Arcane magic is one of the worst taboos on Athas, and for good reason. Magic, by its nature, is harmful to the environment and responsible, in the mind of the common person, for the harsh conditions that surround everyone.
While this is technically true, there do exist more cautious and patient magicians: those who follow the path of the preserver, who sacrifice of themselves instead of fueling their magic with stolen life force.
Casting Arcane Spells
For the most part, the act of casting spells follows the rules from Reign Enchiridion with a few exceptions. First, attunement is not necessary for any spellcasting, though Preservers have a similar concept (see Discipline of the Preserver). Second, not all spells have a Difficulty equal to their Intensity. When casting a spell, the magician decides whether to defile or not; if they are defiling, the spell has no Difficulty associated with it at all; instead, once the casting succeeds, a circular scar spreads out from around the caster’s feet; inside this scar, vegetation dries and blackens and soil turns to barren ash. The scar’s diameter is equal to the spell’s Intensity in yards; in particularly verdant areas, it may be smaller and in arid regions, it may be much larger. Any magician who has at least the first level of the Discipline of the Preserver may choose not to defile and casts spells with Difficulty equal to Intensity. Lastly, the number and Intensity of spells a magician may cast in a day is determined by the Spells advantage (see below), while they may have access to a much wider variety of spells in their spellbooks.
Unless otherwise noted, every arcane spell requires verbal, somatic and material components; in other words, a magician must be able to incant arcane words, make hand gestures and be in possession of consumable reagents. Lacking any of these, he or she is unable to cast the spell. Preservers tend to learn how to go without these requirements in dire straits, though the majority of defilers never do.
What makes a magician?
The minimum that a character who seeks to master the arcane needs is to take at least one level of the Sorcery skill and one level of the Spells advantage, gaining them the ability to cast two first-intensity spells per day. If the caster doesn’t wish to be a Defiler, however, they will need at least one level in the Discipline of the Preserver (see below). This is required if a magician wants to avoid casting at the expense of the world around them.
Of course, a dedicated magician will find a few other assets worthwhile. The detect magic (eerie) skill is helpful for knowing what’s going on in the world around you, as is stealth, if one is to be able to conceal one’s works.
While an arcane magician is limited in the number and Intensity of spells he or she can cast in a day, they may have even more spells accessible in their private spellbooks. One magician may teach a spell to another given a number of hours equal to its Intensity, provided the teacher succeeds on a Charm + Sorcery roll and the student succeeds on a Knowledge + Sorcery roll; both rolls has a difficulty of the spell’s Intensity. A student may learn on their own given a proper spell scroll with just the Knowledge roll, in twice the time it takes to learn from a tutor.
Example: Tarkus wishes to learn the spell Web (Intensity 2) from his mentor Otus. During their 2-hour lesson, Tarkus gets a 2×5 match on Knowledge + Sorcery, but Otus only manages 3×1 on Charm + Sorcery, so the lesson doesn’t take. Tarkus pleads to just be left alone for some time with Otus’ copy of the spell, and after four hours, succeeds at his Knowledge + Sorcery skill, successfully learning the rotes to cast it and copies it into his personal spellbook.
Channeling arcane energies is tiring business, and a magician can only do so much without requiring rest. The Spells advantage is what determines the spells a caster is able to handle before needing the equivalent of a full night’s rest. With the bare minimum of the first level in the advantage, a caster may use only two first-intensity spells per day; this can be increased by taking Spells multiple times, gaining the ability to cast more as follows:
- Two first-intensity spells or one second-intensity spell
- Two second-intensity spells or one third-intensity spell
- Two third-intensity spells or one fourth-intensity spell
- Two fourth-intensity spells or one fifth-intensity spell
- Two fifth-intensity spells or one sixth-intensity spell
Investing in the Spells advantage gives a magician not only the ability to cast more spells per day, but for every “slot” they gain, they may also add one spell to their spellbook without requiring outside instruction; choose this spell from the list or design one with GM according to the magic creation rules in Reign Enchiridion.
The only limitation is that a magician cannot access spells of a given Intensity unless they have more spells of the next-lowest Intensity. As an example, a magician who can wield a single fifth-intensity spell per day must also be able to cast two fourth-intensity, three third-intensity, four second-intensity and five first-intensity spells at the very minimum.
Example: Tarkus is a novice preserver who has taken the Spells merit twice: once to earn two spells of Intensity 1 and once to earn one spell of Intensity 2. If he wishes to be able to cast an Intensity 3 spell, he must first acquire one more slot of Intensity 2._
Buying the Spells advantage also grants the magician knowledge of a like number of new spells; choose these from the existing spell list or design your own according to the rules in the Reign Enchiridion.
The vast majority of magicians on Athas have to operate with some kind of support network, granting them access to material components, new spells for their spellbooks and perhaps a place to lay low when one’s enemies or incensed mobs are out for blood. Preservers might belong to a local chapter of the Veiled Alliance, which is a Secret advantage of at least 2, while Defilers are more often either in the employ of a Sorcerer-King, having Status of at least 2, or learned their dark arts from a solitary master, and have Patron of at least 2. Higher levels of any of these advantages grant greater access, and wizards may spend as much time navigating the arcane politics of their respective organizations as they do the arcane secrets of the universe.
Generally, it is assumed that if a magician has at least one of the above advantages, they have access to a supply of material components to continue casting, so long as they remain in contact and in good graces with their source (some regular service is often required). A magician may even petition their sources for training in a spell whose Intensity is no higher than their rating in the advantage, though this is usually considered a favor to be repaid, even in the revolutionary cells of the Veiled Alliance.
As in the Reign Enchiridion, every spell has an Intensity which measures how powerful the magic is, and every spell’s Intensity is also the difficulty to cast it. Any magician who chooses to, however, may defile, pulling magical energy from the soil instead. If so, all vegetation within a number of yards equal to the spell’s Intensity turns to black ash, as does the soil (in more verdant locations, the size of the defiling scar may be smaller, and in more sparse environments, it may be larger).
The temptation to defile exists every time a preserver casts a spell; some give in once or twice but remain true to the path, while some fall from grace and join the ranks of their hated enemies. Choosing to defile causes a preserver to lose one level in Discipline of the Preserver. If they lose their last level in that Discipline, they will have to begin again learning how to use magic without defiling.
Discipline of the Preserver
As legend has it, the first sorcerers on Athas were Defilers, and that remains the easiest, dirtiest form of magic. No one knows when the first Preserver learned to cast spells in harmony with the living world, but that wisdom lives on today as the Esoteric Discipline of the Preserver. At least the first level of this Discipline is required in order to not defile the land while casting; at higher levels, the Preserver is more capable of casting harmoniously without putting themselves at as great a disadvantage with their more callous brethren.
The temptation to defile out of simple expediency remains, even for the most dedicated Preservers, however; the choice still remains with every casting, though the cost is even higher. Any time a Preserver chooses to defile, they lose their highest level in this Discipline immediately (though they may only lose one level per day this way). Perhaps worse, among Preservers, taking this shortcut is seen as a gross violation of trust, and many will regard such a traitor as being worse than a hardened Defiler. Doing so is grounds for being removed from the Veiled Alliance, cut off from one’s mentors and possibly even hunted down unless they take dire and immediate steps to atone for their actions.
Level 1 The magician is a full-fledged Preserver and may choose not to defile when casting spells. Casting in this way imposes a Difficulty on the spell equal to its Intensity.
Level 2 The Preserver has learned the virtue of patience. Any time they cast a spell and receive at least one match, even if that match is lower than the spell’s Difficulty, they may attempt casting again (taking the full time it took to cast in the first place), and may leave as many dice as they wish in place from their last roll. The caster may make as many attempts like this as they wish, though these attempts must follow one after the other; they may not “hang on to” a failed roll, take another action, then return to casting the failed spell.
Level 3 The Preserver may sacrifice their own health instead of the life force around them to fuel spells. The caster chooses this before making the roll; if using this option, they may cast with no Difficulty as if they were defiling, but all Waste Dice on the casting roll become stun damage to their own body
Level 4 Given enough time to prepare, the Preserver may attune himself to the land around him through a lengthy ritual that involves communing with the local spirits of the land (it is a good idea to make the acquaintance of any druids who might be serving these spirits first); this ritual involves meditation and a ceremonial sacrifice on the Preserver’s part (typically a trivial amount of blood). This ritual affects one Instensity of spells for every 30 minutes the caster spends preparing; for the next full day, the local spirits agree to fuel the Preserver’s magic up to that Intensity. All spells at that Intensity or lower may be cast without Difficulty as if the magician were defiling, but without the creation of a defiling scar.
Level 5 Paradoxically, the final step in the progression of the Preserver is one that makes defiling an even greater temptation. At this step, the Preserver is sensitive enough to the magical currents around them that they can opt to defile (or cast from themselves, using the third level of the Discipline) after making the casting roll.