For today, it’s some additional explanation of the Theurgy magic system from Eclipse.
Like most of the magic systems in Eclipse, Theurgy is good for a particular magical style – in its case, skill based magic, with a limited power pool, the freedom to create effects on the fly, and a strong tendency towards specialists in particular magical fields. Occasional casting failures are to be expected, and – while almost anyone can dabble – only specialists can be expected to achieve really high levels of power.
Within those boundaries, an immense variety of magicians can be constructed – enough so that simply limiting a settings magic to Theurgy isn’t actually saying much; if you want magic in your game to have a particular style, you’ll probably want to require some additional limitations.
Theurgy is a noun-and-verb system, using six magical verbs and twelve magical nouns, covering what you want to affect with your spell and what you want to do to it. More complex spells may call for several nouns and verbs, but the basics are simple.
You decide what you want to do.
You decide what nouns and verbs are involved.
You expend the power to drive the spell, from whatever source or sources your character can tap.
You make a check using the (1d20 + the worst Verb skill involved + the worst Noun skill involved) versus a DC of (5 x [the spell level plus one]).
If you have metamagical feats, you can apply them without increasing the DC of the casting – although you’ll still need the ability to use spells of the appropriate level. Otherwise, since you can design spells on the fly with theurgy, you can simply build whatever effects you like into the spell.
If you want dig a trench it would probably be easiest to do it with Control Earth – moving the earth, just as you might if you were digging normally (and could somehow carry out that task with no tools and in a couple of seconds). How high a level of effect you’d need for that depends on how big – or complex – a trench you want. A pothole to trip someone up is a lot easier than a major earthwork – and a complex minor earthwork, such as suddenly inscribing a mystical diagram on the ground, may be fairly difficult as well, simply because of the fine control it requires.
Of course, if you happen to be a specialist in Destroy, and don’t know a thing about Control, you may have to resort to Destroy Earth – attempting to disintegrate it so as to create your trench. That approach will be a lot more impressive too (at least for any witnesses who understand what’s going on) because it’s a lot harder. Moving some dirt around is relatively easy, destroying large lumps of solid matter is not easy at all. You can expect a spell to annihilate earth to be several levels higher than the one you’d need to just move a similar quantity around.
You could use Transform, and turn the dirt you want out of the way into something else, but now you’d also need the noun for what you were turning it into. Transform Earth to Air would be less messy, but – if you want a barrier – you might prefer Transform Earth to Water (acid would be nice, although that would make the spell more difficult again) or even Transform Earth to Fire. While this kind of stunt is also pretty tricky, it’s not quite as hard as making that much matter simply vanish.
You aren’t going to be able to make a trench in the earth by Creating, Healing, or Understanding earth – at least not short of things like contacting some mighty power of the earth Via Understanding Earth and asking it to do you a favor – but you could try to blast a trench open with Create Air by creating high pressure pockets underground, use Create Water to try to wash it away, or even use Create Fire to try to melt or vaporize it. When you come right down to it though, masses of earth and stone are fairly durable, and that could be even harder than trying to disintegrate it.
You could get even more exotic and try to bring it to life and get it to walk away with Create Control Life Mind – to infuse it with life force and get it to obey – but that spell is going to be pretty tricky. Still, that effect would be a generic animation, since you’d be calling up a mass of life-force that could be tossed at pretty much anything to animate it.
You could animate the plants – or some wooden-shafted tools – nearby to dig it out with Control Plant, cause it to fall to dust (via proton decay) with an incredibly potent Create Time effect, compel the local peasants to dig it out for you with Control Mind (or pay them to do it for you with many other, probably easier, spells), or try to force random chance to do it for you via Control Time.
There are hundreds of ways – and only about three quarters of them are downright imbecilic, although rather more of them than that make the job considerably harder than it needs to be.
In principle, Theurgy can produce almost any effect possible in magic, and allows it’s users to compose exactly the spell they want on the fly. That’s very, VERY, powerful.
Of course, it’s also very, VERY, expensive. In fact, quite intentionally, a character won’t normally be able to fully master Theurgy. There just aren’t enough points available at any given level to buy all the theurgy skills, a respectable caster level, and the magical potential to power your effects with – even if you skipped out on buying anything else at all. Most theurgists will have to specialize in some way – either only mastering a limited range of nouns and verbs or limiting their magic in some other fashion. Element Masters, Spirit Magi, Destroyers, Lifeshapers and Bioartificiers, Timesweavers, an assortment of Psychics (who use exactly the same rules while trading out a few special effects), and hundreds of other variants fall into this category – keeping their costs down by buying only a few of the twelve Magical Nouns and restricting their Magical Verbs to working with that limited selection. That kind of restriction can bring the cost of Theurgy down to something quite reasonable, especially so if they rely on finely-tuned but relatively low-level spells instead of raw power.
Other characters simply dabble, accepting the fact that, without massive expenditures on skills or very narrow enhancements, they’ll often fail their casting checks. Still more variants exist, since most of the options for Corrupted and Specialized magic on page fifteen of Eclipse can be applied. There is, after all, no reason why Theurgy cannot be Destructive, Difficult, Focused, or subject to other limitations to add still more diversity to your spellcasters.
In particular, it can be Wild in a particularly easy fashion. With most branches of magic, if you want to apply the “Wild” modifier, you have to come up with some way in which it’s unstable – and that generally means either coming up some sort of table of penalties, backlash, and failures, whether that table is randomly or cyclically based. That’s a lot of trouble – but with Theurgy, you already have a nice neat set of Nouns and Verbs to randomize with a simple d6 or d12 roll – or both.
That’s why randomizing Theurgy is one of the modifiers suggested in Eclipse – and why Esteria, one of the sample characters on the site, uses just that system. For our example here, lets take an especially cheap version of Theurgy – where both the noun and verb involved are rolled randomly when you want to cast a spell. That’s not actually as big a problem for a clever spellcaster as it sounds like, there’s usually something to do with most combinations. Of course, this also livens up the game, pretty much forces the player to get creative, and – more subtly – prevents the use of the more subtle, multi-noun and multi-verb spells – all of which are well worth allowing a price break for.
Now, if our randomized theurgist is fighting in a forest and gets “Destroy Plant”, he or she could use that to…
At spell level zero or one, he could destroy a root under an opponents foot to make them stumble (and give an ally an opening) or drop a flurry of leaves and bits which might briefly blind a foe.
At spell level two, he might drop a branch on an opponent, deluge the area in blinding fragments of twigs and sawdust, destroy the hemp rope entangling one of his friends, or direst a destructive blast of magic against an enemy plant creature.
At spell level three, he might drop a tree on one or more of his foes, or cause one to detonate in a mild explosion – far less effective than a fireball, but at least an area effect.
At spell level four or five, he might detonate several trees, or turn a single tree into tiny, airborne, fragments – a fuel-air bomb which a simple spark will turn into rather impressive fireball. A horrific blight upon the local plants would work at this level as well, but that’s probably less useful unless you are fighting the local plants.
If you want to lay waste to a sizeable chunk of the forest, you’ll be looking at a very high level effect indeed, but that’s probably more power than you’d really want to invest in a Destroy Plant effect. You’re better off saving the power for later, when you might get something that it’s easier to really cause a disaster with.
Of course, in an underground dungeon corridor, there might not be any obvious plants available.
That need not stop a clever theurgist. It will make “Destroy Plant” less effective – but there will usually be wooden bows and weapon hafts, as well as clothing and equipment made out of plant fibers. That’s less destructive, but can still be fairly effective.
Now, something like “Understand Plant” is going to be harder. You might be use that combination to get an attack bonus with a wooden or part-wooden weapon, or to get an armor class bonus against wooden weapons, or to locate a wooden weapon – but unless there are some mobile plants nearby to communicate with, you’re powerful enough to reach some sort of plant god, or you’re fighting a plant, then understanding plants probably won’t help you a great deal in battle. Still, if there was an easy way to use every combination in every situation, then the random factor wouldn’t be a limitation at all then would it?
Still, a quick-thinking player can usually find a way to attack or defend with Create, Control, Destroy, or Transform and almost any noun – and can usually find something useful to do with Heal, and sometimes even with Understand.