Monday, October 12, 2009

Magical Monday - Magic, Yeah we Got Some of That

I've been fairly obsessed with magic systems of late. Reading endless (literally! part of reason I quit blogging for a couple months was I needed an escape from the barrage of new material put out by the online community) blogs, forums, articles, house rules, and a dozen or so RPG systems/supplements. I've arrived at something. Not finished, no "rule" ever should be.

During this magical quest I've been beset by a series of conflicting goals:
- Analytical mind & mechanical elegance / It's magic stupid, it don't make no sense
- Flexibility, "wild"ness / familiarity to existing player base
- Complete, uber / stop futzing with rules and play this thing dammit!
- Fascination with RL historical magic / unplayability of RL historical magic
- House rules rule / game is no longer D&D (which one? OD&D / 3.5 are so not the same game)
- Vancian, it's pretty rad / everything else, is also pretty rad

A few things I'm not of two minds over:
- Balance, screw that noise.
- All spells are magic. God granted miracles are different and use totally different system. A topic for some other post.
- Magic is dangerous and not a replacement for technology.
- Magic is not known, it is discovered. Arcane knowledge is coveted and rarely shared.
- Although, the party might be full of Wizards, Mages, and Sorcerers they are rare in the "real" world. Adventurers take magic-users into their party because they all are dangerous people whose lives are filled with violence, horror, and debauchery.

Instead of deciding on the best magic system/mechanics I'm gonna use them all. Three are described below. Each system's mechanics influence the nature of magic use and it's in game flavour. But players are encouraged to alter/fluff up their particular method and make it their own.

Most of this page is for DMs. To help sustain the "magicalness" I would relate mechanics to players through a "lens" of flavour. I wouldn't lay it all out up front either.
Instead of "you can make a scroll for 100gp per lvl of spell" I'd wait until magi finds and examines (in their "lab") a scroll explain "It appears that mystical energies are infused into the ink and vellum. That no valance would be required to call forth this spell." If they asked "Could I duplicate this marvellous phenomenon?" I'd answer "probably with some research, perhaps you should seek Lucious the Effervescent who's sigil is on that scroll."

A Partial Bibliography, filtered through my poor memory/lack of record keeping: Beyond Fire and Forget, Staff Based Magic, Theurgists Order of Set, Playing with Magic, Strange Magics, Non-traditional Sources of Spells, Fight On! Magazines, d20srd Spontaneous Metamagic / Metamagic Components / Incantations, Alternate Spell Casting System, ODD Boards Counter Spelling, There is Candy, Blue Star Mages and Goat Fuckers, Piecemeal, Carcosa, Ars Magica, Arduin, A Magical Medley. Finally, I spent many, many fascinating hours following links from Wikipedia's List of Magical Terms and Traditions.

Base System: Castles and Crusades with a "class" system derived from delicious pie. There are three levels of casting ability equating to how much arcane pie a character has. Casting ability dictates spell slots and casting options. For example characters with but one slice of arcane pie have no slots and may only cast rituals, never "fast" spells.

"Spell Slots" Three 1st and one 2nd lvl slots equals three 1st circle(lvl) spells and one 2nd circle(lvl) spell. A fourth 1st lvl may not be substituted for a 2nd lvl nor may two 1st lvl be combined into one 2nd lvl. No duplicate spells allowed.

"Casting Checks" C&C SIEGE mechanic with open ended d20, natural 1 always fail, < style="font-weight: bold;">"Cast as Ritual" Most spells can be cast without the usual memorization requirement via ritual, which take 10 minutes.

"Minor Magics" [I've seen this idea several places] Minor magical effects based off of currently memorized spells can be cast at will. Undecided if these will be limited to "cantrip" level of effects or something like with fireball memorized can conjure a fiery dart 1d6 (proly require a caster check) thus giving poor magic users something to do every round. On the other hand, suck it up Wussmage!

"Residual Effects" Unplanned manifestations of power that escape the will of the magic user. A randomly determined spell of the highest level memorized will leak. Once the leaking spell is recognized, the character may then attempt to rein it in. This attempt can be made once per day. If the wizard is successful, another spell will begin to leak. See Trollsmyth's excellent Playing with Magic post.


Other names include: Magus, Magician, Mage.

Spellbook based arcane magic, memorized. Cha/Int.
- Safe, comparatively. Spells work, no casting check.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells are a mixture of my 4 volume Compendium of Wizard's Spells and 3 volume Compendium of Priest's Spells. Should be enough to get started :)
- Must find and copy or study/learn/research new spells. Maintains written spells.
- May cast most spells as ritual from spell book/scroll independent of memorized spells.
- Material components only required when memorizing spell / casting as ritual. V, S when casting as per individual spell description.
- Minor effects based on currently memorized spells.
- Eastern tradition originally by Zorastor, but practised and altered by many, most recently the Thracians.

Spells are complex mathematical and mystical formulae. Each of which spans many pages [1 per lvl]. These may be written in most any language and are not magical. Rather they are instructions on how someone with the proper training and demeanour can arrange his mind, opening up its valances to be receptive to storing magical energies.

Magi must memorize spells/open valances. The number and power of which is limited by their available spell slots. It is not possible to memorize duplicate spells. Memorization takes one hour per spell level of uninterrupted study and requires the spell's written formulae. Magi may only fast cast memorized spells. Memorized spells stick with caster and are available to be cast again after 8 hours of rest. The written spell formulae are only needed to change caster's "load out".

Notes: As close to base D&D magic as my house-ruling ass could make it. Magi are scientist / scholar types, poring over musty tomes. Int is required to research, copy, and learn new spells. I expect most to choose that over Cha. Spell books don't have to be books; big mess of scrolls, strips of silk, clay tablets, whatever. A player is free to abuse the 8 hour rest by trying to cram more than one "cycle" of spells in 24 hours. Of course they will then learn about the "Mind Wrecking Effects of Magical Overuse" table.


Staff based arcane magic, not memorized. Cha/Int.
- Magic can fail but is not usually too dangerous. Casting check, >30 slot is not expended.
- Focus (staff/wand or tattoo) required to cast any spell.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells are a mixture of my 4 volume Compendium of Wizard's Spells and 3 volume Compendium of Priest's Spells. Should be enough for my purposes :)
- Automatically gain a few spells per level. May "transcribe" magician spells, is very hard. Foci replaces need for written spells.
- May cast most spells as ritual from focus without expending a spell slot.
- Material components only required when carving spell into focus / during ritual. V,S required when casting as per individual spell description.
- Minor effects based on current selection of spells.

Rather than voluminous arcane formulae laboriously studied and memorized wizardly magic is more intrinsic. Wizards know the art of investing spells into monograms and similar mystical cyphers [Ex On Beyond Zebra]. These are carved into special foci (e.g a wizard's staff / multiple wands and optionally one spell per level as tattoos). The disadvantage being that spell energy is tied up in the focus and not within a valance of the Wizard's mind. Another being wizardly magic is more of a discovered art rather than a studied science. Wizards find it difficult to expand their smaller (relative to Magi) corpus of spells.

Each day wizards perform a short ritual that fixes a selection of their spells (numbers equal to spell slots). Throughout the next 24 hours the wizard may fast cast any of these fixed spells equal to their spell slots.
For example: Dougard, a wizard, has 3 1st circle slots and selected the following Hands of Flame, Dougard's Excellent Enthralment, and Lucious' Arachnid Locomotion. Dougard could then; cast each of those spells once that day, cast Dougard's Excellent Enthralment three times (and not cast any of the others at all), or cast Hands of Flame once and Lucious' Arachnid Locomotion twice.
Notes: Nice feel (wizards have staves ya know, reminds me of LoTR scene, Gandalf getting in to see Wormtongue and King Theodin). Trades flexibility in casting for some loss of spell selection and 5% risk of spell failure. A little less bookkeeping, could use tokens for spell slots. No spell books hassels. But be damn sure to not loose your staff/foci. Unlike magi who can make copies of their spell books wizards have no backup plan! (just like most non-sysadmin RL people I've met)


Focus based arcane magic, not memorized. Cha/Int?
- Norse tradition

Works like wizard using totems, bone of ancestors, runes, etc as foci instead of staff. At least until I find better idea.

Sorcerer / Theurgist

Other names include: Witch, Warlock, Shaman, Diabolist, and EHP.

Mental/Psychic based magic, not memorized. Cha/Int.
- Risky and dangerous. d20 casting check, variable chance of spell failure / variable success aka some sorcery casting chart I've yet to create.
- Can learn any number of spells.
- Available spells pulled from Arduin, Carcosa, and similar sources, plus anything else that seems to fit.
- Must deal/bargain/extort new spells from their "power".
- No rituals or rather they have their own rituals.
- May require focus, tools, objects, components to cast. V, S as per individual spell description.
- No minor effects.
- Ancient / primordial tradition.

Sorcerous magic derives from a "Power", entities such as The Frog Gods, Elder Elemental Gods, demons, cosmic alien intelligences, plain old gods, and the like. Sorcerers bind/trap/worship these Powers and thus extract/extort or are granted mystical secrets (spells and what not). As you might imagine this is rather risky and has a cost, which the Power will eventually collect. They must keep their Power happy/satiated/bound. Sorcerers walk a fine line between lust for magical power and fear of what they have done/must do to gain it.

Not all sorcerers consort with demons and cosmic terrors. Many are respected sorcerer-priests, theurgists, of "good" gods such as Jupitor and Amon-Ra. Their risks are no less. Push too far for spiritual enlightenment and they may accidentaly gaze upon the true face of a god. Perhaps not as frightening but equally as terminal as being sucked into the cosmic void by an alien intelligence.

Sorcerers use their own mental energy and life force, or the life force of (often unwilling) others to control and channel the mystical energies of their power. Which is physically and mentally draining. The strain on mind and body is represented by temporary Constitution loss. The exact amount, 0+, is determined by how they rolled their casting check. It is possible for a sorcerer to push themselves too far, collapsing into a lifeless heap. Depending on what their Power is might use Wisdom loss (insanity) instead.

Sorcerers may attempt to cast any spell they know regardless of level. Although, grasping beyond your means grants large penalties to casting check. Other modifiers to check include; penalties for having less than 3 arcane character pie pieces, penalties for taking damage/being distracted during casting, bonuses for appropriate sacrifices (magic items, rare substances, people). Finally, each spell will have certain circumstances in which it is easier / more powerful to cast. These last bonuses are most important for use in bargaining rituals. For example:
When Morzaad hangs dark in the sky [a lunar eclipse] go far below within the crytal depths to where echos fear speak and the Formula of Geometries will flow easily from thy lips. [aka large bonus to the casting check of that spell]

Bargaining checks are handled as casting checks with higher stakes. There are two primary bargaining rituals "binding" & "extorting". I'll use those names even though a Theurigist is not binding their god, rather they are achieving a higher and more personal rapport with their diety.

Binds come in degrees; partial, weak, strong, etc. and represent amount of influence sorcerer has over their Power. A weakening of the sorcerer's bind over their Power is a common result of failed spell and bargaining (including binding) checks. Weaking beyond partial releases Power and is the end of the sorcerer. The degree of binding provides a modifier to extorting checks. Binding rituals take days and require the purchase of rare insenses, oils, nubile dancing girls and the like. Players are free to attempt the ritual as often as desired. Begining sorcerer characters start play with a weak bind.

Extortions are the sole means by which sorcerers gain new spells and other mystical secrets. The extortion ritual takes days and requires the purchase of rare insenses, oils, nubile dancing girls and the like. Check's level of success determines how many new spell secrets are learned. The levels of the spells is random but bell-curve distribution around characters current abilities. Players are free to attempt the ritual as often as desired. Before play begins newly created sorcerer characters conduct an extorting ritual "off-camera". Truly catastrophic results are rerolled, all others are kept.

Notes: Theurgy means 'divine-working'. Practice of rituals. Sorcerer priests are Theurgists. Maleficium (sorcery) Latin term meaning "wrongdoing" or "mischief". Goetia is the invocation of angels or the evocation of demons. Evocation, the act of calling or summoning a spirit, demon, god or other supernatural agent.

Sorcerers are as powerful as the player is willing to be risky. I tried to apply the mega-dungeon "risk vs reward" equation to spell casting. Played safe they are weaker than wizards and magi. Dial up the danger and be rewarded or TPK'd. Which brings up... The risks of sorcery are shared, willingly or not, by all those near or known to the sorcerer. When you accidentally release an aspect of Shoggoth it arrives with a mighty hunger and indiscriminant palet.

Sorcery is a bit complex and requires maturity/sophistication of role-play so as to not ruin the game for the rest of the players. Therefore they will be an "advanced" class. Not available to players until they've gamed with me for a while.


Other types of practitioners: Rune Casters, Alchemists, Hermeticists, Mystics, Celtic Druids, and Hedge Wizards, as well as Tarot and Hoodo magic have to wait for Part II and Part III.

There is one form of magic available to all characters regardless of class/magical aptitude. Enochian, invoking the magic contained within individual letters of the Language of Creation possibly based off of Incantation mechanics.


  1. 3 Different references, I feel suitabley honoured.

    For Wyrd, consider making each spell level have a different Foci (or school or similar grouping), giving advantage in that you can have some spells after losing a foci, but weaker in that its easier to steal at least one foci.

    Just a rough idea.

  2. Extremely thought-provoking post, full of lots of wonderful and inspiring ideas. But what a bugger, just when I thought I'd settled on my house-ruled magic system, you've gone and thrown me a whole smorgasbord of tidbits to consider. Ah well, back to the drawing board.


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