Amber Diceless RPG - Sorcery - Expanded Sorcery System

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An Expanded Sorcery System For the Amber Roleplaying Game

(c) 1994 by David Rourke

The rulebook for the Amber Roleplaying Game provides guidelines for one major aspect of the sorcery described by Zelazny in Merlin's Chronicles: creating and hanging spells. There are other aspects, however, that must be taken into consider- ation in order to remain reasonably faithful to the source material.

Working With Raw Power

A sorceror in a shadow where there is significant magical power can channel that power to achieve effects that are not subtle, but which nonetheless can be effective. The kinds of effects that can be wrought with this type of magic are generally psychokinetic in nature (pushing, pulling, throwing, bashing, lifting, blocking). It is also possible to attempt to directly disintegrate an object by breaking it apart at the molecular level (a strong Psyche advantage would be needed to create this effect in the body of an opponent). The use of raw power is crude and inexact; you might be able to bash a door down, but you couldn't pick a lock. Manipulating raw power is slower than releasing hung spells or power words (although faster than creating spells). The force that can be applied depends on the amount of magic that is locally available, how familiar the sorceror is with the nature of that magic, and the strength of the sorceror's Psyche. If two mages are attempting to affect each other with raw power, the forces involved will directly counter each other (the contest could be described as something akin to an arm wresting contest). The use of raw power is very tiring, so Endurance is critical.

Simple Spells

Simple spells allow local manipulation of minor aspects of the environment. They can affect only a small area at a time, and cannot open conduits from one shadow to another. Simple spells can only affect inanimate objects and are of little use in combat except for intimidation (you might be able to make your eyeballs glow, but you could not shatter an enemy's sword). Examples of simple spells include lighting candles, creating a globe of light, or changing the colour of an object. Most sorcerors know between five and fifteen simple spells. It takes anywhere from a few seconds to a minute to cast a simple spell, depending on how conducive the local shadow environment is to magic. An experienced sorceror can create a new simple spell from scratch in about 6 hours. Modifications to simple spells can be made more quickly, as determined by the GM. It is possible to hang simple spells, but they take such a short time to cast that there is usually not much point.

Complex Spells

Complex spells are described in the Amber rulebook. They involve major manipulations of local shadow, the opening of conduits from one shadow to another, the linking of one mind to another, or the combining of sorcery with other powers. Complex spells are time-consuming to cast and even more time-consuming to develop. Use the system described in the Amber rulebook, with the addition of the following guidelines: + Most spells either make some enduring and static change to a person, object, or place (e.g., turning someone invisible or generating a magical ward); or they produce an immediate effect (e.g., throwing a fireball at an opponent's head). Spells that are immediate or static require concentration only when the spell is cast or its effects are modified.

1) If a spell produces a continuing active effect (i.e., one which must be controlled or adjusted as it occurs rather than making a static change), then it requires concentration as long as it continues. Any break in concentration (being startled, engaging in combat, receiving a wound, attempting to use a Trump card) will cause the spell to go down. Examples of spells with continuing active effects include flight spells, digging spells, and spells that create a moving illusion.

2) In describing a spell, the designer should give careful consideration to its physical effects under various conditions. Many spells have important limitations that become obvious with a little thought. The classic example from the books is Merlin's invisibility spell, which would make the user blind if used at 100% efficiency because the light would then pass through his eyes without being stopped by his retinas. Merlin must therefore keep himself slightly visible so that he can see his surroundings dimly. Don't think in terms of game mechanics but in terms of what those mechanics represent. For example, say a player wants to create a spell that allows her character to walk on walls and ceilings. Such a spell could work in different ways (e.g., making her feet sticky, holding her feet to a surface with kinetic force, or changing the direction of gravity). Each possibility has different implications for using the spell (how much concentration is needed, what kinds of surfaces it will work with, what an opponent can do to counter it, etc.). Every spell should be carefully considered for such implications before it is used in the game.

Hanging Spells

Spell hanging works just as it does in the game book for Logrus users and Adepts of Broken Pattern. If a character is an Initiate of the Pattern, he may also hang spells on it. Such spells take half again as long to cast, but they decay at about half the rate of spells hung on the Logrus. Spells that are hung on an item are more likely to decay when the object passes through shadows with different magical rules than are spells hung on Pattern or Logrus. Magical Combat Magical combat is a complex process, depending on such factors as what spells the opposing sorcerors have available, what their attributes are, how familiar they are with the local magical environment, and tactical factors such as use of terrain and timing of spells. A well-timed dagger thrust can be as effective as a spell in the midst of an arcane duel. As a rule of thumb, defensive magic is quicker and more effective than offensive magic, so that many magical duels result in both mages expending all of their offensive spells without injuring each other. Once spells are expended, the sorcerors can attempt to attack using raw power; at that point victory is usually determined on the basis of the Psyche and Endurance attributes.

Lynchpins In Combat

Any hung spell is cast after its lynchpins have been spoken. This process takes about three seconds for each lynchpin. An opponent with a high Warfare and famil- iarity with the nature of sorcery will generally have plenty of time to react to the casting of a spell.

Defending Against Spells

A spell can be avoided in any of the following ways (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list; nor do I want to imply that any of these methods will work all the time):

1) Mental attacks can be avoided by having a significantly higher Psyche than the attacker, or by having a major power brought to mind (e.g., Pattern or Logrus, for example.).

2) Physical effects can be dodged, blocked by armor, or otherwise avoided by keeping the attack from hitting or damaging its target. The kinds of physical defenses that may be effective depend on the specific spell being avoided. Since the accuracy of physical attacks with sorcery are governed by the Warfare attribute, it is often very hard to hit an opponent with a higher score in War- fare. If the defender has a primal power like Logrus brought to mind and is concentrating on it, the effect of the attack will be lessened.

3) Any spell can be disrupted by a Power Word. Most commonly, Magic Neg- ation is used to interfere with the release of lynchpins, but any Power Word that breaks the casterÕs concentration can have the same effect. Burst of Psyche, Psychic Defense, and Defensive Luck can be used to avoid a spell even after it has been cast. Pattern Negation or Logrus Negation may affect spells based on those powers. Note that if the attacker has a higher Psyche than the user of the Power Word, the spell may still work.

3) It is possible to use raw power to block a complex spell. Only physical attacks can be blocked using raw power. Blocking with power is difficult and less cer- tain than using a complex spell. If you have run out of defensive spells or are trying to hoard your spells, however, it can be an effective defensive tactic, par- ticularly if you have advantages over your opponent in Warfare (to block effec- tively) and Endurance (to avoid exhaustion).

4) Many mages hang spells that are designed to block opposing spells. Since it is hard to predict what sorts of spells one might need to cope with, such defen- sive spells are simple and designed to block a wide range of attacks.

New Spell: Simple Block

Creates a temporary barrier to magical attacks by changing an area of the local shadow so that it is incompatible with magic. It can affect an area immediately around the caster or any area up to about 10 feet across in the casterÕs view. This spell lasts for just a few seconds, so it will generally negate one opposing spell. It will tend to work even when a Power Word would not (e.g., against an opponent of significantly higher Psyche).

Type: Defensive

Micro-Spell: Shadow Manipulation

Base Casting Time: 30 minutes

Lynchpins: Additional 5 minutes of casting time each.Name of Current Shadow, Gestures (to define where the block is to occur). Since there are normally only two lynchpins, this spell can be cast more quickly than most attack spells.

Sorcery vs. Primal Powers

Sorcery, at 15 points, appears to be very cheap for its power and flexibility. Balancing its advantages are two major disadvantages. First, it is very time con- suming to create, hang, and maintain spells (as described in the rulebook). Second, magic is less effective against those who possess powers like Pattern and Logrus. In particular, if an initiate of a primal power has that power brought to mind, they become very resistant to magical effects of a psychic nature. Even physical magical effects will tend to miss or have a lesser effect. Primal powers can also be used to dispel magic. For example, if you encounter a magical barrier that prevents you from entering a doorway, you may be able to penetrate it by bringing Pattern to mind and using it to push through the barrier. A Pattern artifact like Grayswandir can be used to break wards, parry spells, and generally negate most magic used against the bearer (we can theorize that the reason why so little magic is seen in the first series is that Grayswandir provided Corwin with such a potent defense). Similar anti-magic effects can be achieved with Trump and Logrus. For sorcerors with access to a primal power, such negating effects can be somewhat offset by practicing magic based on that power (see below). For example, if you place an enemy in stasis with a spell that incorporates Pattern energy, the spell will tend to resist being disrupted with a Logrus tendril (and will also be harder to dispel by simply moving the enemy through shadow).

Advanced Sorcery

There are several possibilities in developing sorcery beyond the basic 15 point power:

Spell Editing (5 points) Prerequisite: Sorcery. A sorceror with this ability can create extremely efficient, well-defined spells which can be held by fewer lynchpins. Such spells take twice as long to cast, but require only half as many lynchpins (round up). This effect is achieved by combining lynchpins together (e.g., Name of Shadow and Location of Target could be defined as just one lynchpin instead of two). An edited spell takes less time to release, yet the caster has just as much control over the effects as an unedited spell.

Pattern Sorcery (5 points) Prerequisites: Sorcery and Pattern Initiation. By combining Pattern initiation with Sorcery, spells can be developed that use the power of the Pattern. In particular, Pattern-based spells will be particularly good a effects that hold things in place (defensive, barrier, or stasis spells). Pattern-based spells will also be resistant to disruption by Logrus effects. If the sorceror is an Advanced Pattern Initiate, spells can be imbued with Pattern energy, allowing such effects as projecting spells through the Pattern lens, freezing whole shadows, and summoning bursts of Pattern force.

Logrus Sorcery (5 points) Prerequisites: Sorcery and Logrus Mastery. By combining Logrus mastery with Sorcery, spells can be developed that use the power of the Logrus. Such spells will be particularly good at effects that break things apart (e.g., disintegration spells) or change them in an unpredictable way. Logrus-based spells can be cast down a Logrus tendril, adding vast range to a sorcererÕs magical reach (note, however, that an enemy may be able to cast spells back through a tendril or engage the spellcaster in a contest of Psyche). An Advanced Logrus Master can imbue spells with Logrus energy, allowing such effects as firing a bolt of primal Chaos at an enemy.

Besides Pattern and Logrus, it may be possible to combine sorcery with other powers (e.g., Trump) to achieve more advanced effects, depending on the playerÕs researches and the GMÕs conceptions of how those powers work.

Good luck

David Rourke turlogh@world.std.com