Variant Hermetic Magic


It's been a while since I've posted variant rules, so it's about time.

These rules substitute for Hermetic Magic and are suitable for a simpler, lower powered game:

  • Hermetic spell and effect guidelines are used normally but magi and vis have no Art scores.

  • Magic Theory is now part of Magic Lore, but is too broad to be a specialty.

  • Casting Score = Sta + Magic Lore + Aura + etc

  • Lab Total = Int + Magic Lore + Aura + etc

  • Formulaic, Spontaneous and Ritual Casting Totals have their usual relationships to Casting Score.

  • Parma Magica: A magus' MR is equal to Finesse+Penetration+5*Parma. Add your Parma Magica (not multiplied by 5) to any defense against a total that includes Finesse. Finesse represents the exceptional flexibility of your magic, including defense. Penetration represents exceptional raw power of your magic, including defense. ML represents your conscious knowledge and directed prowess, and is not included.

  • Most virtues and flaws related to Arts (Affinity, Puissant, Deft, Minor Magic Focus...) do not apply.

  • New Free Hermetic Virtue: Magic Focus - This has the scope of a canonical Minor Focus, and lets you cast any Hermetic effect that falls within the scope of your focus as though you know it as a Formulaic (or Ritual) spell. Virtues and Flaws that affect Formulaic or Ritual Magic affect these spells as usual. VFs that affect Spontaneous Magic do not affect these spells, though you can choose to cast spells within your focus using the spontaneous rules as though you did not have a focus. Your focus is a great specialty for Magic Lore, and your sigil might be related to it.

  • New Optional Major Hermetic Virtue: Major Magic Focus - The scope of your Magic Focus is major, rather than minor. (I'm not sure this is a good idea because narrow foci create sharper distinctions. Never allow in combination with the other optional focus virtues.)

  • New Optional Major Hermetic Virtue: Thematic Magic Focus - The scope of your Magic Focus includes thematic and metaphoric aspects of the focus. A focus in "setting things on fire" could thus include setting people on fire with inspiration or anger; a focus in "dogs" might include doglike qualities, such as loyalty or a great sense of smell, bringing out the dog within, as it were. (Only consider allowing this powerful virtue if you expect especially excellent cooperation among the players. Never allow in combination with the other optional focus virtues.)

  • New Optional Major Hermetic Virtue: Second Magic Focus. You have a second Magic Focus, different from your free focus. It works the same way. (This virtue is easier to accommodate than Major MF or Thematic MF. Never allow in combination with the other optional focus virtues.)

  • New Major Hermetic Flaw: Unspecialized Magic - You do not have a Magic Focus.

  • No Spell Mastery.

  • No Similar Spells.

  • Potent Magic works as usual.

  • GMs who like botches are free to ban Cautious with Magic Lore. I recommend this be retained.

  • Yes, I would expect many magi to take Puissant ML and Affinity with ML, but also expect many GMs to ban these. Some GMs might want to hand out these virtues (and Cautious with ML) for free.

  • Oh, Diedne Magic? You always divide by 2. If you don't spend a Fatigue, you never roll a die. If you do spend a Fatigue, roll a stress die and add it to your Casting Total.

  • Modified Minor Hermetic Virtue: Life Boost - After seeing the results of casting a spell, you can increase the Penetration of any spell by 5 per fatigue point spent. This does not affect the Casting Total, so is only useful for spells that have been cast successfully. If multiple magi are casting a spell together, only the lead magus can do this.

  • Modified Minor Hermetic Virtue: Method Caster - This virtue provides no bonus when rolling a stress die, because conditions are too chaotic for you to apply your method perfectly.

  • When casting a spell using a stress die, you incur one Warping Point for every full 10 points by which you fail. This is calculated before rolling botch dice. This can cause Twilight. Note that magi using LLSM are not affected by this rule, since spell failure cannot occur unless the magus dies.

  • Vis limits for Art scores do not apply, since neither vis nor magi have Arts.

  • S+M bonuses: A magus can always use one Shape and one Material bonus from those he has available, and is not limited by the size of these bonuses even when he has particularly applicable and potent ingredients. A Verditius Magus can use his Philosophy score in place of one Shape or Material bonus for appropriate lab activities, and does not need to have any relevant shape or material for these bonuses, but can only do this once per Lab Total.

I don't think I'm missing anything important. (Various Mystery Virtues need a look, Certamen doesn't quite work...) The basics of spellcasting are the same for all magi, whose magics are now differentiated by their Focus. Spell Mastery is fun but also complex, with people complaining about power level, and it doesn't work so well with the idea that a magus 'knows' a lot of spells that are not on his character sheet. Magi are fully expected to dump many, many points into ML. This is intended, though magi will more likely want to also invest in Penetration and Finesse since Totals are rather lower. A magus out of Gauntlet is not likely to cast a level 30 spell of any kind, and even known lvl 20 spells are not trivial. Might 20 beings are not pushovers and Might 50 beings are scary even for elder magi.

Speaking more about the change of what a Focus does, this version does nothing to increase a magus' raw power cap. Any magus who knows a Formulaic spell for real is on par with a magus within his Focus. But a magus within his focus has great versatility within his focus right out the gate, regardless of how weird it is, regardless of how it crosses Arts. You will not be punished for choosing a Focus in, say, flatulence or hyenas, just because you cannot find a published spell, and can create your character without having to negotiate whether you have a right to some weird spell; you can cast anything you think of, within the limit of your power, at full power, such as it is. From the start of play, you are a dog magus or the sad magus or whatever.




Not bad. The thing I see is libraries. All books on arts will now we books on ML. Tractatus most of them. That means that getting 10+ XP in ML per season (on average) should be fairly easy. I find this progression a little bit bland ("I again invest in the same and read a tractatus on ML..."). Library creation rules for covneants should be reviewed maybe?

The limit on power level goes along my kudos lines :slight_smile: but a single skill for everything maybe not. and yes, ML 7+2 at the start seems like a given for any self respecting magus. Given the low casting totals maybe the shcool of vilano would see more use.

I would make S&M bonuses usable by default, liike the old casting focuses from 4th edition and before. It is thematic and increases the mystical elements of the setting. Maybe limit the bonus to a second skill for magic, like Finesse or a new version of Magic Theory?


This post was inspired by your new saga!

S+M bonuses remain usable as usual, though you are right that it needs a reasonable limit. Magi and vis lack Art scores, but the Arts themselves are otherwise considered normally (there might be other exceptions.) I'll add a rule about S&M :).

The blandness of ML advancement is intentional. Most Hermetic books will indeed be about ML, and so what?

  • The fun decisions in the lab are about what spells and items to design, rather than about which book to read. Abstracting the less interesting stuff is a feature to me, not a bug.

  • Some sagas already abstract advancement to N xp per season.

  • Simplifying Arts removes clutter from your character sheet. The single skill is an important feature, not a bug. Continuing this theme, the focus does not create new kinds of Casting Scores or Casting Totals.

  • The AM5 book and library rules are not very good. I'm not sure if their biggest flaw is that they create all kinds of clutter on covenant spreadsheets, or that they are altogether silly, as can be seen when they are applied to real books.

  • I designed with the assumption that magi will get 10-15xp per season of study in ML after the Affinity is applied. There will be lots of tractati floating around and rather few summae.

  • The main differentiation among magi's magic is usually all about the strong focus, though for a few magi it might be about the lack thereof (LLSM, Diedne, Verditius might be popular choices for this), and about the extra-curricular spells and enchantments they choose. So the single skill really isn't a big deal to me.

The School of Vilano definitely gets a relative boost from these rules, and other magi who use Finesse do too. I feel a deep ambivalence about how Finesse interacts with MR, but this post is not about rewriting the entire game. Penetration also becomes more useful, as increases to ML offer diminishing returns. Even Parma becomes more attractive, since it no longer competes with Form Bonuses and is instead more powerful.

The effects of removing Arts in favor of a very few skills plus a focus come together in newbie-friendliness. It is very easy to create and advance an interesting and effective magus. Power level is baked into ML. Good magical defense is advanced solely by Parma, so a magus with Parma 5 is quite comfortable indeed, allowing both the Jerbiton and Flambeau to stand together against a dragon, resisting both fire and mental attack. (The *10 might be too good, but *5 isn't that useful on its own.)



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S&M added

I also changed Parma. *10 was too good.

and changed parma again. :slight_smile: This should do it.


I highly recommend weakening Life Boost and Life-Linked Spontaneous Magic. Otherwise those would be super-powerful unless I missed something.


I was concerned about LLSM, which is one reason why I added the rule that the last botch die cannot be removed from spontaneous magic. The main reason was that a Diedne Magus should not feel free to spend a fatigue, try to cast something huge without worrying about a botch, rinse and repeat until he rolls up. (Come to think of it, I might need to add a rule limiting the level of spells 'known' through a focus... or a rule that prevents removing the last botch die; I need to think about this.)

On the whole, though, I think LLSM is actually slightly weakened! The biggest benefit of LLSM, canonically, is that it lets a magus cast spells when he has little to no TeFo. A Flambeau with no Arts other than CrIg, and a minor focus in setting fires is hardly a specialist if he also has LLSM. Here, the highest TeFo is equal to the lowest TeFo; the high is much lower than usual but the low is much higher. LLSM continues to be awesome, but it remains risky.

Diedne Magic, OTOH, is much improved, both because I changed it and because the lowest Casting Scores are now higher, making spontaneous magic more useful.

Both LLSM and DM deserve another look.

As for LB.... it is definitely better, because magic is generally lower in power but also because of how it interacts with Magic Focus. I agree I should investigate this.

One thing I need to be careful about is trying to balance with botches. I don't like botches; I find that fumble-heavy rules lead to lazy GMing and discourage player agency.




So I made a few changes.

  1. LB affects Penetration, not Casting Total. It does not make it more likely that a spell succeed. But it works with any spell.

  2. Stressful spells that fail by 10 or more incur Warping Points even when they don't botch. This makes casting in adverse Auras a bit scarier. It also discourages players from casting and recasting a spell that is way beyond them, trying to roll up. Even canonically, there were situations when a character could do this without worrying about botch dice unless the GM deliberately added some.

  3. I removed the rule that stressful spontaneous magic always involves at least one botch die. The new Warping rule handles the situation that most concerned me.

TODO: Think about Mythic Blood. It doesn't work anymore, since Minor Magical Focus is no longer a thing. It could just be removed; after all, anyone with the Gift is already Mythic.




Considering optimized characters, to see what breaks.

At Gauntlet:

Int+3, Sta+3
Method Caster, Aff/Pui/Cau with ML, house virtue, 6 remaining
ML(focus) 7+2

Starting spells can be up to level 22. (Int+ML+10)
Casting total for formulaic is 16+die+stuff, so safe stressed, fatiguing casting within a focus up to level 25. Level 15 spells within focus can be cast all day. Penetration will suck. Spells of level 30 and up are not likely.

My first thought is that Method Caster is too good, because static bonuses are much more useful and because it applies to everything within the focus. I suspect I will have a similar problem with Cyclic Magic. I don't mind that it's good as much as it being something that everyone will take. I completely understand and expect a magus to be trained to be especially awesome with ML. A trained wizard should know Magic Lore cold! But all magi being Method Casters? Meh.

So I think Method Caster bonus goes down to +2, which seems fair, because for the same vp I could boost Sta to +4. It also corresponds decently to the decreased benefit of Puissant X.

My second thought is wondering whether this kind of access within Focus is too good.... and as long as things don't get out of hand in 50 years, I think this is fine. The magus can do a lot more than a canonical magus, but only within his Focus, and with much less power.

Potent Magic is also very good, and would further boost the Casting Total to 18+ after nerf. Adding Cyclic Magic brings the casting total to 20+, and accessible spells to 30+ when the stars are right. At this point, my less powerful magi no longer feel less powerful, just differently powerful. It's utility over raw smash em up power though, and if a troupe can be reasonable about the bounds of a focus (no, a focus in dogs does not let you Detect Loyalty, no I cannot use my focus in fire to create a magical fire that only burns traitors, though it makes a fine visual effect...) then maybe this is fine, and I kind of like it. If you're after low power, though, better to just double all effect levels and be done.

Talisman casting bonuses can get scary. So can some of the benefits available outside of the core rules, such as Merinita Charms, which heap constants onto totals. I'm not concerned about non-core stuff, but the Talisman constants need addressing, especially since they are not limited by a low magic theory score.

Spontaneous Magic Casting Score starts with a 12 (always outside of focus), allowing any level 2 spell trivially, level 5 spell at risk (except for Diedne), and sometimes level 10. Sponts within focus obviously don't happen.

Let's advance the character some years. Assuming 30xp in ML/year (leaving 25-50% of seasons for other stuff):

Gauntlet 140xp 7 (leaving out +2)
10y 440xp 12
20y 740xp 16
30y 1040xp 19
40y 1440xp 23
50y 1740xp 25

I'll stop at Gauntlet+50 for a moment and call it 26+2=28 because it's so close. Adding the usual bonuses (sta +3 nerfed method +2 cyclic +2 potent +3 specialization +1) brings us to casting totals of 39+die+aura within focus.

At 100y, or 3140xp, we are at approximately 35+2+11=48 within focus. Sponts use a base score of 42, so level 5 spells are trivial, level 20 spells require fatigue and risk, and level 25 spells cannot be counted on to happen. This.... this is definitely less powerful. Still very versatile, but canonically, we can have Casting Totals of this kind in the 60s fresh out of Gauntlet. (Callen and I have shown the work elsewhere in these forums.)

I could take it to 150y, but I expect few magi to make it that far. Assuming a saga doesn't do something silly like use the lab rules in Covenants, Longevity Rituals simply won't be as awesome. If the 100yo magus is crafting your LR, we have Int3+ML35+2+InventiveG3+Aura6+Cyclic2=51. Not so great, compared to the canonical specialist who can do better fresh out of Gauntlet.

I've come back around to liking this very much. It's a big simplification that is newbie friendly. It reduces the high end of power, bringing magi more in line with what the rules probably expected magi to be capable of, how long they would really live. The setting makes a lot more sense. Specialization means versatility rather than hugely bigger numbers.

This doesn't substitute for a hedge wizard saga or for doubling all effect levels.

It also deliberately does not solve the more fundamental problems I see with Hermetic Magic rules.

And... it still needs some tweaks.




For a low power game that "fits" in Medieval Europe... Yes. This rules variant is amazing. Great work. I'd love to see further thoughts and fixes in other areas of the game. :slight_smile:


Two more changes:

Added a new Optional Major Hermetic Virtue allowing a focus to apply metaphorically.

Modified Method Caster by clarifying that if you're rolling a stress die, things are clearly too chaotic for you to use your method well enough to get the bonus. This deals with the problem I had with my character walk-through. I'm less concerned about Cyclic Magic, because that feels appropriately mythic, because it does not always apply, and especially because different magi will have different cycles.



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I realized a few nights ago that Magic Focus creates a weirdness regarding similar spells. Even though the magus can cast all these spells as though he has learned them, the similar spell rules do not actually work; either he does not actually know the spells so gets nothing, or does know the spells, in which case he can use an arbitrarily high "similar spell."

My first inclination was to create a new rule, but that's not simplification. My second inclination was to rule that indeed, spells 'known' through MF do not count as similar. This is a better inclination, but I don't want someone without the focus to be better in any way within that focus, except as unrelated virtues might apply (Silent Magic, Faerie Magic in Arcadia, etc.)

My final inclination is to get rid of similar spells, the same as spell mastery. It provides some twiddly small bonuses that are yet another fiddly thing for players to remember, and sometimes some not so small discussions about whether an effect is similar.

So I'm about to edit this in.




Things are looking good, so now for some sanity testing.

My biggest concern is to make sure that I don't simplify so much that I have made magi bland and characters much of a sameness. One indication would be if I've ruined too many core Hermetic Major Virtues, to the point where everyone always wants my new Optional ones, which are admittedly designed to be awesome.

Diedne Magic: This is a great virtue to take, though as usual, the included story flaw might be overkill. The Diedne have regained their crown as king of the fast-cast, since there is no spell mastery! Spontaneous magic is almost never worthwhile within a Focus, but there's a place for consequence-free spont/2 across all of Hermetic Magic. DM goes from Avoid to Consider, a win.

Elemental Magic: Obsolete. Minor loss, since it was usually worth avoiding.
Flawless Magic: Obsolete. Loss.

Flexible Formulaic Magic: Now worthless within focus. The virtue is not as good, but some magi might want it. Medium loss.

Gentle Gift: As good as always. Neutral.

Life-Linked Spontaneous Magic: Great, as always. On the one hand, casting totals are generally lower; on the other hand, most magi can cast anything they like within focus. Fewer botches make this virtue more desirable (and I might need to make sure yet again that I haven't made this consequence-free.) Slight win.

Major Magical Focus: Modified, and it's an awesome virtue. Win.

Mercurian Magic: This is now worth a Major Virtue, I think. Canonically, many sagas demoted MM to a minor virtue. Here, a MM doesn't care about slow sponts within his focus, because he is not sponting, and knows all the rituals! It's still not among the best for most magi, but Win.

Mythic Blood: Obsolete. Loss.
Secondary Insight: Obsolete. Minor loss, since it was usually worth avoiding.

I think this is reasonable.

(I also find it interesting that even though I did not intend to do so, I obsoleted the three Major Hermetic Virtues that I prefer to avoid, plus FM.)

TODO: Take another look at botches, especially in the context of a Focus or of LLSM.