Monday, May 16, 2011

Risus Falkenstein (Part III): Sorcery

Wherein Tom Olam continues to describe his thoughts on how to adapt the Magick system of Castle Falkenstein to Risus: The Anything RPG. Previous letters in this series can be found here and here.


In Castle Falkenstein, most practitioners of Magick are members of semi-secret Sorcerous Orders. Membership in one or more of these Orders can be represented by Sorcery Cliches, denoting Talent, access to Lorebooks, stereotypical member abilities, and the various social benefits.

Examples include:
  • Adept of the Illuminati (Promoting Enlightenment ideals; egypytology; being highly educated; manipulating nations, events, and people through elaborate conspiracies; Lorebooks: Manuscriptum Mentallis, LeRoeunís Scrolls of Dimensional Movement)
  • Hermetic Brother of the Golden Dawn (plotting to take over the world; meeting in secret; egyptology; being all sinister and spooky; Lorebooks: Dark Libram of Necromancy, Libram of Summonation)
  • Theosophic Master of the White Lodge (Being a connoisseur of crystals, self-help manuals, and therapeutic incense; believing in kooky theories; leading protests against technological innovations; subverting other lodges through mystical dreams; chanting and meditating; Lorebooks: Megronís Realm of Dreaming, Manuscript of Paranormal Divination)
  • Freemason (Infiltrating democratic governments; at least talking about the craft of stone masonry; performing works of charity; Lorebooks: The Manuscriptum Universal Alchemic; Agrivicca Rexus’ Realm of Illusion)
Beyond a handful of trivial and nearly universal cantrips, it is an Order's Lorebooks that define what spells a human sorcerer has learned and is able to cast. Most sorcerers will begin the game with complete mastery of their own Order's Lorebooks and will only need to access the physical books (in whatever form they take) to conduct thaumaturgical research. Knowledge of additional Lorebooks must typically be aquired during play, as the various Lodges, Brotherhoods, and Cabals jealously guard their occult secrets.

Each Lorebook contains one or more spells (typically four) that can be used to create a specific Magickal effect. The elegance of the Castle Falkenstein system is that you don't need a game mechanics to describe spells. A simple descriptive phrase (which may be the name of the spell itself) is usually enough. The original rules also assign a base energy cost for each spell, though for this adaptation it is not required. Noting the Magickal Aspect in the spell description is also optional (and it is usually obvious anyway).

  • Mental Command allows for the sorceror to give simple or complex mental commands to others.
  • Animation of the Dead
  • Universal Alchemic allows the caster to change the material structures of objects
  • Clairaudience allows the caster to mentally listen to conversations far away from his position.
Various rules options for casting spells in Risus Falkenstein are detailed below. It should be noted, however, that these rules are generally not required, nor are they desired when resolving conflicts using the Risus combat system. For one thing, working Magick is a time-consuming affair that generally operates outside the time-scale of traditional combat and would therefor be considered inappropriate. But even if there is sufficient time for spell casting, such as during large scale battles, patient games of court intrigue, conflicts against slow-moving impersonal forces, or wizard duels, the abstract Risus combat system is perfectly capable of handling spell-casting combatants. All that is required is that characters describe their actions in terms of Lore that they possess and restrict the effects to their intended target.

It should be noted that a skilled sorcerer (especially one employing an Artefact or Focus Item) can use their Sorcerous Cliches in regular martial combat so long as the spell that they are casting is one that they could normally cast without drawing additional energy (through Sorcery Dice or the Sorcery Deck, see below). Spellslingers (from Sixguns & Sorcery) are perfect examples of this. Pumping can also simulate the unraveling of one's self to power more powerful spells.

Outside of Combat, the following the following Target Number chart should serve as a guide for assigning difficulty to Spells.

Cantrip (TN3-4)
Amusing or nuisance effects. Examples include warming a beverage, cleaning your room, staying dry in a light rain, or producing small flame.
Includes effects that would otherwise rate as TN5 but are more easily resisted or avoided.
Simple (TN5)Any effect up to and including that which helps the party achieve something as a whole, or that acts as a tool to facilitate another activity.

Generally, an single bonus or penalty die that applies to a specific task. Can also create/summon temporary sidekicks that assist in a single task.
Ordinary (TN10)A standard effect that is meant to overcome a single obstacle that faces the character, or handle the character's share of an obstacle that faces the party.

Examples: eliminate an regular opponent, weaken an group of enemies, or provide automatic success/failure on a single task.
Complex (TN15)The effect would hog the scene a bit. Eliminate a group of opponents, kill/disable a single tough NPC, avoid/neutralize several obstacles.
Difficult (TN20)The effect would entirely upstage the other players, turning the other characters into bystanders for the rest of the scene and then some.

Teleporting into the Mastermind's secret chamber and escaping with the Princess that he was threatening to marry definitely counts.
Dangerous (TN25)Regional magic on an epic scale. Time to enter a montage sequence as the character raises an entire castle or decimates an entire army.
Impossible (TN30)Effects on a global scale. 

Simplified Modifiers (+5 TN each change)
  • # Targets: One target to a group of targets; group of targets to many targets.
  • Area of Effect: one small room to a wide are; a wide area to a small region
  • Duration: One task to many tasks; many tasks to lasting (almost permanent) effects
  • Nature of Targets: Wizards or Dragon among the targets; Dwarves among the targets (+10 TN)

NOTE: The Spell Target Number Table serves as an imprecise shorthand for the Spell Definition tables in the original Castle Falkenstein rules. Should the Host (Game Master) desire to use the original tables along with the listed energy costs for various spells, the final cost of a spell assumes that a Sorcery Deck is being used (see below). Divide this number by two to calculate a Target Number if dice are used instead.

Casting spells in Castle Falkenstein involves slowly gathering thaumic energies and tying them into complicated etheric knots. It's a process that takes takes time and thus is limited by the total amount of available energy in a given region. Energy is Aspected and if it does not match the type of spell that is being cast, undesirable Harmonic effects may result. And Wild Spells are a constant danger, especially as the amount of available thaumic energy is reduced.

To fully simulate the Falkenstein approach, Sorcery Dice can be used. In this system, the character's dice are not rolled all at once. Instead, the sorcerer follows the following procedure:
  1. Calculate the Target Number according to the Spell Target Number table (or use half the energy cost of a spell calculated using the original Castle Falkenstein rules)
  2. The character begins with an amount of energy equal to their current cliche level (adjusted for Pumping, Questing Dice, or Bonus Gear). If this number exceeds the TN of the spell, it is successfully cast.
  3. Every two minutes, the sorcerer can roll a single Sorcery Die, rolled on a quartered surface or with a reference die to determine suit (see this post). If the suit of the die matches the Aspect of the spell (see below) then the full amount can be applied to the total. Otherwise, the die counts only as a 1. If the die is not discarded then Harmonics (see below) associated with the suit will occur.
  4. With every roll of the dice, there is a chance that a spell will go horribly wrong. Wild Spells are more likely to occur depending on how many spells are currently being cast by all characters. Consult the table below for the odds. 
Aspects and Harmonic Effects

Emotional & Mental Magick: Causes a passionate emotional response in the target, caster, or bystander; stuns the target or caster or bystander; causes illusionary effects

Material Magick: Illusions/spirits take physical form; material properties are altered.

♣ Elemental Magick: Storm or natural disaster; elemental creatures summoned; ambient elemental powers strengthened or dampened

♠ Spirit & Dimensional Magick: Spirits or demons invariably summoned to the area

# Spells Being Cast
A Wild Spell Occurs On...
1 or 2
Roll a 1 of the aligned Aspect
Roll a 1 of the aligned Color (black or red)
Roll a 1 of unaligned Aspect
Roll a 1

As with the standard Castle Falkentstein rules, a regular deck of playing cards can be used to determine the amount of energy drawn in a given turn. One deck cards, called the Sorcery Deck, is shared among all spell casters in the geographical region.

Spell Target Numbers are doubled, as is the amount of free energy that a character starts with (i.e. a 5 dice cliche yields 10 points of free energy). Cards of the proper Aspect contribute their full face value (with Jacks equal to 11, Queens 12, Kings 13, and Aces 14). Jokers indicate Wild Spells.

I highly recommend this approach as it seems truer to the spirit of the original game and better simulates the odds of Wild Spells.


The Drune said...

Good stuff. I always liked the Castle Falkenstein setting but didn't care for the ruleset and never got around to adapting it, never played it.

Trey said...

Interesting. I have only a cursory familiarity with Castle Falkenstein, but your adaption makes it seem cool.

m.s. jackson said...

"Infiltrating democratic governments"
LOL I love that.
This looks pretty neat, I love your take on sorcery, very cool.

Risus Monkey said...

Thanks guys. Falkenstein remains one of my favorite RPGs for the quality of the presentation, the amazing setting, the rules-liteness, and the unique magic system. Any adaptation to a different system needs to capture the feel of that magic system and this article was my first stab at it. It will probably go through a couple of revisions before I distill this down to a PDF.

Nero said...

I like the idea of spell books to control the use of magicks. I've been on a lower power magic kick for awhile now.