The Paranet Papers, Part 6 REDUX (Spellcasting)

So, turns out combining paragraphs from the book the way I did turns them into a chant to summon Mary Sue into our world. Didn’t know that. It’s all good, though! Turns out she can’t survive in reality for long. Especially in December in Russia.So, without further ado, let’s do the chapter again.

So, sponsored magic. For those who have forgotten, sponsored magic uses the general magic system but provides additional benefits:
– the theme is often broader (fire element gives you control over fire, unseelie magic gives you magic of cold, decay and related phenomena);
– you can do thaumaturgy at a speed of evocation, which broadens your options. The mechanical benefit usually isn’t that great as you still need to work within the theme, and the normal limits of evocation still apply (so it’s hard to throw up a halfway powerful spell that way compared to usual thaumaturgy), but it does help to justify some exotic effects;
– some sponsored magic gives additional bonuses in certain situations, like Winter magic used against Summer fae and the like;
– most importantly to the current chapter, sponsored magic allows you to use the debt mechanic.
Basically, it allows you to invoke one aspect (improving your casting roll) per roll without spending a Fate point and instead gaining one point of debt. In extreme circumstances, any and all costs associated with spellcasting can be waved away in exchange of getting one point of debt per two shifts of effect.

To clarify, normally casting a spell requires taking some mental stress, more if you want to make the spell extra powerful. Plus, there is also a possibility of backlash or fallout when you faul your casting roll. Backlash also deals stress, while fallout is released as a spell shaped by the GM, normally taking form of an unfavorable to you scene aspect or an attack on you or your allies (it is actually a way to accidentally kill someone with magic. The ultimate decision of whether they live or die would still be up to the GM rather than to the dice, but there is less of a whim involved than usual).

Sponsored magic can wave it all away, though the rules suggest you to think about restricting this ability (as opposed to one aspect per roll invocation) to once per session or something like that.

Debt points then can be invoked by the GM to compel you to act in accordance with the sponsor’s agenda. It follows the usual compel rules and is done to complicate the situation or get you into trouble, though you don’t get a Fate point for it since you’ve already received the benefits. You can refuse the compel by spending your Fate point, but that doesn’t reduce the amount of debt.

Now, these were the original rules. Already a suspect, but I’ll talk about the implications for game style later. The updated version states that you can use the debt mechanic not only when you cast sponsored magic but any magic at all, because Harry apparently infused his spells with Winter chill.

“Thus, as long as you can relate what you’re doing to its agenda, pretty much any magic you’re capable of doing can be supported by your sponsor. The only drawback is that the spell takes on more of the character of that sponsorship, giving the GM license to subtly alter the effect you’re going for—or, at the very least, make it obvious what kind of magic was involved.”

The book provides an example of earth magic drawing on hellfire that, instead of a slight tremor to knock enemies down, produces gaping holes in the ground trying to swallow the enemies up (though the mechanical effect is the same: Knocked Down aspect).

This seems to be pretty unnecessary to me. The original rules already say you can combine sponsor magic with regular one as long as you work within sponsor theme, so the change basically just shifts the creative burden from players to the GM.

Plus, it’s thematically inelegant. Having to work within specific theme is cool. It gives you strict conceptual limits, forces you to be creative and think how to accomplish your goals with tools you have.

It reminds me of Infernal Excellencies from Exalted. For those who don’t know, Excellencies are basic powers of Exalted allowing them to boost their skills beyond mortal levels. Normal Solar Excellencies are tied to specific skills: Steals, Performance, whatever. Infernal Excellencies, on the other hand, are divided by Primordials (so you have TED Excellency, Cecelyne Excellency, etc.) and can be used to boost any skill as long as you act in accordance with appropriate Primordial’s nature. TED’s Excellency is great for sneaking up on a sleeping enemy and cutting their throat, for example, but it probably won’t help you to slaughter your enemies in an open fight.

And since all Primordials are insane and warped, their usefulness is limited. You’ll always encounter a situation where a given Infernal Excellency would be useless.

Or appear so, since a creative player can make it work by thinking What Malfeas Would Do? For example, if you want to sneak somewhere, Malfean Excellency would appear to be useless at a first glance since His Holy Tyranny is many things, but subtle He isn’t. However, you can still apply it to your Stealth skill… by setting everything on fire and running straight to your target screaming “Fire! Fire!” A successful roll would mean people pay more attention to the chaos then to you.

A similar effect is produced by the original rules of sponsored magic: if it’s all about cold and decay, then you have to think how to accomplish your goals with cold and decay. And if you can’t, well, that’s it. You did your best and it was not good enough.

The change to the rules means you skip all that thinking. You simply cast a normal spell, then the GM may alter it (but without altering the mechanical effect) to make it fit sponsor’s nature more and maybe get you in some trouble. While not absolutely horrible, this move does shift the dynamic to place the creative burden on the GM more than on players, which is closer to more traditional games and is something FATE System is pretty much designed to avoid by giving players more narrative agency.

It’s not a very big change, and I wouldn’t harp on it so much, but the book doesn’t stop here. It also states that the influence of a sponsor doesn’t end with magic alone.

“Have to take a consequence because someone hit you? Call on the sponsor. Run out of fate points for normal invocations? Call on the sponsor. There seems to be no limit to what the sponsor will pay for.”

So, yeah, pretty much any mechanical benefit can be bought in credit with a good sponsor.

Again, that seems unnecessary to me. The book does it because of this (from a later chapter):

“It doesn’t seem like Harry got a sudden complete upgrade to me. In the casefile, I don’ t get the  sense that Harry was aware of what powers he had. It was like, suddenly when he needed to be fast, he was fast, and when he needed to beef up his will against the Lords and Red King, he could. Almost like there was just a pile of raw mojo sitting there, waiting for him to shape it as his needs demanded.”

Now, to me, it just seems like a pretty straightforward narrative move: the character has powers on the charsheet, but isn’t fully aware of them, while the player does know. So, the player can always say the character uses these powers but chooses not to for role playing reasons. The book actually uses this exact scenario in the previous chapter: one of the suggested PCs has Thaumaturgy as a power, but since he’s a novice magic user, he doesn’t realize its full potential, so the player doesn’t use thaumaturgy to summon demons or erect wards, even though mechanically it’s allowed. Later, there could be a scene where the character has to do something he’s never done before or die, and then the player may role play the character figuring out what he knows about magic theory, fitting the pieces together and working out a simple ward or something. Mechanically, nothing would change.

The book proposes utilizing modular abilities (basically, you set aside some refresh plus extra points and then can use this refresh to buy powers on the fly. Mostly used for shapeshifting with a number of different forms, so you can grow claws in one scene, change them to wings in another, etc.), which is also a valid option, though it suggests only a part of the full power potential can be used at a time.

Either way, there is just no need to involve the debt mechanic if you want to handle it.

Now, to be fair, the devs do realize the potential for abuse here. As such, the book states clear limits to the debt: the sponsor would normally be willing to spend the number of effective Fate points equal to character’s spent refresh. Anything above that is subject to GM’s approval.

On top of that, the sponsor can mentally attack the character at will, with an attack being as strong as the number of debt points (consequences, of course, can also be compelled to make the character follow sponsor’s agenda, and taking the character out would result in them automatically doing sponsor’s bidding).

Furthermore, mechanically everything checks up: the player receives the benefits of a spent Fate point and a compel to go along with it, just in a different order than usual.

So, the rules do maintain internal consistency and don’t quite break under the strain of sueness.

The problem arises from how it affects the game dynamic. The beauty of FATE System lies in how it encourages players to get into trouble by giving them rewards they can use to deal with these troubles. When the system used correctly, it creates a feedback loop driving the story forward.

And it works even when the players actively refuse compels or when no compels are present for some reason (maybe a group has decided to do a classic dungeon crawl, leaving little room for character drama): you get less Fate points to spend that way, but you also get to keep a clear head and make more optimal decision than you would otherwise.

The debt mechanic reverses the dynamic and brings it closer to the more traditional drawbacks system utilized by games like VtM, GURPS and such: the players receives the benefits of taking a drawback first, then the GM has to work character’s allergies and phobias and what have you into the plot, which can be tricky sometimes. That’s much less effective, in my opinion, as it doesn’t encourage cooperation the way normal aspect system does. Mental attacks serve as an additional stick in GM’s hands, and I have a general aversion to negative reinforcement being used in games.

I get why the devs used it: it provides a narrative of a character getting a lot of power fast and seemingly easy, only to face the consequences later. However, I do think it’s not worth going against the game paradigm just for that. The same narrative could be done through general aspects (the player buys some powers on refresh they do have and change the trouble aspect to something like Louis Cypher Is My Boss) or through, you know, consequences (as in, mechanical ones), which can, in fact, take form of oaths you have to fulfill for them to go away.

But I think I’ve complained about it long enough by now, so let’s move on to complain about something else.

Next section is on soulfire specifically. While it counts as a sponsored magic, the devs noted the difference of it compared to other kind. Specifically, Harry never seems to be compelled by God or angels to do anything or change in any way. Mercifully, the conclusion the devs reached was not that Harry is pleasing to God, but rather that soulfire itself works differently than regular sponsored magic: instead of relying on outside source of power (the sponsor), it uses the soul of its user as a fuel. It is consistent with canon, and I think the only reason it was not in the original rules is because soulfire was just introduced by then and not explained properly.

As such, instead of utilizing the debt mechanic, soulfire now provides an additional stress track and a mild consequence which can be used to pay the casting and backlash costs, representing you burning your soul to power your magic (you can also get soul-related consequences of other types, though probably only if you ran out of mental and physical stresses already and have to resort to soul one).

I’m not entirely sure the refresh price really cover the benefits, especially considering other bonuses soulfire provides, but I like the general approach: it’s a resource you can use or misuse if you aren’t careful. The additional stress and consequences could run out, and it requires no special interference from the GM. I think a similar approach could be used for other types of sponsored magic as well, just change the mild consequence to debt aspect, and it all works out much more neatly: otherworldly powers would still get to influence you if you rely on them too much, now with an added bonus of not provoking any conflicts between you and the GM.

The stress and consequences of soul are also harder to remove. Normally, stress goes away after the scene ends, and consequences require a skill roll for treatment (first aid or stay at a hospital or what have you) and time which depends on severity. Some powers, like Wizard’s Constitution, can wave away the treatment, and others may reduce the time of recovery.

All of this doesn’t apply to soul. No power can reduce the recovery time, and stress stays until you have a scene of treatment.

Treatment consist of something life-affirming, like serious relaxation, engaging with loved ones,  pursuing something creative, and so on.

On a plus side, the soul stress can only be dealt to you by you deliberately, by spending it to cover the casting costs. Nothing can attack this stress track. Which is very, very silly in the context since the very first example in that section starts like that:

“Harry Dresden needs to throw a spirit attack at a vengeful entity coming to eat the soul of one of his clients.”

You’d think a monster would need to be able to attack a soul to eat it.

You know, Pact did something similar much better. Pact practitioners can spend themselves – everything they are – to empower their spells, becoming less and opening themselves to various spirits trying to posses them. They recover from that condition by reassessing who they are, by doing things they stand for. Often, it does include spending time with loved ones because connections are important, but other ways are valid, too: you can make an oath that speaks to the core of your being, you may repay your debts, or just generally act in accordance with your nature. In FATE terms, it means invoking your aspects for effect, creating a scene that would expose your character or reaffirm their connections with other characters, if they’re important enough to be reflected in aspects. It could also be a compel by the GM forcing you to follow your heart rather than your mind. Or it could be an act that expresses your nature, an invocation of your aspect.

Either way, I would handle the treatment scene that way: you must invoke or compel one of your aspects in a way that speaks about your character. You don’t get the usual benefits for doing it (no Fate point for being compelled, no reroll or bonus for invoke). Pretty simple and more thematically appropriate.

I don’t have specific ideas on attacking the soul stress track, just that it would be nice to work out something in that direction with a possibility of being possessed by stray spirits.

Despite the flaws outlined above, I mostly like this section. It actually builds on the game rules rather than tries to defy them, and the end result should work well enough, aside from possibly being under-priced. I should probably do a calculation by shifts of effect at some later point.

Next section is magic in Nevernever.

Long story short, magic is stronger, so you can cast simple spells without paying the usual price. You can’t do anything fancy this way: attacking like that doesn’t give you Weapon rating, just plain attack, blocks don’t last for more than one round, etc. Mechanically, you’re just using Conviction in place of other battle-related skills.

You also have an additional Nevernever stress track which represents an “impression” your magic leaves on the surroundings. Unfortunately, the section on it is rather brief and doesn’t elaborate much on what it means, which is a shame as there is a lot of potential in psychoactive surrounding changing to reflect your inner world.

There are also drawbacks. Any backlash or fallout would be doubled in Nevernever compared to normal. You also can’t hide from any local denizens once you’ve cast your spell, and the GM can compel the always-present scene aspect to attract random hungry creatures your way.

Overall, not much to say. It’s an OK section. I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks once all is said and done, but due to compels being involved it’s a matter of specific play style more than anything.

I would note I’m rather disappointed at the absence of rules about demesnes: how to claim one, how to tend to them, benefits, dangers, etc. Again, there is a lot of potential in it. Think the Void and how each Sister’s room is different, reflecting their nature. Now imagine designing something like that for your character. It’s just plain cool.

Well, I guess you still can do it by just purchasing the demesne power and playing it by ear, but, meh, elaboration would be nice, especially since there is a chapter on Nevernever (and travel in general) already.

Next section is clarification for thaumaturgy. For the most part, it just repeats the old rules with more detail and explanation over potentially difficult parts. There is, however, a couple on interesting points.

Did I talk about the wall of disbelief in one of my previous reviews? Because apparently there is a wall of disbelief in DF, and wizards have to push against it in order to do magic unless they’re alone or not seen by Sleepers are among people inclined to believe in magic.

Yeah, you really need a proper setup for something like that to work. There is absolutely zero suggestion in canon that supernatural forces are affected by belief: certainly, vampires can eat you all the same, wizards don’t seem to be overly burdened by it (we don’t hear Harry complain about having to do magic near muggles, and you know he would), soulgaze works just fine*, etc.

*And, really, soulgaze not working on non-believers would actually be a neat idea, thematically: they close their souls to the wonders and dangers of the world around them. Would also explain why Harry makes eye contact all the damn time and would make the scene with Marcone soulbonding so much better if that’s the first time Harry learns Marcone is aware of the supernatural and makes forays into it.

Hell, even Mage: the Ascension had trouble justifying this stuff, and that game was all about belief and reality.

And, of course, that leaves even less reasons for wizards to hide, since it actively makes them weaker in this setup.

It is not to say that magic tied to belief can’t work, just that it requires much more effort to make work. The biggest flaw of the idea in the context is that it’s just used to set up the base difficulty for casting spells, and you don’t really need it. Just say casting magic is difficult, the end.

Next point of interest is conjuration, which is made easier to do but also less potent as it now lasts for a very short amount of time. The devs really have a weird aversion to conjuration. I get that the ability to just create anything including animals and such is very potent, but considering all the other bullshit thaumaturgy allows you to do, it’s not that big of a deal.

At least new rules make Shirou concept somewhat viable (Archer, not so much, but UBW is pretty up there as far as haxx goes, so it’s not surprising). Mechanically, he grants himself sponsored magic via RM bullshit, which allows him to use the sword thaumaturgy with evocation time and methods. Conjuring a simple sword would take about 5 shifts of effect, and since he has maxed Conviction, it’s affordable for just one mental stress (which he can wave away via the debt system in exchange for acting like a sexist jerk in accordance with his heroic ideals later). Creating super swords is also possible if expensive. Without utilizing the debt mechanic, he can conjure from two to four simple swords per conflict, more by taking consequences (like frying his circuits).

Probably better to just build him with a power rather than try to adapt the magic system.

Next point of interest is transformation magic, which was upgraded with rules for temporarily granting supernatural powers to yourself or other people. Long story short, the complexity is calculated as 3 + adjusting for duration + 2 for each point of refresh that would be spent on the power normally. The target also has to receive consequences on shift value capable of covering all the shifts from the last part of the equation (as in, the base 3 and duration don’t count for it, just the cost of powers). If the target accepts it willingly, that’s it, if not, then the spell would have to inflict the consequences and also beat the target’s defense skill.

All in all, the costs escalate really quickly, and you’ll likely have to spend a lot of time recuperating from the transformation and getting rid of the consequences. As such, going full One-Winged Angel is mostly bad guys shtick, since they can do it all off-screen and they typically concede before PCs go through all of their consequences anyway.

For PCs, transformation magic is mostly limited to stuff like giving yourself hyper-sensitivity when you go somewhere dark, or growing wings when you know you’re up against a lot of flying enemies. A bit of a boost to level the field.

I’m generally OK with it. You probably can emulate the mechanical effects of cheap powers with normal magic anyway, this way you just pay in advance for them and don’t need to worry about the exact mechanism behind them and such, it’s already defined.

There is only one thing I want to point out: Wizard’s Constitution is 0 refresh. A spell to grant that power to someone for the duration of a few hundred years would be somewhere in the 22-25 shifts of complexity ballpark (the time scale ends at “a few mortal lifespans,” and wizards seem to live longer than that). It’s a big spell, but well within the capabilities of an average wizard/sorcerer PC (and some focused practitioners as well). It wouldn’t even deal any consequences to the target since they’re based of refresh value.

You’d need a few session to prepare such a spell, assuming other stuff’s going on that demands your attention, so from a few days to a month or so of game time.

As such, there really isn’t any excuse to not cast this spell on people you care about and allow them to live for hundreds of years and recover from any injury in time.

Now, granted, it could be a conflict of crunch and fluff. While Wizard’s Constitution is cheap because it has minimal gameplay effects, it could be actually a big deal as far as changing the body and watching out for various side effects goes. But it’s another reason to consider White Council wizards dicks, so I’m going with them just not caring.

Next section is Cheer-Saving Thaumaturgy, which sounds ominous in DF-context, but is actually a fine idea. The section empathizes again that you should roll only when there is a dramatic potential in both success and failure, and otherwise just narrate the results: tracking spells just serve to get the character further into the plot, so failure would just mean stalling and not very interesting, just assume they succeed, but if you plan on something interrupting the tracking halfway through, there is no need for a roll, either. Stuff like that.

More than that, this section also talks about how thaumaturgy calculation can quickly become complex and eat up way too much effort compared to the results. As such, the book proposes an alternative system for preparing small rituals like warding a place, spying on your enemies with divination and such. Instead of calculating the exact complexity and running mini-scenes of preparation, the GM and the player should do the following:

– the player describes the desired effect of a spell in general terms (“I want to ward the house and hit any intruders with a wave of fear”);
– the narrative effects translate into mechanical ones (dealing the lowest possible consequence to an enemy, block, establishing an aspect on a character or a scene, some narrative detail that’s simply true or not in the game world and doesn’t need a mechanical component, etc.);
– when the numbers are required (the strength of a block, the power of an attack, etc.), the highest out of caster’s Discipline, Conviction and Lore is used, plus applicable bonuses.

That gives the basic narrative and mechanical outline of a spell, what the player would get in case of success. then it’s time for preparation. Again, instead of calculating the number of shifts needed for success and the like, the following system is used:

There is a number of complications that a caster may face:

– the need for a stronger sympathetic link to the target;
– time pressure;
– the need to research the spell more;
– hard to arrange for conditions like the spell requiring a snowstorm to pull off, or a need for an expensive component;
– the spell needs more power than can be easily summoned.

At least one of the items from the above list is true for any ritual worth bothering rolling the dice. For each distinct additional effect, another item is true (so warding a house and hitting the intruders with a wave of fear would mean that you, say, need more power and some additional research, or are pressed for time yet have to wait for outside factors, etc.). To prolong the duration beyond the next sunrise, another item is true. If the success of spell would significantly alter the direction of the plot and have great narrative consequences (like killing an important NPC), all five are true.

After determining what problems the caster would face, it’s time to play scenes where the caster attempts to resolve them. Either as mini-scenes resolved in one-two rolls, or full scenes where the caster negotiates with supernatural powers, attempts to steal the component from enemy’s sanctum, etc. Failure here means either the spell wouldn’t work, would be weaker than intended or would have some side effects.

Once that done, that’s it, the spell is cast.

The system is not meant to replace the full rules completely, just to simplify the casting of “everyday” rituals as opposed to major workings and minor stuff like tracking spells. It should work fairly well, and it someone lowers the shift of focus towards the game being about casting magic, since now the preparation is done more quickly, and other players may do other stuff at the same time.

All in all, I approve.

Next section expands evocation and starts with a rather pretentious title “Philosophy of Elements.” Long story short, elements don’t need to be literal fire, earth, etc., they’re more about concepts of elements and what they stand for, so you can pull off stuff that isn’t obviously related to the used element but actually does fall into it when you consider the underlying principles.

I’m OK with it. The elements are more fun as concepts than something literal, and there is still a theme to follow when you want to use them, so you can’t pull off absolutely everything and then claim you used your element.

The book also states that there is a connection between wizards’ personalities and favored elements. Pretty standard for fantasy, that, though I’m not sure I agree with the interpretation of certain elements. For example, according to the book water stands for emotional tranquility and calm, and I’m pretty sure the classic water association is constant change and flux, pretty much the opposite of calm. Air stands for logic and reason, and again the classic interpretation is more about imagination, oddity. And so on. But these things are not set in stone, so it’s more a matter of preference than anything.

What’s interesting here is that the devs recognize the spirit element could be easily split in two: force stuff like kinetic shields and such and mental magic plus illusions and veils.

The devs rationalization for spirit being one element (aside from canon doing it, of course) is that a lot of mind magic would violate the Laws, so a character specialized in it would be of limited utility outside of games focusing on lawbreaking. Eh, I don’t know, with the expansion of elements it should be easy to break mental magic among them: fire stands for raging emotions, so if you want to terrorize or anger someone, you may use mental fire magic. Veils seem to create an actual optical illusion rather than mental compulsion to look away, so they can be stuffed into air, etc. That would be more elegant than having double element, and it would mean mentalists are not all exactly the same: some would be great at jedi mind tricks, others would be better at gathering information, etc.

Then there is hexing.

“Review of the casefiles shows that, among wizards, Harry seems especially prone to the hexing effect, even compared to wizards who are far older and far more experienced. Several members of the Senior Council interact with technology that they shouldn’t, if we use Harry’s standard as a rubric. Despite being centuries old, Ebenezar McCoy drives a 1931 Model A Ford truck, and rode on a motorboat to reach Demonreach with Listens to Wind and Ancient Mai without encountering any problems.

Likewise, we know that Listens to Wind stays current on mortal medicine by attending medical school every decade, whereas Harry continually stays away from hospitals out of fear of shorting out some hapless patient’s dialysis or life support.”

It’s almost like hexing is an incoherent mess or something. Also, Harry being more prone to it than other wizards should tell you just how important hexing is to the books.

Hm, combining it with the stuff from the third chapter, maybe hexing is a part of price for the pact with Summer fae? Fae are at least somewhat connected to the nature, especially Summer which is all about unchecked grows of life, so it’s not impossible they would be generally opposed to technology.

Alternatively, hexing does make it more tempting for wizards to live outside of civilization since they’re partially excluded from it, making it more easy for fae to influence them further and maybe even lure to live in Nevernever.

Older wizards who didn’t succumb to fae’s tricks grow out of the pact and hexing, which allows them to rejoin the society if they want.

Anyway, the book just suggests to handle it with additional aspects and/or stunts representing your ability to control the hexing.

The rest of the section just clarifies some stuff about the use of evocation, nothing particularly interesting.

Next section is on sharing potions and propless magic. Sharing potions allows you to use one potion more than once or divide it among several people in exchange for reduced effect and duration. Pretty straightforward.

Propless magic is when you need to do a spell without shouting or gesturing. It appears to also allow you to use elements you normally can’t use as long as you have full evocation power bought (by default it only gives you three elements, the other two you’d have to buy with Refinement). The idea here is that normally wizards develop mental tools to help them shape and focus their spells, unique for each element, but they still can do everything with their mind alone, it’s just about twice as hard.

I’m fine with the idea of propless magic itself – the increase in difficulty makes up for stealth benefits and such – but I’m less pleased with it allowing you to use any element. Again, it comes down to the hammers and nails. Limits are great. If you’ve built your character around fire, spirit and earth and suddenly find yourself in need of water (like maybe you’re up against a fire spirit and water is the only thing that would bypass its physical immunity), well, tough, you’d have to find a way around it, and the system supports creativity.

It’s not entirely bad since the price is steep enough to make it a desperate measure for desperate times rather than something you would do consistently, but still, meh.

Next section is on wizards with powers unrelated to spellcasting.

“During the battle, Listens to Wind drew upon a magical talent we didn’t know was possible—he shapechanged into a variety of different forms, entering a contest of sorts with the skinwalker, from which he emerged victorious.

Our system for Evocation and Thaumaturgy simply can’t handle the speed, grace, and effectiveness of his magic in this case, especially considering that he seems to have done it at no great cost to himself, which flies in the face of everything we know about transformation magic.”

So, the proposed solution is to allow wizards to buy other powers, be it shapeshifting, spirit form or whatever, and claim them to be magic even though they don’t cost mental stress and are limited only by refresh you put in them rather than by how much power you can summon.

There are further restrictions. First, to do so you need to be a full wizard, which is pretty costly, so it’s not something you’ll get at a start (well, maybe one really cheap power). Then, you need a justification for your character being able to pull it off.

“So, for a wizard to have another supernatural power, they’d need to do one of the following:

ŠŠ- Come from a magical tradition other than the White Council mainstream.
-ŠŠ Have some sort of unique or specialized training beyond what the White Council teaches.
-ŠŠ Have a great deal of experience or time to figure out how to take on a power.
-ŠŠ Have a sponsorship that grants powers.
ŠŠ- Have a combination of any of the above.”

Hm. Well, mechanically everything’s fine: you still pay for powers, and it’s actually normally more optimal to just improve your spellcasting more and more with Refinements than branch out, so it would likely be something you do for thematic reasons than to gain a mechanical benefit, barring few exceptions like supernatural toughness.

Thematically, it’s a rather inelegant solution, an obvious patch over standard system present here because the regular magic system can’t handle the lore.

So, I’m rather ambivalent about it, though not actively opposed.

On related note, in one of the following chapters another thing along these lines appears. I’m not entirely sure why it’s presented there rather than here. Basically, it’s a more direct conversion of powers into spells: you buy a power at a discount in exchange for not being able to use it normally. Instead, every time you want to use it, you cast a spell, but summon power only to account for the duration of the power (so, if you have a power costing 4 refresh and want to use it for 5 rounds, it would be a spell of 5 power rather than 16, like with regular transformation magic, or some other number if you try to emulate the effects some other way).

I think it’s overall a better idea: still ties to the regular magic system but expands it, allowing your character to display a particular proficiency in one field or another, like being so good at creating illusions they can kill your enemies and such.

This section also includes new power called Mental Toughness, working similarly to regular toughness power, only applied to mental stress: it gives you new stress boxes and armor against mental attacks, and it can be bypassed if you know the weakness. Unlike with physical toughness, the weakness isn’t something like cold iron or inherited silver but a particular kind of stress, a crack in the calm facade. Maybe your character reacts violently to their loved ones being threatened, or can’t stand people questioning their authority or whatever.

Since casting spells deals mental stress to the caster, the end result here is that a caster can cast more spells before having to take consequences.

I don’t have problems with it. The power is locked behind a number of Refinements you have to buy first, so by the time you’re able to get it, you would already be a powerhouse and would likely face opponents warranting such power. It is a pretty logical expansion of the system as well.

Between this and a spell version of powers, I think the ability to just buy powers and claim them to be magic is pretty unnecessary. I think it’s here mostly to provide the wizard players with a room to grow if they want to get something shiny instead of flat bonuses.

The chapter ends with two new examples of spells from recent books. Not much to say about them, except that I’m pretty sure there were more unique spells used than two. I get that the books mostly focus on mechanically interesting spells plus some signature ones rather than statting every one of them, but still, they could have done the undead T-Rex, which is weirdly absent from here and previous volumes (though, given the mechanics, I think it’s because you actually can’t make one without being a Mary Sue, thus undermining the “Can I play Han Solo?” test I’ve talked about way back).

So, overall this chapter was a mixed bag. For the most part, it was OK. It clarified some points, like combat thaumaturgy and using evocation outside of battles, it provided more options for players and it tried to get closer to the lore, which would be important for fans. On the other hand, it also contains some stupid ideas, the main one being the sponsor magic handling, which I really, really don’t like.

On balance, I would they there is more good than bad, so if you’re planning to use the system for your games, the material here is worth checking out. Just think hard before accepting any ideas from here into your game.

That’s it for now. Tune in next time for the last two chapters and conclusion.


  1. SpoonyViking says:

    So, once again, interesting ideas are brought down by the DF canon.

  2. Nerem says:

    The book also states that there is a connection between wizards’
    personalities and favored elements. Pretty standard for fantasy, that,
    though I’m not sure I agree with the interpretation of certain elements.
    For example, according to the book water stands for emotional
    tranquility and calm, and I’m pretty sure the classic water association
    is constant change and flux, pretty much the opposite of calm.

    Well, that’s a more Eastern view of the element, I think? I know G Gundam has water represent the protagonist’s calmness when using the Clear And Serene technique.

    1. illhousen says:

      The elemental system the White Council uses is explicitly Western, though. There is a character or a few who use Eastern one, so it’s considered a different system in-universe.

      Actually, with the difference in elemental interpretation between different cultures and the game pushing hard to connect beliefs with magic, I would expect that cultural baggage should affect the elemental affinity greatly. The previous books established that the elements are simply a way of classifying the world for the purposes of using magic rather than something with actual metaphysical weight behind it, so the same person studying different kinds of magic would gravitate towards different elements (even if one of them is present in both systems), depending on their local interpretation.

      1. Nerem says:

        The White Council is dumb and terrible, to be fair.

        But yeah, you’re right. I just pointed it out because I immediately remembered water for ‘calm and collected’.

        G Gundam is a better series, anyways.

  3. K says:

    I vaguely remember someone (illhousen?) mentioning that maybe wizards could use their magic to share their power with other people/humans? But I can’t remember where. Help?

    1. Roarke says:

      The funniest thing about this comment is it’s way too vague considering the scope of headcanons we’ve produced. Maybe illhousen will know, though; he’s got a good memory.

      1. K says:

        Sorry. I did say I only “vaguely” remembered it.

        1. Roarke says:

          Not your fault, I know. It’s just funny to me because it really drives home how much thought we (mostly Farla and illhousen) have put into it.

    2. illhousen says:

      I’ve mentioned that it’s theoretically possible for wizards to share their extended lifespan and regeneration abilities with other people. Mechanically, it’s definitely possible, and that Florida town setting shows that there are other ways to recreate the effect than being born a wizard, which supports the idea that giving people that condition via magic should be possible flavor-wise as well.

      When it comes to actual magic powers, it’s more tricky. It’s possible mechanically (though it comes with insanity/physical deformations), but I wouldn’t be so sure about flavor in this case.

      1. K says:

        So it’s in the Neverglades post? Sorry for being vague.

        “I’ve mentioned that it’s theoretically possible for wizards to share their extended lifespan and regeneration abilities with other people. Mechanically, it’s definitely possible, and that Florida town setting shows that there are other ways to recreate the effect than being born a wizard, which supports the idea that giving people that condition via magic should be possible flavor-wise as well.”

        How do you think something like that would be done? Would it take some kind of ritual, or something?

        And then given what we saw/see the Nightmare do to Dresden (probably not the best example, sorry), do you think a wizard would be able to share their power with another wizard? Like… mix their powers together or something to make one or both wizards stronger?

        1. K says:

          Or make a wizard weaker- just eat all of a wizard’s magic permanently, maybe tear out a chunk of something so they can’t hurt people with it ever again?

          (Which… Would or could the White Council do that to warlocks/people that have broken the Laws of Magic, or would something like that break the Laws themselves?)

          1. illhousen says:

            That one’s actually easy mechanically. You just need to Take Out someone in one hit, at which point you can dictate what happens to them next. It’s used to emulate killing, magic enslavement, permanent transformation into a newt and other such things.

            Flavor-wise? Hard to say. Aside from our friend Nightmare that nobly tried to make Harry less of a Mary Sue, I don’t recall cases of someone’s power being sealed, and it would make the Council even more horrible if they don’t do that instead of going for the kill, but on the other hand, it was never stated outright that it’s impossible, so up to the GM, I guess.

            I probably would allow it and say that the Council doesn’t practice it officially because it technically (but not really) falls under the law against transformation and in truth because they’re terrified of the possibility that someone may use it against them. It’s one thing to die fighting your enemies, it’s another to live powerless when you’re used to be one of the top dogs.

        2. illhousen says:

          I think I first brought it up in the review of the main DFRPG books, actually. The rules for temporary obtaining powers were there as well, just not refined.

          How do you think something like that would be done? Would it take some kind of ritual, or something?

          Mechanically? Yeah, it’s a ritual. Pretty complex, too, though mostly because of the duration. The flavor isn’t covered since DFRPG leaves it up to players and the GM to figure out how specific magic is done.

          If I were to run it, I’d say normally the ritual requires a piece of Summer to be imbued into the recipient. So, you need to travel to the Summer Court land in Nevernever, pluck a flower and plant it inside the heart of the recipient, channeling Summer energies to keep them alive and heal the wound afterwards. After that, the flower would grow and blossom, becoming one with the recipient and emanating health and longevity.

          With sacrifices it’s more simple: a straightforward theft of lifeforce. One human worth of Consequences about cover the duration of human lifespan, as I recall.

          And then given what we saw/see the Nightmare do to Dresden (probably not the best example, sorry), do you think a wizard would be able to share their power with another wizard? Like… mix their powers together or something to make one or both wizards stronger?

          Mechanically? Yeah, it’s pretty simple: inflict consequences on the victim (here done via a mental attack in Harry’s dream that messed him up and sealed his powers. Both are OK examples of consequences), use it to cover the cost of your own empowering ritual. The actual effect would be either an aspect (decent but not spectacular mechanical benefit, but it’s safe) or stuns that directly increase your power (that one is more reliable, but you’d have to take consequences of your own that would make you more vulnerable or more unstable).

          Flavor-wise? Well, we see that stealing power is a thing that is possible, so not much to say here. Not sure living wizards can do it, but I don’t see a reason why not.

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