After much research and soul-searching, I have completed the first draft of the magic system for the World of Weirth Campaign Setting. The setting can best be described as Swords & Sorcery, with a grim and gritty aesthetic. Visually, I believe it looks like the old Conan movies from the 80s, Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo art.
To capture that feel for the magic system I do not want it to be “fire and forget” hand-wavery. Casting spells has consequences. The power for magic comes from the Magic-User’s own body, a brazier of burning coals, or from supernatural entities in the Outerdark.
As always, I am indebted to those who have gone before, and done the yeoman’s work of researching and combining ideas. This magic system owes its bones to the Age of Conan Supplements for OD&D by Jason Vey and to the highly atmospheric magic rules from Dungeon Crawl Classics.
This is a first draft, it has not seen any playtesting yet.
Any similarities to any real-world magical practices are unintentional, because I didn’t do any research on them. The details of Spellburn and Animal Sacrifice will be left up to actual play, no specific descriptions or “magic words” are required.
The draft versions of the Magic-User character classes can be found here: Magic-User tag
I look forward to any comments or suggestions.
Magic and Spellcasting
[This section is heavily influenced by/borrowed from the Age of Conan Supplements to OD&D by Jason Vey and by the “Spellburn” rules from DCC. No trademark challenge is implied. To both, I say “Thank You” for doing the heavy lifting on this!]
Magic Spells of Levels I & II are fairly common and easily powered by the life force of the caster, blood sacrifice or a sympathetic energy source (usually hot coals, but can also be running water, such as a water wheel).
These spells can be prepared each day with 30 minutes of meditation and memorization.
These L I and L II spells may be cast without an outside power source, up to two levels worth of spells per day (sunrise to sunrise).
For example: A third level Magic-User has the ability to prepare and cast two L I spells and one L II spell per day (INT bonuses notwithstanding) for a total of four levels of spellcraft. In order to be able to cast all three spells, they will have to either:
- Create a power source and generate a Sympathetic link. Typically this source is a fire of some sort, usually in a brazier. The Sympathetic link could be two matching bronze spheres, one nestled within the coals, the other on the Magic-User’s person.
- Perform a mundane Spellburn – overriding the mind’s defenses and tapping into the material being of the Magic-User. In attempting mundane Spellburn, the Magic-User temporarily expends points of his Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution score to power a spell: For every ability point so expended, the Magic-User can power one level of spell.
- Perform a Blood Sacrifice – Animal sacrifice can be used to power a spell, and gives a bonus to the Spell Failure roll, but at the cost of a penalty to the Save vs Corruption roll. A L I or L II spell so powered will require a roll for Save vs Corruption. A simple sacrifice in combat or just before casting a spell grants +1 to the next Spell Failure roll but imparts a -1 penalty to Save vs Corruption until the next sunrise. This sacrifice can be used to power a spell, or spells, of up to three levels of spellcraft for each animal so sacrificed. Any “levels” of spellcraft power unused after one hour will dissipate. (NOTE: Rats and mice are unacceptable as sacrifices. Birds, such as doves, pigeons, roosters, chickens, or other animals like snakes, cats, dogs, deer, etc. are acceptable to the entities of the Outerdark. Other, larger, animals (such as horses, oxen or some monsters) may have a different effect, your GM can provide more information.)
When a Magic-User casts a spell of L III or greater they will make two rolls (spells of L I & L II only require a Spell Failure Roll):
- Save vs Spells for Corruption – reaching into the Outerdark for power is dangerous, corrupting and addictive. Magic comes from a source that is alien to humankind and is subtly destructive to the human body and spirit. A failure means the M-U makes a “Corruption Tally” mark on their character sheet. Six such marks means the M-U will apply a -1 penalty to future Corruption saves. For every 12 points of Corruption, a Magic-User gains a +1 BONUS to their Spell Failure roll, AND a -2 penalty for any rolls on the Corruption Table. For every 18 points of Corruption, a Magic-User makes a roll on the Minor Corruption Table (with the -2 penalty). Removing the stain of corruption requires one week of penance and meditation, while refraining from any and all spellcasting, at a Lawfully-aligned temple or retreat per three points of accumulated Corruption. Such penance costs 100 GP per level per week.
- Spell Failure Roll – (See Spell Failure Charts below)
Spells of the higher levels, especially those cast from scrolls or performed as Rituals from one’s spellbook are too draining for a Magic-User to power through their own life force. That of a powerful energy source or a supernatural entity must be used or summoned.
Summon Patron – Upon gaining 5th level of experience the Magic-User will need to perform the Summoning Ritual, in order to gain access to spells of third level (L III) or higher. The Magic-User can cast magic spells chosen from a list particular to the supernatural entity summoned.
The Summoning Ritual is the ONLY LIII spell that can be cast without supernatural aid. It requires blood Sacrifice, Spellburn, or a sympathetic energy source to be cast successfully. Each of these methods have their bonuses and drawbacks.
The Summoning Ritual takes 30 minutes to execute, in order to prepare spells for casting that day. This ritual is not memorized, per se, rather it is a result of mental training and meditation. The Magic-User literally connects their Life Force to that of the Esitouche in order to reach into the Outerdark for magical power.
The Magic-User does not need to roll a Save vs Spells to avoid Corruption, nor is there a chance for Spell Failure, unless the Magic-User is physically interrupted during this meditation period. This is a Spell-like power (as is Detect Magic).
The Magic-User may then prepare their spells, needing additional time for each group of spells:
- + 30 minutes for spells of L III – V
- + 30 minutes for spells of L VI-VII
- + 30 minutes for spells of L VIII – IX
For example, an 8th Level Arcanist wishes to prepare her spells for the day. She needs 30 minutes to prepare any L I or L II spells she wishes to cast. She then can perform the Summoning Ritual, for an additional 30 minutes. If she wishes to perform a blood sacrifice at this time the Summoning Ritual takes one full hour. She may then memorize/prepare her three L III spells and two L IV spells in a further 30 minutes, for a total elapsed time of 90 minutes (without a blood sacrifice, 120 minutes/2 hours with a blood sacrifice).
Animal sacrifice can be used to power a spell, and gives a bonus to the Spell Failure roll, but at the cost of a penalty to the Save vs Corruption roll. A simple sacrifice in combat or just before casting a spell grants +1 to the next Spell Failure roll but imparts a -1 penalty to corruption saves until the next sunrise. This sacrifice can also be used to power a spell, up to three levels of spellcraft for each animal so sacrificed. The full hour ritual grants +4 to the next casting or +2 to all castings (until the next sunrise) and imparts -3 to corruption saves, once again, until the next sunrise. The full hour ritual can also be used to power up to five levels of spellcraft.
Sympathetic Energy Source
If a M-U decides not to, or prefers not to, for whatever reason, Summon a supernatural entity to power their spells for that day, they will need to create a power source and create a Sympathetic link. Typically this source is a fire of some sort, usually in a brazier or large fireplace. For the purposes of this rule assume two pounds of coal or five pounds of wood burns hot enough for spellcasting for one hour. During that hour a M-U may cast up to four levels worth of spells.
Furthermore, for the purposes of this rule, for each two-pound measure of coal (or five pounds of wood) added to the brazier it will burn and provide energy for another hour, up to a total of five hours.
For example, if an M-U were to load a brazier with six pounds of coal (or 15 pounds of wood), it could power up to four L III spells or three L IV spells over the course of three hours.
(Yes, this may seem like a lot of paperwork and tracking, but rest assured it will come up. Better safe than sorry!)
For spells powered by a sympathetic link to a fire, there is no need for a Save vs Spells for Corruption. Spell Failure rolls are unaffected.
Spellburn (via DCC)
“Blood aids great sorcery,” quoth the mummy, and he was right. A magic-user can harness more magical energies if he is willing to make mortal sacrifice: offer part of his soul to a demon, foster a demi-god’s greedy growth by sacrificing the physical life energy in his own cells. Before rolling any spell failure, a Magic-User may declare that he will attempt spellburn. In attempting spellburn, the Magic-User temporarily expends points of his Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution score to either power a spell or enhance his spell failure roll. For every ability point he expends, the Magic-User can power one level of spell or add +1 to his spell failure roll. For example, a Magic-User in a life-or-death situation may need absolute certainty that his next spell functions. He calls to a supernatural entity in the Outerdark for assistance. In offering the entity a share of his life-force, he trades 7 points of Strength to give himself a +7 bonus to his next spell failure roll. Ability scores lost in this way return as the wizard heals. Each day he does not attempt spellburn, he recovers 1 point of ability score.
Schools of Magic
There are ten Schools of Magic, each with their own specialized type of magic:
- Curses – Spells that cause harm in a tangible way
- Divination – Spells that reveal otherwise hidden knowledge
- Domination – Spells that compel others to bow to the M-U’s will
- Elemental – Spells that affect the basic elements
- Illusions – Spells that alter perceptions
- Necromancy – Spells that alter the status of the dead
- Prestidigitation – Spells that affect physical properties of material items
- Summoning – Spells that call forth animals, spirits or monsters (See Secrets of the Black Circle)
- Translation – Spells dealing with the nature of travel and movement
- Wards – Spells that protect persons, places, or things
The spell-like power of Detect Magic available to Magic-Users is able to identify the school of magic, its approximate range, and the relative strength of the caster.
Note: There are no healing spells available, except for the Exalted ability to Lay on Hands and the alchemical preparations of the Sisterhood of the Raven. The reverse of the various Cure Wounds spells are available, as spells of the Curses School.
Spells known and the number a PC is able to memorize/prepare are as found in the charts for the specific character class. Learning a new spell that a PC discovers is dependent on the % to Know Spell of the PC’s INT score.