Anatomy of a Mage
A character becomes a mage when he or she purchases Gateway: Mage, Minor Gateway: Dabbler or either version of the Paranormal Ability for magic available in the D-Bee extras list. This gives the character access to the Arcana skill and an exotic stress track which together form all the tools needed to cast spells.
Casting spells is one of the more complex tasks in a system that deliberately tries to keep things fairly simple and the main reason for this is versatility. Mages (and to a lesser extent psychics who share many of the mechanics) can do a lot with a single skill. Still, the task isn’t too daunting. It just comes with a few options to be considered.
The Basic Procedure
The basic procedure for casting a spell goes like this: Declare what your character is going to do. This must be something that is in some way related to one of your Arcane Purviews. Think of this like invoking one of those Purviews as though it were an Aspect. Once that’s done and agreed on, check off a box of exotic stress and make a skill roll. This will most often be an Arcana roll, but some other skills may be more appropriate particularly in combat.
Success or failure is treated very much as any other action of the appropriate type. Failure on the roll doesn’t necessarily mean failure of the spell. As per normal outcomes, the spell might succeed with a cost, or it might do something unintended. It very rarely does nothing, however.
Exotic stress represents a mage’s ability to exert himself to cast his magic. It’s base level is set by a mage’s Arcana skill, though additional exotic stress may be purchased as an extra. By default all spells cost a single exotic stress to cast, though there are options for mitigating that. Like physical and mental stress, exotic stress fully recovers at the end of a scene (there may be rare exceptions to this if a mage finds himself in an extremely magic poor environment). In addition, like other kinds of stress, a mage may take a consequence if he is unable or unwilling to spend a box of stress. Unlike most other kinds of stress it is possible in some circumstances to spend more than one box at a time.
Even mages with very high Arcana and extra exotic stress won’t have very much of it. The usual way to conserve it is by casting spells at low power, which is discussed in the section below. There are, however, a couple of ways to generate it in play.
- Blood Magic: There is power in life, even life that isn’t otherwise inherently magical. A mage may inflict a single shift of physical stress upon himself to generate a box of exotic stress. A mage cannot use blood magic on enemies in a fight, however a bound target in a ritual space may be injured (or killed) to generate exotic stress in this manner. Animals only generate one exotic stress for every two physical stress dealt to them.
- Places of Power: Ley lines, ley line nexuses and certain other places abnormally high in magical energy are boons to magi. The energy they exude can amongst other things be channeled directly into a mage to recover spent exotic stress. Any mage within a few hundred yards of such a place can absorb a single point of exotic stress per ‘exchange’ in a conflict, though they may not take any other action that requires a skill roll while doing so (other than defending themselves). At midnight, during major astronomical alignments and during the solstices and equinoxes, mages may absorb an extra stress box per exchange. Shifters are particularly good at this kind of thing and do not have to give up their action to absorb the magic.
The basic procedure outlined above works pretty well for most spell work but there are a number of ways to modify it for various situations. Each of these have been described below, with any additional costs or benefits as appropriate.
- Low Power: Low power casting represents using lesser cantrips for things that don’t require as much effort, or otherwise conserving energy. When casting at low power, a mage does not check off a box of exotic stress as usual, however he casts at Arcana -2. This does mean that Magi who have chosen to have their Arcana at Average (+1) or Mediocre (+0) may not cast at low power. Their control simply isn’t good enough. (In situations where Arcana is not the rolled skill, the -2 is applied to whatever portion of the spell Arcana does affect.)
- Ritual: Ritual spells are ‘narrative time’ spells rather than instant ones. The quickest of them takes several minutes to complete, many of them also require prepared ritual spaces or components. Often they also require immense amounts of magical energies (and mechanically they often have very high difficulties), though the lengthier cast time means that there’s more time to channel it from sources other than the mage. When casting a Ritual, a mage may add a +1 teamwork bonus to his roll for each willing participant in the ritual, +1 for each exotic stress beyond the first channeled into the spell (remember that physical stress may be taken or inflicted to generate exotic stress), +1 for every ley line that intersects the ritual location, and +2 if the ritual takes place at midnight, during a stellar conjunction or during an equinox or solstice. Rituals are never cast at low power or overcharged.
- Macro Scale: Most spells affect a single person, a small handful of people (within reason depending on the spell) or an area equal to a small room. To affect more than that a spell may be cast at Macro Scale, by declaring it before casting and spending an extra exotic stress on the spell. Macro Scale spells that affect an area more than a few hundred square yards are beyond the reach of player level mages. Macro Scale rituals however, may affect areas of land measured in square miles. See notes on spell difficulty for how to handle this. Macro Scale normal spells may be cast at low power.
- Overcharge: Sometimes throwing more power at a problem is the best solution. A mage may overcharge a spell by spending a single extra box of exotic stress to add a +2 to his Arcana for the purposes of that spell. Only a single point of exotic stress may be spent in this manner.
Sometimes a spell doesn’t behave as described in the Basic Procedure because of what specifically it’s doing. Below are the special cases you might commonly run into.
- Armor Spells: Certain spells may be used to protect a mage from harm by making him more resilient in some fashion. Such spells confer an armor rating of 7 – Arcana on the recipient. No spell generated armor may ever be better than Armor 2. Like attack spells, this functions off of ‘effective Arcana rating’ and is affected by things like arcane mastery and low power casting.
- Attack Spells: When magic is used to attack, the skill roll used to make the attack depends on the nature of the attack being made. In general it will be either Shoot or Fight. Arcana is only used as an attack skill when no other skill is applicable. For example, punching someone with flaming fists is a fight attack. Hurling a fireball or lightning bolt at someone is a shoot attack. Directly setting them on fire is an Arcana attack. In all cases the weapon value of the attack is equal to the Arcana skill of the mage. This is modified for things like low power and arcane mastery for the appropriate purview.
- Multi-Target Attacks: A mage may attack up to a number of targets equal to his Arcana in a spray attack or may make a blast attack against all targets in a single zone. In either case all affected targets may make a separate defense roll.
- Magical Recovery: Mages with the appropriate purviews may make an overcome roll to begin physical consequence recovery with no other justification. This overcome roll is treated as a spell.
- Magical Healing: Magi with the appropriate purviews may heal physical stress in themselves or others by rolling Arcana and recovering that amount of stress. Magi may also reduce the severity of consequences by spending exotic stress to reduce them by one step (severe to moderate, moderate to mild, mild consequences addressed in the manner are cleared). The cost for doing so is 1 exotic stress per every 2 stress that the consequence absorbed. The consequences must have existed for at least one scene prior to direct magical healing.
- Transformations and Compulsions: Transforming or mentally compelling PC’s and major NPC’s involves engaging them in conflict and taking them out to inflict the compulsion or transformation upon them. When not targeting a PC or major NPC, transformations and compulsions may be handled as consequences, advantages or overcome rolls as the scene runner likes.
Notes on Spell Difficulty
Spells rolls, like most others, come in two forms, opposed and unopposed.
Opposed spellcasting rolls are the simpler of the two to adjudicate. Most often this will be the case in conflict or when the mage is trying to harm someone but it can come up any time that someone or something else is actively opposing a spell be it using athletics to dodge a fireball, arcana or will to shrug off a curse or even fight or physique to immobilize or silence a mage in an attempt to stop him casting.
When a spell is opposed, cast the spell as normal and then compare it to the opposed skill roll. The difference between the two is the spell’s margin of success or failure as the case may be.
Some spells might be ‘passively opposed’. This is usually the case when the resistance a spell needs to overcome is related to some quality of the target or something someone has done beforehand rather than an active effort directed against them. Passively opposed spells must overcome a difficulty equal to the skill or skill roll that established the opposition. A good example of this would be attempting to overcome a ward placed by another mage. The mage isn’t there to directly oppose you, but you still need to beat their arcana roll to overcome the ward.
When spells are unopposed it will often not even be necessary to roll dice. However when a die roll is needed – because there is a dramatically interesting possibility of failure, because the task being attempted is quite difficult or because it’s important to know how well the spell succeeds – it will be up to the scene runner to determine how difficult the spell should be. This should be done according to the needs of the scene and what makes sense but as a rule if there is no reason the desired effect should be particularly hard, then the difficulty shouldn’t be higher than Average (+1) or Fair (+2).
As guidelines, the following things might each contribute a +2 to the difficulty of a spell: Affecting an unusually large area with a macro scale spell (more than fifty yards or so across) or ritual (more than about a quarter of a mile across), attempting to affect something sturdily built, warded or naturally resistant to change or magic, attempting to cast in inclement conditions such as active environmental hazards, low magic conditions and similar (+2 for each condition the scene runner feels is sufficiently inclement to interfere with casting. This does not usually include being under attack, but might if the mage in question is inexperienced in combat). As always, the determination of difficulty and the factors affecting it is up to the scene runner. These are just ideas.
Ritual spells generally have spell targets of at least 5 or 6 for all but the most basic of rituals. Similar conditions will affect their difficulty – attempting large scale effects, attempting to affect something that requires a lot of power to alter, attempting to cast with limited time, poor quality components and similar.