Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (XVII)

The next section of the rules cover “Active” magic (sorcery and altering the structure of the universe, as opposed to “Passive” magic like divination).

There are three basic steps to cover when casting a spell:

  1. Establishing an ethereal link to the target
  2. Target attempts to resist the link
  3. Casting the spell(s) or absolute command(s) through the link

Step (2) is only taken when the target is very sensitive to the Ethereal plane (Faith of 12+ or a Magic or Religious level of 2+). Each of these steps is referred to as a “Basis Magic Calculation,” and in shorthand as BMC(1), BMC(2), and BMC(3).

BMC(1): Establishing the link will allow the caster to cast up to three spells, or issue up to seven “Absolute Commands” (which are one word commands like the AD&D “Command” spell, but with much broader application) on the target, but they must all occur within 30 minutes, or before any other circumstance changes at the GM’s discretion. The link can cut across fairly vast distances, as it goes through the Otherworld of the Ethereal Plane, and distance is relative. One ambiguity is how one establishes a link for spells or commands that affect multiple targets. Because the spell system is so open to on-the-fly custom spells, a mage might well try to cast a spell that causes many targets to be hit (a fire ball, say). Also, the target may not really be specifiable beforehand, as with magical traps, illusions, and so on, so the GM will have to improvise, either setting a generic set of factors for unknown/multiple targets, or else making the link to a place rather than a person, or even dispensing with the link in such cases.

BMC(2): Sensitive creatures will “feel” the link (as an Ethereal “touch”) and may either use their own powers (magic) to resist, or ask for divine (or diabolic) help. Spell casters can attempt a counterspell (which falls under the Absolute Command rubric). Others can make an “Appeal” which is covered later in the Religion rules. If a link is successfully resisted, the caster and target (or his/her Higher/Lower Power) both expend some mana but the target is unaffected by the spell.

BMC(3): The command. All spells can be generically understood in the rubric of making some Command. As usual, various factors are added and the sum used to determine the column we roll on. Here it is explained that

  • there may be multiple targets (but as I mentioned this not reconciled with the BMC(1) procedure)
  • the mage can have other mages assist him, and may pledge extra mana to increase the chances of success

The Link established in BMC(1) also cost mana (1/2 the DD of the spell or command). This is somewhat problematic as several spells or commands could be cast with that link, so we always played that the DD of the first spell was what we used to determine the mana cost.

There are a bunch of additional rules here that add flavor to the spell casting rules. For example:

  • Mages can “master” specific spells by casting them three times in a row in a six hour period
  • the “true name” of a person or spirit aids in casting against them, just as in folkllore
  • spells (“commands”) can be inscribed and made permanent, either for the spell’s effects on creatures (amulets, etc.) or to make magic items or traps. Such traps spend the caster’s mana when triggered. This raises the question of what happens if an inscribed command is triggered when the mage’s mana is already depleted. I’d assume it just fails but certain rules later imply, indirectly, that Endurance points might be spent if mana is unavailable
  • the mana cost of the spell is the Degree of Difficulty (DD) plus any extra mana pledged plus 1/2 the Magic Level (ML) of unwilling targets
  • a two-page table of physical correspondences, with very detailed information (which metals, colors, body parts, animals, etc. etc. are influenced by which star sign), is given, and this system of correspondences is really very important to create the proper feel of medieval occultism.

The system of correspondences is like a crash-course in occultism, and if I ran this game I’d probably require the player to learn it well enough to point out any benefits he may get from positive influences (“I use my Libra wand, the red yew one with copper fittings, and that star sign influences dogs and peace, so I Command the dog to stop attacking at +2!”). Indeed the text describes this table as “The system of invisible levers by which the physical universe is run.” I love that description. These correspondences are used in BMC(1) (establishing the link), in creating magical items (both magic devices to aid spell casting and divination, and magic items in the D&D sense of magic swords etc.), and in divination. The 12 zodiac signs are “Ethereal influences” that affect everything, even the Higher & Lower powers, and the GM is encouraged to have them affect places in his world. Rules for this are provided in this section, including rules for letting characters detect these influences. So an entire location might be under the influence of say Pisces, enhancing water magic and diminishing fire magic.

There are rules for other “active” magical operations, besides spells and commands. First, as I just mentioned, is Creating Magical Devices. These help in creating links and casting specific sorts of spells, as well as other effects. The examples given include:

  • Wands, staves, etc. (used for establishing links)
  • Amulets (for protection, helping in BMC(2))
  • Single Spell Devices (tailored to aid casting a particular spell)
  • Magical swords, shields, keys, etc. (which add factors to nonmagical operations like combat, opening locks, etc.) This last sort can add no more than +1 to magical operations, being functional items. Magic wands and staves are assumed to be too small or light to use as walking sticks, or anything else useful apart from being magic aids. But funtional items can add up to +4 to their nonmagical purposes (to strike, damage, etc.)

No list of example items are given, because in principle anything is possible, but I think that is sort of a cop out. It would have been nice to see some examples. My own Norse magic items, which I presented here some time back, reflects this complete lack of guidance as to what a magical item might do. I hope I’d do better now!

Lastly some notes on magic items are given to explain that magic items remain linked to their creators. Thus stolen magic items may resist their thieves. Mages may however bind magic items they find or acquire with a command spell (“Obey!”). It is also noted that all magic items have actual spirits bound in them.  In fact, if the creator of an item weakens (1/2 Endurance or less due to wounds, starvation, etc.), the spirit may attempt to escape,  and the spirits always escape if the item is broken, so there is no simple reforging of broken magic swords!

Next time, preparations for sorcery, the accumulation of mana, and conjuration!

Published in: on August 11, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. I like the idea of spirits being bound into the items. In general, FW just has so much more flavor and, well, logic, than other fantasy games. It’s almost like it is believable, even though it deals with magic and so forth. Most games don’t seem to have nearly as much thought put into it as this one, and the results are typically not rooted in the magical beliefs and practices of our own history. It’s a nice touch.

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