Arcane Background: Occultism – Preview (Savage Worlds)

Savage WorldsBelow is an example, and a draft mind you, of what we are working on for the Dead Queens of Morvena adventure setting for Savage Worlds. We’re looking for feedback from Savage Worlds gamers about this setting. Is that you? Then check this out and let us know what you think in the comments below! Answer me this: would you use this?


Macha Curses the Men of Ulster (Eleanor Hull, The Boys' Cuchulai, 1906)

Macha Curses the Men of Ulster (Eleanor Hull, The Boys' Cuchulai, 1906)

Arcane Background (Occultism)

Requirements: Smarts d8

Arcane Skills: Hex Magic (Smarts) and Ritual Magic (Smarts)

Starting Power Points: 10

Starting Powers: 3

Occultism uses a combination of ancient rituals and obscure hexes to weave magic that can have powerful and long lasting effects. This is the magic of studied sages and wizards; that of clever charlatans and bards. The distinction between the two main aspects of Occultism, rituals & hexes, lies in mainly in the method of casting. Thus, there is a distinct spellcasting skill for each. Characters receive a d4 skill die in both Ritual Magic and Hex Magic when first gaining this edge but must raise each skill separately thereafter.

Ritual Magic

Rituals are procedural in nature. They take more time to cast, require a spell book, and usually require additional components beyond the spellcaster’s incantations and gestures. Rituals also generally leave a lingering magical “halo”, called a nimbus, on the things they affect. Each caster’s nimbus is unique too, making it possible (but not easy) to discover who cast the ritual long after it was completed with spells like Detect Arcana.

Ritual Magic is the required skill wizards use to cast rituals. Each ritual requires that the caster must know the ritual, have their spell book on hand, and use the material components listed in the ritual’s trappings. The skill roll to cast a ritual is made at the end of the casting time, but the power points and the material components are used at the beginning of the ritual.

Ritual Drain: If a critical failure is rolled for the Ritual Magic roll, then the power point cost of the ritual is doubled what is listed in SWEX. If this results in draining all the caster’s power points to zero or below, then the caster is shaken and the excess power points are treated as physical damage that can result in additional wounds, or worse.

Spell List (Rituals): Armor, Barrier, Beast Friend, Boost/Lower Trait, Deflection, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Dispel, Environmental Protection, Greater Healing, Healing, Light, Puppet, Shape Change, Speak Language, Teleport, Zombie.

Casting Rituals

The casting time of a ritual is based on power point cost of the spell and the caster’s Ritual Magic skill die. For each ritual, divide the power point cost by the caster’s Ritual Magic skill die type and round up, then multiply that number by the power point cost and the Rank tier of the spell. The result is the number of rounds required to cast the spell

For example: Tycard the Invincible has a skill of Ritual Magic d8. He wants to cast an Armor Ritual that lasts 8 combat rounds. Simple: it costs him 7 power points and takes him 7 rounds to cast the ritual.[1] Later that day, he wants to cast another Armor ritual that lasts 18 rounds. This would cost him 17 power points and takes just over 5 minutes to cast (51 rounds).[2]

In another example, the witch Myrna has Ritual Magic d10. Her friend is in dire need of healing, so she decides to cast Greater Healing (a 3rd tier, or Veteran level, spell). The cost of the ritual is 10 power points but it takes her 3 minutes to cast.[3]

Hex Magic

Hexes are incantations or gestures that take effect immediately and rarely last more than a few minutes. They require no components, and the caster must only have a single hand free and the ability to speak clearly to cast them. Only the most powerful hexes leave behind a caster’s nimbus, making these spells a favorite among casters with questionable ethics.

Hex Magic is the required skill used to cast hexes. If either die rolls a 1 on the skill roll, then a Hex Mishap has occurred.

Hex Mishap: If the Hex Magic die rolled a 1, then a Hex Mishap occurs. Roll on the Hex Mishap table below. If a critical failure was rolled (“snake-eyes”), then the Hex Mishap roll suffers a -4 penalty. This is usually a bad thing, but with all the strange words and complex gestures associated with casting hexes, sometimes one hex’s failure becomes another hex’s success.

Spell List (Hexes): Armor, Beast Friend, Blast, Bolt, Boost/Lower Trait, Burrow, Burst, Deflection, Dispel, Elemental Manipulation, Entangle, Fear, Fly, Invisibility, Obscure, Light, Puppet, Quickness, Speed, Stun, Telekinesis, Teleport.

Hex Mishaps

Roll 2d4 plus the character’s Hex Magic die on the table below whenever a Hex Mishap occurs. For example – a character with Hex Magic d10 would roll 2d4 + 1d10 on the table below.

Die Roll

Mishap

2 or less

The spell backfires horribly. The spell targets an unintended target determined at random and its effects are doubled. The caster suffers damage equal to the power point cost of the spell and is shaken.

3 – 4

The spell backfires and targets an unintended target at random. The caster is shaken.

5 – 7

The spell misfires and targets an unintended target.

8 – 12

The spell fizzles and fails.

13 – 15

The spell fizzles, but the power point cost is halved.

16 – 17

The spell fails quietly but the power point cost is zero.

18 or more

The spell misfires, and costs the caster no power points. The GM chooses another spell from the caster’s available spells at random. This second spell targets at random and costs zero power points.

  1. 7 power points ÷ d8 = 0.875 ≈ 1 x 7 x 1 = 7 rounds
  2. 17 power points ÷ d8 = 2.125 ≈ 3 x 17 x 1= 51 rounds or 5m 6s
  3. 10 power points ÷ d10 = 1 x 10 x 3 = 30 rounds or 3 minutes

9 thoughts on “Arcane Background: Occultism – Preview (Savage Worlds)

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  2. Huh. Some interesting stuff going on.
    Questions:
    1) Why have two separate skills, especially since the character automatically gets training in both? What does having two skills bring to this background?
    2) Why the huge overlap in power lists? You’ve got 8 powers on both lists.
    3) Why does the Wild Die cause Hex magic to Mishap? And how does it mishap (see Observation A)?
    4) What advantages does Ritual Magic have? Why would I use it? It takes forever (being useless in combat) but it’s effects are still measured in combat durations. It still uses Power Points, so it’s just as tiring and troubling but it takes longer. Ignoring the exclusive powers, why would I want to use Rituals?

    Observations:
    A) If I roll a 1 on my Wild Die for Hex Magic then nothing happens. Yet it’s supposed to be bad.
    B) There are an awful lot of formulas in the text, and none of them have any sort of mathematical summary for easy spotting and reference. This strikes me as a bad idea.
    C) The caster’s skill die, already a key factor, is a major multiplier of effectiveness for this system. This makes it even more important.
    D) This is the only backlash I’m aware of that causes successful casting to fail. With AB(Magic), the spell can still work despite the Backlash. Not with Hex Magic.
    E) There are no guidelines on determining what mage cast a ritual. Just a suggestion to make it difficult.

    I hope this was useful.

  3. Sweet! love the feedback – this is exactly why we are going to start posting more “Crunch” in “beta” on the blog before it goes out to playtesting.

    OK – now to address your points.

    1) Why have two separate skills,
    The idea is to have two skills for the price of one Edge. PCs can skill up each separately depending on how they want to spin their training in Occultism.

    2) Why the huge overlap in power lists?
    Yes I know. The SWEX spells have a lot of overlap. Perhaps too much – but there will be a number spells that are unique to only one skill or the other (and by unique I mean AB:Incabhen Magic and AB:Miracles won’t have access to thos spells either). Those are forth coming.

    3) Why does the Wild Die cause Hex magic to Mishap?
    Perhaps a Mishaps should only occur when the skill die rolls a one. Mechanically, it makes sense and I see your point.

    4) What advantages does Ritual Magic have?
    There’s a version of Ritual magic in PEG’s Fantasy Companion. While I love that book – the idea of “rituals” being in combat seemed off to me. I should have been more careful in posting – it seems something was missing from my draft and the post that was in my notes. The DQM version of this does indeed make them take far longer to cast; but the advantages are that
    a) spells can’t be disrupted by damage or other effects (except for Dispel Magic);
    b) Ritual spells have no rank requirement and wizards are not required to spent “New Power” edge to learn them (i.e. any wizard can cast any ritual they find, so long as they have the power points to cast them; Novice wizards should probably be limited to one Novice rank ritual to start with though); and
    c) Rituals can be used for far more complex magical effects (enchanting magical items; binding a demon; creating a pocket dimension).
    These reasons (which I should have spelled out) coupled with a set of unique spells will give PCs reason to skill up.

    Now.. the observations:

    A) If I roll a 1 on my Wild Die for Hex Magic then nothing happens. Yet it’s supposed to be bad.
    Yes. This should be changed to just the skill die. A critical failure effect still applies for snake eyes though.

    B) There are an awful lot of formulas in the text, and none of them have any sort of mathematical summary for easy spotting and reference. This strikes me as a bad idea.
    Thinking about this from someone elses POV – I may agree. Having formulas probably is the next best thing to a simpler system (which I’m open to suggestions). The “formula” is in this text:

    For each ritual, divide the power point cost by the caster’s Ritual Magic skill die type and round up, then multiply that number by the power point cost and the Rank tier of the spell. The result is the number of rounds required to cast the spell.

    But I suppose I could have also added something like: RoundUp( PPC / DIETYPE ) * PPC * RANK. Where PPC is power point cost of the spell, DIETYPE is the Ritual Casting skill die, and RANK is the numerical value of the spell’s rank (Novice = 1, Season = 2, and so on). This could be reduced to (RANK * PPC^2 ) / DIETYPE – but the results are different without the rounding up of the first term (they result in faster caster times actually without the rounding). Funny thing is that Savage Worlds’ motto of Fast, Furius and Fun is one of my big draws to the game system; and “slow, math skills required” may be something that bumps up against this, but among the gamers I hang with this sort of thing is not a turn off. Rituals are the type of thing that PCs would be casting all the time anyway.

    In any case, the goal was to create a system where the casting time would reflect the PP cost and be a function of the rank and the characters skill level. Since all rituals are available to the wizard of any level – high rank rituals should take a LONG time – thats the point. Perhaps there’s a simpler version? I’m open to suggestions. (BTW – professionally speaking – I’m a scientist by training so sometimes I tend to complicate matters needlessly. LOL).

    C) The caster’s skill die, already a key factor, is a major multiplier of effectiveness for this system. This makes it even more important.
    Yes.

    D) This is the only backlash I’m aware of that causes successful casting to fail. With AB(Magic), the spell can still work despite the Backlash. Not with Hex Magic.
    AHA! That’s an EXCELLENT observation. I’ll change that. Failure or success should be determined by the skill dies only, not the Mishap.

    E) There are no guidelines on determining what mage cast a ritual. Just a suggestion to make it difficult.
    I left this out of the post here for brevity. I didn’t want to kick the wordcount up too high. The basic guidelines are tied to casting time – i.e. the COST of material components. Rituals almost always have consumable material components, and rarely have reusable “spell focus” items. I hope this makes it more clear.

    @ ValhallaGh : I REALLY appreciate your feedback on this. The Occultism mechanics will like be used for both DQM and Loaerth & Feywyrd – so we’re really hoping to work them out. Hope to see you around NMP’s blog again soon!

  4. Sweet, a speedy discussion!
    First, I’m glad to have been helpful.
    Now, further discussion.

    1) Why have two separate skills,
    The idea is to have two skills for the price of one Edge. PCs can skill up each separately depending on how they want to spin their training in Occultism.
    No, I get the “showcase which path you favor” aspect. I’m just wondering how this is a beneficial game mechanic. How is forcing the mage to advance two skills bringing the fun? Would it be more fun to make it just be one skill? I think it would but I’ll withhold judgment until I see it in play.

    4:a) Ritual magic can too be disrupted by damage. Knife the caster in the back, he’ll (probably) die and you have ended his ritual.
    4:b) That’s a compelling reason to use rituals and to seek out rituals from various sources. Further it gives GMs the option to use rituals as a form of treasure or quest reward. Nicely done. (I’d not limit Novice characters artificially; just say that they don’t have any ritual-only powers at character creation.)
    4:c) That’s vague. ;-) I understand, you don’t want to give it all away before you’ve finished writing the book. I’m okay with that.

    B) I’ve got a player in my current fantasy campaign. She’s generally poor at math after sunset, and even (d20 + attack bonus) takes her a few moments when we’re playing (and that’s not always correct).
    Not everyone has an engineering background, and even those of us with one don’t always want to be doing division at the game table. So reducing the math used may be a good idea (it factors into the Mishap table, which you seem to have overlooked in your reply – hint, hint; a starting Hex caster can be on 2d4+12, able to ignore most of that table even on snake eyes).
    The Ritual Time formula works well enough, but could be more explicit (even moving the examples to the text would be a big improvement, and probably enough). Part of my issue is that when I need to find it during play, I’ll be looking for numbers in the middle of the text-wall. If there are no numbers then my brain will skip right past the relevant passage until I buckle down to read. Which is not Fast, Furious, or Fun.

    This is a really neat idea and I hope that it works out well.

  5. OK. One more change. I believe what we’ll do is simply create a system for Ritual Casting times that are based on the spell’s rank. A simpler rule seems to work well.

    Power Points * Rank * 2 = minutes of casting required.

    This separates the skill die from the casting time, makes it much easier to calculate, and eliminates and “hard math”. A 20 point Greater Healing spell would take

    20 * 3 (Veteran rank spell) * 2 = 120 minutes (2 hours) to cast.

    How does that work for you?

  6. That works well, I think. Much simpler, standardized (so easily corrected if messed up), and seems pretty cool.

    Bonus, it leaves room for high-rank edges that let you treat a ritual as X ranks lower for determining casting time.

    I still wonder if having two skills brings the fun, but I will trust you guys to playtest that and change it if it needs it.

    Best of luck, and I’m glad I could help.

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