avoid melee attacks, representing the hero’s skill in parrying and blocking. So attacking in melee combat is anaverage Fighting (Fighting) action, as is avoiding an attack. The Narrator may also wish to allow heroes the option of using Agility to avoid melee attacks, giving nimble heroes (like kender) a better chance of getting out of the way. If the attack hits, the hero’s Strength still determines damage normally.

Strength is still used as the action ability for close-in unarmed attacks like wrestling, representing the advantage greater Strength provides the attacker.

The Narrator should choose the Fighting score for characters and creatures in the game. Creatures may have Fighting equal to their Physique, or the Narrator may choose to give them a lower fighting score to represent creatures that are physically very strong (high Physique) but not particularly swift or accurate (lower Fighting). This also gives heroes more of a fighting chance when going up against larger, more powerful creatures.

Fantasy SAGA

These rules are an adaptation of the SAGA game rules from Dragonlance Fifth Age produced by TSR. Unless otherwise specified, the rules from Book One of theDragonlance game apply.

Hero Creation

Go through the following steps to create a hero:

Step One: Concept

Come up with a concept for the hero. Choose the hero’s Nature and Demeanor.

Step Two: Abilities

Divide 64 points among ten abilities: Status, Quests, Physique (Fighting & Strength) Coordination (Dexterity & Agility), Intellect (Reason & Perception),and Essence (Spirit & Presence). Heroes may have only one ability of 10, a maximum Status of 9, and up to 6 Quests at the start of the game.

Step Three: Race

Choose the hero’s race, making sure he meets the minimum and maximum requirements.

Step Four: Skills

The hero has as many skills as his starting Hand Size. If the hero is a spellcaster, he has two fewer starting skills. Heroes can have no more than four skills for each ability pair.

Step Five: Magic

If the hero is a spellcaster, calculate the hero’s starting Spell Points (Quests times Reason or Spirit) and choose a number of starting spells equal to twice the hero’s Quests.

Step Five: Details

Choose the hero’s equipment. Give the hero a name, description, and background.


In SAGA, skills represent things a hero is really good at. Skills improve a hero’s chances at certain actions. If a hero has an appropriate skill, he adds +4 to his action total for actions involving that skill. Heroes gain a new skill each time they increase their Hand Size. Note that ability scores show what the hero is generally good at, skills reflect a particular area of specialization. For more information about skills, see TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game.

Physique Skills: Axes, Brawling, Climbing, Clubs, Hammers, Jumping, Knives, Running, Spears, Swimming, Swords, Wrestling

Coordination Skills: Acrobatics, Archery, Contingent Attack, Crafting, Disguise, Escape Artistry, Riding, Sailing, Sleight of Hand, Slings, Stealth, Throwing, Thievery

Intellect Skills: Administration, Espionage, Lore (each type is a seperate skill), Medicine, Observation, Survival, Tracking, Trivia

Essence Skills: Animal Handling, Art, Etiquette, Intimidation, Leadership, Manipulation, Merchant, Performing, Politics, Taunting, Teaching


A hero speaks a total number of languages equal to half his Reason score, rounded up. This includes the hero’s native language, so a hero with a Reason of 3 speaks one additional language, while a hero with Reason 9 speaks four additional languages. Being literate costs one language “slot” and is manditory for sorcerers. This affects all the hero’s languages.


Characters in a SAGA story have abilities and skills, just like heroes, but they do not take actions of their own. Instead, the heroes take actions which affect the characters. Because of this, characters do not have hands of cards. They have an additional ability known as Health, which equals (Hand Size -1) times 5. Characters subtract from their Health rather than discarding cards when they suffer damage. Unknown characters have a Health of 0, any successful attack takes them out. Archetype characters have a Health of 40. The Narrator sets the Reputation for characters in the game.


Doing something important in SAGA is called an “action.” The following section demonstrates how most important actions work in the game. Narrators should always feel free to vary the difficulties given below to suit the needs of the situation and the story.

Fighting Actions (Swords)

Fighting is a hero’s skill in melee combat, either unarmed or wielding weapons. It is used for all actions involving attacking or defending with a weapon, along with unarmed combat. It is also used for actions involving the hero’s knowledge and skill in warfare, like tactics.

Dragonlance Narrators should note that most creatures (as opposed to characters) have Fighting scores equal to their Coordination rather than their Physique. This makes their attacks somewhat easier for the heroes to avoid, but no less deadly. Use their normal Physqiue and Damage for determining the effects of their attacks.

Disarm (challenging, opposed by Strength). If you succeed, you knock your foe’s weapon out of his grasp.

Parry (average, opposed by Fighting). An armed hero can parry any melee attack, an unarmed hero can only parry unarmed attacks. If you succeed, you avoid the foe’s attack.

Strike (average, opposed by Fighting or Agility). If you succeed, the amount you succeeded by is added to your base damage (Strength + weapon bonus).

Strength Actions (Helms)

Strength measures a hero’s muscle power and endurance. Heroes use Strength to perform feats of strength like lifting and breaking objects, climbing, jumping, enduring pain and fatigue, resisting disease and poison, and so forth.

Grapple (average, opposed by Strength). If you succeed, you get your foe in a hold and do bashing damage equal to your action total.

Dexterity Actions (Arrows)

Dexerity is a hero’s skill with his hands and hand-eye coordination. It’s used for feats like shooting or throwing ranged weapons, picking locks, sleight of hand, and so forth.

Shoot or Throw (average, opposed by Agility). If you succeed, the amount you succeeded by is added to your base damage (Dexterity + weapon bonus).

Agility Actions (Shields)

Agility represents gross coordination and nimbleness. Heroes use it to dodge attacks and perform feats of mobility and acrobatics like riding, sneaking, swinging from ropes or chandeliers, and so forth.

Dodge (average, opposed by attacking ability). If you succeed, you avoid the attack completely. If you fail, the amount you failed by is added to the base damage the attack inflicts.

Maneuver (average, opposed by Agility). Success allows you to change the range between you and your target by one level (from Near Missile to Melee, for example).

Reason Actions (Moons)

Reason is the hero’s raw intelligence, used to figure out puzzles, solve riddles, remember important facts, organize information, and use sorcery.

Use Sorcery (average, opposed by appropriate ability). Success makes the spell happen. Failure means nothing happens, but you spend the spell points anyway. Living beings resist magic using the ability appropriate to the spell.

Perception Actions (Orbs)

Perception is the hero’s awareness of his surroundings. It’s used notice things, avoid ambushes, pick up clues, find things, and follow tracks.

Avoid Surprise (average, resisted by Agility). If you fail, your opponent surprises you and gets one free attack against you.

Spirit Actions (Hearts)

Spirit is the hero’s willpower, courage, and convictions. It’s used for actions involving strength of will like resisting temptation, ignoring or overcoming distractions, resisting magic that affects the mind or spirit, and using mysticism.

Use Mysticism (average, opposed by appropriate ability). Success makes the spell happen. Failure means nothing happens, but you spend the spell points anyway. Living beings resist magic using the ability appropriate to the spell.

Presence Actions (Crowns)

Presence is the hero’s force of personality and charisma. It is used to influence people in various ways; charming, persuading, intimidating, leading, commanding, and so forth. Generally the hero makes an average action opposed by the target’s Spirit. If successful, the target does what the hero wants.


The damage inflicted by an attack is reduced by the target’s armor. A hero must discard cards to equal or exceed any remaining points of damage. Helm and Heart cards count as trump. Damage comes in two types: bashing and lethal. Bashing damage is reduced by the target’s Strength plus any armor bonus. A hero reduced to no cards by bashing damage is unconscious. Bashing damage recovers at a rate of one card per hour. Lethal damage is more dangerous, it is reduced only by the target’s armor bonus. A hero reduced to no cards by lethal damage is unconscious and dying. Lethal damage recovers at a rate of one card per week. Magic can speed the recovery of either form of damage.


Heroes can follow one of two magical traditions: sorcerer or mystic (they cannot be both). Sorcerers gain their magic through study and use Reason to cast spells. Mystics cast spells using inspiration (and sometimes divine intervention) and use Spirit.

Spell Points: A spellcaster has Spell Points equal to (Quests x Reason or Spirit). Spell points recover at a rate of 1 per hour of waking activity and recover completely after a night’s rest.

Spells: Spellcasters can only cast spells they have learned. A spellcaster knows a number of spells equal to twice his Quests, and gains two new spells after each Quest. The player designs his hero’s spells using the normal rules from Book One, but spellcasters are considered to have access to all effects (schools and spheres). The only exception is the Healing sphere, which is available only to mystics.

A spell may have one variable set by the caster when the spell is cast. For example, a Heal spell may heal a variable amount of damage, while a Sleep spell may affect a variable number of targets, and a Magic Missile spell may inflict a variable amount of damage. The other statistics of the spell are fixed. Armor protects against spell damage. If a damaging spell ignores armor, the cost of its effect is doubled.

Casting a spell requires an average Reason or Spirit action. Spells cast on unwilling targets are resisted; the resistance ability is chosen when the spell is created. Most damaging spells are resisted by Agility or Perception, while most other spells are resisted by Perception or Presence.

Earthdawn Epic

Welcome to Epic! This is a bare-bones system for converting the Earthdawn game from FASA to the SAGA rules system produced by TSR, used for their Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes games. It focuses on maintaining the flavor of Earthdawn while taking advantage of the quick and simple mechanics of the SAGA rules.

Earthdawn is the property of FASA Corporation and the SAGA System is the property of TSR, Inc./Wizards of the Coast. This article is not intended as an infringement on either property.

Name-Giver Races

Eight different races inhabit the land of Barsaive. They are collectively known as “Name-givers,” since they share the ability to name things. A ninth Name-giver race, the dragons, also lives in Barsaive, but there are no dragon heroes.


The majority race of Barsaive is the dwarves, particularly those of the Kingdom of Throal. They are craftsman, merchants, politicians, scholars and warriors found throughout the land. Strong and stout, a hero must have Strength and Endurance of at least 6 to be a dwarf. Conversely, a dwarf’s stout limbs and body make them less limber than other races, limiting their Agility and Dexterity to no more than 8. Dwarves have the ability to see heat sources, allowing them to see in the dark, provided there is a source of heat available. Although they are friendly and helpful, dwarves often have difficulty relating other Name-giver races. No card played by a dwarf on a Presence action counts as trump, except when dealing with fellow dwarves or as a defensive action.


The race most changed by the Scourge, the elves are divided between the blood elves of the Elven Court, loyal to Queen Alachia, and the unchanged elves elsewhere in Barsaive. An elf hero must have scores of at least 6 in Dexterity, Agility, Spirit and Presence. Elves are limited to scores of 8 in Strength and Endurance. Elves have starlight sight, allowing them to see as clearly on a starlit night as a human would during the day.


Humans in Barsaive are adaptable and found nearly everywhere. Humans have no ability requirements, but may shift one point from a physical attribute to a mental attribute, or vice versa, during hero creation.


Obsidimen are beings of flesh and elemental earth, large and bulky. They have a strong connection to the earth and all living things. An obsidiman hero must have at least a score of 8 in Strength and Endurance. An obsidiman hero cannot have a Dexterity or Agility higher than 6. They are limited to no higher than a code of B in Presence. Creatures of living stone, obsidimen are incredibly tough. All cards they spend on resisting damage are considered trump, regardless of their actual suit. In addition, obsidimen have natural armor, providing them with a Defense of -2, in addition to any worn armor. Obsidimen have a fundamental respect for living things. They refuse to wear non-living armor of leather or metal. Obsidimen may only wear living armor, including fernweave and living crystal.


Orks are well known in Barsaive as short-lived warriors who live hard and play hard. They are strongly in the grip of their passions, particularly their own gahad. A character must have a Strength and Endurance of at least 6 to be an ork. Ork heroes cannot have a Spirit or Presence higher than 8. Orks have the ability to see in very low-light, as well as humans see during the day. Each ork has a personal gahad, something that triggers an irrational rage. An ork can ignore his gahad with an average Spirit action, but suffers a -1 penalty to all actions for the remainder of that scene.


Trolls are large, honorable mountain-dwellers, well-known as raiders and warriors in Barsaive. A hero must have a score of at least 7 in Strength and Endurance and a 5 in Spirit to be a troll. Trolls are limited to a maximum of 8 in Reason and Perception. Trolls have the ability to see heat sources, like dwarves do.


The t’skrang are a race of river-dwelling humanoid reptiles with a swashbuckling attitude. A t’skrang hero must have a minimum score of 6 in Agility, Endurance and Presence. T’skrang can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes at a time, making them excellent swimmers. Their tail is dexterous and strong enough to deliver a stinging attack. A t’skrang makes a tail attack as an easy Strength (Endurance) action. A t’skrang hero can split his Strength score between a normal melee attack and a tail attack, as desired.


Windlings are small humanoids, about a foot tall, with gossamer wings. They live in tree-villages, as well as with other Name-givers. A hero must have a minimum score of 6 in Dexterity, Agility, Perception, Spirit and Presence to be a windling. Windlings are limited to a maximum Strength and Endurance of 4 because of their small size. They automatically have a Dexterity and Strength code of X. Windlings have the ability to fly using their wings. They also have natural astral sight, allowing them to see auras and astral patterns with an easy Perception action. Because of their small size, windlings are harder to hit in combat. The difficulty of all physical attacks against them is increased by one level. However, windlings are not nearly as tough as other Name-givers; cards played by a winding hero on damage never count as trump.


Magic in Earthdawn is based on the magic system from Dragonlance: Fifth Age, with a few minor differences.

Spell Points

Earthdawn heroes have spell points like other SAGA heroes. Adept magic is based on Spirit, while spell magic is based on Reason. So a beastmaster with Spirit 7 has (7 x 7) or 49 spell points. A magician with Reason 8 has 64 spell points. Add a hero’s number of Quests to his or her spell point total. So a Champion (7 Quests) with Spirit 7 has (49 + 7) or 56 spell points. Heroes use and regain spell points normally, except as described below.

Spell Matricies

A spell matrix is an astral construct posessed by a magician. A magician has one spell matrix for each level of Reputation, from one at Novice to eight at Archetype. Magicians can prepare spells in advance by placing the spell’s pattern within a spell matrix. These spells do not cost spell points, but have their normal difficulty. Spells cast without the use of a spell matrix are “raw magic” and cause damage equal to the spell’s difficulty. A magician hero can change the spell in a spell matrix with a Reason action with a difficulty equal to half the difficulty of the new spell.

Using Magic

Using magic requires an action with the appropriate ability, usually Spirit for adept magic and Reason for spell magic. The Narrator may call for a different ability in certain circumstances. The base difficulty of the action is average, plus any resistance (if the magic targets someone other than the user). Successful or not, spell points are still spent. Note that, unlike Dragonlance, heroes are not required to spend spell points to overcome a target’s resistance, nor is the difficulty of the spell equal to its cost.

Example: Aklear wishes to cast a flame bolt at an oncoming ghoul. The cost of the spell is 12 points. Aklear makes an average Reason action, opposed by the ghoul’s Coordination, which is 5, making the final difficulty 13. He succeeds, and the ghoul takes 9 points of damage from the spell, minus its Defense of 2, which does enough damage to slay it. Aklear had better ready another spell, because where there is one ghoul, there is likely more…

Adept Magic

Each discipline grants a particular type of magic to those who follow it: beastmasters can use magic to influence animals and take on their qualities, warriors use magic to enhance their battle prowess, and so forth. Each discipline describes the type of magic it can perform. Players create the effects they wish to perform using the normal SAGA spellcasting rules, limited by their capacity, as described above. Some examples of adept magic include:

  • Dominate Beast (Beastmaster, 15 points): Allows the adept to completely control the actions of an animal within near missile range for 15 minutes with an average Presence (Essence) action.
  • Flame Arrow (Archer, 10 points): Ignites the head of an ordinary arrow, causing it to inflict +5 damage.
  • Rapier Wit (Swordmaster, 13 points): Demoralizes an enemy within melee range with clever jibes and taunts, requiring an average Presence (Essence) action. If successful the target suffers a -2 on all actions for the next 15 minutes.
  • Shadow-Cloak (Thief, 13 points): Shrouds the adept in shadows for 15 minutes, adding +4 to the adept’s attempt to sneak or remain hidden, requires 1 minute to activate.
  • Wind-Catcher (Sky Raider, 12 points): Weaves the wind to allow the adept to fall any distance without harm.
  • Woodskin (Warrior, 11 points): Turns the adept’s skin to tough wood, providing +5 defense for 15 minutes. Requires 1 minute to activate.

Spell Magic

Magicians in Earthdawn weave the energies of astral space to cast spells. They have a wider range of potential effects to choose from, based on the spheres of magic known. A hero must have an A code in Reason to be a magician. Magicians start out with knowledge of one sphere of magic and may learn one additional sphere for each gain in Reputation above Novice. So an adventurer may know two spheres, up to an archetype, who knows all eight spheres. Other adepts can also learn spellcasting spheres, by expending a skill in order to do so.


A component of spells in Earthdawn is weaving “threads” of magical energy to power the spell. Weaving threads is part of the spell’s invocation time. Spells with an invocation time of Instant require no threads.

Spheres of Magic

Spell magic is divided into eight different spheres of influence. Magician heroes may choose a single sphere to specialize in, gaining a trump bonus with all spells from that sphere.

  • Divination: Divination is used to reveal information. Divination spells allow a magician to detect different things, view distant places, enhance the senses and sense things beyond the normal five senses.
  • Elementalism: This sphere allows a magician to command the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and wood. The magician can create and shape the elements at will, and can summon elemental spirits from them.
  • Enchantment: This is the sphere of the mind, able to reshape emotions, read thoughts, alter memories and control the wills of others. Some beings are immune to the effects of enchantment (like many undead and horrors).
  • Healing: This sphere uses magic to heal injuries, cure disease and poisons, and ensure general health and well-being.
  • Illusion: The illusion sphere deceives the senses, creating images of things that are not real. Even thought illusions may be detected and overcome by disbelief, they can be quite powerful against those they fool.
  • Nethermancy: Nethermancy deals with pure life-force: spirits and the stuff of the astral plane. It can summon and control spirits, shape astral energy, summon pure light or darkness, animate the dead or even return them to life.
  • Transformation: This sphere deals with transforming objects or beings into something else. Spells of transmutation, shapeshifting, petrifaction and similar effects are transformations, as are spells which temporarily imbue magic into objects or beings to enhance their abilities or grant them various powers.
  • Wizardry: The sphere of wizardry is concerned with shaping pure magical energy to create different effects. Spells that dispel or block magic, as well as constructs of magical force, fall under the category of wizardry.


  • Ethereal Darkness (Nethermancy, 16 points): Blankets the area of a large room in darkness for 15 minutes, imposing a -4 penalty on all actions requiring sight. Requires 1 minute to cast. Does not affect nethermancers.
  • Fireball (Elementalism, 14 points): An explosive ball of fire that shoots out to near missile range and does 9 damage points to a small group of targets. Resisted by Agility. Requires 1 minute to cast.
  • Mind Dagger (Wizardry, 12 points): A shard of magical force hurled at a target within near missile range, doing 5 damage points and ignoring physical Defense. Resisted by Perception.

Roles (Disciplines)

Heroes in Earthdawn follow disciplines, ways of thinking and acting that channel the hero’s natural magical abilities. Disciplines are similar to Roles in Dragonlance: Fifth Age. Each discipline has its own particular requirements, advantages and disadvantages. Each discipline also has its own form of magic, allowing adepts of that discipline to cast spells. Heroes normally follow only one discipline. However it is possible for a hero to choose a second discipline. In this case, the hero gains access to that discipline’s magic, and is subject to its requirements, but does not gain its trump bonus.

Air Sailor

Air sailors pilot and crew airships that cross the skies of Barsaive. They are skilled sailors and skilled fighters to deal with the dangers that threaten their ships. Air sailors love the freedom of the open sky.

  • Requirements: A hero must have the following minimum abilities to be an air sailor: Strength 5, Dexterity and Agility 7. The hero must have a minimum code of B in Strength and Dexterity. Air sailors can belong to any race except obsidimen (who prefer to remain on the ground). Air sailors do not wear heavy armor, limiting their maximum Endurance code to C.
  • Trump Bonus: Air sailors have a trump bonus for any action performed while on an airship.
  • Adept Magic: Air sailor magic is related to airships and aerial things like the wind.


Archers specialize in missile weapons, particularly the bow and crossbow. They have unerring aim and walk through a world of targets.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Dexterity and Perception of 6 and a Dexterity code of A to be an archer.
  • Trump Bonus: Archers have a trump bonus for any action using a bow.
  • Adept Magic: Archer magic is related to their chosen weapon, the bow.


Beastmasters seek to emulate the animal kingdom and understand its denizens. Some beastmasters a true friends of all animals, while others are their cruel masters.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Endurance and Presence of 6 to be a beastmaster. Beastmasters have limited weapon-skills, limiting their Strength and Dexterity codes to a maximum of C.
  • Trump Bonus: Beastmasters have a trump bonus for any non-attack action related to animals
  • Adept Magic: Beastmaster magic is related to animals and their abilities. It has no affect on intelligent life, nor on non-living things like undead, spirits or horrors.


Cavalrymen are fierce, mounted warriors. They train with their mounts to develop an empathic bond with them.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Strength, Endurance and Presence of 6 to be a cavalryman. The hero must also have a minimum Strength code of B. Obsidimen cannot be cavalrymen, since no mount can carry them.
  • Trump Bonus: Cavalrymen have a trump bonus for all actions while mounted.
  • Adept Magic: Cavalryman magic relates to the bond between the cavalryman and his mount and fighting while mounted.


Magicians study the art of spellcasting and the spheres of spell magic. They are scholarly individuals who study the mysteries of the universe.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Reason and Spirit of 6 to be a magician. Additionally, the hero must have a minimum Reason code of A, Perception of C and Spirit of C. Magicians spend most of their training on intellectual pursuits, so magician heroes cannot have Strength, Dexterity or Endurance codes of greater than C.
  • Trump Bonus: Magicians may choose one sphere of magic in which to specialize (usually their first). The magician gains a trump bonus in all actions involving that sphere. Magicians are generally named after their specialty sphere: Elementalists master elementalism, Healers master healing, Nethermancers master nethermancy, and so forth.
  • Adept Magic: Magicians start out knowing one sphere of magic and may learn another at each increase in reputation.


Scouts are explorers and trail-blazers who seek out new places, people and adventures. They are renowned for their sharp senses and wits.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Endurance and Perception of 6 to be a scout. Additionally, the hero must have a minimum Perception code of B. Scouts prefer to travel light, they have a maximum Endurance code of C.
  • Trump Bonus: Scouts gain a trump bonus on all actions involving the use of their senses.
  • Adept Magic: Scout magic involves the use of the senses and survival in the wilderness.

Sky Raider

Sky raiders are fierce fighters who fly aboard airships to raid targets all over Barsaive.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Agility, Strength and Endurance of 6 to be a sky raider. Sky raiders require a minimum code of B in all three abilities. Elves, obsidimen and windlings cannot be sky raiders.
  • Trump Bonus: Sky raiders gain a trump bonus for all actions on an airship.
  • Adept Magic: Sky raider magic involves airships and using the power of their fierce reputation.


Swordmasters are elegant fighters who seek to master the art of the blade. They tend to be swashbucklers, with little regard for personal danger.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum of 6 in Strength, Agility and Presence to be a swordmaster. The hero must also have a Strength code of at least B.
  • Trump Bonus: Swordmasters gain a trump bonus for any action using a sword.
  • Adept Magic: Swordmaster magic is entirely based around sword-fighting, overcoming and intimidating their opponents.


Thieves are silent and stealthy, self-reliant and skilled in the art of stealing.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Agility, Dexterity and Perception of 6 to be a thief. The hero must also have a minimum code of B in Perception. Thieves prefer to avoid armor that limits their movements, giving them a maximum Endurance and Agility code of D. They also tend to be anti-social, limiting their Presence code to C.
  • Trump Bonus: Thieves gain a trump bonus for any action intended to be sneaky, including surprise attacks.
  • Thief Magic: Thief magic is based around deception, stealth, and avoiding danger.


Troubadours are storytellers, loremasters and entertainers.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Dexterity, Perception and Presence of 6 to be a troubadour. Additionally, the hero must have a Dexterity and Perception code of at least C, and a Presence code of at least B.
  • Trump Bonus: Troubadours gain a trump bonus with all social actions.
  • Troubadour Magic: Troubadour magic is intended to enlighten, entertain and affect the mind and emotions.


Warriors are masters of all forms of combat, using magic to enhance their prowess.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum of 6 in Strength, Endurance and Spirit to be a warrior. Warriors are highly trained in the use of weapons and armor, having a minimum code of C in Dexterity and Agility, and B in Strength and Endurance.
  • Trump Bonus: Warriors gain a trump bonus for surprise and unarmed combat actions, as well as any action related to tactical knowledge.
  • Warrior Magic: Warrior magic is the magic of battle, increasing their ability to fight and remain alive.


Weaponsmiths craft and study weapons and armor. They know how to use them, as well.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum of 6 in Strength, Endurance and Perception to be a weaponsmith. The hero must also have a minimum Perception code of B.
  • Trump Bonus: Weaponsmiths gain a trump bonus when making or studying any type of weapon or armor.
  • Weaponsmith Magic: Weaponsmith magic relates to the making of weapons and armor, controlling and protecting against them and the elements used in the forging process.

Special Roles

These Roles are special and may be taken in combination with other Roles without affecting their abilities. These Roles have no trump bonuses.


Questors follow one of the twelve Passions of Barsaive. They seek to emulate their Passion in word and deed, if they fail to do so, they lose the special blessings their Passion brings them. Questors who continually ignore their Passion may lose this Role entirely.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Spirit of 5 and a Spirit code of B to become a questor.
  • Questor Magic: Questor magic is based on the nature of the questor’s Passion. For example, questors of Lochost, the Passion of Freedom, have powers relating to freeing the oppressed and imprisoned. Questors of Dis, the Passion of Domination and Slavery, use magic to enslave others, and so forth.


Lightbearers are members of a secret society devoted to riding the world of the Horrors and their corruption. Becoming a lightbearer requires a special ceremony and is by invitation only. A hero who takes on this Role gains special powers and responsibilities.

  • Requirements: A hero must have a minimum Spirit of 6 to be a lightbearer. In addition, the hero must have performed great feats against the Horrors and their minions to draw the attention of the Lightbearers.
  • Lightbearer Magic: Lightbearers have the power to create and project light in many forms, using it to protect, heal, illuminate and fight against the Horrors.