Help me adjudicate a Magical Focus in "Written material"

A new PC is about to enter our saga: a maga obsessed with books and written works. The player was thinking on giving her a relevant Magical Focus, so that her magic would be "book based" too. But "books" felt a bit narrow, and besides, in medieval Europe written material (particularly ancient stuff) can take many forms not quite what modern "books" are, from rolls of papyrus to rune-inscribed monoliths.

So, the alternative "written material" came out. This thread is about trying to reach a consensus about a) reasonable scope and b) "pricing" (Major or Minor - or "too broad for a Major/too narrow for a Minor") for such a Focus.

Admittedly, written material is rather scarce in the middle ages, and writing magically is a very narrow activity. But thinking a little about it, "written material" can be a pretty broad Focus - because all you have to do is to turn something into "written material" and bam, your Focus applies. Of course, this will require extra time (first write, then affect magically). Obviously, you can't do this with Mentem, Ignem, Auram, and most Vim, Aquam, Imaginem. You can do it with much of Herbam and Terram, but it will be conspicuous; and you can do it with most of Corpus and Animal, but it will be conspicuous and rather upsetting for most targets. Also, note that a Focus spread across a broad range of Arts is less useful than one that covers the same "ground" but with only a TeFo combination: because either you'll need to be a generalist, loosing "oomph", or effectively waste part of the scope. Finally, I confess being partial to the aesthetics of the maga inscribing (mundanely or magically) with arcane-looking symbols the surface of stuff she needs to affect.

Putting this all together ... I'd be tempted to say it pushes the envelope of a Major Focus, but it's not quite outside of it. I'd restrict it to affecting targets, or Parts, whose surfaces are mostly (more than 50%) written. Runes and pictograms count, drawings do not (troupe's adjudication for edge cases).


I believe you need to define if the focus applies either on anything with some written symbols or on specific written medium and writing.
Let me clarify:
Case 1: using CrIg to form a rune of fire in the air to blast an enemy. Basically, a pilum of fire-type effect but squishing in a letter to benefit from the focus. I personally would not even consider that as applicable, it is just a cosmetic change to a pilum of fire.
Case 2: books, letters, parchments and possibly other medium as long as they carry some written symbol. Here again, if a carpet has written on it "Shazam", and the mage would like to make it fly, no. It is a carpet that happen to have some letters.
But if it is about crafting books, repairing/destroying books, writing, even carving letters, I am ok, and I will consider that a minor focus, because even if it can be used with many form, it is quite specific and narrow in application.
For example, if the mage makes 2 m tall letters of fire to form a wall, I would not consider that part of the focus since, again, it is purely a cosmetic effect slapped on a wall of fire, but if he uses fire to burn a message into a wooden palisade, I might consider that.

I tend to consider the intent and the main effect more than a purely strict definition, which means there is a part of arbitrary, but I try to focus on the spirit of the focus more than on the letter. My players knows that and don't try to stretch too thin the definition of the focus.

A part that you might want also to clarify with the player is magical glyphs and runes. Personally, I would not consider that as part of the focus: it is only how magic is expressed or formalised, but it is not writing for itself - the important part is not the runes, but the effect that those runes creates.


Hmm. I would probably add the stipulation that "written material" must be at least one sentence long. Then:

Actually I would allow it with both
a) one extra magnitude for complexity (it's not trivial to write a sentence with fire runes that you are simultaneously tossing at an enemy) and
b) a small reduction of fire damage (equivalent to losing a magnitude of effectiveness) because the fire is clearly not optimized to engulf the target, as with a Pilum.
Noting that this specific variant also means that there are likely no Lab texts available, I do not think it would be unbalanced.

Note that you'd need to inscribe at least half of the whole surface of the carpet with writing. Hmm. I had not thought about the application to enchanted devices. The focus would only apply to R:Per effects targeting the enchanted device (making a carpet fly, making a sword sharp, but not making an inscribed wand that shoots fireballs), but maybe it's too broad? Hmm. Still not sure for a Major.

The problem is that this focus is not about writing. It's about written material.
"Books" would be a narrow Minor Focus, but you can certainly create walls of books, cast swarms of flaming books at the enemy, or fly on top of a large, enchanted, flying book. The purpose of expanding this to "written material" and a Major Focus was to include stuff like rune monoliths and skin tattoed with arcane inscriptions. I would not want something narrower than "Books".

This sounds like a brilliant necessary condition. A little harsh but comparable to short-range magic.

As a focus, I would call it a game breaker.

  1. You can use it for every enchantment with only small and rare downsides.
  2. You can use it with every magical sense spell with little downside; mainly because it will take a round or two extra to write what you need on your arm.
  3. You can almost always use it on your wards, where it is important to get penetration.

Either (1) or (2) is too broad for a major focus, and here you have both.

I assume you do not consider letting it apply to learning spells from lab texts, because that would make it truly ridiculous.

You are of course right that it does not boost an arbitrary concept. When it does not help learning new spells, it only really boosts formulaic spells when you need penetration, and as you point out, you may not be able to write on targets with an MR. However, the application to enchantments is a real killer, and so is a combo with advanced use of ceremonial casting.

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Hmm. This is a very interesting take on it. It does have the problem, of course, that it makes the maga worse at everything else, rather than better at this stuff - which was the basic premise. But it's very interesting.

No. Note that I am strongly in the camp that a focus in swords does not apply to every enchantment whose material form is a sword, but only to enchantments creating, modifying, moving etc. swords, regardless of the form of the enchanted device (for the same reason why a focus in "men" does not apply to every magic cast by a male wizard).

No. The magical sense is not "written material". Stuff like sensing Auras, or having your sight unimpeded by a particular element does not work. A variant of Frosty Breath of the Frozen Lie may, though.

  1. You can almost always use it on your wards, where it is important to get penetration.

Hmm, yes, I guess, at the cost of making them conspicuous? Wards can benefit from some boost, actually.

Either (1) or (2) is too broad for a major focus, and here you have both.

Not really!

I assume you do not consider letting it apply to learning spells from lab texts, because that would make it truly ridiculous.

No, of course not.

You are of course right that it does not boost an arbitrary concept. When it does not help learning new spells, it only really boosts formulaic spells when you need penetration, and as you point out, you may not be able to write on targets with an MR. However, the application to enchantments is a real killer, and so is a combo with advanced use of ceremonial casting.

Not ... really. Certainly not with enchantments, as I wrote above. With ceremonial casting? Meh, not really, per se. I mean, it only works with ceremonial casting in that the "speed cost" of having to make sure that the target is inscribed is already "paid for" when casting ceremonially. But it does not work just because you can "write while casting" - just as a Focus in "men" does not apply to all magic cast by a male wizard. For example, there's no way to cast Wrath of Wirling Winds and Water while benefiting from this Focus. An Aegis ... might benefit, as long as at least 50% of the Boundary is inscribed with writing.

Ultimately remember: this would be a Focus just like Wood, except that instead of affecting material objects made of wood, it affects material objects mostly covered with writing. Books "expanded", so to speak.

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Make it a Special Circumstances then.

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This is true of nearly all Minor Magical Foci, though, right? If this is grounds for something to not qualify as Minor, there should be nearly no Minor ones. So I would recommend this is never used to gauge a Focus's breadth.

Now, if the Focus encompasses anything at all with any writing or pictogram on it, as opposed to doing some Muto, that's a whole different thing. Then you could etch some letters into anything and this would apply, so it could be used extremely broadly, especially in enchanting. So, is a cathedral, for example, "written material"?

No. Note that I wrote that only something mostly covered in writing qualifies (and writing must be at least a sentence). A very weird cathedral would qualify if it were written all over. The vast majority of cathedrals (and all I know) do not.

And keep in mind that, as I said, according to our interpretation enchanting an object of type X with an effect does not benefit from a Focus bonus in X unless the target of the effect is of type X (including the object itself). Yes, this would make it easy to enchant items of all types that affect themselves, but it does not seem terribly unbalancing.

OK, then I completely misunderstood what the intention was.

I still struggle. You suggest a rune monolith, so you can take a rune monolith and enchant it to animate it to whack your enemies, but you can not make a rune sword to whack them with?

You can animate both a rune-covered monolith and a rune-covered sword.
Note that this does not mean a sword with a pair of runes on the hilt. Most of the sword must be covered in writing. Basically, the first thing one should think when seeing the sword should be "oh, there lots of stuff written here ... is this a book in a different form?".

Right. I was pointing out the major difference between making something into a "written material" (e.g. a book) with Muto magic v. making something into "written material" by etching a tiny bit of it. The former pretty clearly never precludes a Focus from being Minor and should be ignored. The latter would be different. But as the latter isn't accepted here, I don't see the issue.

Then I stick with what I said; you can generally apply to bonus on any enchanted item with little inconvenience. Worried that your cloak of writing will give you away as an evil wizard? Well, write it on the inside and you'll be fine. For a Verditius, this focus is an absolute killer. For magi who cannot afford the vis for an enchantment, it may be balanced enough.

Yes, but ezzelino is house-ruling away this canonical use of Foci.

Cover you staff in writing and you can apply the Focus to your talisman. Apply writing to your familiar and you can apply it to your familiar. Apply writing on yourself and you can apply it to your longevity ritual.

Seems problematic to me.

Now, if the focus was on writing (instead of materials), then it might be fine as a minor focus IMHO.

I don't think he did. He just said that it works if it is mostly covered in writing.

Doesn't help if you do not have the vis to invest a power, which was my point.

Cover yourself in writing and any spell you cast on yourself benefits from the focus. That doesn't require vis. Same for your grogs and their equipment, your familiar, your lab, your covenant.

The more I read what you (@ezzelino ) described, the more I think it should be a new target/range. A minor virtue, possibly complementary to Numerologist tradition:

Virtue: Runes of Power / Writing of Power
As Target (Equivalent to Ind.) as long as the target is mostly covered with symbol or writing.
As Range (Equivalent to Touch) as long as the target is mostly covered with symbol or writing, the mage can affect it as if the Range was Touch.

I am just throwing suggestion like that, you probably want to add some limiting factor or better defined what means "mostly covered with symbol".

Obviously, spells need to be invented with the "Runes/writing" target or range. Then the target needs to be covered with runes/writing, and not just random scribbles. The writing needs to related somehow to the target, so it takes times to affect larger target.
It is a tradition that is not good at reactive magic, however when magic-user of this tradition are prepared, they can have very efficient spells (low level comparatively).

You want to have a flying house ? Spend a day carving it's whole, but then a simple spell will do the job, instead of ReTe (Structure +3, Touch +1, Conc.), ReTe (T: Writing 0, Writing +1, Conc), saving 15 levels of spell.

So then the mage might want to invent spell that allows him to write quickly on surface (with Finesse check), his magic will always be delayed by this preparation step, but on the other hand, can affect larger target with relatively basic spells.

If you want to link it to the numerologist tradition, maybe the text written on the target must be a paragraph from the mage's book, and the paragraph acts as an AC allowing to affect the target with this new Range/Target.


Yes, but now you cannot say that there is no inconvenience.

TBF though, I was thinking that the writing has to be related to the magic, which is a trope that I love. That probably is not the case in OP's proposal, so you do have a point.

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Just curious: is it canonical? I think the RAW is, at the very least, unclear.
More precisely: I (and other people) think it's clearly disallowed by the RAW, but I know other people think it's clearly allowed.

I seem to recall that David Chart opened a thread about it - to clarify one way or another - and since there appeared to be a strongly polarized, and fairly evenly divided response about how to interpret what was already written, he decided to leave it muddy.

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