True Magick for Savage Worlds

by Rodney Orpheus

Rodney Orpheus
39 min readMar 19, 2018

Author’s note: this is a work-in-progress that I started way back in 2013 and still haven’t finished, but I wanted to publish here for use of interested players and GMs, and to elicit feedback as I work more on it.

Updated for SWADE March 2023, and it’s now getting closer to a completed system.

Introduction

For anyone who has studied the history of magic, the depiction of magic and the mechanics of how it works in most fantasy novels and role-playing games is extremely problematic. As most game-playing geeks are no doubt aware, magic in RPGs was originally based on a combination of the powers of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and the spellcasting portrayed in The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance. Although I count myself a fan of both of these sources as literature, the magic portrayed in them is highly stylized and not based on any traditional usage of magic as passed down from sources from Renaissance or Victorian times. This is unfortunate, especially for anyone wishing to run a role-playing game based in any kind of realistic or pseudo-realistic setting.

Speaking of Gandallf, it should be noted that although he looks and acts like a human being who has somehow acquired wizardly powers, he isn’t actually human, but a semi-divine angelic being who has taken human form in order to guide the races of Middle-earth. As such his “magic” isn’t based on learning spells or praying to the gods or any of the other traditional sources that mortal beings use to perform magic. Likewise in The Dying Earth books, although the magicians are vaguely human, or may have once been human, by the future time portrayed in the books they have gone far, far beyond humanity.

This is where True Magick comes in. It is an attempt to create a ”realistic” system of magic for RPGs (specifically in this case Savage Worlds) that is playable, makes sense as something a real human being can achieve, and has its roots in historical magical sources, such as that of tribal shamanism and Hermetic magicians of the Renaissance period onwards. It is particularly suited to historical settings such as black powder fantasy, Victorian gaslight, and modern horror settings, but can be used in any setting if you want a more “realistic” play style. It can be used as a very simple drop-in replacement for other Savage Worlds magical systems, particularly those in a pulp or modern setting such as Thrilling Tales, Realms of Cthulhu, or East Texas University.

How Magick Works

A young Aleister Crowley in full Hermetic Magick setting.

The old spelling MAGICK has been adopted throughout in order to distinguish the Science of the Magi from all its counterfeits.

- Aleister Crowley, Magick, Part II (1912).

Ancient grimoires really do exist, and can be found in libraries all over the world. These grimoires are precisely like the “spellbooks” of fantasy literature, yet claim to contain the recipes for real magical rituals. Whether or not these rituals do work in the real world is beyond the scope of this treatise, but for the sake of role-playing I will discuss the magic listed there as if it were real. I’ve adopted the system used by the notorious 20th century magician Aleister Crowley of spelling such “real” magic with a “k” at the end.

The first thing we need to note is that there are certain mechanics that are common to these rituals, and that differ from traditional fantasy RPG magic as presented in D&D / OGL / Pathfinder style systems:

  1. Magick takes time — normally it requires a fairly laborious ritual to be performed, which can take anything from 5 minutes up to several hours. In most cases you can’t cast a spell within a few seconds.
  2. Magick doesn’t break the laws of physics in a direct fashion — no matter how good a magician you are, you aren’t ever going to throw fireballs out of your hands.
  3. Magical power doesn’t come from how Intelligent you are, or how Wise you are, or how Charismatic you are. It comes from the power of the directed Will. Even an illiterate, ugly person can perform magick.
  4. Magical power is not “innate”. It doesn’t come from bloodlines or mutations. Anyone can learn it.

Let’s examine these changed mechanics in more detail:

True Magick takes time — even great magicians can’t just wave their hands in the air for 6 seconds and evoke a demon on to the battlefield, unless they are very, very good, and very, very lucky. To perform even a simple spell requires time — time to to prepare a ritual space, to recite dozens (or hundreds) of lines of text, to draw mystic sigils in the air, etc. On the flip side, magical effects also last a long time too — hours or even days at a time. Some magical effects can be triggered rapidly, via using charged talismans or speedily running through an extremely cut-down version of the ritual, with associated issues, but generally magicians will be doing the bulk of their magical work outside of combat (this is one reason why many occultists in the real world also often learn martial arts skills).

In the immortal words of Mr. Scott of the USS Enterprise: “Ye cannae change the Laws of Physics Captain”, and magick doesn’t attempt to do that — at least not very obviously. You are not going to cause a barrier of thorns to erupt from the ground, or ice to shoot out of your palms. However true magicians can evoke spirits with (limited) physical abilities, can buff or curse allies and enemies, heal the sick, and deal with assorted non-material entities that brawny fighters will have extreme trouble with. So there will be no lack of utility. Also the few spells that do directly damage opponents can be extremely deadly indeed…

French occultist Eliphas Levi

Magic is the divinity of man conquered by science in union with faith; the true Magi are Men-Gods, in virtue of their intimate union with the divine principle.

Eliphas Levi, The Paradoxes of the Highest Science, 1856

One of the great fallacies of standard Old School RPGs is that there are two types of magic: Arcane (based on learning spells from books, and associated with Intelligence) and Divine (based on praying to the gods and associated with Wisdom). This strange concept was presumably based on a misunderstanding of medieval grimoires (spell books) which contained long and complex instructions on how a mage could cast spells, which probably seemed to be something very different to what priests did in church. However a close reading of those medieval grimoires shows that the magical spells contained therein were actually just complex ritualized prayers which depended on the power of God and his angels for success — and thus there is actually no difference at all.

Although religions such as Christianity and Islam assert that all magic is evil and demonic, and that the spells cast by their priests are somehow not magic, from a purely technical point of view it is fairly clearly the same thing with the same effects (healing, spiritual power, exorcism of demons, etc.). It could be argued that this false distinction between “prayer” and “magic” was simply an early attempt at “intellectual property rights” and brand identity preservation, not unlike Coke vs. Pepsi. Doing it one way was The Real Thing, doing it another way was Evil Pretence. The fact is that the both the mechanism and that results were exactly the same in each case, only the trappings were different.

Recognizing that its principal sacrament is only one of an infinite number of possible experiments in talismanic magic, the Church has never denied the reality of that Art, but treated its exponents as rivals.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, 1929

However despite the Church’s attempts at creating this artificial distinction, a quick glance at history shows that many highly religious people were also magicians. Notable examples include the 19th century mage Eliphas Levi, one of the fathers of modern occultism, who trained as a Roman Catholic priest, and Rev. W.A. Ayton, one of the founders of the Golden Dawn magical Order, who was a Church of England minister.

Also, for centuries Occultists have known that intellectual capacity, while useful for learning rituals, does not itself impart the ability to successfully perform them, and that powerful magic can be performed by those with little to no education at all. A perfect example is Dr. John Dee, certainly one of the greatest geniuses of the Elizabethan Age, who despite his immense knowledge of magic, needed the spiritual ability of his assistant, Edward Kelley, to perform his Enochian evocations. Magicians have known for centuries that magical power is derived from what has been variously called strength of Will, Odic Force, Vril, inner chi, and a thousand other terms, but all of them having to do with the spiritual training and discipline of the caster, not from book learning. As Levi said “The will of a just man is the Will of God Himself and the Law of Nature.”

True Magick in Savage Worlds

Misunderstanding of the foregoing has led to many traditional fantasy games suffering from a plethora of magic systems, some based on Intelligence, some on Wisdom, and so on. As we have seen, this is a completely artificial construct which has nothing to do with historical magical teachings. Regardless of the type of magic used, the power to cast spells is based on the training of the Will and on spiritual discipline. One of the few RPG systems to have gotten this right is Basic Role Playing (the system used for Call of Cthulhu, Runequest etc.), where magical power is always derived from a character’s POW stat.

In Savage Worlds terms, this means that the skill used to cast spells (regardless of whether it’s called Spellcasting, or Faith, or something else) should always be based on Spirit, not on Smarts.

Spell Memorization

Having said that, a truly great magician does need intelligence in order to read those hefty grimoires, understand their contents, and memorise spells. Even “primitive “ shamans need considerable Smarts, because their spells are passed down via oral tradition, and must be fully memorized — and are often extremely long and complex. To model this memorization in True Magick we use the Occult skill which is associated with Smarts.

Each spellcaster starts with a number of spells equal to half their skill in Occult, and can never memorize more than a number equal to their Occult die. If they want to learn new spells they can do that by obtaining and reading grimoires, or by learning from another Mage. Each of these processes takes at least a month during downtime, and requires a successful roll against the Occult skill at the end of the month — failure on this roll means that they have failed to understand the teaching presented to them and have to start studying again for another month. Alternately they can simply take the New Powers Edge, which represents their own solo experimentation and learning from experience. However they come by new spells, the total number of spells a character can memorise at any one time is equal to their Occult skill die — if they want to learn another spell over their total they must either forget a spell they have in memory, or increase their Occult skill.

In game terms this means that effective spellcaster characters will need to increase both their Occult skill and their spell casting skill, which usually means making sure they have high values in both Smarts and Spirit. This helps balance out what is potentially an extremely powerful magical system.

It also means that there’s no practical distinction between Wizards, Clerics, Bards, Sorcerers etc. — they all use the same mechanisms to cast spells, just with different trappings and Professional Edges. There are more than enough of these to create very distinct flavours of Spellcasting “classes” if you wish, without needing to add any layers of complexity to the basic True Magick rules — see examples below.

Mechanics

True Magick attempts to model a more “realistic” style of spellcasting than the standard Gary Gygax-style cliché of magic being some kind of mobile heavy artillery system. It is ideally suited to modern Lovecraftian style of horror play, but is also perfect for low magic fantasy campaigns where magic should be relatively rare and difficult but also extremely powerful, such as the worlds of Elric or Conan. It can be used as a straight replacement for any of the varied spell casting systems used in the various Savage Worlds sourcebooks.

Ritual Magick and Power Points (or the lack of)

The first thing to note is that Power Points are not used! Power points are a pretty stupid way of modelling this kind of thing. There’s nothing in the historical literature that in any way suggests that magicians have a limited storehouse of magical energy and when that’s gone they are useless. In general, you can do as much magic as you want, provided you have the physical and mental stamina to keep doing so.

So how do we model this? We use a slightly tweaked version of the Savage Worlds Ritual Magic rules as found in the Savage Worlds Horror Companion. Basically the magician rolls their spell casting skill (Spellcasting, Faith, Performance, or whatever else that happens to be) and needs to achieve a number of successes equal to or greater than the Power Point cost of that spell. So, for example, if the magician wanted to cast Detect Arcana, which normally has a Power Point cost of 2, they would have to roll each turn until they succeed twice (or alternately, roll once with a Raise). The magician draws a card for Initiative as normal each round while casting — drawing a Club card means there is a complication that round and the casting roll is made at a penalty of -2. A failed roll results in the entire spell failing and the magician becoming Shaken, and a Critical Failure requires a roll on the Backlash table.

Being Shaken

If a character is Shaken while performing a ritual, they must resume performing the ritual from the beginning when they have covered from being Shaken. So casting spells during combat can be extremely tricky!

This means the novice magicians will require some time to cast more difficult spells, and that casting them can be quite risky. More experienced magicians will be able to cast faster and more reliably, especially in a combat or emergency situation.

On the upside, once a spell with a duration is cast, the magician does not take any penalty for “maintaining” the spell — the spell is already fully energised and materialised, and will keep going until it runs out, without any further input required from the magician. This is both historically accurate and has the mechanical advantage of requiring less bookkeeping by the player and the GM.

Material Basis and Equipment

Rituals can be cast from memory or may also be cast directly from a Grimoire or spellbook if the character possesses one and has a hand free to hold it while casting.

Ritual magick that is designed to create spells with an effect on the physical plane also require a consumable material basis. If you want to perform Necromancy, you need a dead body as well as a Raise Dead spell. If you want to create a Fireball you will need a source of fire (e.g. a lit torch, a campfire etc.) plus the Burst spell. In other words, you can’t create something out of nothing, but you can influence it or magnify it.

Each one of the following will add +1 to casting rolls done by a magician and her assistants:

  • Magick circle (traditionally 9 feet in diameter), or other appropriate environment (temple, seance room, etc.)
  • Magical robes for all of the participants
  • Magick wand, staff, or other consecrated implements

Rituals usually require a great deal of chanting which can be heard by anyone within earshot. If a caster wishes to perform a ritual silently they can normally do so, but at a -2 penalty to every Spellcasting roll.

Assistants

If the spellcaster has assistants who also possess knowledge of the arcane they may aid him in the ritual. Each assistant makes a Occult roll each turn. Every successful roll that an assistant makes during the ritual adds +1 to the main spellcaster’s next roll. Conversely if an assistant rolls a natural 1 on their assist roll, the main spellcaster’s next roll is made at -1. If the assistant scores a Critical Failure, then he has done something horribly wrong (like spilled the incense, tripped over the altar, accidentally cut himself with the dagger) which has completely disrupted the ritual, and they must start again from the beginning.

Overall True Magick spells are about the same difficulty for a character to perform than the standard magic rules, but are easier for the player and GM to keep track of. On the upside, using the No Power Points rule means a character can effectively perform an infinite number of powerful spells per day, as long as they can handle the possible Backlash (which can be considerable, especially with more advanced spells).

Talismans

A medieval talisman.

Mages may also store some of the results of their rituals in the form of talismans. A talisman is a material substance which functions like a form of spiritual battery that can release its magical energy instantly, which can be particularly useful in combat. Talismans designed to be carried about the person are usually made in the form of metal disks, or may be inscribed on virgin parchment. Talismans are normally made by engraving a sigil upon a metal disk with the appropriate tools (burin, paint etc.), though inscribing the sigil on a piece of virgin parchment with a pen is also acceptable. Talismans created using other substances can work, though at a -2 penalty to the casting skill. Some talismanic spells might also be imbued into a magick ring or other form of clothing that needs to be worn to activate, or might even be in the form of a sacramental wafer to be consumed. See example spells given.

To charge a talisman requires the performance of a ritual as normal, with the energies generated focused on the talisman. A success gives the talisman one charge of the spell. After that the talisman will hold its charge in latent form indefinitely until triggered. For a character to make a talisman active requires the player to spend a Benny. Once it is active the talisman’s spell will continue to affect the bearer for the duration of the original spell. This means that a charged talisman can also be used by non-casters, allowing other members of the mage’s party to make use of their magical abilities.

Spirits, Demons, and other Servitors

Andras, a spirit from the Ars Goetia.

It is a law of magick that causes and effects lie on the same plane. You may be able to send a ghost to frighten someone you dislike, but you must not expect the ghost to use a club, or steal a pocket handkerchief.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, 1929

A common use of magick is to evoke (“call out”) demonic forces to do the bidding of the caster. This is often done by evil wizards, but not necessarily so. For example, in the Bible King Solomon (who is definitely one of the good guys) enslaves demons and uses them for noble purposes, which legend inspired the most famous of all historical grimoires, the Ars Goetia (more on this later). The use of servitor spirits is widespread, and one way or another mages will encounter demonic forces during play. To summon such spirits can be done in many different ways, but in general the mage performs a ritual where he calls upon the authority of the gods to command the lower spirits, then calls out the spirit in question, and commands it to answer his questions or perform one or more actions for him — see examples below.

These kind of servitors are notoriously fickle, and will frequently attempt to mislead the magician, or struggle to release themselves from his power. In game terms, once a mage has evoked such a demon, each time they ask it a question or command it to do something they must perform an opposed test of Spirit against the demon. A Raise for the mage on the test means the demon will do everything the mage asks for exactly as specified. A Success means that it performs the action, albeit reluctantly, and will attempt to do it in such a way as to mess up the magician’s plans. A Failure for the mage in the test means the demon has broken free from the mage’s control and escapes back to its own plane. A Critical Failure for the mage means that the demon not only breaks free of control, but will immediately attack the mage and his allies.

A mage may only bind one servitor to him directly at a time — however some high-ranking demons command their own legions of lesser demons which can then be brought indirectly under the mage’s control. See the Ars Goetia below for examples of these.

Demonic servitors are ethereal, and thus cannot normally affect or be affected by the physical plane. This means that while in their ethereal form they are immune to damage from normal weapons, and can only be harmed by magical weapons and spells. However if a demon wishes to physically affect objects (to move or attack something for example) it may do so by succeeding in a Spirit roll which allows it to overcome the barriers of the planes. Once it has succeeded in this it becomes semi-material for the duration, and can be harmed by physical weapons, though it will still only take half damage from them. Some demons may also be able to possess physical bodies — when they are in bodily form like this they take full damage as usual. Regardless of this, demons never die. When they are Incapacitated they simply remove themselves from the material plane for the time being, and cannot return to this plane until evoked again.

• Immunity: Demons are immune to poison and disease.

• Infernal Stamina: Demons gain a +2 bonus to recover from being Shaken.

• Resistant to Normal Weapons: Demons suffer only half-damage from non-magical attacks

Sacrifices

Apulian Red Figure Krater, 4th century BC, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Traditionally also having some form of sacrificial victim can significantly increase the chances of a ritual succeeding. Such sacrifices can range from small birds or chickens (+1 to Spellcasting rolls) all the way up to goats and cattle (+2 or +3 to Spellcasting rolls). Most magical and religious systems of the ancient world practiced some form of animal sacrifice, and some (such as Afro-Caribbean traditions like Voudou and Santeria) still do today. Those readers from a Judeo-Christian background who might baulk at this, do note that such sacrifices are also frequently written about in the Bible:

The Lord called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord… And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Leviticus 1:1–17

Basically whether you allow sacrifice in your campaign is all down to context. If you are running a historical campaign based in Ancient Rome for example, your characters would accept such practices as completely normal, but in rural 1920’s America it would be anything but. In any setting having the villain practicing human sacrifice is always a great way to grow dynamic tension, and in a barbaric Conan-style fantasy game having an evil wizard sacrificing a beautiful virgin is practically de rigeur.

True Magick Arcane Backgrounds

Below I have listed two sample Arcane Backgrounds that fit well with the system outlined above:

  • Arcane Background: Hermetic Magick
  • Arcane Background: Mediumship

Many of the spells and powers listed for these new Arcane Backgrounds are derived from standard Savage Worlds sourcebooks and should thus be compatible with any other Savage Worlds product. Spells are listed in the format:

(Original Power, Character Level, Power Level. Savage Worlds Sourcebook page number)

Abbreviations used are:

  • SWADe: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition
  • SWFC: Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion
  • SWHC: Savage Worlds Horror Companion

When in doubt about the details of any spell please refer to the books listed.

Compatibility with other Savage Worlds settings

Since the mechanics of True Magick are closely based on the standard Savage Worlds rules, they should be compatible with just about any settings book. The casting system above is directly compatible with the spells in the Savage Worlds Horror Companion and the East Texas University settings. Spells in The Savage World of Solomon Kane setting book should also be directly compatible with this system. All Mythos spells in the Realms of Cthulhu setting book should work very well with this system. Selected spells in the basic Savage Worlds core rulebook can also be adapted to this system, though care should be taken with the “D&D” type spells such as Barrier or Blast. Since we are aiming to have a magic system that is more true to historical magick it is usually better to disallow obvious fantasy spells from the campaign, though with a little imagination with the use of trappings, this can be worked around.

Hermetic Magick

Hermes Trismegistus by D. Stolcius von Stolcenbeerg, 1624.

The cabinet prepared for the evocation was arranged in the small tower, four concave mirrors were properly disposed, and there was a sort of altar, whose white marble top was surrounded by a chain of magnetized iron. Upon the white marble was chiseled and gilded the sign of the Pentagram; and the same sign was traced in different colours upon a fresh white lambskin, which was spread under the altar. In the centre of the marble slab there was a little brazier of copper, containing charcoal of elm and laurel wood; another brazier was placed before me, on a tripod. I was clothed in a white robe, something like those used by our Catholic priests, but longer and more full, and I wore upon my head a crown of verbena leaves interwoven in a golden chain. In one hand I held a naked sword and in another the Ritual. I lighted the two fires with the substance requisite and prepared, and I began at first in a low voice; then louder by degrees, the invocations of the Ritual.

- Eliphas Levi, The Magical Evocation of Apollonius of Tyana, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, 1856

New Hermetic Magick Edges

Arcane Background: Hermetic Magick

This Arcane Background uses True Magick rules to model a ritual system based on Western Hermeticism as taught in works by authors such as Aleister Crowley, Eliphas Levi, Dion Fortune etc. and used within magical Orders such as Ordo Templi Orientis and the Golden Dawn. As such it is particularly suited to pseudo-realistic settings based in eras from the 17th century up to the present day, such as Lovecraftian horror, pulp fiction and so on.

Hermetic Initiate

Requirements: Novice, Spellcasting d8+, Occult d8+, Arcane Background: Hermetic Magick

The character is an Initiate of a magical fraternity such as Ordo Templi Orientis, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn etc. The training they have received allows them to ignore up to -1 Casting Modifiers for spellcasting rolls.

Hermetic Adept

Requirements: Seasoned, Hermetic Initiate, Spellcasting d10+, Occult d10+

The character is an advanced Adept of their magical fraternity. The training they have received allows her to ignore up to -2 Casting Modifiers to all Spellcasting rolls.

Ordained Clergy

Requirements: Novice, Occult d6+, Spirit d8+, Spellcasting d6+

The character has been ordained as a Priest or Priestess of a formal religious system. He gains +2 to opposed rolls to resist magical effects, and the ability to magically imbue divine power in Sacramental Masses. (Note that it is perfectly possible for a magician to also be a member of the Clergy, as indeed many were and are to this day.)

Hermetic Alchemist

Requirements: Seasoned, Occult d8+, Knowledge (Science) d6+, Arcane Background: Hermetic Magick

The creation of alchemical potions lies on the borderline between magick and science. The ability to “fix” ethereal energies in the form of potion requires both a great deal of occult learning and knowledge of the physical sciences, and is a combination of both. It is also extremely time-consuming and requires a great deal of resources. To undergo the preparation of an alchemical potion requires access to a fully stocked alchemical laboratory for a number of days equal to the Power level of the potion, and full concentration on the process during that time. It does not require a Spellcasting roll to prepare but instead requires successful rolls in both Occult and Science. If the magician succeeds in both these rolls he will have created a potion of with 10 charges of the magical energy in question which can be carried around in small glass bottles. If he succeeds with a Raise, then he creates 20 charges of the potion.

Potions that cause damage can be thrown at a target using the Athletics skill with the potion taking effect when the bottle smashes on impact.

Potions which heal or boost abilities may be smeared on the body as an unguent or taken internally (see specific entries). To activate one of these charges requires physical application of the potion to the target, or to the patient’s lips if it is to have an internal effect. Internally applied potions may be applied once per day to a target — consuming more than that will force the user to make a Vigor roll, failure on this roll will cause nausea, sickness and one level of Fatigue.

Few people have alchemical laboratories, but most large magical Lodges have at least one member who dabbles in the subject. For example, Rev. W. A. Ayton of the Golden Dawn kept a fully-functional alchemical lab in the grounds of his Rectory.

New Rituals

Each ritual listed is derived from an actual Hermetic ritual. The Available from… section at the end of each one is based on when the original historical rituals were actually written, so in campaigns set in the “real world” (or some version thereof) Gamemasters may wish to restrict their use to the appropriate time periods.

Elemental Spirit (Legerdemain, Novice, 1. SWFC p. 39)

This spell allows the caster to evoke a minor elemental spirit to perform small manipulations remotely. Such spirits are notoriously fickle and may not provide the exact results asked for my the magicians — see the note on spirits and demons above. Failure of the spell may have unpredictable consequences.

Available in many grimoires from the Middle Ages onwards.

Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (Novice, 1)

Area: Small Burst Template

Dispels all magical effects and spells around the caster. Duration one minute per caster rank. Any enemy wishing to perform magick in this area during the duration of the spell must first succeed in an opposed Spirit roll against this spell’s caster.

Taught to Initiates in the Golden Dawn and derivative magical Orders from circa 1880 onwards. Widely available from the early part of the 20th century.

Invocation of the Bornless One (Seasoned, 2)

The Stele of Jeu (The Bornless One), section V 96–172 of the Greek Magical Papyri.

Hear Me, and make all Spirits subject unto Me: so that every Spirit of the Firmament and of the Ether: upon the Earth and under the Earth: on dry Land and in the Water: of Whirling Air, and of rushing Fire: and every Spell and Scourge of God may be obedient unto Me.

The Bornless Ritual, The Goetia

Area: Personal

Gives the caster +1 to any further Spellcasting rolls for the duration of one minute per caster level.

Widely available in English from 1852 onwards, may be available in very rare editions previously.

Dance of the Sword (Bolt, Novice, 5. SWADE p. 156)

Range: Sight

He lighted the fire upon the tripod, and he kindled the incense of dragon’s blood that stood ready in the iron censer. He then put upon his head the steel crown of Mars, thorny with its four flashing pentagrams, and he took in his hands the heavy sword, as long as himself, with a two-edged blade tapering from a width, at the junction of the hilt, of no less than five inches.

Chanting the terrible conjurations of Mars, fierce war-songs of the olden peoples of the world, invocations of mighty deities throned upon the thunder …Brother Onofrio began the war-dance of the Serpent, the invoking dance of Mars.

…Faster and faster whirled the adept, his sword swaying about him like a garment of light; and his voice, louder and fiercer with every turn, assumed the very majesty of thunder.

…And suddenly Brother Onofrio stopped dead; his voice snapped short into a silence far more terrible than any word; and his long sword was still, fearfully still, stretched out like a shaft of murderous light.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, 1929

Dance of the Sword is a method of summoning the power of Mars, God of War, and using that power to directly damage a living or ethereal target. As the name and description above suggests, it requires the caster to have a magical sword and enough room to whirl around in a circular motion with it. On a success, a stream of magical light will be emitted from the sword to the target, doing 5d6 damage. The magician must be able to see his target at the moment the bolt is cast and if so then this spell cannot miss. Note that this bolt has no physical existence as such, so cannot be used to damage inanimate objects, only living or magical creatures — however since it is entirely magical it also bypasses a creature’s Armor to do full damage.

This spell is extremely powerful and can often result in the instant death of the target. Characters who see an enemy begin to perform it would be well advised to either get to the enemy quickly to interrupt him, or get out of his line of sight as fast as possible.

Available widely in Europe from the time of the Roman Empire onwards.

Cartomancy (Novice, Variable)

Etteilla Tarot published in 1789.

Area: Personal

European occultists have been engaging in the act of fortune-telling by cards since the 14th century, but by the late 18th century it had a huge rise in popularity, influenced by the success of the legendary cartomancer Madame Lenormand in France. Originally standard playing cards were used for divination, but by the early 20th century Tarot cards were becoming widely used, inspired by the work of noted occultists Gerard Encausse in France and Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith in England.

In game terms, the caster draws a number of Action Cards equal to the Casting Modifier of the spell (e.g. if the caster wishes to draw two cards the spell is cast with a -2 modifier). The player chooses the highest card and receives an oracle from the GM (which should always be correct, but may be obscure or confusing):

  • Clubs: Information about a difficulty or dark secret concerning the issue
  • Diamonds: Information about the financial aspects of the issue, or the motives behind it
  • Hearts: Information about the people involved, or social aspects of the issue
  • Spades: Information about how the character might go about solving the issue, or something that might be required
  • 2–10: Vague Information
  • Jack — King: Significant Information
  • Ace: Significant Information and a Benny
  • Joker: As Ace, but the caster may also keep this card and use it to substitute for any other card during a later Action round. (Alternately, if you are using Adventure Cards, the caster may gain an Adventure Card instead.)

Available from the 14th century, in greater numbers in Europe by the 18th century, widely available everywhere from the 20th century onwards.

Greater Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (Spirit Shield, Seasoned, 3. SWHC p. 36)

Area: Medium Burst Template

Sets up an area which dispels all magical effects and spells around the caster and also repels all non-material entities — spirits, demons, and other magical creatures cannot enter this area while the spell is active. Duration one minute per caster rank. Any non-material being wishing to enter this area during the duration of the spell must first succeed in an opposed Spirit roll against this spell’s caster.

Taught to Initiates in the Golden Dawn and derivative magical Orders from circa 1880 onwards. Widely available from the early part of the 20th century.

Liber Regulus (Seasoned, 3)

Area: all adjacent allies

Gives +1 to all Spirit rolls for all allies adjacent while it is being active. Duration one minute per caster rank. Requires that the caster use a magick wand during the casting.

Available to Initiates in manuscript from circa 1920 onwards, widely available from 1929.

Meditate (Concentrate, Seasoned, 4. SWFC p. 32)

By the end of the 19th century many fakirs and yogis from the East were touring Europe and America and teaching selected students their advanced meditation techniques. Magical Orders such as Aleister Crowley’s A.A. and Ordo Templi Orientis adapted and used many of these techniques as part of their magical training.

With a success in meditation the mage cannot be interrupted while casting further spells for a period of one minute per caster level.

Available in the Far East and North Africa at any period. Available in Europe from the late 19th century onwards.

Necromancy (Grave Speak, Seasoned, 4. SWHC p. 35)

I experienced a sensation of extraordinary cold, and when I opened my mouth to question the phantom, it was impossible for me to articulate a sound. I then put my hand upon the sign of the Pentagram, and I directed towards him the point of the sword, commanding him mentally by that sign not to frighten me but to obey. Then the form became confused and suddenly disappeared. I commanded it to re-appear; upon which I felt pass near me, like a breath, and something having touched the hand which touched the sword, I felt my arm instantly stiffened as far as the shoulder. I thought I understood that this sword offended the spirit, and I planted it by the point in the circle near me. The human figure then reappeared, but I felt such a weakness in my limbs, and such a sudden exhaustion seize hold of me, that I took a couple of steps to seat myself. As soon as I was in my chair, I fell into a profound slumber, accompanied by dreams, of which, upon returning to myself, I had only a vague and confused remembrance. For several days my arm was stiff and painful. The apparition had not spoken to me, but it seemed that the questions which I wished to ask it answered themselves in my mind.

- Eliphas Levi, The Magical Evocation of Apollonius of Tyana, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, 1856

A common form of divination in medieval grimoires was to raise the ghosts of the dead. To succeed in this the caster should be near the body of the deceased, or in possession of a magical link (hair, skin, etc.) to them. On a success a ghostly voice may be questioned about things it may have known while it was alive. Each question demands that the mage succeed in an opposed test of Spirit with the ghost of the deceased. On a failure the ghost will return to its proper plane. If the mage suffers a Critical Failure the ghost may attack him, depending on how angry it is at being disturbed.

Example Ghost

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d4

Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Stealth d12

Pace: 6; Parry: 5

Toughness: 5

Special Abilities:

  • Fear (-2)
  • Ethereal
  • Powers: Damage Field (cold aura), Havoc (throwing small to medium things at random when angry)

Available in any period from the Roman Empire onwards.

Invisibility (Invisibility, Seasoned, 5. SWADE p. 164)

In Mexico, too, I made my first experiments in acquiring invisibility. By invoking the God of Silence, Harpocrates, by the proper ritual in front of a mirror, I gradually got to the stage where my reflection began to flicker like the images of one of the old-fashioned cinemas.

It never disappeared completely. In fact, that experiment showed me that I was on the wrong track. Success lay not in an optical disappearance, but in the power of fascination. “Having eyes, they see not.”

…This was the beginning of an art which stood me in good stead in Calcutta years later. While I was walking through the native quarter at night I was set upon by robbers. When I saw a knife flash I thought it was beyond a joke; pinioned though I was, I managed to fire my revolver. Hundreds of natives aroused by the report rushed out to seek me, but I was able to walk unperceived through the midst of them, and make my escape.

Aleister Crowley, I Make Myself Invisible, The London Sunday Dispatch, Jun 25th, 1933

Area: Personal

With a success in this ritual to invoke the Egyptian God Harpocrates, the mage will not be noticed by onlookers unless they have a specific reason to look for her, and the searcher succeeds in a Notice roll at -4

Available at any time from the Ancient Egyptian period onwards.

Sacramental Mass (Seasoned, 8)

Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass.

The Mass is a magical ceremony performed with the object of endowing a material substance with divine virtue; but there is no material difference between the consecrated and the unconsecrated wafer. Yet there is an enormous difference in the moral reaction upon the communicant.

Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, 1929

Area: Talisman — Sacramental wafers

This ritual blesses a plate of sacramental wafers as talismanic objects. Each wafer when activated will add +1 to all Spirit rolls for anyone that consumes one of them (player must spend a Benny to activate this talismanic power). Duration one minute per caster rank. Requires previously prepared wafers or bread and the caster must have the Ordained Clergy Edge for his religion, such as a Roman Catholic priest, Gnostic Bishop etc.

Available in its modern form to all Ordained Clergy from the Middle Ages onwards. Note that most non-European cultures have variations on this ritual that may use different forms of food and drink as sacrament.

The Mithras Liturgy (Seasoned, 8)

Tauroctony statue from Roman Mithras Temple.

When you have said these things, you will hear thundering and shaking in the surrounding realm; and you will likewise feel yourself being agitated. Then say again: “Silence!” …So stand still and at once draw breath from the divine into yourself, while you look intently. Then when your soul is restored, say: “Come, Lord…”

The Mithras Liturgy — trans. Marvin W. Meyer

Area: Talisman — charges an amulet for each person in the room

Any character present during the ritual may charge an amulet with the power of Mithras. When this amulet is worn, and triggered by the wearer spending a Benny, the wearer receives a +1 to recover from being Shaken for the duration of one minute per caster rank. Requires the ritual to be performed indoors and the use of percussion instruments.

Available to initiates of the Mithraic cult from the Roman Empire onwards, in very rare editions to other mages from the 4th century, and widely available in English & German from the late 19th century onwards.

Evocation of Bartzabel (Summon Demon, Veteran, 6. SWHC p. 36)

Seal of Bartzabel, spirit of Mars.

Area: adjacent

Allows the caster to evoke the planetary spirit of Mars into a triangle placed on the floor or into talisman. This planetary spirit may be asked questions about issues pertaining to war, or directed to perform tasks of a martial or warlike nature.

Bartzabel, Spirit of Mars

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8

Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d6, Spellcasting d8, Stealth d6

Pace: 6; Parry: 5

Toughness: 6

Special Abilities:

  • Fear (-2)
  • Powers: Damage Field (fiery aura), Puppet (possess the body of a touched enemy on an successful opposed test of Wills)

Available to Jewish Kabbalistic scholars and in grimoires from the Middle Ages onwards, widely available in English from 1913 onwards.

Evoke Goetic Spirit (Summon Demon, Veteran, Variable. SWHC p. 36)

Some Goetic demons.

Area: adjacent

Allows the caster to evoke one of the 72 spirits of the Goetia to do her bidding. Each spirit’s abilities are as listed in the original text. Requires that the spirit’s sigil be drawn on a piece of virgin parchment before evocation. The spirit may be evoked to manifest in a triangle on the floor near the caster, or into a talisman. Goetic spirits come in the various ranks listed below, each with the appropriate Power Point cost in brackets. The highest ranking demons are extremely powerful, but are correspondingly difficult to evoke.

  • King: (11)
  • Prince or Prelate: (10)
  • Duke: (9)
  • Marquis: (8)
  • Earl: (7)
  • President: (6)
  • Knight: (6)

The time of day at which you will do your evocation depends on which rank your demon holds:

  • King: 09.00 — Noon & 15.00 — Sunset
  • Prince or Prelate: any time
  • Duke: Sunrise — Noon in clear weather
  • Marquis: 15.00 — 21.00 & 21.00 — Sunrise
  • Earl: any time, as long as the place has no people or noise (e.g. deep in the woods)
  • President: any time except Twilight & Night (unless you are also invoking his King)
  • Knight: Dawn — Sunrise & 16.00 — Sunset

Note: for details of what each of these demons look like, and what powers they possess, players should consult one of the many editions of the Goetia currently available, such as Aleister Crowley’s Illustrated Goetia by Lon Milo Duquette or Grimoire of Aleister Crowley by Rodney Orpheus (yes, that’s me). There’s also a free PDF of Crowley’s version available.

Copies of the Ars Goetia can be found in most sizeable occult libraries from the 17th century onwards, and are relatively easy to find in specialist occult bookstores after 1903.

Alchemical Potions

Oil of Vitriol (Bolt, Novice, 2. SWADE p.156)

An alchemical refinement of sulphuric acid that can be used to burn through materials or can be thrown at a single target. It causes 3d4 damage when it hits and 2d4 at the beginning of the caster’s next round as well (unless the target neutralizes it with liquid in the meantime). On an attack that results in a Shaken or higher result, roll 1d6. On a 6, any armor hit loses a point of protection as the vitriol burns holes in it.

Greek Fire (Seasoned, Blast, 4. SWADE p. 155)

A Byzantine ship uses Greek fire against a ship of the rebel, Thomas the Slav, 821. 12th century illustration from the Madrid Skylitzes.

“… the tail of fire that trailed behind it was as big as a great spear; and it made such a noise as it came, that it sounded like the thunder of heaven. It looked like a dragon flying through the air. Such a bright light did it cast, that one could see all over the camp as though it were day, by reason of the great mass of fire, and the brilliance of the light that it shed.”

Lord of Joinville, Memoirs, Seventh Crusade

Greek Fire was an early form of napalm whose secret of manufacture was kept closely guarded, and since thought lost. However alchemists still understand the arcane mysteries of its preparation and bottling. When thrown at a target a bottle of Greek Fire will explode in a fiery blast doing 3d6 damage to anyone within a Small Burst radius. Any flammable objects in the area may also catch fire (see Savage Worlds Deluxe p. 83).

The Universal Medicine (Greater Healing, Novice, 13. SWADE p.162)

“I will administer The Medicine.” He took a flask from his pocket, put a drop of the contents on the lips of the girl, and one in each nostril. He then sprinkled a little upon a handkerchief, and put it to the wound on her head.

-Aleister Crowley, Moonchild, 1929

Preparation of the Universal Medicine or Elixir Vitae has been a carefully guarded secret of alchemists for centuries. To activate one of these charges requires physical application of a drop of the potion to the wound, or to the patient’s lips if it is an internal illness. The target is then cured of one wound or disease, no matter how long since it was acquired i.e. It can be used outside the Golden Hour. The Medicine may be applied once per day to a target

Mediumship

Table levitates during Eusapia Palladino’s séance at home of astronomer Camille Flammarion, France, November 25, 1898. There are two women seated at the table. Palladino sits at the far short end.

We have had a series of séances with Eusapia Palladino at the [Society for Psychical Research]. It was very interesting, and really the phenomena that we saw appeared inexplicable as trickery — tables raised from all four legs, movement of objects from a distance, hands that pinch or caress you, luminous apparitions. All in a [setting] prepared by us with a small number of spectators all known to us and without a possible accomplice. The only trick possible is that which could result from an extraordinary facility of the medium as a magician. But how do you explain the phenomena when one is holding her hands and feet and when the light is sufficient so that one can see everything that happens?

Pierre Curie, Private Correspondence, July 24, 1905

The latter half of the 19th century gave rise to a phenomenon that captivated the imagination of the entire civilized world: Mediumship, also known as Spiritism or Spiritualism. Across America and Europe mediums sat in the darkened drawing rooms of the upper classes and communicated with the spirits of the dead, and through them manifested many strange and remarkable powers. Although a large number of mediums were later exposed as charlatans, the abilities of the most famous of all, Daniel Dunglas Home, remained an open question even even after exhaustive scientific tests.

Mediumship in True Magick provides a set of trappings to the basic powers for campaigns set in Gaslight or Pulp settings, or even in the modern day if you want a decidedly odd feel to magic. This form of Arcane Background is far from the standard “fantasy wizard” but can be a lot of fun to play in the right setting.

The Victorians were extremely fond of using overblown titles for anything showy — they never used one syllable when five would do — so the names of the powers should represent this. Why call a power something boring like “Light” when you can call it “Ectoplasmic Luminosity” instead? Mediums also were fond of darkened rooms for their tricks, stating that the spirits did not like bright lights (though unkind observers did also note that lack of light would make it easier to fool people with trickery), so Mediumship skill gets a +2 bonus when used in low or no light, and a -2 penalty in bright light, such as outdoors during the day or in a well-lit room.

Interrupting mediums while they were communion with the spirits could lead to them being severely shaken or even injured — if a medium fails a their skill roll or are otherwise interrupted they are Shaken, and a Critical Failure requires a roll on the Backlash table.

Arcane Background: Mediumship

Skill: Mediumship (Spirit) -2 in bright light, +2 in dim light or darkness

Starting Powers: 2

Mediumship Powers

Spirit Knocks (Confusion, Novice, 1. SWADE p.157)

The first mediums were the celebrated Fox sisters of the USA, whose spirits communicated with them by means of remote knocks or raps on the table or any other convenient resonant surface, knocks which were reported to cause great astonishment and confusion to all who heard them. This phenomenon was replicated by many succeeding mediums and should be considered an essential part of any proper medium’s repertoire.

Ectoplasmic Luminosity (Light, Novice, 1)

A favorite of Daniel Dunglas Home and many other early mediums, whose seances were often filled with an eerie phosphorescent glow. This spell will provide enough glowing ectoplasm in any one room for the occupants to see dimly.

Ghostly Hand (Legerdemain, Novice, 1. SWFC p. 39)

Another favorite of Home, invisible hands of dead spirits were known to appear at seances and touch or caress those they had known while alive. More mischievous spirits would lift ladies’ dresses or move small items. This spell allows the caster to command a Ghostly Hand to perform small manipulations remotely.

Magnetic Revitalisation (Relief, Novice, 1. SWADE p.166)

Using the power of animal magnetism, the caster may rebalance the Etheric fluids within the subject and thus return his body to full vitality.

Fire Walking (Elemental Protection, Novice, 2. SWADE p.165)

D.D. Home was reported to have been able to pick up hot coals from the fire in his bare hands, as were many of those who had learned such abilities from the mysterious swamis of the East. This power makes the caster immune to fire-based damage for the duration of the spell.

Spiritual Protection (Deflection, Novice, 2. SWADE p.157)

The spirits protect their mediums by grasping projectiles and weapons and turning them away. D.D. Home was reportedly saved twice from attempted stabbings by this means.

Etheric Healing (Healing, Novice, 3. SWADE p.162)

Many mediums were able to heal those who came to them by means of power sent from the spirit world, or through their ability to make “magnetic passes” over the bodies of the sick.

Poltergeist (Havoc, Seasoned, 2–4. SWADE p. 162)

Poltergeists were a frequently reported phenomenon outside of the seance as well as within it, often associated with the first manifestation of mediumship in pubescent teenagers. These malicious spirits were notorious for randomly throwing things around rooms, often causing bodily damage to those caught in the crossfire.

Yogic Trance (Concentrate, Seasoned, 4. SWFC p. 32)

By the end of the 19th century many fakirs and yogis from the East were touring Europe and America and teaching selected students their advanced meditation techniques. Many mediums learned these techniques and used them to enhance their other abilities.

The medium goes into her yogic trance, and with a success in a Mediumship roll can not be interrupted while using any other Mediumship powers for a duration of one minute per caster level.

Speak with Those Who Have Crossed Over (Grave Speak, Seasoned, 4. SWHC p. 35)

The ultimate aim of most seances was direct communication with the Those on the Other Side (for Death did not really exist, it was simply a transition to a more spiritual life). Pre-modern medicine life was still a very fragile thing, and every family had children, spouses, brothers and sisters who had Passed Over. Being able to hear that they were happy and fulfilled could be a source of great comfort to those Left Behind on this Earthly Plane. With the huge amount of casualties in the First World War this form of mediumship underwent a huge revival in the 1920s. The dead would might not only know information that only they had possessed while alive, trained “spirit guides” could be used to seek out other spirits and inquire of them the answers to questions that the living might be curious about.

On a success a ghostly voice may be questioned. Each question demands that the medium succeed in an opposed test of Spirit with the ghost of the deceased. On a failure the ghost will return to its proper plane.

Spirit Manifestation (Summon Ghost, Seasoned, Variable)

Area: Adjacent

Many mediums were able to manifest the spirits of the dead to appear bodily within a seance. These spirits were sometimes little more than a still, dumb ectoplasmic form, but a skilled medium could evoke spirits that would move and talk to the sitters present — and even pose for photographs! That some mediums would later be found to have false beards and wigs secreted about their person was no doubt purely coincidental.

This power summons a ghost to materialise to visible appearance. The Power Points / Difficulty Level required are equivalent to the ghost’s Spirit die — usually 6. If the medium gains success with an opposed Spirit roll the ghost will do the medium’s bidding. If the medium suffers a Critical Failure on one of these rolls the ghost may attack him, and any others nearby.

Example Ghost

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d4, Vigor d4

Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Stealth d12

Pace: 6; Parry: 5

Toughness: 5

Special Abilities:

  • Fear (-2)
  • Ethereal
  • Powers: Damage Field (cold aura), Havoc (throwing small to medium things at random when angry)

Table-turning (Telekinesis, Seasoned, 5)

Alexandr Aksakov (right) “controls” while Eusapia Palladino levitates table, Milan, 1892.

Another classic of mediumship. Spirits at seances would often lift the central table and turn it about, and in some extreme cases cause it to levitate a considerable distance from the floor. With this power the caster may implore the spirits to move items across a room, or even in extreme cases to levitate the medium himself (as D.D. Home was reported to have achieved on several occasions).

The levitation of Daniel Dunglas Home at Ward Cheney’s house interpreted in a lithograph from Louis Figuier, Les Mystères de la science1887.

Mesmerism (Puppet, Veteran, 3. SWADE p. 166)

Dr. Franz Mesmer was an eminent searcher of the phenomenon of Animal Magnetism, which could be used both to heal and to influence others. He gave his name to Mesmerism, otherwise known as Animal Magnetism, a form of hypnotism that could allow the skilled Mesmerist to control a given subject, and a subject of much study and debate during the 19th century.

Spiritual Cleansing (Banish, Veteran, 3. SWADE p.154)

Getting rid of the spirits was often as difficult a job as getting them to appear in the first place, for many would be reluctant to leave those of the living they had known in the past, or would make new friends at seances that they would have a romantic attachment to. Therefore it was important that a medium would be able to persuade Etheric entities to return whence they came.

Divine Miracle (Greater Healing, Veteran, 13. SWADE p.162)

Mediums were often reputed to have performed miraculous cures by asking the spirits to intercede with divine energies on the behalf of the long-term sick, a phenomenon that is still with us today in the form of faith healers, and no doubt, just as efficacious.

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Rodney Orpheus

I write about music, tech, and, games. All the cool stuff the kids are doing these days.