Schools of Magic
.pdf of this article.
This article is a product of my efforts to develop a complete
Magic axiom chart. Completing the chart required intensive efforts
towards exploring and explaining the basis of magic, developing
more generic and robust mechanics, and where necessary pruning
Conjuration substitution, first introduced in the Delphi
Council Worldbook, was conceptually bizarre and needlessly
complicated. “Theme magic” is a great idea, but the
implementation was terrible.
These rules replace the “conjuration substitution” rules,
and provide new magical theory and mechanics to implement differing “schools” of
Note: This is the second edition of the Tradition
rules. They have been rewritten not only to make the mechanics
of spell translation quicker and simpler, but also to incorporate
some changes to the extended Magic axiom and its associated theories.
Symbols and Effects
Stated very simply, the fundamental concept of magic is this:
people do something to cause something else to happen and what
they do somehow resembles what they expect to happen.
“What they do” involves symbols, “what
happens” is the effect. In terms most magicians
would use: people use symbols to evoke effects, and the symbol
somehow relates to or is reminiscent of the effect. This concept
can be seen in nearly all systems of magic and underlies nearly
all “laws” of magic.
The earliest forms of magic were uncontrollable. The symbol-effect
links were unreliable and evoking an effect was difficult.
Mages found a way to control magic effects through spells. They
could pick the symbols, define the effect and create the relationship
between the two.
This process depended heavily on the mage’s worldview, which
differs from that of other mages, and so two mages couldn’t
share spells or pool magical knowledge.
Traditions are schools of magic that are organized around a specific
philosophy, religion, moral code or political movement. Members
of the Tradition view the world similarly and so can view magic
This allows them to build a common body of magical knowledge,
share spells and pool research.
First available at a Magic axiom of 7, a Tradition is an organization
of mages who share a common magical paradigm, a shared understanding
of how the forces of magic are wielded. Each Tradition has its
own unique beliefs and approaches to harnessing magic. Each Tradition
is restricted by its own laws, purpose and perceptions, much like
schools of philosophy. Each is similar in some respects, but very
different in others; although the uninitiated may see little or
no difference at all.
Native American Shamanism, for example, is an Earth Tradition
that blends religion with magic. Magicians who belong to this Tradition
(called Shamans) perceive magic in terms of their religious views.
In order to cast spells, Shamans might include prayers to their
totems, or other spirits. They might use beads and eagle feathers,
peyote, face paint, and colored sand to craft their rituals. Drums
and chants could also be utilized.
Other Shamans would recognize the symbolism of the components
(chants, beads, and so forth). This shared system of beliefs- the
religious nature of the world- is reflected in the component symbology.
This shared symbology and shared world view is what allows mages
to share ideas, discoveries, and spells.
In roleplaying terms, Traditions reflect a form of theme magic.
Each Tradition has its own feel, it’s own accouterments and
procedures. Because they share a common belief system, often including
a common religious or philosophical outlook, mages from each Tradition
also tend to share similar attitudes about life (though there are
This theme is carried out in all aspects of the Tradition, including
which spells they can create. Mages cannot create spells which
violate their Tradition’s theme. The nature of the limitations
depend on the philosophy of the Tradition.
Shamanic spells deal primarily with spirits and afflictions, for
example, and a shaman cannot learn, design, or cast a spell like bullet,
even if it would be allowed by his Magic axiom- it doesn’t
fit his Tradition. These restrictions help reinforce the philosophy
and increase the mage’s control over magic.
It is these similarities in outlook and philosophy that allow
mages to work together, sharing spells freely. It is this similarity
of philosophy that also limits mages. Learning how another Tradition
works magic is possible, by studying their magical theories, but
learning to cast spells as they do is impossible.
Spells created by one Tradition can only be cast by members of
that same Tradition. An alchemist could not learn any voodoo spells
or even cast them directly from a voodoo grimoire unless he first
translated the spell. Unrecorded spells cannot, of course, be translated.
It takes long hours of work to learn the theories of an alien
Tradition, in order to understand it. Once understood, a mage can
attempt to translate spells from the alien Tradition into his own.
The game mechanics of Traditions are controlled by the magical
theory (by Tradition) skill and the appropriate sections
of the extended Magic axiom chart (see Appendix
Each of the four magics has their own associated skill. Only mages
can learn the skills of the four magics (indeed, having adds in
any of these skills is what makes you a mage).
There is another skill which mages who design spells learn called magical
theory. Anyone can learn the magical theory skill,
however, even non-mages.
This focused skill (by Tradition) allows you
to translate a spell from one Tradition to another (among other
uses). Magical theory is, in essence, the science skill
Each spell is associated with a Tradition. Only mages of that
Tradition can use that spell. All spells will list the Tradition
that created them, as well as the game mechanic elements comprising
Axiom, Grimoire Spells, and Translating
other concepts, Traditions grow in flexibility and
power as the Magic axiom rises. The following is
a summation of the development of Traditions. (The
axiom chart can be found in Appendix 1.)
cosms with a Magic axiom of less than 5 cannot design,
record, or learn grimoire spells.
spells are first available at a Magic axiom of 5.
Mages from cosms with a Magic of 5 can design and
record grimoire spells, but can only learn spells
they have designed themselves; they cannot translate
first develop at a Magic axiom of 7. This allows
mages to learn spells from their Tradition, though
it is necessary to translate any spells designed
by other members of that Tradition, as personal understanding
is still important.
At a Magic
axiom of 8, mages can learn any spell in their Tradition,
no matter who designed the spell.
spells from foreign Traditions is possible at a Magic
axiom of 10. The translation rules described above
only function for mages from cosms with that axiom
At a Magic
axiom of 13, translation becomes easier. Perfectly
translating a spell now requires only a Good success
(instead of a Spectacular success). Each
step below Good allows the spell to be translated,
but introduces a 2- (for Average) or 4-
(for Minimal) point error in the translated
At a Magic
axiom of 16, characters no longer need study a foreign magical
theory skill. Magical knowledge has become universal
enough to make the magical theory skill
a general skill instead of a focused skill.
This makes translating spells much easier.
become more generalized at Magic 17. The restrictions
of theme magic are lifted: all Traditions may design
and cast any spell their Axiom allows. Mages can
translate any spell from another Tradition.
becomes a simple process at Magic 18. Any success
allows the spell to be translated without error.
20, Traditions become mostly social organizations.
Mages do not need to translate spells at all; they
can learn any spell directly from the grimoire of
and Arcane Knowledges
use the standard arcane knowledges (Folk, Light,
etc.), but some Traditions use different ones.
variant arcane knowledges are synonymous knowledges
(see pg. 203 of The Revised and Expanded Torg
Rulebook). Instead of using Fire, a Tradition
might use Flame instead. Such substitutions add a
small amount of flavor, without introducing large-scale
Traditions might have access to unique arcane knowledges.
The Nile Empire, for example, has the Engineering
arcane knowledge. In most cases, these are used exactly
like existing arcane knowledges, but allow magicians
to affect different objects.
There are Traditions that have unique arcane knowledge
schemas. These add complexity, and can cause balance
If a variant
arcane knowledge schema allows mages of that Tradition
to achieve the same effects mages of other Traditions
can, but with fewer arcane knowledges, then mages
of that Tradition will have a decided advantage-
with less skills to learn, they can advance faster,
and make more powerful spells. A variant arcane knowledge
schema ought to be balanced against the standard,
so no one Tradition (or character) has an undue advantage.
example of this is the Nile Empire’s Engineering
schema. Though it only has one arcane knowledge,
the range of effects Engineering can create is severely
limited. An Engineer cannot cast a fireball spell,
complicated variant moves beyond alternate arcane
knowledges into entirely new skills and mechanics.
Such systems discard standard magical mechanics (Principle
of Definition, Backlash, etc.) entirely or replace
them with something new. Examples of this are the
Orrorshan Occult or the Nile Empire’s Mathematics.
variant mechanics can be challenging. Each is in
essence a wholly new SFX, which increases the complexity
for players and gamemasters. The standard rules (such
as spell design) must be rethought and sometimes
the designers of new systems overlook these issues
(Mathematics, for example, has no spell design rules).
This places additional burdens on gamemasters who
must either ignore such issues or devise house rules
to implement them.
balancing new mechanics is much more difficult than
balancing an alternate arcane knowledge schema. New
mechanics must be playtested, or the magical system
might end up noticeably more or less powerful than
the standard spellcasting rules. Such systems should
be rarely used, if at all.
Mages who wish to expand their spell repertoire will often seek
to acquire spells from an alien Tradition. In order to be able
to understand and learn the foreign spell, the mage must translate
it, making it a new spell of their Tradition. Translating spells
from one Tradition to another only becomes possible at a Magic
axiom of 10.
To convert a spell from one Tradition to another, the mage must
first have studied the magical theories of both Traditions- the
mage must have at least 1 add in the magical theory skill
of the alien Tradition and ought be fairly well versed in his own.
This gives him the basic understanding of their symbology and allows
him to replace it with his Tradition’s.
They must also have sufficient adds in the Arcane Knowledge and
magic skill to learn the spell.
Example: A shamanic spell has a
skill requirement of divination/folk 15. A
voodoo mage who wishes to translate that spell must
meet those requirements.
Rarely, this will include learning the Arcane Knowledges of the
alien Tradition, assuming they are different. If the Arcane Knowledge
is synonymous with one you already know, there is no problem. If
the Arcane Knowledge isn’t part of your Tradition, you must
gain adds in it.
The last requirement for translating a spell is a roleplaying
consideration. As all Traditions are limited by their theme. For
a spell to be a translated, it must fit within the theme of the
Tradition. The gamemaster has final say in the case of any disputes.
This is not to say that the components listed with the spell
must be appropriate. In the above instance, the shamanic spell
is guaranteed to utilize chants and other components that aren’t
a part of voodoo. Part of translating the spell is converting the
magical symbols of the alien Tradition into symbols appropriate
for your Tradition.
After meeting the requirements for converting the spell, the mage
can begin the process of translation. Translation involves replacing
the symbols of one Tradition with the symbols of another.
In game mechanical terms, the “Component Theorems” portion
of the spell design sheet is discarded and the player designs a
new one. This process works exactly like applying component theorems
to the spell during the spell design process. The mage must have
adds in component theorems, use appropriate symbols and can take
extra time, if they wish.
Component theorems reduce Complexity, just as in spell design,
and if the translating mage’s Theorem Subtotal is lower than
the original, the difference is added to the spell’s Complexity.
His Theorem Subtotal cannot be higher- the spell cannot be made
any more efficient than it is.
Once this process is complete, the mage finishes the spell. This
process a number days or weeks of work, depending on the mage’s
magic axiom (see table below).
Each “day” represents one work day, or about 8 hours
of labor. If the mage works less, for any reason, time to complete
the spell increases accordingly. They can work longer, each day,
but this does nothing to speed up the process. Each week is a work
week, or about 5 days of labor a week. Missing a day of labor increases
the time accordingly, but working extra days doesn’t speed
the process any.
During this time, they cannot engage in any other activity of
any sigificance (spell design, magical research, and the like).
They can quit working at any time, and come back to the uncompleted
spell later, picking up where they left off.
After the time has been taken, the player makes a magical
theory (the mage’s Tradition) skill check. The Difficulty
Number for this check is the “Skill:” requirement
of the spell. The mage can spend possibilities, but unless the
translation is occurring during game time, he cannot spend cards.
In order to convert the spell exactly, he must achieve a Spectacular success.
Every Success Level lower than that introduces a 2-point error
into the spell. Any failure requires the mage to try again,
by spending the same amount of time again and attempting another magical
theory (the mage’s Tradition) skill check.
For each point of error introduced, the gamemaster should do one
of the following:
- Subtract one from the Effect Value
- Subtract one from the Range value
- Subtract one from the Duration value
- Add one to the Backlash
- Add one to the Difficulty
- Add one to the Cast Time
The mage cannot change the spell effect at all. Any defects the
spell may exhibit cannot be eliminated (on the positive side, the
mage can’t introduce any new ones either).
Once this process is completed, the mage can record the new spell
in his grimoire. It is a spell of his Tradition and can be shared
with all other members of his Tradition.
In desperate straits, a mage may attempt to translate a spell “on-the-fly.” This
first becomes available at a Magic axiom of 11. The spell must
qualify for translation as normal- if you couldn’t translate
it normally, you can’t translate it “on-the-fly.”
Mages from cosms with a Magic of 20 (or higher) don’t need
to translate foreign spells, so do not need to translate “on-the-fly.”
The “on-the-fly” translation process can be done
rapidly, within about a minute (6 combat rounds). The mage must
score a Spectacular success in order to translate the
spell, but the check automatically introduces the maximum amount
of error- 8 points. Any failure means the mage must wait
a “work period” (see table above above) before attempting
any translation of the spell.
This procedure is dangerous as the mage must discard the Component
Theorems of the alien Tradition’s spell, and cannot apply theorems
as efficiently as during the spell design/translation process.
They can select new components, and get the base values for the
ones selected, but cannot add their component theorem adds or a
time bonus. In most cases, this will increase the spell’s Complexity
(and hence Difficulty and Backlash), by a significant amount.
In addition, the spell must be cast as an unlearnable grimoire
spell, adding a further +4 to the difficulty and +6 to the backlash
of the spell. Unless the caster makes their casting skill check
(vs. the modified Difficulty) with at least a Superior success,
the mage will also suffer a magical surge. This kind of spellcasting
is considered to be a last ditch option for most magicians.
Like many other magical rules, translating spells “on-the-fly” becomes
easier at higher Magic axioms. Mages with a Magic axiom of 15 can
translate spells with a Good success. This still introduces
the maximum error, however (8 points).
At Magic axiom 17, “on-the-fly” translation only introduces
4 points of error. Finally, at Magic axiom 19, any success allows
the spell to be translated with 2 points of error.
1: Traditions Axiom Chart
This is an excerpt from the complete Magic axiom chart, dealing
specifically with magical Traditions.
5- Spells first developed, but mages cannot share
7- Mages learn how to share magical knowledge,
allowing them to create a shared body of magical research called
a Tradition. All members of a Tradition use the same magical symbology.
This allows them to share spells with other mages, although personal
interpretation of the spell is still important.
8- The organized experimentation possible within
a Tradition allows mages to begin to more fully realize the potential
of the Magic axiom. Mages may now attempt to cast grimoire spells
directly from a grimoire, without having learned them. In addition,
they no longer have to worry about individual interpretation of
their Tradition’s spells.
10- Mages may now begin to comprehend other Traditions
and even translate spells between them. This involves intensive
study into the Tradition’s spell symbology and magical philosophy.
By learning the magical theory skill of alien Traditions, mages
may translate the Tradition’s grimoire spells. Only spells
that are appropriate to the mages’ Tradition may be translated.
Such research is difficult and fraught with error.
11- Translating spells “on-the-fly” becomes
possible, allowing mages (in extremis) to quickly translate and
cast spells from another Tradition. The spell’s efficiency
is heavily degraded after undergoing this process. Translating “on-the-fly” is
dangerous and seldom utilized.
12- The magical symbology underlying magical
Traditions begin to widen, allowing more and more spells to be
used. The “theme” of the Tradition becomes more flexible.
13- Translating grimoire spells between Traditions
becomes easier. Mages may now translate spells with a great degree
of compatibility; though study of the alien Tradition’s magical
symbology is still necessary.
16- Magical theories become generalized, covering
all effects, not just those of a specific Tradition. Translating
spells between Traditions becomes easier.
17- Traditions are no longer limited to a theme;
magicians can create all varieties of spells available to their
cosm, though each Tradition may still use theorems in their own
signature way. Restrictions on what spells are appropriate for
a given Tradition are eliminated. Mages may now translate any spell
an alien Tradition offers.
Translating spells “on-the-fly” becomes a more efficient
process, with the translated spell suffering from less degradation.
18- Mages may translate the spells of alien Traditions
with great ease, even among novice mages. Errors in translation
are extremely rare.
19- Translating a spell “on-the-fly” becomes
a relatively easy process, though translated spells still suffer
20- Translating a spell between Traditions (whether “on-the-fly” or
regularly) is no longer necessary. Mages may learn spells of alien
Traditions directly. The distinctions between Traditions become
largely academic. Traditions usually become an association of mages,
similar to social clubs.
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