Saturday, May 26, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Six

Conjuration! And more penises!
This series begins here. The first part dealing with magic is here.

Continuing on about magic, we come to a significant portion of the rules, the means by which mana is accumulated. Unlike most other games with spell points, mana does not just regenerate naturally. The magician needs to actively acquire it. There are four primary means to do so: Incantation & ululation, Shamanistic dancing/frenzy, Deep meditation or arcane study, and Fasting (includes sexual abstinence). In addition to these, there's a brief discussion on gaining mana by sacrifice, which seems mostly aimed at the Dennis Wheatley crowd in that it refers exclusively to the killing and, generally, consumption of a living being (if I were writing the game, I can tell you that "sacrifice" would be handled somewhat, though not entirely, differently). I really like this because it tends to push magicians toward performing a stereotypical activity (arcane study, for example) that adds to the feel of the magician in the game world, and that stereotypical activity has a real in-game benefit. Each of the different means of gaining mana is paralleled by an equivalent religious rite, which will become important when we come to the religion rules. The four main methods gain mana at different rates, and all can be accelerated by magicians with high skill (magic level), various characteristics appropriate to the particular method (Faith is good for all, while meditation is improved by Intelligence, incantation by Charisma, and so on), and some other factors. In addition, such preparations give a positive modifier to creating a Link (see the previous post). This seems to indicate that the designers wanted magic to be centered on ritual activity, but the details of the rules don't really support that, because of the next rule, which is that magicians can concentrate mana up to 16 times their magic level. While the "normal operating level" is 8 times their level, that only affects how quickly mana is gained through ritual preparations (and that effect is very slight). Ethereal and Self-conjured beings double these limits. Basically, the game works that a magician will start an adventure full up on mana, then will regain it over a period of rest. Each day, a magician can gain about 10 points through 2 hours of arcane study, 12 points through an hour and a half of incantation, and 15 points from an hour of frenzied dancing (if necessary, he can get a further 2 points a day from fasting, but that can be hard on his body). He doesn't need to dance or fast in most cases, really. By the rules, the only people who need to perform ritual ceremonies to cast magic are people with a level of zero in magic. My inclination is to drop the allowed amount of stored mana dramatically (perhaps to a maximum of 4 times magic level, with a "normal operating level" of twice magic level, doubled for Ethereals and the Self-conjured).

To protect himself from magic or conjured beings, a magician can draw a Pentacle. This is a generic term for circles of protection, which range in value from -1 to -3. They are normally created by ceremony, in which the magician draws the circle slowly while reciting incantations. The length of time required is as per gaining mana by Incantation/ululation, at one mana point per point of protection. These affect the ability of hostile magicians to gain a Link. In addition, words of Absolute Command or the names of Ethereal powers can be inscribed in the circles. the former act as the type of spell (see below), while the latter act as an Appeal to the named power (God or a saint, for example) asking for a miracle in response to the incursion of an attacker. However, invoking higher powers for personal gain is a significant Sin, and affects the character's Piety (a measure of the favor in which the character is held by the Ethereal hierarchies, which we will be discussing when we get to Religion).

The game defines Conjuration as "the use of arcane forces to summon an Ethereal being on to the Earthly plane - and, by extension, to control, bind and compel such beings." It is that aspect of control that makes magic different than religion in the game. A holy man might call on the saints to perform miracles, while a magician would bind a demon to service - or try to bind a saint, if he were arrogant enough! Basically, Conjuration consists of forming a Link to the Ethereal being in question, then casting an Absolute Command to "Appear". Usually, a magician will have created a "circle of appearance", which is like a Pentacle in reverse, but limited to -1. Mainly, though, it just lets the summoner know when the entity is getting out of control, as only a being no longer under the magician's influence will step outside of the circle. After the being appears, the magician will give another Absolute Command, to "Obey". Though it is possible, normally, to make a Command permanent, this Command can only be temporary, lasting 10-60 minutes.

Self-conjuration is the process by which a person Conjures their own spirit and attempts to bind it to their own body. Similarly, a familiar can be created by
Conjuring the spirit of an animal and binding it to that animal. This makes the person or animal so affected into a sort of living Enchanted item. Dead people can be Conjured and bound to their mortal remains, as well. These can be made permanent, though the Command to "Obey" is still one that can only be temporary. Furthermore, a Demon can bind itself to a person, which is Possession. There are some implications of these ideas that aren't really explored in the game, such as the nature of spirit and soul, and what the animating force of the body is, exactly. It might, or might not, be worth exploring such ideas in a future development of the game.

The other kind of Active magic is the various kinds of Spells. This includes the aforementioned Absolute Commands, which are short, stereotyped commands that can be used to compel behavior from the target. Examples include: like/dislike, move/stop moving, grovel, kill, defend (me, etc), be furious (go berserk), be stunned (go into a coma state), and so on. In addition, Absolute Commands can be used to alter characteristics by ±3 points. Other categories of spells include Curing/Disease and Death, Illusion, Protection from Magic, Elemental Matters, Complex Matter, and Miscellaneous. Most of these allow creation of spells to fit the requirements of the magician. For instance, Elemental Matters spells may be used to create a fireball, a wall of stone, control weather, and so on. One of the problems with the system is that the authors never really considered the limits they should set, apparently trusting the Referee and players to stick within a certain, obvious to the authors, realm of plausibility. However, there is nothing in the rules that prevents a magician from creating a planet (using the size category "a mountain", which is defined as "anything bigger" than a 100 foot cube). Given time and mana, he could then proceed to populate it with creatures (their spirits Conjured and bound to their Complex Matter forms). I'd want to set firmer limits, myself, by making such enormous projects unfeasibly expensive in terms of mana, but I have had abusive players in the past (such as the one who wanted to take the equipment list in Fantasy Wargaming at face value and buy a "Guard god" for his character). Miscellaneous spells are the ones that don't really fit into the other categories, and include the likes of Lightning bolt, Flight, Animal speech, and so on.

Unlike the other types of spells, Miscellaneous spells are given a different DD depending on the type of magician the character is. Each magician character picks a type, depending on his Social Class and Background (Rural, Townsfolk, Clergy, or Landowning). The types are: Wise woman/Cunning man, Witch, Wizard, High Sorcerer (or Runic Sorcerer in Dark Ages settings), and Cabalist (only available to Jews and Muslims). Each type sets a limit on which preparations the magician can use for accumulating mana (a Wise woman/Cunning man can only use Incantation/ululation, a Wizard can add Deep meditation/arcane study when he gets to level 4, a Witch can also use Shamanistic dancing, and so on). Cabalists are the most proficient magicians in the game, though High/Runic sorcerers are close behind them. It is possible to change from one sort of magician to another when certain conditions are met, usually by rising to a certain magic level and having the appropriate Social Class. A magician who changes type can use the better factor of the types he has been, if there is a difference. In some cases, a Wise woman/Cunning man might be better at casting a particular type of spell than a High sorcerer, for instance, but if a magician started as the former and became the latter over time (possible, if difficult, by becoming a Wizard first), then he would retain those instances where it was better to be the village healer.

Passive magic mainly consists of Divination, which is performed by creating a Link and asking a Question. Questions include the likes of "Detect the whereabouts of the caster", "Detect presence of enemies", and so on. As the rules note, a question like "Will I be able to do what I want to do without getting VD?" would be at least partly answered by a "Detect disease" Question. The Referee is told, if no other way exists to answer the divinatory question, to roll 1D100, with a 1-60 indicating "yes". In addition, there is a brief system for prophetic dreams and visions, which I think should be made more important in the game.

The final part of the magic chapter is a list of actions that give XP for the magic level, including casting spells (and counter-spells), gaining mana points (no more than 6 XP per day from this, though), divination, and detecting ethereal influences.

Next time, we turn to the rules on religion.


  1. If a guard "god" is strapped for cash and puts himself up for sale, I say go for it.

  2. All spells' DDs are adjusted for mage Type, not just the example spells. Those are examples, by the way, not a separate category of "miscellaneous" spells.

    1. You are correct in the first instance (a matter I just glossed over - this is an overview, not an attempt to lay out the whole rules set!), but not so in the second. There is a separate category of "miscellaneous" spells, which are unrelated to the other categories (which are: Curing, Disease & Death, Illusion, Protection, Absolute Command (movement & action), Absolute Command (behaviour), Elemental Matter, and Complex Matter, not counting the Divination categories). While the other categories are affected by mage type across the whole category, the miscellaneous spells are given specific DDs by spell that vary by mage type (and the differences in DD are not uniform across the category, in some cases the Cunning Man/Wise Woman gets a better DD than the High/Runic Sorcerer or even the Cabalist!). See the table on pp. 206-210 of the SFBC edition. Then, on p. 217, in the note on "Spell specialization" preceding the appropriate table, we find the note that, "The miscellaneous spells give different DDs by Mage type. Below is a brief table showing the differences between the types in the main categories of magic…"