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How Magic Works

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 8 months ago

How Magic Works



Magic systems, spells and specialized limitations and requirements differ from a variety of environmental, religious and setting related rules. What we’re dealing with here is the bare bones game mechanics that players and GM need to know and deal with.


All Magic requires the possession of one or more skills that are used specifically for the purpose of casting spells. This is acquired and developed just like any other skill in the system. In most settings (like in Zamani) this skill is based off the Creativity attribute.


It is important to understand that magic is not something that occurs everyday for the majority of people in the worlds of Zamani. It also is considered, in most cases, to be highly mysterious, unpredictable and with many hidden principles and concepts behind it.


Although there are systems, spells and practitioners, it is not a science. Do not assume that it will work to scientific principles of testing and application... there are huge personal and localized effects going on at all times and that no one is every 100% in control of what will happen.


Learning Magic


Magic is organized in Mystic Paths. A Path is a system of symbology, knowledge, understanding, ethics and/or morality, tools and visualization techniques used to produce a magical effect. Some of these are purely disciplines of structure, others are religious structures and beliefs that require the assistance of a Diva or Divinity to perform.


Mystic Paths are bought as Traits. You can have more than one path, but you must combine all the rules, benefits and mechanics of spellcasting under the methods of all your paths together, and you cannot take paths that specifically state they cannot be combined (due to contrary concept, group politics etc.)




A spell is a process, a combination of a visualization, a drawing of power, a shaping of that power and a release of that power to produce the desired result of the visualization. It’s like a recipe, using the upper dimensions and the energy that comes from them and the inhabitants of them (including divas and deities). The spell itself is not alive or a thing, it’s a recipe, it cannot cast itself but needs a guiding sentience to form it and send it on it’s way.


A character gets their first spells from those that come from the Mystic Paths. Additional spells may come from other useful Mystic Traits and some may be gained in game, thru accumilation of sources, teachers or possibly research.


(See Also : Spell Lists)


In order to work magic a character must have a favorable trait, Mystic Sense, that allows them to perceive the energies that they will be working with.


Spells are rated with a difficulty rating in ranks, this becomes a negative percentage value (rank * 5 just like most skill and attribute values) that reduces the chance of success from the spell casting skill that is applied before the roll is made to use the skill.


Beyond Starting Spells


Besides finding spells from other Mystic Traits a player may design new spells for their character by writing a description of the desired effect. Presuming that the effect makes sense for the limitations and nature of the character's Mystic Paths the character must devote time to experiment with the spell, and the GM must assign a difficulty rating to the spell. The more difficult the spell the longer it should take to develop and experiment with.


Once they have the description and difficulty calculated, the developing character's player makes a spellcasting roll, as if they were casting the new spell, and compares the result to the Action Table.


They cannot create a spell that is harder than their ability to cast it under this system.


Casting ResultDevelopment HoursGrowth Points
! 1 0
C 2 1
X 4 2
H 8 2
M 16 2
L 32 2
Failed Roll 64 4


This determines how much time they will have to put in to research and development on the spell, and whether they must spend growth points to acquire it. Generally this result cannot change or be re-rolled.


The GM has some guidelines that are used to determine the difficulty of the spell, though some parts of design are subjective or require a judgement call. These can be found under Spell Design.


A Street Mage, of course, cannot develop new spells in this manner.


Spontaneous Spells


It is possible for many non-religious mages (except for the Street Mage Path) to perform spontaneous spells, specifically those that are variations on spells that they already know and thus have some basic principles in. For example, if a mage has a spell that lets them light a candle, they could try to perform a more powerful version and set a person on fire, or even set a pine tree ablaze as a giant torch.


The GM will have to determine the difference in difficulty, using the Spell Design system, and then an additional -5 difficulty would be added to the spell for performing it without the normal preparation time and development. This difficulty remains, until they actually do take the time to properly prepare and develop the effect desired.


Spells from Books


If a character (that is not a Street Mage) decides to try to cast a spell from a book or scroll without having taken the time to study it in detail, and presuming it is from their path, they are at a -5 difficulty to do so until successful at casting it. A new spell can be learned from a book or other written source in 1 day of study (if it is from the Mystic Paths of the character and then have no additional modifier).


If a character tries to cast from a book/scroll or to learn such a spell that is NOT part of their path, and they are not a Street Mage they will be forever at an extra -10 from what is normal to cast that spell for a character that is of that path. All spell casting restrictions of the source (gestures, foci, tools, etc.) would apply as well as the character's own path limitations.


Any Street Mage can learn from any book/scroll of any path just by reading it, and only has a -5 modifier until they have successfully cast it, but they must use all the limits of casting associated with the source of the path for spellcasting that specific spell.




Spell range is defined by the mystic senses of the character. Each of the four Mystic senses offers a different means of targeting with some unique concepts involved.


A character who does not have a specific sense as a mystic sense cannot use spells that require a specific sense.




Sight allows you to target what you can see. That which is invisible to sight, hidden behind something else, inside of something else or far away from you cannot be cast at. Sight is reduced by distance, and affected by things like darkness, smoke, heavy rain, visual illusions, overly bright light etc. Range modifiers for firearms and other ranged weapons can be applied to the effective range of a character's visually based magic.


For those who want hard solid numbers take the character's Fitness attribute with any modifiers added or subtracted for traits like Enhanced Vision and multiply it by 10 to get the meter range.


Vision based magic can, of course, be enhanced by magic that adds distance, changes point of view etc. It will also work on a reflection in a mirror, or thru a lens (so binoculars or a telescope or an optic weapon sight can be used to extend the distance of a spell.


A GM may choose to have a character using their magic near the far end of their range to make a Fitness roll for vision successfully to see if they can actually see the target clearly enough to target it. This is totally optional.


Note that you could not use a television, a photo, painting or other two dimensional or 'reconstituted' image of a target to use vision as a targeting sense.




Hearing allows you to target someone that you can't see but can hear. With hearing you can target someone who is around a corner, above you on a staircase, hiding behind boxes, passing by below your window singing, etc.


Unfortunately a person using stealth is likely to be invisible to your hearing if they are good at it. Same with someone who is hiding motionlessly in ambush. So Hearing doesn't work for everything.


If there are loud noises, lots of voices chatter etc. then you may take negative modifiers to your effective targeting range. Sound also distorts over distance, making it hard to target more distance sources, and just because you can hear something doesn't mean it is what you think it is. Ventriloquists are probably the worst of all since they can make you target the wrong location entirely by projecting their voice in the wrong place.


So the range "ruler" for sound is based again on Fitness, modified by traits, modified by whatever ambient noise levels might interfere with you. Multiply the rank value remaining * 10 and that's the maximum distance away a target can be in Meters.


A target that is being actively stealthy get the greater of their Spirit or their Stealth skill in defense against a Hearing based spell attack.


You need touch as a mystic sense to affect yourself, unless you have mystic vision and a good mirror on hand. It's essential if you want to do healing magic, since much damage cannot be perceieved in any other way.


With touch you can work in complete darkness, and affect things inside of things, because touch actually extends outward from your body slightly when used as a targeting sense.


Uncooperative targets may require a roll to touch them (as if a attack/dodge was going on) before they can be touched by a spell.



The sense of smell allows you to cast on targets that are nowhere near you. A scent lingers to an object or place for varying periods of time. If a scent is present and the source of that scent still smells the same, then you can target them, even if there are miles of intervening distance.


Smell primarily is used for targeting creatures and beings, it doesn't work well on targeting objects, because, for example, all automobiles will have a tendency to smell about the same.


The GM will secretly decide and determine when you cast using scent wether the target still has the same scent now as it did when it left it before. Optionally the GM may simple assign modifiers to your chance of success based on how long ago the scent was left, say a -1 for every 15 minutes that have passed since the scent was left by the would be targert.


A successful Fitness roll with Smell/Taste modifiers may be necessary before casting to see if there is enough scent left to target. (This can only be tried once per object/locale).


Arcane Connection

Arcane Connections are a very specialized range tool, and does not use the usual sense limitations. Arcane connections are only available as an option on certain specific spells, and are not an option on ones that do not state otherwise.


An Arcane connection works off the principle that part of a whole object/being has a prolonged connection to that object/being which can be used to affect them, locate them etc. Blood, Skin, hair, other bodily fluids, and bone can all be used to connect to an animal or being. The same is true of a part of certain objects (ex: rock chipped from a boulder or mountain, water from a specific well or river, etc.)


The problem is that the longer time since the item has been removed from the source the harder it is to use it as an arcane connection to focus a spell. This is because both the part and the whole will change separately from each other over time and eventually become dissimilar as far as magic is concerned.


Time Since Casting Difficulty Modifier
Day or Less None
Week At Most -2 Ranks (-10%)
Two Weeks At Most -4 Ranks (-20%)
Month At Most -6 Ranks (-30%)
Season At Most -8 Ranks (-40%)
Year At Most -10 Ranks (-50%)
Five Years At Most -12 Ranks (-60%)
Decade At Most -14 Ranks (-70%)
More Than A Decade -16 Ranks (-80%)



When The Casting Fails

If the casting roll does not produce success at all, then the spell has gone wrong, and there will be some other effect that occurs from the released energy, that does not follow the visualized/verbalized intent of the casting character.


Exactly what this is and how bad it is will be determined by the GM. It could be that the effect occurs but on the wrong intended target, or that the effect is just very different than planned (ex: a spell to unlock a door might instead seal it magically, the opposite of what was desired), or twisted version of the effect occurs because of distortion (ex: a spell designed to produce a ball of light to see by might produce a flashing strobe light, or a spell designed to summon a meal might summon instead a confused waiter from some restaurant, or a spell designed to blast a target with electricity might instead heal all the wounds on their body.)


This is often done with a Spell Klutz Table that the GM will use for quick ideas of how to apply this situation.


When The Casting Succeeds

Presuming that the spell works, then the Action table is used to determine it’s effectiveness.


If it is a spell targeted at a sentient being, then their Spirit attribute is used as a measure of defense of the effect. If the effect is avoided then the spell just fails to affect them, with no other results (it’s not the same as a failed casting when this happens).


If the spell works, the level of success by the action table is applied. In some cases the spell will simply have a binary effect (succeeds or fails) but otherwise if it does, for example, healing or damage, then the Spirit of the caster is used in conjunction with the success level to produce a numeric value.


Example: A healing Spell is cast by a character with Spirit 5. They manage an ‘L’ result. This means that the heal 5*1 = 5 points of wounds on the target. If they had managed an ‘H’ result then they would have healed 5*3 = 15 points of wounds healed.


Generally the special Strike Effects of the Action table are ignored, except for when dealing with damage inflicting attacks against a sentient target.


Spells may have variant periods of time required to cast them, fast combat magic is usually difficult to perform. Specifics in this regards, and special limitations, are usually described in the spell information.

Duration Of Spells

Spells are either Instant or Continuing. An instant spell's effect lasts but for the round that it occurs in, and is things like doing damage to a target. The results of the effect may stick around (damage stays until healed, for instance) but the actual spell itself stops doing anything after that round.


Continuing spells have a variable duration, based on the level of success and the caster's Spirit

Success Level Duration Measure
L Spirit In Action Rounds
M Spirit In Minutes
H Spirit In Hours
X Spirit In Days
C Spirit In Months
! Years Or More



Yes, the final listing is a mystery. Sometimes spells that make the final category are permanent, other times they last for years, for the life of the caster etc. Magic can be a bit weird, and this is part of that weirdness showing it's face. Who know how long it will last? Well the GM gets to decide, but it certainly will be longer than a 'C' result.

Risks Of Power

Magic is a very powerful force in the universe, and if a character uses it too often it can have dire consequences, even if they are very good at it.


Divine Irritation

One risk is Divine Irritation, basically if you are running a character who's magic is linked to or connected to a deity or other diva who's name is constantly being used, assistance called for, intervention or attention requested, sooner or later they will get a bit peeved at the character. Think of a deity as a parent or teacher who has a whole bunch of children demanding their assistance, help, guidance or direct intervention on a whole host of things. Sooner or later they will get annoyed at their problem cases a little bit, or distracted by the other children, or have *gasp* their own personal existence/social life that requires their attention.


When this happens it's possible that a character may find themselves ignored, or even receive a reduction in their chance to succeed on their divinely associated spells for some time. Or demand a service from the character in payment for all their help over time ("You must stay behind and clean the chalkboard of the Universal School room!").

Cosmic Feedback

Another risk, which is more associated with characters who's magic is not linked to religion, is a possible Cosmic Feedback. This happens if you cast spells too rapidly in a short period of time or as a result of spell faulure.


Basically you risk the upset of the Cosmic Balance of Energy, Matter and Probability, including your own personal Fatigue. The GM decides when this happens, and when it does you get a card that specifically tells you that you have a Cosmic Feedback problem and a Minus of X ranks across the board to perform any spellcasting roll.


Yes, this is nasty, and it may last for hours or even thru the end of an entire game session. What you need to do is to take a prolonged rest and recovery period, as a character, for a number of hours, so that the cosmic balance is restored. It cannot be repaired or restored thru magic or thru medical assistance etc.


Special Risk in Combat

Casting spells in a combat situation can be dangerous. Someone who is casting cannot use other skills in the same round as they are preparing or casting a spell. This means that they only get their Dexterity, rather than skills, to defend against physical attacks (both ranged and melee). Of course they could have a friend that uses Guarding to protect them as well as themselves from attack.

Comments (2)

Joseph Teller said

at 10:38 am on Jul 5, 2006

I've modded the spell mechanics to include Arcane Connections. Work is ongoing for the GM spell model, and eventually spell lists, and these will be linked to this page eventually along with the specific mystic paths. One of the goals is to have the magic system be a less scientific model than is found in other game systems, so that there is less surity that magic will always work as intended, but follow the 'fuzzier' real world concepts of magic. This is also to prevent the over-design of 'Magic is A Varient Technology' that many folks have in game settings. Magic should be able to perform some things tech can, but should also fill in places where tech can't (and there should be places where tech will be lots more efficient and effective, magic more mysterious and unpredictable).

Anonymous said

at 10:15 am on Nov 21, 2006

Revised on Nov 21st to improve Spell Development rules and bring them into a better balance with the invention design rules I'm working on.

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