Eclipse – Thaumaturgy and Dweomer

   Thaumaturgy and Dweomer – like everything else in Eclipse: The Codex Persona – are tools for building the character you want to be playing.

   The raw mechanics are simple enough.

  • You need a supply of power to drive your effects. Mana, or Power and Spell Points, are the easiest ways to go – but there are other ways.
  • You need to have the ability to handle that power – an applicable Base Caster Level.
  • You need to have the ability to use that power to produce particular types of effects – in Thaumaturgy and Dweomer the special Feat that offers access to a particular field of magic.
  • You need to have the skill you need to channel that power into specific effects. In Thaumaturgy and Dweomer, those are the skills in each field – and the user makes a skill check whenever he or she wants to produce a particular effect.

   The skills are the really fun part, so they’re up first. They’re always linked by some sort of Theme – whether it’s HOW they produce effects (Dweomer) or what KIND of effects they produce (Thaumaturgy). That doesn’t make any difference in the underlying mechanics, but it’s the real attraction. No more generic priest or wizard; with Dweomer and Thaumaturgy you’re starting off with your own theme and speciality right off the bat.

   Ergo, Theme One: Electromagnetic Manipulation

   Since these skills are linked by how they operate, this is a Dweomer field. We’ll want eight skills or thereabouts, so how about…

  1. Dampening. The art of countering electromagnetic effects. This will cover blocking lightning bolt attacks, shutting down electrical machinery and alarms, inducing paralysis or unconsciousness by damping the central nervous system, and protecting yourself from lasers and flash-blindness.
  2. Data Transmission. The art of sensing and modulating electromagnetic radiation. This will cover seeing beyond the usual visual spectrum, receiving and transmitting radio signals, triangulating on sources, scanning for bugs and both reading and writing to computer media. Normally that sort of stunt would require a computer mentality, but that’s why it would be a high-level effect.
  3. Electromagnetic Blast. Mustn’t forget this. How could any RPG character – or respectable superhero – get along without a supply of ranged attacks such as lasers, lightning bolts, magnetic blasts, and (at higher levels) area effects?
  4. Force Fields. If our character is going to run around blowing this up, he or she had better be able to take a few hits. Ergo, the classic “electromagnetic force field” – armor, damage reduction, and defensive barriers all available for the low, low, price of buying Dweomer and one specialized skill.
  5. Hologram Generation. The art of realistic illusions really surpasses normal human limitations. There are simply too many small details, and too many possible angles of observation, to truly get it right. Fortunately, this is fundamentally a branch of magic, so we can presume that the higher level effects simply fill in such details for the user.
  6. Invisibility. This is the subtle art of rerouting streams of electromagnetic energy – with effects ranging from concealing your presence to looking around corners, deflecting and redirecting lasers (ranging from the low-powered devices used in alarm systems to laser cannons), and keeping people from being electrocuted by downed power lines.
  7. Jamming. This is the deceptively simple art of random static – disrupting communications, scrambling data to the point of near- irretrieveability, triggering epileptic fits, and otherwise scrambling things.
  8. Magnetic Manipulation. The fine art of manipulating chunks of matter via magnetic (and/or electrostatic) fields. Obviously enough, this is good for moving things around, and – at higher levels – reshaping anything that’s reasonably plastic under pressure. It can also be used to fly around, which suits an obviously superheroic type.

   Well that looks like fun. It also looks kind of modern super-hero-ish. In Eclipse superhero universes provide some free Mana to work with every round, so, er… Lightstorm should be able to blast away with basic effects pretty much all day long. As a superhero, he – of course – will be focusing on Electromagnetic Blast, Force Fields, Magnetic Manipulation, and Dampening.

   His evil twin brother, the evil Shadowmaster, can specialize in Dampening, Data Transmission, Invisibility, and Jamming. Neither of them need be helpless in the other four fields, but they’ll definitely each have their speciality.

   And that power list illustrates Dweomer very nicely: the various skills produce a wide variety of effects, but they’re all related by the underlying mechanism.

   For a more classical example of Thaumaturgy, let’s have the field of Radiance, the power of the light of creation imbued with pure life force. For it’s skills lets take…

  1. Healing the Spirit’s House. The Radiance is good for repairing physical injuries, attribute damage, and similar troubles. This skill alone will usually assure a master (or servant) of the Radiance a welcome wherever he or she goes.
  2. Guardian. This is the art of calling on the Radiance to ward and protect those persons and places under the user’s care. This may mean calling forth an actual guardian spirit from the light, creating a bond to let the user channel his or her powers to the aid of someone in need of help but not at hand, or it may simply mean (at lower levels) imbuing the recipient with a small reserve of power to aid and guide him or her when difficulties arise.
  3. Life Imbuement. This is the ability to pour the life-fire of the Radiance into invigorating and enhancing living tissues – enhancing attributes, granting vigor and eliminating fatigue, and even raising the newly dead or cloning old cell samples.
  4. Light of Revelation. The radiance of truth reveals the hidden and vanquishes falsehoods. This skill is useful for dispelling illusions, detecting lies (and compelling the truth), for revealing hidden clues, impurities, and passages, and for probing minds.
  5. Peace of Light. Whether it is removing fear, calming a beast, person, or crowd, or soothing the insanity that prevents a madman from revealing a vital clue, the light that brings inner peace is something that many have sought, and few have found. With a slight twist this might cover a variety of hypnotic effects – which draws a distinction between those who see themselves as mastering the Radiance and those who see themselves as serving it.
  6. Purification. Driving out contaminants and infections. Good for exorcisms, purifying drinking water, expelling diseases and possessing spirits, removing psychic impressions, extracting perfume essences from flowers, and isolating toxins.
  7. Radiant Fire. The light is pure and terrible, and – like all things – can be turned to the purposes of destruction. Disregarding that potential when it is needed is no better than using it when it is not. This skill covers various radiant energy attacks and blasts, imbuing objects with radiant energy, destroying (or welding) metal barriers, of simply flash-blinding crowds.
  8. Shield of Light. Naturally enough, the Radiance can be used to defend against many evils – raising barriers to hostile magic, holding off demons, undead, and other creatures of the darkness, preventing possession, and supporting the user in times of wavering faith or self-confidence. It’s only good for the simplest of barriers against more physical attacks though.

   Now, I could easily think of a few other skills there. Why not have “Radiant Presence“, allowing the user to spread emotional auras, overawe people, hold off the powers of darkness, and inspire others? How about “Words of Truth“, allowing the user to reveal peoples inner darknesses and self-deceptions to them, and to give wise and inspiring council that will help them for a long time to come? How about “Body of Light“, allowing the user to reduce or resist physical needs, injuries, and common environmental forces, eventually leading to the ability to become immaterial, fly, teleport, and even merge with the Radiance?

   Well, you can. Every Thaumaturgist can have his or her own skills or – less drastically – his or her own approach to similar skills. Given that every player will interpret a given characters skills a little differently, and will use them in different ways, every Thaumaturgist should be quite unique. In general, that’s a good thing. It also makes it easy to create sub-orders or regional differences; simply trade out a skill or two.

   In any case, that’s Thaumaturgy – a list of effects related by a style or end-result theme, not by some common underlying mechanism.

   For a final example, lets take a Priest of Odin. In a lot of settings – especially those influenced by Marvel Comics – Odin is a slightly cranky old man who’s a bit manipulative but generally decent and possesses vast magical powers. His priests look a lot like every other generic priest. The magic word here is “boring”.

   In a more classical view, Odin is a death-god, a bringer of war who promotes strife between friends and kin, who sires heroic children only to kill them, who distributes cursed swords, who brings glory and an early grave, all to fill Valhalla with warriors in preparation for a struggle that he knows to be hopeless, albeit not entirely futile. He asks for strong men to be sacrificed to him, he is a guide to the dead, and the father of witchcraft.

   Forget the insipid generic priest of vague parental gods. What kind of powers should a true Priest of Odin get?

   That’s one of the advantages of Thaumaturgy of course. Who wants to write up a specialized list of the powers bestowed by each god in a campaign setting? Much less for each type of deity who MIGHT be put in a campaign setting? Go ahead and let the player pick his or her own skills, and come up with fitting effects on the fly.

   So, for Odin, let us go with…

  1. Emotion Control. Like Odin, our priest will be able to stir up strife and violence, inspire men for war, fascinate the gullible, seduce when there is some advantage in it, and lay fear upon his or her enemies.
  2. Foretelling. Odin sees the future, but there is little profit in it for him; the final doom is certain. For mortal priests, with less cosmic concerns and powers, this is a lot more useful. They may determine destinies and potentials, foresee the arrival of unexpected guests – or the consequences of setting off some trap – and know the best times to strike against an enemy.
  3. Runebind. Odin gave great weapons and enchanted armor to those he favored, and effects which grant such benefits – albeit on a temporary basis – are also within the purview of his priests.
  4. Shapeshift. Odin was a master of guises, and many times – if not so often as Loki – took the form of a bird to escape enemies or carry some choice bit of loot back to Valhalla. Such powers too are granted to his priests.
  5. Spiritwalking. Odin’s priests are capable of walking the spirit lands, speaking with – and combating – the wraiths of the unquiet dead, and of escorting the dead into the afterlife. For them, corpses speak.
  6. Strength. Odin, and his priests, can grant endurance in battle, stamina, the ability to withstand massive wounds, great strength, and fabulous powers of recovery – if usually not the instant healing you often get with magic.
  7. Valhalla’s Horn. The strengths, and services, of the Heroes of Valhalla are at Odin’s command. His priests too may call upon spirit warriors to battle by their sides or to grant some portion of their strength and skill to another.
  8. Wyrd. Odin can shape the destinies of men. Mighty curses, and slight blessings, lay within the power of his priests. Beware however, the blessings of Odin are always a double-edged blade.

   OK, now that looks like more fun. Who said that Odin and his priests were nice? They’re great to have around if it looks like you’re coming up on a heroic last stand though.

   To actually go about using those powers, a character has to address the other elements.

   First up, is getting something to power those abilities with.

  • Mana is the most primal, and versatile, source of power in Eclipse. You can use it to power Feats and powers, spells and psychic abilities, bursts of hysterical strength, and subtle mental probes. If you can get it, Mana is the best way to power almost anything. Unfortunately, Mana is expensive to buy and slow to recover once expended, requiring Rite of Chi (and lots of bonus uses). Those lucky, lucky, superheroes get to spend a certain amount of mana each round without having to use their personal reserves – but how many characters are lucky enough to live in worlds like that?
  • Lesser power sources, such as “Power” (your reserve of personal psychic energy), “Generic Spell Levels” or “spell points” (your reserve of or personal magical power), and spell or power “slots” (systems for gradually storing up discrete bundles of power to be released in bursts) will all work, and are automatically refreshed on a daily basis rather being slow to recover like Mana – but Thaumaturgy and Dweomer call for both psychic and magical energies, using psychic powers to help focus and control the magic. A would-be user will have to either get both or pick up some way of converting between them, such as the Unity ability.
  • Finally, there are a few ways of either burning yourself out to provide power (Body Fuel) or tapping into external supplies (Path of the Dragon), but they usually have problems of their own.
  • Ergo, if we want to fuel an “Easy” Thaumaturgy or Dweomer effect, we’re going to want to use either one Mana point OR two Power points and one Spell Point (“Generic Spell Level”). Where those come from – a particular spell or power progression, personal reserves, body fuel, the path of the dragon, or whatever – really doesn’t matter.

   Buying the ability to control that power is simple. Buy some Base Caster Levels. You can specialize them in Thaumaturgy and Dweomer if you want, but that isn’t required. Your Base Caster Level in a field governs how effectively you can use it and – if the game master is enforcing the rule about maximum effect levels – governs how powerful and complex the effects you produce can be.

   Buying access to a particular Thaumaturgical or Dweomer field is equally simple. Six CP or one feat grants access to the skills of a particular field. I usually put eight skills in each field, but a few more or less will work fine too.

   We’ve already covered the skills – so how do you actually use them?

   At the most basic:

  1. Come up with an effect that you want to produce.
  2. If you’ve done it before, skip straight to #7.
  3. Glance at your skills to see if it fits under any of them.
  4. If it doesn’t, come up with another idea.
  5. If it does, tell the game master what you want to do and see how he rates it. There are only seven categories – Trivial through Epic – so that should be quick and easy.
  6. If it’s too hard, try to do something else. This doesn’t count as any kind of action; the character is presumed to know his or her limitations even if the player doesn’t.
  7. Pay the casting cost. Note that there is a cost modifier based on character level (NOT casting level). Even if you’re a dabbler, the big stuff gets easier with practice.
  8. Roll to see if you beat the casting DC. If you roll really well, you may get a partial refund on the casting cost.
  9. If it you succeed, the spell goes off. Stuff happens.
  10. If you failed by a little – say by 1-5 – you’ll probably get a partial effect.
  11. If you failed by an intermediate amount – say by 6-10 – nothing will happen.
  12. If you failed spectacularly – say by 11 or more – (and usually by trying something you needed a really high roll for), the game master may give you a backfire or a wild magical effect. It’s better not to push your limits.

   There are a few complications.

  • If you’re an expert, and know exactly what you want to do (“I’m going to dissolve the blood clot in the left temporal lobe and seal the ruptured blood vessel), the spell will be a lot easier than if you’re going for brute force (“I heal whatever’s wrong with him”).
  • If you can’t move or can’t speak – or both – it gets a lot harder.
  • Throwing in an appropriate ritual – a good place, time, set of components, ceremony, and invocation – can help a bit. If you’re using Dweomer, consider cosmic conjunctions, weird science power amplifiers, booster drugs, meditation and power focusing, and invocations or mantras. If you’re a Thaumaturgic Priest, consider working in a dedicated temple, during one of your god’s holy days, using an altar and holy symbol, conducting a religious ritual, and calling on your god for his or her help. All it needs to be is appropriate to the field you’re using.
  • Working in an appropriate environment makes things easier as well. 

   Finally, Dweomer and Thaumaturgy are very handy for the game master. Want to surprise your players by having an opponent be a priest of some forgotten deity from a distant land, with many strange magics? Or an equally eccentric wizard?

   In standard d20, that’s very awkward. Do you really want to spend a lot of time writing up a list of spells that you’re only going to use once? Even for a normal high-level character selecting a spell list is a bloody nuisance.

   Doing it with Dweomer and Thaumaturgy is a lot easier.

  1. Give your priest either some Power and Spell Points or Mana.
  2. Jot down the names of eight magical skills that you think are appropriate.
  3. Assign them skill scores. Put a few somewhat over the maximum – presumably due to Feats and enhancements – and a few somewhat under it.
  4. You are now done with this characters primary magical abilities.

   From a design standpoint, Thaumaturgy and Dweomer were designed to fill the game world with themed specialists, while – at the same time – allowing each spellcaster the freedom to come up with spells on the fly and get creative with their abilities. No more generic priests and wizards.

   It does, of course, have the basic problem which plagues all quick freeform magic systems. It requires that the game master have a list of benchmarks to judge proposed spells against. By default, that’s going to be the standard d20 spell list. If you want to change your worlds flavor, however, simply lift a list from some other source. Want to use Rolemaster? Go right ahead. Mage the Ascension? Why not? Just set Trivial = Rating 0 (almost too small to bother with), and Epic = Rating 6 (the province of gods and oracles). World Tree, the Weird West, Baba Yaga, and a hundred other games all have their own lists of effects and how difficult they are – and there’s no real reason not to use whatever list you have handy. You don’t even have to tell the players; they’ll get the benchmarks figured out soon enough.

The full rules for Thaumaturgy and Dweomer can be found in Eclipse: The Codex Persona – which is available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE.

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