Sunday, August 1, 2021

TwK: Magic for the Common Man

I have a confession to make.  The magic system I wrote for Sea of Stars has never been used- I thought it inappropriate for the tone I was trying to set.  Instead, I borrowed the Insight system from Throne of Salt's Lighthouse, which I then ditched for the current system, which is to be found here.

I also reconsidered my thoughts on sorcery in Those who Know.  I have decided to let players cast spells in that system, in a sort of way.  The way I plan on doing this is based on that old system, but with a few tweaks.

The Path of the Magus:

All humans have the innate capability to do magic.  All they need is to be instructed in a few simple tricks.  The reason why we cannot all use magic is for several reasons.  Firstly, those who know are not usually willing to hand out that knowledge without an unreasonable amount of strings attached, if at all.  Secondly, magic is dangerous.  A magic-user can very easily find himself turned into a frog or inside out, his radioactive organs scattered across three counties.  Thirdly, magic is addictive.  Once you start using it, you will want to use it to solve all your problems.  That often leads to other problems, but it also exacerbates the second.

The other limitation is that most humans aren't strong or talented enough to do more than parlor tricks.  There are Wizards, of course, but they aren't normal humans.  Depending on who you ask, Wizards are either descended from Kings and Prophets, the inheritors of Neanderthal DNA, the next stage in human evolution or Gods who fell from a higher realm and got stuck here in bags of meat.  Bottom line is, you're not a Wizard.

The Two Types of Magic:

Magical workings, ie spells, can be roughly divided up into two categories, Thaumaturgy and Evocation.  Thaumaturgy, also called Ritualism, involves pre-planned steps, procedures and rituals.  Circles of protection, summoning, divination and the like fall under Thaumaturgy.  Thaumaturgy requires preparation, materials that must be gathered and time.  They are not 'one-and-done', they take work.  And while it requires more work, Thaumaturgy is usually far more precise than Evocation and allows for things that would be simply impossible in the latter system to be performed in the former.

Evocation is the exact opposite, quick and dirty magic that is much more dangerous, but also produces much more explosive results.  It is everything that Thaumaturgy is not. 

Here's an example: If you used Thaumaturgy to start a fire, you could perform a ritual to trap fire from the sun and seal it in a potion, which you could then smash and release the flames whenever you choose.  Alternatively, you could change the weather and call down lightning to ignite the dry brush.  If you used Evocation to start a fire, you would do drugs until you went cross-eyed and then gain the ability to breathe fire.

Thaumaturgical Workings:

They are better known as Rituals.  To use a Ritual, you must first must know a ritual.  Rituals can be taught to others, found on enemies or in dungeons.  They all require certain steps and preparations.  Or rather, they require steps and other things to do safely.  Technically, you can cast a Ritual with only a handful of the steps written down and it might still work.  Not all the steps are essential for the invoking of the power, some are mere safety procedures.  Much of what Magi do, such as wearing robes made of 100% natural fibers, standing in circles chanting repetitively, drawing circles, speaking dead languages, this is all to remove potential dangers.  This is also why magic-users live in the countryside- there's less noise to draw your attention and cause you to accidentally turn your fingernails into molten lead.

Some of this stuff is not just incorporated for safety or symbolic effect, however.  The line between the two is easy to find, until you forget a critical part of the ritual and the whole thing fails or blows up in your face. 

Secondly, you must prepare the ritual.  Some rituals are prepared before-hand and all that is required is to trigger them.  Originally I wrote out extensive, step by step directions, but I decided that was lame.  No players want to follow a check-list and find all the specific items on a list without some kind of ticking clock or dramatic question.  So barring such a situation, such as needing to obtain all the components for a ritual while trapped in a dungeon or with a looming deadline, assume the players acquire all the components, unless for some reason there is a dramatic question that could be answered.  For example, we need powdered tiger bones for the ritual, but that's illegal to own.  Do we talk to the poacher or hope that Cougar bones will work just as well? 

Then for the preparations, have the players roll a check.  The DC for this check will depend on what preparations they do or don't make.  Do not tell the players if they succeeded or failed the check, simply tell them that they are finished.  They should be able to tell if they spectacularly failed based on the Failed Ritualism table.

Ritualism Check Modifiers:
+ 3 if the true nature of what is being attempted is not understood (the meddling amateur penalty)
+ 2 if the preparations are botched, interrupted or rushed
+ 1 if the proper materials were not used, such as substituting wine for blood or something like that
+ 1 if the veil between worlds is stronger here (mostly this occurs at sanctified or holy places)
- 1 if the proper materials are used
- 1 per additional caster helping with the ritual (max -3)
- 1 per HD of the creature sacrificed, if one was (max -3)
- 1 if the veil between worlds is weaker here, or the stars are right (+1 if one is true, +2 if both are)
- 1-2 if the caster has previous experience or knowledge of the occult (bonus varies depending on skill of the caster)

Ritual specific modifiers are included in the description.

artist unknown

Some Rituals:

Alter Weather
Base DC: 15
Materials Needed: Salt, Water, Metal Shavings, Fire, Incense, Clods of Earth

Allows you to alter the weather for 1 square mile around the casting location.  The ritual, once the materials have been gathered, requires you to ritualistically mix the ingredients, recite the ancient names of the Winds, Rulers of the Upper Air and the Rain-Bringers and then burn it all.  Then make an Evocation Check.  On a success, the changes will begin immediately, though depending on the changes requested, it may take some time.

Sunny <--> Cloudy <--> Rainy <--> Stormy

For each shift left or right, it takes 1 hour to come to fruition. 

If the weather requested is particularly harsh, such as torrential rain, hail, a tornado, hurricane, etc, then increase the DC by +2.

If the weather requested is out of season, such as snow in August, increase the DC by +2.

If the weather requested is weird, such as raining frogs, a fire tornado, anything from this table, increase the DC by +4.

If the Ritualism Check is failed, roll on the table below.

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- The weather does not change.
2- The weather changes the opposite way.  If you wanted the rain to stop, it gets worse.  If you wanted rain, you get clear skies.
3- You get struck by lightning.  3d6 lightning damage, save for half.
4- Thunder booms across the nearby land.  If you try to perform this ritual within the next 1d6 [1= Hour; 2= Day; 3= Week; 4= Month; 5= Year; 6= 1d10 years] you are immediately struck by lightning.
5- A piece of hail the size of a 1d4 [1= Baseball; 2= Canteloupe; 3= Prize-winning Pumpkin; 4= Refrigerator] falls on an important something you own, such as your car, house or horse.  The hail does not fall on any intelligent creatures.  It's a warning shot.
6- Nothing seems to happen, but in actuality a local Spirit has taken a liking to you and will spend the next 1d3 [1= Hours; 2= Days; 3= Weeks] trying to get your attention.  The Spirit wants you to be his or her 1d6 [1= Lover; 2= Friend; 3= Business Partner; 4= Enabler; 5= Father/Mother figure; 6= Servant.]    

Absorb Attributes
Base DC: 12
Materials Needed: Blood from the animal or person you wish to be like, a knife, chalk, metronomes or bells that produce sounds of identical frequency, strong twine or rope

Allows you to alter your shape temporarily, either partially or totally.  The ritual requires you to bring the creature whose traits you wish to copy to you and position it behind yourself. Tie yourself to the creature, then wound that creature and annoint yourself with its blood.  Then make an Evocation check.  On a success, you will immediately gain the desired traits  or transform into a copy of that creature for 1 hour per damage done. 

Note that you can only take traits based on physical nature.  You could take a man's strength, but not his baking skills.

If the Caster does not wish to totally transform their body, only altering one part, decrease the DC by -2.

If the Caster desires more than one trait, such as the talons, wings and feathers of an Eagle, increase the DC by +1 per additional trait.

If the Caster wishes to become the creature it wishes to be like and that creature is the same species, decrease the DC by -2.  If they are similar species, such as Humans and another Great Ape, decrease the DC by -1.

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- The change does not occur. 
2- The ritual works, but an equal exchange occurs in reverse.  For example, the creature whose traits are being copied may copy an equivalent number of your traits.
3- You are transformed into the creature or animal you were trying to be like for 1dX [1= 1 hour; 2= 1 Day; 3= 1 Week; 4= 1 Month; 5= 1 Year; 6= Forever.]
4- You gain an additional, undesirable trait of the creature or animal you were trying to be like for the duration.
5- You lose one of your normal traits for the duration.
6- The creature or animal you were trying to be like transforms into a copy of you for 1dX [1= the duration; 2= Twice the duration; 3= 4x the duration; 4= Permanently.]    

Dragon's Breath
Base DC: 5+[HD of the sacrificed creature]
Materials Needed: A sacrificial creature, a dagger, a cauldron, fire, chalk, the proper incantation, a sealable container

Allows you to breathe fire in either a cone or a line.  This fire does [sum] damage, where [sum] is the sacrificed creature's total HP and covers either a 10*[HD] foot long line or a cone that wide and half as long.  Creature are entitled to a save to try and take half damage. 

The ritual requires the sacrifice of a creature, slitting its' throat and catching the blood in a cauldron or pan.  Then boil the blood while reciting the incantation.  Then make a Preparation Check.  If you have done it properly, the majority of the blood will boil away, leaving only a small amount of transparent, golden liquid that glows faintly.  Pour that into a container and seal it.  When you wish to use it, drink the liquid and then, if you have done the ritual properly, once you have drunk the liquid, the mana will come rushing up and you will exhale a blast of blistering fire.

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- Nothing happens.  The golden liquid doesn't form- all you have is a bunch of heated blood.  
2- It works, but the container is leaky.  If you take fire damage while it is on your person, it explodes, doing [sum] damage to everyone within a [HD]*10' radius,  save for half.
3- The golden liquid forms but improperly.  When you drink it, you instead take [sum] fire damage.  This damage bypasses FS and Armor if you have any. 
4- You exhale a cloud of choking smoke instead of fire.  This does no damage but drops visibility down to 10' and any creatures who need to breathe caught in the cloud must save or lose their action as they choke and hack. 
5- You vomit up a pool of blood which rapidly congeals and hardens into a mad clone of the sacrificed creature with half of its memories and power.  This blood monster doesn't know much except for the fact that you killed it.
6- The ritual works, but you develop an addiction to using it.  Whenever the option to perform the ritual comes up or you think you can, you will try to do it. 

Life Exchange

Base DC: 10
Materials Needed: A sacrificial creature, rope or chains, red twine, chalk or brick dust, scissors

This ritual allows you to transfer any HP damage you receive onto another creature.  This ritual continues working until the creature you direct your damage towards dies, escapes the circle or breaks it.  This does not prevent you from taking damage to your Armor or Fighting Spirit (FS).

The ritual requires a specific creature to be bound in place and then for someone to create a circle of chalk or brick dust around them.  Then bind that creature again with red twine, cut off a lock of your hair and tie it to the creature.  Then bind the two of you together with the incantation.  Make a Preparation Check.  If you have done it properly, damage done to your body will not occur, and the wound you would have received will be transferred to the bound creature

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- You messed it up.  No damage is transferred.
2- You messed it up.  You can hear each other's thoughts for as long as the magic circle is intact.
3- You partially messed up the incantation.  Only half of the damage is transferred, you take the rest as normal.
4- You switch bodies with the creature you bound.  You keep all mental stats but gain any physical stats they have.
5- You made the link too well- now whenever either of you takes damage, both of you take the equivalent amount.
6- You made the link too well- every sensation the other feels is transferred to the other, who feels it as well.  You feel each other's pain, but no damage is transferred. 

Last Meal
Base DC: 13
Materials Needed: Food, wine, incense, face paint, ceremonial oil, a golden vessel

This ritual allows those who participate in it to be freed from the tyranny of fear and the tricks of foul play.  It is primarily practiced by those who are about to enter a battle that they are convinced they will not survive. 

The ritual is performed by painting runes and glyphs on the bodies of those who are participating in the meal, with one of the throat, forehead, back, dominant hand and one over the heart.  Note that this ritual is best performed by firelight in an enclosed space, though this isn't explicitly required.  Then invoke a higher power, such as a deity or guardian spirit, and ask it to bless the meal.  Eat heartily, then once the meal is finished, anoint those who participated in the meal in oil.  Then make a Preparation check.

Increase the DC by +1 if more than ten people are participating in the meal.

Increase the DC by +2 if the group participating in the meal is not exclusively one sex.

Decrease the DC by -2 if all those participating are members of a sworn brotherhood, militant order or other organization bound by solemn vows.

Decrease the DC by -4 if a spirit or God favors those participating in the meal.  

If you have done the ritual properly, those who participated gain immunity to Fear and Charm effects for 12 hours, gain resistance to poison damage and make all saves against toxic substances with advantage.  Partaking in the meal also restores Fighting Spirit (FS) to full.

Failed Ritualism Check:

1- You messed it up.  The meal is very moving, but it doesn't confer any magical benefits.
2- You messed up.  Only 50% of the meal's benefits (determined randomly) are conferred.
3- You messed up.  All those who participated in the meal can feel everything all the others feel. 
4- You are hated by the spirits or God doesn't want you to succeed.  The food turns foul in your stomachs.  All who participated must save successfully or suffer food poisoning.
5- You did the ritual too well.  Now everyone who participated is cursed to die violent, if glorious, deaths.  The one who orchestrated the ritual (made the check) learns this in a dream, but no one else does.
6- You did the ritual too well.  You (the one who made the check) are cursed to find glory and laud in all the battles you fight, at the cost of everyone you love.

Wrath of the Desert Wind
Base DC: 15
Materials Needed: A jar or pot, sand, bits of broken pottery or chunks of sharp metal or bone, oil, iron filings or sand, a few drops of blood, a lid for the ceramic vessel, a paint brush, some fresh meat

This ritual allows the user to create a magical bomb in a jar or pot.  When shattered, the jar will unleash a maelstrom of destructive energy that will shred any living creature near by.  A ritual best not done by amateurs.

Firstly, find a pot and add together all the ingredient.  Mix well.  Then paint a magical circle on the bottom of the pot and put the appropriate runes on the side.  Place the fresh meat in the bottom.  Then, summon a spirit of rage and revenge and lure it into the pot.  The spirit should resemble a tiny man (about six inches tall) made of fire, sand, storm clouds, glass and arcing lightning bolts.  Once the spirit enters the pot, slam the lid down and trap him inside.  Then seal the pot and bind him to the pot.  Make an Evocation check.  If you have done it right, the pot will remain intact, but it will vibrate and murmur angrily to itself and anyone nearby.

To use the pot, smash the pot or jar on a hard surface.  Doing this will unleash a swirling cloud of sand and fire full of razor sharp bits of metal, bone and pottery that covers a sphere 30' in diameter, or if indoors, one moderately sized room.  All within the cloud take 2d6 fire damage and 2d6 sharp damage from shrapnel, save for half on both.  The cloud also lights flammable things on fire and shreds anything softer than steel.

Failed Ritualism Check:


1- You fail to bind the spirit properly.  The pot immediately explodes, causing you to take 1d6 fire damage and 1d6 sharp damage.
2- You failed to bind the spirit properly.  The spirit smashes out of the pot and runs around for 1d10 minutes, throwing fireballs, breaking things and causing malfunctions in machines.  After that, or if threatened with death, the spirit vanishes in a flash of static electricity.
3- You accidentally summoned a much more powerful spirit than was required.  All within 30' must save or be possessed.  If the spirit cannot possess someone within 1d4+1 rounds of trying, it vanishes back into the ether.
4- You failed to contain the spirit, causing all the runes on the pot to glow bright red.  Occasionally, the pot makes the sound of rolling thunder that is very loud and can be heard from up to 50' away.  Otherwise, the pot works fine.
5- You failed to contain the spirit, causing the pot to glow red-hot.  Anyone who touches it takes 1d6 fire damage per round and must save or drop it.  Dropping it causes the pot to function as if you succeeded.
6- You failed to contain the spirit.  Until the pot or jar is smashed, there is a 2-in-6 chance that a machine within 50' of the pot or jar malfunctions or fails to work properly.  The spirit can choose which machines it would like to sabotage, if it can.  It will choose the ones that make your life the most difficult.    

You can find more rituals here.

by Nitrox-Marquez


Evocation is the virtual opposite of Thaumaturgy.  Instead of taking preparation, it only takes materials.  If you want to throw fireballs, harden your flesh like steel and punch out a ghost, Evocation is the tool you'll likely need. 

How is it done?

What you call 'Magic' is the energy of the cosmos, the spiritual background radiation that permeates the entire world, the fires of Creation, the music of the spheres, etc.  Magic is simply the results that result when creatures tap into this energy and use it for some smaller purposes. 

Some creatures, such as Dragons and Elves, have a natural connection to this energy, which gives them the ability to innately channel this energy.  Dragons are too heavy to fly and their fire breath isn't because of their biology, such as a gland or a bladder in their bodies- it is because they can channel the raw energies of creation that they can fly and burn villages with their breath.

Other creatures, such as mortals, can channel this energy as well, but do so with more difficulty.  Simply put, most mortals are too weak, too frazzled or too spiritually fractious to channel this power without help.  Some can, of course, but usually only after decades of practice, discipline and meditation.  It is a hard path, not taken by many.

Luckily, there is an easier method.

Imago, Imago, Imago:

There are certain items in the world called Imagos, which are items imbued with a certain level of magical power otherwise known as mana.  By consuming one of these Imagos, mortals can temporarily channel the energies of creation, allowing them to use magic until the Imago's power is expended.  This allows even the most vanilla of mortals to use magic.

Simply put, Imagos grant the one who consumes them a certain amount of power and the ability to use it in specific ways.  The power comes in the form of Mana Dice, which burn out on a 5 or 6.  The one who consumed the Imago, the user, can then use that power to cast the specific spells attached to that Imago.  They can cast these spells until the Imago dissolves or they use up all the power.  If you roll doubles or triples, roll on one of the tables at the end of this post.

Perhaps my point would be better explained with some examples:


Mysoid Mycelium Mushrooms:
Acquired from drug dealers, old hippies and those who practice "alternative" lifestyles/spiritual practices
Grants 1d3+1 MD which last for 1d6 hours
The user can cast the spells All Things Adjacent, Contact Outer Sphere

Acquired from Moth Cultists and High Priests
Grants 1d4+2 MD which last for 1d3 hours
The user can cast the spells Dream a Little Dream of Me, Feeblemind

Demon Liquor- One Eyed Olog's Flameblood Ale
Very Rare
Acquired from Demons
Grants 1d6+2 MD which last for 2d10+10 minutes
The user caqn cast the spells Fireball, Protection from Energy and Wall of Fire

Where can I acquire Imagos?

Imagos are loot.  They are found in treasure caches, carried by certain enemies and can be purchased from the right people, though usually not for the local currency. 

You can also make Imagos, if you know how.  If you find or are taught the recipe for an Imago, you can create one, as long as you follow the procedures and have the proper ingredients.  Some of these ingredients are common, but many Imagos require the flesh, fluids or other body parts of Magical Beasts or creatures.   

For example, Venom Wine is created by distilling the venom of a Naga or other magical serpent and mixing it with holy water and wine, then bringing it to a boil and letting it simmer for 8 hours.  If you've done it correctly, you'll be left with a small amount of black-green liquid that pops and fizzles and tastes like toxic death.  But consuming it will not kill you, but will grant 3 MD and the ability to cast Venom Bullet and Venomous Fluid.

Referee's Note:

Can Imagos and Potion exist side-by-side?  This is a problem you might run into if you include both.  You could just say that Imagos are simply another kind of potion, or a related discipline.  Thematically, it might make the world a bit too "busy", but if players are restricted to Imagos, Potions and Rituals, I think that could be fine.  If potions can co-exist with normal Wizards and Scrolls, there shouldn't be a problem.  Besides, most Imagos aren't something you drink anyway.  Maybe this isn't actually a problem.  It is something I would keep an eye out for, just in case.    

by Zack Stella, from Magic the Gathering


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