There was once a set of rules for non-vanciant magic that was more free form and allowed you to add up modifiers based on varying difficulties for range, area, etc. and then successes were used for effects (or effect dice). The writeup, as I recall gave an example of a mage trapped in a cage near a campfire of sleeping guards and how he could escape.
If anyone knows what I am talking about, and can give me some direction where to find it, I would be forever grateful. I know it sounds kind of 'four by five' system-like, but even Googling that, I can't find what I am looking for.