Thursday, March 24, 2016

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Subtle Sorcery


I had a burst of inspiration hit me (thanks O Lady Muse) over the weekend regarding the kind of campaign I wanted to run for my face to face game. I got my players involved and they're game for it. Originally, I wanted to run a full on high-powered supers game. Force blasts, people changing shape, full on Avengers. And eventually, I will get back to my "A-Team," but for now I've got something else in mind. Something that still ties in with the B-Team, but is so radically different it's akin to Marvel's Agents of SHIELD vs. Jessica Jones. They take place in the same "campaign world" but focus on different things. This is the kind of dichotomy I want and with my campaign premise for the "E-Team" I think I'm going to get what I want.

So, let's get down to brass tacks: How do you make Sorcery more "subtle" - that is, how do you give Sorcery a more "mystical" feel? Well, first let's break down what I mean by "low-key magic." Low-key magic in this context is magic that does two of three: a) takes a while to perform (usually a minute or more); b) relies on internal or external energies (or both!); or c) has a narrowed scope. This is part of the formula I think that makes non-Adept Ritual Path Magic so workable for just about any campaign with some modification. So to modify Sorcery to give a similiar feel, what would I do?


Time Is Not On Your Side
Sorcery can rightfully feel like fantasy-style battle magic thanks to how fast it can be used. The obvious choice is to use Takes Extra Time, Takes Recharge, or Preparation Required, but if you directly modify all levels of Sorcerous Empowerment then it takes a while to even do minor parlor tricks like conjure a bit of flame to light a fire (the Ignition perk) or stir up a breeze (the Air Jet perk).Probably the most reasonable way it to leave Sorcerous Empowerment 1 unmodified and then to modify all successive levels. A few examples:

If Sorcery is slow, but still fast enough to use in combat...
Sorcerous Empowerment (Takes Extra Time 2, -20%) [20 points for level 1 and 8 points/level thereafter]
If Sorcery is fast enough to be used in combat, but only once...
Sorcerous Empowerment (Takes Recharge, 15 seconds, -20%) [20 points for level 1 and 8 points/level thereafter]
If Sorcery isn't fast enough to be used in combat and requires concentration...
Sorcerous Empowerment (Immediate Preparation Required, 1 minute, -30%) [20 points for level 1 and 7 points/level thereafter]

Priming the Pump
Sorcery requires the expenditure of FP when using Known Spells or Hardcore Improvisation, but what if even improvised magic required FP as well? If Sorcery requires FP for even improvised magic ...
Sorcerous Empowerment (Costs Fatigue, 1 FP, -5%) [19 points for level 1 and 9.5 points/level thereafter]
Alternatively, if Sorcery requires you spend Hit Points instead of Fatigue Points a little more work is required. Firstly, the Sorcery modifier becomes -20% - not -15% changing the cost of most of the spells in the book. Secondly, Hardcore Improvisation costs 1 HP, not 3 FP. Finally, if even improvised magic requires you to shed bled then...
Sorcerous Empowerment (Costs Fatigue, 1 HP, -10%) [18 points for level 1 and 9 points/level thereafter]

Picking Over the Bones
Narrowing the scope is already covered in Sorcery, so I didn't bother with a heading for that - in effect most traditions like "Druidism," "European Witchcraft," etc. are probably worth between -30% and -40% for the Limited Scope limitation. For my own campaign I decided on a two-pronged approach. Since Aeon is essentially a supers setting I needed a plausible excuse for why the occult/supernatural isn't widely accepted by the public. The biggest reason is that folks who practice magic, are psychic, and so on tend to be private. This is a defense mechanism from earlier ages where they'd either get burnt at the stake or laughed off as a crackpot. What's more, unlike superpowers magic, psychic abilities, and chi powers have been around pre-TAP (the event in Aeon which seems to have brought about superpowers) and all but psychic ability can be taught. That right there was my in: magic can be taught. If it can be taught what about those with a "natural attunement" to magic? So, for magic-using heroes they use the standard Sorcerous Empowerment - they have a natural gift for magic that allows them to employ it quickly. For everyone else I've required Immediate Preparation Required (1 or 10 minutes) and/or Limited Scope. This allows me to use consistent systems that all have very different feel. If you were making Sorcery more subtle, how would you do it?

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