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The Call of Sorcery


Alex Greene

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[Image is "Summoning," by Joseph Springborg]

Here is how Mythras, page 113, defines sorcery:-

Sorcery is the manipulation of underlying laws that directly control the very fabric of creation. These formulae are complex equations: a mixture of mathematical, psychological, existential, and supernatural principals [sic] that allow the sorcerer to grasp a portion of reality and bend it to his will. Sorcerers do not need to rely on gods for their powers; nor do they need to engage with spirits to achieve their effects. Their manipulation of these metaphysical equations makes sorcery very powerful and very flexible.

The powers of sorcery are potentially vast, and they are terrifying. They can remove the very souls from people, topple palaces, and summon freakish forces, all at the whim of an individual's will. The most powerful sorcerers can unleash dreadful storms, spy on people kilometres away, or weave phantasms to confuse and beguile even the wisest of people. Oh, and they could also turn people into frogs, pillars of salt, blocks of ice, or into solid gold at a touch.

But what is it like to be a sorcerer in Mythras?

Viewed With Suspicion

The Mythras Core Rulebook outlines one possible downside to sorcery, namely that society does not approve of them:-

However, it also means sorcerers are viewed with suspicion, and even fear and hatred by those who come by their magic through less direct means. And, because sorcerers have little need for gods or spirits, it is not uncommon for them to develop a certain degree of arrogance and disdain for those who choose to venerate such entities.

That is one way of viewing sorcerers. There are others. You are not, as a GM, forced to consider this as canon. Your setting's views on sorcery do not have to be the same as they are in anybody else's settings.

Solitary Calling

Your Adventurer could be called to perform sorcery as a Solitary - without the aid of a group, Order, Tradition, or cult. Solitaries are, by definition, leaders of their own Traditions, and as such they are beholden to no higher authority within the group.

Your Adventurer is free to define their own Tradition, its Vision, and its Methods. That means that, in effect, they are writing their own Grimoire, including inventing their own spells.

As a GM, you can work with the Player to establish which new spells your Adventurer character invents, usually during down time, and then let them spend the requisite Experience Rolls to inscribe their new spell into their Grimoire. In some settings, these spells may be new and unique: nobody else may have access to them.

Similarly, the sorcerer may be responsible for developing their spells' Intensity and broadening their access to Shaping Points, as well as creating the Shaping factors for use with their spells - Duration, Magnitude, Range, and so on. Initially, they may only know how to extend the Durations of their spells, and be forced to have to operate at Touch Range until they learn how to apply Range to their spells, and so on. Later on, they can learn how to Combine spells to take advantage of the Range and Duration - and then discover how to use Targets on more than one object or person.

The life of a Solitary could be one of experimentation and exploration. They can bring in the Alternate Shaping Components from page 165 of Mythras, inventing and developing them as if they were brand new - and they may indeed be, in the setting.

Found Objects

The sorcerer-to-be may discover their talent for sorcery through a Grimoire, a found object covered in a strange inscription, even a book of magic squares or a text like the Codex Seraphinianus or Voynich Manuscript. Studying the object can turn out to be the catalyst which awakens the Adventurer's abilities as a sorcerer (in other words, they can spend a single Experience Roll to unlock each of Invocation and Shaping during down time, rather than the usual heavy toll as described in Mythras, pages 118 and 119).

Guided to Power

Animists are not the only beings who are touched by the spirit. Spiritual beings may recognise their fleshly brethren and guide the fledgling sorcerer through dreams and visitations until they discover the Willworker within and unleash their Legacy of sorcery. Such beings are as much spirit as flesh, and are highly likely to learn, stumble across, or even invent Evoke as their first sorcery spell - along with Imprison, Protective Ward, and Spirit Resistance.

Peer Recognition

The Adventurer may be approached by a member of an existing sorcery Cult, and presented with an offer. The Adventurer may be plagued with terrifying dreams, signs of their impending Awakening. Perhaps they belong to the group through a family connection - The Legacy may have skipped a generation or three, but the Adventurer's so-called Black Sheep from two or three generations past might have been a prominent member of their Order, and your Adventurer stands to inherit the Grandmaster's ceremonial sash, though they'd have a long journey to obtain it.

And perhaps they may be drawn to the Cult through the symbols in their dreams ... just as their counterparts within the Cult may be drawn to the newcomer and potential Initiate through strange, symbolic dreams of their own.

Tolerance By The Community

Your sorcerer Adventurer may also be involved in some way with the community of ordinary people in which they live during down time. They may have an acceptance of, and tolerance for, sorcerers in their midst, and call upon them to heal wounds through their healing magics, or to protect individuals from harm.

Some sorcerers may only have a limited repertoire of sorcery spells, or low levels of Invocation and/ or Shaping; but what they lack in magical power, they may well more than make up for with knowledge of a vast range of Lore, Culture, Language and Literacy skills.

Because Knowledge is Power, and not all knowledge needs to be magical - a sorcerer with sensory spells (see below) can be called upon to seek out missing children, lost herd animals, or even sources of water in a drought; and a mage with Transmogrify (to Water) can likewise prove to be a lifesaver if they can transform barrels of dry dirt into lifegiving water during the same drought.

Birth of A Cult

Your Adventurer may, given sufficient Charisma and experience in Influence skill, advance both in power and in leadership in the community. If they come from a Solitary Tradition, they can develop their mundane Influence, Insight, and Teach skills to begin to teach others the power of sorcery, imparting their wisdom (or their folly) on fresh minds, and spreading The Word abroad.

And not just Invocation, Shaping, and spells - that Teach skill can help impart the Adventurer's experiences with Lore, Languages, Customs, Locale, Culture, Insight and so many other skills at which the Adventurer excels.

Your sorcerer can become a great teacher, and if their teachings include spreading messages of love, light, tolerance, and community, their reputation for enlightenment might spread further than their sorcery prowess.

Craft of The Wise

Magic is called "The Craft of The Wise" for a reason, and the Adventurer's career delving into ancient tombs and infiltrating rival mages' towers can pay off in their later years as new Adventurers approach the former tomb delver for wisdom and advice. If the sorcerer emeritus has learned anything, it is that some cultures need to be approached with respect and treated with dignity, lest they turn on the arrogant and tear their souls to pieces.

The Four Pillars

The real world's practitioners of magic each learn of The Four Pillars long before they are exposed to their first workings. The Four Pillars are:- To Know; To Will; To Dare; and To Be Silent.

In a Mythras game, often enough those Four Pillars are never mentioned, or even heard of, and sorcerers fling their fire spells willy nilly, in the street, in front of crowds. The average Games Master and Player may not have heard of the Four Pillars, and sometimes come away feeling that their showboating lacked something.

Here's a clue: showboating lacks something, all right - mystique.

The Fourth Pillar, the caution to remain silent, is there for a reason. It is through subtle means that a sorcerer can exercise their greatest power. People respect what they fear; and when they do not know what a sorcerer is capable of, they can learn to greatly fear that sorcerer - but also to respect them, because of their experiences and because of their reputation for having done so many things normal people can never do.

Respect is the most effective form of protection a sorcerer can possess. If they show wisdom in their actions, and kindness, and empathy, and their philosophy is honourable, the sorcerer will be viewed as one who is above suspicion in the community.

The Most Useful Spells

What are the most useful spells a sorcerer can learn - or invent?

Damage Resistance / Spell Resistance / Spirit Resistance - This suite of spells can easily and quickly be cast, or enchanted into a sorcerer's magical tools for instant casting, first thing every morning. They can be given an extended Duration to last all day, or - with sufficient Shaping factors - be extended to last for a number of days, requiring that the caster only need to recast them once a week or so.

Banish - Useful to cleanse a possessed person, or an animal, object, or place which houses an unwanted spirit. Banish has its limitations, so exorcisms must be creative and occasionally involve deception and trickery to convince the possessing spirit to let go of its host. Acting and Deceit are highly recommended. Phantom (Sense) can be invaluable.

Mark - So useful in many ways. The sorcerer may Mark someone and track them down over the Mark's Range, summon them, or target them at a distance. Mark can target the focus of Project (Sense) so the sorcerer can sense what is happening in and around the vicinity of the Marked person or object; and Mark can, of course, be used as the destination for a Portal spell to allow the sorcerer to safely travel immense distances in the blink of an eye.

Sensory Spells - In my settings, sensory spells are among the first to be taught to any sorcerer, even before the trio of protectve spells of Damage Resistance, Spell Resistance, and Spirit Resistance.

Four of the five kinds of sensory spells are Mystic (Sense), Perceive (Sense), Project (Sense), and Sense (Object or Substance). Each, in their own way, expands the sorcerer's perceptions beyond the mundane, allowing them access to knowledge they could not possibly know if they were mundanes.

Sensory spells can be combined with Mark to discern the vicinity of Marked objects or people, or selected areas - a sorcerer who has enchanted a Mark on top of a mountain, for instance, can Project (Sense) and scout the horizon for distant changes in the weather; an urban sorcerer can similarly Mark the top of a tall tower and scan the streets of the city below, or Mark a trained bird and use Project (Sense) and Project (Sense) to see the world below through the literal eyes of a hawk.

And the fifth sensory spell is possibly the most profoundly useful spell of them all.

Intuition.

This spell functionally enhances Insight skill to the point where a sorcerer can instantly, immediately, and accurately, gauge a person's feelings, motivations, Passions, even their flaws, hubris, and hamartia. Something they can learn through building up their regular Insight skill to mastery, but which can be done in a few seconds through this spell.

The effect of this spell can be described as kind of like the flashback scenes in a detective drama, where the lead character explains how the killer did the crime, only the spell more or less grants the vision without the need for the target to make any kind of a confession - it is all laid out before them like clues before a Poirot or a Horatio Caine: scuff marks, stains on clothing, a quaver in the voice, a sudden dilation of the pupils, a shift in epidermal capillary blood distribution and body posture, laying the target's soul bare before the sorcerer's eyes.

The sorcerer can use this along with Project (Sense) or Mark to read people long before they ever meet the sorcerer, granting the sorcerer an advantage for when they do meet.

Forces Beyond Mortal Ken

Besides the sensory spells, of course, sorcerers can learn spells from Animate (Substance) and Sculpt (Substance), to terrible spells such as Transmogrify (to Substance), Suffocate, Palsy, Shapechange (to Creature), Dominate (Creatures), Enslave (Creatures) and so on.

There are several gamebreaking spells listed in Mythras Core Rulebook, and I do not mean Wrack. The spells include Trap Soul, Switch Body, and Hide Life. They are among the darkest spells one can encounter, because of their potential for use. A dying sorcerer may use Switch Body to swap out their own soul for their enemy; or they may escape death by temporarily hiding within an amulet, only to return to life in a new body some time down the line.

A sorcerer may send one of their minions into an enemy's establishment, riding along in the body of some servant or similar minor character, to perceive what they perceive. Though they can use Mark and Project (Sense) to do the same, turning the hapless functionary into an unwitting, unwilling, moving surveillance device.

Another spell to fear is Tap (Characteristic), which is not as efficient as Enhance (Characteristic) but which can be devastating enough to a group of enemies, because Tap temporarily drains the enemies of their targeted Characteristic. Again, not as efficient as Diminish (Characteristic), but a half-decent sorcerer can use either to reduce a team of bad guys to helplessness by depriving them of their STR, or DEX, or POW, or make them look like fools by suppressing their INT and/or CHA in a social setting.

Undeniable Power

The true power of sorcery is not the spells they learn, but rather what they do with those spells. Sorcerers are agents of change, wherever they go; and the more powerful the sorcerer, the less likely they are to show off what they can do - or even to feel the need to show that they are sorcerers at all.

The currency of sorcery is enigma. The more enigmatic they are, the greater their command of the powers, both real and imagined. It is this currency which marks the Art of sorcery as the most profound of the magical Arts, if not the most feared.

But if the Art is handled with bravery, and courage, and subtlety; and if the sorcerer always remembers their roots, and keeps their connections with their humble, mundane origins and community, they can be treated not with suspicion and fear, but with deep respect and loyalty, as Bringers of Wonder to their people - the meaning of the word thaumaturge.

Edited by Alex Greene

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