I’ve now planned and played two full sessions of Tattered Magicks, an urban fantasy tabletop roleplaying game by Moebius Adventures that takes inspiration from media like Supernatural and The Dresden Files. My team and I had a blast playing this game, and I’m excited to share my thoughts so hopefully you can enjoy it, too! For a taste of gameplay, you can view our playthrough videos below:
If you’re interested in checking out Tattered Magicks for yourself, here are all the links you need:
FYI: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you use them to make a purchase. While this is nice for me, I have written this review based on my real opinions and not on kickbacks. Enjoy!
Tattered Magicks uses the Inverse 20 system, meaning you must match or roll lower than a Target Number (TN) in order to succeed. Natural 20s are a critical failure, and natural 1s or rolling the exact target number are a critical success. It’s a fun change to see players celebrate at the sight of a 1 instead of groaning with dread.
The TN for any given check is determined by a character’s attribute score (attributes are the core stats in Tattered Magicks). There are seven attributes:
Anytime a character rolls, the Referee (a.k.a. the GM) will decide to which attribute the action belongs. For example, shooting a gun would fall under Accuracy; convincing someone to leave their house because it’s haunted might be Presence. Once the attribute is decided, the player rolls a d20, trying to roll equal to or lower than their attribute score. If they do, the action is a success (or critical success as mentioned above); if they roll higher, it’s a failure (or a critical failure with a natural 20).
To reflect an action being more or less difficult, the Referee can call for a roll with advantage or disadvantage. Let’s go back to our example of shooting a gun: if a character is off-balance and unfamiliar with firearms, the Referee could say the player must roll with disadvantage, meaning they roll two d20s and take the higher result. On the other hand, maybe the person a character is trying to convince is a good friend who trusts them—in that case, the player might roll with advantage, taking the lower of two d20s.
These simple rules make for fast gameplay with cut-and-dry results. There’s no adding or subtracting, and players can see their own Target Numbers on their character sheets. All the Referee has to manage on their end is deciding which attribute applies and if advantages or disadvantages come into play.
Tattered Magicks takes place in a modern-day world where magic is rare and unbelievable. It’s easy to build your own setting because you can use ideas from your everyday life. You could run a whole adventure in your hometown if you wanted to! The book offers a nice foundation for building your own Townville, U.S.A. to use as a backdrop for your adventures. It also explains how to involve players in fleshing out the setting by naming buildings and NPCs.
The game’s name comes from a secret organization called the Tattered tasked with protecting our mortal realm from the onslaught of the supernatural. The book provides information about a handful of other organizations and groups to help you build out a big-picture campaign. But it’s also open and flexible enough that you don’t have to use any of the lore if you don’t want to. What matters is that magic is rare, most people don’t believe in or accept the supernatural, and your characters are in a small minority of people who have the knowledge and skills to do something about the monsters that go bump in the night.
Combat in Tattered Magicks works much like any of the other checks. Players declare their action (swinging the club, shooting the gun, grabbing the goblin, etc.) and then roll against their attribute score. The book includes stats and descriptions for quite a few monsters, from Big Foot to vampires, as well as easy instructions for building your own supernatural creature. (I created my own version of a rakshasa for one of our playthroughs.)
Rather than rolling initiative like in many other games, the turn order is simple: players go first, then the enemies. You can use an optional rule for switching this order each round to mimic how the flow of time can shift while supernatural beings are around.
If you prefer very tactical combat in your games, Tattered Magicks might not scratch your itch. It doesn’t offer all of the crunchy potential of more strategy-heavy games (like Battlelords of the 20th Century for example). But that’s not to say the combat is uninteresting. With unique magical items, a build-your-own-spell magic system, special monster abilities, and more, there’s room for plenty of exciting action.
What I Loved
I loved playing Tattered Magicks, and here are a few reasons why.
By far my favorite piece of this game is its unique approach to magic. Instead of a prescribed list of spells, the game provides a handful of core spell mechanics like dealing damage, shielding, and the like. From there, players can essentially build their own spells to perfectly match the flavor of their character. Even if two characters’ spells have the same mechanical effects, the way they cast the spell and the appearance of the spell can be completely different.
Speaking of casting, another neat thing about Tattered Magicks magic system is how characters generate and use magical energy. In this game, magical power is gathered via seemingly mundane activities like painting, reading, dancing, stretching, and more. Characters who possess magical abilities can select their own “craft” to indicate how they channel their magic. Someone with a focus on art (like one of the characters in our playthrough) could generate power by sketching what she sees; and when it comes time to cast a spell, they might do so by drawing symbols in the dirt nearby.
This kind of magic system allows for nearly unlimited player expression. Players get to describe exactly how they want their character to use magic, and it can feel totally unique from everyone else. No more identical fireball spells.
GM Resources & Inspiration
I’m always a fan of rulebooks that provide some extra inspiration and resources for game masters. And Tattered Magicks is no exception. The last few sections of the book include ideas for running different types of games, like if you wanted to focus on hunting monsters, or if you wanted to play out a zombie apocalypse. You have the framework to run whatever kind of modern-day supernatural adventure you want.
There’s also a huge list of pop culture and media inspirations, which is so helpful when it comes to coming up with ideas. I don’t know about you, but when there are too many possibilities in my mind, I tend to freeze up with indecision. Should I have them fight a vampire? Or maybe they should go searching for leprechauns? Or would they rather track down an artifact on display at a museum? The list of books and shows and movies is essentially a list of adventure outlines to use in your own game. Choose your favorite episode of The X-Files, then turn it into your next session.
What I Didn’t Love
This game is great! Perhaps the only critique I have is the downside of such a fast and simple rolling mechanic:
No Partial Successes
When a player makes a check, they either succeed or they fail. With the rules as written, there are no other outcomes other than a critical success or failure. Of course, it’s up to the Referee to narrate the exact consequences of a specific action, and I suppose one could explain how a failure isn’t a total failure. However, I find the success/failure mechanic to be a little difficult sometimes when it comes to moving the story along. If a character fails to pick the lock on the door, the door stays closed.
To be fair, this binary system isn’t unique to Tattered Magicks. But because players don’t add or subtract anything with their rolls, it felt especially random whether someone would succeed on an action or not. If I were to play this for an extended campaign, I would consider how a Referee might decide on a partial or mixed success.
TL;DR- Would I Recommend Tattered Magicks for Beginners?
Tattered Magicks offers simple rules that are easy to learn combined with a genre that anyone could get into. Players don’t have to make a huge roleplaying leap to adopt their characters’ personas because their characters are going to be a lot like them (rather than a 100-year-old elf with a magical lute). Likewise, the setting is grounded in a reality that players will understand.
The opportunities for player expression make it so everyone can build their characters how they want, interesting and powerful in their own ways. And the flexible magic system leaves plenty of room for flavor without messing up any mechanics.
On the GM side, the rulebook is approachable and thorough. There are plenty of resources to help new Referees get started. All in all, this is exactly the kind of system I would recommend to new players. So, if urban fantasy sounds like your thing, go check out Tattered Magicks! After all, someone has to keep those hidden monsters in check.