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The Magic System

a wizard's hat

"Magic is the greatest and most divine philosophy of Nature. It is a knowledge most advanced in its wonderful works and most deep in its understanding of the inner or occult nature of things. Thus its true practitioners applying it properly can conjure wonderful and admirable effects. Such mages are profound and diligent explorers of Nature; and thus because of their aptitude know how to anticipate an effect, that to the vulgar shall seem miraculous."
from "De Rei Magicae" by Illustrior Koraxei, Magister Maximus de Aquiloniae.


"Magic is the skill of causing change to occur by one's will."
the lecture titled "The Theory of Magic" by professor Curtling, the short-spoken, of the Invisible Institute of Magic.


1. Speculations on Magic

How magic actually works in the game world is largely left to speculation and the imagination of the players. It may, in fact, vary from scenario to scenario. It will often be inspired by the real world through the superstitious beliefs of the past and the esoterical subculture of the present. Additionally, I will present a rough physical model of the mechanics of magic.

"The Magon Theory", by Artemon of Methone:

All the macrophysical effects of magic shall be explained by workings of a specific subatomic particle called the magon. Unnoticeable to most beings, this particle is present everywhere the universe, though the concentrations of such may vary greatly with time and location, and be even close to zero. This particle has the ability to change all the physical properteries of any other particle it happens to interact with, including other magons. It can change among other things mass, impulse, electrical charge, space-time coordinates, and can even convert magons into matter and vice versa. It is therefore nearly unlimited in its possibilities. It their normal state the magons don't interact with their surroundings or at least only on a level below perception. For unknown reasons, certain obscure constellations of particles (i.e. matter) and magons will spontaneously cause a local chain reaction of magons with their surroundings causing phenomena that would seem to break the normal laws of physics. Two general types of such reactions can be identified, namely the symmetric and the assymmetric reation. The symmteric reaction, after reaching its apex, runs in reverse until it returns to the pre-reaction state thereby undoing any changes it may have caused. The causal effects of the intermediate state are not reversed though. The symmetric reaction therefore does not alter the amount of magons in the universe, hence the name. The assymmetric reaction on the other hand leaves permanent changes behind. Assymmetric reactions may increase or reduce the amount of magons locally but they may always reduce some amount globally, thus presenting the danger in the latter case of using up all the available magic in the world. Most reactions will at least cause a local reduction in the concentration of magons that will restore itself only slowly through diffusion. Also, it is commonly recognized that intensity and scale of the reactions are directly proportional to the current magon concentration in the areas of concern. The complex laws behind the activation of the reactions defy understanding, so that learning to cause such by purpose, termed spellcasting, will always remain an art or a craft at best.

2. Universal Magic

Universal magic is the system which describes how magic works in the game. It is not a description of how magic supposedly works in the game world which may be much more complex. Universal magic is therefore a "blackbox" view of magic, i.e. only the conditions (input) necessary for spellcasting and its effects (output). Magic skills and schools are instances or subsets of universal magic in the sense that the full functional scope is restricted in some way. Also, these give descriptions of the game world doctrines of spellcasting method and learning. The specific formulas, symbols and spells given by a doctrine are translated into terms that fit the universal magic system, which then realizes the changes in the game.To work a spell two sets of parameters are necessary, the support and the effects parameters. The support parameters describe the amount of effort the spellcasters put into the casting of the spell. This covers almost anything which makes the casting of the spell a more unusual event, e.g. spellcaster skill, valuable items used up, etc. (see below). The effect parameters describe the various aspects of the intended effects on the game world. These parameters are used to calculate numerical values for the effect and the support, which allow the formulation of the following law of balance:

The effect of a magic spell equals the effort put into it.

This ensures that the more powerful or useful a spell is the harder it is to cast. If a spellcaster's effort for a spell falls below the intended effect, then either the effect will be reduced accordingly or will ocur only with a certain probability. If his effort exceeds the intended effect then it will be increased accordingly or otherwise the excess effort will go to waste.

3. Schools of Magic

Magic schools are groups of magical character classes that resemble or even equal each other in their choice of attributes that represent talent, their method of learning and selection of magic symbols and formulas.

school name:
character classes:
intuitionism bard, seer, sorceror
scholasticism alchemist, astrologer, conjurer, illusionist, magesmith, scholastic mage
divination druid, necromancer, white mage, witch

Note that there is also the skill of legerdemain (trickster class) which is not a true magical craft though, as it does not tap into the magical forces of the universe but rather uses trickery to deceive viewers into believing that true magic is being used.

a musical note and an ear
3.1 The Intuitionistic School

The attribute that determines talent with these types of magic skills is often supernaturalism. Additionally for some skills, characters that wish to acquire one of these skills must possess the specific "gift". This is determined at birth (or character creation) and is therefore unacquireable during the normal course of play. When such a magic skill is taken during setup, the character will automatically also get the necessary 'gift'.

The gifts allows skill (class) chance of occurence
second sight 'clairvoyance' (seer) rare
golden tune magical effects through 'musicmaking' (bard) uncommon
hypnotic voice 'sorcery' (sorceror) very rare

Formulas and spells of these skills are acquired by self-inspiration (i.e. experimentation) or by a teacher. The caster may also forget ones he does not care to know anymore.

A player may let his character gain a new formula relatively easily (e.g. a night's sleep) but must know the formula he wishes to gain himself (i.e. player knowledge). This represents the fact that intuitionistic spellcasters can gain new knowledge through inspiration alone (e.g. through a dream, the hearing of fantastic tales, etc.) but must be given a certain idea to work on. If taught by a fellow spellcaster, though, the acquisition will be more reliable. The total number of formulas being known is limited (see below), but the limits are more generous than in other schools since the formulas need not be remembered with such scrupulous detail (see scholasticism).

Since there is not a written systematization for these skills learning or casting from paper is not allowed, although ideas for inspiration to be read by other players may be written down.

a scroll and feather
3.2 The Scholastic School

The scholastic school on the other hand is based on reasoning and systematic approaches and methods akin to science. The primary attribute for these skills is therefore intelligence. Spellcasters of such schooling commonly convey knowledge by the written word, so that books and scrolls are vital to learning and implementation. Therefore, such a character must also have the literacy skill (when taken as part of the setup such characters will automatically the literacy skill).

Such a spellcaster may learn new spells or formulas through books and scrolls as easily as being taught by another character. Also, he may even cast a spell using formulas he has not fully mastered only by having them with him in written form, whichs means he actively uses the book or scroll during casting. In fact, to avoid disastrous results such spellcasters never use formulas without books or scrolls unless they have them perfectly memorized. Acheiving such perfect memorization of a spell is difficult and takes a lot of work. Also, because with these skills the details of spellcasting need be scrupulously adhered to, it takes more effort. Finding new formulas through research is possible but is very difficult and time consuming. Any formula may be forgotten in order to allow room for new ones. Formulas that are present "only in writing" on the other hand have the advantage of not using up any memory capacity. A spellcaster may write down any of his perfectly memorized spells without detriment.

a skull and a candle
3.3 The School of Divination

The magi of the school of divination draw their power from their faith or ideology. It is not for the cynical or unfaithful. Colleagues of a magic art from this school aspire to a common goal and apply methods that reflect this goal. There are for one the "black arts" of necromancy and witchcraft. The most base and most vile practitioners of these are likewise the most successful. Diametrically opposed to these are the white mages and the druids (animism) who seek enlightenment and only those of a pure heart or with a compassion for nature can succeed therein. Learning and research is conducted mainly through inspiration and connecting to the greater spirits and masters of these arts through meditation. Teaching is very traditional and experimentation is frowned upon.

mysterious glyphs

4. Spell Symbols and Formulas

4.1 Spell Symbols

Spell symbols are the 'components' of a complete spell formula, like the syllables of a complete word, or the words of a complete sentence. These spell symbols will always be usable on their own though too. For game purposes spell symbols will be represented by a short word (e.g. 'zal', 'gog', 'nixfor'). Each magic skill has its own independent system of symbolization.

The use of a spell symbol may also include the speaking of a word, making a gesture, or using an ingredient. Only the latter is of immediate importance to the player, since the appropriate ingredients then also need to be in the possession of the spellcaster. Speaking a word or making a gesture would only be of importance when intended for invoking spells with a very short cast duration (i.e. combat spells).

When used each spell symbol has a certain function within a formula. These may be spell range, cast duration, effect duration, effect type, etc. A spell symbol may affect mainly one or many of these parameters and could either always enforce the same parameters or a different one depending on the school of the skill being used. Each magic school has its own system how this works.

Characters may know or have memorized only limited number of these symbols. The maximum limit of perfectly memorized symbols for a certain magic skill is two times skill level squared (= 2 * (skill level^2)); double this amount for skills of the intuitionistic school. If a character has multiple magic skills then he or she may know multiple sets of spell symbols, each individually limited by the appropriate skill level.

4.2 Spell Formulas

Spell formulas are the complete spells consisting of a sequence or collection of spell symbols. When casting a spell the player enters a sequence of spell symbols. If the spell symbols contain multiple characters then these need to be separated by dashes (i.e. 'zal-gog-nixfor'). Whenever a player hears of a new combination and his or her character knows the component symbols, then the new 'combination' can be tried out. A character need not explicitly know the 'combination', just the knowledge of the component symbols is necessary.

There will be certain 'standard' formulas made publicy known in the rules or module descriptions. These represent the most widespread formulas generally known or at least heard of by the inhabitants of the game world. Note that this information is of no practical use to characters who don't have the appropriate skill.

Also note that there are no 'illegal' combinations of spell symbols. If the proper spell target is used then all combinations of spell symbols that belong to a certain magic skill will cause some effect. The effect could be so minimal though that a player may not notice it.

For players, the goal of magical research actually is to figure out the most effective symbol combinations.