Relatively recently, I was asked about a series called “Mistborn”, in which there was a system of magic called “Allomancy” – an innate ability to ingest and “burn” chunks of metal to gain various special powers.
Well, the various special powers are each easy enough to design individually. Requiring access to the appropriate metals to use them would count as either a Corruption (for readily available metals) or a Specialization (for rare ones), and thus would reduce the cost by either a third or a half.
The problem is a little deeper than that. The series covers the effects available from the use of seven pure metals – Iron (attracting metals), Zinc (amplifying emotions), Copper (concealment from magic), Tin (sensory enhancement), Gold (seeing alternate realities), Aluminum (neutralizes your own powers), and Atium (a fictional metal that allows short-term precognition).
The series also includes Steel (Iron and Carbon – or sometimes manganese, chromium, vanadium, or tungsten – which allows you to push metals away), Electrum (Gold and Silver – which allows you to see into your own future), Duralumin (Aluminum and Copper, the mix allows the user to “burn” other metals in a massive burst), Bronze (Copper and Tin – or sometimes phosphorus, manganese, aluminum, or silicon – allows the user to detect other people using metal-magic in the area and sometimes analyze what they’re doing), Brass (Copper and Zinc, which allows the user to manipulate emotions), Pewter (Tin and Lead, or sometimes copper, antimony, or bismuth, which enhances the user’s physical attributes – strength, speed, agility, and ability to withstand damage), and Malatium (Atium – however fictional – and something else, allowing the user to see who people have been in the past).
The trouble is, this list only covers six of the twenty-eight known natural metals (Lithium, Beryllium, Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminum, Potassium, Calcium, Titanium, Vanadium, Chromium, Manganese, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Zinc, Arsenic, Zirconium, Molybdenium, Silver, Cadmium, Antimony, Barium, Osmium, Platinum, Mercury, Thallium, Lead, and Uranium) and one fictional metal out of an unknown quantity. It only covers seven alloys, out of hundreds of relatively common ones. What do the rest do? If nothing, why not? At least some of them must be magically active in some fashion, otherwise alloys using them wouldn’t be magically different from the metals they’re alloyed with – and there are alloys already in the system that are.
I won’t even get into the fact that Aluminum is murderously difficult to extract: it was first crudely purified in 1825 – and even then only in tiny qualities. For a considerably length of time – until an electrical extraction process was developed in 1885 – it was far more precious than gold.
Now that author has apparently hinted that only eight metals and eight alloys have supernatural properties, although apparently without providing a reason “why”. It also isn’t clear whether or not Atium is a part of the original system. Personally I’d guess that Atium and its alloy Malatium are supernatural additions to the system, that Lead and Silver – since neither got a mention directly yet both are prominent components of mentioned alloys – are the remaining two magical metals, and that there are two additional magical alloys available, for a total of eighteen. If you want to use this branch of magic in a game, go ahead and make something up.
Still, this is a pretty straightforward system of Talismanic Magic – and systems like that are fairly common in fantasy fiction. They’re all pretty straightforward: you have the proper talent and/or training? You have the appropriate talisman or material? You may then use it to produce a particular effect, or modest range of related effects, until you deplete said talisman or material – permanently or temporarily draining its magic.
This sort of thing is relatively easy on authors and game masters: the variety of powers available is strictly limited, they can easily be supplied to – or removed from – the characters, and there’s no need to have any real underlying system: the interactions can be defined pretty readily.
Like most abilities with semi-unlimited use in Eclipse, our system of Talismanic Magic will have to be built around either Innate Enchantment or the Path of the Dragon. Both of them are good at producing a relatively limited set of effects. Innate Enchantment is simpler to build – simply buy the appropriate spell effects and limit them by requiring the appropriate talismans – but it requires buying specific spell or psionic effects, and I haven’t actually read the series to know what to get. I’ll stick with Path of the Dragon, which allows a more general framework, even if it does often cost a bit more.
So: Path of the Dragon. Shaping (6 CP), Pulse of the Dragon (6 CP), Heart of the Dragon (18 CP worth, for L1 spells). Specialized and Corrupted: the user can only produce a very limited range of game-master set effects and must possess and deplete the appropriate talisman or material to use each effect. Triple Effect (allowing effects of up to level three). That’s 30 CP – a +1 ECL template or pretty much the full allowance of points for a +0 ECL race. The effective caster level is equal to the user’s level and the game master may or may not choose to enforce the minimum effective caster level (Effect Level x 2 -1) for producing various effects. If he or she does, Talismanic Mages will start weak and have to learn to use their abilities. If he or she does not, they’ll principally be limited by the Talismans or Materials that they can obtain and haul along.
The fun part of doing it this way is that you can use that template/race for a wide variety of magic-users. Want a character who ritually folds paper talismans under the light of particular astronomical events? A Mistborn Allomancer? An Alchemist or Herbalist who compounds weird powders and potions with odd magical effects from rare and expensive ingredients? An artificer who builds complex magical mechanisms? This will cover it.
So, how many abilities should the game master allow for something like this?
Well, for 30 CP with those limitations you could buy 11 levels of – say – druidical spellcasting. A dozen or so reasonably general abilities, or at least twice that many highly specialized ones, are probably in order. After all, if they become problematic, it’s going to be relatively easy to restrain characters with this kind of magic. Simply take away their talismans.