This is, I think, going to be the last post in this particular series. After this one, I don’t think I’m going to have anything more to say about the magic system for a while. This is sort of a hodgepodge of stuff about magic; it’s basically everything that didn’t fit under the other headings. So, let’s get going.
Calculating Your Bonuses
Just looking at the powers, most Wizards are going to look very similar. They’ve all got Evocation, Thaumaturgy, The Sight, Soulgaze, and Wizard’s Constitution. That doesn’t leave them a lot of Refresh to spread around on stunts or other powers, so they all wind up looking the same, with the same range of powers. But they can be very specialized, being better at some things than others. While this is a cool thing, it does lead to some complexity in working out just what the values for doing different things are. The Wizard player in my Fearful Symmetries game made herself up a little spreadsheet to help track the various bonuses, so she doesn’t need to sweat things during play, and honestly, that’s a pretty good idea.
Your base scores for various things are your skills: Conviction for the save level of power you can call, Discipline for controlling that power, and Lore for figuring out thaumaturgic rituals. But different situations bring different bonuses into play. For our purposes, let’s assume a Wizard with a Conviction of Superb (+5), a Discipline of Great (+4), and a Lore of Great (+4).
Let’s look at Evocation, first. When you take Evocation, you first choose which three elements you have familiarity with. Then, you get to apply a specialty to one of them. This specialty is going to be be for either power (increasing the effective Conviction score of the caster when using this element) or control (increasing the effective Discipline score of the caster when using this element).
Picking the element to apply this to is going to be a matter of taste. You can get pretty much the same effects out of any element – provided you’re creative and clever enough – but each element has a different style and feel to it. And, of course, each is just better at some things than others.
The choice of power or control is going to be a much more difficult matter. Mechanically speaking, it’s good to have equal scores Conviction and Discipline, because that lets you call a fair bit of power and still have a pretty good chance of controlling it. If your Conviction is higher than your Discipline, then you’re either not going to be calling on all the power you can, or you’re going to be running a higher risk of uncontrolled power and the concurrent fallout or backlash. If your Discipline is higher than your Conviction, you’ll have less trouble controlling the power you call, but you’ll have less power available without taking Mental Stress. Having the two skill ratings equal to each other is a good compromise.
Now, I’m a firm advocate of ignoring the mechanical benefit in favour of the story or character concept, so you may not want to have your Conviction and Discipline equal each other. Maybe, like Harry, you want to have access to a frightening amount of power, and always be running the risk of losing control of it. Or maybe you like the idea of a careful, precise Wizard, with little power, but total control over what he or she is doing. Character considerations should always come before mechanical ones.
For purposes of our demonstration, though, let’s go with a bit of a funk element theme of Earth, Air, and Fire. We’ll give our Wizard a specialty in Earth (Control +1).
With Thaumaturgy, you don’t need to pick which areas you know, the way you do with the elements of Evocation. You automatically know them all. But you do need to pick one area of specialization, and choose whether the bonus is for complexity (increasing the effective Lore skill of the caster when using this area) or control (increasing the effective Discipline skill of the caster when using this area).
Looking at the two options of complexity or control bonus, I have to say that I think the complexity bonus is going to be most widely useful. Because of the way casters can draw in limited amounts of energy over a number of rounds, what control bonuses effectively do is speed up the casting time of a ritual. While this is handy, a complexity bonus comes in handy in speeding up the preparation time of the ritual – usually a much greater amount of time – and bringing more complex spells realistically into play. Still, if taking a control bonus means that you now have one or more shifts of power you can draw each round without a chance of failure, it’s definitely worth considering.
Choosing the area is somewhat less structured than choosing an element for Evocation. The wide range of specialties available for Thaumaturgy – basically, any kind of magic you can think of – can mean that you’re spoiled for choice. Here’s where it’s vitally important that you focus on your character concept to make the decision: pick the area of magic that works best for how you see your Wizard actually using magic.
Let’s go with a specialty in Wards (Complexity +1) for our notional Wizard. This makes more powerful wards available with less preparation time, showing that he or she has paid special attention to the theory of warding magic.
Refinement is how your Wizard specializes even more in his or her magic. Each level of Refinement gets you a new element, or two specialization bonuses, or two focus items. These all work the same way as above, though there is an explanatory paragraph about how you need to take your specializations in columns, like skills.
So, let’s give our Wizard one shot of Refinement, going for two specializations: Air (Power +1), and Wards (Power +1).
Like specialties, focus items give a bonus to power or control (for Evocation) or to complexity or control (for thaumaturgy).Â You get two focus slot items for taking Evocation and two for taking Thaumaturgy. Now, there’s nothing in the rules that say you can’t use the slots from Evocation to buy Thaumaturgy foci – you can, by the rules, take all four focus item slots and buy a four-slot item for Thaumaturgy, for example. I can’t even see it messing too much with game balance, though there may be some profound thing I’m overlooking.
Still, it makes sense thematically to limit the slots you get from Evocation to buying focus items for Evocation, and the same for Thamaturgy. At least, it makes sense absent any story or character reason to deviate from it.
Focus items can take pretty much whatever form the caster chooses, though there are size considerations: the required size of the item increases with the number of slots spent on it. The same follows for enchanted items. Let’s stick with one focus item for Evocation, and one for Thaumaturgy. Each item will use up two slots, meaning they can be no smaller than a ring.
For the Evocation item, we have to choose not only the element that the item applies to and whether it’s a power or control item, but also whether it works for offense or defense. Let’s make this one a small geode pendant that grants a power bonus and a control bonus for offensive Earth evocations. That’s Geode Pendant (+1 Offensive Power and Control for Earth).
For the Thaumaturgy item, let’s keep going with the wards theme. We don’t need to narrow the focus the way we did choosing offense or defense for the Evocation item, so let’s just make it a ring of cold iron inlaid with silver that grants a complexity and control bonus to wards. That’s Iron and Silver Ring (+1 Complexity and Control for Wards).
Here’s how it all breaks down. Our Wizard works magic with the following scores:
- Water and Spirit Evocation – Can’t do these.
- Fire Evocation – Superb (+5) power and Great (+4) control.
- Air Evocation – Fantastic (+6) power and Great (+4) control.
- Offensive Earth Evocation – Fantastic (+6) power and Fantastic (+6) control.
- Defensive Earth Evocation – Superb (+5) power and Superb (+5).
- Thaumaturgic Wards – Fantastic (+6) complexity and Fantastic (+6) control.
- All Other Thaumaturgy – Great (+4) complexity and Great (+4) control.
Enchanted items come out of the crafting area of thaumaturgy. They’re handy little gizmos that you can trot out when you need them and release a prepared spell with no Mental Stress, no risk of backlash or fallout. You can trade in a focus item slot, gained when you take Thaumaturgy, Evocation, Channeling, Ritual, or Refinement for two enchanted item slots.
Any spell you can cast, or even conceive of, can be stored in an enchanted item, with one big catch: the power of that spell is limited to your Lore. This is called the strength of the item. While that may not limit your options with storing evocation effects in your enchanted item, it does seriously put a crimp in how powerful a thaumaturgic effect you can store. There are two other, not-quite-so-heavy limitations on enchanted items: first, they only work for you, and second, they only work once per session.
These last two restrictions are more flexible than the first one. You can get an extra use per session out of an item if you reduce its strength by one, down to a lower limit of Average (+1); you can also get two extra uses out of an item by spending an extra enchanted item slot on it; and, finally, if you’re all out of uses but you really need to use that item, you can squeeze another use out of it for one point of Mental Stress. You can also make the item usable by others by reducing its strength by one. Note that, with the exception of the Mental Stress thing, all of these decisions must be made at the time you create the item, and don’t change after that.
The only way to increase the strength of an enchanted item above your Lore score is to spend an extra enchanted item slot on it. Period.
So, looking at these points, it becomes pretty obvious that most enchanted items are going to store evocations (like Harry’s duster and force rings) or use thaumaturgy for maneuvers or simple tests. I’ve put a couple of enchanted item examples together below, based on the stats of our notional Wizard example, with the Lore of Great (+4). They specifically use thaumaturgic rituals, because there aren’t any of those as examples in the rulebook.
These shoes let the wearer move for one scene as if he or she had made a Great (+4) Athletics roll for changing zones, overcoming barriers, and basically doing cool free-running stunts.
Spell Provided: A thaumaturgic ritual granting Great (+4) Athletics for one scene.
When activated, this crystal enhances the spellcasting ability of the Wizard for one scene.
Spell Provided: A thaumaturgic ritual using a maneuver to place the sticky Powered by Crystal Aspect on the user. The user gets one free tag; thereafter, he or she must use Fate Points as usual for invoking the Aspect.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m on the fence about potions. I think they might just be a little too good, compared to enchanted items. See, they work pretty much like enchanted items, with the following differences:
- You must allocate an enchanted item slot to a potion, but you get to decide every session what potion is in that slot.
- You only ever get to use a potion once.
- Anyone can use a potion once it’s been created.
- You can leave the slot allocated for a potion empty at the start of a session, and fill it with a potion that you just happen to have prepared that fits the situation. Doing this requires you to either pay a Fate Point to have the convenient potion, or succeed at a Lore roll.
- When you create a potion, or when you use it, you can boost the strength by +2 for every Aspect you invoke (with the normal Fate Point cost). You can even take compels in advance to get this boost.
- If you allocate extra enchanted item slots to a single potion slot, the strength of the potion you create and carry in that slot increases by one for every extra enchanted item slot allocated.
So, really, the only downside to potions is that you can only use each one once, while the upside is extreme flexibility, far beyond what enchanted items offer. Of course, that may be why Wizards are so famous for their magic potions…
As with enchanted items, any effect you like can be stored in a potion, with the strength limited by your Lore skill. Here are a few samples, again using our example Wizard’s Lore of Great (+4):
This dark liquid makes the drinker hard to see or hear for a scene.
Duration: One scene
Effect: The drinker moves with a Stealth of Great (+4) for one scene
While not actually making the drinker more attractive, this potion gives them an air of confidence and comfort that draws people to them.
Duration: One scene
Effect: The user gains the sticky Aspect Magnetic Confidence. The first tag is free; thereafter, the user must pay Fate Points, as usual.
This powerful, mystic solvent can be sprayed at a target as an attack.
Effect: Acts as a Weapon:4 attack. It is equally effective against flesh and inanimate material, dissolving both rather speedily and messily. Must be applied with the successful use of a relevant skill.
Unlike the previous material, which is aimed mainly at players, this section is primarily for GMs. There are no spoilers, but using the Sight is pretty passive for the player; most of the real work comes on the GM side of the table.
First thing, it’s important that players understand that using the Sight is dangerous. If they’re running around with their third eyes open all the time, the GM has to show them the error of their ways, with stunningly, absurdly high hits of Mental Stress. They’ll get the message soon enough.
Why? Two reasons. First, it reinforces the source material – Harry goes on at some length about how keeping your third eye open will fry your sanity. Look at what he goes through after seeing the naagloshi. Second, coming up with an interesting symbolic scene for what is revealed by the Sight takes some work on the part of the GM. If he or she has to come up with five or ten every session, that’s putting too much of a burden on him or her – you’re going to wind up with lacklustre visions as the creative well runs dry. Maybe not right away, but it’ll happen.
But the Sight is an important piece of the Wizard’s kit, and deserves some love. I’ve found that prepping for a scene where a character is going to use the Sight is similar to prepping for a conflict scene: you need a little bit of ground work, but then you can fit it in anywhere you need it. When you look at the overall structure of your scenario, it’s pretty easy to spot the main potentials for conflict scenes, so you work up some stats for the opposition. Same thing with the Sight: you can guess the points at which a character is going to want to take a little peek behind the curtain, so you work out what they’re going to See in advance.
Most times, they’re going to be looking at someone, something, or someplace that you’ve signaled to them is important in some way: a mysterious figure who may or may not be on their side, a bloody knife left on the floor of an otherwise-spotless apartment, a standing stone in the middle of a forest, that sort of thing. If you put something like that in your scenario, write up a short blurb about what it looks like to the Sight, along with a short list of possible Aspects for the character to suss out. And then figure out how hard it’s going to punch the Wizard in the brain.
Setting the intensity of the vision can be a little tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want to make it so easy that there’s no risk to it, but on the other, you can rapidly trap the character in a Sight-induced death spiral if you set the intensity too high. Remember, the character takes a Mental attack of the intensity +dF for looking at whatever it is. If the character does not successfully defend against this, he or she keeps looking and gets punched in the brain again. The character cannot close his or her third eye unless and until he or she successfully defends against that attack. As long as the third eye remains open, the attacks keep happening. See? Death spiral.
If you set the intensity at equal to the Discipline of the character, it’s pretty much a toss-up each round whether or not the character successfully defends, and that’s not a bad default. That’s kind of arbitrary, though, and tends to penalize characters who really bought up their Discipline score. If we’re talking about looking at a creature, you could do worse than let the Refresh cost of the creature set the intensity – not directly, but relative to the starting Refresh of the characters. So, if you’re playing at Submerged level (starting Refresh 10), and you’re looking at an elf (Refresh cost -6), maybe set the intensity two shifts below the character’s Discipline. If you’re looking at a grendelkin (Refresh cost -18), maybe set it three to four shifts above the character’s Discipline. Does that almost guarantee a death spiral? Maybe. But three things to remember: one, the character may have Fate Points to spend; two, they can always concede before being taken out; and three, they’re the one who had the bright idea to look at a grendelkin with the Sight.
Upshot? Prepare for the characters using the Sight. Think about what they’re going to see, and how much it’s going to hurt them.
Not much more to say about soulgazing than I said about the Sight. It’s somewhat safer than the Sight, because you can’t get stuck in one, but the person you’re soulgazing is also looking into you, and will wind up with some of your Aspects figured out. Again, preparation is key for the GM: figure out what they’re going to see, and what will be seen by the other party.
The only other real trick is that soulgazes can be initiated by other people. Read over And Then Our Eyes Met on p228 of Your Story. It’s a good way to hook characters into plotlines, or to feed them info when they need it, or just to creep the hell out of them, depending on how you use it.
Faster Magic (Minor Spoiler for Turn Coat)
Shapechanging like Listens to Wind has come up frequently in discussions. Using the basic thaumaturgy rules, how does Listens to Wind do the super-fast shapechanging, keeping up with the naagloshi in Turn Coat? The mechanics of the magic system don’t support it. How about other powers, like the Gatekeeper’s ability to worldwalk? Again, doable via thaumaturgy, but he does it so fast!
The answer to this is pretty simple. They have the appropriate supernatural powers: True Shapeshifting and Modular Abilities for Listens to Wind, Worldwalker for the Gatekeeper. They paid the Refresh, and they have the power, along with their spellcasting.
But how do they change it so that they do it using their spellcasting? Again, it’s simple. They say, “I can do this because I got very good at the spells and learned how to do them very fast.”
So, if you want a Wizard who can change into a bird via thaumaturgy without spending hours preparing for and casting the spell, spend the Refresh and take Beast Change, then say you got that power through your thaumaturgy. Want someone who can spurt out streams of fire every round without the Mental Stress of evocation? Breath Weapon. I did it with magic. Bam. Done.
One thing the group needs to decide when setting up the game is how big an impact they want the Laws of Magic to have on play.
For example, in the Fearful Symmetries campaign I’m running, the characters are in on the ground floor of the Thirty Years’ War. Things are chaotic and life is cheap. That means that there’s less White Council oversight in Prague, so people can get away with a little more in bending the laws. In fact, during one of the first big fights, Izabela blew a mortal’s head off with magic, thinking he was a vampire. I didn’t force her to take the Lawbreaker powers, because of the circumstances and the fact we were early in the campaign. On the other hand, a large part of her backstory and her Trouble is based on the fact that her mother was a lawbreaker who enchanted a man she was in love with. So, we obviously want some weight to the laws.
The Lawbreaker powers are a neat little feature of the system, much like the Dark Side points in Star Wars, giving the characters more power if they break the law than they get if they don’t. But as they gain that power, they lose control of their own destinies, becoming closer and closer to being creatures completely governed by their nature rather than their choices. There are certain players who will like that sort of character, the draw of power and the slide to darkness. There are also players who don’t want to deal with that sort of thing.
Forcing a character to take a Lawbreaker power is a bad idea. Don’t do it. It’s forcing change on the player that he or she may not be comfortable with.
That said, you need to make the possibility very real to the players if you want to keep the weight of the laws real for them. So, if a character is about to break one of the laws, make sure you warn them. Give them a chance to back off and do something else. That way, the player gets to choose whether or not they get to play a Lawbreaker, rather than having it forced on them. And those clever fellows with an Aspect alluding to the lure of the Dark Side? Well, go nuts with the compels. They asked for it. But never, never, never when they’re out of Fate Points. That’s just forcing the choice on them.
Those of you playing along at home will have noticed that, while I’ve said this is the last article in the Magic in DFRPG series, I have ignored a large, complex chunk of the system: Sponsored Magic. That’s not really an oversight; or rather, it’s a deliberate one. Sponsored Magic is kind of tricky in the system, and I haven’t got my head all the way around it yet. I may come back to this series with a final article on it, but it won’t be right away.
No, the next thing I think I’m going to tackle in DFRPG is Mortal Stunts. I’m finding they’re often overlooked by the players, but have a wealth of good stuff for all types of characters.
But that’ll be after the Armitage Files game post from tonight’s game, and then my week-long pilgrimage to GenCon. If any of you are attending the con, I’ll be helping out Pagan Publishing and Dagon Industries at booth #315. Stop by and say hi, and I’ll fulfill my booth weasel duty of trying to sell you some cool Cthulhu stuff.