Ceremonial Magic in The Fantasy Trip – Part II

Ceremonial Magic in The Fantasy Trip

This is the second part of a two part series on ceremonial magic.

(If you have not read Part I of this article, please do).

Now that we have the foundation for ceremonial magic in The Fantasy Trip, we can put it all together. Part II of this series does just that.

How To Put It Together

The basic process for casting a ceremonial magic spell is this:

  • Cast any Scrying spell needed to isolate or find the subject.
  • Determine ST cost of the spell.
  • Add up the total ST available from wizards and assistants involved.
  • Determine DX modifiers.
  • Roll for success.
  • Determine effects–or backlash.

The first step is to cast any Scrying spell needed to find or view the subject or area affected. If the spell is to be cast near the group of wizards, Scrying would not be required. If the Scrying spell fails, then the main spell casting does not take place. If the Scrying spell fails badly enough that the GM lies to the player, then the casting would continue, with any appropriate bad effects. These could include a wrong target, wrong area, etc.

Next, determine how much energy is required for the spell, based on the spell and area to be affected. (See Part I).

Then, add up the available ST from all of the active wizards, apprentices and assistants available as follows:
– One wizard must be selected as the lead caster. This wizard MUST know the spell to be cast AND the Ceremonial Magic spell. The lead wizard can use as much ST as she wants.
– Any number of wizards may actively assist in casting the spell, but they must also know the spell AND the Ceremonial Magic spell. These wizards are all working together to cast the spell. They can lend as much strength as they want.
– Any number of wizards, such as apprentices, can also lend their strength through the Aid spell. These wizards do not have to know the spell, but are limited on how much they can assist the casting of the spell. These wizards can only lend 5 ST to the spell.
– Any number of willing observers or assistants can also aid the casting of the spell–chanting, holding candles, fetching ingredients, etc. These observers can lend 1 ST each, up to 100 ST.
– Each unwilling observers subtract 5 ST from the spell.

Add all of this ST up for the total amount of energy in the spell.

Next, determine the DX modifier for the success roll. Much of this comes from GURPS:
– If the total ST available is more than the cost of the spell, the lead wizard gets a DX bonus: +1 for 20% extra energy, +2 for 40%, +3 for 60%, +4 for 100%, and another +1 per additional 100% of the required ST.
– If the caster has an item from the target place, or a personal effect or part of the person who is the subject, add 5 to the DX bonus.
– For each of the wizards who know the spell and are actively participating in the casting, add 3 to the DX bonus.
– For spells cast from a long distance, use the following modifiers. Note: These modifiers are only available if the Scrying and Ceremonial Magic spells are used.

Less that 1/2 km: 0
1/2 to 1 km: -2 DX
1 to 3 km: -4 DX
3 to 10 km: -6 DX
10 to 30 km: -8 DX
30 to 100 km: -10 DX
100 to 300 km: -12 DX

Add all of these modifiers up to determine the final DX adjustment, then the lead wizard will roll for success. The more power involved, the better the chance for success. The further away, the worse chance.

If the spell succeeds, all ST is expended, all ingredients are used up and the spell takes effect.

What Happens When Everything Goes Wrong?

When large magical energies are involved, the risk of spectacular backlashes is appropriately high as well. When casting ceremonial magic, a 16 is always a failure, and a 17 or 18 is a critical failure. In either case, all of the ST is used and the spell fails. For a critical failure, roll on the following modified backlash table. Add 1 for each 100 ST used in the spell.

3-5. Spell fails completely. Everyone involved is stunned for 1d hours.

6-8. The spell succeeds, but the lead caster is wracked with pain for 1d weeks. These pains cause -3 DX.

9-10. The spell works, but it costs twice the normal amount. If there is not enough energy to cast the spell, a weakened version takes place using all of the ST available.

11-12. The spell succeeds, but all involved are stunned and lose 1 IQ point for 2d days.

13-15. The spell fails completely, and all active spell casters take 1d damage.

16. The spell fails entirely, and the lead caster dies spectacularly, with no chance for a Revival.

17. The spell fails entirely, and a demon appears, grabs the lead caster and disappears with him to Hell. This is final, short of a Wish.

18+. Spell fails and there is a spectacular magical explosion. Active spell casters take 2d damage for every 100 ST used. All others involved take 1d damage for every 100 ST used.

If these effects seem extreme, they are meant to be! Magic is serious enough–you can screw up and summon a demon–but large magics with huge energy levels MUST have high risks and penalties if they fail.

Impacts On the Game

All of this makes ritual casting required for any large magics possible–but increasingly risky as the power involved goes up. Large spells are extremely difficult to cast over a far distance, and adding wizards in rituals helps–but increases the chance of catastrophic failure. Only the desperate or the crazy would attempt anything that calls for that much magical energy.

The implication is that with enough wizards, grand magics can take over the “normal” processes in a given game world. The high risks in casting large magics should help limit that use. The Fantasy Trip is at its core a tactical-level game, and ritual magics bring magic into a higher strategic-level affair.

One way to control this is to put limits on how far a spell can be cast, or how much energy can be used. Trade-offs would have to be made: distance would have to be balanced against area size in order to get a reasonable success roll. Also, spells against individuals could have higher probabilities of success, with their smaller total ST requirements.

Another limitation on ceremonial magics is the possible limiting of the availability of the Ceremonial Magic spell. If only a small number of wizards have access to it, that would prevent players and NPCs from throwing monumental spells all over your worlds. I do this by having limiting it to only one school of magic (group of wizards).

That is a lot of information, folks. Again–sorry for the two-parter. I will summarize and post the rules in the House Rules section, without the editorial comments.

So–what do you think? Is this a smart way to handle ceremonial magics–or am I overthinking it? Let me know in the comments.

Marko ∞


  1. I like it at first blush. It covers the bases, though frankly, I think a discussion of each spell that can be cast this way needs to probably be had — how do the effects multiply under all that energy? Casting a seven-hex wall 300 km seems a bit silly. I know you addressed this earlier, but it needs to be spelled out (if you’ll pardon the pun) a bit more thoroughly in my opinion.

    One other issue (possibly NOT an issue to you for various reasons, but which positively leaps to the mind), is the use of “other” modifiers. For example, evil wizards are always sacrificing people to do these super-duper spells. Why is that? Is there some kind of either ST or DX bonus for doing so? And we can presume that sacrificing a virgin is somehow more useful in that context than sacrificing a perfect black bull or a cat or a rat would be. Again, why is that? Is the bonus greater (I’d think it would almost have to be, given the considerable risk run by sacrificing sentient beings)? Now, understandably, you may not want to address such issues — given the potential backlash (if you’ll pardon yet another pun) from your readership, but if we’re going to be true to the source material for this sort of thing, it seems like it needs to be addressed somehow. Does GURPS address this sort of thing at all? (I don’t have Thaumaturgy…)

  2. Thanks, Jeff. I agree–I started going down the rabbit hole of how to work each spell with a ceremony, and it started getting complex fast. I wanted to keep it simple, to be true to the spirit of the original rules, and not turn into the dreaded GURPS. I also was trying to have basic principles, and not artificially limit it to only a subset of spells. I agree, too–creating a 300km Wall isn’t really worth the risk… but a Death Spell cast from a distance might be.

    I also have no problems talking about sacrifices. The only limit on discussion I ask to not be hateful. To be honest, I forgot to add that in. It’s a great idea–I should have included that. And yes, GURPS Thaumatology talks a bit more about sacrifices (more than it really does about ceremonial magic). It gives a few suggested ways to estimate an energy value for a sacrifice: fixed rate (tax people would go crazy with that), size, level of intelligence–even character points. It also talks a little about some skill bonus coming from sacrifices (bribing of gods or spirits, etc.) The thing about Thaumatology is it is a guide for rebuilding a magic system from the ground up, not concrete rules.

    It’s a conundrum. how much to codify in rules and how much to leave to the GM/players? I knew from the start this was a pretty open topic to address, with a wide range of opinions possible. And I don’t mind that. It was to be more of a starting point for the discussion, not a definitive set of rules. As I post articles and other items I am always trying to walk a line of keeping everything as simple as possible, while adding value. This is a tough one to do that with.

    One interesting thing: I was going through the old Iron Crown Loremaster book, Spell Law. It looked more like a way for players to put together a magic system that they liked more than a cookbook one like in TFT. It was a little too complicated to just glance through and start playing–that’s what I liked about Wizard.

  3. Your point about simplicity is really taken — and VERY important. Like you, the appeal with Wizard was always that the system was simple, internally consistent, and very easy to use. Definitely you should want to keep it that way! As for each spell, maybe your answer is absolutely spot on; only an absolute idiot would go to all the trouble and take all the risk to cast a seven-hex wall 300km away, unless that was the only possible spell that could accomplish the ONE thing that you absolutely HAD to accomplish — in which case, it might be worth the power, risk and effort!

    Sacrifices. I spent some time puzzling over this one a couple of years back, and I came up with a few thoughts on it. One was that anything could be sacrificed, but for anything with an IQ or 6 or less, the ST received from the sacrifice was equal to the ST of the thing sacrificed. (But even there you might want to make an exception; otherwise everyone will run around sacrificing Slimes and Goos by the dozen.) For sentient creatures though, my original thought was IQ plus ST; but that doesn’t really seem to do the job — after all, the people doing this always seem to go to a lot of trouble to find the right sacrifice, and sentience really seems to be an important part of that, along with a couple of other “conditions” that might apply from time to time. (Gender? Maybe it depends on the Spell as to which one is preferred. Virginity? Also seems to be a major issue, though I’m not entirely sure why an Elder God (for example) should give a rat’s patoot about the victim being virgo intacta…). Still, if that’s going to be an issue, maybe there are some multipliers we can give.

    Ancient Romans thought it was really important for the sacrificial animal to be a “perfect” specimen; for example, they preferred a perfect and unblemished white bull for Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Maybe there’s some way to work that in too. Likewise, in Robert E. Howard’s stuff, the victim was always supposed to be beautiful, as well as V. Intacta, so maybe appearance (a 2-12 number in ITL) has some role to play, and maybe the V.I. condition is a mulitiplier for certain spells or summonings. Just off the top of my head, maybe the resulting Spell ST gained is = (ST + IQ + DX + Appearance) (x2 if virgin). And if you want to make sentience more important, maybe the formula is Spell ST gained = (ST + 2xIQ + DX + App) (x2 if virgin). Again, that’s just spitballing, but if you’re going to let sacrifices play a role at all, the ST gained should be high enough to be worth all the potential issues (someone sees you kidnapping the beautiful princess; guess how excited everyone gets over THAT little mistake?), that you’re risking by doing it at all.

    I’m almost sure there has to be a simpler way to do this, but I’m trying to think my way through all the factors first. Then you can sit down and figure out the brilliantly simple way to handle the whole thing! ;-)

  4. Oh. Maybe there should be something about diminishing returns in there too — otherwise, the local evil wizard goes around sacrificing whole towns full of innocent virgins to generate billions of points of ST… It’s almost like you need a logarithmic curve on a nomogram to figure out the potential spell ST! Of course, maybe the Rule of Five could apply here as well.

  5. Ceremonial magic is a major plot device for my current game. The Socerer-Kings used it to try and summon the Outsider and the current BBEG will be doing the same for the same reason. But it will remain a plot device. I do like the scrying spell.

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