The Septarch’s Tower, Part 3

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Floor U4 (Air Dorms)

Entry

The fourth floor is another visibility risk. Thick panes of glass or crystal seem to be worked haphazardly into windows on the tower. The panes are very thick and cloudy, making it hard to see anything outside. At night, light inside is visible from outside. The mage lights start to come up in arbitrarily arranged points, in all seven colors such that the total lighting of the room is even and white, but objects cast strange rainbow shadows. It’s not incredibly bright, but probably visible outside.

The floor wraps clockwise around some kind of central area. The shapes are seemingly random, tables that once were piled with scrolls are pushed into the corners with no obvious reason for their orientation, and even a quick glance around the corner is enough to spot a couple of small beds in a bigger nook. There are stains on the tables as if scrolls sat there for ages and then were removed; nothing obviously useful is apparent to a quick glance. It is hardly damp at all up here, so the scrolls might have survived… if they can find where the order mages carted them off to. The walls are painted in flowing, abstract rainbow colors, mostly in curls and more-or-less horizontal lines that look like currents of air.

When people do the rainbow dance from below, climbing the stairs, the tones of their passing are louder up here, though not blastingly loud. Likely, the denizens would get pretty good warning of people approaching this floor from the lower one.

Ducking back down the stairs cuts the lights, and spellcasters wielding a key can try different words for “darkness” in Magespeech, using a sufficiently commanding tone, to get them to turn off.

Inside

The floor continues in a clockwise spiral with furniture in a largely unfathomable arrangement. Though the feather stuffing of the mattresses has long decayed into dust with the periodic preserved stems, the fabrics still retain some shape and color (though one probably wouldn’t want to sleep in them) and the frames are in remarkably good shape. Similarly, all the tables are mostly intact. A good blow could probably shatter the ancient wood, but at least it’s not already rotted into powder. There might be treasure to be found by digging through the furniture (which would probably take about half an hour of careful searching or 15 minutes if the party doesn’t care about destroying these artifacts of an ancient time), but nothing is immediately obvious.

By the inner ring, it’s safe to light candles without fear of the light being visible. The murals of wind continue on the wall’s side that faces outward, but the wall’s side that faces the center of the tower are more pictographic. Done in an archaic style (think Egyptian tomb paintings or Bayeux Tapestry; no perspective), it seems to be pictures of mages performing some kind of ritual, possibly in the light of the oddly shaped windows on the outer wall of this floor.

In the center, a large ritual circle is carved into the floor, with two smaller circles to the north and east. To magic detection, they are inactive, but still potent permanent summoning circles. The easternmost table on the inner ring contains a few hastily hand-bound folios seemingly comprised of pieces of salvaged scrolls, and a note on top in Salome’s handwriting (this one not water damaged to any meaningful extent).

One folio contains a primer that explains the murals on the wall (how to attune to Air), while one contains what seems to be treatises that could be used to learn some air-related spells and rituals (up to 3rd level). Both will take some time to decipher, since they’re in a combination of Ancient Imperial and Magespeech, and would be somewhat alien to modern understanding of magic.

Air Dorms Note

The scrolls here were much better-preserved, but more obviously simply missing. It is likely they were the easiest to flee with. I believe the top floor was what was referred to as the Sky Road. They would use the massive circle to call up air elementals and bind them to service. With the help of the elemental and crude gliding apparati detailed in some of the scrolls, they could safely leap from the bays in the tower and travel great distances by air. I do not believe this was true flight, particularly for the more portly of magi, but they could likely travel miles for every foot they fell, and do so at great speed. A very effective way to get around indeed. This is likely how most of the remaining magi fled.

As with the fire dorms, there were ample primers to assemble a completed copy of instructions of the introductory binding technique to air. Their operative understanding of air was its elasticity, and the cantrip seems to impart a way to draw in the nearby air (possibly depriving those that need it for their breath) and then release it in an explosion of wind. Not as exciting as summoning up fire, but possibly more versatile for everyday uses.

Unlike the fire mages, there seem to be no hidden or locked areas, beyond the annoying puzzle to get to this level. I believe I’ll check below next.

Salome

Of all the cantrips, this one sounds the most useful. I believe I will learn it, and ideally pass it on to others in the Order. It could be incredibly useful for certain problems of mechanical optimization.

As with the previous floor, I will store the more advanced texts in the library room I have cleared below. I don’t know what Salome was thinking, simply leaving such things lying around.

Hieronymus

Air Bonding Cantrip (Int)

Air is elastic and compressible. This cantrip allows the caster to attract nearby air and compress it into a small orb, then release it slowly or explosively. This can starve air from a sealed room, save air for a trip underwater, knock back a target, or propel a projectile.

The caster can only maintain a single orb of air at a time, and doing so makes it impossible to cast new cantrips, spells, or rituals, or maintain any existing effects that require major concentration. The normal application saves enough air to empty a cube five feet on a side, provide eight hours of breathing, force a target to save or be knocked down or back, or provide standard damage to a projectile. The cantrip can be cast and thrown at a target as a single action, but all other actions require the cantrip to be cast on one round and then used for other purposes on the next (e.g., one round to cast and load a firearm, then the next to fire it).

By taking a penalty to the casting roll, the caster may compress more air. For each -3 penalty, the caster empties an additional five-foot cube, which provides an extra eight hours of breath, or +1d6 damage (either from a projectile or if the target of a knockback impacts a wall).

(This cantrip is my answer to not wanting to allow gunpowder in my game, but to allow those that want guns to have a magic-powered equivalent.)

Search

A thorough search of the beds and tables turns up:

  • 39 cp, 173 sp, and 2 gp all of ancient minting, heavily tarnished, mostly crammed into corners under mattresses, but some fallen behind tables
  • A few objects of art carved of stone, mostly white stone and in shapes like birds and butterflies (possibly up to 200 sp for the lot if one could convince a collector of the provenance)
  • A thin, rune-carved stick of approximately a forearm-length in a delicate and slightly spiraling white wood that senses of magic (hidden deep in a mattress that had been cut open to hide it)
  • A castable scroll that had fallen behind a table where the order mages missed it, which seems to be a scroll of the Summoning ritual

Floor U5 (Air Summoning)

Entry

The top floor is completely open, with just corner pillars to hold up the roof. At nighttime, the party might have to shout down the mage lights again, because there aren’t really even walls: there’s a faint distortion in the air that seems to be the tower’s defensive field (and which had let neither bugs nor climbers in for a thousand years), but air flows freely and one can easily see city below.

A massive summoning circle is set into the middle of the floor, and ancient empty tables are haphazardly spread out and empty, save for scraps of leather, softwood, and fabric that might have once been gliders. The mage lights, if not shut off, are on the ceiling, mimicking stars.

This ritual circle makes it very easy to call up air elementals. The walls are permeable walls of force, which permit air to flow both ways and allow people to leave and attack from inside, but block travel from outside.

There is no roof access, though an enterprising climber or flyer could leave and climb to its flat top. There is nothing of note up there (save perhaps some nesting birds), and leaving makes it impossible to get back in without going back down to the bottom of the tower (hopefully there are still friends inside who can lower a rope).

Floor B1 (Cafeteria)

Entry

The first basement is even more humid than the entry floor. It appears to be the dining hall and kitchens. Everything organic and steel has turned to damp dust, and the party can make out the shadows of once-giant tables in the detritus on the floor. It may not have been large enough for everyone from the tower to eat here at once, but certainly in shifts. Side rooms were likely staff dining or meeting rooms, or maybe they had preferred seating for top students? The southeast room has some plumbing and holes in the floor, so may have been a large bathroom (which is convenient to meals but maybe not the most convenient for students on other floors).

Of the large kitchen, all that remains is a stone hearth and island with inset basins for cleaning, as well as shattered shards of pottery plates, mugs, and bowls in the dust off what must have once been cabinets. Searching through the remains, the party can find 75 sp worth of miscellaneous silverware, bent and tarnished. They don’t add up to sets and there’s not a lot of them, so likely someone looted the silver already (either during the flight, or one of the order mages) and this is all that went undiscovered.

In the Northeast dining room, someone managed to assemble a table from scraps and close the doors against the damp. A few decade+ old bags contain food that has long deteriorated and camping supplies that aren’t particular upgrades to the party’s own (and are also beginning to succumb to the damp). This seems to be where one of the order mages set up a command center. A couple of letters in a pack look to have been unsealed, read, and then refolded sufficiently to survive without significant water damage.

(Zacharias is the name of the former court mage of the PCs’ local Baron, who trained one of the wizard PCs and went missing recently. Lazarus and Judith were not previously known to the party, and are a quest hook. These letters likely need to be heavily edited to fit the context/hooks of any given campaign.)

Letters

Salome,

I appreciate the research you sent along regarding the water magics you’ve uncovered in the tower. It does sound like their conception of the uses of water are much closer to what we’d consider the more active uses of abjuration magic. It’s interesting that they saw it as a cleansing, scouring force rather than a source of sustenance. Perhaps they assigned the source of healing and life to the earth, which would track given their rather nonchalant use of necromancy: if you’re used to covering people with earth to heal them, it’s probably less inherently offputting to summon the dead forth from their graves.

Unfortunately, even though I’m now safely ensconced in nearby Heimbach, I do not believe that I can spare the time to help you research physically at the tower. I see a lot of potential in the baron’s second son, and hope to confirm that he has the gift and ease him into training early. As you well know, the children of the nobility can be difficult students if taken after they have a sense of their own importance. In fact, the town itself seems to be a confluence almost as interesting as the tower. We have fae foundlings taken in by the locals, motherless babes delivered to town by close-lipped warriors from the north, a golden-haired child that seems destined for greatness, twin scamps fostered from a storied line of nobles, and whatever secretive plans the old witch in the town has cooked up. I suspect in a decade or two, you may start hearing interesting things from this town.

Feel free to continue to send me correspondence as needed, and you’re, of course, welcome to stop by Heimbach if you’d like in-person counsel. If you have a current address for Lazarus, he could likely assist with the earth magics. I believe Judith retains her long practice of wintering in Grebenau, and her divinations would likely be of great use to you. The next time Magdalena passes through for a… visit… I’ll see if she has any insights. You would also do well to correspond with Hieronymus. He can receive mail via the Zedlitz, from whom he rents a tower. His research into transmutation may be relevant to correspondences between elements, and he’s a shrewd organizer of research.

Yours,

Zacharias

Salome,

Regardless of the fact that you have not yet encountered anything more than passive security in the tower, I must caution you in the strongest of terms not to enter the earth mages’ basement without significant assistance. From what you sent me, their conception of earth is not just a healing, nourishing force, but one of containment. I suspect it’s very likely that if there are any active threats remaining in that building, they will be locked away beneath the earth.

Not once in our association have you ever listened to my advice, but please listen now. I have set up a place in Overath, and am even now assembling a party to investigate the cursed city to the north. Come. Lend your evocations to our mission, and I will then lend you my own expertise and the might of my allies to investigate the tower.

With hopes,

Lazarus

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The Septarch’s Tower, Part 2

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Floor U2 (Fire Dorms)

Second FloorEntry

The second floor is pitch black, with no mage lights turning on on entry save for very dim crystals around the walls, enough to see where to walk. This may be a safety precaution to prevent giving away one’s position from outside, as each wall section has four arrow loops to the outside, likely for defense of the tower. The loops seem to admit air but they haven’t been an entry for bugs. Those that detect magic can see the protective magic surrounding the tower also shielding the windows, which may account for that.

The rooms appear to be contained within a C walkway around the shell of the tower. There are six doors, three of which feature a keyhole (The door to the blue summoning circle and the doors to the eastmost room).

If there was any adornment of the walls accessible from here, it was all in paint rather than relief, and has long since faded to nothing. It is noticeably less humid here.

A party can split up to body-block the four loops closest to whatever they’re looking at and still use a candlelight, but they will need improvised curtains for all 28 loops. If the loops are not blocked, any light sources on this level at night will be visible lighting up the tower to those outside.

Each of the door plates is engraved with a five-by-five grid of the letters of Magespeech (i.e., whatever language your game uses for magic; mine uses a Greek alphabet but Latin-sounding words). The three doors without keyholes look like they once had some of the letters indicated in chalk, but Salome or Hieronymus’ writing has worn away in the damp over the years. Likewise, there’s some mild discoloration in the indicated letters such that they might have been frequently touched by the original inhabitants. There’s enough overlap in the remnants that a quick search can make the party pretty sure the same letters were marked on each door, but it’s possible some of the markings have faded completely (and it’s not certain what the circles were meant to indicate).

Door Plates

This puzzle is to press the letters of the password all at one time. Pressing single letters (once or trying to spell out a password) does nothing. Pressing the wrong combination heats up the plate enough to deal 1 fire damage to the person touching.

A        B        C        D        E

F        G        H         I        K

L        M       N        O        P

Q        R       S         T        U

X        Y        Z         |         –

The commonly-used password for the dorms is IGNIS (which Salome worked out and tried to mark). The other passwords on this and the next floor may have to be brute-forced by the players, unless you want to include clues in the students’ notes. Suggested passwords for other doors are:

  • incendium
  • incensio
  • incensor
  • ardor
  • flamma
  • flammula
  • flagrantia
  • inflammatio
  • lux
  • lumen
  • iubar

IGNIS

The door leads to a carefully regimented dorm room, that all three of the unkeyed doors seemed to enter from different directions. If the party pulls the door closed behind them, the mage lights come on inside (staying dark outside). The lights are in a regular grid about head height around the walls of the room.

This room looks very regimented, with the remains of the student beds each lofted above a chair and table for study beneath (and high enough up that they’re shaded from the mage lights for easier sleeping). Only a few of them have crashed down from their lofts over time: the closed exterior doors seem to have cut down on the humidity significantly, so the beds and furniture are in reasonable condition for furniture that’s been in a dry environment for centuries. These beds seem to have been stuffed with a fairly course padding that’s decayed mostly to powder.

Emptied scrollshelves line the walls, and above them the murals in here demonstrate students doing rituals around glowing orange-yellow orbs (the flame orbs upstairs). Two additional closed and key-locked doors (with uncircled rune panels) are across from each other to the north of the room (making a total of five doors in this floor that are locked in a different style than the one opened). Owing to the density of furniture in this room, it likely takes a full party up to an hour to ransack this room for treasure.

Flame Dorms Note

On the bookshelf next to the west door, a stack of folios and a note from Salome sit (they are pages Salome assembled into some semblance of order from what hadn’t decayed on the level). The folios include a primer on how to attune to fire, and some lower-level fire-based spells and rituals (see the suggested spell list, later, using the level 1-3 ones). They must be deciphered from the Ancient Imperial and Magespeech.

This tower was sadly not archived properly. It’s hard for me to tell which scrolls were taken as the wolf mages abandoned the tower, and which simply decayed into nothing. I have not yet found any logs of the final days here, and I am merely assuming that the tower was abandoned with some haste but never actually conquered. Perhaps the mages were given an ultimatum to leave quickly, or perhaps they simply evacuated as the city was falling rather than trying to weather a siege. From what I have seen of the kitchens, they likely relied on the city for supply, so could not have been trapped long, even with their power. It is likely there were few of them left here, anyway: while there are many beds, I cannot imagine that dozens of magi would have been left in school as the war was going against the Northern Empire.

What I have found on this level, I have collected here for the Order’s later use. It is not much, and much of what remained was too ruined to read. I have tried to bind what was meaningful into codexes, and am beginning to draw some interesting conclusions.

While the Order’s classification places the arts of evocation and conjuration as neighbors, the magi of old seem to have seen no practical difference between them. Particularly as the wolves of this tower seem focused on the summoning of elementals rather than beings of the fae realms, they saw the arts as merely steps in the manipulation of greater and greater energy. In particular, the first codex I’ve assembled was made from surviving text from several identical books for the apprentices. It is likely close to a complete copy of the introductory text of the fire mages, used to explain the art on the walls. It details a method to attune oneself to fire, which they conceived of as the mechanism of causing objects to release their energy to the world.

I believe following these steps would instill one with a cantrip of Fire, which could be used as a bridge to understanding of the more complex texts in these books. However, the writings imply that elemental specialization was very important to their understanding of the praxis. Likely, attempting to attune to a second element would fail, or might even make it harder to use all attuned elements. I intend to look into the arts of the other floors before choosing a focus.

I have not yet been able to open the other doors. The others on this floor have keys, and may have different code phrases than the dorm doors, as must the doors in the floor above. It took me some burnings to puzzle out that IGNIS must be the code for this door. Mentions in what scraps I’ve found lead me to believe that the others are likely commands in Magespeech, but I do not have the fortitude to try too many at this time.

I believe that the other rooms on this floor are practice summoning chambers and possibly the Magister’s room. Those above likely lead to the fabled Flumes: legend says that this tower could blast attackers with torrents of flame from above.

Even such magics could not save them against the greater physical and mystical might of the Southern Empire, it seems.

Salome

I have taken some of the more advanced texts Salome left and stored them below for the time being. I would take them with me when I leave, but I must travel light and may find other treasures to walk away with. Besides… I am not sure Leberecht, my apprentice, is ready for the temptation they might provide him.

Hieronymus

Fire Bonding Cantrip (Int)

Fire releases Energy. This cantrip allows the caster to cause a flammable object to burst into flame.

The normal application causes heat to burst from an object that the caster touches, sufficient to instantly ignite cloth, paper, kindling, extremely dry wood, or the like. An unwilling, animate target may make a saving throw to dodge out of the way or otherwise spoil the casting. Against such a target, the effect immediately deals 1d4 fire damage, and burns for an additional 1d4 on your action every round until the target takes an action to douse the flame (or all clothing is burned away). A target can only suffer from one casting of this cantrip at a time.

By taking a penalty to the casting roll, the caster may increase the intensity and/or range of the flame. For each -1 penalty, the caster may affect a subject five feet further away, simply gesturing at the intended target. For each -2 penalty, the effect can ignite more difficult materials, and the damage increases by a dice size (to a maximum penalty of -8, which deals 1d12 and can ignite green wood).

This effect cannot be maintained to generate heat or melt a target over subsequent rounds: it simply sets a fire or does not, based on the flammability of the target, and subsequent burning is based on the available fuel.

Search

Performing a thorough tossing of the dorm, the party can find:

  • 65 cp, 28 sp, and 3 gp in ancient vintage
  • Seven small ceramic pots that are full of dust but still have a faint whiff of aloe vera
  • Three non-magical white pearls of sufficient size to use for spell components
  • A small, non-magical decorative dragon made of red gold, probably worth 50 sp just from metal value alone; it’s designed to hug onto a rod or staff
  • A steel key with a red gem embedded in the head that detects faintly of magic and looks like it would fit the locks on this floor (deeply buried in someone’s mattress)

(The other doors need the key and a different password to open.)

Teacher’s Room

This larger private room contains a bed and shelves. In addition to 400 sp worth of miscellaneous art furnishings too heavy to move (worth up to three times that to a collector of ancient Imperial art), a two-gallon covered steel pot contains a flame-retardant dust that can be applied as a body-covering to provide the wearer Fire Resistance 2 for eight hours, or used to extinguish a fire it’s thrown at (up to a 5 foot square; deals 2d6 damage to a creature made of fire). Each such use requires approximately a double-handful of dust, so there are approximately 30 uses within the pot.

Summoning Rooms

These ornate summoning circles are embedded in the floor, and provide a bonus to attempting to summon beings from the plane of Fire.

Floor U3 (Fire Orbs)

Entry

The third floor is dryer than the lower floors, and has no immediate exterior windows. The mage lights are almost blindingly bright after leaving the dimness of the previous floor. Some of the paint on the walls has survived, and they seem to be abstract murals of warm colors in shapes reminiscent of flames.

The floor at the landing of the stairs has a couple large burlap sacks of years-old straw laid out in front of them. The straw has rotted down to almost nothing, but there’s faint evidence of a human-shaped imprint in the bags, as if someone used them to sleep, feet pointing towards the upstairs. (Salome filled them with straw and was using them as cushions to land on while trying to figure out the puzzle stairs. The straw is now over a decade old and largely rotted.)

The immediate door has an identical brass plate with no obvious markings as to which letters to touch, but it has been spiked open by an iron nail that shows only faint signs of rust. The entry room and hallway both feature sagging scroll shelves that appear to have been emptied rather than just deteriorating. The wear pattern indicates that some were vacant for centuries, while others might have been emptied relatively recently.

The two doors at the end of the hall feature brass letter plates with no obvious clues, and no spikes. Perhaps the previous order mages never got them open.

The next flight of stairs has the first seven steps divided into three sections each of alternating colored stone, with the eighth step a whiter stone than the normal steps, all in one piece. (See Trick Stairs, below.)

Flame Orb Rooms

Each wall of the tower has a small room that is large enough to contain an enormous orange glass orb before an open archway. The archway is protected by a plane of force, but this does not protect against fire- or heat-based attacks. Anyone that knows the Fire Bonding Cantrip can use it to activate an orb and use it to blast a line of fire up to 300 yards away from the tower (or far enough outside the city walls to give a very bad day to a besieging army). This ray can be tuned to do 3d6 fire damage per round to a single target (Reflex save to dodge out of the way) or 1d6 fire damage per round to a 20-foot radius (Reflex half). This takes some experimentation to get right and is very visible from the ground. The orbs can also be tuned to just produce a focused beam of light that can be used to communicate visually with targets far in the distance, particularly at night.

North Rooms

These rooms were used for communication with the rest of the Empire, and contain shelves of observations and communications that have mostly faded to illegibility. Weeks of study by someone who speaks Ancient Imperial and has a good sense of geography could uncover some details about troop movements and strongholds in the ancient Northern Empire that might give clues as to ruins and battlefields to the north.

Statue Room

This statue appears to be a very tall wicker man, and the room is full of strange thorny growths. The statue is very dry and easily ignited by magical fire damage of at least 1d4, at which point it begins roaring from within with flame that deals 2 fire damage per round to everyone in the room. If not on fire, at the end of each round everyone within the room is attacked by the thorny growths: +5 to hit, 1d6 damage, and the attacks are Magical and Puncturing.

Those meant to be in here would light the statue rather than suffer the thorns.

East Rooms

These rooms seem little used, as there weren’t many threats from or allies to the east. The table contains a few old faded texts describing interesting celestial phenomena and cool sunrises.

South Passage

These rooms seem to be the focus of the defense of the kingdom, and include a mostly-preserved war room and many shelves for documentation. As with the north rooms, weeks of study with Ancient Imperial and a good map or knowledge of geography could turn up some interesting information about the final days of the war with the old Southern Empire and potential locations of battlefields and ruins.

Trick Stairs

Detecting traps reveals no explicit traps. The stairs are the same stone as the tower, but painted with some kind of pigment that’s proven much more durable than whatever was on the walls.

There is a faint musical note when someone steps on any stair segment. It sounds trumpety, and comes from above. (If any of the PCs have musical training, they can identify that colors closer to red are deeper notes and those closer to violet are higher, essentially playing a musical scale from red to violet.) The sound doesn’t appear loud enough to be heard outside the tower, even in the dead of night.

If anyone steps on the white stair (or tries to jump over it) without hitting the notes in the correct order, a discordant note sounds accompanied by a strong (but not especially loud) rush of air, shoving them back (i.e., why Salome had the cushions; with them decayed, the falling character takes 10 feet of falling damage without some kind of check to land softly or allies checking to catch the falling PC).

To get up the stairs successfully, a climber must step on, in order, Red -> Orange -> Yellow -> Green -> Blue -> Indigo -> Violet -> White (this requires some backtracking). The rest of the stairs up don’t play notes.

The Septarch’s Tower, Part 1

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For my Beyond the Wall game, I may have gone a little overboard in designing an encounter location. Because I produced well over 10k words, I figured I might as well serialize it here so others might find use of my over-writing. I’m including conversion suggestions for people running standard D&D or Pathfinder (as well as how to hack the story to better fit as a standalone).

Context

This started out because I grabbed and E/W flipped the map for Fallcrest because I needed a city on a river that the players would investigate for what I thought would be a session or two and I didn’t want to put much work into the map. Turned out there was a lot gameable there, and it became 5+ sessions of content (as well as a lengthy play-by-email in the upper tower). One of the things on the map that didn’t make a lot of sense was the Septarch’s Tower. The city was standing in for a town in my campaign’s northern empire, which isn’t too fond of any magic beyond their own pseudo-clerical type. However, the location could easily be built on the ruins of the former empire that fell over 1,000 years ago, and they definitely had mages. So it made sense to set up the place as an ancient holdover that the locals didn’t like but couldn’t get rid of.

Meanwhile, I had previously repurposed Baltron’s Beacon for an adventure in a swamp. Since that adventure features a teleportation artifact, and I was looking for a way to give my player characters an equivalent of a hearthstone ability (so they could swap out PCs between sessions without going home), I’d elaborated on the backstory. The mage that previously held the tower (renamed to Balduin to fit my campaign’s naming practices) had invented a teleportation device that worked off of large, enspelled keys. He then sent these keys to his closest wizard-type mage friends in the Order, before blowing himself up trying to finish the teleporter. At the time, this was a way to give the PCs quests to find some additional bind points: they started with two keys, which allowed them to leave one at their home base and take one with them on adventures. Having more keys would allow them to set up additional bases they could teleport to.

I decided the Septarch’s Tower would be an old, Hogwarts-style mage academy for training elemental war mages for the ancient empire (it was located near their border with their rival empire). It was heavily warded, so nobody had been able to make it in for 1,000 years, including the old enemies that sacked the town. Since Balduin had been studying the magic of that empire to get his teleporter working, the keys would also work to bypass the wards on the building. And, over a decade past, a couple of his wizard friends had taken advantage of that to slip in and try to loot this ancient stronghold of knowledge.

The two NPCs that made it into the tower are:

  • Salome was an evoker-style mage with a specialty in subterfuge and guile. She’d happened upon the tower as part of infiltrating the northern empire, and took advantage of her key letting her in. She was a bit too headstrong, and… well… her body is still in the tower from when she didn’t acknowledge she needed backup.
  • Hieronymus was a transmuter-style mage who happened upon the location after getting Salome’s letters and checking on her some time after her correspondence stopped. He started piecing together more of what happened in the tower, hid some of the better spells lower in the dungeon, and left to go get some help clearing it out (not making Salome’s mistake). Unfortunately, his apprentice, Leberecht, was a big jerk, who murdered Hieronymus before he could make it back. (The apprentice wound up as the evil mage who’s the main antagonist in the first part of Baltron’s Beacon: he was way more into the idea of a teleporter, and had taken the key there to try to get it working.)

I initially ran this as a between-sessions play-by-email game for the upper parts of the tower, so I kept most of the challenges fairly simple (even simple puzzles can take forever in PbEM) and didn’t have any combat to try to get as much as possible accomplished in the month before the next live session. The lower levels were then run live, so could have more involved rolling and combat. Also note that this means that most of the text below is in a more descriptive style, as it’s only lightly edited from what I sent to my players as they entered various areas.

Conversion Suggestions

If you’re running this live, I would add more creatures to the upper rooms (which are currently entirely safe except for some puzzles that deliver shocks for getting the wrong answers). Particularly as a standalone, it would be very easy to have Leberecht (Hieronymus’ apprentice) and his running crew here instead, spread out researching various parts of the tower and eager to attack anyone else after their prize. In that case, most obvious treasure has probably been consolidated in wherever they’ve set up shop (likely an upper level), and some of the dorm rooms have probably been slightly repaired to serve as camps for various research teams. Obviously, replace the verbiage and history to something that makes sense for an ancient sealed elementalist’s tower in your campaign.

Beyond the Wall uses a silver piece standard, rather than a gold piece. You may want to update the treasure to match (and, honestly, to fit whatever the recommended treasure is for your game and party level).

Outside

The entire tower is in the same meticulous stonework as other ruins of the old Northern Empire. This has held up much better than many of the other Northern ruins the party is likely to have encountered, and particularly well for the town. Those with the ability to detect magic sense that this is because of protective magics worked into the stone that are still holding strong. It’s around 100 feet tall, and the walls are a regular septagon with perhaps only a slight taper going up.

Around 25 feet up, each wall face has a set of four evenly-spaced arrow loops. At about 50 feet up, each face has a large, ornate arch (the titular seven arches) that seem to lead into a small room and shimmer as if glassed in. Near the top of the tower, one level has irregularly-placed glass windows, and the level above that seems to be completely open to the air, the roof of the tower supported on pillars in the corners (though, again, a shimmer indicates that perhaps it is covered with windows larger than seems possible).

Floor U1 (Entry Level)

First Floor

Entry

Once you enter, mage lights begin to appear from crystals embedded in the walls, casting the area into a faint blue glow (dim lighting). It’s likely that whatever powers them is beginning to weaken.

The crystals are embedded in carvings along the walls, which seem to have once been colored with paint that has long-since decayed into the occasional spot of color and strange, brown rivulets down the walls. Even without the paint, you can make out a common wolf motif, similar to that of the eastern side of the ravine dungeon. (The ancient summoners used a wolf theme in other dungeons.)

Though the stones appear to have been protected by magics, little else has. The air is damp, and that moisture seems to have ruined most organic and ferrous things within the tower. Even from the entryway, it looks like there might have been shelves and cloakracks that are now little more than piles of detritus where they once stood.

The ceiling is high (and will continue to be high on other floors, unless otherwise noted): perhaps as tall as 20 feet. Which makes the narrow spiral stairway to your left upon entry an imposing climb. It curves up clockwise and down counterclockwise. It, fortunately, seems to be part of the stonework and still in good repair.

The hallway ahead of you seems to dead end, but it does not take long to realize that several of the vertical reliefs within the murals are poor concealment for arrow (magic?) loops that widen on the other side (perhaps, when painted, they were better hidden). The rooms beyond are not lit, but anyone with low-light vision or who lights a torch or lamp can get close and scan through, seeing two small guardrooms where defenders could likely hold out against invaders. Each has a door to the north.

From the hallway, other than the stairs there is a door north and a door south. These doors (and, indeed, most doors in the complex) appear to be steel-banded thick wood, that no doubt is spelled along with the tower (or it would have long rotted away). They have no handles, but do feature brass touch plates where a handle would otherwise be.

Stairs Note

A parchment letter sits upon the stairs up, weighted down by a rock. It appears old, and has suffered extensive water damage. There are two sets of handwriting, the the lower set appears slightly less damaged.

Balduin, I don’t know if your key will ever work to teleport, but you indeed managed to attune it correctly to the old imperial magics. Which I suppose you know if you’re reading this. I’m investigating the tower, and have left notes as I go in case I’m out when you arrive. Be careful in town: the new empire is only getting more bold, and the city is already unsafe for mages of the Order.

Salome

I believe Balduin is dead, and I fear Salome might be as well. I’ve heard from neither in years. Anyone else that follows, be careful. I’m investigating the tower as well.

Hieronymus

Rooms

The doors in the level don’t appear to be mystically sealed. They’re on a vertical pivot opposite the push plate, and seem to be designed to swing in either direction. This is a style that isn’t much used, possibly because of the difficulty of preventing a draft, which may explain why there’s so much moisture damage in the tower. Perhaps long ago some magic actually sealed the airflow through doors. The doors are only slightly swollen, so it takes a little work to shove the doors open. It’s likely Salome and/or Hieronymus did some work to unseal them whenever they were here, and they’ve swollen less in decades than in centuries.

To the north, the door has triple brackets to bar the door from within, which gives credence to perhaps these never being mystically sealed, or at least the mystical seals weren’t strong enough to rely upon. The room appears to have been, indeed, a guardroom. Corroded ruins of weapon racks slump against the walls, and the lights in here cluster around the door, perhaps to give defenders some advantage of being in shadow. A couple of what might have once been spears seem to have had silvered heads (might be able to salvage 20 sp worth of value from the tarnished material).

East of the guardroom appears to have been the guards’ office. There are stains on the floor that indicate chairs, desks, or perhaps even cots were once in the room for guards on duty, but there’s only a few bits of organic goo left. Likely, Salome or Hieronymus cleaned it up out of disgust. The doors in here lead to the chambers with the arrow loops. Within those rooms, which are extremely dark, the party can eventually find 10 sp worth of silver arrowheads that have outlived their steel and cold iron brethren. On a more careful search, they also find two arrowheads of a strange, dark steel (Adamantine) that have held up very well, even still holding an edge. They were placed somewhere that was likely easy to reach in the easternmost room.

The room to the south was likely once a conference room, and the thick oaken table and bookshelves were sufficiently treated and varnished that they’re very rotted but still obvious in their use. The table has pitched over to the east and the side touching the floor is decaying into a wet, soft earth while the western end stays relatively free of the damp. Strangely, the “bookshelves” appear to have been designed more like honeycombs, with fist-sized tubes alternating up the length. In a few, a metal post* lies amidst decayed pulp, but if the rest of them held scrolls, their organic components have long since deteriorated beyond recognition. If there was anything else of value in this room, the previous visitors have claimed it.

* The posts are just brass dowels, likely someone making a fancy scroll core instead of using a wooden dowel.

Borrowing from Video Games: Spider-Man’s Sinister Morality

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This article contains fairly shallow SPOILERS for the main plot of the new Spider-Man game for the PS4, but that nonetheless cover topics up to the game’s ending. A lot of these are things that are likely immediately obvious outcomes to fans of the comics from much earlier in the game, but proceed at your own risk if you haven’t played the game and intend to.

The motivations for the antagonists in Spider-Man are a little muddled throughout the game. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me until the game finally stated its theme in one of the final cutscenes. I spent most of the game not buying the “he’s just gone crazy” excuse for why so many characters introduced as humanitarian philanthropists with deep ties to the community would suddenly start murdering civilians haphazardly in pursuit of their goals.

But then it all made sense to me when Octavius explained his point of view:

That’s because men like us have a duty. A responsibility. To use our talents in the service of others. Even if they don’t appreciate it. …we have to do what’s best for those beneath us. Whether they understand it or not.

(Emphasis added.) At the beginning of his value statement, Otto is quoting back to Peter what seems to be essentially, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And then he reveals that he has it precisely wrong. His morality is actually much closer to noblesse oblige: his humanitarian actions are because that’s how he demonstrates his greatness to those lesser than himself. Does he actually give a damn about innocents, or is he just in a competition with Osborn over who can be the bigger philanthropist/genius?

And from that point of view, the other major antagonists are the same: Mr. Negative pursues philanthropy in a very visible way but never even worries about putting those under his protection in danger, Silver Sable talks a big game about protecting the city but turns a blind eye to the corruption of her mercenaries, and Osborn never hesitates to endanger civilians as long as he can do it off-the-record. They’re all actually different shades of selfish and awful, but realize that their self aggrandizement means looking like benefactors to the public.

Which is, of course, the opposite of Spider-Man.

For Parker, responsibility trumps power. He’s never been rich, and, in fact, misses plenty of opportunities to do more than scrape by. He is not like the antagonists, who would never neglect their own desires to help others (but are willing to give some of their excess to the public). His morality is not that of a superior tending to his flock, but of a servant ceaselessly giving of himself to help others, even when they’re seemingly beyond redemption and at great risk to himself. In his constant need to offer second chances to villains he barely seems to understand revenge, much less consider harming others in pursuit of it. And where they are all lauded by the city for their philanthropy, Spider-Man has to win the hearts and minds of citizens he saves one-by-one, constantly labeled a menace by the press.

But, on paper, All five characters would happily agree that with great power comes great responsibility.

I wish this had been made clearer earlier in the script, because it creates an interesting resonance throughout the game. Otto doesn’t understand why Peter is willing to work for him for free. Mr. Negative doesn’t understand why Spider-Man keeps trying to save him. Sable doesn’t understand why Spider-Man won’t sit back and let her men handle the problem that they’re being paid for. Osborn just assumes that Peter will be working for him as soon as Harry’s back. None of them really understand the idea of casual sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good. But for lack of the object lesson that was Uncle Ben’s death, thus, too, could have gone Spider-Man.

So obviously this was mostly several hundred words of me pointing out how the use of theme in a video game was cool, but…

You can do the same thing in your own heroic games (superhero or otherwise). The important thing is to get a core, thematic value for your protagonists. Figure out a short statement that encapsulates what each hero believes, and which way they’ll go even at the moment of utmost crisis.

You can obviously then use this for a lot of cool stuff, but one use is hanging your major antagonists on it. Villains and foils the heroes encounter should agree with them, in principle, but oppose them in fact. Something about their morality is broken, even though they think they follow the same creed.

If you do it right, rather than obstacles to be overcome, your players will see their opponents as misguided potential allies, needing to be won over. They’ll see their enemies as mirrors/object lessons for what could happen to them if they misstep, and will hold out hope that, if they could just get through to the villains, they could become friends.

And, even if your players still murder hobo their way through your carefully designed villains, you can at least justify one of my other favorite villain-design strategies: the villain grudgingly respects or even outright likes the heroes, and that explains why the PCs aren’t murdered more efficiently as soon as they begin to interfere with villainous plans. Just as the heroes hopefully think they can win the villain to their way of thinking, the villains see themselves reflected in the heroes. Either they think they can win the heroes over, or they just like having people they agree with out doing heroic things (and don’t actually even understand why the heroes think they’re at odds).

The real trick is, of course, actually getting your players to come up with a core value statement. I tend to find that players that aren’t Fate fans or otherwise used to dealing in aspect-like traits have a hard time coming up with that kind of thing.

Ars Magica 5e: Rules Summary, Part 6

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Obstacles

Combat Scores

Each weapon (or unarmed attack) has four scores you can precalculate:

  • Initiative Bonus: Quickness + Weapon Initiative Bonus – Encumbrance
  • Attack Bonus: Dexterity + Relevant Combat Ability + Weapon Attack Bonus
  • Defense Bonus: Quickness + Relevant Combat Ability + Weapon Defense Bonus
  • Damage Bonus: Strength + Weapon Damage Bonus

For example, a character with Quickness +1, Dexterity +0, Strength +2, Encumbrance 1, and Great Weapon 4 (Pole Axe) is using a Pole Axe. That Pole Axe grants +1 initiative, +5 attack, +0 defense, and +11 damage. When using that weapon, the scores are Initiative +1, Attack +10, Defense +6, and Damage +13.

You can also precalculate your Soak Total, which is equal to Stamina + Armor Soak Bonus.

Basic Combat Sequence

Initiative

Roll each individual’s initiative once at the beginning of the fight: each combatant rolls a stress die + Initiative Bonus. Act in descending order of initiative for the rest of the combat.

There is no change for switching weapons later in the fight. Fast-casting mages might be able to act out-of-turn as per the fast casting rules.

Attack

On your turn, you can make one attack with a weapon (spell attacks are explained below).

Roll a stress die and add it to your weapon’s Attack bonus. Your target rolls a stress die and adds it to her weapon’s Defense bonus.

If the total attack exceeds the total defense, the attack hits. Add your margin of success on the attack to your Damage bonus, and subtract the target’s Soak total.

If the number is still positive, divide it by (5 + target’s Size) and round up: 1 indicates a Light wound, 2 a Medium, 3 a Heavy, 4 an Incapacitating, and 5+ an instant kill. You can also use the Damage table (page 171) rather than doing the math.

Suffering Damage

Each wound imposes penalties to most rolls, particularly in combat, and the total for all wounds is added together. Light wounds impose -1, Medium -3, and Heavy -5 (Incapacitating wounds immediately prevent you from continuing combat).

If your totals are high enough, you can take any number of Light, Medium, or Heavy wounds and still keep fighting. After reaching -3 and especially at -6, it has profound implications on movement and activities outside of combat. Wounds can also worsen after combat.

Groups

When managing multiple individuals, particularly fighting grogs, up to six individuals can be combined into a group for combat. Each individual in the group must be within 5 points of Combat bonuses of every other member (e.g., a group of 3 swordsmen with Damage +5 can’t add the pole axe wielder with Damage +11).

Choose a Vanguard for the group. Use the Vanguard’s bonuses for attacks and defenses (so the Vanguard should usually be the strongest fighter of the group).

When a group’s attack hits, count it as multiple attacks with the same total equal to members of the group (e.g., if there are 3 members of the group, and the final damage result is 7, apply three 7-damage hits to the target).

If a group is hit, distribute attacks as evenly as possible across the group, but the Vanguard cannot take fewer hits than anyone else. For example, if a group is hit by a single attacker, the Vanguard takes the damage. If a 3-member group is hit by a 4-member group, the Vanguard takes 2 of the hits and the other two members of the group each take one. Calculate wounds based on individual sizes (e.g., if the Vanguard is +1 size, but everyone else is +0, the Vanguard may take smaller wounds).

If a group has trained in fighting together (requires at least one season training in combat in the same location), the group can also choose a Leader (which may or may not be the same person as the Vanguard). If the Leader has a Leadership score equal to or greater than the number of people in the group, they get a combat bonus equal to Leadership score x 3 (technically, it’s a total of the non-Vanguard-members’ combat scores that cannot exceed Leadership x 3, but it will likely often be Leadership x 3). Each round, the group can choose to apply this bonus to either Attack or Defense.

If either the Leader or Vanguard is killed or incapacitated, the group splits back to individuals and can only recombine out of combat.

Groups can choose to defend one or more allies (the defended allies cannot be more than the members of the group). The defended allies cannot be attacked unless the defenders are incapacitated or botch their defense roll.

Combat Options

Combat options are explained in more detail starting on page 173.

  • Disengaging: Instead of attacking, roll your Defense total. Anyone that attacked you in the last round makes an Attack roll (that can’t deal damage). If no one meets or exceeds your Defense total (including if no one attacked you in the last round) you successfully exit combat. You get a cumulative +3 bonus each round you do nothing but attempt to disengage.
  • Exertion: Take a Fatigue level to add your Combat Ability again to either one attack or all defense rolls for the round. (In a group, all members must take one Fatigue.)
  • Magic: Spells do not have an initiative bonus. You may cast one normal spell per round, plus as many spells as you can fast cast (as per the fast casting rules).
  • Missile Combat: If you are being attacked at range (and do not have a missile weapon) you can only defend (and can only use the Defense bonus from a shield; you cannot defend with other weapon types). Ranged weapons take a cumulative -3 penalty for each range increment beyond the first (as described in the weapon stats).
  • Mounted Combat: Add your Ride ability or +3 (whichever is lower) to Attack and Defense.
  • Non-Lethal Combat:
    • Scuffle: Make unarmed or sap attacks normally. If using a deadly weapon, attack at -3 and don’t add the weapon’s damage bonus. Consult the Scuffle chart on page 175 (this mostly converts wounds to Fatigue levels).
    • Grapple: Make an attack to grapple using Brawl (you must have free hands). If the attack overcomes defense, instead of dealing damage, the target is grappled and the margin of success is the Grapple Strength. The grappled target may only attempt to escape the grapple (but can use any relevant combat ability): subtract Attack Advantage from Grapple Strength. If Grapple Strength is reduced to 0, deal a Light Wound to the grappler and escape. On subsequent rounds, the grappler can roll to further increase the Grapple Strength, and the target can roll to reduce the Grapple Strength further.
  • Special Effects: The GM sets a reasonable margin of success necessary on an attack roll to achieve the special maneuver (examples on page 175). Most maneuvers use Brawl to attack.
  • Splitting Groups: Attack to break members out of a group. See page 175.

Armor and Weapons

See the charts and descriptions starting on page 176.

Encumbrance

A character’s Encumbrance score penalizes initiative, most athletic rolls, and spellcasting.

Sum the character’s Load from worn and carried items (most weapons and armor have a Load total). Compare to the following chart to generate Burden:

Total Load Burden
0 0
1 1
3 2
6 3
10 4
15 5
21 6
28 7
36 8
45 9
55 10

If your Strength is 0 or less, Encumbrance = Burden. If your Strength is +1 or better, Encumbrance = Burden – Strength.

Fatigue

Each character can have up to four Fatigue levels before falling unconscious. Several actions can result in taking a Fatigue level. The total number of Fatigue levels impose a penalty: -0 at 1 (Winded), -1 at 2 (Weary), -3 at 3 (Tired), and -5 at 4 (Dazed). At 5 levels, the character is Unconscious (and additional sources of Fatigue may wrap to damage, depending on the source).

Characters can have Short-Term and Long-Term levels, which stack for tracking penalty/unconsciousness but which recover at different rates. Short-term levels are lost at a rate based on the chart on page 179. Long-term levels are recovered at 1 per good night’s rest. If a character has both types of levels, the short-term levels are treated as the worst levels (e.g., if you have 1 short-term and 2 long-term, the short-term level takes longer to recover than if it was your only Fatigue).

See page 178 for additional rules for acquiring short-term Fatigue from strenuous actions, and recovering from it more quickly.

Wounds

See page 178-179 for out-of-combat limitations from wounds and how to recover from them.

Other Perils

See page 180-181 for hazards of poison, disease, deprivation, non-combat injury, and travel times.

Ars Magica 5e: Rules Summary, Part 5

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Long-Term Events

Advancement

As in character generation, increasing abilities by +1 with XP costs New Level x 5 (for most abilities) or New Level (for arts). You are usually allowed to buy multiple levels in a single season.

You are usually expected to devote XP to an ability at the end of the season, even if you do not have enough to increase the level of the ability. XP is essentially banked into the ability until the total equals or exceeds the amount necessary for the next level. Having any XP in a trained-only ability with a level of 0 is sufficient to attempt a roll.

In general, XP is awarded per season, based on what you were doing:

  • If you had an adventure that season, you usually gain Adventure XP.
  • If you were working on another project/job, you usually gain Exposure XP.
  • If you devote the whole season to advancement, you can gain XP from Practice, Training, Teaching, or studying from Books or Vis.

XP granted is the “Source Quality,” which may be modified by relevant Virtues and Flaws for that type of activity.

Going on an Adventure

Even if going on an adventure doesn’t take the whole season, there’s generally no time for any other type of activity or study in the season: you use the rest of the season consolidating what you learned from the adventure.

Adventures typically award 5-10 XP, which must generally be spent on abilities that were used “on stage” (i.e., you rolled them during the adventure). Exceptions can exist for abilities that would have been relevant during a narrated scene but were never actually rolled, but arts are generally only able to be raised if you actively used them.

Only up to 5 adventure XP can be put into any single ability for the season (so an award of 6+ XP must be divided among multiple abilities).

Some unexpected game events may not count as an Adventure (or the amount of Adventure XP would be less than you should receive from the planned activity). In that case, if the distraction removes you from your study for a month or more, reduce the XP earned by ⅓ (rounded up) per month not spent on your main area of study. For example, if you were expecting to earn 15 XP from Teaching and had an adventure that season that would award 5 adventure XP, you may prefer to take the teaching XP if the adventure took less than two months.

Gaining Exposure

If you did something other than one of the listed XP types in this section (e.g., lab work, training/teaching someone else, working a job, writing a book, etc.), you typically gain 2 XP, which can be put into one or two abilities relevant to the type of activity you were doing.

Practicing

When spending a season practicing without aid from others or access to books/vis, you typically gain 4 XP. This might be modified down to 3 or up to as much as 8 for certain types of practice (e.g., full-immersion language learning, exploring to learn Area Lore, etc.) as described on page 164.

You cannot increase arts with practice.

Receiving Training

You can assist someone who is using an ability to earn a living and gain Training XP (while the trainer gains Exposure XP but also earns a living). You do not earn a living or produce anything useful yourself while being trained.

The master must have a minimum level of 2 in the ability being trained, and you gain the master’s level + 3 XP (i.e., 5+ XP). You cannot gain any XP toward a level higher than the master’s level from training.

You cannot increase arts with training.

Receiving Teaching

If a master devotes a season to teaching you directly (rather than training you while working a job), you gain teaching XP. The teacher must have 2 in an ability or 5 in an art to teach it, you must share a common language, and you cannot gain XP toward a level higher than the teacher’s level in the ability being learned. The teacher gains Exposure XP.

You gain XP equal to the Teacher’s Communication + Teaching + 3 (plus a bonus for a small class size, see below).

A teacher may teach up to her Teaching ability x 5 students per season (minimum 1). If the teacher only has two students, each student gains +3 XP. If the teacher only has one, that student gains +6 XP.

You can increase arts with teaching, but only when being taught one-on-one (the +6 bonus still applies).

Studying Books

In order to learn from a book, you must be fluent in its language (at least level 4 in the language ability) and have a score in Artes Liberales (so you can read). There are two types of books: Summae can be studied repeatedly (as long as your level is lower than the book’s), while Tractatus can only be studied once (but don’t have a level cap). Both book types award XP based on their quality.

You can learn arts from a book. You can only learn supernatural abilities from a book if you already have at least level 1 in the ability. You cannot earn XP reading a Tractatus you wrote yourself.

Studying Vis

You can consume vis to learn an art. You must consume one pawn of vis for every five levels you already have in the ability (rounded up as usual, minimum 1 even if you have 0 levels).

Gain XP equal to the total of a stress die roll plus the local aura bonus.

If the roll botches, you must roll botch dice equal to the number of pawns consumed in the study. You can go into Twilight from this botch. You do not require a laboratory to study vis.

Writing Books

You can write a Summa or a Tractatus if you have at least level 2 in the ability (5 for an art), at least level 5 in the language you’re writing in, and an Artes Liberales score (so you can read). You can also make copies of existing books.

Summa

A Summa’s maximum level is half your level in the ability (and this will be the maximum ability level anyone can learn from the book). You can set this level even lower to increase the quality of the book.

The base quality of the book (the amount of XP gained by studying it) is equal to your Communication + 6 (and adds relevant virtues and flaws). If you write a book of lower level than your maximum, each decrease in level adds +1 quality for an art or +3 quality for other abilities. You cannot increase the total quality to more than double the base quality by lowering the level.

Each season of work on the Summa gains you points equal to your Communication + the Language you’re writing in. The book is complete once you accumulate points equal to the level (for arts) or the level x 5 (for abilities).

Tractatus

You may only write one Tractatus per season, and it always takes the full season. The final quality of the Tractatus (the amount of XP gained from studying it) is equal to your Communication + 6.

For any given ability, you may only write a total number of Tractatus based on your level. You can write one per 2 levels of an ability or per 5 levels of an art (rounded up, as normal). For example, if you have a level of 5 in Latin, you may only write three Tractatus on Latin until your level increases to at least 7 (each individual one takes a season; this is just the total wealth of knowledge you have to impart across multiple books).

Making Copies

By copying carefully, you may copy one Tractatus with a season of work. In one season, you may accumulate points toward copying a Summa equal to 6 + your Profession: Scribe, and you’ve copied it successfully once your points equal the Summa’s level.

You may copy quickly and triple either of those rates (three Tractatus or triple points), but this reduces the quality of the book by 1.

You can produce a useless, corrupted copy if you lack certain abilities. For any book, having a level of 2 or less in its language results in a corrupted copy. To copy a book about a supernatural ability, you must either have the ability or at least level 1 in the relevant Realm Lore for the ability. You must have at least 1 level in Magic Theory to copy books about arts or Parma Magica.

Learning Supernatural Abilities

To learn a new supernatural ability, you must have the Gift and must learn from a trainer or teacher (who must have the ability). You must achieve a level of at least 1 within the first season of training (i.e., total XP earned at least 5) or you cannot learn the ability.

For this initial season of training or teaching, you receive a penalty to the XP earned equal to the sum of all your levels in other supernatural abilities plus the sum of your levels in arts (minimum 15 if you have fewer than 15 levels in arts). For example, it requires the teacher to be able to generate at least 20 XP to train a supernatural ability to a mage with 15 or fewer art levels and no other supernatural abilities (i.e., the teacher needs a very high Communication and/or Teaching of 10+ to even attempt it).

Mystery Cults manage to avoid this with their particular supernatural abilities for people following their initiation rituals.

Reputations

Characters will often only have a single reputation. Reputations gained in play start at 1 for doing something that seems to be worthy of starting a reputation.

Each time the character does something noteworthy, apply a point to the character’s primary reputation. Treat the points as XP and the reputation as an ability (e.g., a reputation goes from 1 to 2 after getting 10 reputation points in it).

To reduce a bad reputation, you must generate a new reputation at 1. You can direct noteworthy actions that specifically support the new reputation to it rather than your primary (bad) reputation. Once the secondary (good) reputation is higher than the bad reputation, every time you should increase the good reputation by a level, you can instead reduce the bad reputation by a level.

When you have multiple reputations, you should roll both to see whether someone’s heard of you (and they’ve heard of whatever events support the reputation that succeeded).

Warping

If you spend extended time subjected to strong auras or other ongoing magic effects, they can warp you over time. You have both a Warping Score and Warping Points: the points are treated like XP for raising the score (which is treated like an ability). For example, once you have 5 Warping Points, you must exchange them to raise Warping Score from 0 to 1.

Warping Points can be gained from different types of supernatural sources, but are not tracked separately. You may still want to have an idea where most of the points come from, to determine the effects of being warped (e.g., from mystic auras vs. faerie auras).

Gaining Warping Points

There are four ways to gain Warping Points, which stack with each other: living in a strong aura, being affected by a powerful effect, being continuously under an effect, and botching a mystic ability roll.

Living in a Strong Aura

If you spend substantial time in an aura of strength 6+, you may gain Warping Points. If you are aligned with the aura type, you do not gain them (e.g., mages in a magic aura, fae-touched in a faerie aura, etc.).

With a frequency based on the severity of the aura (monthly to every other year), determine how much time you spent in the aura: Frequent Visits, Half-time Within, or Always Within. Use the most reasonable time frame (e.g., if you spent the vast majority of your time in the aura, even if you left from time to time, it’s Always Within). Frequent Visits means around a quarter of your time in the aura:

  • Frequent Visits: Gain 0 Warping Points for auras of 6-8, 1/year for strength 9, and 2/year for strength 10
  • Half-time Within: Gain 0 Warping Points for aura 6, 1 every 2 years for strength 7, 1/year for strength 8, 2/year for strength 9, and 1/season for strength 10
  • Always Within: Gain 1 Warping Point/year for auras of 6-7, 2/year for strength 8, 1/season for strength 9, and 1/month for strength 10

Affected by a Powerful Effect

If you are affected by an spell of magnitude 6 or higher (or an equivalently powerful supernatural effect), gain a Warping Point unless you were the source of that effect or it was carefully designed to work for you (e.g., Longevity Ritual). If the effect is continuous, it adds an additional Warping Point every season.

Continuously Under an Effect

If you are under the influence of an ongoing effect for at least half the year (including being under different effects, but being under some effect most of the time), you gain a Warping Point each year for each effect. This occurs even if it was cast by you or designed for you (e.g., everyone with a Longevity Ritual gains at least one Warping Point per year). It stacks with being continuously under the effect of a powerful effect (for 5 Warping Points per year that you are continuously under a powerful effect). There are a few exceptions:

  • You must be affected directly and personally (e.g., being inside an enchanted structure doesn’t count as continuously under an effect, though it may include an aura).
  • Aegis of the Hearth and Parma Magica don’t count (because of breakthroughs in their design by Bonisagus). Other direct, personal wards do.
  • Familiar binding and any powers attached to the bond do not count.

Botching a Mystical Ability

When you botch on a spell or supernatural ability roll, you gain one Warping Point for every 0 on the botch dice.

Effects of Warping

Hermetic magi are more likely to enter Twilight due to warping, and this replaces any other effects of warping.

Non-mages gain certain effects based on Warping Score:

  • At Warping Score 1, gain a Minor Flaw that reflects the source of most of the Warping Points. When this is from an aura, most people in the aura will gain a similar flaw related to the type of aura.
  • At Warping Score 3, gain a second Minor Flaw.
  • At Warping Score 5, gain a mystical Minor Virtue tied to the source of the points. This attunes you to the supernatural type of the virtue, so you no longer gain Warping Points from living in a strong aura of that type.
  • At Warping Score 6+, gain a Major Flaw for each new level.

Aging

Every Winter after turning 35, you must make an Aging Roll and compare the result to the Aging Table. The roll is a Stress Die + Age/10 (round up) – Modifiers. The stress die cannot botch, but can explode (and high numbers are bad).

Your modifier to the roll is based on virtues, living conditions, and your Longevity Ritual. The modifiers from virtues and the ritual are discussed in their sections. For living conditions:

  • Wealthy or healthy locations grant a bonus of 2 to anyone
  • A typical Summer or Autumn covenant provides a bonus of 2 to the mages living there and a bonus of 1 to everyone else
  • A typical Spring or Winter covenant provides a bonus of 1 to the mages living there (but no bonus to anyone else)
  • Most peasant living conditions have no bonus or penalty
  • Poor or unhealthy locations (such as being poor in a city) provide a penalty of 2 (i.e., it actually increases the aging roll result)

Consult the Aging Table on page 170 for results. Notably, reducing the result to 2 or less means no apparent aging, a result of 3 means you look a year older but suffer no penalties, a result of 10-12 means 1 Aging Point in a characteristic of your choice, and results of 13 and 22+ grant a Crisis in addition to other effects.

Aging Points are the typical result for younger individuals. Once the number of Aging Points in a characteristic equal its absolute value, reduce it by 1 and clear the Aging Points from the characteristic. For example, if you had a +3 or -3 in Quickness, it would take 3 Aging Points to reduce it (to +2 or -4, respectively).

In addition to applying each Aging Point to a characteristic, also track the total value of Aging Points you’ve ever earned across all characteristics. This is tracked as if it were XP for raising a Decrepitude ability (e.g., once you’ve accumulated 5 Aging Points, you gain Decrepitude 1). This might have other system effects, but primarily causes you to have a Crisis from strenuous activity at Decrepitude 4, and makes you completely bedridden and likely to die soon at Decrepitude 5.

When you suffer a Crisis (from the result on the Aging Table or from activity at high Decrepitude), roll a Simple Die + Age/10 (round up) + Decrepitude. If the result is 8 or less, you’re bedridden for a week, and if it’s 9-14 you’re bedridden for a month. Rolls higher than 14 result in increasingly worse illnesses. Consult the Aging Table and rules on page 170 for how to resolve these crises. Any roll for a crisis, even if it only results in being bedridden, requires you to refresh your Longevity Ritual as described in that section.

Ars Magica 5e: Rules Summary, Part 4

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Spells

Every spell, even when casting spontaneously, has a Level and a Magnitude.

The Level is usually evenly divisible by 5, and serves as the base target number for casting the spell and using it in lab-based effects (as described in the Magic and Laboratory sections).

The Magnitude is equal to the the Level divided by 5, and serves as a way of assessing other costs (such as pawns of vis necessary to cast as a ritual).

A spell’s basic effect sets its minimum Level (typically for a spell that is instantaneous and only affects the caster).

  • Each increase in Range, Duration, or Targets generally increases the Magnitude by +1 (and, thus, the level by +5).
  • As a special rule, if the level is less than 5 (for very simple effects), each +1 magnitude only adds +1 level until the Level reaches 5 (at which point each additional +1 Magnitude increases the Level by +5 normally).
  • Some spell effects may have additional math that increases the Level of the base effect (e.g., Terram has a multiplier for affecting metals instead of dirt/soil).

While there are many mathematical permutations possible with the system, the central rule of spell creation is that the GM and group are not compelled to accept a Level that seems too high or low for what the spell is accomplishing. Use your best judgement rather than attempting to find a corner case that is more effective than other spells of the same level.

Range, Duration, and Targets

Each of the variables below are listed with the number they add to Magnitude.

Range

Range is based on the position of the nearest part of the caster relative to the nearest part of the target (e.g., a mage can cast a Touch range spell on an entire room and those in it by touching a talisman to the wall of the room).

For longer durations, the caster does not have to remain in range. However, if the caster can control the effect after casting it, she must be within the original range to exert control (and may lose control upon moving out of range then regain it when returning to the range).

Personal (+0)

The spell only affects the caster and her carried/worn possessions (and the target will always be Individual).

Touch (+1)

The spell only affects the caster or a touched target.

Eye (+1)

The spell affects any person or creature with whom the caster establishes eye contact. This is automatic for unwary individuals in a social setting. For wary and unwilling targets, it’s impossible to make eye contact without at least two people holding the target down. It’s generally impossible in combat. It typically takes a combat round to establish eye contact with a calm animal.

Voice (+2)

The spell affects a target within range of the caster’s voice. This is generally 15 paces for normal casting volume, or up to 50 for a shout. Casting quietly reduces the range, but magical voice enhancement doesn’t increase it. The range is based on the distance the voice carries, not whether the target can hear it. The range is established upon initial casting, so the caster can vary the volume of her voice after casting without changing the range. (Independent items must be given a voice with Creo Imaginem to use this range.)

Road (+2; Faerie Magic only)

The spell can target anyone or anything on the same road or path as the caster. Visibility to the target is not generally required as long as the caster is aware of the target in some way (or is using Intellego to search for something). Individuals must be within the edges of the path, and structures must have a primary access onto the road.

Sight (+3)

The spell can target anything the caster can see, even if enhanced by a high vantage point. The mage must be able to see to use this range. (Independent items must be given sight with Intellego Imaginem to use this range.)

Arcane Connection (+4)

The spell can target anything to which the caster has an Arcane Connection (see page 84), usually regardless of actual distance.

Duration

Effects that make sense at a Momentary duration that are given a longer one typically undo their effect at the end of the duration rather than having their effect multiple times, unless the physical properties of the effect make sense (e.g., a wound healed with a non-Momentary duration returns at the end of the duration, while a fire created with a longer duration burns things as a fire would as long as it lasts). Perdo effects with a duration continue to destroy any new qualifying materials while the duration lasts (e.g., if you use Perdo Terram to create a pit, any new earth used to fill it is also destroyed, but other matter may not be).

Momentary (+0)

The spell has its effect and then dissipates (but any logical consequences of it persist). Creo spells may have this duration to permanently create something (or heal a wound) only if they are cast a ritual (and, thus, consume vis).

Concentration (+1)

The spell expires as soon as the caster loses concentration (usually maximum 15 minutes per point of the Concentration ability, and also see page 82 for rules on distractions).

Diameter (+1)

The spell expires after two minutes/20 combat rounds (the time it takes for the sun to move its own diameter in the sky).

Sun (+2)

The spell expires at the next sunrise or sunset (whichever occurs first).

Ring (+2)

The spell expires once the target leaves an inscribed ring (or the ring is broken, for spells that prevent targets from entering the ring). The caster must trace the ring while casting (even if it’s permanently inscribed) at a rate of 10 paces per round. For large rings, the caster may need to maintain concentration or risk botching (see page 112).

Moon (+3)

The spell expires after both the new and full moon have set once.

Fire (+3; Faerie Magic only)

The spell can only be cast with a fire as the target, and expires when the fire does (which can be a very long time for a well-tended fire). Because the target is a fire, this only works with the Ignem and Imaginem forms.

Year (+4)

The spell expires upon sunrise of the fourth solstice/equinox after its casting (i.e., it could last as few as 9 months if cast immediately before a solstice/equinox, and only a full year if cast immediately after sunrise on a solstice/equinox). It must be cast as a ritual.

Year and a Day (+4; Faerie Magic only)

The spell expires after a full year and one more day (rather than being governed by the turning of the seasons). It must be cast as a ritual.

Until (+4; Faerie Magic only)

The spell expires only when the condition is met. This spell must be cast as a ritual. The spell cannot usually be dispelled without meeting the condition. The condition must be specified when the spell is cast, and the spell also expires if the caster passes into Twilight (even temporarily) or the caster or target dies.

Bargain (Special; Faerie Magic only)

Calculate all other effects normally (including how long the spell will last if the Bargain is broken). Increase the Magnitude of the spell by +3, but double the final Penetration of the spell. The bargain remains in effect for a Year duration: if the target breaks the terms of the Bargain before the end of the year, the spell immediately takes effect without having to bypass resistance.

Target

Targets are generally based on being a whole thing, rather than a given size (e.g., a pebble and a menhir are both an Individual stone). However, each form has a size for an assumed target, and affecting something much larger requires increasing the spell’s Magnitude (by +1 per x10 increase in mass). See the sidebar on page 113 for specifics.

Individual (+0)

The spell targets a single discrete thing (usually meaning it can be relatively easy separated from a group/whole). Adornments of an Individual are generally part of that Individual (e.g., clothes on a person, moss on a boulder, etc.).

Circle (+0)

The spell targets everything within an inscribed circle at the time of casting, with the same limitations as the Ring duration (and usually spells with this target are given that duration). If not cast with the Ring duration, the spell still expires early if the circle is broken.

Part (+1)

The spell targets a part of a greater whole (i.e., they cannot be easily separated from the group/whole, such as a limb or rock that is still part of the mountain). This is meant for spatial, rather than conceptual parts (e.g., your mind is not a part, but your heart is).

Group (+2)

The spell targets a group of people/things that are close together spatially and separated from things of the same type (e.g., you cannot easily single out multiple individuals within a crowd without affecting the whole crowd). After casting, the targets remain affected for the duration even if they move apart, and new members of the group that join after casting aren’t affected. This target option is likely to be affected by the size rules if the group is large.

Room (+2)

The spell targets everything within a defined room (enclosed with definite boundaries separating it from other rooms and/or the outside; a courtyard and cave may count, but a valley doesn’t).

Structure (+3)

The spell targets everything within a single structure, which can be composed of multiple rooms, up to the outer edge of the structure’s walls. In general, a single structure may vary in size, but must generally have one roof.

Bloodline (+3; Faerie Magic only)

The spell effects the immediate target (who must be in range) and all people descended by blood from the target. It applies to any members of the bloodline currently existing or born within its duration. Every individual gets magic resistance, if applicable. It may be possible to design the spell to avoid Warping the targets.

Boundary (+4)

The spell targets everything within a well-defined natural or man-made geographic boundary. This can include walls of a city, edges of a village, shores of a lake, edge of a forest, or base of a mountain. There must be an actual boundary, rather than just affecting a very large area. It must be cast as a ritual.

Requisites

Spells that create effects that cross beyond the boundaries of a single Technique or Form include a Requisite: one or more additional arts necessary for the spell. When casting the spell, your total is composed of the lowest scores of the same type of art (e.g., if the spell involves a Form requisite, the lower of the two Forms is used, but the Technique is used no matter its value). However, other systems effects (such as Magic Resistance) are based on the primary Technique and Form, even if your total is based on a lower Requisite.

Spells involving a Requisite may be a higher level than the effect would normally indicate, when the combination of multiple arts allows a more powerful effect than either art alone.

Some spells include a Casting Requisite, which allows you to choose from different arts when you cast the spell to achieve different effects. They still function like fixed Requisites for determining the mechanics of the spell, once you’ve chosen one.

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