((two things, before you get started...first, i'm sorry the tables are so shoddy. it looks much, much better in Word, and i'll send you a copy if you PM me and ask real nice. second, i introduced these rules to my group about a year ago and we've never looked back. it takes a few games to really get a good feel for them, but all my magic using players have loved these both for the feel and the flexibility that it gives them. it's nice to have concrete rules for leylines and places of power too.))
Every GM has seen the all-too common ailment of a bored magic user being thrust to the rear whenever combat erupts. Since combat sequences can consume a fairly lengthy portion of gaming time this often leaves the party’s spellcasters doing little besides reading and rereading spell descriptions or leafing aimlessly through various manuals waiting to take their turn. This wouldn’t be so bad, really, if it weren’t for what their turns consist of. Unlike a character involved in making skill checks or attack rolls, there really is no random element in most of the activities a spellcaster engages in. A spellcaster chooses the spell they wish to cast and then casts it. That’s it. The only dice rolling that really comes into play to actually cast the spell in most situations are caused by counterspelling and by the occasional concentration roll due to damage. Even when such a roll is required, the worst thing that can happen is that the spell fails to go off. There is no physical or mental toll taken, no price to pay (other than a now-vacant spell slot) for failure. All in all, most magic users (especially in a low-magic setting) have a very boring time of it.
It was with this deficiency in mind that a comprehensive set of rules was devised. The idea behind the vicious magic system is to involve a PC more deeply in the actual act of casting the spell. It ties the mage’s skills and ingenuity into actual, tangible results and breathes life into the otherwise bland proceedings. These rules apply a penalty to severe spell failure and take into account such things as concentration, mental and physical fatigue, and ambient magic levels surrounding the spellcaster. While they may seem complex at first, they allow for a much wider range of playing styles for GMs and spellcasters alike. These expanded magic rules allow a GM to apply concrete rules and effects to many situations found in popular fantasy literature.
Expanded Magic: Vicious Magic
Vicious magic is the term used to describe spellcasting that inflicts a physical toll upon the spellcaster. With the vicious magic system, spells that are improperly cast can hurt or even kill the offending spellcaster in addition to the possibility of failing to function as they are intended to.
When casting a spell, spellcasters must make a Spellcraft roll with a DC commensurate to the level of the spell. (see table 1-1) Success indicates that the spellcaster should roll on table 1-2. Failure by 5 points or less directs them to table 1-3. These two tables determine the cost of casting the spell (if any) in temporary Constitution points. The Constitution damage inflicted in this way is representative of the physical toll that channeling mystical or divine energy can have upon a spellcaster. Failure by 6 points or more on the initial Spellcraft roll means that the spell was not successfully cast.
Table 1-1: Spellcraft DC by Spell Level
Spell Level / Spellcraft DC*^
0 / 10
1 / 12
2 / 14
3 / 16
4 / 18
5 / 20
6 / 22
7 / 24
8 / 26
9 / 28
Table 1-2: Channeling Constitution Damage from Successful Spellcasting
Spell Level / Fortitude DC / Con Dmg+
0 / -- / -
1 / 10 / 1
2 / 11 / 1
3 / 12 / 2
4 / 13 / 2
5 / 14 / 3
6 / 15 / 3
7 / 16 / 4
8 / 17 / 4
9 / 18 / 5
Table 1-3: Channeling Constitution Damage from Unsucessful Spellcasting
Spell Level / Fortitude DC / Con Dmg+
0 / 10 / 1
1 / 12 / 2
2 / 13 / 2
3 / 14 / 3
4 / 15 / 3
5 / 16 / 4
6 / 17 / 4
7 / 18 / 5
8 / 19 / 5
9 / 20 / 6
*It is recommended that for the purposes of this check the Spellcraft skill be considered a Charisma-based skill for Sorcerers and Bards and that the Knowledge: Religion skill be substituted for Spellcraft in the case of divine spellcasters (including Druids).
^The DCs for this check were chosen to try to maintain a similar difficulty level for new spells as the caster gains in level. This means that a 1st level mage should have about the same chance of casting a 1st level spell as a 20th level mage would have casting a 9th level spell.
+This temporary Constitution damage is only suffered if the corresponding Fortitude save is failed. Constitution lost to spellcasting returns at a rate of 1 point per hour of rest.
Critical successes and failures during spellcasting
If a natural 20 is rolled on table 1-1 the spellcaster is considered to have completed the spell in question with an uncommon degree of success and a number of effects come into play. First, apply a +2 bonus to any rolls made to beat spell resistance with this casting of this spell. This +2 bonus applies for the duration of the spell. Second, treat the spell as if it were either Empowered, Enlarged, Extended, or Heightened depending on the effect that the spellcaster was trying to achieve. As a general rule, damaging spells should be Empowered, defensive spells Extended, etc. Never apply more than one of these effects as a result of a natural 20. If the spell in question was already cast with one of these metamagic feats applied, choose another from the list above.
If a natural 1 is rolled on table 1-1 the spellcaster is considered to have completely botched the spell in question, which can lead to potentially disastrous results. The GM should be creative (but not necessarily malicious) when applying this result. As a general rule, the spell in question should have an effect almost completely reversed from its intended use. Note that this rule says that the effect should be the opposite of the intended result of the spell and not the opposite of the spell itself. This means that a mage casting a Grease spell on a Cliffside to hinder pursuers climbing towards him would facilitate their climb instead. (Common sense should be applied in these cases, however, as a failed Fireball or similar effect will not heal its intended targets.) Another thing GMs should keep in mind when applying this result is that a divine spellcaster on especially good terms with his or her deity may be given a certain amount of leniency the first few times this result comes up as the cleric’s patron is unlikely to facilitate the death (or worse) of a trusted worshipper because of a single misremembered prayer…a series of them, however, could prove even more disastrous for a divine spellcaster than an arcane one. (Deities are far more likely to feel slighted or abused than the fabric of magic itself will…)
Critical successes and failures during channeling
If a natural 20 is rolled on table 1-2 or 1-3, the spellcaster is considered to have done an exceptional job of channeling the energies required by the spell. This allows the spellcaster to recover more quickly from Constitution damage suffered by previous spellcasting. The spellcaster is able to recover up to 1d2-1 points of Constitution per level of the spell that was cast. (This means that 0 level spells lack the energy required to rebuild a spellcaster’s reserves of energy.) Any Constitution points gained through this effect apply ONLY to Constitution damage due to spellcasting. This effect will not heal Constitution damage caused by spells, poisons, or any other effect other than spellcasting.
If a natural 1 is rolled on table 1-2 or 1-3 the spellcaster has completely lost control of the energies coursing through his body. The spell is cast as normal (as long as the roll on Table 1-1 succeeded), but the Constitution damage listed for the spell is doubled for this casting. This means that a wizard who rolls a natural 1 on table 1-2 while casting a 9th level spell will suffer 10 points of temporary Constitution damage.
Constitution loss due to spellcasting
Constitution lost to spellcasting is treated differently than ordinary Constitution damage. Constitution damage from spellcasting never results in hit point loss. A spellcaster reduced to 0 Constitution from spellcasting may fall unconscious, but will not be killed until his Constitution score falls to –5 from spellcasting. A spellcaster may attempt to remain conscious even after reaching 0 or fewer Constitution points by making a Will save with a DC equal to 20 plus one for each previous save. (The first round is a DC 20 save, the second is a DC 21, etc.) Failing any one of these checks results in immediate unconsciousness. Note that this rule ONLY applies to Constitution damage from spellcasting. If Constitution damage dealt by a poison drops the spellcaster below 0 it kills him just like it would any other character.
Constitution points lost to spellcasting recover at a rate of 1 point per hour of light activity (walking, riding a horse at a gentle pace, doing research, etc.) and at a rate of 2 points per hour of sleep.
Modifiers to Spellcraft DCs
DMs are encouraged to be creative (and fair) when applying modifiers to a Spellcraft or Knowledge: Religion check. This can be a great way to get a player more involved in the actual effects he is trying to create with his character. If a player is trying to launch a Fireball between two of his companions into a group of enemies it’s perfectly reasonable to raise the DC of the Spellcraft check by 2 or 3 points. Similarly, if a spellcaster spends the round before casting the spell making a Concentration check specifically to prepare for the spell, feel free to apply a bonus to his or her roll based upon the success of the Concentration check. (Some suggested modifiers to the Spellcraft roll have been listed below.)
-Concentrate check made during previous round: +1 per 5 points on the check
-Casting a spell past a companion in close quarters: -3 per obstructing character
-Casting defensively: -4
-Excluding a target from an area effect spell (Entangle, Evard’s Black Tentacles, etc.): -3 per person or object excluded
Expanded Magic: Above and Beyond
Oftentimes a spellcaster is capable of wielding enormous mystical strength during times of stress that he or she would otherwise not be able to control. By exercising their willpower these extraordinary magic users are able to push themselves beyond their normal physical limitations and access powers currently beyond their reach.
Spellcasters may attempt to apply any metamagic feat (even ones they have not learned to apply via the normal means) to a spell while they are casting it without raising the spell’s effective level. This powerful ability takes a heavy physical toll upon the spellcaster attempting to utilize it. First, for every metamagic feat applied to a spell using this ability the magic user automatically suffers 1 point of temporary Constitution damage which cannot be saved against. Second, each metamagic feat applied to the spell increases the Spellcraft DC of the spell by 5. Finally, if the level of the spell after the metamagic feats are applied to it is a higher level than one that the spellcaster could normally cast the spellcaster suffers 2 additional points of Constitution damage per level of difference between the spell’s modified level and the highest level of spell that he can cast. Any damage dealt through the use of this ability represents uncontrolled energy coursing through the spellcaster that he or she would normally not be able to wield and cannot be saved against. Also, this damage is in addition to any damage the spellcaster may suffer for failing the appropriate Fortitude save for this spell.
For example, if a 5th level Wizard applied the Heighten metamagic feat to a 3rd level spell (raising the spell’s effective level to 4th) he would automatically suffer 1 point of Constitution damage (for applying 1 feat to the spell) plus 2 additional points (the difference between the spell’s effective level of 4th and a 5th level Wizard’s highest spell level of 3rd is 1, which is 2 points) and would increase the Spellcraft DC of the spell by 5 points (for applying 1 feat to the spell.)
Note that the use of this ability should in no way affect the normal use of metamagic feats. A spellcaster may still apply metamagic feats in the normal manner and suffer no ill effects other than raising the effective level of the spell for purposes of determining which spell slot is used up during the casting.
Expanded Magic: Leylines and Places of Magic*
Leylines are like rivers of mystical energy flowing across the surface of the planet and throughout portions of its interior. Places where leylines cross are called nodes or nexi or any number of other things by spellcasters the world over and are, at the risk of stretching the metaphor, lakes of mystical energy. (For simplicity, this section will refer to all such places as leylines since the same rules apply in each case.) The energies present at leylines can be called upon by even an unskilled spellcaster to produce mighty effects normally beyond their abilities.
Leylines and power ratings
Leylines have a power rating of anywhere from 0 (a normal, nonmagical place) to +5 (a truly legendary site). Similarly, there are places that are inherently un-magical that are rated anywhere from 0 to –5 (a place where reality is extremely difficult to manipulate). This power rating can be applied in several ways to enhance (or detract from) the spellcasting abilities of anyone within the area of effect of such a place. When two or more leylines intersect the node that is formed has a power rating equal to the sum of the leylines at the intersection. Thus, if two +3 leylines cross the node at their intersection has a rating of +6, two –3 leylines would result in a –6, and a +3 crossing a –3 would produce a node with a rating of 0.
Universal rules for leylines
Any area with a power rating other than 0 applies its rating to any Spellcraft or Knowledge: Religion roll as a bonus or penalty (depending on the rating) made within its area of effect. This is a constant effect that cannot be suppressed or circumvented in any way.
Fortitude saves made within an area with a power rating other than 0 receive no bonus or penalty; however, positive magic areas are capable of absorbing an amount of Constitution damage equal to their rating when a Fortitude save is failed. Conversely, negative magic areas inflict an additional amount of Constitution damage equal to their power rating when a Fortitude save is failed. This is also a constant effect that cannot be suppressed or circumvented in any way.
When used in conjunction with the “Above and Beyond” rules presented earlier in this section these rules allow spellcasters to attempt feats normally far beyond their grasp.
Preparation-based arcane spellcasters and leylines
Wizards and other “learned magic” arcane spellcasters generally draw upon the environment more heavily than spontaneous casters do. These types of spellcasters treat all positive magic areas as being 1 point higher than its actual rating because they are more attuned to the ebb and flow of external magical energies than their counterparts. (ex: Treat a +3 as a +4) The downside to this is that they find it harder than others to draw upon mystical energy in negative magic areas. This means they treat negative magic areas as having a rating 1 point lower than it actually does. (ex: Treat a –3 as a –4) Areas with a 0 rating are still treated as being a 0.
Spontaneous arcane spellcasters and leylines
Sorcerers and other spontaneous spellcasters draw upon a well of inner strength to accomplish their mystical feats rather than draining their surroundings of power. These spellcasters treat negative magic areas as having a rating 1 point higher than their listed rating. (ex: treat a –3 as a –2) The downside of this is that they are slightly less capable than other spellcasters at taking advantage of ambient magical energy. All positive magic areas are treated as being 1 point lower than its listed rating for these spellcasters. (treat a +3 as a +2) Areas with a 0 rating are still treated as being a 0.
Divine spellcasters and leylines
Such places affect divine spellcasters slightly differently than arcane spellcasters. Rather than the ambient magical energies being what influence the spellcaster, it is their affect upon the environment that grants the divine spellcaster bonuses or penalties. In positive magic areas the rules that govern the world are slightly more flexible, allowing divine spellcasters much freer access to their patron. Negative magic areas have exactly the opposite effect, reinforcing the rigidity of reality and making contact much harder to achieve and maintain. Divine spellcasters treat all areas as being their listed power rating.
*These leyline rules also work exceptionally well to describe the effects of such mystical events as planetary conjunctions, eclipses, and the like.