Art Magic and Light

So, this is kind of a dumb question, but I’m making my first foray into using Art Magic and I was trying to figure out how to do something similar to Wyrd Light or Mage Light using it.

This may be one of the effects that Art Magic just doesn’t support, but it feels like you could decide that one or more of:

  • Illusion
  • Destroy with Sorcerous Fire!
  • Arcane Action
  • Evoke
  • Advantage

Could be connected to generating light.

Any opinions? Has this already been discussed to death and I just couldn’t find it?


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I’m thinking about this backwards, aren’t I?

The real answer is “I want to overcome the disadvantages from darkness, so I use Advantage, which results in an effect that counteracts them, and that effect involves light.”


Hey Lass! I think you’re correct in your judgement that generating light isn’t really an intent that gels with art magic. None of the art magic effects actually express what light does in the Burning Wheels mechanics (which is just keeping obstacle penalties at bay).

Here’s my two cents: while Advantage can help mitigate the obstacle penalties associated with darkness, I noticed that the effect only applies to one ability, while the darkness penalties apply to ALL relevant tests - martial skills, Climbing, Perception and Observation, and much more. So while granting advantage dice to Perception to overcome those obstacles is all well and good, it really doesn’t offer the same comfort as we can expect from actual light. Not without building up an astronomical Sorcery obstacle using the +9 Ob “All Abilities” breadth. Yikes!

And even if that can be accomplished, the spell has not overcome the dark- it’s just literally made you better at everything!

My humble advice is to reframe what the spell looks like. So instead of a +3D advantage to Perception being called “Arcane Light” for example (and encountering the difficulties I’ve mentioned), maybe call your spell “Eye of the Cat” for a more fitting interpretation of the limitations that art magic places on your spell craft.

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In my earlier skims through Art Magic I’d somehow gotten the impression that it worked like an alternate magic system that was put into the Elric!/Stormbringer supplement called The Unknown East — that system has 8 “spheres” and 8 “runes”, which you combine to make spells.

But that system — while it is free form — is explicitly effect based, as opposed to abstract. Basically, you come up with an idea like “I want to create light” or “I want to enhance the effect of this sword”. Light would fall into one of the spheres, and create is one of the runes.

But Art Magic is more abstract — it’s about the game system effect, not the game world effect. Like Champions, the game effect is what you build, and the special effect — light, fire, lightning, whatever — is entirely secondary.

I think.


I pulled out the MaBu and I’ve realized my confusion stems from my half-remembered understanding of Abstraction and Distillation, which is very similar to the Elric! System — Sphere becomes Element, Rune becomes Impetus, and then you add Origin, Duration, and Area of Effect (which are handled differently in Elric!)


The most obvious solution has somehow gone unmentioned: using the “trait” effect, a sorcerer can simply give himself the power to see in the dark. The obstacles will be high, but that’s magic for you.

Alternatively, he could grant himself a character trait like “bioluminesence,” or something more suitably Wyrd Light-esq. Whether or not this would be enough to actually overcome the obstacle penalties for dim light exists in a gray area for me–this is a problem I find myself frequently at odds with in art magic. It isn’t technically a die trait, which means it can’t directly alter the mechanics of the game, but the fiction seems to have changed regardless. I like this kind of fictional position, so I would (and have in the past) let this fly for my players as a viable way of overcoming darkness. There’s probably an angler fish die trait in the lists somewhere that would work more explicitly with the rules as written.


If you’re really in need of some light–any light–Luminescent (trait) (light equivalent to candle) onto an object technically gets you there.

Not going to fill up a giant cave, obviously.

OTOH, casting this is relatively straightforward, so you could generate a lot of “candles” without much effort.

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Yep, that’s the trait that was used in @Chalk 's game this week.

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It had absolutely not occurred to me that there was a trait for producing light, so I’m grateful for that suggestion.

But it sort of suggests a back door to Art Magic — if you want to do something the core Art Magic mechanics don’t really support, use the mechanics for designing a new trait, then grant that trait.

Regardless, it seems this is kind of a weird corner case in the Art Magic rules to me. Lighting a fire, or conjuring light in the darkness, feels like obvious “I’m a Wizard!” activities that Art Magic just doesn’t really support.

Which isn’t the end of the world or anything.

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Trait magic is for granting traits to characters, not to objects. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that this is the intention of the rules, I can’t think of any time in any of the books where something that was not alive was given a trait from the lists. Items and objects have qualities, and they might have attached obstacles, but they aren’t characters, and so you can’t give them traits. If you want magical items, become an enchanter.

So “conjuring a light in the darkness” in my campaigns is the wizard turning herself into a light, which I think you’ll find is more thematically suitable for Art Magic. As for lighting campfires, I guess you could design a Die Trait that would let you do that, but the obstacles in question are going to be insane–like, 6-7+ base obstacle to give yourself that trait for a single test. This is the obstacle range where Art Magic can literally give mortal wounds, so it’s not exactly “you’re a wizard, Harry” territory.

I’m not sure how useful this is to the topic of light sources - your game world may not use real world physics.

When considering how far light travels, we use the Inverse Square Law. This means that each time you double the distance between the light source, the intensity quarters.

When making a character bioluminescent, consider that any fleshy lightsource capable of illuminating the surrounding environment would be uncomfortably bright to look at, night-blinding those around them.

If your luminance was restricted to something focused and directional, like the palm of the caster’s hand, this may be more practical.

…or just ignore real world physics, because it’s literally magic.

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I actually really like this as a failure consequence: it’s not that you fail to produce light, but instead fail to adequately control it. Who knows what things lurking in the dark may find you as you blind your companions in a brilliant flash!


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