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Ritual Magic UrRules


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I started this thread to begin posting parts of a ritual magic system that I’ve been working on for my campaign. I think there are several people working on similar concepts, but unsurprisingly we’re all approaching things a little differently one from another.

My intent is to tap into the collective wisdom, then put the draft system in the downloads section of this forum. I’ve drafted all the sections of the system, but I’m working/struggling with a number of issues that your feedback could help with.

As a starting point, my design goals were:

  1. Provide a flexible system under which almost any effect could be created.
  2. Allow a quick system for GMs needing to generate NPCs and for players who don’t want to spend a long time detailing their characters.
  3. Starting mages should be weak, but not ineffective.
  4. Experienced mages should have access to great power that can only be acquired slowly with each learned spell. Magic must remain risky to exercise even for the most powerful adept.
  5. Magic is flexible, but most effects should be easier to accomplish through non-magical means.
  6. The magic system should drive Mages to learn more about the world and its powers. The game tie should be strong enough to drive story arcs, aid world development, and suggest character plots.
  7. Work within the RQ (now BRP) rule set, or at least avoid wantonly breaking it.

As of now, the system does pretty well on #1 and #3-#7, but fails pretty horribly on #2. I’m hoping a quick generation system can be bolted on after the fact.

When I’m done, I want a system that frames the magical underpinnings of the world. It should be an interesting hobby or life work for characters, but several other types of immediate magic are available (e.g. battle magic) that satisfy requirements of adventuring.

One caveat, this is a fiddle-y system, with lots of stuff to tweak. I’ve tried to move most of that to the preparation part of games, but the fiddles remain. I actually want richness to the magic system, so I can explain the back story, e.g. why does that necromancer want middle fingers from 100 corpses? So leaned toward that end of the system. And I really wanted to build in the reason why the original system was called “RuneQuest.” But this will not be everyone's cup of tea. I am interested in ways to streamline it; I typically gravitate to the complex (rather than playable) end of design.

I have one player whose character is hot to try the system. He's an admitted minimaxer, and will likely try to break the system. But he's willing to endure stuff being reworked from game to game, so he should make a good playtester.

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As a starting point for discussion:

What is a Spell?

A spell is the application of magical energy, through the will of the mage, to make a change in the world. A spell consists of three parts:

Spell Definition: A description of the magical effect, along with all the things that are needed to create the magical effect.

Spell Casting: This is the execution of the spell, essentially the spell in action. These are all of the actions, thoughts, and preparations that must be correctly completed in order to create the spell effect.

Spell Effect: This is the final outcome of the spell, the change that occurs in the world as the result of a correct (or incorrect) spell casting.

Spell Formulation

For a player to create a spell for his character, he goes through the following steps:

  1. Determine the desired outcome: What are the Effects, Strengths, Ranges, and Duration of the spell Effect?
  2. Source the Mana: Identify where the energy for the spell will come from. Mana comes in different flavors, so this step may also include application of magical Talents or Skills to change the mana from the source type and amount to what is needed.
  3. Improve Casting Chances: Identify any magical Laws or ceremonies needed to increase the chance of a successful casting.
  4. Record the Spell: Write down the basics of the spell so we don’t forget.

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The major portion of defining what a spell does is defining the Effect and the Form. Here are my first thoughts on these.


Each spell is made of spell effects, essentially key words that tell what the spell will do. This section outlines the current set of known spell effects. The overall list is summarized to the right. Over time, the list of effects will increase.

In developing the spell, the mage will determine the effects that he wants as well as the intensity of the effect that he wants to create. Greater intensities will require additional Mana, tend to increase the casting time of the spell and lower the chance of spell success.

An initial chart of spell effects is included to the right. Note that most of the effects are destructive or blocking. These effects are the easier ones to achieve (see Entropy). To gain a positive effect, these effects must be reversed using Magical Skills.

Here are the ones I have so far:


Appearance|Changes the appearance of the target

Call|Calls a specific type of materials or energy to the caster. Qualifier: Element, Energy or Material to call

Conceal|Conceals the target from senses, either natural or magical

Damage|Does set number of points of damage spread across targets. Qualifier: Type

Demoralize|Reduces the target’s will to live and act.

Diminish|Reduces a single characteristic of the target (e.g. STR, WIS). Qualifier: Characteristic

Hide|Reduces the recipient’s ability to perceive specific types of sensory input. Qualifier: Sense

Hinder|Reduces the target’s ability with a category of skills (e.g. Stealth, Communication). Qualifier: Skill Category

Move|This effect allows the recipient to move in, through, or on a specific type of environment, Air, Earth, Planes, or Water. The effect must also specify In (freedom of movement), On (Speed Movement across), or Through (Speed movement through). Qualifier: Medium, Mode

Resist|Affects ability to resist specific manifestation

Skill|Affects specified skill[/table]

Spell Form

Delay: sets the time between when the spell ritual is completed and the effect takes place. Usually these are cast as Active spells so that the Mage can determine the time the spell goes off.

Duration: The default duration for a spell is momentary – the spell takes effect immediately then disappears. This is sufficient for many damage spells, and even an information spell can give brief insight immediately. But for many spells, the effect must endure for some time.

Range: By default a spell affects the mage himself. If the mage wants the effect elsewhere, additional range must be purchased.

Shape: By default a spell has no shape – its effects are imparted to the mage himself, or imparted to a target through touch. If the mage wants to project the magical effect he must pay for a Bolt, Beam, Cone, or Area effect.

Speed: By default spells materialize at the Mage and speed away from him at a walking pace to their target.

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I guess I'm on a roll, so here's the last bit of the spell definition: Ritual.

The spell needs to be created within the framework of a Ritual. I anticipate that mages will become proficient with one or two ritual forms and use those to the exclusion of all others. My thought is that each one has a base modifier to the chance of success, and a base time for the ritual. The base time for the ritual becomes the base duration for the produced spell – so that putting points into Duration for a Rune Smith ritual spell adds weeks onto the duration, whereas putting points into Duration for an Incantation adds melee rounds onto the spell.

Incantation: An incantation is the standard casting of a spell. The mage makes sweeping gestures with his arms and intones mystical words of power. Casting is relatively fast, with a normal chance of success, base time = melee rounds

Symbolist: These mages create symbols that incorporate their spell. The time to cast is moderate, with normal chance of success, and a base time of hours.

Power Word: These mages use the power of words to create their spells. The casting of these spells is very fast, but similarly the effects are fleeting as well. The time to cast is short, chance of success is low, and the base time is strike ranks.

Rune Smith: These mages carve and forge runes and magical effects into metal and other materials. Rune Smiths work over long periods, and the base time of their spells are similarly long. Time to cast is very long, chance of success is above average, and the base time is weeks.

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Plodding along, I’m realizing that I’ll need a lot more effects. My original thinking was that I could have a few Effects, and that the Mage could modify them to achieve the result they wanted. So “Heal” could be effected by using “Reverse” and “Damage.”

I thought that would give a nice bit of world color – it’s easier to damage than to heal, it’s easier to find than to conceal, etc. But now I’m realizing that I need an Effect for each basic function of a Rune. The results that are close to the Rune function will be the easiest to cast, reinforcing the importance of the Runes as a basis for Magic and making the rules more consistent.

To flesh out the Effects, I'm turning now to definition of the Runes.

Runes are ultimately the source of all magical energy. Mages gain access to the Runes by attuning themselves to them. The easiest & lowest form of attunement is Rune Touched. After that comes Rune Bound, Rune Mastered, and Rune Owned. Each successive level gives access to more power, but also more responsibility to the Rune (the Runes are quasi-alive and quasi-sentient in my world) and the likely acquisition of a Rune Aspect – anything from a mark to an aura, or physical changes.

Air Rune

Type: Elemental

Action: I Know/I Perceive

Manifestation: Wind, Dust Devil

Required Effects: Damage, Move(Air)

Optional Effects: Communicate, Perceive

Minor Aspects: Mark, Aura(air), Following Dust Devil, Vestigial Wings

Major Aspects: Constant Wind, Wings, Air Shape, Levitation

Type and Action are essentially background information. All Elemental Runes will have Damage as a Required Effect. The Actions help me determine what types of effect are appropriate.

Required Effects: These come with any access to the Rune power. So if you Tap an Air Rune for 6 points of Power, you always get 6 points of Damage and 6 points of Move(Air). The mage can negate or change those effects, but they come as a default.

Optional Effects: These can come with access to the Rune Power, but you must choose one (or none) for each point of power that you access. So, if you tapped an Air Rune for 6 points of power, in addition to the 6 points of Damage and 6 points of Move(Air), you could get 3 points of Communicate and 3 points of Perceive. Or up to 6 points of Communicate and none of Perceive.

Minor & Major Aspect: When becoming attuned to the Rune, a mage may gain Aspects of that Rune. The greater the attunement, the more likely to get an Aspect, and the greater change that it will be Major. Getting an Aspect multiple times means that the strength of the Aspect increases. So the first time a character gets Aura(Air), it might be detectable as a Difficult action. On the second acquisition of Aura(Air) it might be a Normal action. The third time it becomes Easy – basically anyone will notice that the Mage appears Airy.

Edited by sdavies2720

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The Rune effects only get you so far in defining the spell. The other things that the Mage needs to specify are the laws. These take a little power to activate, but then add to the chance of success with the spell, or help to focus the effect.

These are cobbled from a bunch of the usual places:

Association: If two things have elements in common, they are tied together and interact through those common elements. Control of one pattern provides control over the other. The tie between the objects can be formed using the law of Association, Synchronicity, Contagion, or any other means. “Commonality Controls.” Association can be used to bump the casting success chance, or for targeting.

Boundaries: Boundaries, of any sort, form barriers of resistance to the flow of magic. Mana will more easily flow along the line of the boundary, rather than cross it. So lines of magic tend to flow along river courses, spells tend to stop at the threshold of a room, etc. Even a change in material may be enough to stop a low-powered spell from propagating. Some mages postulate that Ley Lines are boundaries between abutting magical realms. Magic that crosses a threshold will be reduced by 50% in effectiveness, and Magic that runs along a boundary will double in effectiveness.

Cause & Effect: If exactly the same actions are done under exactly the same conditions, they will generate the same results. Similar strings of events produce similar outcomes. “Nothing Happens without Cause.” This is used for spell success and targeting.

Contagion: Objects or beings that have been in contact with each other continue to be linked after separation. The strength of the link is proportional to the time they have spent together and the power of the interaction. Things that were once part of another form the best Contagion link, e.g. fingernails, blood, or sweat. “Once Together Always Together.”

Dynamic Balance: To survive and prosper, every aspect of ones universe must stay in dynamic balance with everything else. Extremism is dangerous on both the personal and magical level; extremes generate pushback. “Dance to the Music.”

Evocation: A mage may establish communication with beings outside himself to create effects, summoning them to his presence. “Beings Without.”

Finite Senses: Every sense of every being is limited in range, type of information perceived, and in how it is interpreted. “Nobody Sees Everything.”

Identification: Through identification of common elements of oneself and another, the mage can become that being to the point of sharing its knowledge and power. This is the source of possession. “You Become Another”

Infinite Data: The number of phenomena to be learned is infinite, you will never run out of things to learn. “There is Always Something New.”

Infinite Universes: The total number of universes into which all combinations of phenomena could occur is infinite. “All things are Possible.”

Invocation: Every mage has within him powers that can be called forth to do his bidding. The mage is a microcosm of the universe, and can be the source of all that he requires. “Beings Within.”

Knowledge: This is the concept that understanding brings control. The more that something is known, the easier to exercise control over it. “Knowledge is Power.”

Names: Knowing the complete and true name of an object, being or process gives one complete control over it. Typically people have public names, private names and true names. Often the true name is unknown even to the person him or herself. “What’s in a Name? Everything.”

Negative Attraction: On occasion, like will attract unlike, with energy and their actions often attracting their opposite. Whether opposites or similars attract in a given spell is based on the skill of the Mage. “Opposites Attract.”

Personal Universes: Every being lives in a unique universe that cannot be completely shared with any other being.

Personification: Any phenomenon can be alive and have a personality, given the correct circumstances. As the original Runes have their own intentionality, so does every aspect of the world. “Everything is Alive.”

Perversity: If anything can go wrong, it will.

Polarity: Any Pattern can be split into two or more opposing principles, and each will contain the essence of the other within itself. “Everything Contains its Opposite.”

Positive Attraction: Like attracts like. To create a specific effect, it is good to have a little of that effect from which to start. That which is sent, returns. “From a Seed a Tree.”

Pragmatism: The simplest result and answer is the right one. Likewise a successful result creates its own truth. “If it Works, Its True.”

Self-knowledge: The most important kind of magical knowledge is about oneself; familiarity with ones own strengths and weaknesses is vital to success as a magician. “Know Thyself”

Similarity: Two things that look the same are tied together. Having an accurate image, sound, smell, etc. of an object or being facilitates control over it. “Look-alikes are Alike”

Synchronicity: Two or more events happening at the same time are linked. No event occurs in isolation from nearby events. “There are no Coincidences.”

Synthesis: Synthesis of two opposing patterns will result in a new pattern that applies in more areas and has more power than either of the originals. This new pattern will not necessarily be a compromise, but may be something wholly new. “Synthesis Reconciles.”

True Falsehoods: It is possible for a concept or act to violate the truth patterns for a given universe, but still work. In that context, it will become true, and the universe will shift around it. “If it’s a Paradox, It is Still True.”

Unity: Every phenomenon in existence is linked to every other one, past present & future. Perceived differences are based on incomplete understanding. “All is One.”

Words of Power: Certain words are able to alter reality just by being uttered. Their sounds tie to the primal essence of the world.

The bonus added to spellcasting is based on the application of the law:

[table=”width=75%;head”]Level|Examples|Typical Bonus


  • Caster does not specify target
  • Multiple similar uses of Law
  • Common Items



  • Unusual Items
  • Specific use of Law



  • Rare Items
  • Researched application of Law
  • Legendary Items
  • Quest-level application of Law

|25%-75% or more[/table]

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