Continium II – Notes on Ceremonial Magic

And for today, it’s another bonus answer that – as so often happens – got WAY too long for a comment.

Could you expand on the Ceremonial Magic you linked in the Anomaly article? I have tried to read the Continuum II articles that are here, but I feel I am missing the primary sourcebook and have not been able to find one that seems to match.

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Continium II’s Ceremonial Magic (as opposed to Ritual Magic, which was quite another thing) operated much the way that some people think it works in the real world. The most common references that the players used were by Scott CunninghamCunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs and Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Crystal, Gem, and Metal Magic. Symbolism was most often pulled from the books on Tarot or Norse Runes, (since those were all available handy to the table), whatever astrological data was available for the current setting, and general ideas about Ley Lines and Nexi.

Power and Complexity turn up as spell design concepts in The Practical Enchanter, even if they are both mostly subsumed into “spell level” in d20. The basic distinction here is that Power reflects the amount of raw energy available, while Complexity cover s how detailed the structure of a given effect is.

A Fireball or Lightning Bolt calls for high (3+) Power, but very little Complexity (1 at most). A subtle illusion, or a healing spell, is exactly the other way around; calling for very little power, but a lot of complexity. Summoning and Binding creatures calls for both about equally (and so Ceremonial Magic can only actually summon and bind the most trivial entities – although if you wanted a micro-elemental (fire) to monitor your hearthfire and keep it at the proper level for cooking while you were busy elsewhere, you could fairly readily manage that. Of course, simply getting in touch with more powerful entities calls for very little power and only moderate complexity – but then you need to bargain.

So Ceremonial Magic was a common “helping” ability – the swiss army knife of magic. You used it to add some protective inscriptions that would help some if you lost control of your summoned monster, you got a few helpful micro-elementals that got you small bonuses in your alchemy lab, you used Ceremonial Magic to get in touch with, and seal a pact with, a brownie that kept an eye on the baby, sped recovery from a plague, made small, useful, things, and so on. The benefits were never especially huge, but – in adventurer terms – the cost was very small. A handful of hammered copper symbols, pinches of common herbs, some pebbles and terribly flawed (and near-valueless) gemstones from a rock collection, and a little study? You were set. Sure, it was never POWERFUL, but knowing what influences were active in that ancient haunted mansion, or getting a glimpse of who was behind the attacks, or laying down a ward that kept stray zombies from wandering into camp, could get you a long ways on very very little power.

When it comes to Continium II in general… well, the title was a transfinite mathematics pun, as well as a reference to alternate dimensions, which probably says something about what to expect from it.

Continium II never made it to publication, partly because much of the material predated the easy publication systems now available, but mostly because it was simply too long and too complicated. It was rather heavy on “how things worked” rather than “here’s a game effect” and so it placed heavy demands on the game master. Shapeshifting to a whale? Out came the book on whale biology to get some details. Monster design? A bit like the Martial Arts system, with modifiers for Evolutionary Time (the longer a group of species had to adapt to a particular set of natural laws, the more powerful they because within that dimension and the less able to function elsewhere), reproductive strategies, and a lot more evolutionary biology went into making monsters.

For an example that happens to be posted…

  • It had the twenty-five basic and twenty-five advanced Introspection powers based on awareness of your personal energy field – the lowest tier of psychic effects. Those worked even when the local dimensions Transfer Impedance for Psychic Powers was “4″ – just below “5″ where psychic powers were basically impossible to use.
  • At the next tier, Chi Powers (based on shifting your internal energies around inside yourself and requiring a transfer impedence of 3 or less for effective use) offered about hundred powers that you could combine to produce desired effects.
  • Tiers 3 and 4 – Psychomancy (directing personal energies into external effects, allowing fine control) and Psionics (tapping external energy sources and projecting the results) shared the same list of six hundred-odd disciplines and rules for creating variants, but they functioned differently. For an easy example… a Psychomancer using Telekinesis might try to pinch a few blood vessels to hurt someone or open a door from the inside to pick a lock. They had high precision, superb control, and could feel the feedback from their abilities – but they had very little power. A Psionic faced with similar tasks could smash the door, or lock, or throw things around – but they’d have to work very hard, roll well, and specialize in such tasks to develop anything even approaching a Psychomancers basic level of fine control. Both systems had their advantages.
  • Then, of course, there were psychic subfields drawing on psychic nexi and popular beliefs, the planetary biofield, and other local sources.

After the psychic powers, there were numerous other types of power sources to play with – Gramarye (including Sorcery (Shaping cosmic-level energies through symbols – requiring rigid structure to maintain control), Powershaping (where you freely shaped local energies related to your affinities. You got a few, but the list was long. To start with “A” there was Abjuration, Air, Analysis, Animation, Anticipations, Architecture, Astrological, Attunement…), Thaumaturgy (inducing positive and negative feedback loops in planetary energy fields – powerful and potentially long-lasting, but you were using small inputs to try to manipulate a chaotic system, and so it was very prone to going wrong and was very difficult to stop), True Illusion, Ceremonial Magic, Mysticism, Ritual Magic, High Alchemy, Personal Magic, and Domination),

Then, of course, there were Percipience (and it’s subfields) – Engineering (Technological (in several variants), Biogenetic, Social, Probabilistic, Reality Catalysts, Linguistic, Pattern Tech, and Weird Science), and Invocation (divided by tbe nature of the entity being invoked; what you could get from a subspace creature that devoured energy – a “demon” – was a lot different from what you could get from a living cosmological principle).

Continium II did keep a group containing several engineers and scientists busy exploring how things worked for a decade and a half (and it was always fun to hear “Blast it! We should have realized that he/she would be able to do that from the type of powers he/she was using…) – but I could hardly ask a prospective game master to read it before trying to run the game. Quite a few of the players ran Continium II games after a while – but not until after they’d been playing for years. Nobody has that kind of time these days.

Currently a lot of the Continium II ideas have been recycled. For example, the Witchcraft system in Eclipse uses many of the concepts that went into Introspection, Chi, and Psychomancy – but the list of abilities has been greatly reduced, most of the complexities were relegated to “why I built it this way” (and not actually mentioned unless someone asks) instead of being anything that players and game masters have to deal with, and most of the advanced options have been stripped out – all in the interests of making it playable without a few years of experience with the system. I’m told that Eclipse is still too complex for a lot of tables – but that’s a considerable improvement over Continium II.

Still, I post occasional chunks of the Continium II rules for nostalgia, inspiration, showing where design elements came from for later systems, ideas, and to oblige some of the original players, who often still have questions, want to review something for their own projects, or want a bit of an update. Perhaps I should get back to doing that again. It’s not like there isn’t a LOT of material available, even if some of it is still handwritten.

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2 Responses

  1. I would love to see more of it, more crunch is always enjoyable to read.

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