Magic & The Freeport Companion

Magic stunts in Freeport  can be a little restrictive to start with, there are prerequisites needed to qualify for many spells. Starting mages may seem comparatively weak with little of the colour or versatility you might expect from such a character. What I tried to do was create a selection of stunts that would represent ‘archetypal’ mages – with each stunt branching into a series of related stunts representing signature spells we might associate with that archetype. This might seem overly generous, you’re getting a bag of stunts for the price of one – however, there is always a cost associated with each signature spell and there are strict rules restricting how often it’s used.

Sometimes, in order to cast a spell on the current exchange a mage will simply take one shift of mental stress, meaning they’ll be ticking off one box. This could have led to the profession Mystic becoming overpowered (a high rating will grant you additional stress boxes), so to balance this out I specified that a high rating in the profession Scholar will grant access to an additional stunt, providing a choice between the trigger-happy sorcerer and the studious wizard whose learning has opened up new spells for him to master. Additionally the Dabbler in Magic stunt allows players to appoint Aristocrat as their default spell-casting profession, capturing the flavour of bards and eldritch knights.

Also each stunt allows the PC to invoke one particular school of magic with each school functioning just like a character aspect. So I narrowed down the roster of schools to the classic eight, being careful to make clear distinctions between the parameters of each school, something that the designers of D&D never had to worry about, e.g. curative and restorative spells in the Player’s Handbook can be found categorised as belonging to the evocation school and the transmutation school among others. For aspects to really work in Fate they need to be clearly defined so that everyone at the table is clear as to what they can and can’t do. So abjuration is clearly defined as being protective and defensive and transmutation covers all mutative effects on the body, including rapid healing and regeneration. Keep these distinctions in mind as Dungeon Master. The schools of magic are potentially powerful aspects through the use of fate points. Consider what a player can do by declaring a story detail attached to the school of conjuration for example. Treated with care this can bring a lot of colour to games. Unusual magics are common enough in the realms so this should be a boon rather than a problem.

The stunts provided here are just examples of what you can do and I’ll be adding more in the future. Always consider the impact that a signature spell can have on the game and apply sensible restrictions. Magic can be fun but it shouldn’t leave non-mages feeling left out. There are many more classic spells available on the D&D Wiki SRD or the free .pdf of that game’s basic rules and you can use the examples here as a reference for any conversion attempts, not to mention what’s already in the Freeport Companion.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider with magic is that the schools are in effect aspects and sometimes the best way to describe a spell is by invoking that aspect. Is there any need for a Web spell if I can just invoke the school of conjuration to create passive opposition at +2 to hinder pursuers coming down that hallway? Equally with a spell like Spider Climb doesn’t it make more sense to spend a fate point and declare a story detail where I get to scuttle up that wall and over the ramparts because I have the School of Transmutation aspect? Encourage players to develop their own stunts and signature spells if that’s what they want but bear in mind the threat of over-kill! Try to have a good idea regarding what options you want to be available to PCs and how often.

 

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Improving Spells with Milestones

Be sensible when awarding milestones to players, particularly those who may access powerful stunts. Force players to be economical, particularly when looking to expand their magical capabilities.

In the case of significant milestones that would normally permit a player to increase a profession’s rating by a point you could also allow that player to improve an existing magical stunt, either adding a new signature spell available to that archetype or improving a spell. So, for example a spell that would normally only be usable once per scenario becomes available once per session and so on. Be careful when allowing players to increase shifts of damage attributed to spells and respect game balance.

Of course a major milestone will grant a player a bonus fate point which can be immediately spent on a new stunt, which might allow that player to complete the roster of signature spells available to them or indeed add a new mage archetype providing they have an aspect that justifies it. Just what amount of gold is necessary to buy these milestones will be determined by the Dungeon Master and campaigns can vary from one group to another. It’s also worth making temporary fate points available which may be bought during play – these points vanish from the refresh pool as soon as they are spent.

Detect Magic

Provided a PC has access to the School of Divination aspect then it makes sense that they might create an advantage using their spell-casting profession to uncover magical aspects in a scene. Those aspects may describe the lingering effects of spells, the presence of prohibitive magic in the form of wards or even the state of the weave itself when wild magics run unchecked.

In situations as described above a create an advantage action will be called for with passive opposition providing the difficulty. If the aspect being uncovered is particularly unique, then the Dungeon Master might be applying the Bronze Rule and treating the magic as being akin to a character, with multiple aspects and stunts. This makes a lot of sense in the case of high-level wards – prohibitive magics programmed to respond in specific ways to trespassers. In Faerûn every mage worth knowing employs a sigil as a kind of occult signature. If used for warding purposes that sigil may be reinforced by a number of charged glyphs, each one working in concert to contribute to a powerful ward.

Of course if the Player Character has access to the Detect Magic spell as described in the Freeport Companion then there may be no need to go to the dice but even if a magical aspect is revealed it’s effect may continue to influence and affect the scene: just like any other game or situation aspect. How to remove that aspect will be decided between players and Dungeon Master.

For some inspired ideas describing magical wards and traps see this page over at the Alexandrian blog: http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/12909/roleplaying-games/thought-of-the-day-disarming-magical-traps

For the Bards!

Stinging Rebuke (Aristocrat):  Your quick wit and sharp tongue, not to mention your general demeanour allow you to attack causing mental stress in situations that would normally preclude this action, e.g. where language barriers exist or amidst the chaos of the battlefield.

This stunt costs a fate point to use and lasts for one whole scene or conflict.


 

There you go, a Christmas present of sorts for the rogues out there. On a similar note, for Dungeon Masters looking to turn up the heat on mages it is worth remodelling this stunt in order to outfit monsters and foes who specialise in haranguing magic-users on the battlefield, e.g. a pack of goblins with the Magehunter stunt.

Wearing down a mage’s mental stress track can be an especially nasty tactic considering that many sorcerers and mystics depend on it as a resource when casting spells. In fact, as mentioned previously it’s worth looking at ways to present mental stress to players as part of the toils of adventuring in order to reign in magical powers. Accepting stress is a valid interpretation of a minor cost. For more examples of how mental stress can come about as a by-product of adventuring see the rules on Insanity in the Freeport Companion.

Counterspells

A further clarification on the rules described in the Magic & Damage section:

‘You may launch a counterspell, providing active opposition to any spell being cast that you are aware of regardless of the cost demanded by that specific magical effect.’

If a stunt gives you permission to employ a counterspell you are simply providing active opposition to an action that creates a magical effect where normally no active opposition would feature. As stated, the mage attempting to cast the spell will be forced to roll dice, actively opposed by a player or Dungeon Master even if he wasn’t using the create an advantage action. So, for example, if a mage is attempting a summoning spell that costs a fate point he will be forced to roll dice aswell if opposed by a mage with the ability to counterspell.

The DM should provide exceptions for certain magical effects where sensible, for example when magical items like scrolls and wands are in use. In the case of magic missiles and the like the counterspell should allow the target mage to make a defend action with his spellcasting profession rather than Acrobat.

This of course isn’t the only case where a mage may be faced with active opposition. For example a pack of frenzied Gnolls who have chosen to gang up on a priest might create the aspect Gnolls Breathing Down My Neck!, which the priest would have to overcome before casting any spell. The DM may rule in this case that removing the aspect will be actively opposed by the Gnolls.

Spellcraft – Converting D&D’s classic spells to Fate

Globe of Invulnerability:

You may cast the following spell once per scenario. An immobile, faintly shimmering magical sphere surrounds you and as many as three others, excluding any magical spells or effects that do not cost at least one fate point to cast. So, for example magic that affects one or more zones in any exchange must make special exception for those sheltered within the Globe of Invulnerability, including the Anti-Magic Field spell. The globe may be dismissed by a hostile mage, as per the rules in the Magic & Damage section but it will automatically cost a Fate point to attempt this. Additionally, the globe carries the aspect Fading Fast.

The material component is a small, spherical gem of some value that shatters upon the spell’s expiration.

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You have just read a conversion of the classic Lesser Globe of Invulnerability spell from the freely available Dungeons & Dragons System Reference Document. This is a stock spell that would have been a go-to for any forward thinking mage with a copy of the Player’s Handbook. However like many of D&D’s classic spells, the finer details necessitate the use of special rules. The key feature of this spell is it’s ability to preclude the effects of low-level spells on the area contained within the globe. Specifically the spells precluded are 4th level and lower.

Now, since the rules of FotFR (and probably most Fate games of this ilk, including the Freeport Companion), don’t feature exhaustive spell lists segmented according to level we have to rework the key features of this spell. We do want to capture the spirit of the original spell so let’s consider the intent behind the magic – the globe excludes the effects of all magics of limited potency. In order to replicate this approach we can decide that in FotFR these low-level magical effects will be considered to be any that do not cost at least one fate point to invoke.

Similarly, many spells in the Player’s Handbook specify a duration that is tied to the caster’s level. There being no equivalent to this mechanic in Fate we simply attach an aspect to the spell’s effect – Fading Fast. An experienced mage will likely have a big pool of fate points to draw from, enabling him to keep the spell ‘up’ for longer.

The key thing to bear in mind here is that there is no need to be too technical. Like the example above, if there is a vulnerability inherent to the spell such as a time limit then the simplest way to represent this is with an aspect. The players may need to create an advantage to learn of this aspect although as DM you could rule that any PC mage with some schooling in the Art will be aware of this aspect anyway.

In Fate of the Forgotten Realms each signature spell is accessed through a stunt describing a particular brand of mage. These stunts are known as Mage Archetypes. Like the branching effects detailed in the Skills & Stunts section of the Fate core system, each stunt will branch into a series of signature spells (often hand-picked by the player), reflecting the theme of the archetype.  There are many examples in the ‘Dungeon Master’s Guide’ accessible on this site but players and DMs are encouraged to create their own Archetypes, possibly reassigning signature spells from this site or incorporating new spells. Owing to the protective nature of the Globe of Invulnerability it would seem that the Guardian stunt would be a natural home for this spell.

Reigning in Magic

Some of the feedback I’ve been getting suggests that Dungeon Masters are not totally comfortable with the number of signature spells that come bundled with a magic-user stunt, deeming them overly generous. That’s fine and probably a fair assessment.

A simple remedy is to suggest that each mage stunt allows the player to have access to three spells at first with the option of adding extra spells to that list becoming available at minor milestones, provided they find material or training that would explain their new-found accomplishment. If a player wants the complete roster to go with that stunt he can always take it twice, e.g. Conjurer X 2 or pick up the Dabbler in Magic stunt. Either way, the system is still more playable than what’s described in the Freeport Companion.

It is of course not too late to have players edit their stunt lists and conform to the suggestions above if you’re a couple of sessions into your campaign. Fate is very forgiving when it comes to tweaking and rewriting stuff in the early stages.