"So when do I get my magic wand and spellbook, Master Crucigen?" the apprentice asked, tired of waving about a wooden dowel. "When you are able to do something with that one," Crucigen replied.
"This is a waste of time, it is just a stick, I need a wand," the apprentice whined. Crucigen gave him a weary stare and sighed, he hated going over this part, mostly because he had to do it so often, with every apprentice. "What is a wand?" he asked. "It is a magic tool, a focus prepared for directing magical energy."
"Correct, but it is also just a stick," Crucigen said with a scowl. "But it is a magic stick, with hair of unicorn, anointed with tear of fairies and such," the apprentice protested. With a proper implement, all this hand waving tomfoolery could be some real magic!
"You’ve been reading the Tales of Sumorez again, which I have told you are complete nonsense. A wand is a wooden dowel, shaped of wood of your choosing, there is nothing in it but your own will to do magic. I’ve been teaching you for three months now and you have not to knock over a candle or *voop* even a gnat. I am sorry, you don’t seem to have quite what it takes. I’ll send a letter of commendation, your calligraphy skill is good enough that you can earn a living as a clerk or scribe." Yet another hopeful failed. Crucigen sighed, time to find another apprentice.
The Secret Attribute
One of the most obvious and important aspects of building a character is the distribution of the character’s basic attributes. While these vary somewhat from system to system, the same basic areas are covered; strength, dexterity, intelligence, charisma, stamina and so on. While some readers are undoubtedly crying foul and thinking that the role is more important than the roll, a regular game with dice, character sheets, and a very real chance of getting killed those numbers actually become quite important. Yet for some reason, the ability to perform magic is generally piggy-backed off on another attribute. Oh, your character is a wizard, he uses his intelligence to cast magic, or the sorcerer uses his charisma. Does that make much sense?
It is my opinion that magic, or specifically the capacity to perform magic should have it’s own attribute, just like appearance or perception. Ideally this Magic score would remain a secret attribute, even from the character and player of said character unless that PC starts as an actual magic using class. I base the presence of the magic attribute on the fact that with a few exceptions, anyone can take up a magic user class. While some races are predisposed to using magic and others rather inept at it, this is really no different than a stamina bonus for dwarves, or a charisma penalty for orcs.
Very Low Score - simply put, this is the absolute lowest possible score, and characters with a score this low not only cannot do magic, but they cannot effectively use magic items, though potions and such work normally on them.
Low Score - Not every magus is going to be powerful, nor is every magus going to be even average power. These remedial magi have penalties associated with casting magic due to their low score. Their spells can be slower, less effective, last less time than others or any other typical drawback. Most races that are considered poor at magic, such as dwarves and goblins and such, would fall into this range and have a -1 to -3 penalty to their magic attribute.
‘I will be a sorcerer,’ Tregus thought, his feet slapping against the stones of the street. Crucigen was just a fool, having him wave sticks in the air, shout in funny languages and reading boring old histories. He pulled the wooden dowel from his pocket and stared at the now hated eight inch piece of white willow. He threw the dowel and it clattered into a heap of trash to be forgotten.
‘Problem?’ a street urchin asked, giving him a gap toothed grin. ‘Bum wand?’ the filthmonger asked. ‘Not according to Crucigen, he says I’m the bum not the stick.’
‘Sounds to me that you just don’t have the right stick then,’ the old man pulled a slender rod of black wood from the tatters of his cloak. ‘Doesn’t do a thing for me, but maybe you could use it,’ he chuckled wetly, seeing the greed flash in the failed apprentice’s eyes. ‘It’s not you, I’ve got a sight for these things, you’ve got it, you just need a little…help.
Average Score - The majority of magi have average magic attributes; neither excelling at or being penalized for magic capability. This is just like the fact that not every warrior is going to have the maximum strength attribute, but most are going to be simply average for the population. At this level of capability, magic requires training as well as reliance on some sort of physical prop as a focus of the magic being done.
Superior score - There are some folk who simply excel at something, and these individuals are those who took to the subtleties of magic like a fish takes to water. Unlike average and below average magi, the superior magus is able to work more flexibly with magic and with greater control. They are also generally less bound to using props and grimoires to focus their magic, being able to rely more on their innate ability than discipline and training.
Suprahuman score - Thankfully more rare than the lowest score possible, the suprahuman score indicates maximum regular or even beyond maximum ability in the magic attribute. At this level of ability, magic becomes a problem to control, rather than to invoke. Wild magic flares in response to emotion and intent in the caster just as much to arcane symbols and somantic gestures.
Gallia smiled as the small tin soldiers marched about in their little formation, marching like the men in the square did. The leader of the tiny warriors saluted their towering six year old warrior queen. She giggled for a second, but took on a regal appearance and commanded her soldiers to search high and low until they found their objective and retrieved Lord Spots, who had been turned into a hound, yet again. Across the room, the family dog slunk out the door, the little metal things were coming after it again.
Outside Crucigen paused, he could feel the whisper soft sensation of magic flowing freely from a tiny fount. He gasped in surprise, realizing that after half a dozen failures, he had stumbled across a wizard’s dream, a wilder!
Operation Magic Power
The name of the game is more power, and the magic attribute, just like any other attribute can be increased. Some of these methods are based purely in game mechanics and others come from more historical inspirations.
Experience, and Practice - The best and generally safest way to hone the old magic attribute is to simply use magic on a regular basis. An average wizard who slings spells on a daily basis is going to get better simply through practice, eventually he will get pretty good. In game terms, the magic attribute can be raised with XP, or can level up as the character grows in ability. On the reverse side, a magic score can decrease through long term disuse. Restoring the lost points is a matter of practice, though should ideally cost less than the original time through.
Spiritual Patronage - In history and mythology, shamans and druids drew their power from the spirit world and it’s denizens. The light side of patronage generally follows the same guidelines as being a priest, a set of moral codes, a general ethos, certain duties and privileges. A magus with a patron spirit can have their magic score augmented as part of the deal, such as an orc with an earth elemental patron would have a small bonus to using magic from his bond with the spirit. The darker and much better known side is the Infernal Pact, where the magus sells his soul, or the souls of others to increase his magic power, gain longevity or whatever nefarious goal he desires. The rule of thumb is that the more the caster sacrifices, the more they will gain. Infernal magi gain power, alot of it, but most dent get to live very long to enjoy it. Shamans of spirits of wind and sky don’t get much of a boost, but most don’t have lifespans measured in months.
Tregus grinned as the old man showed him the somantic gesture to shoot sparks from the end of the black wand. In five minutes with a proper wand, the old man had taught him more than Crucigen and his stupid buffoonery. ‘Looks right in your hand. I can’t just let you have it though,’ Tregus stopped, he wanted the wand, he needed it. He had dreamed of being wizard since he wrapped his childhood blanket around his head and waved around a stick like a staff of power. "I have to have it,’ he said flatly.
‘I’ll sell it to you,’ the filthy old man said, but Tregus had no money. He looked down at the wand and at the dry robes wrapped around the old man. With a flick of the wrist he send sparks showering around the old man, igniting those old rags and setting him ablaze like a Samhain bonfire. Tregus ran as the old man screamed and fell. After he was gone, the burnt corpse shuddered and the invisible spirit that had possessed the shambler fled the now ruined pathetic zombie. The boy had the wand and the demon chuckled.
Familiars - A familiar in most games starts as a minor bonus and becomes a hinderance as the character grows in power. Bonding a familiar to a wizard grants a situational bonus to the magic attribute of the magus. More powerful familiars offer more substantial magical rewards, and no, familiars are not limited to owls, toads, or cats. Small animals are easier to bond, but offer the least power. Humans and sentient beings generally offer the most easily available amount of power but having a human familiar is generally considered an evil act. (Magus gains magical dominance over his familiar, hence the basis of evil when used on an intelligent being) The Most powerful familiars would be innately magical creatures, though for them to be utilized, they must be on the same plane of existence as the caster and be within a certain amount of distance.
Magic Boosting Items/reagents
Maybe there has always been something to the wizard having a magic wand or a staff. These items can serve as basics for Magic Attribute buffs, a wand adding a single point, while a proper Staff of the Magi might add a significant bonus. These is an easy thing to control, as once the wizard in question is deprived of their power object, their basic ability could be seriously decreased. As a less permanent option, there could be magic attribute boosting potions, such as elixirs of dragonsblood and such that fade after a certain amount of time and require expensive ingredients to manufacture.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and in rare cases, or in the case of min/maxing, an excessively high magic score can be a cause of many problems. Like a robot with no innate way to gauge it’s strength, the magically overpowered cannot reasonably or safely contain the extent of their power. This manifests in strange coronas and supernatural echoes such as clouds of fog, creating powerful auras and spontaneous magic effects. Too much power should have drawbacks aside from supernatural ones, perhaps lucid nightmares, random hallucinations, sleep deprivation and increasingly neurotic or psychotic behavior.
But there are ways to mitigate these effects. Just as their are items to boost magic, there would be items to shackle the attribute, what most might consider cursed items. Many a game and story has involved an object that prevents a person’s full power from being used, or to dominate their will. Such an item might exist to control a youth with an uncontrollable magic capability. Discipline, training, and meditation are also methods for characters with excessive capability. For magi who have artificially boosted their attribute (Staff of Power (magic +4) Draconic familiar (Magic +4) powdered angel-feather dust (magic +2)) the power is addictive as it is psychologically destructive. Such power-gaming personages would slowly see their ethics and morals worn away. As the adage goes…Power Corrupts.
Gallia shuddered as the dreams came again, shuffling things that clawed at the doors, the shamblers and the snakes and the crawling things. She dreamed images of fire, symbols of power and when the two touched in her sleep the dark things screamed and perished in brilliant light. Fire ripped through the room, lifting the slate roof and cracking timbers like matchsticks. Crucigen grimaced in worry. Gallia was a prodigy, her wandwork was rough, but she had true power in her, able to lift things as large as a man with a flick of her wrist. But there was too much, and her dreams, they would walk out of her room clad in flesh wrought of uncontrolled sorcery. He was as much protecting the community from her raw power as he was training her.
He held the black necklace in his hand, the metal almost achingly cold against his skin. It was hungry, and could weaken him greatly. But it could be enough to save Gallia from her own rampant power. He stepped into the ruin of her room, she slept still, sweating and whimpering. He clasped the chain around her neck and slowly she went still as the necklace drank in her power. If nothing else, he thought, it will let her sleep.
Magic Shaping versus Ritual
In most instances, magic falls into two general categories, the impromptu often superhero/mutant flash and dazzle sort of magic, and circles and cups rituals. Both are valid and can coexist easily within a single system of magic. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and complement each other quite well.
Shaping Magic - Most often seen in the elemental arena of spewing flames, conjuring water of calling storms, shaping magic is loud, fast, and flashy. Lightning bolts, fireballs, and cracking stones with sorcery are all shaping magic. The strengths are fairly obvious, lots of firepower, impressive visuals, cinematic flare. There are limitations as well, it is physically strenuous, chucking a fireball from nothing is to the magic attribute what running a 400 meter dash is to the strength attribute. A magus, unless he have a very high score, isn’t going to stand and sling spells until the sun goes down. Another limitation is line of sight, the shaping magus can call lightning, but cant have it hit a certain person in another kingdom, let alone strike accurately the further away the target is.
Ritual Magic - Circles and pentagrams, candles and chalices, blood and herbs, and the witches cauldron fall into the realm of ritual magic. Theatrics replace cinematics, chanting and dancing and material components replace war cries and violent gestures. Most often working alone or with a cabal exclusively of other magi, the ritual magus casts spells at distance, calling upon magical sympathies. Unlike shaping magic, ritual magic is much more likely to remain permanent, and can affect a larger volume of space. The limitations of ritual magic are well known, precision in the ritual is demanded or it fails, the components have to be perfect or it fails. It is also slow, taking hours if not days of work to cast, and ritual magic’s most common application is warding against outside ritual magic. While shaping is physically demanding, ritual magic is financially and intellectually demanding.
Gallia hummed softly to herself as she drew the sixth of seven circles to form a proper circle of summoning. Crucigen had left her the book of lesser summoning and a box of children’s street chalk and she had been diligently at work for nearly two hours. She hummed a soft tune, a half remembered lullaby she she had never really listened to. The magic sang to her, and she had learned to listen, she started singing some snippets of the song, the words in clipped elven.
As the seventh ring was closed the song had turned into an elven chant, the words reverberating as the circle closed and the magic, hours in the crafting flared to life. A beautiful creature staggered in the center of the circle and Gallia laughed and clapped her hands. The unicorn looked really funny, but what was, was.
Limits of Power
One of the most arbitrary limits in the average RPG (I said average!) is that a magus can cast X level/number of spells per 24 hour period, period. While I understand the point of this limit, not much point in not being a wizard when the magus can shoot spells like an archer shoots arrows, I do not really agree with it. The answer to how many spells can you cast should be like the answer to how far can you run? A magus will have a good idea of how much magic he can do on a regular basis and suffer no consequences. He would also know how much he can do and just be the magical equivalent of being exhausted.
Basically after the magus passes his ‘safe zone’ of daily spells, he starts rolling his magic attribute for each spell he casts, much like a character on a forced march checks their stamina since they are being pushed to the limit. The mage can keep slinging spells so long as the dice hold out, representing will/determination/whatever personal reserve he is tapping to keep it up. Each roll gets harder and harder until the mage in question either rests or fails his attribute check. Resting should generally follow the same basic guidelines as fatigue and strain. An eight hour snooze isn’t going to wash off a 25 mile run, nor should it wash away an epic spell battle.
Things get more interesting when the mage fails his check, the first thing being that his spell fails in the casting. This could be a simple fizzle, to a lightning bolt running jagged through a row of allies. After the roll is failed, the mage is unable to perform magic, even the most basic of spells until completely rested. There is one way around this and that is to Burn a point of magic attribute to keep the magic flowing. This amounts to a second wind, allowing the character to reset the attribute roll back to the original difficulty, but the loss of the point of attribute is permanent. Burn too many points, and the mage in question looses the ability to do magic at all.
Crucigen scowled, three more mangled bodies, their corpses shredded by sorcerous might and by the maws of scuttling demons. Yet something itched about it, and he knew what it was when Tregus stepped out, the rank demon perched on his shoulder, a bloody human ulna grasped tight in his hand. ‘Old man, you’ve come to see my handiwork," Tregus said with a laugh. Power sang in his blood, but the words were sackcloth and ash, blood and bile in his mind. He didn’t care, power was power and he was flush with it.
An hour later Tregus panted, blood seeped from his mouth and the air was thick with rubble. He was feeling weaker, the magic becoming harder and harder to command, but the old flatus kept coming, sending his minions, soldiers made of tin, toys but the size of men. Another platoon approached him, their swords and spears harsh and sharp. He dug deep, and the magic came roaring into him, but he felt something tear inside, like a lung coming loose. He tasted blood, not for the first time, and he hurled the magic outwards. It folded in on itself six times before becoming a blade of necrotic force. The metal soldiers sizzled and fell into pieces, their limbs flailing for a few seconds before becoming still. It was starting to hurt and his head swam as he drew more power to strike at the cowardly old man.
Magic Versus Magic
Perhaps one of the more spectacular displays of raw magical power is the counterspell. Rather than relegate counterspelling to a curt wipe away magic like Dispel Magic, or limit it to the point that the only way to counter one spell is to interrupt it with a copy of the same spell. Using magic as an attribute, there are three ways to counter a spell that has been cast, deflection, reflection, and destruction.
Deflection is technically the easiest of the three methods and is tantamount to sidestepping a spell, but instead of the target moving he instead nudges the spell to the side. The spell isn’t really countered, but misses. This Doesn’t negate the spell in any way and it will still attempt to go off. A fireball will still detonate, lightning bolts will still fly even if they miss their first target. The biggest danger to deflection is collateral damage, and if the deflection attempt fails the mage deflecting usually takes the full force of the spell as he has set himself to shunt the flow of shaped magic around him. Ritual spells cannot be deflected.
Reflection is more challenging, using sorcerous wit rather than magical dexterity to defeat a spell. The most simple method to explain reflection is that of a trampoline. The mage being targeted creates a disc of shaped magical energy to bounce a spell away from him. The challenge isn’t so much making the disc or bouncing, but knowing how to shape the disc so that the spell in question bounces and Doesn’t go off against the disc, or worse, punch through it. A mage seeking to reflect a lightning bolt might conjure a disc of mirror like glass to bounce the spell away. A more direct fireball might burn through the glass, where a disc of stone might bounce the flames back towards the caster. A semi-failed attempt to reflect has a chance to be reflected. If the mage seriously fails his attempt, he takes the spell full force as he centered himself to brace his bounce attempt.
Destruction is the most difficult, the most dangerous, and the most impressive method of countering a spell. This is literally an arm-wrestling match but instead of clasped hand and straining biceps, the muscles are flows of magic and the focus is the spell being cast. A spell that is torn apart generally explodes in the caster’s face, showering him with the remnants of the failed spell. Should the counterspelling magus fail, the spell might be deflected but is usually hindered unless his failure was absolute. The worst case scenario, the counterspeller has his magical force added to the spell’s power for determining it’s outcome.
While not technically counterspelling, a spell with a semi-permanent effect, such as a summons can be the target of a take-over attempt. If the mage cannot counterspell something such as a summon, he can attempt to Control Magic, using his magical charisma to usurp control of a spell effect for it’s duration.
‘Come out and fight me old man!’ Tregus shouted, his chest heaving, the smell of burnt metal wet on his tongue. Crucigen bowed his head, he had known the boy had ambition, but he hadn’t expected this sort of reaction. Another ribbon of black magic roiled across the ruins of his now broken tower. The boy didn’t know where he was exactly and was laching out with his new found might. Gallia whimpered as she was pelted with debris from a crumbling piece of wall. Too close.
‘I’m here, Tregus,’ the old wizard said. Sighting him, Tregus unleashed a whip-like ribbon of black magic and slung it at his former master. Crucigen snared the leading edge of the black ribbon and deflected it over his shoulder, the magic sizzling against a heap of broken stone and glass. Tregus looked surprised, no one had told him that a spell could be shunted aside. He took a small step back. Crucigen advanced, drawing up a shield of white magic to protect himself from the next spell sure to come. Seeing the shield, Tregus bolted, taking shelter behind some of the collapsed towre’s ruins. The boy was going to make this difficult.
Magical Charisma? What is this!?
Simply put, just as one attribute can often be substituted for another, in certain circumstances, a magus can swap out his magic attribute for one of his mundane attributes. Unless their alternate ability score is higher, most mages will rely on their basic magic attribute as the default.
Magic & Strength - Most of the time, magic rarely involves brute force. By alternating in his Strength attribute, a mage can literally muscle a spell through. The most common use for this swap is to penetrate a defensive ward or punch through the innate magical resistance of some creatures. As few mages tend to be the brawny type, this sort of swapping is rare.
Magic & Dexterity - Magic is the art of arts, and a delicate hand is a great boon to the workings of magic. A nimble fingered mage might ‘let his fingers’ do the bespelling, guiding the magic with his gestures and such rather than his magic attribute. While this is a boon for unlacing wards and dispelling attempts, it can also be used for telekinesis and other magics at a distance.
Magic & Stamina - Like marathon runners, there are some mages who can just keep going and going long after the competition has faltered and fallen behind. A mage holding a spell by concentration can swap his magic and constitution scores. Just as with burning a point of magic attribute to keep going, a mage who does this swap can instead choose to burn a point of stamina (or Constitution) to keep going. While such a mage can sling spells long after his fellows have ceased, the cost is high, with a mage burning too many points of stamina perishing from the punishment on his body.
Magic & Intelligence - I’m not going to go to much into this swap since it is the standard for Dungeons and Dragons and most other RPGs. While the basic premise is that only smart people do magic, the alternate is that there could be some rather simple wizards out there who lack the comprehension of their art, but have the magical ability to do it. These are rather loose cannons whose mantra is most often ‘Magic, do what you will.’
Magic & Wisdom - the standard realm of the generic cleric, only the wise can cast clerical magics. In a game sense, the cleric also has the same attribute to do magic, but might instead call it Faith rather than whatever name is adopted for the magic attribute. Much like the above section, the foolish cleric invokes the power of the gods with the adage ‘The Gods love a Fool’ as his protection.
Magic & Charisma - The sorcerous equivalent to ‘How you doin?, A suave magus can swap his magic and charisma scores, allowing his personality to shape the magic he is attempting to work. While the first thing that comes to mind is the enchanter or seductress mage, summoners, conjurers, and those who do magics of influence and control would benefit from such an ability.
Crucigen managed a weary smile as the infernal power bubbled and boiled away on the stones. Whatever the demon has given the failed apprentice had made him terribly strong, but he was still half an apprentice and he smashed matchsticks with a sledgehammer and was tiring greatly with each swing. ‘Gallia, can you fashion me a few more of those soldiers?’ Crucigen asked his apprentice. She nodded dourly and removed the necklace from her delicate throat. Her aura flared and the last of her tin soldiers grew to life size and saluted her. She wiped a tear from her eye, but knew that she would be able to replace her brave toys. The soldiers advanced, their weapons proud and ready as the next scything blade of blackness chopped through two of them, leaving three standing.
Tregus screamed, the magic ripped out of him, leaving him feeling like a husk, like a feast day turkey without stuffing. ‘Power, I need it demon, now,’ he panted. ‘Sorry, Tregus, but you’ve bartered away everything now, I can save your life though, consider it charity for the last party you crashed.’ Naively the apprentice accepted and in a blast of brimstone and ash, both demon and apprentice were sucked down into hell, Tregus’s screams lingering as they became more heartfelt and real