Mage: Combined Spells, Part Two 5

In my last post, I talked a bit about spells that combined Arcana to do interesting things. This time around, I’m looking directly at the character sheets of the mages in my game so that I’m creating things they might want to buy their way into – attainable within 1-2 dots of Arcana purchases, ideally. That might still look impossibly far off at their current rate of XP gain, but as I intend this campaign to keep going for a long time yet, I’m sticking pretty close to the book-recommended XP rates. XP for sessions so far has ranged from 3 General and 1 Arcane to 4G/4A. So when I note that a character is, say, 14 General XP away from the minimum to use an effect, I’m aware of what a tough sell that might be. Actual player use, therefore, is a secondary goal and largely out of my hands; just learning more about the system by creating something within it is the real goal. I will be discussing those PCs at some length, though, in the context of what I’m suggesting.
Invocation of the Man-Slaying Talon (Life 4, Matter 3 by the rules on p. 128, or as a rote… something less clear, but Life 3 and Matter 2 form the basis of this effect)
Dice Pool as a rote: Stamina + Survival + (lowest of Life or Matter) – 2
Dice Pool as an improvised spell: (lowest of Life or Matter) – 2 + Gnosis
Practice: Weaving
Action: Instant
Duration: Prolonged (one scene)
Aspect: Vulgar
Cost: 1 as a rote, 2 if improvised
The mage grants himself fangs or bestial claws that have been hardened and sharpened with Matter. His first success in this casting causes his Brawl attacks to deal lethal damage; every success past the first grants him the 9-again property on one Brawl attack roll made during this scene.

Looking at this, the character in my game I would theoretically be making this spell for is Danny, a Thyrsus brawler with Matter as his one out-of-specialty Realm. Were he to wish to pursue this rote, he would need to spend 24 XP to go up to Life 4 (which of course he wants to do anyway – it’s just a matter of time) and 35 XP to go from Matter 1 to Matter 3. The latter is never going to happen, and I can’t blame him; the opportunity cost here is staggering for too little of a payoff. The group has a Moros mage, quite a good one, so it’s not like he’s shoring up a weakness in Matter that the group is suffering. He would have to either spend 2 Mana every time he wanted to use this effect, or pay further experience points for the rote (though I’m not sure if this counts as a 3-dot or 4-dot rote) and reduce the Mana cost to 1 (which I’m basing off of Alter Accuracy’s Mana cost of 1). So I’m ready to write this idea off as a failed design, to my chagrin, unless for some reason it really captures the player’s imagination. (At which point he would begin a death march of at least 15 sessions to garner the XP I’ve mentioned above…)
It might, in theory, be worthwhile for an NPC mage at some point, but only because enemy mages have a lot of strengths that it can be really hard to bring to the fore during play – therefore I think it’s okay to have them do some things that would never be optimal for a player but that show off multiple strengths in a single round of action.

There are a few Arcana that don’t need any conceptual help from me to be useful in all kinds of conjunctional spells – Fate 2, Space 2, and Time 2 are the main examples here. Of these, I think it takes the most work to develop a truly useful application for Time 2. The rules here are chart-heavy, in keeping with other explanations of creative thaumaturgy, but what I’m getting is that adding Time 2 is almost completely useless for any spell with a casting time of Instant. Time 2 won’t help you get around Mana costs, resistance, or Paradox; in fact, it increases Mana cost by 1 and forces you to resolve the effect as an Aimed spell (from what I’m seeing, this is mostly worse for the attacker, but I could be wrong).
Time 2 becomes amazing, however, when we start talking about extended casting. Let’s face it: you can do all kinds of wacky shit with spells if you’re willing to work your way through pages 117-124, but the kinds of dice penalties that you stack up rapidly become prohibitive, so creative thaumaturgy is not all that appealing for instant casting. Extended casting, though, is only about stacking up more successes. No problem! I mean, rituals can take a lot of time (pro tip: don’t bother until you have Gnosis 3, reducing each step of a ritual from 3 hours to 1 hour), but otherwise you can kind of keep going until you hit your success target or keel over from exhaustion.
So this answers another question that I had been considering. Setting aside how ruinously Vulgar it would be, how would an Obrimos cast a fireball rather than a firebolt (that is, big AoE destruction)? If he wanted to cast it as an instant spell, his life is pain: making it either target two characters (or have a 2-yard radius, which I’ll handwave into being “about the same thing” for purposes of this math) is a -2 penalty to his die pool, and it only gets worse from there as he adds targets or area of effect. Considering that this is Aimed magic, you really cannot afford to lose anything out of your die pool, especially against other mages (since as far as I can tell on a skimming read, all magic armoring effects would mitigate this spell just fine).
But this kind of thing is trivial for an extended spell. All he needs to do is figure out the Potency and area he’s going for, and how much time he thinks it’ll be before he needs to cast this spell (the Time component). Each unit of ritual time (which decreases with higher Gnosis), he would roll (lower of Time or Forces, I guess) + Gnosis, or as per a rote, and keep going until he hit his target. Now, he’s accepting a Mana cost where otherwise the spell would be free, and probably another point of Mana for casting outside of his Ruling Arcana, but yeah. He now has a prepared fireball spell!

This prompts a natural comparison with Dresden Files, as I’ve discussed at some length in previous posts. Back when we were playing Dresden Files, I had significant trouble figuring out how to be effective as a wizard, in a setting where it’s perfectly acceptable to be a blaster wizard and utterly verboten to affect someone’s mind. This is an interesting reversal of how mages interact with Paradox in Mage: the Awakening: in Mage, it’s totally okay to fight with psychic assaults and mental influence, but throwing fire is going to trigger Paradox, and the universe pretty much bends you over, soon to be followed by social consequences for the fallout of that Paradox. (To undercut this statement somewhat, you could parse psychic assaults in DF as Spirit evocations, and that would be socially and cosmically permissible. Actual mental control, though, is still Right Out. To say nothing of Mage’s Arcana of Fate and Time (pursuant to Law 6) or Death (Law 5)).
Both games want wizards to focus on preparation, limiting their options in actual conflict in order to expanding their staying power or output. Curiously, neither game does a good job of expressing this. It took some time and poking around to figure out that enchanted items were a lot better than foci if DF wizards wanted to cast more than about six spells in a single encounter, and it has taken me years of intermittently reading Mage to figure out why Time 2 is one of the best purchases in the game for all wizards.
DF’s math is ultimately simpler… sort of… except for the part where a lot of different bonuses to Discipline or Conviction are at stake. Mage’s math involves working through a bunch of charts to figure out either dice-pool penalties or required successes; as long as you can figure out how/if the chart applies to what you’re doing, it’s not that bad. The different ways that the two games handle the passage of time comes to the fore here, actually; DF handles time narratively, basing the casting time of a ritual on the number of scenes it takes to complete, while Mage handles time as a simulation, measuring minutes, hours, or days, and leaving it up to the ST to determine whether a ritual that takes a whole day to cast is going to cause problems for the PC, or if that time is pretty much skipped over. (And yeah, I’ve written a lot about how games handle the passage of time.)
Digressing still further, I can’t help but note that both of these “fixes” to wizards make playing a wizard just a little bit more like a Vancian wizard (the nominal model for D&D between the years of 1974 and 2007). As I cut my teeth, in terms of roleplaying, on D&D’s vision of wizards, this is all to the good as far as I’m concerned. It is another factor within Mage that puts the emphasis on preparation, forethought, and learning as much as possible about the threats that one will face.
Back on Topic

This spell idea isn’t exactly intended for Volchik, the Mastigos PC that Kainenchen plays, since Volchik doesn’t have any dots in Prime, much less the four dots that this idea would take. Still, let’s say you’re looking for an ever-more-secure way to store or transport tass. Sure, you could use Space to teleport it wherever you wanted it to be, but it could still be stolen. What about using Mind to translate the stored Mana into a thought, accessed with an activation phrase? This is a lot like just having a larger reservoir of Mana (typically conferred by higher Gnosis), except that it takes an action to cast Channel Mana (Prime 3), unlocking the thought and harvesting the Mana from it.
Dreams of Power (Prime 4, Mind 2, nominally combining Create Tass and One Mind, Two Thoughts)
Dice Pool as a rote: Resolve + Occult + (lower of Prime or Mind), or how about Composure + Empathy as a “gentler” take on the magic?
Practice: Weaving
Action: Instant
Duration: Prolonged (one scene)
Aspect: Covert
Cost: 1+ Mana, as amount stored
In addition to storing Mana in a way that is very difficult to detect (though it could be stolen with the application of certain Mind spells), this spell generally also gives its target fever dreams, unless the target is also an experienced mage of the realm of Mind. You are storing Supernal energy directly in someone’s subconscious mind, after all.
Harvesting the Mana requires the target to cast Channel Mana on himself, or to use an activation phrase that the caster coded into the spell (an unopposed Resolve + Occult roll, only one success required).
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this long and rambling post, thank you for your patience!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “Mage: Combined Spells, Part Two

  • samhaine

    Psychic assault isn't really any more permissible in Dresden Files than actual mind reading and manipulation. There's a whole passage in one of the novels where Harry, in fact, bemoans that it's illegal to even practice mental attacks as he realizes how woefully inadequate his mental shields are against a warlock.

    In DF, staying on the clear side of the laws of magic limits you to elemental kinesis of various types, divination, and enchantment for the most part.

    I just looked at the Time 2 prepared spell description. Once again, the design has kinda gone out of it's way to make something infeasible even though it's technically allowed. Massive success deficit to hang it for any length of time, costs mana, and counts against your active spells on top of the opportunity cost to buy a random arcana just for one effect…

    Interestingly, in original Mage, hanging an effect was a Time 4 conjunction… but it let you set it up to go off based on a trigger and possibly fixed to a specific location. As far as I can tell, preparing a spell as described in Awakening was either not allowed at all, or, with a permissive GM, would be something anyone could do by adding a ton of extra duration with spare successes. And I don't recall there ever being a hard and fast rule on how often you could roll when doing a ritual.

    So there's that.

  • Harald

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post, SH.

    What I see is that we have a different approach to the game. Whereas you appear to have a very thorough understanding of the rules, I approach them from a more oblique angle. I cut my teeth on The Ascension, and hence I almost ignore many of the more crunchy bits of The Awakening. This can be said about two, if not three, of my players as well. The rest are new to Mage, and they've now become assimilated to our schools of thought.

    On XP, I've never used the Arcane XP's. Truth be told, I can't remember even reading those rules (I've probably done at least once though). What I've found, and this is probably due to the nature of my current chronicle, is that I want my PC's to progress faster than the rules recommend. I tend to dole out between 7 and 10 points per session, but I also tend to put expenditure-requirements on the players. The last such example was Politics, as I find that mages tend to lose contact with the "real world".

    Thanks for a good read, and I'm looking forward to more on your Mage game.

  • Shieldhaven


    I mention psychic assault here in that I'm not sure how you'd describe such an attack within the DF rules as anything other than a Spirit evocation, and Spirit evocations are "just" evocations. But sure, once you call the Spirit evocation a psychic assault, the White Council gets snippy about it.

    With regard to using Time to hang a spell, I'll disagree with you here. Yes, buying Time 2 is expensive – 21 XP for everyone who isn't an Acanthus – but 2-3 successes in a ritual context is not that egregious, since you're not going to go kick down your opponent's door until you finish anyway. The added mana cost is not trivial, though I'm recommending that no one bother with this before Gnosis 3 anyway, so that's 1 Mana out of 12. Finally, counting against your Active Spells is (frustratingly) not the same as counting against your Spell Tolerance. The limit of Spell Tolerance is something y'all have had to worry about; your limit of (Gnosis + 3) active spells is not, as far as I can recall. The phrasing of the rule for prepared spells on page 261 is misleading, as it implies that it counts toward both of these, but the reference to Gnosis rather than Stamina is pretty clear.

    Hanging spells to go off with a conditional trigger is described on page 151. You'll love it; you have to have both Fate and Time, each at 2.

  • Shieldhaven


    You've actually wound up with something only a little more generous than the Awakening rules would suggest for experience points. Arcane XP are just XP that can only* be used to buy Gnosis; that aside, you're handing out just a little more XP than I am.

    *excepting, of course, GM permission

    Having played with Arcane XP for awhile, the rules don't bother me, but they are probably an unnecessary complication. As far as I can tell, they mostly exist to give the very fragile mages a bit of help in chronicles that include other supernaturals as well.

    Thanks for posting your approach to rotes. As I didn't learn to play or run Mage by watching anyone else do it, I find other people's experiences with these rules particularly interesting.