Creating a Magic-Using Character
Players who are considering creating a magic-using character should read the material below carefully. For this game, I wanted to avoid the classic fantasy-roleplaying image of the magic user as some sort of mobile weapons platform, and substitute something a little closer to the original source material, where magic is difficult, perilous and powerful. I also wanted swordsmen to be able to have a good chance of dealing to magic users in a straight fight. That is, after all, their forte. Thus, magic use is only allowed under fairly strict limitations. These are laid out below. If you don't like them, you can always play another kind of character.
While all of the powers, limitations and advantages are available to the mages of Arth, there are certain common limitations which affect all, or almost all, spellcasters. These reflect the nature of magic in the universe, and are thus not normally negotiable. The "Five Laws" of spellcasting can be summed up thus :
- "Magic Requires Effort" - all spells must cost END. While it is possible to have spells that have the reduced END advantage, or even persistent spells, they must at least have the limitation "Costs END to cast (-1/4)" in which the END cost is only paid when the spell is cast
- "Magic Requires Concentration" - all spells must take the "Concentration" limitation to at least the 1/2 DCV (-1/4) level. Manipulation of primal forces is not something to be attempted while you are hopping about.
- "Magic Requires Time" - all spells must take the "Extra time" - at least a full phase (-1/2). Again: a spell is not something you casually toss off in passing.
- "Magic Requires Skill" - all spells require the limitation "Requires a skill roll". This is normally INT based, but some schools of magic teach a style that instead is based on EGO. This is particularly true of mages who specialise in illusion or subverting their target's minds.
- "Magic requires power" - all spells must take the limitation "Requires Mana" (-1/4). Mana is discussed in detail in "The Nature of Magic". The short version is that Mana is equivalent to the END stat, but causes Long Term Endurance Loss, so spellcasting is exhausting (and occasionally dangerous) to the caster. This severely restricts the number of spells a mage can cast in a short period of time and means that most spells are going to be cast only as a matter of necessity and generally in a careful, deliberate fashion (just like magic in fantasy novels!)
Explanation of Limitations.
Limitations which are required by a particular style of magery are in addition to those imposed by the nature of magic - the so-called "Five Laws". Players may take additional (appropriate) disadvantages if they desire, and sometimes "found" or acquired spells may come with additional disadvantages (such as a spell that requires rare components). Any of these disadvantages may be bought off with experience only with the GM's permission. In addition, for all but the magically adept, creating new spells is an enterprise fraught with peril. The spell caster must make his invention roll - for every point the roll is failed by, the spell may (at GM's option) acquire a new limitation - which will only become obvious when the spell is used.
Essential Skills for Mages
As outlined in the fourth law of magic, all characters who aspire to spellcraft must have the skill "Magery" (3 points for base 9+INT/5 roll, +2 points per +1 to the roll). As every 10 active points in the spell levies a -1 to the roll, a good skill roll is normally de riguer. In addition, Mages are generally required to have at least one knowledge skill in each of the types of magic they practice - thus an enchanter should have KS: Enchantments, while a pyromancer should have KS: Elemental magic - fire. These KS can serve as complementary rolls to Magery. A mage can learn spells of different sorts, but to have even a basic ability in that field, he must have the appropriate KS. Attempting to cast a spell without this background knowledge (from a recently acquired scroll, for instance) is sheer folly (-5 to the Magery roll)! Extra time and appropriate apparatus can of course add bonuses to the Magery roll, which is why most wizards aspire to a well equipped magical laboratory.
More Skills for Mages
The skills listed below are in no way compulsory, but are likely to come in very useful for any would-be spellcaster. In addition, some teachers of magic, or certain schools of magic require the apprentice to acquire certain skills before any teaching in actual magic is pursued (these are listed with the descriptions of these schools of magery)
- Cryptography. Many wizards are not keen to share their carefully accumulated knowledge with others, so in addition to magical safeguards, they often write their arcane lore in secret codes or languages taught only to trusted apprentices. This skill is needed both to compose or to decipher such writings
- Eidetic memory. Many spellcasters - particularly those from primitive societies - do not write their spells down, and apprentices are thus taught to commit the spells to memory. Usually the spells are written using mnemonic tricks and rote phrases to facilitate this, so the spellcaster can buy this talent as a skill, requiring a skill roll (-1/2, base 11-) and only usable for memorising material provided in the appropriate way (-1) for 4 points.
- Inventor. An essential skill for the wizard who wishes to create magical gadgets. He must still employ skilled craftsmen to actually make the gadgets (and take any penalties if they flub their rolls) unless he has the skills required (carpenter, stonemason, architect, etc) himself.
- KS: Alternate dimensions, Planar travel and/or AK: specific planes to be reached. Wizards casting spells that allow transport to or from alternate planes should have any or all of these skills.
- Languages. Many spells are to be found in ancient tomes of lore. The self-sufficient wizard should not depend on modern translations! Moreover, much useful material is often to be found in a variety of languages. Fluency in other languages is particularly desirable when one considers the likely outcome of casting a mistranslated spell.
- Spell Teaching. Required to teach spells to students. Defaults to 8-, INT based.
- Spell Research. Required for searching libraries for new spells and magic knowledge, translating a spell from one school of teaching to another, or constructing new spells. INT based, defaults to 8-. Failure in this roll when creating a new spell can lead to the spell acquiring unexpected defects such as the limitation Side Effect.
Types of Mage
There are many different styles of magic on Arth, and the different ways that they deal with magic is also reflected in the way that they buy their spells. However they fall into three basic categories, which can be referred to as: Primitive, Ritual and Adept.
To find out what styles of magery are available, check out the guidelines for the setting your character comes from.
Primitive mages manipulate magical forces by a mixture of ritual and pure force of will. Unfortunately, since they rarely, if ever, understand the nature of the forces they control, they may suffer extravagantly for their powers and often the precise results of their spells are not quite what they had intended. Moreover, the involvement of the primitive mage in his power is intimate, so failure is usually visited directly on the spellcaster. However, the total belief that primitive spellworkers have in their handiwork has its compensations. The primitive mage may not always get what he wants, but he almost always gets something! Primitive magicians do not generally research spells, they either learn them from another, or find them.
Ritual mages, on the surface, appear similar to primitive mages, since they also direct magical energies by ritual - chants and gestures to focus the mind, materials and symbols to invoke certain powers. Indeed, they often know little more about the magics they command than primitive mages. However, the rituals they use are more complex and more sophisticated, having been perfected over generations, so that performance of the ritual in a certain manner always leads to a certain effect. This has the advantage that mages can be more sure of the outcome of their spells, and since the rituals also act to "insulate" the mage from his own spells to some extent, the effect of a failed casting is less likely to be visited on the person of the spell caster. Ritual spellcasters find researching new spells a difficult and tedious affair, and generally rely on those compiled by previous generations. Some ritual mages do understand more of the basic principles on which their art is based and therefore find it easier to create new spells or modify old ones, but this process is often hit or miss, consisting of the combination of bits of ritual from different spells.
The Adepts are those who more fully comprehend the nature of magic. Rather than learning "spells" as such, they can visualise the mana around them and manipulate it to achieve the effects they desire. In some cases, they employ ritualistic techniques to focus their minds, but the most skilled require no more than a thought to activate their magic. Although these masters of the mystic arts are usually called "Adepts", in the tangled web of magical nomenclature, many mages style themselves as such.
In game terms, the three types of mage are separated by required limitations on their spells, and by their use of power frameworks
Type of mage
Concentrate, Extra Time, Requires a skill roll, Costs END, Requires Mana
Gestures, Incantations, Side effect
There is a fourth option, which is not by itself a specific magical style, but may be practiced by any of the three types of mage, which is Possession. This means giving yourself into the hands of another being - a demon, god, or totem spirit - so that you may make use of its power. Mages who choose this route can use an Elemental Control to simulate the powers thus gained. This is normally the only way that Elemental Controls can be used, and characters who choose this route must either take a Berserk, triggered by the act of changing, which means that the possessing power has taken control, or a side effect (Mind Control) which essentially reflects the same thing.
Examples of Different Types of Mage
There are many types of primitive mage. Many folk have a single spell or a small number they have learned in some fashion. The thief who undertook tasks for a wizard in exchange for being taught a single spell of invisibility, the animal trainer who can mesmerise beasts and the old crone with her small store of occult lore all fall into this category. However, all of these must pay the true cost of their powers. Not being scholars of the sorcerous arts, their understanding and power is limited, and this reflected in their inability to use any power frameworks. In addition, they often learn spells where and how they can, leading to an illogical hodge podge of powers. Likewise, those magic users from primitive societies who have learned their powers by trial and error - or what they have memorised from their teacher - also fall into this category. In primitive societies, the two commonest kind of mage are Trance and Totemistic magicians. Trance magicians work their magic by freeing their minds from the demands of the flesh. There are many ways in which this achieved. The tribal priests of the Olmai have wide knowledge of herbs and drugs and they drug themselves into a heavy trance during which their spirit can float free. The Rã'ite mystics of the Deserts of Lamentation dance with blades pressed into their flesh to achieve the same effect, while the sorcerors of the Hama in the Sidamo rely on prolonged dancing to sacred drums.
Characteristics of Trance magic are : Concentration (0 or 1/2 DCV, throughout) and Burnout (since they are prone to fainting or collapse). They also must take the extra time limitation to at least the 1 turn (-1) level, since going into a trance requires more than a couple of seconds. Side effect, Gestures, Incantation and some sort of Focus are not required, but are usual.
Trance magicians specialise in (but are not limited to) divinatory spells, astral travel (with a solid body left behind), possession (multiform, etc), enchantments and summoning (spirit guides, etc).
An example of a Trance mage is Ralah Ghu'allash, a Rã'ite mystic. Chosen by his tribe to be trained by other such mystics, he journeyed to the eyrie of the wise ones, in an inhospitable series of crags deep within the Sighing Sands. There he learned to control his body (giving him the ability to go for prolonged periods without food or sleep, as well as immunity to most diseases) and his mind (giving him some Mental defence). In addition, he learned the sword dance, whereby he dances with a circular cage of swords supported by their tips on his chest and back. As he dances, their weight drives the edges into his flesh, until the pain literally drives him out of his mind. In this state he gains the ability to send his spirit forth, to absorb the energy of the Great God's burning eye, and the ability to render his flesh impervious to normal weapons. Therefore at the start, his character's powers are :
Life support -Diminished eating and sleeping (once per week)
Mental Defense - 5 points
Note that these are not spells per se, but due to intense physical training, so do not require the "5 laws" restrictions.
All his spells take the limitations Concentration (0 DCV, only to turn on, -1/2), extra time (1 turn, -1), Requires a skill roll (-1/2), Side effect (fainting, -1/2, simulated by a 6d6 Stun Drain) Focus (Rack of blades, OAF, 1), Requires END to cast (-1/4), Gestures (dancing, only to turn on, -1/4), Incantation (to turn on, -1/4) and requires Mana (-1/4) for a total of -4 1/2.
Astral Travel. Desolidification @ 0 END - leaves body behind (-1). Plus 5" flight, x 32 noncombat multiplier (+1, 160"/phase), with the further limit (Linked to Desolid), plus Invisibility to sight group @ 0 END, linked to Desolid (-1/2).
1d6 END Aid, +14 max, continous (+1), must sit in direct sunlight (-1/2)
+20 PD/ED armour.
As the character gains experience, he may wish to add more spells. This could be done by journeying back to his old masters, learning them from other magicians (if he can persuade them), or finding spells written down. This last is unlikely for most primitive mages, many of whom cannot read, but possible for a Rã'ite mage, since they belong to ancient tradition. Not all primitive magicians come from primitive cultures.
The other major "schools" of primitive magic are the Totemistic mages. These spellcasters gain their power by partial surrender to a more powerful force. Totems do not have to be animals. Many Vanaquisl mages have "spirit totems" - they can call up spirits of the dead, to animate zombies, answer questions, or even summon deceased heroes to possess their bodies. Of course, possession can also be an associated (and dangerous) side effect of a spell. The most feared Vanaquisl mages have Demon totems, giving them access to a wide range of powers - but also some extremely nasty side effects.
Characteristics of Totem magic are : Side effect and Jammed - when summoning greater forces, incurrring their displeasure is always a possibiliy, and it is always possible that they will not come at all. Summoned powers are notoriously difficult to deal with. Not required, but usual, are Focus (totem items), Gestures and Incantation
Totemistic magicians tend to specialise in (but are not limited to) divinatory spells, possession (multiform, etc), increased attributes or movement powers (appropriate to the totem), shapeshifting and summoning (Totem beings, etc).
An example of a totemistic magic-user is the Vanaquisl warrior Karam Braineater. An accomplished warrior, Karam decides to become a hero-warrior, a position of much prestige. For this he needs a totem, so he seeks out a well-known (and widely feared) mage said to control demons and after a brief tutelege undertakes a quest to bind his own totem. In this he is successful (since he has been saving up his experience!) and gains the following powers :
Elemental control (demon powers) 60 point reserve. All spells take the limitations Jammed 14- (-1), Requires a skill roll (-1/2), Side effect (12 d6 mind control [possession],-1), Concentration (0 DCV, only to turn on, -1/2), extra time (1 turn, -1), Incantation (to turn on, -1/4), Requires Mana (-1/4) for a total of -4 1/2.
1d6 RKA Energy, damage shield @ O END (flames).
20 PD/ED armour (iron scaley skin and iron-like muscles).
Both these spells have the limit. "takes END to cast" for a further (-1/4), since they are reduced to 0 END
Soul-eating. 1d6 END Transfer, +12 max, ranged (+1/2), continous (+1).
In addition, he learns the spell: Summon (Demon mentor, built on 200 points) with the same limitations - he can't put this in his elemental control since it is not a demonic power per se.
As can be seen, Karam has spent a similar amount of points to Ralah Ghu'allash, and he is also a primitive mage, but his attitude to spells will probably be quite different, and there is no chance of mistaking one for the other. Karam has only one route to gain spells - his demon can offer them to him, but it will almost certainly ask a dear price for each one - sacrifices, the death of another hero-warrior or the use of Karam's body for a while. If he fails his skill roll while summoning his mentor's powers, Karam is likely to pass (albeit briefly) into his mentor's control, where he will suffer for any past breaches. If he fails his "Jammed" roll, the demon will be annoyed and inaccessible for some time, until Karam can placate him.
Ritual magicians are outwardly similar in many ways to primitive magicians. The major difference in fact is one of attitude - they almost always see themselves as heirs to a long tradition - more scholars than adventurers. Temple sorcerors, the archetypal mage bent over his scrolls of lore, or the necromancer raising a body in a lonely graveyard are all examples of the ritual mage. The outward trappings may differ, but the symbols they deal in would be mostly recognisable to one another.
Characteristics of Ritual magic are Gestures and Incantations, which are required limitations, since these rote movements and phrases are the method by which the skill of channelling Mana is passed on. Not required, but common, is the Focus limitation - a spellbook, a wand or staff and so on.
An example of a ritual mage is Lendar Callentius, a battle sorceror in the Dymerian army. Like most battle sorcerors, he knows only a few spells, learned at his academy. His spells look like this :
90 point Spell multipower. All slots take : Gestures (throughout, -1/2), Incantation (throughout, -1/2), Skill roll (-1/2), Focus (Wand, OAF,-1), Concentration (0 DCV, only to turn on, -1/2), extra time (full phase,-1/2), x5 END cost (-2) and Requires Mana (-1/4) for a total of -5 3/4. His multipower is :
90 point Multipower reserve
(Ultra)18 d6 Energy blast (lightning stroke @ 45 END!)
(Ultra) Force wall 18 PD/ED @ 45 END
(Ultra) 2d6 energy RKA ( Wall of fire, Area effect [line], continuous @ 45 END)
The enormous END costs mean that Lendar could only cast a single spell before the Mana drain would almost kill him. However, battle sorcerors are attended in battle by a host of acolytes whose only task is to cast Aid spells to transfer END to the casting sorceror. A battle (the basis of Dymerian military formations) of sorcerors often consists of two mages (one devoted to attack, the other to defense) and 18 apprentices. Lendar can continue to learn spells at the academy by study, he could buy them from other mages (although his specialised role would probably preclude most other spells), or he could try to make up new ones by tinkering with the rituals he learned as an apprentice. Creating a new spell for ritual mages includes checking for new limitations, so Lendar's attempt to convert his wall of fire spell into a new fire spell could be potentially lethal if he acquires the "Side Effect" limitation. Lendar has some very powerful spells, and he paid relatively little for them, but he is very specialised, and could only really operate with a military sorceror's unit.
As another example, Gilliris Ahnac, a mage-for-hire from Lacramar who specialises in weather spells, has the following spells :
60 point Spell multipower. All slots take : Gestures (throughout, -1/2), Incantation (throughout, 1/2), Skill roll (-1/2), Focus (Spell book and components, OAF,-1), Concentration (0 DCV, only to turn on, -1/2), extra time (full phase,-1/2), Requires Mana (-1/4) for a total of -3 3/4. His multipower is:
60 point reserve
(Ultra) Change Environment (Any natural weather, 32 hex radius @ 1/2 END)
(Ultra) Flight (10", 2x noncombat @ 0 END). This spell has the limit. "takes END to cast" for a further -1/4
(Ultra) 2d6 energy RKA (Area effect, radius [lightning])
Once again, Gilliris can learn new spells by tinkering with those he has, finding them or buying them.
There are many types of ritual mage. Since they use a power framework (multipower) for their spells, all spells must have a common special effect or basis "just saying magic" is not sufficient). Many temples instruct their initiates in spellcraft, and their spells are defined by the provenance of their god. Some mages concentrate mainly on the creation of mannikins, homunculi and gadgets - these are known generally as Artificers (the mages trained at the College of Artificer scholars in Bentarath are famous architects and siege engineers as well). Hexmasters are Mystics who specialise in the use of runes or painted glyphs. Those mages who use the energy of the spheres to power their spells are known as astrologers, while there are countless types of elementalists who specialise in one field of spellcraft the better to master their art (it also makes it easier to create new spells). Given all this, it is impossible to fully describe ritual mages. Some factors used by many such mages are described in the section in the "Nature of Magic" entitled "The Elemental Octagrammaton", while various broad fields of magic are described in the section "General Fields of Magical Endeavour".
Adept mages are at once the most distinctive of all the types of mage, while at the same time they are the least easily defined by the casual observer. This is because they do not employ "spells" as other mages know them - a set ritual to induce some specific effect, but instead manipulate Mana directly, by force of will alone. On the other hand, these spell casters are still limited by the "Five Laws" of magery. Adept magery thus has no easy defining characteristics - each mage who reaches this level manifests his or her own style.