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How Magic Works
KL6 - Academic Knowledge: Magic
Important note: Everything in this section is not widely known outside academic circles. Consider everything listed under 'how magic works' as knowledge level 6 in Academic Knowledge: Magic.
A good way to think of magic is as a 'cheat code' to the universe. The magic is the code itself and does all of the work, the effects of that code come afterwards.
Magic in Echelon is a force unique: When Echelonian magic is cast, the 'flavour' of the magic will very often create an environmental effect (such as flames or an lightning-like discharge for example); but whatever that effect is, magic itself does all the work, and causes those effects as a side-effect. As such, magical spells are oftenmost named after their respective environmental effects, but those effects are only a byproduct of the power of magic.
For example: although a 'fire' spell often does include a conflagration of some sort, the flames themselves are a secondary effect to the power of the magic. 'Fire magic' does not directly manipulate actual fire, the flavour of magic being used causes flames to appear around it.
It is very important to understand this concept as a player and GM: Many spells are customisable, and some require GM input for rulings. Understanding how magic works is important when working out what it can and cannot do. A good example would be attempting to put out a campfire: you cannot really do this with fire magic - trying to manipulate existing flame with fire will only cause more flames to appear.
Refer to the Limitations of Magic section on the spells page to see the absolute limitations of magic generally. See the Mastery Spell entry on the spells page for an idea of what you can and cannot do environmentally with each element. Mastery is the spell that relies on these environmental effects most.
For specific lore on magic, see Lore: Magic.
Limitations of Magic
Magic spells themselves have some absolute limitations:
Spells cannot be used to transmute - turn one substance into another totally different substance. Such goal that has eluded mages for centuries, and although several hundred have tried and are trying, it seems beyond even magic's capability. As an example: Flesh can be turned into different types of flesh, complete with colours, textures and density; but ultimately it cannot be turned into stone or steel.
Spells cannot also be used for telepathy - reading minds and compelling others to do as you wish. Magic spells are far too clumsy to use to poke around someone's head, as they are being guided by the imprisions of a person's hand.
Spells cannot be used for necromancy - in the same way that CPR will not work on a corpse in the modern world; so magic cannot restart the process of life. Like telepathy it is far too clumsy for such a task, and not withstanding the decay that sets in after death. Conversely, magic can be used to shock the very recently departed back into the living if used judiciously. It can also be used to 'animate' corpses, like magical marionettes.
Magic is classified by its environmental effects: There are 2 schools, and 6 elements, with 3 elements per school. The 2 schools are popularly named Mysticism and Arcanism, although may often be known locally as something else.
The Mysticism school magic elements are nature, darkness and ice. It is representative of what is calm, natural, cold.
The Arcanism school magic elements are fire, arcane and lightness. It is representative of heat, brightness and what is artificial.
Very Important Note: Any magic-using being, both creature or player, will be part of one of these two schools, and one of them only. Not even a statement from the GM can go against this rule, as it is the fundamental block on which the entire array of magic is built. A character cannot possess magic spells from both schools.
Each element has a polar opposite: this is called a polar axis. Magic from one opposite used against another will cancel each both out, establishing (or trying to) an equilibrium and revert to their physical manifestations. For example: a fire spell is cast against an ice shield would be like a spear hitting a regular shield.
These polar opposites are:
Strengths and Weaknesses
Each element of magic is also be weak against another element of magic that isn't from its polar axis.
Magic of 2 different schools will either be strong or weak against the elements that aren't on the same polar axis. For example, fire is strong against nature, but is weak against darkness. i.e. conceptually fire can burn trees, but when smothered, it will extinguish.
If magic of the same element is used both on the defensive and offensive, then it would confer no advantage. Fire vs. Fire has the same effects as Ice vs. Fire for example.
Use this chart to look up whether magic is strong or weak against something:
Polar Opposite (cancels out)
Polar opposites cancel each other out, and the effects revert to the physical manifestation of the power.
Training Magic and Spells
KL4 - Academic Knowledge: Magic
Important note: Everything in this section is not widely known outside academic circles. Consider everything listed under 'training magic and spells' as knowledge level 4 in Academic Knowledge: Magic.
Unlike most skills as listed on the Skills page, spell training requires a thorough grounding in magical theory and a lot of prior practice.
Training to become better at spellcasting is done at the elemental level, rather than by directly training a character's cast skill. For example: spending time training in darkness magic will increase the capabilities of all of the darkness spells that a spellcaster knows.
Spells themselves have a relatively low training cost, and only need to be trained once. Further training in an element will grant a spellcaster bonuses to their casting tests, and allow increasing customizations of spells.
[Lightness, Darkness, Fire, Ice, Nature, Arcane]
The initial hurdle of becoming competent in an element is represented with the general magic skill for that element. Rather than increasing the costs of all magic related skills to represent the increased difficulty, a single investment of time as a prerequisite is used instead. It must be purchased before any further magical training can take place in a particular element.
General magic is the term these rules use for all basic magical element theory and training. Like magical spells, general magic can be referred to by any locally significant name.
Learning this skill enables a caster to learn spells in a particular allows a caster to cast those spells at casting level 0 - that is, no bonuses to their cast test. Further training in an element is purchased at the same costs as skills: see the further training section below.
Characters may only learn elements with this skill that are part of the same magic school that the character belongs. See the schools section above to see which element belongs to which school.
This skill can only be trained at a magical academy, and costs 240 days of training time. See Lore: Magic for the locations, descriptions and most importantly monetary costs of magical academies.
A character needs to learn the general magic skill for each element that they wish to become proficient in.
Training elements and spells follows the same rules for training skills: Elements and spells are bought and trained with time, measured in in-game days. A day when regarding training in elements and spells is assumed to be about 8 hours in length. This is all of the day's waking time, less what is needed for travel, food, personal chores, and so on.
The time taken to learn an element or spell from the defaults below is reduced in days by your Intelligence Bonus, multiplied by the level of skill you presently possess. For example: If a character's intelligence bonus is 3 and they are training a skill up to level 5, they would have a time reduction of 12 days (IB 3 x Level 4).
Training in levels 7, 8 and 9 must be spread over at least 1 year each in in-game time.
Training for all spells and elements is thus, with the time required measure in in-game days:
For starting characters; spells, elements and skills are purchased with the same pool of starting days.
- Select a School of magic - Arcanism or Mysticism. This is an inate property of the character and it cannot be changed once selected. This costs nothing.
- Learn the General Magic skill for a particular element. See below for a description of General Magic.
- Learn some spells!
Spells are cast with mana, the measurement of energy that a character has. Each character has a mana score, and each spell that they cast depletes this mana by a certain amount as noted on the spell's profile.
The power of a spell is determined by how much mana you're willing to spend on it. A spellcaster can cast a spell at any level of mana from the spell's base cost up to the amount of mana they have remaining. The more mana put into a spell, generally the more effective and more dangerous it is.
To cast a spell, a character must pass a cast test (Ptc + Per). Spells will often have a difficulty level, apply this as a penalty to your cast test's target number. A casting attempt will consume mana, even if the spell isn't successful.
The GM will announce whether or not spellcasting has succeeded or not. Just because the roll has succeeded, doesn't necessarily mean the spell has manifest. See Environmental Mana below.
Some spells take a time to cast, others are instant. The casting time of a spell is expressed in actions. Those with a casting time of 1 can be assumed to be 'instant cast' spells, as they only take the same amount of time to manifest as a normal attack.
Magic is a complicated procedure, and requires continuous concentration. If a spell is interupted during casting by any direct means, then all progress is lost.
The GM should decide if any distraction would interrupt a caster whilst they are attempting to cast.
As a yardstick to decide direct distraction: if the caster has to answer the interupting party/item, or would injure them, or otherwise stop them from casting, then they've been interupted. An example of a more benign interuption would be a dog barking outside, some people talking in the background, or music. These would not interupt the casting attempt, although they may annoy the caster.
If a group is casting the spell, they may rotate members every hour or so (or longer), at the cost of increasing the casting time by the time that a member of the group is not actively undertaking the spell. Some particularly difficult spells may be long enough to require toilet breaks, or even naps!
Spells typically have 3 ranges: self, touch, and ranged. The range of spells is noted in their profile.
- Self cast spells can only affect the the spellcaster themselves, never any other being or object.
- Touch cast spells can typically only be cast on another when the spellcaster is touching the thing that they wish to cast upon.
- Ranged cast spells can be flung from afar, and have ranges noted in their profiles expressed in yards. Some may have a minimum range before which they cannot hit.
Any spell that is ranged must be successfully 'fired' at the spell's target in order to affect it. When casting a ranged spell, the character must pass a shooting skill test (Pse + Per) to determine if the spell hits its intended target.
A spell's range is given as 3 numbers: short / medium / long range; E.g. 15 / 30 / 60. These are the distances from the caster to their target, in yards.
- Any target beneath short range has a +4 modifier to hit.
- Any target between short and medium range has no modifier.
- Any target between medium and long range is -4 to hit.
- Any target over long range is at -8 to hit, with another -2 for every 50 yards after that
Spells can shoot up to 3 times their long range, although it's relatively unlikely that the target will be hit.
Most of the time when missing with a ranged spell, it won't matter too much. However, if the location of where the spell hits is important, the GM should adjudicate where it ends up.
If a character rolls under half of the target number of their casting test, the effect of the spell is doubled:
- Any damage applied by an offensive spell
- Any healing applied by a healing spell
- The level of protection applied by a protection spell
On a critical success whilst casting, the effect is usually tripled - although the GM may wish to give another boon if they deem so.
Defense spells reduce incoming damage by a certain amount, and the spell will disappear once the amount of damage that the shield can soak has been exceeded. It will continue to offer its full protection until it has absorbed too much damage.
A new casting of a defensive spell replaces the older version: they do not stack. If the same spell is cast on the same target again, replace the current soak with the new roll (even if it is lower).
E.g.: A character targets themselves with a Shield of Frost spell, but already has a Sheild of Frost with 4 soak remaining active. Rolling 4D6 and gets 16, so now has 16 damage defence on the spell.
Mana is the amount of 'magical energy' that a character has available for use. It's not a direct resource - no scientific method has tapped it - but it is the term used to describe the theoretical energy.
Every time you cast a spell, your mana decreases by the cost of the spell shown in the spell's listing.
Outside of combat, mana will regenerate quite naturally at a rate of 1 mana every 15 minutes or so. The GM should ajudicate how much mana has been regenerated between spell castings if it is appropriate.
You can forcefully regenerate mana on a successful regenerate test (Wil + Int). If the test succeeds, a character gets 1 mana back for each 4 they beat their target number by. If they fail this test, they will gain a level of fatigue.
Regenerating is a free action, and can be combined with all other actions, but you can only make a maximum of 1 regenerate test per action. You can force mana to regenerate outside of combat too, if it is required.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The effects of the strengths against other spells are noted in their profile.
Note: Only the strengths of a spell are listed as to avoid penalising the weaker spell twice.
Free Hands and Arms
At least one of a character's hands needs to be free and capable of fine manipulation in order to cast a spell, in the same way that you'd need a hand free to reliably operate a gun. Aiming is worked out from the direction of the entire arm: as such, being in shackles will dampen your style signifantly. The particulars should be worked out by the GM should the need arise, using the operation of a gun as a yardstick.
Wands and Staffs
Enchanted wands and staffs can be used to create more precise semantics for spells, as well as act as a potential focus if the need arises.
Wands, staffs and other long pointy objects with the appropriate enchantment can be used to reduce the difficulty of a spell, or provide other bonsues, as based on their profile. The minimum difficulty a spell can be reduced to using a wand is 0s.
Every environment has a latent mana level, and this will manifest to help or hinder spellcasting. The mana level of a locale is determined randomly by the GM and is kept secret. There is no way to discover how conducive to magic a locale is until someone tries casting in it.
The GM rolls 1d10 and subtracts 5, giving a range of -4 to 5. This is the secret modifier to all potency based rolls in this locale.
A locale can be of virtually any size from about 5 yards square to an acre. This is the GM's choice.
Mana in a locale will often change - each new day can bring about a level of mana just as it can bring rain and shine. Certain locations are more stable though - it is at these places where magic colleges are often built. This is also the GM's choice.
GM Tips: If you want to keep your players on their toes, roll a d10 occasionally when they enter a new room or place, you don't have to use the new roll. If one of the players discovers the Environmental Mana value 'out of character' by accident, you will have to reroll.
When you cast an especially arduous spell, you may have any number of people assist you.
You can only team up with people who are from the same spell school as you. Attempts to do otherwise simply have no benefit or penalty, the magic is just not compatible.
Each assistant must have line of sight to every other. The character actually casting the spell (primary caster) must be able to see the target of the spell. For any spell that targets only the caster (like polymorph), the spell only targets the primary caster.
Multiply the casting time of the spell by the number of assistants.
You can use the highest cast test among participating casters, as long as they have sufficient training in spell that's being cast.
Each assistant suffers an exponential penalty to the amount of mana they can contribute: starting at -2 for the first assistant, -4 for the second, -8 for the third, and so on; on to a minimum contribution of 1. Casters trained to cast the same spell element as the spell being cast contribute an additional 1 mana, after this penalty has been applied.
The spell emanates from the primary spell caster only.
Tip: It might be wise to note down these mana figures: -2, -4, -8, etc. on your character sheet in advance to save time when casting as a group.