Mage: the Awakening – Spellcasting 101

So, you want to cast a spell. It’s pretty easy. You’re a mage after all.

But if your player wants you to cast a spell, then we get into fiddly mechanical bits, as presented here.

Creative Thaumuturgy is an advanced topic. Right now, we’re just worried about the basic mechanics of casting spells.

The first part of spellcasting is figuring out what spell you want to cast. This requires an understanding of the spell, determined by your level of the Arcana. If your character has the appropriate level of an Arcana, he or she can do anything with the Arcana permissible up to that level. You don’t need the individual rote of a spell in order to do it, but there are benefits to having the rote. If you don’t know what your levels of an Arcana can do, look it up. Death’s spells start on page 210 of the MET Mage book, and the rest are listed in alphabetical order, broken up by levels of Arcana.

Once you’ve determined which spell you want to cast, judge if it’s an instant or extended casting of the spell. Instant cast spells are resolved in a single turn: either you cast it successfully or you don’t, and that’s it. Most spells cast in the heat of the moment are going to be instant spells. Extended cast spells are elaborate rituals, designed to give you more control over the spell. Spells you need to be very strong or to last a long time are probably going to be extended cast spells.

Next, find out if it’s covert or vulgar. Your storyteller or narrator can judge this if there are Sleepers in the area.  If it’s covert, carry on. If it’s vulgar, note that it’s vulgar, and come back to it after the next step.

Once those things are done, it’s time to think about dice pools. If you know the spell as a rote, you may use the listed rote die pool, a sum of an Attribute, a Skill, and an Arcanum. If you do not know the spell as a rote, you can cast the spell as an improvised spell using a combination of your Gnosis and the Arcanum of the spell. As you can see, one of the benefits of knowing the rote is having a higher potential die pool than if it were cast as an improvised spell.

The rest of the actual spell casting process is a list of additions to this standard procedure. The core set of these additions are known as Spell Factors, and adjust the Potency, Target(s), and Duration of the spell. The way to change these Spell Factors are through adjustments to your die pool, and the kind of spell, whether instant or extended, that you cast.

Your basic spell, without any additions, is assumed to be the following if successfully cast:

  • Potency: 1
  • Target: 1 target (Size 20 or smaller), or a circular radius of a yard or a defined area of five square yards around a particular spot. Spells that normally affect individual targets may be changed to affect volumes if the caster has at least one dot higher than the minimum Arcanum required for the spell. Using Advanced Area-affecting factors requires two dots higher.
  • Duration: Until you take another action for Concentration spells, one turn for Transitory spells, one hour/scene for Prolonged spells, or a permanent change for Lasting spells. Advanced duration factors may be used if the caster has at least one dot higher than the minimum Arcanum required for the spell.

One of these factors is the primary factor, and can vary from spell to spell. Usually it’s Potency, but it will be listed in the spell’s write-up. Primary factors only matter for Instant spells, and automatically increase with extra successes on your casting roll but cannot be increased further by taking penalties.

You can, as mentioned above, change other, non-primary factors by taking penalties to your casting roll for instant spells or increasing the target number of successes for extended spells. Potency and Target modifiers are on page 149-150. Duration modifiers are on page 152. A condensed version of all the modifiers is on page 162. These modifiers are added after situational penalties and penalties due to Sympathy, and you cannot apply factors whose penalties would reduce your pool below one.

Special spell factors exist, and require levels of Arcana rather than changes in dice pools. These special spell factors include sympathetic casting (requires Space ••, page 143), conditional duration (requires Fate ••, page 152), exempted targets (requires Fate ••, page 154), prepared spells (requires Time ••, page 154), or conditional triggers (requires Fate and Time ••, page 155).

Once you come up with your cast pool, including modifiers, you’re almost all set. Two more things remain.

Remember when we asked if the spell was vulgar or not? Well, here’s when it becomes important. If the spell is vulgar, you might invoke Paradox for casting it. Draw a card.  If the card’s value is less than the casting mage’s Gnosis or if the card is a 1, the mage has invoked a Paradox, regardless of the casting’s success or failure. If the card is equal to or greater than the mage’s Gnosis or is a 10, then the mage does not invoke a Paradox.

Much like spellcasting, there can be modifiers to a Paradox test. You can mitigate it by spending extra mana and if you’re using a rote, you draw twice and take the best. If you do generate Paradox, you’ll have to make another draw to determine how much. This is one card, halved, up to a maximum of your Gnosis before modifiers.

Once you know how much Paradox you’ve generated, you can choose to absorb some or all of it – suffering a Resistant level of Lethal damage per point – or release it. The modifiers and backlash rules can be found on pages 158-159, as well as what happens at the end of all your paradoxin’ if you’ve released any points. The duration of effects from released points is based on your Wisdom, and can be found on page 169.

At the end of all that, you roll your spell adjusting for modifiers, spend your mana, and apply its effects based on what the spell says it does, assuming you’re successful. You can have a maximum number of successes equal to your die pool, and spells that deal damage are capped by the highest unmodified factor in the pool, usually five.


Arcana Requirements

All alterations to Arcana requirements are cumulative.

  • Base Arcana Requirement: Highest Arcana in spell, or first if all are the same level.
  • +1 dot: If the spell is changed to affect the area  around a particular spot instead of designated targets. (pg. 150)
  • +1 dot: If the spell is Area-effecting, using the Advanced Area-affecting factors instead. This is cumulative with the above if the original spell was single-target (pg. 150)
  • +1 dot: If the spell is Prolonged, using the Advanced Prolonged factors instead. (pg 152)
  • +1 dot: two spells cast in combination; minimum Gnosis 3 or higher. (pg. 167)
  • +1 dot: a sympathetic spell that affects a pattern. (pg. 146)
  • +1 dot: casting a Fraying, Unraveling, or Unmaking spell as a ritual (pg. 139)

Dice Pools

  • Improvised Casting: Arcana + Gnosis
  • Rote Casting: Attribute + Skill + Arcana of the rote.
  • Some common modifiers:
    • High Speech: +2, requires High Speech Merit (free with Order membership), takes an extra turn if used with an instant spell. (pg 147)
    • Willpower: +3, limit of one per turn.
    • A Demesne: +1 for spells using the Arcana of the appropriate Realm. This can increase your success cap. (pp 182-183)
    • Assistants: as per the rules for assisting; must have all required Arcana to cast the spell, barring the Ritual Synergy Merit. Each assistant increases the success cap by 1.
    • Tie to the Land: +1 if the spell uses one of the Ruling Arcana from the Consilium’s Status 5 Mage’s Path as its Primary Arcana. (pg 133)
    • Sympathetic Ties: penalty based on strength of tie to the target when casting a sympathetic spell. (pg 143)
    • Altered Factors: penalty based on factor (pp 149-150)

Mana Costs

  • 1 mana, when specified in the spell description. Spells that deal aggravated damage always require a mana.
  • 1 mana for spells using improvised casting from the character’s Common or Inferior Arcana.
  • 1 mana for spells using sympathetic targeting.
  • 1 mana for spells using Area-affecting or Advanced Area-affecting factors.
  • 1 mana to activate a Time •• prepared spell
  • 1 mana during casting for a prepared spell with a Fate and Time •• conditional trigger.

An example of Instant Rote Spellcasting

Johnny Orangeseed is a Thyrsus who thinks that you shouldn’t have to compare apples to oranges because the citrus is simply better. He gets incensed when a local apple magnate is trying to do business in his town, so he sneaks out to the orchard to do some late night transformative magic with his Master level understanding of Life (he has five dots in the Arcana, one of his ruling as a Thyrsus).

After successfully sneaking in, he decides he’s going to change all the fruit he can see from apples to oranges. This spell is performed using Transform Base Life (Life •• required, page 274) of which Johnny has the rote. The rote’s base pool is Intelligence + Animal Ken or Survival (whichever is higher) + Life, and Johnny’s total pool with his Int of 4, Survival of 4, and Life of 5 is 15. It would normally be contested by stamina, but the poor unsuspecting apples have none, and Johnny’s base pool is still 15.

The base target for the spell is normally just one apple, but Johnny is too upset at the injustice to stand for it, and decides instead to affect an area instead of one designated target. This changes the Arcanum requirement from •• to •••, which Johnny meets with his five-dot rating. The orchard is a full acre though, and Johnny needs to upgrade his Area-Affecting to Advanced Area-Affecting, which brings the Arcanum requirement to ••••, still being met. Looking up the Advanced-Area Affecting table, we see that the highest listed radius affected is 256 yards, or 512 yards in diameter, about 1/5th of an acre (4840 yards2). Just under the table though, we see that he can take additional -2 penalties to quadruple the area, so if he really wants to affect the whole thing, he can take a -14 penalty to affect 16,384 yards.

This brings Johnny’s pool to a scant 1 (and he can’t go any lower, because he can’t take penalties that would bring it below 1), but Johnny has a few tricks up his sleeve to even out the rote. Starting with his pool of 1, Johnny decides that this is very important to him, and so he starts intoning High Speech to give him a +2 bonus, bringing him to 3. Johnny also finds that his hatred of apples stirs his will, and spends a willpower for a +3 bonus, getting up to a pool of six.

Johnny’s satisfied with that, and so has to spend his mana to cast the spell. There’s no cost listed with the rote, but Johnny did switch to Area-Affecting, which will set its cost to one mana. Additionally, it’s a vulgar spell, and Johnny doesn’t want to risk the paradox involved. Even though he draws twice and uses the best result (he’s casting a rote), Johnny decides to spend 3 additional mana (his cap, since he’s got Gnosis 4) to increase the value of the Paradox Draw’s card by three. After the draw is done, Johnny doesn’t get any paradox, and rolls to see the results of his genius spell casting.

He gets a success, and all of the apples of the orchard are in fact turned into oranges. In fact, any apple within 16,384 yards of Johnny is turned into an orange.

However, Johnny forgot to take penalties to adjust the duration of the spell, and without any additional factors devoted to it, it will just use its base prolonged duration of one scene.

An example of Extended Rote Casting

Rosemary, an Acanthus, is tired of her clients not listening to her, and decides that she is going to make everyone who steps in her office submissive and agreeable. This requires Emotional Urging, a Mind •• rote found on page 307.

The spell’s base rote is Manipulation + Empathy + Mind, contested by Composure + Gnosis. Since there’s no one in the building when she casts it, there’s no one to contest. If Rosemary’s spell is successful though, when people walk into the building, they must contest the effect of the spell at that time. Rosemary can’t get more successes on the spell than her base pool, which is 11, made up of her Manipulation of 3, her Empathy of 4, and her Mind of 4.

She sets to work defining her spell factors. She’s going to increase the Arcanum requirement from •• to ••• so that she can change the spell from targeting a person to affecting an area. She starts with a base target number of 1, for a 1 Potency, scene-long spell affecting one person. Her office is 150 square feet, or about 50 square yards. To affect the entire thing, she’ll need to add 5 successes of the spell to get a 64 yard diameter circle. Additionally, she wants it to last for a while, and the Prolonged nature of the spell just isn’t cutting it. She’ll increase the Arcanum requirement by another dot (bringing it to ••••) to use the Advanced Prolongation tables. She decides that a week is good enough to see if the changes are useful, so she devotes 3 successes to declare a week as the spell’s duration. She’s going to take a penalty on the roll too, to use the special spell factor of Target Exemption, since she’s got the Fate to do it. Her player lets the storyteller know that Rosemary’s exempting “Her Cabal” as a group exemption to the affect, and will take a -2 penalty to her spell casting rolls. This penalty doesn’t affect her possible number of successes though, which is still her base pool of 11. Rosemary has one more Factor to define, and that’s the Potency. Since she’s tied up 9 successes of a possible 11, she decides to devote the remaining 2 to that last factor, bringing Potency to 3, and is ready to move on to checking for paradox and rolling the spell.

The spell itself is covert, so there’s no Paradox check made. The rest of the process goes through like normal. Rosemary has to spend one mana for converting the target from one person to a room instead. If Rosemary didn’t have the rote, she’d have to spend a great deal more, but for now, she just has to pay one mana to cast it.

Now come the actual draws. Rosemary has a total of 11 possible draws of her pool of 9 to get to 11 successes. Her Gnosis of 3 means that each pull takes one hour, and she may rest for 30 minutes between draws. If she goes on too long, she may have to check against fatigue. She can intone High Speech on each draw, bringing her pool back to 11 each time she makes a pull. She can also spend a willpower each draw, but decides against it. The spell’s finished when she either reaches her 11 successes or when she makes 11 pulls without accumulating all of them.

If she does succeed, and reaches her 11 successes, anyone entering the room who isn’t part of her cabal needs to make a Composure + Gnosis roll, and they need to get four successes (the spell’s Potency). If they don’t, they’re affected by the Emotional Urging in place, and feel submissive and agreeable, as per Rosemary’s spell.

These are just two examples, and there are many ways to change or modify the casting to suit your needs and tastes. Play around, and email your storytellers if you have any questions.