Looking at the magic system really starts to get us into the part of the process where we need to start integrating the game mechanisms into the setting. That might mean choosing the right existing game that links in with the ideas you have for the stories you want to tell, or it might mean designing something from scratch.
In this case, I’m using the LARP system that I designed previously. But since I never really got into too much detail on the magic, it’s time to start expanding it here.
I think I will go with a cross between the “Chill” magic system and the system Dave and I came up with all those years ago. At the simplest level, we’ll use connection, conduit and capacity as metaphysical attributes, following different occupations will see characters improve those attributes. We’ll vaguely work off four levels of caster occupations: apprentice, journeyman, and master. Apprentice level occupations will increase “connection”, offer a range of basic things to connect to, and a range of basic ways to channel power into effects. Journeyman level occupations will increase “conduit” (or increase “connection” if the conduit level would be increased to a level equal to the existing “connection” score), offer alternate things to connect to, and provide some more advanced effects to channel power into. Master level occupations would increase “capacity” (or one of the lower level metaphysical attributes), alternate mystical connection options, and the most powerful (or esoteric) effects.
Currently, regular character abilities in the game have three levels, so it makes sense that this same mechanism applies to magic. I don’t like system where some things use one set of rules and other parts of the system use a different set of rules. But here’s where you get to tell the magical side of the story. For settings where magic is deliberately outside the bounds of reality, it kind of makes sense for it to use a different system to everything else, but if magic is integrated into the wider world then I personally think it should integrate more seamlessly with the rest of the game mechanisms.
The sorts of things that fuel magic really give us the flavour. I’m thinking that there should be half a dozen energy sources for starters, one specialised connection each for the three general categories of magic (hermetic, celestial, and innate), and a range of others that are shared by all the magic types, and a general connection available to all types. Let’s work on a scale of 1 to 3 for power level generated by each of the connection types (remembering that a character may be concurrently linked to a number of power sources equal to their connection score, and may draw as much energy from them each “turn” as their conduit score). A character will need to seek out these connections in game, and this is an inherent part of the story for casting characters.
In each case we define the connections as “weak”, “intermediate”, and “strong (we’ll also throw in a ”legendary” level of connection, for major storyline events)
Weak – The connection produces 1 point of energy, then it is spent (it may recharge in time, but this is a random chance).
Intermediate – The connection produces a point of energy every time it is connected. A caster may draw two energy from the source, but then it is temporarily spent (it may recharge in time, but this is a random chance).
Strong – The connection produces two points of energy every time it is connected. A caster may draw three energy from the source, but then it is temporarily spent (it may recharge in time, but this is a random chance).
Places of Power (General) – All casters have the potential to learn ways to connect to places of power. This is because exploration and fighting over territory are intrinsic parts of the stories I foresee in the setting. The amount of energy obtained from a place of power depends on proximity to the location, and the power level of the place.
Weak – A minor roadside shrine, a disused temple, an abandoned set of standing stones.
Intermediate – A well tended roadside shrine, a sacred tree
Strong – A local church, a sacred grove of trees
Legendary – The Cathedral of the Church, The Cult’s Underground Temple, The Centre of the Volcano, The Ruins at the south-west corner of the island.
Resources (Hermetic) – Hermetic mages often destroy valuable crystals, ancient parchments and rare herbs to gain the power infused in them. The amount of energy obtained from such resources is typically based on the value and rarity of the item used up.
Weak – An uncommon herb, a semiprecious stone, a scribed parchment
Intermediate – A rare herb, a precious metal or gem, a grimoire, an unnamed minor artefact
Strong – Bone or organ of a supernatural beast, a priceless gem, a named artefact, a holy relic
Legendary – a named major artefact, a one-off holy relic
Followers (Celestial) – Having a group of people sharing your belief, and focused on the effect can be a valuable source of power. The amount of energy obtained from followers is based on the number of followers nearby, and their degree of belief in the deity shared by the caster.
Weak – A lone dedicated follower or a small group (3-6) of casual followers.
Intermediate – A group of dedicated followers (6-10), or a large group of casual followers (15-21).
Strong – A large gathering of dedicated followers (21-28), or a small horde of casual followers (36-55)
Legendary – A horde of dedicated followers (56+)
Sacrifice (Innate) – While capacity is a reserve mystic energy, sacrifice is a willing expenditure of health (hit points), literally giving up a piece of yourself to empower an effect. The amount of energy obtained from sacrifice is based on how much you are willing to risk giving up.
Weak – Suffer an injury (spend a hit point, risk another)
Intermediate – Suffer a major injury (spend 2 hit points, risk another)
Strong – Suffer a lethal injury (spend 3 hit points, risk another)
Legendary – Accept death
Timing (Kabbalists, Hedge Magi, Theurgists, and Sorcerors) – This varies by the group (and by the caster), Theurgists might gain more energy when they cast their effects on a holy day, Hedge magi might derive energy from the specific moments of change in a day (sunrise, sunset, midday, midnight), Kabbalists might perform specific calculations to determine the right time for a casting if the timing is right, they gain a bonus, Sorcerors might be a blend of all these forms needing to know when the spirits are most willing and able.
Weak – Common occurrence (a few specific times during the day, one day a week)
Intermediate – Uncommon occurrence (a single specific time of day, one day a month)
Strong – Rare occurrence (lunar/solar eclipse, one day a year such as the solstice)
Legendary – One off celestial alignment (once in a lifetime event)
Sanctuary (Crafters and Mediums) – Some casters establish sanctums where they have honed the magical energies into a regular predictable pattern. While they are within their sanctum, these casters find it easier to work their magic. The amount of energy obtained from a sanctum depends on how well it has been attuned.
Weak – A warded and purified home (often takes at least a week to set up)
Intermediate – A sanctified library, laboratory or workshop (often takes months to set up)
Strong – A “wizards tower” or hidden sanctum (often takes years to set up)
Legendary – An ancestral chantry of mystic wisdom (used for magic over several generations)
Ritual (Mystics, Reavers, and Psychics) – Staging an elaborate ritual can not only get a caster into the right frame of mind, but can also attune the energies in an area. The amount of energy obtained from a ritual is typically determined by the length of time required for the ritual, from a quickly spoken incantation to an elaborate set up of candles, incense, and other occult paraphernalia.
Weak – A quick gesture and incanted phrase
Intermediate – A circle and candles (of commonly accessible materials), a few minutes of silent prayer, a carefully worded incantation requiring concentration.
Strong – A circle and candles (of rare materials and elaborate design), a vow of silence for a month leading up to the effect.
Legendary – Ritual sacrifice of purity or soul (this may only ever be done once in a caster’s life), elaborate festivities involving an entire town for a week.
A few other idea for less common connections might include…
Familiar – Some casters manage to secure the services of awakened animals who offer a fragment of their mystical energy in exchange for protection and regular services. The amount of energy obtained from a familiar depends of the strength of the familiar and the degree of bond between the familiar and their caster.
Weak – An inexperienced familiar, or a familiar who shares a weak relationship with the caster.
Intermediate – A veteran familiar with a relatively strong relationship to the caster.
Strong – A powerful familiar or lesser elemental being who shares its soul with the caster.
Legendary – A reputable and renowned familiar, or greater elemental being who has bonded its essence with the caster.
Power Supply – Here’s where we link the “steampunk” to the magic. Think of Dr. Frankenstein with his lightning powered generators, or steam engines powering away at dynamos, crude tesla coils and arcing electricity. The amount of power gained from a generator is naturally linked to the size of the generator and the electrical theatrics.
Weak – A small generator, perhaps the size of a barrel, might possibly be worn as a back pack.
Intermediate – A hefty generator, would require a cart to move it around, not easy to hide.
Strong – The engine room of a steam ship, or perhaps the steam engine of a textile factory.
Legendary – Nothing yet has been built of this sheer power, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to build one for yourself.
Risk – In most cases a magical effect exploits a loophole in reality, if the power is channelled in the right way, the effect simply works. Sometimes a caster may take shortcuts to get a bit of extra power, but when they do so, they risk the effect not working at all. The amount of power potentially gained from a risk depends on how much risk the caster wants to take.
Weak – Most of the risks have been calculated, but there is a margin of error. There’s a better than average chance of the effect working.
Intermediate – There are quite a few unknowns, and there is roughly a 50/50 chance of the effect working as predicted.
Strong – There is more unknown than there is known. Getting this effect to work is a long shot.
Legendary – Everything about this effect is in the hands of fate. It’ll be a miracle if it works.
We could go further, but that’s plenty of options for the moment.
Next we look at the effects that might be empowered by the mystic energy accumulated.
Again, certain types of caster might be more likely to learn specific types of effect. Here’s a quick list of the types of effect I’d be interested in seeing in the setting…no quirky names, no specifics, just general types of effect at this stage.
Control NPC (let’s possibly assume PC’s have some spark of the divine in them that renders them immune to this, because it often causes problems and arguments when you end up with players controlling players…or at least a saving throw…unsure at this stage).
Gain Story Clues
Raise Dead (typically associated with our dhampyrs and full undead)
Beast Transformation (typically associated with our wyldkin and full lycanthropes)
Dream Lore (typically associated with our faeblood and full fey)
Flight (typically associated with our avatars and full demigods/angels)
Elemental Manipulation (typically associated our with incarnates and full elementals)
Countermagic (typically associated with our purebloods)
Weather Manipulation (typically associated with the pirates and privateers)
Wards (typically associated with the natives and more superstitious settlers)
Summoning/Banishing (typically associated with the exorcists of the church and cult)
Morale (typically associated with the empire)
Notice how I’ve also tried to tie the races and cultures into the magical effects so that various elements of the system link back into each other. I haven’t specifically said that a certain type of effect is restricted to specific groups, merely that these effects have a tendency to associate with certain types of caster.
I’m sure that many more types of core mystical effect might be defined, but that seems to be a fairly decent starting list.
Next we look at how those basic effects can be modified…
Area of Effect – What range does the mystical effect cover? (immediate, metres/a room, tens of metres/a building, hundreds of metres/a town, kilometres/a whole island, tens of kilometres/a cluster of islands, more?)
Range – How far to the epicentre of the effect? (touch, close range line of sight, long range line of sight, on the island, on the planet, extraplanar?)
Duration – How long does the effect last? (immediate, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, permanent?)
Fallout – What degree of collateral damage is there? (as much damage as there is benefit, half as much damage as benefit, a tiny price to be paid, no fallout at all?)
At this stage, I’ll write up a half dozen sample spells for a few different magic types, these will form the basics taught to practitioners of the art in question, consider them a bit like the instructions that come with a Lego kit. From here, a player can use the pieces in their instructed form to create relatively reliable effects, or they can choose to assemble their own spells from the componentry they have available.