Spell matrices, contrary to what your first-year teachers make you think, are not required to be static structures. The Vancian technique, wherein you memorize the exact form of the spell matrix, is merely the most commonly used style. It has acquired it's status through the simple fact that it guarantees a precise, predictable result when the spell is unleashed.
There are, however, other techniques for encoding spell matrices. Evocation, where the exact structure is built at the moment of casting, gives an unmatched versatility to spellcasting. However, because the spell matrix is encoded on the fly, it becomes vulnerable to the influence of raging emotions and distractions, which can modify the end result in unpredictable ways.
Another technique, the topic of today's lesson, encodes spell matrices into fluid, wave-like structures with interesting properties. When performed properly, these Oscillation Matrices will allow you to cast twice as many spells as the traditional Vancian technique, at the cost of predictability.
Now, open your textbooks to page two hundred and seventy-eight and we'll begin...
This style of spellcasting involves memorizing the encoded matrix for a particular spell. The end result is an almost perfectly-precise spell; this is the reason for it's popularity and widespread use. Predictability and control are two very important parts of spellcasting, and the Vancian style has that in spades. You get exactly what you wanted out of the spell, barring environmental effects, of course.
This style has it's drawbacks, however. The number of spells that can be memorized in a day is limited by both the amount of power the mage has available for encoding the spell matrices and the amount of memory he has available for storing the spells. Furthermore, spells so constructed are completely gone once cast, requiring another round of memorization before they can be used again.
This style of spellcasting eschews memorization, instead relying on the strength of the mages mind to construct and direct the spell in media res. This offers an unmatched degree of versatility, because the mage doesn't then have to prepare spells beforehand and hope that they're sufficient to the task at hand. He can direct his power to maximize effectiveness.
The drawbacks inherent in this style are non-trivial, however. The mage is vulnerable to distraction while he constructs the spell matrix in his mind: at best, the spell will fizzle, doing nothing; at worst, the mage will lose control of the energies that comprise the spell matrix, cause it to backfire in unpredictable ways.1 In addition, because the spells are constructed on the fly they can be influenced by the emotional state of the mage, causing unwanted side-effects.2 This can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the spell and the situation.
This style of spellcasting also avoids memorization, but it does require preparation of it's own. Through careful work, two spells matrices can be oscillated in the air around the mage. An interesting property of this is that the two spells feed off of and reinforce one another, resulting in half the energy cost per-spell.3
This oscillation comes at a price, however. Because the two spells are entwined in a state of constant flux, casting it is slightly random; you never know which of the two will actually manifest. Further, a spell cannot be oscillated with itself nor with extremely close variants, due to the nature of structural entanglement. Also, the oscillating spells result in a background hum, as well as a tension in the air that modern settings recognize as high-voltage powerlines; those in the know will be able to recognize such ambient effects.
Some magi prefer to take the idea of preparation to the extreme. This style of spellcasting involves binding fully encoded spell matrices to physical objects. This allows them to be used by the mage instantly; further, because the matrix is encoded externally, the casting does nothing to prevent the mage from using another item with the same spell, nor from having a number of such items collected on his person. Such an embued item can also be given to another person, who can trigger the spell inside themself.
Such spells are temporary, however; normally the matrix lasts two or three days. Further, embuing spells is much more taxing than simply casting them would be, which reduces the number of spells available to a mage within a single day. Lastly, the external nature of the embuing means that if the mage loses his embued objects, the spells are unable to be used.
Halfway between the versatility of Evocation and the preparedness of Embuing is the Focus style of spellcasting. With this, a spell matrix is emplanted within an item, which is then called a focus.4 The spell is not encoded within the focus, so it is not strictly speaking a magical item. The purpose of using these foci is that they remove the potential for distraction and unwanted side-effects when casting a spell, because the matrix is already embedded in the item. Sufficient skill also allows a foci to enhance the spells cast using it.
Foci are not a magic cure-all, however. Creating a focus is a task of many days work, and losing them means losing access to their benefits. They also don't retain any independent power for spellcasting; all the power behind the spell must come from the mage using it. Lastly, only one foci can provide a benefit to a spell, because the spell is cast using the embedded matrix to provide structure.
1 If the mage is distracted while casting the spell (hit over the head, has an unexpected loud noise right by them, etc.), roll a d6 on the following chart to figure out what happens:
|1||The spell fizzles, and the power is wasted.|
|2||The spell fizzles, but the power is caught before it dissipates.|
|3||The spell backfires, causing the mage to be unable to cast spells related to the one that misfired.|
|4||The spell backfires, causing an explosion of power centered on the mage.|
|5||The spell backlashes through the mage, disrupting their spellcasting for a short time.|
|6||Through sheer luck and raw skill, the mage salvages the spell. It goes off as intended, but at the minimum possible effects.|
2 For example, a mage in the throes of uncontrollable rage might have slightly more dangerous fireballs, that hit a bit harder or explode a bit bigger than expected. Or, if the mage is mad at a target of mental-buggery, it might result in psychosis of various degrees. It should be stressed that the effects are unpredictable, and generally undesirable.
3 Mechanically, the mage can replace a single spell cast with the oscillating pair.
4 This is essentially Moonhunter's Focus-Based Magic System, modified slightly.
Additional Ideas (1)
Oftentimes found in tomes of forbidden magic, rituals (1) are the magic most favored by cultist the world over. Long, complex, often requiring numerous participants and a sacrifice or two their effects can vary widely, from things as mundane as causing your neighbors crops to fail (2), to summoning Elder Evils from their slumber (3). Of course magic like this, ancient spells out of books that have been copied by hand dozens, if not hundreds, of times are extremly dangerous to the casters and anyone in the immediate vicinity. If the spell fails because the cultists were interrupted by a gaggle of adventurers, the spell will backfire, releasing all the pent up magical energies in a burst, the effect of this release is unpredictable (4).
1 Often called Incantations or Circle Magic
2 Rituals of this nature are best cast near midnight on the night of the new moon
3 Determing the best day to cast spells of this nature regularly involves long and complex math, and there's often only one opportunity to summon any particular Elder Evil during the average mortal's lifetime, the next time the stars are likely to be aligned correctly to attempt such a casting is actually Dec 21, 2012. Luckily enough for evil cultist, there are a plethora of Elder Evils.
4 Possible side effect include but are not limited to: Drymouth, dizzy spells, periodic tunnel vision, sudden adult death syndrom, wandering elbow, reddening of the hair, sudden urge to leave the room, heart attack, nostalgia, waxy build-up, sprocketing of the clavicle, sudden onset psychosis, and muscle cramps. A sudden fear of everything may occur, rarely resulting in fainting. Symptoms of grapheme-color synaesthesia have been reported. Other side effects include severe aging, liver failure, skin failure, facial cancer, arthritis of the fingers, knees and jaw, the growth of additional eyes, male pregnancy, anal bleeding, the sudden loss of all bone tissue, extra-oral tooth growth, retina detachment, DNA detachment, tentacles, and leg stiffness. Do not take part in Ritual Castings if you are or may become pregnant.