Mystic Theory 101: Magic in DFRPG, Part One

Spellcasting is easily the most complex part of The Dresden Files RPG. This should come as no surprise; the game is based on a series of books about Wizard, and the books are full of all the cool things Harry does with magic. To be true to the source material, the game needs to model that kind of play.

The complexity arises from the flexibility of the system. If you want to be able to do everything that Harry does in the books, you need a system that can be twisted and bent to accomplish anything. That means it needs a robust backbone, so it can bend without breaking, and components that can be adapted to any situation the players come up with. This means that designers are left with a limited range of choices in how to implement the system:

  • Come up with sub-systems for each possible application of magic.
  • Use a very high-level system, where the GM and the players make all the calls with minimal rules.
  • Find a middle ground, where there’s enough mechanical support to let the GM and players share an understanding of the capabilities of the system, but few enough rules that they can be mastered.

Evil Hat went with the third option, using a mechanic that can be adapted to a wide variety of situations, and tons of examples to help show how to do that. I think it was a good choice, and it results in a good mechanic.

But it also results in a lot of reading for spellcasting types. And while the language they use is very precise, the distinctions between some of the terms can get lost in the fog.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk extensively about spellcasting in this game, with the goal of demystifying the concepts, process, and mechanics. I’m going to start talking about theory, both in-world and in-game, so that the terms are clearly defined. Then, I’m going to move on to evocation, and finally thaumaturgy. At the end of those three topics, I may post a few spells, showing how they were created and what decisions were made along the way, but only if there’s a demand for it.

So. Let’s get going with theory.

In-World Magic Theory

Magic in the Harry Dresden books is structured and codified – that’s how you get Wizards. Jim Butcher does a good job of laying out the ideas behind spellcasting, so that you can get a solid grip on what magic does and doesn’t do, and the mechanism behind it. I’m starting with looking at this in-world theory of magic, because it’s important to know what the system is trying to model before we start looking at the model.

Note that I’m using a number of terms in this section that will show up in the in-game section, but the definitions in the in-game section are far more precise than the usage in-world. So, in this section, when I’m talking about complexity, I’m talking about how complicated something is. In the next section, when I’m talking about complexity, I’m talking about a very specific game term.

All magic in the game is basically shaping energy to work your will. That means you need two things to work magic: energy, and your will. You use them in concert to create a change in the world that you want to see*.

The high-level process is the same for all types of spells, as follows:

  1. Form the spell construct.
  2. Summon the energy into the spell construct.
  3. Release the spell construct.

Wizards break down spellcasting into two categories – evocation and thaumaturgy – but really, casting both has the same high-level process. It’s just the details that differ, and that’s really the function of the complexity of the spell construct.

Forming the spell construct

A spell construct is a pattern that will produce a change in the world in accordance with the spellcaster’s will once it has been empowered. It is a pattern of thought and symbolism bolstered by the spellcaster’s will that serves as a receptacle and template for the energy that will be used. Simple spell constructs can be held in the Wizard’s mind, enhanced by simple tools such as words, gestures, wands, rings, etc. More complex ones are too difficult to be held internally, so they rely on more symbolic tools, like magic circles, candles, lengthy chants, ritual dances, external power sources, and the like.

The simple spell constructs that can be contained within the Wizard’s mind entirely are generally evocations: they are quick, use minimal tools, and accomplish a very simple thing, which is pushing raw energy around. More complex spell constructs are generally thaumaturgy: they require more time, rituals, and special components, but can accomplish more varied effects, and more powerful ones.

Building a spell construct is half of what spellcasting training is about. Whether it’s being able to hold a simple form in the mind to channel a blast of fire through, or knowing the elemental correspondences of different colours and gemstones, these are the tools the caster learned in training, and the pieces that he or she uses to build the spell construct. Some simple constructs, called rotes, are so well-practiced that the spellcaster can form them with hardly any thought at all, while more more complex constructs may require research and preparation to assemble properly.

The more complex the spell construct, the more energy is required to fully activate it, and the more far-reaching effects it can have.

Summoning the energy into the spell construct

Once the spellcaster has created the spell construct, it must be empowered with energy for it to have an effect. Energy has to come from somewhere, and calling in and controlling energy from various sources is what the other half of spellcasting training is about. If the caster is in a hurry, he or she can use his or her own energy, but this can exhaust the caster in short order. The energy of a single human body is generally all needed to keep the body functioning properly*, so using too much is not a good thing. This is why fast evocations tend to be so tiring for the spellcaster.

With more time, the spellcaster can draw in energy from other sources: the environments, special components, ley lines, energy from other living beings*, or even just trickle his or her own energy in at a speed that allows it to replenish itself without so rapidly depleting the caster. Complex, external spell constructs can contain the energy as it comes in over time, often within a magic circle, allowing the spellcaster to take longer to supply the requisite energy.

This is another place where the difference between evocation and thaumaturgy differ. The simple spell construct of an evocation doesn’t require a lot of energy to empower, but you can funnel as much energy as you care to risk through it and out into the world. Complex spell constructs, like thaumaturgy rituals, are so precise that they need a very specific amount of energy to enact, calculated by the spellcaster when he or she creates the construct.

Drawing and controlling energy can be tricky, and this is where Wizards can wind up blowing themselves (and their surroundings) right to hell*. If the spellcaster’s concentration falters, or if he or she has tried to use too much energy too quickly, he or she can lose control. The caster can then either let the energy escape into the world, usually with destructive (or at least inconvenient) consequences, or they can try and contain it, letting it tear through their body and mind. Neither one is a very welcoming prospect, so most spellcasters are careful about how much energy they try to handle at one time.

Releasing the spell construct

Once the construct is fully empowered, the spellcaster releases it out into the world and it does what it was designed to do. The construct is shattered by this release – not necessarily destructively, but mystically, meaning that a new spell construct needs to be created if the spellcaster intends to cast the same spell a second time.

Quick and dirty spell constructs, such as those used in combat evocations, are not very precise, and the target of such a spell usually has a chance to avoid the effects, even if it’s simply by diving for cover. However, a more carefully designed and thoroughly researched construct, like a thaumaturgic ritual, usually takes effect without giving the target any chance to avoid it, as long as the assumptions made by the caster at the time of casting are accurate. If he or she has misjudged some aspect of the situation, such as not having a strong enough symbolic link to the target, or not knowing that the caster has some level of magical protection, the spell will have a diminished effect, possibly failing entirely.

And that’s a basic run-down of how magic works in the Dresdenverse.

In-Game Magic Theory

The game system models this style of magic with two similar systems: one for thaumaturgy and one for evocation. The high-level basics of both systems are the same, so that’s what I’m going to deal with in this post. Subsequent posts will look at each style individually and in more detail.

First, though, let’s define the terms we’re using.

Terminology

  • Spell. A magical effect created by a spellcaster.
  • Spellcaster. Someone who uses magical spells.
  • Evocation. Quick combat magic involving only the spellcaster’s own energy and simple effects that are produced by pushing power around with a brute-force approach.
  • Thaumaturgy. Ritual magic involving creating more elaborate, elegant, precise, or powerful effects. Takes a longer time to perform, and has a much broader range of possible effects.
  • Power. The energy needed to make a spell work, measured in shifts.
  • Complexity. An abstract measure of how difficult a thaumaturgical spell is to cast, measured in shifts.
  • Control. The effort of the spellcaster to keep the power focused on the spell and doing what he or she wants. This is a roll using Discipline.
  • Targeting. The Discipline roll the spellcaster makes to control the power serves as the targeting roll to hit the target. It sets the difficulty for the target to avoid the spell. This applies only to evocation.
  • Conviction. A skill. Governs how much power the spellcaster can draw on a single turn.
  • Lore. A skill. Governs how complex a spell the spellcaster can cast.
  • Discipline. A skill. Rolled against a target of the shifts of power drawn in a single turn to see if the caster can focus it on the spell.
  • Backlash. Damage taken as a result of a failed control roll, either as physical or mental stress and/or consequences. Does not reduce the power in the spell.
  • Fallout. The effect of a failed control roll on the environment, based on how many shifts of power the spellcaster chooses not to take as backlash. This reduces the power of the spell.

Whether you’re using evocation or thaumaturgy, the high-level process is the same:

  1. Decide what you want to do.
  2. Determine the complexity/power requirements.
  3. Draw power.
  4. Control the power/target the spell.

Deciding what you want to do

On the surface, this step can look like the easiest part of the process, but it can quickly become the most daunting. In other games, you have lists of spells to choose from, each one doing something very specific. In DFRPG, magic can accomplish pretty much anything you can imagine, which can lead to a little bit of paralysis from too much choice.

There’s also more than one way to do pretty much anything you can imagine. Want to protect yourself while you sleep? Well, you can make a force field over your house, or rig a fire trap to go off if something evil crosses your threshold, or bind some spirits to keep watch for you. Want to hurt an enemy? You can blast him with fire, or buffet him with air, or cause the ground to swallow him, or even just give him a fatal disease. Not only do you need to decide what you want to do, you have to decide how you want to do it – what mechanism you’re going to use to accomplish your goal.

This is very much effects-based magic. Picking what you want to do and how you want to do it is fundamental to everything that comes afterward. Mechanically, you need to figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it first because that lets you figure out how complex the thaumaturgic ritual is and how much power you’re going to need to pull off your spell*.

With thaumaturgy, the field here is wide open. Basically, if you can imagine it, there’s a chance that you can pull it off. No guarantees, of course; some things you want to attempt will wind up being beyond the capabilities of your character, or beyond the resources of the situation. With evocations, you have a much more limited range of options: attack, block, maneuver, counterspell*.

Determining complexity/power requirements

Once you know what you’re doing, you’ve got to figure out how much power you’re going to need.

For evocations, this is pretty straightforward: decide how big a hammer you want to hit your target with, and that’s the number of shifts of power you need.

For thaumaturgy, you need to figure out complexity. Complexity is kind of a slippery concept in the game, and I’m going to talk at length about it when I get to the post on thaumaturgy. For now, let’s just say it’s a pretty arbitrary number based on how difficult the spell is to cast. There are guidelines of how to determine complexity, but in the end, you’re going to be eyeballing what you want to do and setting the complexity in negotiation with the GM.

The power you need to perform a thaumaturgic ritual is a number a shifts equal to the complexity.

Aside from power, complexity also determines how much preparation you need to do to set up a thaumaturgic ritual. Compare the complexity to your Lore skill. If your Lore is equal to or higher than the complexity, you know what you need to do and have everything you need to get started right away. If the complexity is higher than your Lore, then you need to prepare for the ritual, using maneuvers from your skills to add Aspects to the spell that you can tag for a Lore bonus*. Once you’ve made up the deficit, you’re good to go.

In terms of the in-world rationale for what you’re doing at this point, consider this the part of the spellcasting process where you are creating the spell construct, either by holding it in your mind (evocations) or by assembling the ritual components and preparations for the casting (thaumaturgy).

Once you’re ready to cast the spell, you need to power it.

Drawing power

Now you need to empower your spell construct. The amount of power you can safely draw on in a single turn is equal to your Conviction skill. You can draw more than that, but you take stress for doing it, so it can wear you out pretty quickly. If you need more, it’s safer to draw it in smaller amounts over a number of turns.

Unfortunately for the Wizard in the midst of a battle, you may not have time to draw power in slowly. For evocations, which are quick and dirty, you are drawing on your own power, and you need the whole amount of power you’ve decided to put into the spell right now to get the shield up before the ogre takes your head off. Working under pressure like that is tough; any evocations do a single point of stress, plus an extra point of stress for every shift of power you draw over and above your Conviction skill rating. You can, of course, offset this stress by taking consequences, as usual. Try and draw too much and you risk blinding headaches, nosebleeds, exhaustion, and your eyes exploding.

That sets a practical limit on evocation power levels, especially when you also need to control all that power, as outlined in the step below. Thaumaturgy doesn’t have that sort of limit on it. The main limitations on thaumaturgic power is time and creativity.

The elaborate spell construct of a thaumaturgic working and the reduced time pressure* allows the spellcaster to summon the power needed slowly, over a number of turns. Each turn, the spellcaster decides how much power to summon, rolls to control it as described below, and adds it to the total amount of power accumulated for the ritual.

Controlling the power/targeting

Every turn you summon power, whether it’s to store in a thaumaturgic ritual or unleash in an evocation, you need to roll to control the power summoned. This is a Discipline roll, with a difficulty equal to the number of shifts of power you’ve summoned this turn. If you succeed, everything is peachy-keen. Failure means you have some pain coming to you in the very near future.

Failing to control your power means that the power is uncontrolled. It’s going to do some damage to someone or something, and you get to decide whether that someone or something is you. You can decide to take some or all of the shifts of uncontrolled power as backlash, meaning that you clamp your sovereign will down on the chaotic, elemental energies of the universe and force them to do your will. As you may have guessed from the description, it’s gonna hurt, either in your brain or in your body. You take a stress hit equal to the number of shifts of uncontrolled power in either your Physical or Mental stress tracks, but you can’t split the stress. It’s all got to go to one stress track.

Good news is that you get to keep those shifts of power in your spell. Bad news is that you might die if you you’re dealing with too much power.

If you don’t want all that primal force echoing around inside you, messing the place up, you can let it out to run rampant through the area around you, messing the place up. This is called fallout. Basically, what you’re doing here is handing the shifts of uncontrolled power to the GM and saying, “Here. Use this to mess me up.”* This is how houses get burned down, and friends get blasted, and people wind up with donkey heads, and so forth.

Good news is that you don’t take any direct damage. Bad news is that the spell’s power is reduced by the number of shifts of uncontrolled power that you let free as fallout. Really bad news is that you might still die if you’re dealing with a lot of power, as the building collapses around you.

You get to decide how much uncontrolled power you’re taking as backlash and how much you let loose as fallout. This can be a very important decision to make, so consider the upside and downside of it carefully.

There’s an extra little wrinkle for thaumaturgy with control rolls. Because you’re adding power a little at a time to the spell construct, doing a delicate balancing act turn-by-turn, holding the power and the spell construct together with your will, failing a control roll can be worse than with evocation. If you fail your Discipline roll, all the shifts of power you’ve gathered over all the turns of casting this given ritual become uncontrolled, and you have to choose how much to take as backlash and how much to let go as fallout. If any is loosed as fallout, it destroys the fragile spell construct, and the spell fails. So, you may be tempted to take everything as backlash, but keep in mind that with thaumaturgy, you may wind up dealing with ten or more shifts of power. That’s gonna leave a mark no matter what.

This is why it’s a good idea, if there is no time pressure, to draw the power for a thaumaturgic ritual a single shift at a time. It takes much more game time, and more time rolling, but it can prevent exploding heads and burning forests.

There’s also an extra little wrinkle for evocation with control rolls. Just because you managed to successfully control the raging torrent of flame that you’ve focused into a lance with the force of your will, it doesn’t mean you hit your target. Your Discipline roll also determines the difficulty for the target to avoid your spell. This is the targeting roll. The target can take normal defensive actions to avoid the spell with a contested roll on an appropriate skill.

And that sums up the process of casting a spell, both in-world and in-game. Next time, I’m going to take a detailed look at evocation, talking about the little twists and turns of that system.

 
 
 

*Unless, of course, you botch the spell. Then you might create changes that you don’t want to see. Back

*i.e., the energy is needed to keep the caster alive. If you don’t have the muscle power for your heart to contract, things start getting pretty bleak on the survival front. Back

*Sacrifice of this nature is frowned upon, but needs must when the devil drives, right? Back

*Possibly literally right to hell. Back

*And it gives you a real opportunity to add some colour to your spellcaster. A Wizard who tosses around waves of fire at every problem that comes his way is a very different character from one that gets things done with carefully applied divinations. And part of the fun of playing a spellcaster is seeing how you can use different tools to accomplish your goals. Back

*Though there’s a fair bit of leeway in what constitutes a maneuver, and the special effects of a given spell are a great way to make play exciting. I’m going to be talking about that a fair bit in the evocation post. Back

*I’m going to be talking about this extensively in the thaumaturgy post, both because it’s an important topic, and because it gives players a great opportunity to add coolness and character to what is essentially an extended stint of dice-rolling. It is, in my opinion, one of the coolest things about this system. Back

*Not always the case, if the spellcaster needs to whip up a powerful veil in a hurry to hide from a rampaging monster, for example. Then the character may decide to draw more power than is, strictly speaking, safe. Back

*And your GM will grin evilly, and say, “Thank you.” He or she may or may not cackle maniacally. Back

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14 Responses to Mystic Theory 101: Magic in DFRPG, Part One

  1. Rel Fexive says:

    Excellent.

  2. Pingback: What's He On About Now? » Evocation, or How to Blow Stuff Up: Magic in DFRPG, Part Two

  3. Pingback: What's He On About Now? » Thaumaturgy, or How to Break the Rules: Magic in DFRPG, Part Three

  4. Pingback: DFRPG Magic 101 | milezerorpg

  5. Tyson says:

    I’m wondering about continued concentration when using Evocation. On page 276 of Your Story in the Veils section it states Veils are Spirit Evocations that typically require ongoing concentration to remain in place. My question is: what are the rules for “Continued Concentration” -What am I missing? The book series has multiple instances where veils hide things from view for what seems like long periods of time, which seems to directly conflict with the “Quick and Dirty” guideline of Evocation. Also, what constitutes an attempt to pierce the veil? Could the “Quick Veil” example on page 295 work for veiling a person enough to walk down a semi-busy street without being seen by the average mundane mortal? How long would the Quick Veil last in this case? How would a Wizard go about not being seen via a Veil if they wanted to follow a target through a moderately busy street with average foot traffic? I guess I just need a more specific explanation using a larger example.

  6. Rick Neal says:

    By default, evocations last for the exchange you cast them, and no longer. Now, that’s great for attacks, but for things like veils (and, by extension, shields), that kinda sucks. Thus, one of the ways you can expend extra shifts of power is to extend the duration of the evocation. For every shift of power you spend on duration, you get one extra exchange of function from your veil or your shield. Of course, calling up more power makes the spell harder to control.

    So, looking at Quick Veil as written, it lasts for a single exchange, as it says. But, if you cast it with a power of 5 instead of 3, you can make it last for two extra exchanges.

    The idea of ongoing concentration is reflected by the fact that, every few exchanges, the caster will have to re-cast an evoked veil. That’s going to be a drain on Mental Stress. If you want that sort of thing to be a little easier (and this would just be a house rule), you can just let the caster pay the extra Mental Stress to continue the veil unchanged when it’s about to expire, rather than making him or her reroll the casting of the evocation. The cost would be the same as the initial cost of the casting, but there’s no chance of failure, etc.

    Now, as to Quick Veil lasting long enough for a person to walk down a semi-busy street without being seen by the average mundane mortal: I would rule that no, it wouldn’t. Even if we’re generous and set the length of the street at three zones, the caster would have to run down it in order to travel the length before the spell expired.

    Evocation in general is not good for such refined purposes. Using evocation to veil you for a few crucial seconds in order to duck past a guardpost or run to cover in a firefight is one thing; walking around invisible is another. Well, you COULD do it, but I’d say that your brains would be leaking out your ears in short order. For the more long-term, refined use of veils, you want Thaumaturgy.

  7. Tyson says:

    Wow. Thanks for the lightning fast response. Your reply helped me dig back through the rule book and try to draw some links between what happens in the book series and what is possible within the rules of this RPG system.

    I have some additional questions about how the book series translates to the game. In the books Molly, an apprentice routinely casts quick veils without setting up a circle or using symbols and taking no more than a second or two to cast the spell (meaning Evocation and not Thaumaturgy). The sidebar on page 255 infers that a Veil can last until something pierces it or until the end of the scene for the base shift cost of the spell. In the books Molly veils from people all the time and rarely shows signs of stress, or consequence from casting a Veil that allows her to stand in a room with others who are investigating the area.

    This brings up the question of: what pierces a veil?

    Here’s my base thoughts and I’d like your feedback: My assumption is that the veil, working as a block vs. perception is in place until somebody actively interacts with it (or until the end of the scene). Now when somebody is in a situation to interact with a veil means that they get a chance to perceive it (creating a “perception exchange”). If the opposition perceives the veil they know somebody or something is under a veil in that location, but don’t technically know who or what is under the veil. It’s at this point (after the perception exchange) that the caster of veil will need to either drop the veil or expend more energy (pay more mental stress) to keep the veil in place. What I think might cause the veil to be pierced is an instance where an action or consequence takes place that allows the opposition’s perception to completely bypass the perception block thus canceling it out just like any attack that bypasses a standard block cancels it out as well.

    The verbiage in the sidebar on p. 264 refers to persistence with Evocation and states that a player needs to devote a “little bit” of concentration every moment a magical construct stays active; implying that an evocation can be continued with a small amount—but consistent—level of continued concentration.

    What do you think about an interpretation of the rules where all Evocation Blocks can are cast as either “Definite” or “Indefinite” in duration In order to make all blocks more consistent?

    Definite blocks would be evoked by building a magical construct as you describe above, having a set expenditure of energy for a finite duration of time and doesn’t require continued concentration. An indefinite block would be a persistent evocation with an initial investment of energy that also requires a modicum of continued concentration to keep it in place until interacted with in an exchange, or until the end of the scene. Example: a Wizard could cast a Spirit-based Force Shield (Block Evocation) in the opening exchange of a conflict and it would stay in place until attacked (interacted with). At that point the shield would either block the attack or be canceled if the attack meet the requirements for bypassing the block by being stronger than the base strength of the block (paragraph 2 p.252). If the block wasn’t used in the exchange immediately after the initiating of the block then the Wizard would then need to feed a little more energy and concentration into the Shield to keep it in place, or let it fall unused. If the block was used then the caster has to channel more energy into the spell to keep it going and I’m considering taking your suggestion of having the caster pay the extra Mental Stress to continue the block unchanged rather than requesting they recast the block. I’m thinking that a concentration check of sort to maintain focus would be in order, and that the concentration check to continuously hold the block in mind should get more difficult the longer the spell is held in place.

    I think this sort of idea would allow a quick veil to be cast and maintained so that a veiled individual will be able to do more things that are described in the book series.

  8. Rick Neal says:

    I’m a little pressed for time this morning, so I’m gonna address your questions kind of quickly.

    First off, mine is not the definitive answer. The rules will support multiple interpretations and applications, so I’m just giving you MY take on things. YMMV, etc.

    Okay. Molly. As written in OW, she’s got a Hide rote spell that lets her cast a pretty good veil with all the benefits of a rote spell. If I were writing her up, I might also have added a stunt that gives her a bonus for veils. As for them all being evocation, well, as written, they have to be. But most of her coolest veils in the books happen AFTER the time period covered by the DFRPG game, so we can assume she’s picked up thaumaturgy. With a high enough Lore, you can cast rituals with almost no preparation, almost as fast as evocation. So, she might be doing something like that in later books.

    Now. Piercing a veil. That happens when a Perception check overcomes the strength of a veil. Got a veil of Good +3? Perception check of Great +4 pierces it.

    Definite and Indefinite. I would be very leery of allowing such an interpretation in my game. It gives casters a real boost to the cool stuff they can do, and they already threaten to overwhelm other character types with their wide range of cool things. More to the point, it really broadens the application of evocation by stealing some of thaumaturgy’s schtick, so straight-up evokers get cooler and ritualists get less so.

    If you go with this, I’d tack on a hefty price tag for Indefinite blocks. Like an extra 3 shifts of power, or using up the Minor consequence slot (Distracted) for as long as it’s in place. Something so that it doesn’t become SOP for evokers to walk around with Armor:5.

    Concentration checks – meh. Personally, I think they slow the game down, and setting the difficulty becomes fiddly, and success doesn’t really mean anything INTERESTING happens. If you go that route, I’d just say that, as long as the caster is feeding power in to maintain the block, everything else he or she does that exchange is a supplementary action that happens at -1. Or the caster pays another hit of Mental Stress. Probably not both; if you’re allowing this, then you want players to do it, and there’s no point in punishing them too hard when they do. A little bit is good, though.

    You’re right in that this would certainly allow Quick Veil to do more of the things that are described in the books, but you need to ask if what’s going on in the books is being done by Quick Veil, or by something more powerful. Quick Veil can be boosted by casting it in a more powerful form, and spending shifts of power to increase duration, veil more people, strengthen the veil, make the veil transparent from the inside, stuff like that. But it takes more than the three shifts of power that are listed as the default.

    That said, y’know, go ahead and do what you want in your game – if you’re the GM. If not, what the GM says, goes, right? Personally, after running a lengthy DFRPG campaign with various types of casters and non-casters, the LAST thing I think the game needs is more flexibility and power for the casters. 😉

    But, as I say, YMMV.

  9. Tyson says:

    Here’s some more instances from the books where somebody holds an evocation shield or block of some type ready and in place for an extended timeframe and it doesn’t exhaust them until their block comes into contact with an opposing energy/attack at which point they either funnel more energy into the block or let the block expire.

    About 30% of the time Harry uses his Sheild Bracelet he powers it up and holds it ready to intercept incoming attacks, usually about once or twice per book.

    Harry vs. The Mind Fog in Summer Knight (he set up a Thaumaturgic Charm to protect Murphy, but instead actively mentally shielded himself during the conflict for several minutes in a running battle that ranged all over the store)

    Almost every instance of a veil in the books is cast in seconds and stays in place for an extended duration, but I’ll put several instances that stand out to me in addition to other blocks that operate on a “held-ready” basis.

    Grave Peril: Senior Council Members: Liberty and Injun Joe are hid in a veil for the duration of Harry’s talk with McCoy.
    Dead Beat: The Wardens, and the Black Council seem to veil and unveil at will.
    White Night: Molly veils herself and follows Harry and Murphy up a staircase, and into a crime scene and stays in the room while Harry conducts an 15-30 minute investigation at the crime scene.
    White Night: Elaine veils herself in a room within a few seconds to avoid being noticed by Harry when he visits the Ordo Lebes.
    White Night: Elaine powers up a defensive block while on the move that increases her reaction and ability to dodge and holds it at the ready prior to engaging in a conflict
    White Night: Molly veils herself, mouse, and the entire blue beetle without setting up a circle, using symbols, or any of the other hallmarks of Thaumaturgy, and hides in car from sight for about an hour and doesn’t show signs of exhaustion or stress except when Harry is interacting with the veil.
    Turn Coat: Molly veils herself and slowly walks around a fairly large zone to make a circle trap around Binder and his minions in the self storage lot.
    Changes: Take your pick of the Magical Blocks in the battle at Chichen Itza, there’s loads of them.
    Ghost Story: Molly veils herself and sneaks by guards out on the street, and then crosses the threshold at Murphy’s house and sits in a room while others are talking about her for several minutes before being noticed.
    Cold Days: Molly veils an entire boat while it sails across a lake.

    In everyone of the above instances the method of casting appears to be evocation primarily because the blocks were mobile, ended their duration when the caster stopped concentrating on the spell effect, and lacked the symbolic arcane accouterments and casting time to be Thaumaturgy. Furthermore, the energy demands only seem to be causing mental stress when the block is being interacted with. I think there is a strong track record for saying that evocation blocks work differently than evocation attacks as it clearly doesn’t take the same sort of energy to maintain a block as it does to produce an evocation attack effect.

    I think the last two instance of Molly’s veils are the best examples of blocks using less energy than standard evocation attacks. Here’s some examples: Harry couldn’t cast fire spells for an entire boat trip across a lake, he’d pass out and moving that much energy would surely hex the boat’s motor; whereas Molly’s veil is cast, but must not draw that much active energy for the trip otherwise she’d pass out as she is less powerful than Harry and the boat’s motor would be hexed by the ambient magical energies. Also, Molly holds a veil while crossing a threshold that hides her from vision, scent and hearing (the werewolves don’t find her), if the veil of that level required a constant energy and had to also compensate for losing power while crossing the threshold Molly wouldn’t be able to keep the spell up for more than a few seconds.

    The more I compare the books and the RPG, the more I’m convinced that blocks must work differently.

  10. Tyson says:

    Sorry. was writing my reply while your’s was posted, so the above post didn’t count your reply.

    I think your solution of: using up the Minor consequence slot (Distracted) for as long as it’s in place. is an excellent way to address the issue.

    I also think that adding an extra 1-3 shifts to set up a concentration-based block, would be appropriate.

    Thanks for your feedback. The game balance issue is one I was overlooking, and will pay close attention to.

  11. Tyson says:

    Oh and to be clear about my “Definite and Indefinite” evocations: if I allow that interpretation, it will only apply to Blocks. All other evocations in the RPG work as they do in the book series.

  12. Tyson says:

    I must have a “Distracted” consequence right now too, as I forgot to thank you… so:

    Thanks a ton for your feedback and fast responses! It’s great to have another GM to bounce questions off of. Thanks again!

    If you’d like, once I have my Blocks system in place, tested and documented, I’ll share it with you.

  13. Rick Neal says:

    Glad you found my babbling useful! And I’d love to see what you come up with as far as a hack of evocation blocks.

  14. JJN says:

    Reading Tyson’s questions, I started to wonder if it was possible to model Harry’s initial block as a bit of Thaumaturgy. In the books, he often powers up his shield for a few moments as he approaches a potential danger. He has the basic preparation (shield bracelet, usually), the power up seems close in story terms to the casting process for Thaumaturgy, and it would only take a couple exchanges to get to a Fair-Great block strength.

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