Using Valdemaran Gifts, Part II

One of the major tricks of using Gifts effectively is to work gradually. After all… if you’re not in too much of a hurry, treating a flu patient with specific level zero effects – “reduce production of mucus”, “expectorate”, “reduce inflammation”, “weaken virus”, “bolster immunity”, “heal trivial damage to the throat lining” (a variant of “cure minor wounds”), “bolster immune system”, “drain lungs”, “spring tonic” (A.K.A. “provide vitamins”), and “relieve aches and pains” – probably followed by bit of cleaning up and an “resist flu infection” effect on yourself – is just about as good as zapping your patient with a level three “Cure Disease”. It just takes a few minutes instead of a single turn and requires that you have some idea of what you’re doing. Sure, you might not be able to handle a retrovirus hidden in the patients genome, but how often does that kind of distinction come up in most d20 games?

Unfortunately, that kind of gradual approach isn’t too effective in combat, where you’re usually in a rather large hurry. It’s also less effective in the original books, since there even minor uses of a gift often seem to be a bit of a strain and going step-by-step would bore the readers – but telling the players that even trivial uses of their Gifts are draining is just going to frustrate them.

Personally, I’d recommend that the “chaining minor effects” approach be limited by how well you understand what’s going on in the first place – so you can’t effectively chain more minor effects than your baseline bonus (ranks plus attribute modifier plus permanent feats) in a/the relevant skill – possibly subtracting a few points for general difficulty. Thus the step-by-step treatment for the flu described above would call for a minimum of a +10 total in the Heal skill so as to know what to do and not forget things and might even call for a few more points than that if there’s a penalty. That’s not really much of a limitation, but in a low-level game it’s reasonable enough.


Gift Of Tongues

This barely gets a reference in the books – mostly as “Companions understand what people are saying” – but I’m going to presume that it covers vocal and written communication in general.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Double Meaning, Message, Read Magic, and Imitate Voice. You can also sketch accurately, make sure that your words cannot be accidentally misunderstood, and understand any normal language given a minute or two to listen to it being spoken. This won’t let you speak it though.
  • Level One Effects: Aphasia, Comprehend Languages, Compulsive Liar, Fumbletongue, Share Language, Memorize Page, Command, Enthrall, Litany Of Sloth (usually via distraction and insults) Litany Of Weakness, and Vocal Alteration. At this point you can get a general message across pretty much any language barrier, identify relationships between languages, give a fair description of the attitudes and beliefs of the author of any extensive written work, and give excellent motivational speeches.
  • Level Two Effects: Glibness, Codespeak, Heckle, Steal Voice, Hidden Speech, Suggestion, Tongues, Voluminous Vocabulary, Castigate, Litany Of Eloquence, and Speak With Animals. At this level you will also automatically take on an appropriate accent, use native turns of phrase, no one will notice anything odd about your speech, and you can reconstruct messages, books, and instructions presuming that you have at least a third of the original material to work with.
  • Level Three Effects: Curse Of Babel, Demanding Message, Confess, Lesser Geas, Illusory Script, Secret Page, Communal Share Language, Deflect Blame, and Triggered Suggestion. At this point you can understand utterly alien languages, translate technical and magical material, understand blueprints and other plans, reconstruct books and messages from small fragments, and communicate directly with computers.



In the original books healers are rarely chosen as Heralds, simply because they’re very badly needed in the general population and because Heralds have very short life expectancies. Of course, in d20, any rational party will find SOME excuse to have a healer along – especially since a d20 Healing Gift is far more effective than the ones in the books. Maybe the party healer was chosen in an utter emergency because bonding with a companion boosts gifts – and healing someone was vital to the future of the country. Maybe their Healing Gift was too weak to use without a Companion. Maybe it was triggered accidentally and unexpectedly. Maybe there was just a special reason – perhaps a healing gift that would have been wasted in a bad situation so there was no reason not to choose an otherwise-suitable person with the healing Gift. It’s not as if it never happens, as shown by Shavri, (and, according to the Valdemar wiki I consulted, a Herald named Shia whom I do not remember). Just go with it. There’s no point in arguing.

It is important to remember that – the way Gifts are built – cumulative effects are limited to 2-12 uses of the same basic effect per day per target – so “unlimited use of level zero effects” doesn’t equate to “unlimited healing”. What it means is “somewhat faster healing” – even if the baseline healing in d20 is already better than healer-assisted healing in the original books, a gifted d20 Healer can come close to matching some fairly significant Valdemaran miracles – and we’re bowing to d20 here. In the books many or most healers have ethical problems with using their ability to manipulate the body to harm others, but it’s possible (and, with player characters, all too likely).

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Cure Minor Wounds, Detect Poison, Diagnose Illness (Hedge Magic), Transfuse (Hedge Magic), Stabilize, Touch Of Fatigue, and individual Polypurpose Panacea effects. A healer at this level can also remove rashes, reduce scars and birthmarks, sooth burns and frostbite, keep wounds from becoming infected, relieve arthritis and headaches, eliminate male pattern baldness (if they want to waste time on regular treatments), slightly extend lifespans (regular attention from a healer will add about two years to the effective duration of each age category, resulting in a total extension of about ten years), and alleviate the effects of many other minor illnesses and disorders.
  • Level One Effects: Biofeedback, Relieve Illness (Hedge Magic), Relieve Poison (Hedge Magic), Cure / Inflict Light Wounds, Dentistry (Hedge Magic), Invigorate, Itching Curse, Restful Sleep, Touch of Blindness, Resurgence, Touch of Gracelessness, Keep Watch, Ray of Enfeeblement, Ray Of Sickening, and Remove Sickness (Pathfinder Version). A healer at this level can also produce effects equivalent to the best individual earthly medications, surgeons, and physicians.
  • Level Two Effects: Cure / Inflict Moderate Wounds, Sleep, Lesser Restoration, Youthful Appearance, Acute Senses, Blindness / Deafness, Delay Pain, Delay Poison, Bears Endurance, Bulls Strength, Sustenance, and Body Purification. A healer at this level can use his or her skill and Gift to reattach severed limbs, perform open-heart surgery, and imitate a trauma team.
  • L3) Remove Blindness/Deafness, Neutralize Poison, Cause Blindness/Deafness, Cure/Inflict Serious Wounds, Accept Affliction, Channel the Gift, Deep Slumber, Mass Invigorate, Remove Curse, Psychic Leach, Pain Strike, Remove Paralysis, Ray Of Exhaustion, Poison, Remove Disease, Contagion, and Endorphin Surge. A skilled healer with a Gift at this level will – at least with skill and a good deal of Mana expenditure – be able to perform organ transplants, create almost fully-functional prosthetics, perform extensive biophysical reconstruction, and – for that matter – create tailored drugs and diseases.



Mage-Gift doesn’t work like the other gifts; the users have to learn specific spells and don’t get unlimited use of their level zero effects. On the other hand, it allows a MUCH wider variety of effects and Adepts can reach level four effects – which are generally beyond the reach of any other single character.

  • For 6 CP you can have Occult Talent, granting 4L0 and 1L1 effects that you can cast once a day each with a caster level equal to your character level.
  • For 12 CP you can have Advanced Occult Talent, granting 5L0 and 3L1 effects and a similar number of spell slots to cast them with.

Characters in the setting can have Occult Talents with a total base cost of 24 CP. If they wish they can limit their abilities to reduce the cost, but they can’t exceed that limit.

On the other hand, they CAN take higher level spells in those slots. They’ll just have to spend Mana to cast them – and while the Mage-Gifted have limited access to Rite Of Chi to recharge their mana reserves, mana is still a limited resource. Journeymen only have a bit and can only use spells one level above their base slots. Masters have a bit more, can recharge faster and can spend it to use spells one or two levels above their base slots. Adepts have even more, recharge even faster, and can spend it to use spells one, two, or three levels above their base slots.

But wait! That maxes out at ten L0 and six L1 slots! Adepts are far more versatile than that!

Are they? Almost everything complicated or powerful in the books falls under Ritual Magic. Most adepts only seem to have a handful of spells that they can really use immediately.

Pretty much every mage has Light (L0), a basic Shield (Immediate Action, L1 in a L0 slot so 1 Mana, blocks 15 points of damage), and some form of Energy Attack (Spells like Ray Of Frost, Magic Missile, Scorching Ray, or Lightning Bolt are popular depending on the user’s level of expertise).

For this particular “Gift”… here are some spells that fit in fairly well:

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Almost anything fits in here. If you like, you can use the Continuum II cantrips. There are a lot of those to choose from.
  • Level One Effects: Disguise Self, Sleep, Alarm, Protection From Evil, Floating Disk, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Color Spray, Shadow Trap, Shadow Weapon, Ventriloquism, Magic Weapon, Obscure Object, (Personal) Dream Shield, and Faerie Fire,
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray (also Lightning and Force variants), Blur, Dust Devil (2’nd edition), Flaming Sphere, Wall Of Light, Glitterdust, Hypnotic Pattern, Invisibility, Armament (temporary force weapons, up to a dozen knives/arrows/etc). Spiritual Weapon, Contact Entity 1, Force Sword, Disguise Other, Invisibility, Mirror Image, Misdirection, Silk To Steel, Deeper Darkness, Daylight, Searing Light, and Dream Shield.
  • Level Three Effects: a long-term Disguise Self/other variant, Lesser Wall Of Fire (a weaker variant), Fireball, Circle of Protection, Dispel Magic, Pyrotechnics, Nondetection, Protection From Energy, Greater Stunning Barrier, Gloomblind Bolts, Ice Spears, Phantom Steed, Planar Inquiry, Arcane Sight, Contact Entity II, Daylight, Lightning Bolt, Sheet Lightning, Displacement, Call Lightning, Hedging Weapons, Infernal Challenger (only for evil blood mages), and Psychic Containment.
  • Level Four Effects: Dimension Door, Wall Of Fire, Lesser Gate (basically a time-consuming, exhausting, and error-prone teleport – or way to let various monsters come through. It might even be Ritual Magic rather than a spell), Summon Monster IV (“Adept Manifestation”), and Lesser Planar Ally.

That’s not exhaustive of course – d20 offers thousands of spells to play with – but a fair number of basics are on there.



The books represent Mind-Healing as being generally very slow, just as creating bonds that force someone to do your bidding is a very slow (and evil) process. You don’t see any mind-healers going “Zap! You’re Sane/Free/Rational!”. Honestly… given the principles of Lerandor’s Rule (the use-a-bunch-of-lesser-effects principle) even level zero mindhealing effects are more than they show in the books. If a character really wants “Mindhealing” the way it is in the books… take a bonus in Profession; Therapist or learn Ritual Magic. Because mental healing is normally pretty step-by-tiny-step anyway – which is just what level zero effects DO. So even with just cantrips you can finish up with anything within the power of level three effects within a few minutes – and that is NOT what the books show. In fact, it tends to wreck more than one of their plots – and it doesn’t add much to most games anyway since you can’t treat eccentric players and the villains aren’t going to hold still for it. That’s why d20 psychiatrists are not a favored class.

  • If you must be a Mind-Healer, buy Ritual Magic, Specialized and Corrupted / only for psychiatric purposes (2 CP) and put a few skill points in Profession: Therapist – and there you go.



Precognition or “Foresight” seems to come in two basic forms in the books – short-term combat precognition that provides warnings of attacks and clues as to likely strategies and long-term visions of the future that are sometimes useful warnings, sometimes grim prophecies that tend to come true no matter what, and are sometimes simply wrong or misunderstood. There’s also room for very short-term precognition (the sort of thing that warns you of someone swinging at you from a blind spot or of an incoming arrow) and kingdom-scale foresight that warns of upcoming major disasters and such, but most characters with Foresight have very specialized forms, such as being able to foretell the weather.

Honestly, a lot of that goes under “plot device”, both very literally in the books and mostly so in the games. After all, the game is built around dealing with problems – and “the group is warned of an upcoming attack in time to set up the defenses or race to the rescue” is a pretty classic problem. In terms of the game… precognitive warnings really aren’t any different than being warned by a scout, peasant, merchant, angel, or wizard. The same goes for kingdom-level threats. If someone’s special power requires the game master to give a warning, he or she will just step up the threat to keep it challenging and exciting.

So this list is going to be a bit generic and include a lot of short-term bonus tricks – as well as some ways to inflict penalties, which is pretty much equivalent.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: There are pretty much all thematic; you can have meaningful dreams, get vague warnings of major threats, get details equivalent to having a few scouts (or perhaps a flying familiar) out in the case of more local problems, know about upcoming natural disasters in time to show up to help, give good agricultural advice, predict the weather, and will probably get a +2 bonus on saves against traps, checks to detect ambushes, and maybe even initiative. You might even be able to prevent the occasional disaster that would normally resulted from phrases like “I wonder what will happen if I push the red button / mix these two chemicals / try this unknown mystical ritual” – at least if the rest of the party is sane enough to look at the precognitive before actually doing it. Most NPC precognitives are pretty narrowly focused (since that is so much easier to write and run for), but PC’s are all about meeting unexpected challenges – so they’re going to be generalists.
  • Level One Effects: Anticipate Peril, True Strike, Bungle, Precognition (One minute per level. Variants include +2 to Attacks, to Armor Class, to Saves, and to Damage), Ward Of Heaven (The Practical Enchanter), Aura Of Favor (The Practical Enchanter). Low-Light Vision, Hawkeye, Improvisation, Omen Of Peril, Surefoot, Surefooted Stride, Divine Favor, Entropic Shield, Doom, Fallback Strategy, and Bless (via giving orders). This can also be used to anticipate attacks (dodging up to 15 damage as an immediate action), to negate surprise for the party, and to reroll a skill check since you “foresaw it’s failure”. On the larger scale, this is where you can start using the skill-based variant of True Strike (True Skill, The Practical Enchanter) to do things like pick out the very best moment to call for a tactical maneuver, or the best advice to give the farmers, and so on – as least as long as some relatively vague precognition would he helpful.
  • Level Two Effects: Honeyed Tongue, Tactical Acumen, Augury, Hunter’s Eye, Heroic Fortune, Gallant Inspiration, Find Traps, Sutra (The Practical Enchanter), Karmic Shield (The Practical Enchanter), and Harrowing (or any other form of fortune-telling), At his point you can also use your power as an immediate action to evade twenty-five points of damage, get some clues about the long-term hazards (and likely benefits) of a proposed course of action, and win outrageously at games of chance – up until you have to quit because the likely outcome of winning again is getting stabbed.
  • Level Three Effects: False Future, Find Fault, Minor Dream, Vision Of Hell, Find Fault, Perfect Placement, Good Fortune (The Practical Enchanter), (individual) Ruin Delvers Fortune effects, Find The Gap, Danger Sense, Ubiquitous Vision, and Prayer (via giving directions). At this level you can use your power to take an extra standard action as an immediate action, to try and manipulate the force of Destiny (see Destiny Magic), and to have set up Contingencies (See Politics) to deal with events that the player had no idea would happen. This is also far, FAR, beyond any Gift of Foresight used in the books.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: D20 usually leaves low-grade information gathering up to skill checks – but this level of ability can date items, determine causes of death, determine if a weapon inflicted a particular wound, discern the true intent of a gift or missive, learn the final thoughts or terminal experiences of a corpse, tell which button opens the door and which one sets off the bomb, and otherwise pick up on the intent behind manipulations of physical objects – such as the intent to add poison to a drink, an attempt to get someone too drunk to resist being kidnaped, or the true intent of complex legal clauses in a contract. It can detect forgeries or the information someone was intending (but failed) to convey in a frantic scribble. Was someone recently murdered in a dark alley? Finding out about it will be trivial if a psychometrist takes a look.
  • Level One Effects: Call To Mind, Identify, Obscure Object, Nondetection, Cultural Adaption, Master’s Touch, Detect Secret Doors, Eidetic Lock, and Sanctuary (a bit of a stretch, but it’s basically infusing the area with a feeling). At this level you can easily trace the provenance of items and antiques, “imprint” messages on objects that can only be “read” by another psychometrist, make areas inspire particular moods and emotions, experience bits of the past strongly associated with particular objects – using a womans wedding dress to experience the wedding it was used in or using the cane a man carried everywhere for ten years to “talk to” the imprint of his personality. This sort of thing may take some time, but if you have the time to try and investigate something that rarely matters.
  • L2) Ancestral Communion, Blood Biography, Magic Weapon (Armor, Tools, etc), Object Reading, Sensitivity To Psychic Impressions, Find Traps, and Share Memory, The major distinction at this point is that the user can pull out fairly major bits of useful information very quickly, instead of having to sit around and meditate on it. It’s also at the point where forcing psychic energy into something actually starts to affect it – hence the ability to somewhat enhance items on a temporary basis.
  • L3) Borrow Skill, Akhasic Communion, Discern Value, Find Fault, Pierce Disguise, Pack Empathy, Mindlocked Messenger, Greater Magic Weapon (Armor, Tool, Etc), Channel Vigor, Speak With Dead, and Masterwork Transformation (no components required, but does take some time and use). At this point you are basically drawing information from the universe – and can push some back out into it (thus Greater Magic Weapon and Masterwork Transformation). Given time and the patience to keep asking questions, you can find out all kinds of things, weave warnings and messages into the fabric of the world, and explore almost any mystery. While adventurers rarely have that kind of time available, when they do this Gift can be devastating.



According to the books, a lot of the characters with this Gift have poor control over it, although there’s no apparent reason why it should be harder to control the power to heat things up then it is to control the gifts of Empathy, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. You can give your character some such disadvantage if you must, but there really isn’t any reason to. D20 characters routinely mess about with things a lot more dangerous than mere fire.

To account for the books, I’d suggest that ANY Gift that you are nervous about, or fail to get enough practice with, may be difficult to control – but while a rogue flare-up of Farsight may give you a headache, and a telekinetic flare may break a pot, such things don’t spread – while a bit of flame in the wrong spot may burn down a city. Ergo, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Pyrokinetics tend to be nervous about their Gift and don’t practice as much for fear of losing control.

Of course, when it comes to player-characters… they’ll row out on a lake and sit on a rock or use snowshoes to visit a field under four feet of snow and practice boiling water, torching models, and making hot drinks until they have things well under control.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Dancing Lights, Flare, Ray Of Fire (Frost), Mending (Welding Only), Spark. Of course, a pyrokinetic can also start fires, warm their fingers, heat or cool small objects or minor amounts of liquid, instantly brew tea, light or extinguish many candles, several lanterns, or a torch, prevent or treat frostbite, control smoke rings, create puffs of smoke, and shape small flames and quantities of smoke into various forms.
  • Level One Effects: Control Flames, Blades Of Fire, Flame Darts (like Magic Missile), Lesser Orb Of Fire, Light, Animate Fire, Cure Light Wounds (Fire and Cold damage only), Blinding Flash, Endure Elements, Flare Burst, Burning Hands, Touch Of Combustion, Burning Disarm, Faerie Fire, Produce Flame, and Resist Energy (Fire and Cold only). There aren’t specific spells for it, but this also provides the ability to weld larger objects, cause small flames to flare up, put out groups of torches or a large campfire, and create and control a 10′ radius of fairly heavy smoke – whether to sculpt it or to make smoke signals.
  • Level Two Effects: Scorching Ray, Cause Nausea (via induced fever), Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter, via Boosted Metabolism), Heat Metal, Chill Metal, Obscuring Mist (smoke), Boiling Blood, Pyrotechnics, Burning Arc, Burning Gaze, Fire Breath, Frost Fall, Ice Slick, and Campfire Wall. Effects on this level can also be used to open safe paths through major fires, briefly form a cool and solid crust over a magma flow, to cause a fire to lash out and engulf someone, animate a bonfire, cause a quantity of wax or oil to detonate like plastic explosives or nitroglycerin, and to briefly create massive images of flame.
  • Level Three Effects: Fireball, Energy Wall (Fire), Haste (via accelerated metabolism again), Flaming Arrow, Protection From Arrows (they burst into flames), Heatstroke, Firestream, Dispel Magic (an immediate-action version that only works against Fire and Ice effects) and Quench. Effects on this level can also be used to contain forest fires by creating counterfires or driving the flames back to create firebreaks, to melt metal objects, to project a sphere that absorbs fire or cold damage (Resist Energy 10′ Radius), or to put someone into deep hibernation (roughly equivalent to Feign Death – although this is kind of dangerous).



In Valdemar, “Shields” are normally passive – and basically amount to “buying a good will save”. Only mage-shields normally seem to be active effects, so they’re handled under mage-gift.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Mage Hand, Hammertouch, Animate Rope, Launch Bolt, Launch Item, Breeze, Scoop, and Open/Close. While effects at this level are relatively short range and of fairly little force, you can produce a light zephyr, stir pots, work dangerous alchemical experiments from a safe distance, make bushes rustle distractingly, open latches from the outside, and pull off a wide variety of similar tricks.
  • Level One Effects: Guided Shot, Mage Armor, Force Shield, Feather Step, Lighten Object, Buoyancy, Coin Shot, Mending, Hold Portal, Stunning Barrier, Thunderstomp, and Gravity Bow. At this point you can move things to trip up opponents, yank chairs out from under people, guide pies to hit people in the face at considerable ranges, bind animals mouths shut, pull things to yourself, hurl small objects with force and accuracy, equivalent to a heavy crossbow, and get your armor on in mere moments.
  • Level Two Effects: Admonishing Ray, Alchemic Mist (turns a poison or alchemical item into a 20′ radius burst within medium range), Unseen Servant, Air Step, Protection From Arrows, Gust Of Wind, Gusting Sphere, Pilfering Hand, Knock, and Telekinetic Volley. At this point you can shove people away, manipulate objects at range, “feel around” for something you can’t see as if you were wearing heavy gloves, and cause masses of rope or vines to tie people up.
  • Level Three Effects: Web Bolt (using available materials). Raging Rubble, Make Whole, Tremor Blast, Hold Person, Wind Wall, Ape Walk, Arrow Storm, Telekinetic Force, Telekinetic Thrust, and Hedging Weapons. Effects at this level can also reduce missile damage in a small radius or create minor barriers.



  • Basic Level Zero Effects: Daze, Message, and Distract. At this level a telepath can make ideas occur to someone, perform “stage” hypnosis, share memories, lend someone one skill point (such as sharing a language) or borrow one, sense surface thoughts if the target isn’t resisting, detect hypnosis and other mental influences, and project a vague persona around yourself – things like “he looks rich”, “that’s obviously someone important”, or “just another janitor” that will often get by people who aren’t paying too much attention.
  • Level One Effects: Distract, Conceal Thoughts, Borrow Skill, Cause Fear, Hypnotism, Charm Person, Lesser Confusion, Innocence, Lock Gaze, Memory Lapse, Sense Link, and Mindlink. At this point you can broadcast vague ideas to a crowd, share detailed visions, pull an exact image out of somebody’s memory (and reproduce it if you have the required artistic skills), or communicate long lectures with a glance.
  • Level Two Effects: Inflict Pain, Silent Image, Sleep, Daze Monster, Detect Thoughts, Enthall, False Belief, Hidden Presence, Passing Fancy, Share Memory, Enshroud Thoughts, Misdirection, Telepathic Censure, Mental Disruption, Mass Missive, Thought Shield, Brain Lock, Suggestion, and Zone Of Truth. At this point you can generate group compulsions with some force, anticipate peoples arguments, send a message over a long distance (usually in times of desperation), and fairly easily pick up on things that people are worried about (or are trying to keep from thinking about).
  • Level Three Effects:) Minor Image, Audiovisual Hallucination, Aura of the Unremarkable, Confusion, Mass Feather Step, Malicious Spite, Seek Thoughts, Triggered Suggestion, Aura Sight, Seek Thoughts, Psionic Blast, Deep Slumber, and Crisis Of Breath. While the range is generally short – unless you’re working with another high-order telepath or a group to jump up to fourth level effects (such as Sending) at this point you’ve got a fair amount of range and can fairly readily overwhelm – or probe – the minds of normal people.



In the books “telekinesis” and “teleportation” are usually combined into “Fetching” – which seems to cover everything from traveling a bit faster and moving small items around up to shaking major structures and teleporting someone out of a locked cell a hundred miles away. I’ve split them up again because otherwise few d20 players would be able to resist. “Teleportation” is still a catch-all category for movement powers, but at least it’s not a must-have discipline.

  • Basic Level Zero Effects: At this level the user can grant themselves or others small bonuses to their movement skills, shift small items in contact with themselves around their body (making them very difficult to search), draw weapons as a free action, speed themselves up just a little bit, and cheat outrageously at many games.
  • Level One Effects: Skate, Catfall, Branch To Branch, Accelerated Movement, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Step, Liberating Command, Bladed Dash, Feather Fall, Jump, Longshot, Touch Of The Sea, Launch Item, Longstrider, Travelers Mount, Wings Of The Sea, Personal Haste (Practical Enchanter), Light Foot (Blog), and Benign Transposition. Not unexpectedly, given that basic physical obstacles are a significant problem for low-level d20 characters, the system also offers a wide selection of spells to deal with them. About the only thing that isn’t covered is the basic “teleport small objects” effect – which is simple enough; with this level of ability you can apport a small object from one spot to another within close range. Thus you can steal something off a table or (if you know the position accurately) from a bag, plant something on someone, and so on. Unfortunately, you can only teleport objects into open spaces, you can’t teleport them into creatures, and objects in someone’s possession get a save.
  • Level Two Effects: Retrieve Item, Returning Weapon, Trade Items, Moment Of Flight, Lions Charge, and Wall Walker or Spider Climb. Upgraded versions of the various first level effects also go here, as does teleporting small objects within medium range or somewhat larger ones within close range – even up to child size if you’re touching them and simply want to move them away.
  • Level Three Effects: Haste, Dimension Door, Blink, Urban Step, Greater Longstrider, Tailwind, Dimension Twister, Time Hop, and Hustle. You can even do the Lightning Step variant of Dimension Door from The Practical Enchanter.

And that’s about it for gifts from the books (in fact, it’s a rather drastic expansion on most of them) – and should be quite enough examples to work with if someone builds a more exotic gift.

The Laws Of Magic Part VI – Magical Symbols

For those looking to read in order…

Which leaves Symbols.

Like the other laws of magic, Symbols are rooted deep in the human mind. Unlike most of the other “laws of magic” their “power” has some basis in reality, even beyond the fact that words are symbols and form the basis of culture and most abstract thought.

A wise master of symbols might be able to guide a tribe safely across a stretch of wildness where he or she had never been. They could hear the words of the dead. They could reveal the acts of the gods and the secrets of creation. They could erect great castles and mighty works of art. They could see into the past, gain insights into the future, and perform a thousand other mighty deeds, for the power of magical symbols was theirs.

Today that power is actually all too common. We’d call it Reading Trail-sign, or Reading a Book, or Studying Sacred Texts, or Basic Engineering, or Checking Records, or Architecture, or Naturalism / Recording Natural Cycles, or Mathematics, or Statistics, or by any of a thousand other names – but the power of manipulating symbols is undeniable.

Yet back in the ancient days, when the lore of symbols remained unknown to most… when a man or woman could examine a few bits of dried and marked-up hide carried from a distant city and – by some mysterious art – learn of what was going on there, or craft symbols that could be carried by pretty much anyone to summon forth an inquisitor or even the kingdom’s army… what else was an observer to do but call it magic? And it was magic that observably WORKED. It wasn’t subtle influences, it was POWER.

Are those symbols ancient, inherited from a prior civilization, mysterious, impressive-looking, or just really obscure? People tend to value things according to how difficult they were to acquire and how important they look – so all those things obviously make a given symbol more powerful. After all, Runes are basically just an alphabet – but they pop up in all kinds of movies, novels, and other works as having mysterious powers. Would it be anywhere near as interesting to you if they were talking about the letter “B”?

Even today, the notion that writing something gives it power has a deep grip on the human mind. How many times have you heard the phrase “It Is Written”? Simply seeing something in print tends to give it weight and credibility. Thus the original distinction between Slander and Libel. Because writing it down somehow made it worse.

Science fiction is not immune. It is filled with incomprehensible symbols that drive men mad, Basilisk Images that kill when beheld, semantic sciences that manipulate the mind, the arts of the Bene Gesserit, and more. Why is “a picture worth a thousand words”? It is because – for humans – what you HEAR means less than what you SEE. Things sneak, other humans lie, and sounds echo – but SEEING is BELIEVING.

Incantations? Symbols. Mystic Gestures? Symbols. Names? Symbols. Runes, Glyphs, Heiroglyphs, Sigils, Witch-Marks, Emblems, Magic Circles… even most Physical Props, such as Staves (emblems of authority) and Wands (pointing sticks) are all basically Symbols or combinations of Symbols. .

The thing about symbols is that the nonverbal ones tend to be semi-permanent. Magic Circles work until they’re broken. Placing runes on a sword will empower it until they are worn smooth. That giant cross will repel vampires so long as it stands. Everyone KNOWS that’s true. After all… that brand of Servitude well may last for the rest of a slaves life – and will still affect his or her life long after he or she goes free. Don’t we feel that engagement rings and gifts of chocolate and roses mean more than “here’s a simple bit of material goods”?

In the Laws Of Magic… Symbols are raw power, condensed, distilled, and bound. The (more or less interchangeable) symbol/emblem/name of a Power is one of it’s Correspondences. Thanks to basic Sympathy and Correspondence, it to some extent IS the Power, for the name is the thing. By the Doctrine Of Signatures, knowledge and study of it reveals some of the nature and potentials of that power. By Synchronicity when that power is involved in your life, you will see it everywhere. By Karma you draw it’s notice and concern as it draws yours – if you are willing to pay the price. By Personification it allows you to relate to that Power – and by Purification of other influences you may allow that Power to dominate parts of the world.

Even in modern productions – movies, anime, comics, and television programs… the symbols of magic are inlaid in jewelry, woven into cloth, tattooed on the skin, or simply flare into existence as the magic is invoked.

This “law of magic” generally doesn’t need a lot of work to get into a game. Your players will probably never question why powerful tomes of magic are written in strange symbols and ancient tongues, or why translations never work properly, or why mystic jewelry and blades are inscribed with exotic “runes of power”, or why summoning creatures calls for magic circles, or why casting spells often calls for complex gestures, or any of a thousand other details. Pretty much every potential player is fully aware that that is how magic “normally works” – and so the vast majority of games and gaming material adhere to those ideas as well.

If you want it to play a more prominent role in the game, however, there have to be limitations. Otherwise the party mage will simply start putting symbols on everything – and that will drown your setting in a sea of magic, just as it would make a mess out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer if everyone in Sunnydale wore half a dozen crosses and light body armor and carried super-soakers filled with holy water everywhere they went.

Given the permanent, or at least semi-permanent, nature of symbol magic, that can be tough to arrange – and you can’t make it ineffectual or no one will want to bother with Symbols in the first place, which defeats the point of trying to make them more prominent. So perhaps you’ll want to apply one or more of the following…

1) Symbols must be empowered again after a relatively brief period of use,, or be periodically purified, or lose their magic to daily wear-and-tear – and while there may be methods to extend their lifespans, or to maintain more of them, such methods are quite limited. Any given magus can support only a limited number of Symbols at a time.

2) Symbols clash with each other. Any given individual can only support a limited number, or perhaps one greater, one intermediate, and one lesser Symbol. Or must bond each symbol to one of their Chakra. Or whatever. Regardless of the exact reason, any given character can only use a few Symbols at a time.

3) Symbols are horribly expensive to craft, calling for rare ingredients and great skill. Characters will only be able to afford a few of them – although this has the unwelcome side effect of causing characters to hoard money and to try to break the game to get more.

4) Symbols must be supported by the will, prayers, or dedication of many people, or by powerful spirits, or whatever. A great city might thus be able to empower a dozen Symbols for it’s greatest champions. A village might support one Symbol for a local hero, Perhaps the Spirits of Light and / or the Righteous Dead can support a few to empower noble paladins and holy men – or perhaps true heroes are supported by the populace they protect while the villains must offer sacrifices to the powers of darkness to get those infernal entities to empower their Symbols.

5) Symbols are empowered in part by personal sacrifice. Perhaps mages are not naturally weak and frail, but supporting the devices they craft makes them so. Perhaps they must accept strange geasa, or give up their shadows, or yield points from their attributes. Whatever they give up… it is difficult or impossible to reclaim without destroying the Symbol.

6) Symbols are empowered by quests, legends, and mighty deeds. As you adventure and accomplish those deeds you will gradually earn the ability to use more Symbols.

7) Symbols draw on a limited pool of power, The more Symbols you bear, the less powerful each of them becomes.

There are other, if usually more complicated, methods of course – but various combinations of limits on based on Symbol creation, duration, number, power, cost, user accomplishments, user commitments, and various forms of expenses should cover most of them.

The Laws Of Magic Part V – Narrative and Naming

For those looking to read in order…

From behind them suddenly, closer than they imagined, they could hear the roar of Humperdinck: “Stop them! Cut them off!” They were, admittedly, startled, but there was no reason for worry: they were on the fastest horses in the kingdom, and the lead was already theirs.

However, this was before Inigo’s wound reopened; and Westley relapsed again; and Fezzik took the wrong turn; and Buttercup’s horse threw a shoe. And the night behind them was filled with the crescendoing sound of pursuit. . . .

-The Princess Bride

Destiny” has come up before, under Synchronicity, where it creates coincidences in accord with mysterious influences and the currents of fate. The tottering Empire which has set itself against the course of history WILL fall before one set of opponents or another. Sooner or later, the dikes or levees will fail and the floods WILL come. Eventually even the most fortunate gambler WILL lose. That’s “Destiny” of a sort – but it’s Actuarial Table Destiny. It will happen sooner or later – but any individual case may come up almost immediately or it may beat the odds for quite some time.

This isn’t that kind of Destiny. Magic sometimes uses the same word for wildly differing ideas – and what we’re talking about here is what might be more properly called Narrative Destiny. It’s not the sum of probabilities and influences on the world; it’s the force which says that the magic ponies WILL defeat the monster of the week because that is how the story goes.

Reality doesn’t have neat beginnings and endings. People rarely really get what they deserve, the causes of events go back perpetually and the consequences go on and on. People spin cages of words to turn what are basically-chaotic series of events into stories; but – in reality – stories don’t exist “in the wild”. They’re just a way for people to organize their perceptions, experiences, and acquired information. Two people can look at the same events and describe them vastly differently, right down to drawing entirely different conclusions from them.

In magic, however, Narrative Destiny is a major force. It’s the power that turns a mixture of randomness, influences, mistakes, and the accumulative effects of hundreds of people and factions pursuing their own goals in a mixture of erroneous and calculated ways, into a grand sweep of history – a coherent narrative with conventions that have the force of natural laws. And while magic can bend those rules, just as it can let you fly in despite of gravity… there is always a price to twisting the course of events away from their well-worn channel. Thus Narrative Destiny leads some people through near-inevitable sequences of events while others subvert its dictates, achieving goals that should have been utterly impossible in despite of the vast forces arrayed against them.

Narrative Destiny runs on cliches, tropes, and proverbs. It’s what enforces the conventions of stories. It’s the source of all those examples you find on TVTropes – and it’s another “force” that sneaks into almost every game pretty much unnoticed simply because most game masters try to have a bit more background and depth to things beyond “A bunch of people got together and started killing things and smashing stuff. They got away with this because they mostly did it out in the anarchic areas until they were so good at it as to be mostly unstoppable. Eventually they got bored because they’d smashed pretty much everything they thought needed smashing. Then we started a new campaign”. Game settings are filled with narrative conventions because they’re products of human minds – and that’s one of the major ways in which human minds organize their worldviews.

In RPG’s the prevalence of this form of magic marks a major division between game styles.

  1. A lot of games take a “realistic” approach; if you want to stick a knife into someone, and you can hide your intentions, sneak up on them, and stab them in the back, you’re more likely to succeed. That’s pragmatic, sensible, and – by most standards – pretty reasonable (if perhaps a little dull). Still, there is something to be said for scheming and trying to cleverly take advantage of every opportunity. It’s not all that exciting, but it can be very satisfying if you don’t mind the players constantly looking for ways to boost their odds instead of getting on with things.
  2. Other games may give you a small bonus for adding a bit more description and/or a small penalty for being boring. So you note the faint breeze which flutters the curtains, the anger which drives the attack, and the moment of focus as the attacker strikes – making the story inherent to the game and letting it influence the setting. Now it’s annoying when people get inconsistent about adding details, but as long as there’s some self-restraint amongst the players, this approach can add a lot of details and atmosphere if you don’t mind having to do a lot of on-the-fly adaption.
  3. In a few, announcing that you’re going to run at your target screaming your battle cry, vault over their head off a convenient rock, somersault in the air, stab them in the back to reverse your spin, and land on your feet will get you a bonus rather than reducing your chance of success. That’s dramatic, and stylish – if not genuinely exciting since there’s no actual gamble involved – but it really annoys the players who have a practical streak and are trying to be clever unless there’s some serious cost involved in bending the world to your will that way.

In terms of Narrative Destiny… the first option mostly ignores it just as the real world does. The fact that you’re a handsome prince trying to rescue your true love has little or nothing to do with your success of failure. That’s up to your skills, abilities, decisions, and chance. The second lets the world bend a bit to accommodate your narrative, but strictly caps how far it can go; you can bend the primary story to incorporate your personal one, but only so far. For the third option, there are few limits: the world bends to drama more than it does to mere physics and the “story” is likely to be whatever the characters say it is.

Honestly, there is no simple way of satisfying everyone here. Most game systems tend towards one of those three options – in part because option one is easiest to write rules for, option two tends to be a bit informal, usually operates on the social level, and is generally seen as “metagamey” (it does work well in rules-lite systems though), and option three really annoys the players who aren’t good at verbal dramatics and want firm rules to work with. Trying to write rules that can accommodate all three styles is possible – it’s the approach I took in Eclipse and there are various articles up about how to build characters who can influence the narrative and/or pull off insane stunts at the cost of not having those character points to spend on other things – but accommodating all those options requires either a really loose system (annoying one set of players) or a very complicated rules system (causing a lot of players to opt for games that aren’t so much work to make characters for).

Personally, I usually go for the complicated rules – even if that means I have to help a lot of the players make their characters – and option two. Letting the players add some details works just fine for me.

The simplest way to add this law of magic to a game more actively (without going entirely overboard) is to give characters some bonuses for citing and adhering to an appropriate literary trope. If the character is cluelessly noble and pure at heart, perhaps it does give them strength. An oath really does let someone surpass normal limits to fulfill it. True Love will cure anything. A blow stricken in vengeance is far more grievous than an apparently-identical blow stuck in doubt. That’s what the Fate Point rules in Runecards were about.

Naming is closely related to Narrative Destiny. After all… that random sword is just a sword, and could be replaced by any of thousands of very similar swords without changing anything much at all. Sure, there may be hundreds of trivial variations, but your game of choices equipment list and mechanics generally do not care about the makers mark, or the pattern of the steel, or whether or not the blade has an engraving of a creature on it, or the color of the pommel. A “short sword” is pretty much a “short sword” – unless, perhaps, a full-blown system of correspondences is in use. But even if one is, those correspondences will still be just a handful of discriptives hung on the basic “short sword” chasse.

Now “Sting” may have been pretty much a short sword or combat knife at base – but it was an elven-blade forged by a Noldor master-smith before the fall of Gondolin. It penetrated the skin of trolls, cut webs easily, and glowed in the presence of certain monsters. It may not have been all that powerful a magical blade – but it became a singular part of it’s bearer’s legend when it was NAMED.

In magic, names have POWER. A things name is a link to it, a way to draw on it’s power and authority. Have you ever heard the phrase “Stop in the name of the Law!”? What is it that makes that a phrase of power and authority? It’s personifying the “Law!” as an abstract entity of power that lends it’s authority to those who invoke it. “Halt! Police!” just isn’t quite the same somehow.

To give something a name… is to make it unique, to give it importance in the great tapestry of the universe, and so to give it power. As named items are woven into tales and become parts of great events, their power grows. A magician may inscribe a blade with potent runes, it may absorb a part of the power of a mighty foe as it is plunged into their heart, it may be blessed by the queen of the fey… but to some extent they are only giving expression to the power of the deeds that it has participated in.

Names grow. That sword may have started out a casual name such as “Taurin’s Sword” – but if Tuarin becomes a hero, it will soon be “The Blade Of Taurin”. Not too long after that, it might become the “Bane Of Ugarth” (a great troll that it was used to kill). Perhaps one day after that… it will be Straithbeor (“Demon Slayer”, the sword Taurin used to slay many demons during the overthrow of a dark empire), the Bane Of Ugarth, Blade Of The Mighty Taurin, King Of Umbria”. If it gets lost, it might be found again – and once it’s new owner learns it’s history, and shows himself or herself worthy, he or she can draw upon it’s power. If it is broken… reforging it will require a mighty quest, a great deed, or mighty magical ingredients – but once it is done, it will add “The Sword That Was Broken” to it’s name and the reforging will become simply another power-granting component of the weapons ever-growing legend. That’s why the Legendarium skill was written to work that way and why most of the sample Relics in Eclipse II have their own unique histories.

Games vary on this a lot. A very few – Earthdawn, some Arthurian games, and a few more – treat naming as a very big deal indeed. Most others really don’t pay much attention to it. The problem is that named items require their own legends and are generally unique and individual – which means that the game either has to have a specific setting and mountains of source material or the poor game master is going to have to put in an incredible amount of work creating treasures for both the PC’s AND the NPC’s. Thus most games have a list of generic equipment and items that can be readily traded around. Many even have random treasure tables. They may also have a list of unique and powerful artifacts, but it’s up to the game master whether or not to bring such a thing into play and to work it into the plot if he or she does.

Given that inherent problem… This one pretty much has to stay optional. You can set up a subsystem to handle it for those players who want to experiment with it and add some flavor to things (like Create Relic in Eclipse and the Sample Relics in Eclipse II or the aforementioned Legendarium skill), and introduce the occasional unique artifact / plot element – but unless you run a game where magical devices are simply terribly rare, precious, and almost impossible to create, you won’t have time to customize everything.

Laws Of Magic Part IV – Purification and Personification

For those looking to read in order…

And now for Part IV – Purification and Animism / Personification

In “real” traditional magic Purification is a vital prerequisite for any major working. After all… since everything is connected, and there are all sorts of influences and correspondences everywhere, the first step in any major working (that’s anything that isn’t purely reliant on your personal power like “psychic” abilities and petty cantrips) pretty much has to be to clear away all of the magical influences that you don’t want getting involved. Otherwise… you’ll be incorporating all kinds of random influences into your magic. So the first step in anything major is to set up a magic circle or ward to keep outside influences out of your working – and the second is to cleanse your ritual area of any influences that are already present. The third, of course, is to specifically invite, summon, or add those influences you do want present. These days this is usually known as Casting The Circle.

Only then do you actually start in on what you want to do. Otherwise you’re risking having your working go wildly out of control and causing god-only-knows-what to happen. Classically, working without purification was risking much more than your mere life.

In legends and literature, purification is mostly a matter of personal purification. After all, having your characters stop to conduct various purification rituals before they do anything every little bit gets boring very, VERY, fast – and even entirely mortal (super-) heroes are generally capable of doing the impossible ten times before breakfast anyway. Why shouldn’t they get away with skipping the dull bits here too?

Conventionally, when it comes to personal purity in legends and literature…

  • “White” wizards are likely to have to refrain from sexual activity and/or most personal emotional relationships, or avoid certain foods, or follow strict rules to avoid “sin”, or take ritual baths (or possibly never bathe so as to avoid dissipating their personal energies), or spend time in a sweat lodge, or dance and chant, or any of a hundred other methods. In most such cases, the potency of their magic relies on how pure they are, although failure chances and such do show up in some cases.
  • “Black” mages tend to offload their need for purity on other people – which is why they’re big on virgin’s blood, child sacrifices, and stealing the power of untainted magical nexi and items. Thus they weaken and corrupt the sources they draw on – which they care little about because they tend to throw them away as they weaken and grab new sources of power. Black Magic thus inherently taints and corrupts both the area around the user and the sources of magic he or she draws upon.
  • Elementalists, “Nature Mages”, or “Priests” tend to just bind themselves to a particular source or type of power (and usually one they have a natural affinity for at that) or two – thus making it relatively easy to remain “pure” by not interacting with other kinds of magic. All those systems of freeform magic that only apply to particular fields probably work like this.

Which is at least one way in which the (rather boring) traditional generic ritualist – who can try to do almost anything at all given sufficient time in which to work – turns into the familiar specialist-in-a-field / “elementalist” / “necromancer” / whatever role-playing-game quick spellcaster who can keep up with the action but has a strictly limited variety and supply of spells.

Purification is even less important in most RPG’s though, simply because in such games most spells are preset, as with Amber’s “Hung” spells, d20’s “Prepared” spells, or World Tree’s “Grafted” spells. When the effects are set down in the game rules, active purification usually falls by the wayside. Why bother when that fireball wand is essentially every bit as “mechanical” as a grenade launcher?

With systems like that… if you needed to purify yourself, you presumably did it while you were getting your spells ready to go. Once a spell is hung, assembled, or grafted, it is pretty much independent of outside influences – just as a grenade will go off regardless of where it is when you pull the pin (at least barring really insane environments such as the surfaces of neutron stars or “antimagic” zones).

Still, there are echoes of the idea in most role-playing games; that’s presumably where cursed items come from – and it’s why half the powers of The Practical Enchanter’s Wards Major are normally selected randomly; the area covered by such a Ward is usually just too big to purify effectively before it’s enchanted.

Games that happen to have a (usually secondary) ritual magic system or adhere to “only blunt weapons for priests (so that they are not rendered impure by the intent to shed blood, like early AD&D) usually already include some nods to the idea of ritual purity – but if you want to emphasize it a bit more, noting that mages must spend some time every day in meditation to cleanse their minds, or spend a day of downtime not casting anything so as to purify the energies of their chakra every so often, or burn the occasional stick of special incense to let it’s smoke carry away malevolent demonic forces, or never speak an impure language, or whatever, as a part of being a spellcaster, will do it. You can even give it a small penalty to ensure that the players make a note to do it. 5% chance of spell failure per week missed to a maximum of – say – 10% per spell level – will be plenty of incentive for your spellcasters to find an hour or so a week for some purification ceremonies.

Personification is basically Animism – the belief that objects, places, creatures, and possibly even abstract concepts, have spirits of their own, are at least somewhat aware of the world, and can act in their own ways. From this point of view there is no sharp distinction between the spiritual and physical aspects of the world – or between mankind and the rest of the universe. Of all the classic laws of magic… it is perhaps the oldest and most universal. The idea is so widely held and inherent to most indigenous peoples that they often do not even have a word in their languages for it – or even for “religion”. It is unquestioned; Animism simply IS.

It’s true origin lies deep in infancy. Even infants as young as three months of age seem to realize that objects continue to exist when they’re out of sight. Soon after that they begin to understand that not much happens around them unless something makes it happen.

So what makes most things happen around an infant? Sometimes it’s wind, but most of the time it’s a creature – occasionally a family pet or other animal, but most of the time… it’s other people. Infants do tend to be kept safe, warm, and tucked away in quiet, stable, places after all.

It’s not much of a jump to the idea that when things happen… it’s probably people of some sort. Even if you can’t see them, bigger and older people do all kinds of marvelous things. They bring you food, they mend broken toys, they bring fire and keep you warm. So things like lightning, wind, the growth of plants, the flight of birds, the movement of celestial objects, and the great eruptions of volcanoes… are probably acts of even bigger and older people. Sure, some spirits (like some people) are relatively simple and are only good at a few things – but others, like the Great Sky Spirit, are vast and complex.

And, as children grow… a rich animistic overlay of gods, nature spirits, haunts, and fancies grows with them, cast over cold reality like a warming blanket. So you asked for what you wanted or needed. And if, in extremis, that failed you and you died… well, you didn’t pass on that experience. And those times when – against all odds – you succeeded, soon passed through storytelling into legend. What further proof could a member of a small tribe ask for?

Older human brains play into that worldview in another way. The brain is a survival mechanism. It looks for patterns, for ways to survive and prosper in the present – and to predict and influence the future. When the patterns are beyond it’s current understanding, and appear impossible to change to suit itself, stress sets in. The brain starts throwing preconceptions, fantasies, and wild ideas into the desperate effort to find a manipulable pattern.

And waiting there, from early childhood, in the minds depths… is Animism. From a time when life was controlled by mighty beings who did mysterious things for no reason that you really understood – but whom could be influenced to fulfill your needs when you made noise. Did you have a stuffed animal as a child that you talked to? Did you hide under the covers to keep the monsters from getting you? Have you sworn at your car or your computer while trying to get it to start? Then congratulations! You are a practicing animistic mage. Most of us are, if only because It’s VERY hard to get rid of the feeling that threatening that annoyingly balky piece of equipment with being thrown away will help somehow.

Animism is so deeply embedded in human cultures and thus gaming magic that it’s barely even noticed. Look at the setting of your game. Are their various gods of nature and natural phenomena? Are there elemental entities or storm spirits? Do magical items respond when commanded? Are there haunted places, sacred groves, spirits of the land, and great totems that control animals? Do older weapons have proper names and perhaps powers due to their growing legend? Can you speak to the spirit of a mountain or a river? There’s a reason why no one questions that sort of thing when it’s put into a setting. Every fantasy setting has some of that sort of thing.

About the only way that “Personification” elaborates on basic Animism is to say that Animistic Spirits tend to react in kind and can be channeled – and that this is an entirely valid way to deal with the unseen world. Are you a noble hero serving the equally-noble Sun God? Then the Sun God will tend to answer your pleas and will support you as you support him. Congratulations; you’re a Paladin. Do you demand that dark forces do your will and strike down your enemies? Then they will demand equally dark deeds and offerings from you in exchange. Do you attempt to gently persuade locks to open even if you don’t have the key? Then the locks may refuse, or gently ask for a few drops of oil in exchange, or try to talk you into going away – but the are most unlikely to demand anything much more burdensome. If you’re polite and reasonable… then so are they.

Purification and Animism can be left unremarked in your games of course – after all, they’re usually a part of the underlying assumptions anyway – but bringing them a little more into view does serve to hint at a vast, underlying, structure to your worlds magic – and in a way that most people are already primed to accept.

Laws Of Magic Part III – Karma

So why worry about classical “laws of magic” anyway? Why not just make up your own laws of magic?

That’s partly because – as many authors have shown – making up a coherent system of alternative physics is quite a lot of trouble. After all, human beings have been fiddling around with this set of rules for thousands of years and – as shown so far – the result still isn’t very coherent. That gets even worse in a game setting, where the players are going to be picking your efforts apart looking for any possible advantage that they can squeeze out of them.

Really, it’s mostly to give your game worlds some depth and make them seem fantastic. While it’s difficult to get away from having some mechanics in your game, it’s a lot more interesting if you can keep a sense of wonder and mystery in it as well. Like a movie, your scenes need a background – even if it’s the linguistic equivalent of a matte painting. And, like it or not, the “laws of magic” are a part of almost everyone’s mental library, are rich with associations, and somehow just seem reasonable. Some part of the human mind just seems to interpret things that way.

Thus slapping a superficial gloss of Correspondences (mostly in item descriptions), Sympathy and Contagion (mostly in spell components), the Doctrine Of Signatures (in the ingredients for potions and scrolls), Magical Circles (in summoning and a few spell names), Naming (mostly in Item Creation), Runes and Occult Symbols (in Glyphs of Warding and Symbol spells), over the fairly basic Vancian Spellcasting of first edition AD&D lent the magic system an underlying feeling of having laws and rules. It hinted that a system which was basically a list of handy game effects for wargames actually had deep mysteries and an occult basis that only the arcane spellcasters truly understood.

It didn’t of course, but that feeling helped make the setting fantastic and full of wonder. It helped make it feel “genuinely magical”.

Sadly, that same gloss of occultism was quite enough to convince quite a few people that AD&D – and many other games – involved actual magic, taught the players genuine occult lore, and led directly to the practice of black magic and Satanism. Those accusations were bad for sales since they upset young gamers parents – and so the natural reaction was denial. You can still see the disclaimers in the front of many older RPG’s – but denial of such “obvious” evil intent was, of course, taken as confirmation of it. The next step was, naturally enough, to strip that gloss away with the next edition. Of course, that also did no good – it was simply taken as confirmation that the authors were trying to hide their “Satanic” intent – but the nonsense gradually died away anyway, just as it usually does (see: Rock and Roll, Harry Potter, etc).

Unfortunately, by that time, the damage was done. Most RPG’s had pretty well purged all of their classical occult flavoring. The College Of Greater Summonings had vanished from Dragonquest, magical references had vanished from AD&D in favor of dry rules descriptions, and Champions included no setting material at all, filling the book with pure game mechanics. Some games held out – but an awful lot gave in.

That left us with playable games that – as a bonus – could be readily used as a basis for computer games. Unfortunately, along the way, they’d lost a lot of the classical fantasy “feel”.

Now I happen to LIKE that feeling of wonder, and having underlying, and somewhat mysterious, rules to how magic “actually” works – which is why the Baba Yaga RPG includes a somewhat snarky “Disclaimer” of it’s own:

Disclaimer: In the classic tradition of RPG’s, Distant Horizons Games notes that magic doesn’t actually work. If you think you can get somewhere with the “occult methods” given in this book – announcing what you want and rolling 3D6 twice – we reserve the right to laugh at you hysterically.

So that’s why these articles are taking a look at some classical “laws of magic”. It’s to help put some of that feeling back into games for those who miss it.

And to get back to that…

The Law Of Karma can be expressed several ways. The Threefold Rule says that what you send out returns to you threefold. Other formulations speak of “backlash”. Still others say that you must laboriously build up magical power before you can accomplish anything. Still others that you must burn your life force, or lifespan, to wield magic. Yet others claim that you are paying with portions of your very soul.

Perhaps the simplest expression is everything has a price.

Most games both embrace and utterly reject this.

  • Any notion that practicing harmful magic will ultimately lead the practitioner to ruin has almost completely fallen by the wayside, eliminating the Threefold Rule. That was inevitable from the beginning given that combat – and thus harmful combat magic – is a major component of most RPG’s. On the other hand, many fantasy RPG’s also want to have some clearly defined “dark magic” for the equally clearly-defined bad guys to use. This leads to ideas like “necromantic spells are inherently evil” – which is why d20 took healing and various other spells out of the field. But even then… if you want to be evil, and use “evil magic”, then there really isn’t any special price for it. Being evil just grants you access to some especially unpleasant powers. (A few games include special abilities that are restricted to the “good guys” too, but that’s a lot rarer).
  • Backlash – or “Drain”, or “Fatigue” or many other names – is a reasonably popular mechanic in games, but it’s mostly just a way to keep magic-users from utterly dominating the action. It’s only a cost in the way that burning some calories and a bit of fatigue is the “cost” of rearranging your furniture or digging a hole to plant a tree. RPG’s like Shadowrun, Ysgarth, Tales From The Floating Vagabond, and many more, all embraced various “fatigue” mechanics.
  • AD&D embraced the “you must laboriously gather up motes of magical energy and build them into prepared spells!” idea. That served to give magic a notable price and greatly limited its power as well; an adventuring wizard might have a fair number of spells prepared – but refilling that reserve could take days or, at very high levels, a week or more of doing nothing but prepare spells. While actually on an adventure, a wizard would be lucky to find the time to prepare – say – three first level spells, one second level spell, and one third level spell (two hours of study worth) per day. Casting anything beyond that was burning very limited reserves that you might not be able to refill for a long time. That was why every wizard wanted a wand or two, just as desperately as the fighter wanted a magic sword and magic armor. It was much easier to use a wand in combat than it was to cast a spell, they held enough charges to be used right through most adventures, and they could be recharged at home. Secondarily, AD&D embraced the idea that being a wizard required vast amounts of study and time – which might not be a cost to the player, but certainly was to the character. It even limited your chance to learn particular spells and the total number of spells a mage could ever know.

This make the AD&D magic system fantastic, and put a convincing price on being a mage – but enough of the players found playing a mage as the system was written so difficult that game masters started treating the “maximum number of prepared spells” table as spells-per-day, greatly softened the difficulties of getting them cast successfully, and often entirely ignored the limitations on learning spells – all of which became standard rules in third edition. It was a good effort, but ultimately did not work – even if “can’t wear armor” and “low hit points” are still in play.

  • A very few games – Necromancer, some very early versions of D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and a few more – embraced the “cast from lifespan” idea in one way or another. Casting major spells had direct and terrible prices. Casting too many would kill you or drive you mad – and there were few or no ways to reset the total, which meant that major spells could be grand, and terrible, and very powerful indeed, and still be very rarely used. This works – but it means that you really can’t play a mage, or you will often have nothing to do until a spell MUST be used – and you come a little bit closer to retiring your character. Magic was for insane NPC’s and the occasional player-character dabbler.
  • In quite a lot of current games the only “cost” is an opportunity cost. If you want to be good at magic (or psionics, or your reality-tweaking option of choice), then you’re going to have to put a lot of your character-development resources (money, levels, time, whatever) into it – and thus won’t be able to put those resources into being good at other things. Now that’s a perfectly functional and realistic game mechanic. In fact it’s so functional that it’s near-universal; I’ve only seen a few games – such as Nobilis, Ars Magica, and Mage – where mystics simply get handed an additional resource pool to allot to magical benefits, and all of those games are firmly centered on supernatural characters (often to the point where nothing else is actually playable). Unfortunately, outside of those few games (where there is little or no reason NOT to be a “Noble” or a Mage) that approach puts “Magic!” on the exact same level as “Swordsmanship!” and only a little above “Blacksmith!”. You become a really good mage in exactly the same way that you become a really good maker of wine.

Some games make that work. As an example, TORG stresses the player-based cardplay so much that character abilities make little difference. Thus an elderly Shakespearean Actor found that his dramatic and oratorical skills were every bit as effective both in and out of battle as the talents of the werewolf-gunfighter, the mad-scientist robot and his built-in manufacturing systems, the ninja computer hacker, the archmage, or the psionic adept giant otter. In fact, they were better since he’d focused all his resources on them; it was his impossible oratory that got him hailed across a galaxy as the True Emperor and brought stability and prosperity to millions of worlds. The cyborg fox might have destroyed twelve futuristic grav-tanks with a pistol in a single action, but none of the rest of them ever did anything on a galactic scale – unless, perhaps, you count the Otter creating the unkillable Godzilla Virus Artificial Intelligence and unleashing it into the Cyberpapacy’s Matrix.

The thing is though, that most games make giving out pools of special bonuses to particular types of characters work by either giving out such pools to every kind of character or by – like TORG – making the character abilities mostly subordinate to the players skills.

There really isn’t an optimum solution to this one. You don’t really want to limit the players too much or tell them that their characters can’t start studying magic unless they take four years off to get the equivalent of an engineering degree in it. After all, in large part they’re playing to take a break from realities limitations. About all you can do is to complicate the character’s lives – and most of that sort of thing tends to be setting or system specific.

  • Perhaps mages need special foci to use their powers – something much more complex and difficult to replace than a “spell component pouch”. Chivalry and Sorcery did this. Such things are fairly readily replaceable given a little time, but you’ll need to keep track of them and make spares.
  • Perhaps magic is a limited resource, and you have to compete for it. Did you have to eliminate a few rival apprentices and take their sources of power to become an adventuring mage? Or do you have to maintain a cult-like array of followers who labor to build the pool of power you draw upon.
  • Perhaps powerful magic corrupts the environment, or allows monsters to enter the world, or drains the life from villagers.
  • Perhaps you need to give up your social life, practice monastic self-discipline, or renounce eating meat to maintain your powers.
  • Perhaps you need to perform strange rituals at specific times, offer your blood, know that your firstborn child will be a tool of some magical being, or be forever unable to sing or hear music or find true love.
  • Perhaps using magic leaves obvious and unnatural signs – horns, or strange eyes, or a “witches mark”, ruining your social life and making you a target of suspicion. Or perhaps it’s just extremely conspicuous in some fashion.
  • Perhaps using magic is alienating, drains your emotions, or demands the sacrifice of treasured memories, leaving the user increasingly distant from normal humanity – or perhaps it inherently drives people away from the user or even drives them to betray him or her.
  • Perhaps magic undermines the foundations of reality or is banned by the gods or simply attracts misfortune, or monsters, or hunters. NPC’s will only use it with great caution, player characters who use it will find themselves regularly attacked and obliged to go on various adventures because bizarre problems keep popping up around them.
  • Perhaps magic damages your health, leaving you with a cough, or a tendency to catch minor illnesses, or causes other inconvenient and annoying problems with little game effect. Are you deaf in one ear, farsighted or nearsighted, or prone to fits?
  • Perhaps using magic requires accepting various Taboos (things you must not do, however weird and pointless) or Oaths (things you must do) to maintain your powers.
  • Perhaps magic requires a careful balance of some sort. Perhaps each time you cast your mighty fireballs, you need to help out a village or some such.
  • Perhaps magical energy only builds up gradually; on the first round of combat you can only cast first level spells – and a battle must go on for nine rounds to allow the casting of a ninth level spell. Out of combat? Perhaps it takes a minute per spell level.
  • Perhaps accessing a new level of magic involves rituals or trials. Concluding a pact with some mighty entity – or perhaps a classic sequence of trials, such as recognizing the limits of your power, seeking out magical tutelage, going forth on a quest, exercising self-discipline, and sacrificing something precious to you.

The point, of course, is not to make things hard on the player. It’s to ensure that – in the setting – becoming a magic-user is not simply another choice like learning a martial art. It is something with deep and mysterious implications that will have a major impact on your characters life, not a decision to be made lightly.

Laws Of Magic Part I – Correspondences

Once upon a time in first edition AD&D a Fireball filled so many thousands of cubic feet. If you set it off in a space that was too small, or the middle of a nest of tunnels or some such… the blast would fill it’s allotted space, even if that made the “ball” into a long line or it it blew back into your face and killed you. Similarly, lightning bolts could bounce back on the caster if you weren’t careful about where you set them off. Summoned elementals could go out of control and attack the summoner. There were fairly elaborate descriptions of where the energy that powered magic came from, how it was gathered, the time spent to bind it into each individual spell (fifteen minutes times the spell level for each spell so prepared – normally to a maximum of 32 levels of spells per day if you weren’t adventuring), and how tricky it was to use it properly. If you got interrupted, or fouled things up, it didn’t work. You could only learn so many spells, and would often find yourself permanently unable to learn the ones you wanted.

It was a time when making potions and scrolls required fairly high level and exotic ingredients – and if you didn’t have those ingredients, you couldn’t make that potion or a scroll. Making more powerful magic items involved arbitrary quests, and creating permanent enchantments cost a constitution point as enchanters gave up a portion of their life force to empower them. When Gods only granted spells appropriate to their portfolios, chose what spells they granted their priests, and sometimes withheld spells or other clerical benefits if said priests weren’t doing a good job of serving their gods.

For example, making a scroll of Protection From Petrification required giant squid ink, a basilisk eye, three cockatrice feathers, medusa snake venom, (specific) powdered gems, holy water, and pumpkin seeds. Lesser scrolls were usually easier, but they certainly weren’t things that you just churned out.

And there was a reason for all that. It was because classical fantasy adhered to many classical notions about how magic worked.

Classical fantasy said that gods and other magical entities paid attention and demanded that their servants and priests offer sacrifices, adhere to rigid codes of behavior, and actually serve them in exchange for the power they were given – and that various entities only offered powers related to their various portfolios. The Winter King would not – and COULD NOT – help you throw fire.

Classical fantasy said that learning to use magic without a supernatural patron was a difficult and dangerous thing, requiring years of study. It involved strange arts and the classical laws of magic – correspondences, synchronicity, sympathy, contagion, similarity or “signatures”, karma, purification, personification, destiny, and naming, magical circles, runes and occult symbols, and more. Would-be mages had massive lists of stuff to memorize in character – while even the player had quite a lot to keep track of. The Dungeon Master’s Guide showed glyphs for various Glyphs Of Warding (and noted that experienced players might remember their names from prior play, and so bypass them!) and several forms of protective inscriptions, including magic circles, pentagrams, and thaumaturgic triangles – and noted that when you summoned something the game master might require you to show them that you were using the right one!

Having an actual magic-user in your party was a luxury that called for a fairly high level party, a very experienced player, and a good deal of actual study and preparation.

And the first law of magic to take a look at is Correspondence.

Correspondence is built on the belief that every time, place, object, and symbol has some amount of magical power – and that that power is attuned to various purposes.

For simplified example, Fire is active, hot, dry, and emits light.

  • It’s season is summer.
  • Its Day is Sunday.
  • Its Time is noon.
  • Its Incenses are cinnamon, frankincense, and dragon’s blood.
  • Its Signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
  • Its Animals are bees, lions, dragons, serpents, foxes, scorpions, and squirrels.
  • Its Alchemical Symbol is a point-up triangle.
  • Its Celestial Objects are Mars and the Sun.
  • Its Colors are white, red, and orange.
  • Its Sense is sight.
  • Its Trees are Alder, Chestnut, Cinnamon, and Rowan.
  • It Manifests in the sun, stars, and volcanoes.
  • Its Gods are Agni, Brigit, Durga, Freya, Horus, Pele, Ra, and Vulcan.
  • Its Tools are wands, lamps, and blades.
  • Its Stones are bloodstone, carnelian, fire opal, red jasper, ruby, tiger’s eye, and anything from a volcano.
  • Its Metals are gold, steel, and brass.
  • Its Herbs include allspice, basil, coffee, juniper, onion, peppers, thistle, and tobacco.
  • Its Fragrances include clove, patchouli, and chamomile.
  • Its Direction is south.
  • Its Spirits are salamanders and firedrakes.
  • It is associated with youth, war, courage, animal life, and sex.
  • It is linked with stringed instruments.
  • Its magic is suited to spells involving light, energy, love, health, and transformation.

And that list is far from complete. Those categories should have more items and there are lots more categories.

Every correspondence you involved in your magical action – or, to some extent, in mundane activities – added a little bit of power. Thus a red-haired spellcaster who’d been born during the summer, on Sunday, at noon, had four built-in correspondences for fire magic – and so would show a natural talent for it (and a likely deficit in Water Magic). He or she could get another boost from using an Steel (Metal) Athame (Blade) forged with the aid of a Salamander (Spirit), blessed by a priest of Agni (God), with a Bloodstone pommel (Stone), hilted with wood from a chestnut tree (Tree) and engraved with the constellation of Aries (Sign) – adding seven additional correspondences from a rather powerful magical tool. It would also help if he or she was smoking or had recently had sex, either of which would make an even dozen correspondences (you might not want thirteen; that has some unhelpful correspondences).

A charmsmith might gift a fighter with an amulet incorporating as many correspondences to the arts of war as possible, knowing that carrying those influences with him would help to bring him or her victory. Making magical devices that aided the user in various ways… basically involved a lot of ritual purification to help keep unwanted correspondences from getting entangled in your creation and putting together as many ingredients from your list as possible. Admittedly, such items were fairly subtle – but an item with the proper correspondences was a lot easier to enchant with active powers as well.

A diviner might use tarot cards, or throw runesticks, or use any of hundreds of other methods, in the belief that – thanks to the innate correspondences of their tools – the results will reflect the forces currently at work in a situation, providing hints as to what the future will hold. Better tools – such as tarot cards – will be constructed to incorporate as many symbols and correspondences as possible, so they are as well attuned to the universe as possible – and usually can also serve as spellcasting tools (which is where card-based casting comes from).

While this sort of thing is still fairly popular – notions of astrology, birth-stones, spirit animals, tarot cards, rune-stones, the I-Ching, and such are all over the place – few people are really aware that giving someone a little birthstone pendant, made of the “appropriate” metal and bearing various traditional symbols (knots, zodiac symbols, animals, etc) is really an act of magic meant to strengthen the recipients personal talents and improve their lives.

Correspondences are simultaneously the least and most organized bit of magical thinking. The most because Correspondences tend to come in massive categorized and sorted lists (there are entire books devoted to such lists). The least because the magical associations of times, items, places,, and materials are completely arbitrary; each culture has developed it’s own ideas on the topic. Still, the theory says that the more correspondences you manage to tie into an appropriate magical working, the more potent it became – for each contributes power.

Honestly, correspondences are far too complicated for most game systems. Even first edition AD&D, which involved a LOT of classic fantasy elements, shied away from any attempt to make direct use of Correspondences – although you can see traces of the idea in the descriptions of the various magic items (especially the wands) and in the information on creating magical items.

Other early game systems also dabbled a bit. Chivalry and Sorcery used parts of the system in enchanting the tools a spellcaster required, Dragonquest used Birth Aspects that could modify attempts to do pretty much anything, but only when they applied. A system or two used “Star Signs” which could provide all kinds of modifiers – a notion which would work nicely in d20 since applying a “star sign template” to your character is flavorful and should be relatively quick and easy.

Only one game system that I’m aware of – Fantasy Wargaming – used a correspondence table as a central element of it’s magic system. Unfortunately, Fantasy Wargaming is generally regarded as unplayable. (It’s actually not all that bad, but the organization of the book is terrible, it takes a long time to design and cast a spell, and it – as expected for the era – uses a lot of wargame ideas that limit your control of your character rather than RPG ideas).

Continuum II uses correspondences as a central part of the Ceremonial Magic system – but that is a subsystem that occasional characters dabbled in during downtime, rather than something that was expected to be used while adventuring. A player who wanted to invest some time and effort researching correspondences and coming up with ceremonies could give their party some handy (if fairly minor) bonuses to use during adventures – but a party could get along just fine without such things. On the other hand… it gave things a nicely mystical feel, which was usually well worth the trouble. That system’s basically compatible with d20, so it could be used easily enough, In Eclipse it’s just a Specialized version of the Ritual Magic ability.

Thus correspondences – while a major and extremely thoroughly documented part of classical magic – only play a small role in classical fantasy and in the role-playing games based on it. They’re simply too arbitrary and too much trouble to include more than a few nods to in anything but an optional system. .

The sign of Aries is associated with March 21’st to April 19’th, Fire, Iron, Geranium, Gorse, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Tiger Lily, Thistle and Wild Rose, Holly and Chestnut, Iron, Bloodstone, Ruby, Red Jasper, and Garnet, Scarlet or Pink, Mars, Tuesday, Four o’clock to Five o’clock, Spring, The Emperor Tarot Card, the Ram, Owl, or Bull, the Magpie, Owl, and Robin, the Head, she scent of Pine or Geraniums, Athena, Shiva, and Minerva – and it goes on.

Continuum II Psychic Powers Part III – Psychic Senses, Psychokinetic Effects, Telepathic Functions, and Will Force.

The Psychic Wheel arrangement, with its selection of opposing, near-opposing, related, and unrelated disciplines, was a fundamental part of Continuum II’s psychic ability systems – rather like AD&D’s, or d20’s, separation of spellcasting into Arcane (Wizard / Sorcerer, or, in AD&D Illusionist) and Divine (Cleric / Druid) fields, or the later introduction of things like Pact Magic, Incarnum, Shadow Magic, and Truename Magic. It meant that there were ten basic types of Psychic Adepts, each with their own capabilities and methods of solving problems. An adept would probably dabble a bit in related fields – those only one or two places removed on the Wheel – but would be entirely barred from the oppositional and near-oppositional disciplines. If you were a master of Psychokinetic Effects, then the disciplines of Heightened Talents, Life Energy Manipulation, and Natural Forces were beyond your reach. Did you also dabble a bit in Will Force? That would bar you from the Psychic Senses discipline as well. Combined with the choices between Psychomancy (with the option to dabble in C’hi and Introspection powers) and Psionics (and the option to dabble in Empyrean Magic), the net result was to offer several hundred variants on the “psychic” even before they started selecting and customizing their disciplines and other skills. A master of Heightened Talents who dabbled in Psychic Senses might breeze through an investigative scenario – but it would be his partner, a master of Dimensional Warps, who would allow him or her to follow a trail of clues across the solar system in a few hours.

Across the decades, and a hundred or so Psychic characters, the players never did come up with two who were much alike.

Psychic Senses are – at their most basic – powered-up Introspection effects, using psychic energy to modulate, amplify, and extend the user’s natural energy aura while analyzing the resulting interactions with the environment. “Passive” effects rely on picking up energy emanations, just as physical sight relies on picking up radiated photons, and can massively extend the sensitivity, range, and analytic functions of the user’s basic senses. Active abilities rely on extending the user’s energies to actually probe the universe directly – but in either case the Psychic Senses are amongst the most subtle and low-powered psychic abilities since they make no attempt to manipulate the world, but simply observe it. Active abilities cost a bit more, and may be detectable – but even with them it isn’t easy. Unfortunately, that same subtlety makes it easy for users to fool themselves – allowing their own preconceptions and desires to override the subtle cues of their discipline. Psychic Senses are thus incompatible with the Will Force abilities, which rely on throwing massive amounts of raw power into simply overwriting the structure of chunks of the universe, rather than accepting what’s there already. Psychic Senses are closely related to the subtle psychic-energy projection of the Telepathic Functions and to the still-subtle, if more active, manipulations of environmental energy fields employed by the Natural Forces discipline.

Psychokinetic Effects channel energy into the purely material realm, using it to move, re-arrange, and manipulate matter while suppressing the array of action-reaction and related conservation rules that would normally either make such remote-action and reactionless manipulations impossible or – at the least – turn the user’s brain into pulp. Like most natural law violations, this makes this discipline fairly expensive to use, with the energy cost scaling as a function of the mass involved and the degree of fine control required. It also makes Psychokinetic Effects fundamentally opposed to Heightened Talents, which focus on the subtle augmentation of the user’s personal abilities in accordance with the laws of nature instead. They are, however, closely related to the deeper law-negation of the Dimensional Warps discipline and to the blunt power-surges and energy redirection of the Energy Manipulation abilities.

Telepathic Functions rely on a complex array of mental effects, combining the subtle energy patterns of neurological fields and the purely mental conceptual patterns of the astral level to generate empyrean constructs – channeling subtle, nuanced, patterns of mental energy through the empyrean and into their target’s minds. The effective use of abilities in the Telepathic Functions category demands great concentration and precisely controlled thought patterns – although these talents often do not carry over into other activities. Operating primarily on the central nervous system and mind these abilities use comparatively little power. Overall, the fine control of energy patterns makes the Telepathic Functions closely related to the Energy Manipulation abilities, while the fine control of thought patterns and sensitivity to subtle energies are closely related to the psychic senses. However, concentrating on subtle mental effects make this list the “opposite” of Personal Control abilities which concentrate on the physical plane and body through continuous unconscious awareness of it.

Will Force abilities basically bludgeon reality into submission – hammering “What IS” with percipient will and raw psychic power until it gives way, reality breaks, and the user can substitute “What I Want It To Be” for whatever lost chunk of consensus reality used to be in his or her way. While this has all the subtlety of crushing houses with a wrecking ball, and is hideously expensive to boot, it is also versatile, fast, and (if backed by sufficient power) potentially extremely potent – and so Will Force is often a favored discipline for adventurers. Fairly obviously, it’s closely related to the law-negating effects of the Dimensional Warps discipline and to the willful denial of reality and the imposition of a desired pattern used by the Personal Control discipline. Also obviously, it’s utterly opposed to the Psychic Senses discipline, which focuses on subtly probing and exploiting what is rather than what you wish the universe to be. Accepting the universe as it is incapacitates Will Force abilities, while trying to make it what you want blocks psychic senses.

Psychic Senses, Minor Abilities:

01 Ability Classification
02 Alertness
03 Clairvoyance
04 Clairaudience
05 Compatibility Scan
06 Detect (Various)
07 Detection Screen
08 Dowsing
09 Lesser Divination
10 Lifesense
11 Magnetosense
12 Nightvision
13 Nymic Awareness
14 Pathfinder
15 Postcognition
16 Psychic Analysis
17 Psychic Scan
18 Psychic Tracking
19 Psychometry
20 Radar Sense
21 Second Sight
22 Signature Analysis
23 Social Perception
24 Spherical Awareness
25 Stress Perception
26 Surface Persona
27 Surveillance Detection
28 Timesensor
29 Truthsense

Psychic Senses, Major Abilities:

01 Ability Analysis
02 Aura Reading
03 Clairsentience
04 Cosmic Awareness
05 Danger Sense
06 Deepsight
07 Design Analysis
08 Electromagnetics
09 Elemental Sense
10 Falsification
11 Grab Bag
12 Greater Divination
13 Intuit Traps
14 Mystic Analysis
15 Perceptor
16 Precognition
17 Psychic Sensitive
18 Seekersense
19 Sensory Enhancement
20 Sensory Merge
21 Structural Probe
22 Systems Scan
23 Technic Analysis
24 Trigger Perception
25 Weakness Detection

Psychokinetic Effects, Minor Abilities:

01 Acrobatics
02 Armor Construction
03 Body Equilibrium
04 Camouflage
05 Clothing Shift
06 Containment Field
07 Detoxification
08 Dispersal
09 Fractionation
10 Fracturing
11 Gravity Compensation
12 Hindrance Field
13 Immovability
14 Kinetic Bolt
15 Levitation
16 Material Fusion
17 Mechanical Control
18 Mechanism Control
19 Missile Control
20 Muscle Override
21 Personal Force Field
22 Refining
23 Shockwave
24 Stabilize Material
25 Toughening
26 Ventriloquism

Psychokinetic Effects, Major Abilities:

01 Crystallization
02 Environment Control
03 Exokinetic Field
04 Filtration Field
05 Flight
06 Flow Patterning
07 Force Barriers
08 Gathering
09 Ice Creation
10 Inertial Damping
11 Internal Kinesis
12 Kinetic Charging
13 Material Control (Various)
14 Matrix Construction
15 Matter Simulation
16 Molding
17 Molecular Energetics
18 Molecular Patterning
19 Molecular Restructuring
20 Particle Manipulation
21 Plasma Manipulation
22 Poltergeist
23 Positional Lock
24 Reflection
25 Repulsion Fields
26 Solidification
27 Sonic Control
28 Stasis Field Projection
29 Telekinesis
30 Transmutation
31 Vibratory Powers

Telepathic Functions, Minor Abilities:

01 Ability Inhibition
02 Animal Telepathy
03 Attitude Sense
04 Calming
05 Charm
06 Decision Override
07 Domination
08 Dreamweaving
09 Emotion Boosting
10 Empathy
11 ESP
12 Hypnosis
13 Illusion Casting
14 Implant Memory
15 Invisibility
16 Mindlink
17 Mindlock
18 Mindshout
19 Mindwipe
20 Patterning
21 Phantom Slayer
22 Psychic Shield
23 Rapid Teaching
24 Sensory Tap
25 Skill Borrowing
26 Suggestion
27 Tongues
28 Truthsense
29 Vertigo Induction
30 Voicing

Telepathic Functions, Major Abilities:

01 Combat Scan
02 Compulsion Planting
03 Confusion
04 Deep Conditioning
05 Deep Probe
06 Emotion Projection
07 Gestalt Operations
08 Glamours
09 Group Manipulation
10 Inhibition Blocking
11 Insignificance
12 Mental Analysis
13 Mental Disguise
14 Mental Feedback
15 Mental Surgery
16 Mindhealing
17 Mindriding
18 Mindscan
19 Mindtoxin
20 Mindtraps
21 Overtone Analysis
22 Overworld Manipulation
23 Project Madness
24 Psychic Bolt
25 Psychic Bonding
26 Psychic Purging
27 Psychic Transfer
28 Skill Duplication
29 Subliminal Telepathy
30 Telepathy

Will Force, Minor Abilities:

01 Aspect Assumption
02 Characteristic Focus
03 Command
04 Compensation
05 Computer Emulation
06 Convulsion Projection
07 Emotional Control
08 Enhancer
09 Focused Strike
10 Great Shout
11 Intimidation
12 Lock Keying
13 Mental Barrier
14 Mindpool
15 Neural Support
16 Omnifocusing
17 Oratory
18 Override Control
19 Polarity Shield
20 Potential Conversion
21 Psychic Catalyst
22 Psychic Citadel
23 Psychic Damper
24 Resist Death
25 Sensory Overload
26 Task Focus
27 Temporal Fixator
28 Virtual Creation, En
29 Will Focus
30 Willcrystal
31 Willshield

Will Force, Major Abilities:

01 Absolute Command
02 Chaos Manipulation
03 Compression
04 Cure Insanity (Reversible)
05 Damage Transfer
06 Dimensional Fixiator
07 Free Movement
08 Function Disruption
09 Function Enhancement
10 Function Reversal
11 Great Presence
12 Hieronymus Device
13 Illusory Travel
14 Imprinting
15 Mystic Resistance
16 Order Imposition
17 Pattern Shift
18 Plasticizing
19 Probability Shifting
20 Psyche Theft
21 Psychic Enhancement
22 Reality Insertion
23 Selective Enhancement
24 Selfmerger
25 Sensory Manipulation
26 Shattering
27 Spell Holding
28 Subjugation
29 Trace Amplification
30 Virtual Creation