Sleepless Nights: Magic House Rules (2 of 2)

In yesterday’s post, I looked at how spells and the Ritual Magic skill work in Sleepless Nights. Today, I’m expanding on that, checking out two other major supporting skills, Symbol Drawing and Thaumatology, and a couple of more minor ones.


3                  Spell-Supporting Skills (Continued)

3.1              Symbol Drawing

Drawing magical symbols aids in casting a spell by focusing the magician’s mind. Before casting, the magician spends 10 seconds drawing the appropriate symbols; on a success, he or she gets half the margin of success (min. +1) as a bonus to the subsequent Ritual Magic roll (if any). If the magician has spent 4 or more character points on the spell, the bonus applies also to the casting roll itself. Extra Time and Haste (p. B346) apply to the Symbol Drawing roll, both for this roll and the options below.

Normally, symbols are drawn on a permanent, rigid surface, using either sacrificial blood or special inks and dyes. In addition to spell-specific symbols, a magician can create a magic circle or a Decanic sigil. Magery gives +1/level to Symbol Drawing, just like it does to spells and Thaumatology.

3.1.1         Magic Circle

There is another use for Symbol Drawing: making a magic circle. Inside his or her circle, a caster gets the Symbol Drawing bonus (+1 or half the margin of success) to all Ritual Magic and casting rolls, as well as resistance rolls against all supernatural powers, for as long as he or she stays inside it. This bonus is cumulative with the bonus for the normal use of Symbol Drawing, above, and independent of the number of character points invested in any given spell used.

Drawing the circle requires 10 seconds per yard of diameter (minimum 1 yard). Multiple magicians can collaborate on a magic circle, but all must succeed on their rolls; use the highest margin of success, +1 for each additional successful magician, to determine the bonus.

If the magic circle is erased or tampered with in any way, it loses its potency. The magician can resist any magical attempt at tampering with Will + Magery. If the magician exits the circle, he or she may make a Will-based Symbol Drawing roll to reactivate it on returning. On a failure, the circle becomes inert, but on a success, the bonus is retained. The magician suffers -1 to the roll for an absence longer than one minute, and -2 for an hour or more; for a longer absence, use Long-Distance Modifiers (p. B241), substituting days for miles.

3.1.2         Decanic Sigils

Each of the 36 Decans (Thaumatology, pp. 248-252) has a particular sigil, a complex symbolic representation of the Decan. A wizard with both Symbol Drawing and Thaumatology at level 12 or higher can attempt to draw such a sigil. This requires an hour and a Symbol Drawing roll at -4. On a success, the wizard creates a powerful focus for the energies of the decan in question. Each sigil can be learned as an Average technique, and raised from -4 (default) to +0 (maximum). Using an appropriate decanic material or color for drawing grants a bonus from +1 to +3 to this roll.

Casting a spell of the decan’s college in the presence of the sigil, or at any subject in its presence, receives a +4 bonus; any spell from a different college that nevertheless partakes in a significant way of the decan’s domain receives half this bonus. The sigil works for everyone, not just the one who draws it, because it focuses supernatural energies rather than the magician’s mind. The number of character points in a spell is also irrelevant. If distance from the sigil becomes an issue, apply the Range penalty from the Size and Speed/Range table to the casting roll, but only to offset the sigil bonus.

A typical sigil is anywhere from one to six feet across, but a wizard can try to create a smaller or larger one. A small sigil is easier to conceal, whereas a larger one is more powerful. Apply a -1 penalty to the Symbol Drawing roll for each inch of diameter below 12; one inch is the minimum size, for an additional -11. For a sigil over 2 yards, apply the penalty from the Speed/Range column of the Size and Speed/Range Table, p. B550, and increase the time required in proportion to the diameter. The sigil’s bonus is increased by the number in the Size column of the same table for the diameter. For example, a 10-yard sigil takes 5 hours and a Symbol Drawing roll at -9 (-4 for the technique default, -5 for size), but grants a +9 bonus (+4 base, +5 for size).

Because too great a concentration of any one decan’s force threatens reality itself, a decanic sigil will spontaneously destroy itself, in a manner reflecting the decan in question and possibly imitating one of the spells it governs. This will happen in 1d hours normally, but in any place associated with the decan, a sigil will last 1d days, or 1d months for a particularly strongly associated location; in a unique associated place, a sigil may (or may not) last indefinitely.

It is possible to incorporate a sigil into a magic circle, in which case only the master of the circle can draw on the energies so focused. Skip the magic circle roll and go straight to the sigil roll; if it succeeds, the sigil circle is completed. If the magician leaves the circle, the sigil destroys itself and the circle immediately.

3.2              Thaumatology

Thaumatology reflects an understanding of the deep structure of magic itself, rather than the rituals and symbols magicians use to control it. This understanding, however, is necessarily incomplete: the theory underlying thaumatological study cannot, for example, explain the Laws of Sympathy, as potent as they are. For even the most accomplished thaumatologist, magic remains fundamentally a mystery.

A wizard can roll Thaumatology before the casting roll to enhance a spell, or to gain access to bonuses deriving from decanic forces. Also see Decanic Sigils under Symbol Drawing, above.

3.2.1         Decanic Bonuses

A wizard who succeeds in a Thaumatology roll before casting a spell may incorporate decanic materials in the casting, or make use of local decanic energies. He or she gets the corresponding bonuses (Thaumatology, p.249) to the casting roll. This is possible even with only 1 point in the spell.

3.2.2         Spell Enhancements

A thaumatologist can also enhance a spell temporarily, if he or she has invested no fewer than four character points in it. This takes a second of Concentration immediately before the casting (apply Extra Time, p. B346 for a longer concentration), increases the spell’s Cost by 2 (+1 to maintain), and requires a Thaumatology roll at -1 per +10% in enhancements. The wizard can spend extra energy to offset the penalty: 1 point per +1. Some enhancements warrant special mention:

  • Attack enhancements can be used on melee and missile spells; they improve the attack the spell grants.
  • Area Effect: One level is suitable for changing a Regular spell into an Area spell. Area spells effectively have multiple levels of Area Effect with progressively higher FP costs and Selective Area as well, but on the other hand, they only get a 1-yard radius for the base cost; these two can be considered roughly even in value, so +50% is a reasonable value. Extra levels to increase the radius of an Area spell are not available; just pay more FP.
  • Cosmic: a +50% version of this enhancement that permits the magician to ignore the Rule of 16 (p. B349) is available, but no other Cosmic options are.
  • Extended Duration is applicable, up to the +150% level with a suitable terminal condition.
  • Malediction: Spells effectively have Malediction 1; upgrading this to Malediction 2 and using the Size and Speed/Range Table, p. B550, for range penalties is equivalent to a +50% enhancement.
  • Reduced Fatigue Cost is not available: using spell enhancements is more draining than normal casting.
  • Reduced Time is possible, but only makes sense for lengthy spells, considering the extra Concentration maneuver required.
  • Reliable is ok, but only to offset additional penalties; it cannot raise the wizard’s skill level above normal, before applying any other applicable bonuses.

In all other respects, spell enhancements work exactly like temporary enhancements; see Powers, pp. 172-173.

3.2.3         The Thaumatology Roll

A wizard who uses decanic bonuses and spell enhancements on the same spell only rolls once. Apply the penalty for spell enhancements, but offset it by the total decanic bonus, to a maximum total of +0. With the correct decanic correspondences, expanding a spell becomes easier.

Example: Adding Area Effect 1 normally calls for a Thaumatology roll at -5, but in conjunction with a +1 for place and +2 for materials, the wizard rolls Thaumatology at only -2, followed, if he or she succeeds, by a casting roll at +3.

4                  Other Supporting Skills

4.1              Alchemy and Herb Lore

Alchemy or Herb Lore can enhance the magical properties of any material with a decanic correspondence. An hour of work and a successful roll improves the bonus a given item grants by +1. Alchemy works best on inorganic or purified substances, Herb Lore on organic substances in their natural state; take -2 to the roll for less suitable materials.

4.2              Autohypnosis

The +2 concentration bonus is suitable for ceremonial magic and any use of Symbol Drawing. An autohypnotist can also enter a deep trance: roll at -5 to initiate this state. On a success, you get +3 to all Ritual Magic, ceremonial casting, and Symbol Drawing rolls for as long as you stay in the trance. However, for all purposes not immediately related to the ritual, you are considered asleep. You must make a Per roll to notice anything unrelated, at a bonus of +2 or more for pain, loud noises, etc., and a penalty of at least -6 for any subtle event, like someone sneaking about, that would require a Per roll to spot when alert. You can resist attempts to wake you or being woken by injury or other strong stimuli, by rolling Will or Autohypnosis, whichever is higher. If you fail, the trance ends after 1d seconds. Alternately, you can roll Autohypnosis to exit the trance immediately. When you do exit the trance, willingly or unwillingly, you are mentally stunned.

4.3              Exorcism

Exorcism can be used to end any spell effect. Treat this as a typical exorcism, but the spell’s (base) cost stands in for HT and the caster’s effective skill for ST and Will, and on a critical failure, instead of a Fright Check table roll, the spell effect also affects the exorcist.

4.4              Complementary Skills

Any skill can serve as a complementary skill (Action, p. 5) for a spell, if it can reasonably be claimed to grant an understanding of the phenomena or entities affected by a spell. Academic skills are generally applicable: Zoology for Animal spells, Psychology for Mind Control spells, etc., but for any given spell, any number of skills might serve. Other spells, Ritual Magic, Symbol Drawing, and Thaumatology are not suitable for this purpose.


So, that’s it! Those are my planned amendments to the standard magic system. Since most sessions are probably going to include one or more one-shot supporting characters for drop-in players and those whose main characters are not yet active, I believe I’ll have opportunities to see how they actually play out – plenty of bugs are bound to be found, but I’m hopeful these house rules willa dd interesting substance to the game.


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