Fundamentals of Magic

The magic system of Fantastic Horizons is extremely flexible. There is no set list of spells which can be cast; rather, the imagination of the caster is the only limit. Naturally there are some guidelines for casting spells, but these should be taken as a basis for development rather than as an absolute limit.

What is magic?

To begin with, we should define magic. In Fantastic Horizons, magic is an all-pervasive force, inherent in everything and everyone, in varying degrees.

Fortunately, the concentrations are usually too low and unfocused to spontaneously achieve what we think of as magical phenomena. Special training is required for a character to gather and channel the magic, so no two characters will use magic in quite the same way. Thus, magic covers a broad spectrum of natural, supernatural, and distinctly unnatural talents and phenomenon.

Who can use magic?

Some inherently magical races are simply born knowing how to perform certain types of magic (much as people are born with the knowledge of how to breathe, with some practice being required to become adept at various special types of breating required for activities such as swimming or long-distance running).

Others naturally gain magical abilities at the appropriate age (similar to how most animals have built-in instincts for raising their young).

The magic performed by such races is usually very specific and limited; descriptions for these races will include everything you will need to know in order to play such a character.

Most characters are not so lucky, and need to learn magic the hard way, if at all. The characters who do learn magic this way are called mages. There are many different types of mages, some of which are described elsewhere in this supplement. Other types may be created by interested players and GMs.

There is no restriction (unless noted in the race description) against inherently magical races becoming mages to supplement their magical abilities.

How does Magic work?

Magic is in many ways very much like the sciences of today, such as physics, chemistry and biology. There are universal laws of magic, just as there are universal laws of physics or chemistry or biology, which cannot be broken. As with these sciences, the laws of magic are not fully understood.

Through the centuries, we have refined our knowledge of science, and we have been able to do remarkable things based on what we know. However, hundreds of years ago, scientists working with theories which we now know to be false were nevertheless able to correctly predict results of some experiments, because their theories were good enough for those experiments.

Similarly, characters from different worlds, and even in different areas of the same world, can and often will have different ideas of how magic works. This doesn't stop magic from working for them, it just affects the ways they go about using it. Because of the nature of magic, it is impossible to ever prove that one particular method is "right", or even any better than another method.

For example, clerics of the middle ages believed that their god would grant them healing powers as a reward for dutiful service and prayer. Others believe that certain plants have healing powers when prepared in the correct way. Still others believe that healing powers are focussed in particular blessed individuals, who can channel these powers to heal others.

It doesn't matter who is right. Maybe none of them, or maybe all of them. What does matter is that each of them has found a way for magic to work for them.

Mages as Characters

To become a mage, a character must learn the Spellcraft skill, and at least one discipline of magic. Some of the more common disciplines are described in this section, but GMs and players are encouraged to create their own if those provided don't fit.

The player of a mage must also be aware of the mage's casting level and magical power, as these are used whenever a spell is cast.

To cast a spell, the player will determine what combination of effects will be required. The cost of the spell is calculated, and a skill check is made to determine success or failure.

Disciplines of Magic

In order to learn how to manipulate the forces of magic, characters must learn a discipline of magic. Most commonly, this will require training at some sort of school of magic, although some characters may be self-taught or learn through miraculous means.

Schools of magic may range from fully accredited universities and colleges to the humble abode of an outcast mage, with most falling somewhere in between. The level of acceptance of magic by a society has much to do with the availability and quality of these schools, and vice versa. A particular school may teach one or many disciplines.

There is no limit to the number of disciplines of magic a character may be trained in; however, a newly created character should only have received training in one discipline, or, in very special cases, two. After creation, it is up to the character to seek out, and attempt to gain admission to, any school of magic they wish to study at. Such quests can often become the basis of extended adventures.

Study at a school of magic can be a time-consuming proposition. Some schools charge exorbitant fees for the privilege of attending their facility, while others subscribe to the practice of allowing the most promising to serve as apprentices. These details are left to the GM, who knows far better than we what direction their campaign is headed in.

Casting Level

A mage's casting level is a measure of how competent they are at casting spells in a given discipline. It is calculated by simply multiplying the mage's Spellcraft skill level by the applicable discipline skill level. For example, a mage with a Spellcraft skill level of 72 and a Discipline of Elementalism skill level of 65 would have a casting level of 46(=72x65).

When casting a spell which combines disciplines, the average of the applicable casting levels is used.

The casting level is used only when a spell is actually being cast. Thus, whenever preparations are required prior to the casting of the spell, any skill checks which are deemed necessary by the GM will be rolled against the mage's skill level in the appropriate discipline, not the casting level.

Magical Power

The power to cast a spell generally comes from two places: the caster's Willpower and Endurance. These attributes are temporarily reduced by however many points are drawn from them.

If the power is drawn from the caster's Willpower, their Willpower is reduced by a number of points equal to the cost of the spell. If the power is drawn from the caster's Endurance, their Endurance is reduced by a number of points equal to twice the cost of the spell.

The power for the spell may also come from a combination of Willpower and Endurance, as long as the character's Willpower is reduced by as many points as are drawn from it, their Endurance is reduced by twice the points drawn from it, and the total points drawn equal the cost of the spell.

Power may also be drawn from willing subjects. (Depending on prevailing beliefs, these characters may or may not need to be mages themselves.) Such contributors must be in contact with the caster, or in contact with someone in contact with the caster, or so on(there must be an unbroken chain of such subjects leading to the caster). The costs given above double for every link. (For someone touching the caster, one point of power toward the spell drains two points of Willpower or four points of Endurance. For someone touching someone who is touching the caster, a point of spell power will cost four WIL or eight END.)

Any skills which have Willpower or Endurance for either a primary or secondary attribute should be affected by this reduction.

Spent Willpower and Endurance are regenerated at a rate of one per minute of rest, although only one attribute can be regenerated at a time (player's choice; may vary from minute to minute).

If any character's Willpower or Endurance is reduced below zero through the casting of a spell, they must make a check against that attribute at its pre-casting level (which may be less than their normal level as a result of casting another spell) in order to remain conscious. If they lose consciousness, they will remain so until both attributes have regenerated back to 0.

How to Cast a Spell

From a player's point of view, magic is fairly analytical: a spell is composed of several effects which are combined to create the desired result. Characters may or may not think of magic in the same way as players, depending on their training. A character may think "I want a ball of flame to engulf those three horses and their riders, causing serious damage to all of them", but the player thinks "I want a ball of flame, 5 metres across, 40 metres away, doing 2d6 damage to everyone inside".

To cast the spell, the player must simply determine which combination of effects will create the desired results. In the example above, each comma-separated phrase is a separate effect.

For the character, the process may be more drawn out, possibly including prescribed rituals (such as chants, dances, or sacrifices) or reagents (material spell components). Certain solar, lunar, or other heavenly events may also play a part (rarer conditions such as eclipses or planetary alignments are often associated with some of the more spectacular magical effects). Again, these will depend on the training of the character, which will in turn depend on the prevalent ideas about magic in that area.

Spell Effects

In order to cast a spell, a mage must first decide exactly what effects are desired. A list of general effects is given in the table below, with descriptions following. More specific effects are listed in the various discipline descriptions. Effects from multiple disciplines may be combined by any mage trained in more than one discipline.

EffectCost
Range:0m (touch)0
0 - 3m1
3 - 6m2
6 - 12m3
12 - 25m4
25 - 50m5
50 - 100m6
100 - 200m7
200 - 400m8
(+1 for every doubling of range)
Volume:0 - 1.5m3x1
1.5 - 3m3x2
3 - 6m3x3
6 - 12m3x4
12 - 25m3x5
25 - 50m3x6
50 - 100m3x7
100 - 200m3x8
(+1 for every doubling of volume)
HP of Damage:1d65
2d610
3d620
4d640
(doubles for every additional d6 damage)
Triggers:2/trigger
Permanency:x100

Range

The range of a spell refers to the distance from the caster that the remaining effects will take place. The cost for the range is added on after the cost of all other effects has been determined (the range cost is not multiplied by the volume or other multiplicative modifiers).

Note that 1600m is approximately one mile; this may make range calculations easier for those who aren't used to metric.

There is no limit to the range a spell can affect. All spells must be cast at a specific range. (Although the character may specify the range by indicating a distant landmark or visualizing a well-known locale, the actual distance must be known to the player or GM and taken into account.)

Volume

The volume of a spell refers to the amount of space affected by the remaining effects. The cost for the volume is a multiplicative modifier. This means that the total cost for all effects which are taking place within the volume is multiplied by the value in the table.

The following formulae may be helpful for calculating volumes:

There is no limit to the range a spell can affect. All spells must affect a specific volume. (Although the character may simply visualize the volume, the player or GM must actually calculate the volume and take it into account.)

HP of Damage

One of the most common reasons for spellcasting is to cause harm to one's enemies, or their fortifications or other posessions. This is what the Damage effect is for. The cost for the damage is added to the cost of any other effects taking place within the volume, before being multiplied by the volume cost.

Each target within the affected volume takes the specified amount of damage, with dice rolled separately for each target. What constitutes a "target" depends on many factors, such as the type of damage done (for example, if the damage results from fire, stone walls would not be affected, but if it is from a storm of unnaturally large hail, they might be).

Generally, every hit location of every living creature within the volume will be a target. If this seems extreme, consider this: If you put your hand in a fire, it will be burned. If you put both hands in the same fire, the damage done to one will not be reduced by the fact that there is another one also taking damage. (Take our word for it.)

Some damage done to characters may instead be absorbed by their possessions, which may in turn be severely damaged or destroyed. For example, leather gloves might absorb a fair bit of fire damage before the hands would start getting singed. These specifics are left to be determined by the GM based on the situation.

There is no limit to the damage a spell can cause. Damage is an optional effect.

Triggers

A trigger acts as a time-delay mechanism. The other spell effects will not take place until the specified trigger event occurs. The cost for triggers is added on after the cost of all other effects has been determined (the trigger cost is not multiplied by the volume or other multiplicative modifiers).

Triggers may be combined in any way with "and", "or", "until", "but", "except" and so on. There is no limit on how specific a trigger can be, except that a single trigger may not contain any "combination" words.

Examples of valid triggers include "when someone comes through this door" (possibly used on a magical trap), "when this bottle of water is consumed" (might be used to create a potion), "when I say `kaboom'" (a command word activated spell), or "after 15 minutes have passed" (a straight time-delay).

Examples of combination triggers include "when anyone except me comes through this door" (2 triggers: "when anyone comes through this door" and "except me") or "until anyone except Kelly says `wally'" (3 triggers: an implied "from now", "until anyone says `wally'" and "except Kelly").

There is no limit to the number of triggers a spell can have. Triggers are optional.

Permanency

Permanency allows the creation of permanent magical effects, often used to create magic items. The cost for permanency is a multiplicative modifier. This means that the total cost for all other effects except the range is multiplied by 100.

Any effects which are combined with permanency will last forever, unless counteracted by other magic. To permanently counteract a permanent spell requires another permanent spell. An example of permanency is a lighthouse with a permanent directed light spell cast on it. Also, weapons and armour are often enchanted in this way.

No more than one permanency can be included in a spell (permanently permanent is the same as just permanent, despite what any advertiser wants you to believe). Permanency is optional.

Combining Triggers and Permanency

Though they have many other uses, Triggers are often used in conjunction with Permanency. For example, a mage might find it convenient to cast a light spell on his staff, with the combination trigger "from when I say `light' until I say `darkness'" with Permanency. (This trigger is poorly chosen, as the mage would likely use the words `light' and `darkness' at times when he did not wish the staff to be flashing on and off.)

Spell Cost

Once the spell effects have been determined, compute the cost of the spell. The costs of the various effects should be totalled as indicated in the various effect descriptions (the general rule of thumb is to start at the centre and work outwards).

A conjurer wants to hurl a ball of flame at a target 150m distant, causing 2d6 damage to everything within a 3m hemisphere (he only needs the top half of a sphere which would be centred at ground level). He would add the cost for the physical effect (2: see description of the conjuring discipline) to the cost for the damage (10). This gives the cost of a basic 2d6 ball of flame as 12. Multiply this by the modifier for a volume of just under 50m3 (5), indicating that a ball of flame of the requisite size will cost 60. This ball must be thrown 150m, so the cost for the range (7) is added, for a total of 67.

An illusionist wants to cast an illusion, of a huge castle five kilometres away, on the three other people in his party, two of which are riding quite near him (less than 3m), with the third being a point guard 75m ahead. An illusionist must calculate costs separately for each target. The volume multiplier is simply 1, as illusionists work only with a very small portion of their victim's mind, despite the seeming size of the illusion. For the two close riders, the cost is 1 for the base illusion, times 1 for the volume, plus 1 for the range, totalling 2 each. For the point guard, the base illusion times volume is 1 point, plus 6 for the range, for a total of 7. Thus, the total cost of the illusion is 11(=2+2+7).

For spells with durations, the cost calculated is for the first minute. Additional time will cost more points (depending on the type of spell), and may require continued concentration on the spell in order for the effects not to be broken. If concentration is required for the spell (ie. most illusions), the mage cannot do anything more strenuous than walk at a slow pace. Any injury causing more than a single point of damage will also break a mage's concentration.

Depending on the training of the mage, various materials, rituals, incantations, and environmental conditions may be readied before the spell is cast. These preparations will generally lower the cost of the spell somewhat, and are usually only required for large spells which would otherwise be beyond the ability of the caster. However, some mages always require such measures, while others never receive such training (often because they are not considered to be effective by whoever trained them).

Spellcasting Skill Check

The cost of the spell is also the difficulty used for the skill check when the spell is cast. The skill check will be made at the character's casting level minus the cost of the spell.

Multiple mages trained in the required discipline(s) of magic may assist each other with a casting. There must be one primary caster, but the number of secondary casters is unlimited. Each secondary caster contributes half of his casting level to the attempt, which is added to that of the primary caster, who then makes the skill check. This is how truly monumental works of magic may come about, as the increased casting level offsets the large difficulty. Secondary casters will typically also allow magical power to be drawn from them for the spell.

The Dangers of Magic

Since magic does not naturally occur in any great concentrations, the concentrations required to create a magical event are inherently unstable, and can therefore be quite dangerous.

Certainly, any critical failure while attempting to cast a spell can be disastrous, with the effects often backfiring on the caster. However, on large spells, even a normal failure will often only come after a large build-up of magical energy has taken place, and this energy has to go someplace. The results of such energies dispersing are often very surprising, quite dramatic, highly dangerous, or some combination of these traits (surprising and dangerous is almost never good).

It is left as an exercise for the GM to decide how to determine whether such effects will occur, and what they will be. Some combination of the cost of the spell and the amount the check was failed by will often be used to decide the severity of the backlash (things tend to get worse as either of these numbers increases). Random tables are often used to come up with interesting results, although some GMs are blessed with a fertile enough imagination that they can just wing it.

Inherently magical creatures (eg. dragons and unicorns) have a natural affinity for the workings of their magical abilities, and do not have these problems. Such creatures who also train to become mages only have this concern when using their learned magic.


Fantastic Horizons