Dresden Files RPG, Part 7 (Spellcasting)

OK, kids. Last time we’ve learned that murder is OK. Now let’s look into how to properly commit murder.

You know, for Satan.

Chapter 13: Spellcasting

(Good number for the subject, by the way.)

Magic system probably contains the most complicated rules in the game. If other powers are the Do a Thing type, then magic is Do All the Things. As such, it’s likely I’m going to go into nitty-gritty details of mechanics more than I normally do. But don’t worry, there is enough material for a rant or two at least.

So, let’s start at the beginning, at How Does It Work? section.

“Basically, magic is the focus of will to create effect, often with trappings and tools to make it easier or direct it precisely. Physical trappings, while not always strictly necessary, help to focus the thoughts of the spellcaster—until they’ve reached a high level of experience, concentration, and power, most mortals have problems holding all the distinct elements completely in their minds.”

That’s pretty much it as far as the explanation of what magic is goes. Normally, I wouldn’t mind is so much – it matters much more what you can do with magic, how its presence affects the setting and the plot rather than metaphysical paradigm behind it* – but in the context of the Laws of Magic being metaphysically enforced, it would be nice to get more information on magic’s inner workings. Why exactly is it so much worse to kill with magic than with a knife? Does a kitten die every time I cast a fireball?

*Though I do enjoy it when writers do something interesting with the nature of magic, like tying it to the paradoxes of society (Unknown Armies), making it evolve and encompass modern phenomena (A Madness of Angels wherein an Underground ticket can serve as a ward against evil because it offers safe passage) or just providing cool atmosphere (Mage: the Awakening, in which magic comes from supernal realms nearly separated from the fallen world due to ancient mages’ hubris).

Well, we won’t find an answer there, though the books notes that you can sacrifice kittens (well, anything alive, really) to gain more power for a spell.

You can also rely purely on your own power, draw power from supernatural beings* willing to land a hand, draw power from objects and draw power from nature. The latter is just an aspect invocation: if everything is On Fire around you, you may say you draw on fire to power your fire spell and get a +2 bonus or a reroll. Other categories are discussed further in.

*Actually, that’s worded weirdly. The categories of power sources are called “Willing creatures” and “Unwilling magical creatures,” but the examples of the former are spirits and demons, while the latter is about sacrifice of humans and animals. I suspect a mishap here. Though I do wonder how well sacrificing demons for Satan would work.


“Most spellcasters have some sort of spoken component to their magic—activating words, ritual chants, and so on. These words are always in a language that isn’t their native one. If a wizard casts spells using words he commonly uses or hears in a context other than casting spells, there’s too much risk of his magical power finding expression every single time he says something, potentially creating a nasty sideeffect. Putting the spells in a different language acts as a form of mental insulation,  making sure that he doesn’t accidentally loose power at a target (or fry his own mind) every time he swears.”

I actually like this tidbit, though I would come at it from another direction: by using your native language, you run a risk of getting noise into your spellcasting. If you yell “Fire!” you may imagine fireball you want to cast, or you may imagine a forest fire. Or even a firing squad. Since magic is supposed to be about willpower and belief, something like that may fuck up your spell. On the other hand, by picking a word you just don’t encounter outside of spellcasting context, you may create a clear association between that word and a specific spell in your mind.

That said, there is one tiny problem with it: on official Council meeting everyone is required to speak Latin. Now guess which (butchered) language Harry uses to cast.

I don’t remember which language other wizards use, so it may be either an example of Harry’s stupidity or a general world-building botch. Neither speaks highly of the work, of course.

Then there is a short section on tools used by practitioners to cast spells. It basically amounts to “there are various magical traditions using different tools, but they all operate under the same basic laws.” Eh, it’s fine mechanically because tools in the context are mostly flavor, but rather unsatisfying from the world-building point of view.

I think the problem here is the level of abstraction chosen by FATE System. It’s good when you focus on characters and who they are, and it provides enough details for classically exciting fights and such instead of omitting details in a purely conflict resolution, but certain things slip. In a purely narrative system like, say, Polaris, you would be able to make various magical traditions as different as night and day, and it would be trivial since the resolution mechanic is concerned only with what you accomplish, not how you do it: defeating an opponent with brute force or clever maneuvers would be resolved exactly the same. In a more simulationist system, you would have a number of magic systems operating under distinct rules, with their own advantages and drawbacks. We, however, are stuck somewhere in-between.

But anyway, the book gets to the specifics of spellcasting, starting with evocation.

Evocation is a quick-and-dirty magic cast on the fly, primary in conflicts. As such, it can be used for attacks, maneuvers (creating temporary aspects), blocks (that can create armor instead, which would be less powerful, but wouldn’t disappear once breached – useful if you have high defensive skills), counterspells (which are basically an assessment action to determine the strength of a spell and an attack against said spell) and veils (mechanically, a special kind of block with prolonged duration that blocks perception instead of attacks).

So, here’s how it works:

– First you determine the strength of your spell, which is measured in shifts. You can summon up to your Conviction skill shifts for 1 mental stress. For every shift above that level, the number os stress box checked increases. So, with Conviction 3 you can summon 3 shifts of power and check your first mental stress box. Summoning 5 shifts of power would mean checking your third mental stress box. Starting with powerful spells in a conflict means you wouldn’t be able to escalate later and run a higher risk of being taken out should you get any mental stress. You may also take consequences for power. They give their value in stress absorbed in shifts: 2 for mild consequence, 4 for moderate, 6 for severe and 8 for extreme. As such, if you’re willing to knock yourself out right after casting a spell, you can amass a lot of power. A starting wizard with maxed Conviction (5, assuming Superb skill level is unlocked, 4 otherwise) would be able to get 4 (stress boxes, 3 granted by high Conviction) + 2 + 2 (second mild consequence is granted by Conviction 5) + 4 + 6 + 8 + 1 (to take the wizard out) = 27 shifts.

– Shifts are then assigned to various properties of the spell, depending on its type. Power (Weapon rating* for attacks, threshold of successes needed to attack you for blocks, power needed for a counterspell to dispel both blocks and maneuvers), duration, other effects like attacking or protecting everyone in a zone or several zones.

*Weapon rating is added to a number of shifts generated by an attack roll to determine which stress box is checked out Let’s say I shoot someone with a normal gun (Weapon 2). I use my Gun skill to do it. Let’s say it’s Gun 3. The enemy defends with Athletics, trying to get out of my line of fire before I shoot. Let’s say it’s Athletics 3 as well. I roll 3, the enemy rolls 2. Our final rolls are 6 and 5, respectively. I win, and the difference between our rolls generated 1 shift. Normally, that would mean the enemy would need to check the first physical stress box, unless it’s already checked. However, Weapon rating is added to the number of shifts, increasing it to 3. Third stress box must be checked by my enemy, provided there is one (the minimum of boxes is 2) and it’s clear.

– After the spell itself is defined, you roll Discipline to see if you can control it. The number of shifts that went into the spell serves as the difficulty for the roll. The roll also serves as an attack roll, adding shifts of its own to the final effect (at least for attacks. For other spells it seems shifts generated by Discipline don’t matter).

– If you didn’t match the spell power, the result is either backlash or fallout (your pick, and you may split shifts generated by the difference of your Discipline roll and difficulty of said roll between the two). Backlash inflicts either physical or mental stress on you, but allows the spell to work as intended. Fallout gives the shifts to the GM who may use them to attack you or your allies, inflict environmental damage and the like.

– Focus items and specializations add bonuses to either effective Conviction, allowing you to gather more power and be more versatile with your spells, or Discipline, allowing more control.

The shape and nature of focus items depend on your “paradigm of magic” (sadly, no relation to M:As), and there is a delightful comment to go along with it:


Harry: Gender can come into your choice of foci too. Elaine’s foci are all rings and jewelry. My own have a sort of, um, “boyish” lack of subtlety.
Bob: Phallic, Harry! All of your tools are phallic! Just say it!
Spoiler: You guys, keep down the rampant sexism there. (What about your force RINGS, Harry? Eh? Eh?)

So, remember a joke about how Harry doesn’t bring his protective bracelet with him, defying common sense, because it’s too girlish for him? Totally canon.

(Also, pointing out something is sexist doesn’t actually make it less sexist, book. Ugh, at least it’s not actually integrated into the system.)

– Rote spells allow you to cast without the risk of accidental backlash or fallout. You can have only the number of your Lore score rote spells, and your Discipline roll is treated as if you rolled 0 for the purposes of determining control (you still make a normal roll to see if the spell connected). That means the power of the spell can’t exceed your Discipline unless you want to get guaranteed backlash or fallout.

– You can prolong the duration of a spell by basically casting another spell before the original one collapses. All shifts gathered for that second spell go towards duration. That’s pretty useful for casting powerful spells you want to last.

– You may redirect the energy of a spell towards new spell. It’s a subject to certain limitations (basically, the spell must have a duration that didn’t expire yet, and must not have been used for its purpose in a given round – that is, you can’t use a block that way if it deflected an attack in this round already), but it allows you to create a new spell out of remaining shifts of the old one and cast it without inflicting any mental stress on yourself and without the risk of backlash or fallout. Useful when you’re running out of resources and need just one more powerful attack.

– Mundane effects like a light to illuminate a room, lighting a candle and other such things that have only narrative value, not mechanical, can be cast for free without a roll.

Well, that’s about it. Without playtesting it’s hard to tell how powerful magic is in the game. It certainly allows for effects more powerful than would normally be available. Should Harry play it completely safe and stick to rote attacks, he would get four Weapon 4 attacks in a conflict. Weapon 4 with basically the cap as far as weapon ratings go, and assumes fucking artillery or explosives, to give you context. On the other hand, he would have only four such attacks, unless he’s willing to take consequences, or less if he wanted to make them more powerful. Plus he needs to invest heavily in at least two skills, with other skills still being useful in a conflict, otherwise his abilities would be more limited.

Speaking of skills, Conviction appears to be more useful than Discipline. Sure, Discipline is needed to ensure your spells actually work, but Conviction gives you more power, more stress boxes to cast more spells and more consequences to survive their effects. Plus Discipline roll can be modified by aspects. So, the game favors Harry’s style of casting with lots of power to throw around, instead of more refined style favored by his (female) counterpart. Go figure.

There is, of course, also the Refresh cost and other supernatural powers. Supernatural powers do grant mechanical bonuses comparable or even exceeding evocation, though they’re typically much more limited in application. Refresh cost of evocation is 3, 2 for channeling that allows you to control only one element. An analog of 2-3 stunts or 2-3 Fate points. If you have a stunt for Guns applicapble in a give conflict, you’ll get Weapon 4 attacks as well (better, even, since stunts add bonuses to the attack roll, not weapon rating), though it would only happen occasionally.

Overall, magic appears to be powerful and versatile, but have some strict limits. Whether they’re enough to balance casters and non-casters… At a glance, I would say casters have an advantage simply because they can basically reconfigure their stunts on the fly.

Now, there are two more notable things about evocation: elements and deliberate hexing.

Let’s start with elements.

“One of the ways in which evocation effects are defined is by elements, basic aspects (no pun intended) of reality that have different affinities for certain types of effects. These associations are based on tradition and folk belief rather than on science, and exist mainly to help wizards focus their effects more clearly. If a wizard can think of a blast as “fire” rather than “the ramifications of thermonuclear force,” he’s more likely to pull it off successfully.”

Fair enough. You need to have at least some measure of “it’s about beliefs, not reality” if you want to have several overlapping magical traditions, and at least the book refrains from going on about how science is wrong this time.

The book goes with classical model for elements (fire, water, air, earth, plus spirit). As is often the case, the fifth element is a special snowflake. It basically governs everything not covered by other elements: pure kinetic force, light without fire, veils, mental magic, emotions, ghosts.

Basically, if you plan on playing a caster, invest in spirit element is what I’m saying.

Mechanically, elements are mostly flavor: you can do all basic actions with any of the elements (though veils and mental attacks are spirit-only), elements just define which form they would take. Flavor and mechanics are close in FATE, however, so players may use declarations to proclaim that certain types of elemental blocks are vulnerable to certain effects, which would give them aspects to tag, and which scene aspects would be able to help you in your magic depend on element, too, like invoking On Fire aspect for fire spells (or invoking it for a water spell to create steam and cover the area).

Here is a description of air element to give you an idea of the format:

“Air is the element of motion and freedom, and most of its key effects are motion-based: powerful gales to knock over foes or throw objects around, the movement of objects to the wizard’s hand, or shields of swirling air currents that push harm away.

On the nastier end, it’s possible to make pockets of vacuum to suffocate or implode targets. It also can affect the quality of air around the wizard—keeping smoke clouds localized, purifying the air in a room, or even calling up fog to conceal an escape*. Movement can involve fine manipulation, which is why air magic is often called upon to pick locks and pull apart devices. Also, air is the primary  medium for the transfer of sound, allowing for the creation of distractions by throwing loud sounds around, or creating “bubbles” where sound doesn’t travel for the purposes of privacy or stealth.


Maneuvers that rely on movement, like pushing and pulling stuff around, are the strong suit of air magic. Air magic is most commonly used to put aspects such as Buffeted, Dust in Eyes, and such on targets, as well as Hard to Maneuver on scenes.”

*Interesting to note: remember the scene in Fool Moon where Harry created a fog going up from his blood to cover the escape from the police? Mechanically, he invoked one of his consequences involving bleeding to improve his roll, allowing him to tap into more power. Neat, it’s rare that consequences can be invoked.

Also:

Spoiler: Why don’ t water evocators short out their own magic? Isn’ t that running water? 
Harry: I’ve often wondered that myself.
Bob: And I’ve tried to explain it to you, but you’re the sort of wizard who just doesn’t get magic that doesn’t involve shoving a ton of fire or force at something.
Harry: Gets the job do me. I ’ll have to ask Carlos one of these days.

Way to point out your own plot holes.

The book suggest there are other traditions with a different element configuration, though it doesn’t define such elements, just says to use standard ones as an example. Still, it seems easy enough to do, you basically just need to think what kind of attacks, blocks and maneuvers can be done with a non-standard element. So I guess the system based on Egyptian concept of souls is possible, after all.

Let’s see if I can come up with a satisfying example…

“Sheut is an element of shadows, both literal and metaphorical. Attacks are often mental in nature and inflict all the pain, regrets and sorrows you feel on the target. Consequences can often be invoked to improve the roll. The alternative to it is to briefly give shadows around the target tangibility, allowing them to attack the target physically.

Maneuvers, likewise, can be divided into mental and physical. You may inflict Shrouded in Darkness aspect on the scene, or you may give fill your enemy with fear by by inflicting Behind You aspect on them. You may also give shadows around a zone a measure of substance, making it Hard to Walk around.

Blocks involve hiding behind a shield of pain from mental attacks, animating shadows to protect you from physical harm or turning your body semi-intangible for armor effect.

Sheut also allows you to perform a special movement action wherein you step into one shadow and emerge from another. It ignores most barriers and blocks between zones, but you must see your destination. You need 2 shifts of power to perform that action, with each additional shift allowing you to move for one more zone.”

“Ba is an element of personality, both of people and places. Attacks with this element are mostly mental in nature and inflict self-doubt, confusion and contradictory impulses. Consequences of such attacks may make the target wonder who they truly are.

Maneuvers are heavily divided between manipulating Ba of people and places. The former allows you to temporary “lock” yours or your target’s aspects, preventing them from being invoked or compelled (so if you have Short Temper aspect, you won’t run a risk of losing your temper for the duration of the spell). Alternatively, you may create temporary personality aspects, like giving yourself courage or turning your enemies into cowards.

Manipulating Ba of places involves turning details that were already established to be present into full aspects. An abandoned darkly-lit hospital may gain Sinister Shadows aspects with a maneuver, while an art gallery may gain A Beauty to Behold aspect, distracting even the most black-hearted enemies.

Even physical manifestations are possible when one works with Ba of places, allowing for a wide range of effects. Paintings may come to life and walk out of their frames, eerie presence may take a form of your nightmares. Such manifestations can be used for attacks and blocks, though they must first be established as aspects.”

Well, something like that. There probably would be a lot of overlap between different elements in such a system since they’re all tied to aspects of the same core entity.

Anyway, back to the book.

Deliberate hexing is simple enough. It’s basically an attack against an inanimate object with difficulty determined by its complexity: the more complex the object, the easier it’s to break.  Hexing is easier to do than normal evocation as a point mental stress gained from gathering shifts up to your Conviction is waved away (stress above it accumulates as normal).

Electric devices count as more complex than purely mechanical ones, and the scale is actually tied to wizard’s age: the older (above 50) the wizard is, the easier it’s to break stuff. Stuff originating before the Industrial Revolution can’t be affected in this way.

That implies rather strongly that hexing is tied closely to wizards’ beliefs rather than to the nature of magic. Combined with Victor, a sorcerer, being able to use a CD player as an active component of a ritual (as was noted in comments to part 5 of this review), it does appear to be a White Council thing perpetuated as a memetic virus through master-apprentice system. As such, I would allow practitioners to opt out of hexing as long as their backstory state they received their training outside of White Council paradigm. The lack of compels and the lack of deliberate hexing should balance out, I think.

Now, to thaumaturgy. Thaumaturgy is slow compared to evocation, taking a minute for most simple spells like tracking, significantly more for major rituals. In exchange for speed it offers ability to achieve greater results.

So, here’s how it works:

First you determine the intended effect of a spell and convert it into game terms, determining its complexity. The process is similar to evocation, just allows for more freedom: each spell is basically a normal action or a series of actions with difficulty expressed in shifts. For example, I can set everything On Fire with a maneuver action, with difficulty determined by the GM based on surroundings. Let’s say I want to set fire on a warehouse which is already doused in gasoline, so it would take only one spark. That would be 0 difficulty (unless I roll a negative number, I pass). That would be the base complexity of a spell (well, 1, actually, since complexity can’t be less than 1).

And if I want to set some other house on fire, somewhere far away, I would also need a symbolic representation of said house. Maybe its model with a bit of dirt from its location or something.

Now, let’s say I want to kill someone. In game terms, that can be accomplished by taking them out in a conflict. Only I need to do it in one roll. Complexity may vary depending on how sure I want to be. Let’s say I’m dealing with someone healthy but lacking any supernatural protections or stunts to increase the number of consequences and the like. That would be Endurance 2, 3 physical stress boxes, normal number of consequences. I need enough shifts to go through all of it, plus the defensive roll of the target. That would amount to 2 (Endurance) + 4 (best possible roll) + 3 (stress boxes) + 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 (mild, moderate, severe and extreme consequences, respectively) + 1 (to take out) = 30 shifts. That, of course, assumes my target doesn’t invoke any aspects, doesn’t have any magical wards around to protect them, etc. To be sure, aiming at 40 is better.

Likewise, I would also need a symbolic link, like a lock of hair or a valued possession of the victim.

Spells can be farther modified. Duration can be increased, scale is relevant for some spells like veils, etc.

Unlike evocation, thaumaturgy uses a time scale for effects with ever-increasing margin between categories, going from a year to a few years to a decade to a generation to a mortal lifespan, for example. Each increment in category costs one shift. So, to set a house On Fire and ensure it would stay on fire for as long as I live, I would need to add to the base complexity of my spell 17 shifts, making the total result 18. If the house is big enough to contain multiple zones, I would need to add their number (minus the first one) as required shifts as well to apply the effect everywhere (though the GM may decide the fire would spread naturally).

Then I may decide I don’t actually want the house to burn, just be On Fire. That would be a block preventing fire damage. Blocks can be of any power, but in this example I just need to beat the difficulty determined by the spell’s power. That is, 1. So, the base complexity of the anti-fire enchantment would be 2 (actions succeed even if they just meet the difficulty and don’t exceed it). Then I would need to add the same 17 shifts.

So, there, an eternally (well, not really, but close enough) burning house.

Any other type of action can be done with thaumaturgy like that.

Once complexity is determined, the ritual must be prepared: ingredients gathered, circles drawn, etc. The game assumes that you have your Lore score of shifts ready to use for any types of rituals you can perform, so as long as I have Lore at 1 or higher, I can get to casting the first version of fire spell right away. For anything above that, I would need spend time preparing. Mechanically, it can be done in a number of ways:

– Invoking aspects gives me two shifts each. The book mostly talks about connection aspects here, like Rapist Skull in My Basement, which I can invoke invoke since I can ask him for more info on the ritual.If I inherited a Collection of Cursed Grimoirs, I can consult them to get another bonus and so on. However, other aspects that would imply preparedness or affinity for some spells, like Paranoid or Master of the Mind should be fine, too.

– Declaration action. Basically, I roll a skill against stated difficulty and describe a mini-scene in which I used said skill to get something useful for the ritual. Contacts can be used to get in touch with someone more knowledgeable, Resources would allow me to buy reagents, Craft would give me a good magic circle, Discipline may be used to say, fuck it, I’m drawing a circle with my mind alone, etc. Mechanically, each declaration creates a temporary aspect that’s immediately tagged, giving you 2 shifts as well.

– Accept or inflict consequences. Essentially, if you’re willing to go insane or get ill, you get shift value of consequences inflicted (2, 4, 6, 8, depending on severity). You can torture or kill other people or animals to get the same result (animals give less).

– Skip a scene of play to gain 1 shift. That’s presented as a very optional rule for situations where a player would be otherwise unavailable anyway, like when someone need to leave early or goes for snacks while the game continues.

The process goes on until the complexity is met. So, if I have Lore 5 (I read this book, I know everything there is to know), I would need to prepare 18 – 5 = 13 shifts via aspects, declarations and sacrifices. You can just keep spells prepared without actually activating them.

Once you decide to cast a prepared spell, you roll your Discipline. Unlike with evocation, you can break up the shifts of the spell into portions of any size to use as difficulty for numerous rolls. Each roll (whether successful or not) “clears” shifts used. So, for my eternal fire spell, I can break 18 shifts of its final complexity up into 6 rolls against difficulty 3. Each roll takes a round of conflict. Once all shifts are cleared, the spell is cast.

If any of the rolls fails, you get backlash or fallout. Unlike with evocation, all cleared shifts go towards backlash or fallout (though, again, you may split the two). Accepting backlash allows you to keep the spell under control and continue as normal. Shifts given to fallout are lost.

You can also use help with your spells. The rules are simple: instead of one practitioner doing everything, more people do the same rolls, invoke acceptable aspects, etc. Anyone can help with preparations (like a wealthy friend buying you rare reagents). Only people with thaumaturgy or the right form of Ritual can make rolls to clear spell shifts. If either participant fails, backlash and fallout follows, though the backlash can be split between participants in any proportion (plus you can keep someone without casting ability to soak backlash as well. Farm is a great power source, is what I’m saying).

The section ends with an advice to not bother with the roll if there is nothing dramatic goes on. If a wizard can spend an afternoon leisurely casting a spell, that spell is just cast since it’s always possible to break the shifts in a way that would require you to roll against difficulty 1, which you almost guaranteed to pass every time with a decent Lore score. Likewise, the GM is encouraged to provide complications: a bad guy barging in in a middle of a spell, bystanders distracting the practitioners and being potential targets of the fallout, etc.

Well, that’s thaumaturgy. The next section talks about specific types of thaumaturgy with specialized rules (extrapolation of the ones I’ve outlined, mostly), but I think we know enough already to talk about how thaumaturgy would affect the game.

I would say, the potential power of thaumaturgy is not as much of a problem as evocation. Spells you can do on the fly are strictly limited by your Lore score, and since you can’t add to the power with a roll, they often end up less powerful than what you can do with normal skills (thaumaturgy just allows you to do stuff you wouldn’t be able to do normally at all). And with major spells, the lengthy preparation process can (and should) be easily intervened with general narrative: one scene of preparation, one scene of conflict or something like that. Failed declarations are especially lucrative for it as they can be expanded into full scenes with the practitioner being in trouble (like a failed Burglary attempt to steal valuable reagents turning into a chase scene against the police).

What is problematic is that thaumaturgy can warp the game around itself. Let’s allow the book to explain it:


“The best example of this principle is Harry Dresden’s tracking spell. Technically speaking, it is possible to achieve what the tracking spell does by lots of investigation, figuring out the last known whereabouts of whoever he’s trying to find, figuring out their normal hangouts, interviewing acquaintances—essentially, detective work that would call for an Investigation roll. Most of the time, though, Harry doesn’t have the hours or days he’d need to travel around the city and do all that stuff.  Either he’s on a deadline or some other kind of pressure, or he just doesn’t have the info to even start such a search. With magic, he doesn’t have to worry about any of that.”

So, you can either do all these things that make you interact with the setting and various characters… Or you can cast a spell.

That’s what I mean by mystery and magic often not playing nice with each other: with magic involved, the focus can easily shift on peculiarities of casting rather than investigations. Same goes for, say, rituals to kill the big bad. Obviously, simply allowing a practitioner to perform the spell and solve the villain would be unsatisfying. It can be dealt with by turning the game to be about preparations for the big ritual, with a few confrontations against the big bad (powerful enough to survive them) culminating in a rushed casting of the ritual as the big bad sets your house on fire (yeah, I’m talking about playing Victor with Harry as the villain. Obviously).

But in this case, the game revolve around the ritual, with the casters being stars of the show. They’re the ones who will resolve the conflict, the rest of the characters are here to ensure their success.

That’s something that needs to be very carefully considered before including thaumaturgy in your game.

Now, to the types of thaumaturgy. Each of them can serve as a specialization, adding a bonus of 1 to either Lore score for the purposes of preparation or to Discipline score for the purposes of casting. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, just note the basics and interesting tidbits.

Summoning and binding is done through two-three spells: preparing a container (a ward, basically), summoning a supernatural being (a contest against target’s Conviction) and, optionally, binding (a mental conflict with the goal to take out the being, which turns it into your obedient servant). Interestingly, True Names aren’t such a big deal. Knowledge of them basically allows you to perform a mental conflict in real time, round by round, instead of doing it all in one spell. Since the being is capable of attacking your container trying to break free, it’s more dangerous to rely on True Names method, it just saves some time.

Conjuration is used to, well, conjure any type of object, including (fake) living beings. Complexity is determined by detail (how many moving parts are there, basically), size and believability (by default, conjured stuff looks fake or wrong).

“Can I conjure a sword?”

Sure! You can conjure a sword, using thaumaturgy. But…why?”

Silly question. I want to conjure a sword because I want to be Archer.

Alas, the book doesn’t share my tastes:

“It’ll take you at least a few minutes to conjure the thing, since this is thaumaturgy in action, and unless you toss some extra power into it to outlast the sunrise, it’ll dissolve in less than a day. That, and most fencers don’t like to rely on a sword that can be dispelled mid-fight. When it comes down to it, it’s a lot of work for something ephemeral, and when you need a sword, you tend to need a sword right now—so go out and buy one already.”

It should actually be possible to imitate tracing with rules for sponsored magic (I’ll talk about it later), though you probably wouldn’t be able to resummon broken swords every round.

UBW, on the other hand, would require a pretty lengthy ritual to pull off even once.

Well, I guess I can’t complain that a system doesn’t support magic from another story entirely. I can wish, though.

Divination is a simple assessment action. I lied, by the way. This chapter doesn’t talk about seeing into the future. The section on predictions is in another castle. Here, the book talks about scrying and tracking.

Anyway, the interesting thing about divination is that it attempts to tie magic back to investigation: the basic difficulty is increased if target is behind threshold of any kind, plus any sapient target automatically gets a defensive roll if they don’t want to be found, which needs to be overcome. As such, the book suggest getting a few preparation spells revolving around finding good links to the target.

Veils are similar to the veil action in invocation, they block perception. Veils done with thaumaturgy just have more power, last longer and cover more ground. Interestingly, by default they’re opaque: allowing yourself to see outside world from inside a veil increases complexity.

Wards are also based on blocks (against physical attacks and passage), but they’re more complex. For one thing, they strike back: when someone attacks a ward, they have to defend against an attack of the same type with the same strength. It’s a bit unclear if the same applies when you roll higher than ward’s power: shifts over the threshold pass through (to do damage to the target behind the ward or the ward itself), but it’s not clarified if you still have to deal with returning attack. Going by the general rule structure, I would say yes, you have to.

Other spells can be linked into wards, most commonly landmine types where a triggered ward releases a powerful elemental attack and various warning systems. Interestingly, the game mentions a possibility of accidentally killing someone with that landmine, breaking the First Law, and suggest increasing effective targeting roll without increasing the power of attack itself. Well, I guess wards are effectively controlled by the GM, so that’s who decides what happens with opponents if they’re taken out, so it does run an unusually high risk of killing someone “accidentally.”

Wards can also have various conditions, like allowing you passage, or allowing passage to anyone who says a code word, etc. Each such condition adds to complexity.

Wards also don’t have a size property: they’re built along normal threshold, and cover all area within.

Overall, wards are pretty damn powerful and versatile, capable of turning wizard’s home into a nearly impenetrable forces for relatively cheap price (at least as long as you don’t mind renewing them from time to time).

Crafting isn’t done in the game. The idea here is that it’s a long and not particularly dramatic process, so instead of calculating shifts of effect and rolling dice, you’re just given a few item slots for free and may purchase more with Refinement supernatural power.

Crafted items are divided into foci, enchanted items and potions. Foci give bonuses to specific applications of evocation and thaumaturgy, enchanted items store some kind of effect that can be used once per session (you may lower its power or buy more item slots to increase frequency, and casters can force them to work more times by taking mental stress), potions are the same, but can be defined on the fly as long as you’ve left some item slots empty and their power can be increased compared to normal enchanted items.

Enchanted items can be used only by their creator, unless the ability to lend them to others is bought, which is kinda silly, but understandable mechanically. Doesn’t apply to potions.

Transformation works by inflicting consequences or taking out the target. Anything that changes the normal state of the target falls into that category: bad luck curses, polymorph, mind control, murder (which counts as a permanent transformation of a person into a corpse), etc. Pretty simple.

You can also grant power with it. The mechanism is similar: you need to take out the target in one go, then they return back with new powers. They still have to pay Refresh points for them, though.

It’s a bit unclear if this falls under violation of the Second Law. The discussion about the Law revolved around the dangers of targets losing their minds or being stuck in bodies not of their own, but with thaumaturgy you can, for example, grant them Wizard Constitution, allowing them to live longer and heal faster*, or even magic ability.

*And they wouldn’t even need to pay Refresh for it since the cost is zero due to mechanical benefits being minimal (you don’t need an instance of treatment for consequences to recover from them, like someone giving you first aid, just time).

Magic for everyone, comrades! We should not allow decadent bourgeois class to deny us a valuable resource that could be used for benefit of all proletarians by excusing it with “birthright” or “dangers beyond our understanding”! I say, we understand enough to take what is ours!

Temporary transformation done using mid-session upgrades rules, which use Fate points and, optionally, Refresh. Not sure if you even need a spell for that beyond atmosphere.

Finally, transportation thaumaturgy mostly revolves around accelerating your speed. Mechanically, it’s just a supercharged moving action allowing you to cover more distance in less time than normal. Flying is weirdly restricted with “even if you can cast a spell that would allow you to fly, you wouldn’t know how to fly safely.” In theory, it’s still possible, but no examples are given.

Pseudo-teleportation effects, like turning into the wind and floating away are possible, but the complexity depends on the number of zones and barriers you want to cross, and you can’t pass strong thresholds. Which means it’s actually easier to kill someone than teleport across a city. That does make sense mechanically: in a conflict, crossing zones requires a successful roll, though a very easy one normally, and thaumaturgy is built on top of normal actions. It’s probably for the best, too. Powerful teleportation is a big game-changer, and thaumaturgy changes the game a lot already. You still can make a panic button type enchanted item that would carry you a zone or two away in case you need to escape some place.

However, the book has another reason to restrict teleportation: to promote the use of Nevernever. Opening a way there is simple: you just need to beat the difficulty of the barrier between two worlds (5 by default, less in some places).


“In these places, many supernatural creatures can cross into and out of the Nevernever as a casual effort—as simply as you might walk from one room to the next—so long as the place has a strong affinity for the creature in question (plenty of White Court vampires use strip clubs and the like).”

I didn’t comment on it before, but pretty much every time passage into Nevernever is described (in general definition, in supernatural powers related to it, twice, etc.), this example comes up.

Book, I get it. Tell me where Knights of the Faerie Courts would be able to cross instead.

Really, I didn’t mind it too much the first time, but the book just repeats it over and over. It’s like it thinks acknowledging sex and lust and related things exist is funny or something.

Also, what about White Court vampires feeding on fear or despair? …OK, I guess they can also pass in certain strip clubs, for different reasons.

Anyway, the section is, overall, helpful. It doesn’t actually say anything that can’t be extrapolated from the general rules (well, I would probably model summoning as one spell with a really high complexity by default, but separating wards from summoning itself would be something my players would suggest), but it does provide detailed rules for spells you’re most likely to use, and explains them well enough.

Next section is thematic thaumaturgy, like necromancy and such, but first let’s do a little test. You see, wards got me thinking. In my KnK fic, there’s a villain who constructed a murderhouse (rather heavily inspired by Araya) with the goal of exploring human minds. The idea here is that people become trapped inside labyrinths of their own making, wondering a house without a chance of finding the exit, while various external stimuli are applied to them to explore their psyche.

Let’s see if I can construct a murderhouse using these rules. Now, normally it would just be an NPC thing with specific mechanics handwaved away, but, well, if you can’t construct a murderhouse, the magic system has no meaning.

First, I would want protection for the murderhouse. Wards are a logical choice here, especially since they would also prevent people from magically tracking the villain or her victims.

Wards should be designed against fairly experienced wizards and combatants, so we should aim at power 10 or higher (skill 5, plus 4 from the best roll, plus 1 to prevent success). Aiming higher is obviously better as it would protect the murderhouse from characters invoking aspects, powerful evocation effects and thaumaturgic spells with increased complexity, but the project is complex enough, and we want to make the challenge of entering the murderhouse and dealing with the villain really hard, not outright impossible. So we’ll make the actual power score 8 (in fact, it’s the number the book recommends to aim for). Enough to block most actions, but someone determined enough and willing to invoke some aspects would be able to beat it, probably suffering a consequence or two in the process.

Moreover, we don’t want to recast the wards every day, so they need to last. Given other spells that would go into the murderhouse, it’s a long-term project, so we’re looking at a year or a few years here. Wards by default last until sunrise, so if the villains performs the ritual to create them early in the morning, we would start with the default duration of a day. From there, it’s 9 steps to generation, so we should add that number to the complexity of the spell.

The spell can be cast right now, but then the villain would be stuck inside or outside, since by default wards prevent the passage of everyone. Victims, likewise, wouldn’t be able to actually get inside. To fix that, we need to add two conditions to the spell: to allow passage of the villain at will, and to allow passage of people she invited. Or, rather, for people holding specially marked items (anything can serve as these items, let’s go with rings), since that would make for a nice way for players to avoid dealing with the wards directly if they’re clever enough to find such items.

We’ll also add another condition, that wards don’t allow anyone but the villain to leave, even if they do hold the items.

Each condition adds 2 to complexity, which amounts to 6.

We would also want a warning system for the villain. Let’s go with a basic for 2 complexity. That won’t warn the villain about the intruders if she’s away from the murderhouse, but that’s good for the game flow as the players may explore the location while she’s away.

So, the final complexity of our wards would be 8 + 9 + 6 + 2 = 25.

The villain obviously has a high Lore score, let’s say 5, so she needs to prepare 20 shifts to reach the complexity. She’s low on Fate points and doesn’t want to spend any this early. She is also willing to kill to reach her goals, but it’s early in the preparation stage, so she doesn’t want to attract too much attention for herself. One homeless person disappearing shouldn’t get her into too much trouble. Killing a person would give her all the shifts gained from inflicting consequences: 2 + 4 + 6 + 8 = 20. Well, normally. Homeless people are not known for their great health, so one or two consequences may be filled already. Going by the general description of consequences, I would say expecting a moderate one would be wise, which subtracts 4 shifts from the result, leaving us with 16. Adding 5 from Lore, we get 21. Preparations would require 2 declarations to complete, pretty manageable. (Without the sacrifice, it would take 10 declarations, which probably would generate more suspicion than disappearance of a homeless person. Evil pays.)

The casting itself is a trivial affair. The villain would have a Discipline score around 4, so that’s how many shifts she can clear more or less safely per round, which gives us a conflict of 7 rounds. That’s how much time the homeless person has to break free.

(Of course, to ensure the homeless person is secure, the villain may first cast a binding spell. That would be a block which only needs to last a scene. Complexity should be around 7, since the victim wouldn’t have great skills, plus that moderate consequence can be invoked to make things more difficult. Normally that would be complexity 7, but since the spell is much less lasting than normal, the complexity is lowered by 5 – the number of steps between “a day” and “15 minutes” categories, – leaving us with complexity of 2, which can be easily cast in a single round. Granted, it’s an optional rule, so maybe the villain would have to prepare with one declaration/aspect invocation and cast for two rounds instead).

A second ward is placed on the inner sanctum. It’s simpler in design, as it doesn’t need a warning system or the condition to let people other than the villain in, so the complexity would be only 19. 7 declarations or a sacrifice are needed to prepare for this spell, the villain opts for another sacrifice.

With this, we’ve ensured the basic defenses against the intruders. No fancy landmines, just your basic barrier that reflects your attacks back on you.

Our villain is a bit paranoid, however, and want to ensure more protection. We can go with veils, but making a house invisible is rather inelegant. So, let’s design a spell of our own, specifically one that would prevent anyone from finding the house, no matter how hard they look and whether or not they know the address.

That would be a block against attempts to find the house: Investigation, mostly, Driving as well. It’s constructed similarly to wards, but we’ll have to account for the size of the house. Let’s see… Zones are rather abstract, it’s basically a space where a melee combat between two characters is plausible at any time. In an example, a warehouse is composed of 2 zones. Well, I want my house to be big enough for a good pitched conflict, so, around 5 zones, including inner sanctum? I’m eyeballing it.

That number should be added to the complexity, along with base power of the block (same 8).

Then we add a condition that the villain can find her house fine. That would add 2 to complexity.

The final result is 8 + 9 (for duration) + 5 + 2 = 24.

Pretty close to the previous spell and can be done the same way.

A similar spell is cast on the inner sanctum from which the villain observes her experiment, since she doesn’t want her victims to make their way to her. Complexity is only 19, since it covers just one zone. That would require either another sacrifice or 7 declarations. However, since the villain just cast a very similar spell, that she can invoke her Perfect Memory or similar aspect (she is a master of mind magic) for the purposes of preparation. This time, she’s willing to do it, lowering the needed number of declarations to 6. That’s manageable, so she decided to do that instead of hunting down another victim.

That’s a solid protection already: anyone who would want to find and stop the villain would have a hard time finding her house and harder time getting inside. Unfortunately, our villain botched one of her declarations during the previous spell preparation, resulting in a conflict with another magus. As such, she wants an additional layer between herself and the world. Specifically, something that would make people who already see the house (whether by accident or by beating the previous spell) turn away.

That can be done in several ways. We may go with the same block principle, but that would be essentially the same as the previous spell, so boring. We can take people out with the result that they leave, but that’s overshoot. We can also make them leave via winning a contest, but it’s an active action which doesn’t have a duration. I’m not sure if it can be extended so that the house would cast the spell over and over as more people arrive. Pretty sure it would require stacking multiple spells on each own, which would result in the complexity shooting throw the roof if we want to stop more than one person.

Finally, we can just give the house aspect IGNORE ME, which can be compelled to make everyone leave. They can resist by spending Fate points, but that, too, would be a good thing for us as most practitioners (who are the most likely people to go after the villain) don’t have many.

The spell is based on a maneuver. Its base complexity is determined by the difficulty of performing said maneuver. In this case, how hard is it to make the murderhouse look inconspicuous? Probably pretty hard: it’s going to have weird design, there would be screams and strange lights coming from the inside. So, the difficulty would be around 5, Superb.

On top of that, we need to set duration. Unlike with previous examples, an aspect is a more active effect. It may still have the default duration of an afternoon/day, if the GM permits, but the maneuver action in thaumaturgy has the duration of 15 minutes normally, so let’s go with it. To last as long as the other spells, we would need to add 14 shifts.

Moreover, we would need to add two conditions: the aspect doesn’t apply to the villain and it doesn’t apply to people holding special items (otherwise they may be compelled to leave). Again, each condition adds 2 to complexity.

So, the final complexity would be 5 + 14 + 4 = 23.

As a final adjustment, the rules give thaumaturgic users one free
specialization, which I put in mind magic for our villain. The bonus
goes to complexity, since that’s what I’m mostly demonstrating here. As
such, the Lore score of the villain is treated as higher by 1 for the
purposes of preparation of this spell, since it falls under the specialization. So the villain needs only one declaration on top of sacrifice instead of 2.

I’m actually not sure if we also need to adjust for scale. Normally, aspects are applied to a zone or a person, but this aspects applies to the house as a whole, and doesn’t actually work within zones of the house themselves, so… I’d rule scale doesn’t matter in this case. Otherwise, the scale would be 28 and would require 2 additional declarations to prepare.

So, that’s it for protection. With some good rolls (luring in sacrifices would require winning contests against them, easy with good social skills or mind evocation, you just need to slap them with a temporary aspect from time to time), villain’s fortress can be completed in three days, maybe less for added points of complexity to the duration.

Now, to the main purpose of our murderhouse: making people our little mindless puppets. The end goal here, mechanically, is to take them out in a mental conflict. Now, doing so is… tricky. The spell itself is easy enough conceptually, and the book provides an example of a killing curse down the line, but it’s normally done as an attack, which has no duration. Recasting it every time the villain needs a new victim is tiresome, plus the idea is that the house itself serves as a source of mental attacks. Such spells can be rolled into wards as landmines, but we should consider the PCs here: save-or-die effects aren’t really fun. So, what we’re looking for is a continuous source of mental attacks that keeps going until the spell is broken.

One way to do it is to cover everything in landmines: a character steps on certain floor types or looks at a painting, boom, an attack is released. The spell would be something like 6 (strength of the attack: an average victim would have a hard time to resist, while a PC would have a decent chance, but the fight would be challenging all the same) + 14 (to increase duration from “instant”  – default for an attack – to “a month”. This method would require recasting spells often) + 2 (condition of not attacking the villain) = 22. To take an average person out, you’d need at least 5 of such spells, probably more, and you’d need a sacrifice or 5 declarations for each.

An alternative to this is to use enchanted items, specifically I would go with paintings.

So, what I’m aiming at is a power 6 mental attack with at least 4 uses to cover all party members with one item. By default, thaumaturgy users have two free focus items slots, which can be traded for two enchanted items slot each. Same for evocation. I’ll cheat here a bit and say that the villain has only one focus item: a brush, specifically tied to creating mindfuck paintings. Since it’s usable for one thing only, it grants +2 bonus, which I apply to frequency of use. The villain also has a specialization in mind magic, as I’ve established previously, and I apply the +1 bonus to strength.

By default, an enchanted item has the strength of caster’s Lore score and 1 use. These paintings, however, start with strength 6 and 3 uses. A bit less than I wanted, but it would suffice.

Trading the remaining 3 focus items slots for paintings gives us 6 paintings the villain can have right away, which totals to 18 mental attacks. That’s not enough for the villain’s goals, actually. I aim at five victims on average, and you’d need about 5 such attacks to take someone without much resistance to offer, which totals to 25. So, at least 3 more paintings are needed. A Refinement ability may give you 4 enchanted items slots, more than enough for the task. It also costs only 1 Refresh, so assuming sorcerer template (with the Sight bought) and the highest power tier, our villain can buy 2 of them without becoming an NPC (well, ignoring Lawbreaker power, anyway, but I’ve ignored it during the calculations already). Actually, she can buy only two Refinements, one for evocation, another for thaumaturgy, being a sorcerer.

All in all, that totals to 14 paintings or 42 mental attacks (though, of course, the PCs wouldn’t necessary face all of them). Now we just need to spread them around four zones. That would give us an uneven number, so let’s roll 3 paintings into one with the poof 8. This would be the greeting paintings that the PC would first see entering the murderhouse, making it likely at least one of them would get a consequence. 12 paintings in total, 36 mental attacks, 3 at 8 strength, 33 at 6. 3 paintings per zone.

That consequence can then be compelled to make the character see endless dark labyrinth instead of the house. Should they receive more consequences, they may be compelled for various mind games, like seeing monsters in place of other PCs, facing inner demons or meeting the Minotaur.

The activation mechanism of these items are left to us to define. Normally, items are activated manually, though defensive items (like an enchanted armor) work automatically. Let’s just say the villain normally can fully control targeting and activation of the paintings from her inner sanctum, and when she’s not around, they may either be deactivated or attack everyone but her (so PCs smart enough to get to the house when the villain is away may use a “tank” with high mental defenses and possibly some magical blocks to take the burnt of the attack before proceeding with investigation. For added fun, damaging the inner sanctum would result in them being uncontrollable, allowing players to lure her into the labyrinth of her own making).

In addition, our villain wants to monitor the progress of her victims, for which she would need a divination spell of mind-reading variety.

It’s built on contest, so we would need to beat the defensive roll of villain’s victims. The aim here is the same as with mental attacks, 6, though we would need to add a few shifts to gain more info on their status, totaling at 10. I think the default duration of a divination is a scene, let’s make it a day, 5 shifts. Technically, to read minds this spells should be applied to each victim individually, or to all targets in a given zone (for a cost of 2 complexity), but I’ll cheat and say the villain monitors changes in the house’s mindscape as they’re affected by the victims’ degrading minds, similar to the Sight but safer. Mechanically, it’s sound as long as I don’t get personal aspects from all the victims. So instead we’ll just add 4 complexity for the number of zones the spell covers.

The total complexity is 6 + 10 + 4 = 20. 6 shifts of preparation are covered by Lore score plus specialization, 14 remain. That would require 7 declarations. Unwilling to waste potential test subjects at this stage, the villain makes them, in the process alerting the PCs about something weird going on. In the future, she’s going to use her (by then mindless) victims as sacrifices for this spell. Their extreme consequences would be filled with Mindless Puppet or similar aspect, so she would only gain 2 + 4 + 6 = 12 shifts from each at maximum. If she isn’t willing to wait an equivalent of a scenario in time for the next batch, that would be only 8, or even only 2 shifts in some cases, but with 5 victims it’s still more than enough.

Well, that’s it. Our very own murderhouse. Provided you’re willing to kill to build it, the project can be completed in one scenario easily, maybe even in one session with some time skips. Not going for the kill and leaving it as a trap for anyone foolish enough to fight you on your territory would probably require a scenario for each stage, a session at the very least.

Various additions are possible. For example, the villain may design an escape spell that would teleport her away should anyone breach the wards on her inner sanctum. That would be a landmine addition to the wards of 8 + 8 + 4 + 5 = 25 complexity (it needs to potentially go through two wards of 8 strength, breach a wall, which is around 4 in complexity, and move a few zones away to give a head start). This complexity would be added to the complexity of the ward on the inner sanctum. I’m not including it into the main murderhouse stats because concluding an intense conflict with “and then the villain disappears” is kinda a dick move. But it can be used in case PCs took way too many consequences, and you feel they won’t be able to take out the villain.

Now, back to the book. Thematic thaumaturgy is basically stuff like necromancy, psychomancy and other -mancies (as usual, the suffix is misused as most of it has nothing to do with divination). Such disciplines can be used as specializations as well, adding a bonus to thaumaturgic spells of any type you cast as long as they fall within the theme. That’s what I did with our villain: gave her a psychomancy specialization.

Biomancy section states that healing magic can’t do more than normal medicine: those consequences are going to stick with you, healing would just satisfy the treatment requirement to begin the countdown to recovery, making it rather useless to wizards (which is probably the reason the book notes healing specialists are rare).

Diabolism puts an emphasis on combating demons, probably wisely. Demons in DF aren’t that interesting anyway, so regarding using them for combat as a villain thing is not a big loss.

Ectomancy is about ghosts and spirits, but primary ghosts. It doesn’t violate the Fifth Law because ghosts are totally no dead people, honest, just echoes of them. Despite, you know, being scared of necromancers and being appealing to them as a source of power. But no relation.

Entropomancy is all about bad luck curses and generally making things worse for your targets. It’s an OK discipline, but damn, now I’m thinking about Unknown Armies:

“You know it’s all a roll of the dice. What you risk reveals what you value. Safety is death. Chaos is life. Let go.

You had nothing to lose. Everything had gone to shit. Another night in a dead-end counter jockey job and you were eating sugar every thirty minutes to prevent the shadows from settling down on your head. Dumb punk comes in and shoves a gun in your face and says to give him the cash.


Sign on the door: “No more than $100 in register at any time.”


Dumb punk.


Your contempt was absolute and you had nothing to lose. You looked at his pinprick eyes and sweaty skin and you said the first thing that came into your head.


“Eat me.”


Click. Click. Click. And then he stopped pulling the trigger on the empty gun because the words “eat me” were bursting out all over his face, trickles of blood running all over like windshield glass from a drunk’s highway wipeout.

He started screaming then. He was still screaming when they took him away.


You went out into the night. You played in traffic. You insulted motorcycle gangs. You took a kid’s skateboard and sailed off a bridge into the frigid water below with your eyes closed and your hands in your pockets. The power built and built and built and you realized something.


You were alive. For the first time in what felt like ages. That was when you knew: we risk what we would never give away. It is risk that moves worlds, changes lives. Metaphysics is just a three-dollar word for rolling the dice.

The central paradox of Entropomancy is the pursuit of power through surrender. You aren’t even taking calculated risks: you’re throwing yourself in the path of the cosmic train because that’s how you prove your devotion to chaos. And chaos takes care of its own.”

So damn good.

Necromancy section clarifies that zombie animation works the same as summoning and binding, usually done with weak and stupid spirits. It also covers manipulation of ghosts, rather undermining the justification for ectomancy.

Photomancy is a manipulation of light, which seems pretty narrow, but it includes illusions and general manipulation of images (like searching for a specific sight via divination). Still feels a bit limited without emulating other senses than sight, and the Sight would be able to easily perceive through the illusion.

Psychomancy is about manipulating minds. And, yes, you can manipulate your own mind for a variety of effects, like losing the ability to feel fear, boosting your cognitive abilities, remove the need to sleep, etc. The book warns that such things are dangerous (same warning appeared in biomancy and speed boost of transportation as well), though that just means you’re encouraged to take a consequence when casting such a spell, but you’re not obligated to do it.

This section notes again which parts of thematic thaumaturgy would violate the Laws and which are a grey area or perfectly legal.

The section ends with this passage:


“There are a number of spellcasting names out there of the –mancy variety that you don’t see listed in this section. There’s a reason for that: not all of them have a thaumaturgic component. For instance, pyromancy and kinetomancy (command of fire and force) are usually expressions of focused evocation.”

Which is really damn weird. The actual IRL pyromancy (divination on fire) has a long tradition because watching fire was basically the closest our ancestors could get to watching a TV. Likewise, it’s easy to imagine other applications of this specialization: wards created as fire landmines, traveling through a trail of fire, summoning fire elementals and just setting everything on fire, permanently.

That’s what happens when an author gets so wrapped in a made up world-building, they miss obvious cool ideas.

Overall, this section is OK, if not particularly inspired. It does provide you with an idea of what themes are appropriate for thaumaturgy, allowing you to come up with your own ideas.

Next section is sponsored magic, which is about casters using someone else’s power in place of or in addition to their own. Mechanically, it’s close to channeling and ritual: both quick and complex magic, usually with a narrow focus. Sponsored magic also sometimes offers flat bonuses to certain kinds of spells. Another benefit is that allows to do thaumaturgy with evocation speed and methods, meaning you can throw up a ward really quick or get a tracking spell going without much preparation. The mechanical benefit isn’t that big, aside from duration, since thaumaturgy and evocation are close enough to each other, thaumaturgy just allows you to spread the casting of a spell over several rounds. But it does allow you to do some stuff without a lot of rationalizing.

Sponsored magic also can cover your expenses: once per casting roll, you may invoke an aspect for free, allowing you to channel more power safely and avoid backlash or fallout. In exchange, you get in debt with your sponsor, meaning you’ll be compelled to do as the sponsor wills sometime later, and if you accept, you don’t get a Fate point. You can resist as normal, by spending a Fate point, though the debt doesn’t go away. That’s probably the biggest mechanical benefit as it allows you to cast spells of basically unlimited power. The GM really should be steep with compels and do them frequently and for a great effect to justify it.

As an optional rule, sponsored magic can cover any and all expenses of a spell at a rate of 1 debt per 2 shifts. You may increase your spell roll, wave away stress and consequences, take less time preparing, etc.

“Some GMs might want to restrict the amount of times this can be done during a single scene or session, but on the other hand, the dark powers are always willing to help…”

So, yeah, hell has our backs.

Such benefits are not infinite, of course. At some point, a character would have to pay or be cut off from these benefits or from sponsored magic entirely, though when it would be is up to the GM.

You can also use sponsored magic without actually buying it with Refresh, at a cost of 1 debt per spell, as long as you can make a pact to that effect with whoever provides the magic. (Most commonly, it’s used to draw power from ley lines and such. In such a case, the spell itself should be aligned with the nature of the place of power you’re using, paying the debt right away.)

Common rituals mentioned way back work that way.

“A handful of ritual spells exist out there that anyone can make use of—even if he isn’t a spellcaster. These common rituals are powerful and usable only when they are kept secret and used by a very small number—there just isn’t enough power to spread around if they become more widely available. This is why the White Council’s principal weapon against such things is their publishing arm, regularly churning books full of such rituals into your local bookstore’s new age shelf.”

I’m really not sure it would be at all an effective tactic. I mean, if they draw on some ambient force, maybe, but you’d think if a ritual calls on a power of a god or demon, they would be able to pick and choose whom to grant said power, meaning that a few people would still get the benefits of such rituals.

So what it does is makes such rituals unreliable: a demon may appear to one caster, but not another. Either it would appear to whoever summoned it first, or to whoever it likes, depending on whether the ritual forcibly summons a demons or just invites it in.

That’s actually pretty consistent with the idea of a corrupt White Council: they deprave their enemies from reliable sources of power. And if a few warlocks are created in the process? Not their problem, they would burn soon enough anyway.

The types of sponsored magic are taken from the books directly: fae magic (of Summer and Winter variations), hellfire, soulfire (God’s magic), Kemmlerian necromancy and places of power. I can’t fault the book for it. Indeed, from the adaptation standpoint, it’s good to have an ability to do the same stuff characters in the books can. Still, I would like to see a few more exotic examples.

Now, as to specific types… Pretty sure Kemmlerian necromancy doesn’t really have a sponsor, it’s just a really comprehensible theory. But I can see why it’s here: the mechanical benefits would be pretty similar in either case. The debt is a bit problematic, but it can take the form of effects rather than behavior, like making necromantic energy ooze from you, infesting everything around and such.

Soulfire is, as usual, all mysterious:

“Soulfire appears to involve drawing on the “fires of Creation.” Brilliant and pure, it seems able to pierce otherwise unassailable defenses, causing even ancient beings of power to take notice. It appears to have an agenda in line with that of Heaven (or whatever you might choose to call it), but due to a general lack of information on the topic we aren’t quite sure what that means yet.”

Because while Christianity is the truest, Butcher doesn’t want to deal with actual theology behind it.

It’s more expensive than other types of sponsored magic and offers more broad bonuses because its nature is not properly defined.

Also:

“Standard sponsored magic benefits, with a potentially gentler agenda (though this may come with a tighter credit limit on the matter of debt).”

So, yeah, God apparently doesn’t like to give credit to people.

Places of power come cheaper if the magic gained from them is usable only in the place of power itself. Otherwise, they work the same.

Overall, not a bad section, if rather short and lacking in original examples.

The chapter concludes with examples of each type of magic: evocation, thaumaturgy, focus items, enchanted items and potions. They, too, are lifted from the books, which I appreciate in this case as it demonstrates how to do stuff the characters do.

The examples are fine for the most part, though there is a suspicious lack of Harry’s model of Chicago from later books (it’s referenced, but not statted), and two more problems.

First is the killing curse of Victor. The curse itself is fine, but the preparation process for it as described…

“Sells needed to do some significant preparation to cast this. He took an extreme consequence (Power Mad) for 8 shifts, took a severe consequence (Bargain With a Demon) for 6 shifts, took a moderate consequence (Trapped by the Storm) for 4 shifts, inflicted a severe consequence (Emotional Trauma) on his wife and the Beckitts for 12 more shifts, killed a rabbit with a spoon (+2 shifts for the  component), and got the rest from other component sources. Nasty business.”

Yeah, the problem here is that it’s just one spell to kill one person. You may recall more corpses than that in the book. So it doesn’t actually work like that. For the first killing curse, sure, but afterwards he would need to get preparation done in a different way (though all consequences he’s inflicted on himself can be invoked for 2 bonus each during the preparation stage. That still amounts to less shifts than they gave the first time).

The second problem with, what else? A love potion. Specifically, comments on it:


Spoiler: Harry, why is the love potion not a bottled Fourth Law violation?
Harry: It does walk the line, but the one I made really couldn’t make someone do something they  weren’t inclined to do anyway. It just lowers inhibitions. A lot.
Spoiler: An d that makes it okay?
Harry: No, but it keeps it out of Fourth Law territory. There’s a difference. Dammit.

What.

No, seriously, what.

I mean, OK, let’s think about it. What.

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

The idea that lowering someone’s inhibitions doesn’t violate their free will is just so, so backward and yet so prevalent. The idea here is that it releases victim’s “true feelings” or whatever, making them act true to themselves.

The thing is, you can’t control your feelings. There are people you find attractive and want to have sex with. There are people you want to punch in the face. There are days when you don’t want to go out of bed. You can’t do much about either of those.

What you can do is choose whether or not to act on your feelings and to what degree. And that’s where your free will lies.

And the love potion takes it away. Susan didn’t “intend” to have sex with Harry while a demon was trying to kill them both. The love potion forced her to do it or made her unable to process crucial information available to her that would influence her decision.

And the book fucking knows it! It’s the core fucking theme supported by the core fucking mechanic! You have a bunch of aspects that define who you are and what you feel and compel you to act in a certain way, but you can resist, and that’s what separates people from monsters.

The potion obviously overrides it because if Susan could resist its effect, she would. Because, you know, demon.

Speaking of mechanic, the book does make the potion less absolute than it was in the book. It works by inflicting a temporary aspect on you, which is immediately compelled and can be resisted as normal.

(I would note here, however, that refusing compel doesn’t necessary mean the character actively resists its effects, like reining in their Short Temper. It simply means you avoid complications that come from the aspect.

For example, the GM can compel My Beloved Brother aspect, making said brother appear on PC’s doorstep, bruised and bloodied, with a tale of Mafia threatening to kill him. Refusing the compel in this case doesn’t mean the scene didn’t happen, it may instead mean that the PC wouldn’t need to deal with the Mafia anytime soon: the brother is delivered into a hospital in stable condition, Mafia is silent for now, waiting for another compel.

So, in the context, refusing the compel of love potion may simply mean it was brewed incorrectly, or the character had a violent reaction to it and vomited it back, or something along these lines.)

However, I think it’s a clear example of downplaying uncomfortable aspects of the setting and interpreting it in a better light than it deserves. Personally, I would go with the effect of love potion being a mental attack inflicting consequences on the target, if not outright taking them out.

On this note, let’s end for now as this chapter ran for way too long.

The last two chapters should go faster, so tune in next time for advice on running the game and possibly on Baltimore setting.

5 Comments

  1. GeniusLemur says:
    “Why exactly is it so much worse to kill with magic than with a knife?”
    So Harry can be forced to kill his mentor with it and the council will get mad at him and poor innocent Harry Dresden will be the most persecutedest guy ever for doing what he had to do and it’s totally not his fault and it’s just SO unfair, doesn’t poor Harry, greatest guy in the world, just have the worstest life in history?
  2. Cigi says:
    “Spoiler: Harry, why is the love potion not a bottled Fourth Law violation?
    Harry: It does walk the line, but the one I made really couldn’t make someone do something they weren’t inclined to do anyway. It just lowers inhibitions. A lot.
    Spoiler: And that makes it okay?
    Harry: No, but it keeps it out of Fourth Law territory. There’s a difference. Dammit.”
    So, basically, drunk girls can’t say no, liquor is quicker, etc. It’s just sex she didn’t know she wanted. Totally not rape.
    1. Nerem says:
      “Oh shit, I totally did that before I thought of any of these rules.”
      1. illhousen says:
        That Law was introduced in the first book, though. Morgan even cited it, accusing Harry of binding that faerie to his will. And then he didn’t mention it after finding naked Harry with Susan under effects of the potion.

        So, no, it’s not an inconsistency in world building this time, it’s a deliberate choice.

        1. Nerem says:
          Oh I was thinking for some reason they were different Laws. So I guess ignorance IS an excuse?

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