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What is Magic Realm?

Magic Realm is a fantasy role-playing board game, first published in 1979 by The Avalon Hill Game Company. An extensively revised second edition rulebook was released in 1986. The game is now out of print, but in 2001 the online community of players began work on preparing a third edition of the rules to incorporate all known corrections and clarifications.

Avalon Hill hoped that Magic Realm would capture the excitement of the Dungeons & Dragons pencil and paper game in a board game format, but designer Richard Hamblen delivered far more than they expected. Magic Realm is one of the most complex and innovative board games ever designed.

Players each take the role of a single character and, travelling alone or together as they see fit, explore the map battling monsters and searching for long lost treasures and spells. Their actions score points which are used to determine the winner at the end of the game. Unlike many role-playing games, the characters do not gain experience or levels: they begin the game at full strength. However, many of the items they can find will enhance their capabilities, and there are also various mercenaries that can be hired.

The game map is built from twenty hexagonal tiles that can be fitted together in countless ways. Each tile contains several clearings that are connected by roadways. Characters that are walking use the roadways to travel from clearing to clearing; characters that fly travel directly from one tile to the next.

The illustration above shows a typical map section. There is a mountain to the north, caves to the east, and woods to the south. No direct path currently exists between the mountain and the caves.

The map tiles are printed on both sides. When a character enchants a map tile it is flipped over to reveal the hidden side, and the roadways may change when this occurs.

In the illustration above, the woods tile has been enchanted. Note that, because of this, a roadway has now appeared between the mountain and the caves. The bright coloring of the woods tile shows that it is now a source of Gold magic, which can be used to cast certain spells.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the game is the method it uses to define a player's character. Instead of assigning numerical values to various categories of physical attributes and skills, Magic Realm gives each character a set of twelve action chits. These action chits come in four varieties: (1) Move chits are used to carry items and maneuver during combat; (2) Fight chits are used to wield weapons; (3) Magic chits are used to enchant map tiles and cast spells; and (4) some characters have a special chit representing a unique physical characteristic.

The illustration below shows two of the characters from the game, the White Knight and the Swordsman, and their corresponding action chits.

Each action chit contains a strength letter (L - Light, M - Medium, H - Heavy, T - Tremendous); a time number from 2 (fast) to 6 (slow); and up to two effort asterisks.

An action chit with no effort asterisks can be played without causing any fatigue; a chit with one effort asterisk may cause fatigue; and a chit with two effort asterisks will always cause fatigue. When a character fatigues, he must remove an action chit from play. It remains out of play until he takes time to rest and recover.

When a character suffers a wound in combat, he again must remove one of his action chits from play, but wounds require much more prolonged rest to recover from. The net result is that, as a character suffers exhaustion and injuries, he slows down and has much more limited (and less effective) options available in combat.

The White Knight is a powerful, but very slow, character. His action chits all have either Heavy or Tremendous strength, so he can carry any treasure and wield the heaviest and most powerful weapons. But his fastest time number is only 4, and maneuvering that quickly will always cause fatigue. His greatest weakness is in movement: he has only four Move chits, so it doesn't take long for his Move H4** chit to be removed due to fatigue, which leaves him highly vulnerable as he tries to dodge attacks while moving only at speed 5 or 6.

The White Knight also has a single Magic chit. Magic chits do not have strength letters, but have one of eight different magic types instead:

IRighteous invocations
IIPagan rites
IIIElvish lore
IVEnergy-binding alchemy
VDiabolic ceremonies
VIConjuring techniques
VIIGood Luck knacks
VIIIMalicious tricks

The White Knight's Magic chit is a type I, which gives him a very limited ability to cast the beneficial type I spells. Some of the other characters have many more Magic chits in their sets, and one, the Witch King, plays with twelve Magic chits and no Move or Fight chits at all (he is pure magic, with no physical body). Characters with powerful spellcasting abilities are weak in physical combat, because they have few Move and Fight chits.

In contrast to the White Knight, the Swordsman is fast, but weak. He can maneuver at speed 4 indefinitely (because none of his Move 4 chits have two effort asterisks), and his speed 2 chits are blindingly fast. But his strongest chits are only Medium, and his fastest chits are only Light. These strength limitations mean there are many treasures that he is not strong enough to carry, and many weapons that he is not strong enough to use. There are numerous monsters that he is unable to kill on his own, but he is fast enough to safely run away from most of them.

The next illustration shows two of the weapons from the game.

Weapon counters contain a strength letter, which may be followed by one or more sharpness stars, and may also have a time number. Each weapon has two states: alerted (ready to strike), and unalerted (not ready, or out of position). The alerted side is red, with a large asterisk, and the unalerted side is white.

The Morning Star is a Heavy weapon: it requires a Heavy or Tremendous Fight chit to wield, and it delivers Heavy damage. This is an ideal weapon for the White Knight, but the Swordsman cannot carry it or use it.

The Thrusting Sword is a Light weapon with one sharpness star, which increases damage against unarmored targets. It delivers Light damage against armored targets, but Medium damage against unarmored targets. It is a good weapon for the Swordsman, but the White Knight would prefer a heavier weapon that can do more damage.

When a weapon has a time number showing, that number overrides the number on the owner's Fight chit. If the White Knight has an alerted Morning Star, he attacks with a speed of 3 even if he uses his slow Fight H6 chit; but if the weapon is unalerted, he attacks slowly at speed 6 regardless of the Fight chit he uses. The Thrusting Sword, on the other hand, has no time number on its alerted side. This gives the Swordsman the option of making a fast attack at speed 2 with his Fight L2** chit... but he will fatigue as a result.

There are many monsters that wander about the map, ready to pounce upon the careless (or unlucky) adventurer.

Monsters have an attack rating that consists of a strength letter and a time number, and another time number that represents their maneuver speed. Monster counters are printed on both sides, with slightly different attack and maneuver ratings on each side. During combat, a monster counter may randomly flip over, so when planning your battle strategy you can never be sure of which tactics a monster will use.

The circled 2 on the back of the Tremendous Troll's counter represents a special attack, in which the Tremendous monster has picked you up and is attempting to rip you apart! The only way to escape from a Tremendous monster once it has picked you up is to kill it before it kills you.

Each turn in Magic Realm represents the passage of one day, from sunrise to midnight. Each player must record his activities for the day in advance, using a simple notation system, with no way of knowing what the other players might be planning. This pre-planning of moves can sometimes take on a chess-like intensity, as players try to predict what the situation on the board might be when they finally get to take their turn.

Combat takes place at the end of the day, after all moves have been completed. In each round of combat, a player must select his battle strategy without knowing what tactics his opponents will be using.

As the players explore the map, they will come upon treasures that can be found, and spells that can be learned. Samples of each of these are shown below.

Treasures can be either small or large. Large treasures have a gold dot on them, and are harder to find than small treasures. Treasures with a red dot are Great Treasures, which count towards a character's victory if he holds them at the end of the game. A few treasures are held by the various native groups in the game, and can be purchased from them, but most treasures are stashed away in the hidden treasure sites.

The Golden Crown is a Heavy treasure, indicated by the H in the lower left corner. A character must have a Heavy or Tremendous Move chit in order to carry it. The N:-15 notation shows that holding this treasure subtracts 15 points from a character’s Notoriety score (a character's actions in the game can earn him Fame and Notoriety points). The treasure has a basic value of 50 gold. The notation (Guard 20F) shows that this treasure belongs to a group of natives known as the Guard. If a character sells the Golden Crown to the Guard, he receives 20 points of Fame as well as the gold.

The other two treasures shown have no weight and can be carried by any character.

The Spell cards show, from top to bottom: the type of spell, the spell's target, the name of the spell, the spell's effect, and the requirements for casting. The requirements show the type of Magic chit required, and the type of magic power needed. The Fiery Blast, for instance, requires a type IV Magic chit and Purple magic power.

Spells are found in Spell Books and Artifacts, which are treasures that can be discovered. A few spells are also inscribed on the walls of certain treasure sites.

Joining the Magic Realm Community

Magic Realm is a unique game unlike any other role-playing game, whether board game or computer game. It is still played regularly by its many fans, and players from around the world participate in play-by-e-mail (PBEM) games.

If you would like to join us and experience this amazing game for yourself, the contents and links found on this web site will provide you with everything you need. The following items are particularly recommended:

  • Join the Magic Realm mailing list
  • Download "The Least You Need to Know to Play Magic Realm"
  • Download the 3rd edition rules

New PBEM games are announced on the mailing list, and the rules are all you need to play in one... you do not need to own a copy of the game itself.

One of the best ways to learn the game is to review a finished PBEM game. You can follow each move of the game, and follow each battle round-by-round.

  • Review a completed PBEM game

To get your own copy of the game, you can try to buy one on ebay.com, or you can download the CyberBoard version. CyberBoard is a program that allows you to play board games on your computer, but it only manages the components of the game; it does not automate any of the game functions, enforce any rules, or provide any computer opponents.

  • Download the CyberBoard program and the Magic Realm gamebox

If you are willing to invest some time and effort, you can also download the art files for all of the game's components. Print them out and mount them onto cardboard to make a playable copy of the game.

  • Download the Magic Realm component art

You will find many more items of interest as you explore this site and the sites created by individual players: discussion forums, every magazine article ever published about Magic Realm, expansions and variant rules, etc.

Welcome to the world of Magic Realm!

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Page last modified on June 21, 2005, at 10:26 PM