Common Magic

I was thinking about how to make a world in which there was a lot of common, domestic, low-powered magic, and although I really don’t have enough experience with BW yet to make this kind of an edit, I couldn’t help myself and I ended up writing a sub-system. My main idea is to make it so that characters without the Gifted trait can cast spells, but it takes a lot of time, knowledge, and resources. Here’s the idea:

Most mages never open the sorcery skill proper. Instead they may spend two skill points to open School Training for a particular school of magic. This allows them to make Sorcery tests, FoRKing skills from that school, even though they don’t have a sorcery exponent. Such tests are made with an effective Sorcery of B0, but Sorcery can never advance in this way unless the caster has the Gifted trait. If a mage has multiple school trainings they may only draw on one at a time for each specific Sorcery test.

Each school of magic has three associated skills. These generally consist of a skill that represents the source of power for the mage, such as Demonology or Astrology; a skill that represents the physical activity undergone to activate the spell, like Circination or Dance; and a skill that represents a complementary set of knowledge or practices, like Folklore or Obscure History. The example schools that I’ll use are Scholastic Magic (Astrology, Calligraphy, Symbology), Hedge Magic (Spirit-Wise, Sing, Folklore), and Infernal Rites (Demonology, Ritual, Obscure History). The kinds of spells provided by a school might be limited - for instance, if Alchemy is the activity skill, then it would make sense to make a powder which mimics the effect of Fire Breath, but it would be less suited than, say, Hedge Magic to casting a spell like Weather Worker. These limits are flexible, though - if you think you should be able to make fumes which change the weather or sing a song which produces a lash of fire, go for it.

In addition to dice granted by FoRKing school skills, a mage may make use of special tools and materials to achieve their desired effects. An Ob 1 resources test grants +1D to one Sorcery test, an Ob 3 test grants +2D and an Ob 5 test grants +3D. The materials must relate to the school, e.g. special inks for Scholastic Magic, blood of an imp for Infernal Rites, or access to a place of power for Hedge Magic.

A mage may also work carefully, patiently, quickly as per the rules for skill tests. Anyone who has opened a skill in the mage’s school of magic may help with the test. Sorcery tests made in this way take a number of hours equal to the obstacle of the spell to be cast. Spells with an obstacle in the form X^ take X hours to cast. Failed tests cause a DoF roll for failure results as per normal sorcery, but they do not cause tax.

Spells can be learned as per usual, but for most mages it makes more sense to use spell books. Spell books cost half the resource points of the full spell in character creation, and in play it requires an Ob 3 resources test to find a book for a common spell and an Ob 4 resources test for a rare spell (extremely rare spells cannot be found using simple resources tests). Such books cannot be used for normal sorcery tests, but they can be used to learn spells following the usual rules for such an endeavour.

A mage may attempt to add a new skill to one of her schools, thereby increasing the number of FoRKing dice available to her. Each skill currently in the school must be tested against an obstacle equal to 10 - the exponent of the skill to be added. Each successful test means that those two skills can be used together in a sorcery test, but a failed test means that those two skills may never contribute FoRK dice to the same sorcery test. The obstacle is decreased by one if the mage has School Training in a school that contains the skill to be added, and helping dice may be granted by a mage who has already added the new skill to the school.

For instance, say a Scholastic Mage wants to use her knowledge of Circination in her magic. If she has a Circination exponent of six, she has to test her Astrology, Calligraphy, and Symbology against Ob 4. If she succeeds the Astrology and Calligraphy tests, but fails the Symbology test, she may FoRK Circination, Astrology, and Calligraphy or Symbology, Astrology, and Calligraphy into her future sorcery tests. If she succeeds all three rolls, then she may FoRK all four into her future sorcery tests. She can give two dice of help to any other Scholastic Mage adding Circination to their school, since she has a Circination exponent over five.

Abstractions can be cast, but they must be distilled first, using a special distillation process. Instead of testing sorcery at each stage of distillation, the skills of the school must be used. The skill that represents the complementary knowledge is tested first, then the skill that represents the spell-casting activity, then the skill that represents the source of power. At each step, the other two skills can be FoRKed.

For instance, if our Scholastic Mage wanted to create a spell to demolish buildings, she would first choose the facets: Earth, Destroy, Presence, Instantaneous, Presence. She first spends three months researching the symbols that might allow her to destroy a earthen structure, testing Symbology (FoRKing Calligraphy and Astrology) against Ob 3 and, if she is successful, distilling Earth-Destroyer into an Ob 2 facet. She might then spend a few weeks practicing the particular methods of calligraphy that would cause these symbols to affect something the size of the building, testing Calligraphy (FoRKing Symbology and Astrology) against Ob 4, distilling Presence-Presence into an Ob 2 facet. Then, combining this with the Instantaneous duration, she would test Astrology (FoRKing Symbology and Calligraphy) against Ob 4, and, if she was successful, she would understand the particular relation of the symbols to the positions of the stars, and the spell would be finalized into an Ob 2 spell. She could then cast the spell whenever she wished, and pen it into spell books. She could not have cast the spell before it was finalised.

It should be possible to use this system with most of the kinds of magic found in the Magic Burner. What do people think of it? How would it work in play?

At a glance I think it would work excellently in play. I would definitely lean towards using it with art magic more than traditional sorcery, as I think it fits the free form nature of that magic system better.

Figuring out what skills you can and cannot fork together might get a little bookkeeping intensive in the long run. Once you have, say, 6 skills that you can fork into your sorcery, but 3 of them can only be combined with certain others, it gets a bit complex to write down.

How about tax? If using traditional sorcery, would tax be applied at all? I think you could actually do without it, magic here is low-key and takes long enough time that tax is not really needed.

Time is also a concern - I assume that spells would take longer to cast, which makes combat spells useless (which is a feature as I understand it, part of the intent). Some guidelines for how long a spell takes are needed though.

Under these rules sorcery will never advance above B0 and none of the other skills will advance (since they are forks). That might be problematic. I understand that is part of the idea, but playing a sorcerer under these rules might be a bit frustrating since I would never advance my sorcery by doing sorcery… and my other skills need to be used for something other than magic to advance. Gaining circination tests outside of magic can be difficult.

About facets… be aware that the facet rules are sort of broken in BWG, at least for modifying spells as they are cast and for improvising spells. It’s not a problem for the +1-2 Ob facets, but above that they become impossible to use. It’s not really hard to fix, just apply a step-down function or something on the obs (ob 1 remains ob 1, ob 2 becomes ob 1, ob 3 becomes ob 2, etc), but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Thanks for the feedback! And yeah, it might not be particularly clear, but the idea is that the spells should take an hour per obstacle point “Sorcery tests made in this way take a number of hours equal to the obstacle of the spell to be cast. Spells with an obstacle in the form X^ take X hours to cast.” And there’s no tax “Failed tests cause a DoF roll for failure results as per normal sorcery, but they do not cause tax.” Combat spells are supposed to be possible to make if you have a skill like Alchemy as the practical part of the school - you can make spells ahead of time and unleash them in combat. I might allow them to be sustained until used, perhaps…

In terms of advancing skills, I realise that that is an issue. I’m not quite sure how to address it though - since advancing three skills at once would be a bit overboard, but there’s no obvious way of choosing just one. Any advice?

And I guess my intent was that the distillation part be used with whatever mechanism you use to make it work in your game - some people have special items that can add dice, some do a step-down like you do - whatever you do, it should work with the system as outlined above.

Whatever skill you were using would be the one that would count for advancement regardless of FoRKs. (Although, with low obstacles advancement would be limited.) I suggest that each part of the spell creation be treated as a linked test as it seems that each spell has 3 parts to it, that way each skill s success or failure has an effect on the next stage of spell building. You could even just treat “Sorcery” as a 2 point “Magical Training” skill and then let spell casters learn their spells at 2 points to open and 1 point to advance in character burning (just like Elves. You would have to decide what common spells for which lifepath, possibly making some lifepath skills into spell skills (2 points to open, 1 point to advance, open ended dice rolls). This would allow spell casters to advance their knoeledge of individual spells rather than all spells, all the time. Learning new spells should still grant the opening root as you would’ve eliminated the sorcery skill.

The thing is that, when you’re casting a spell you aren’t actually testing any particular skill, because you don’t have the raw magical power to actually channel magic from yourself - you’re just use extemporaneous knowledge and rituals to channel another power. So none of the skills are being rolled when you’re actually casting a spell, only when you’re trying to expand your school or create a new spell. And the reason I don’t want particular skills for different spells is along the same lines - if you don’t have the Gifted trait, the spells you cast are not actually part of you, they are a motion that you’re going through to draw on some other power. In terms of linked tests - I can see that working quite well.

A mechanical distinction you could make is that the “source” skill is actually helping the roll while the others are forked in, similar to how Corruption and Elven Grief (through the ballad of rage) can help ability rolls on the same character. Or perhaps not just the source, but any one of the skills count as helping and the rest is being forked in. It’s kind of artificial, but it makes advancement work.

Yeah, perhaps the least artificial way of achieving this is to say that the skill with the lowest exponent is helping, and the others are FoRKed. That, or you could just embrace the artificiality and have them go on rotation.