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Magickal Feats and Instruments

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  • Magickal Feats and Instruments

    The more I think about it, the more I think that the Magickal Feats scale needs more than just “X successes” near the top end. It kind of already does, in that once you get into Feats that require double-digit successes to achieve, there's a difficulty modifier that kicks in (see “outlandish to god-like feat” under Magickal Difficulty Modifiers, M20 p.503). But I'm of the opinion that that's not enough: really big feats shouldn't just require more successes and increase the difficulty; there should be Instrument-like requirements for such Feats that get increasingly onerous the bigger the Feat is; and the mage shouldn't be able to discard these requirements, either through Working Without Focus or by raising Arete: at best, these measures might be able to mitigate the Feat-based Instrument requirements so that they're not quite as onerous as they would otherwise be. The purpose of these “Feat-based Instruments” is to ensure that God-like Feats can't be achieved “merely” by accumulating a bunch of successes on a series of Arete rolls; they should require the mage to do something — and more to the point, to do something that can be disrupted by others who don't want him to succeed.

    Take, for instance, what M20 has to say about shifting Reality Zones: it can be done, but it's not something that you can just “cast a spell” and do. Instead, you need to go into the community where you want to shift the Zone and conduct operations to change the minds of the locals; it explicitly says that you can't just perform a God-like Feat on a Mind-based Effect to cause a paradigm shift. Why not? Because that's boring.

    My view is that shifting a Reality Zone should be a God-like Feat on a Mind Effect; but that God-like Feats shouldn't be doable merely by accumulating X successes on a series of Arete rolls — because that doesn't have any drama or storytelling in it. Requiring some sort of activities to accompany the God-like Feat, especially activities that your enemies can interrupt, changes God-like Feats from dry game system exercises to things that drive the narrative.

    So that's the basic premise of this thread. The question is, how much crunch should be applied? At a minimum, I'd insist on God-like Feats being given Instrument Requirements that cannot be discarded by any means, even when a mystic is attempting the Feat.

    More generally, I'm thinking of combining this system have with another one that generalizes the “Spending Extra Time” Magickal Modifier from “take an extra turn per roll” to an “Onerous Instrument” difficulty reduction: if your choice of Instrument is somewhat more inconvenient to use (such as requiring a little bit of extra time per roll), you get a -1 difficulty reduction; if it is considerably more inconvenient to use, you get a -2 difficulty reduction; and if it is extremely inconvenient, you get a -3 difficulty reduction.

    For God-like Feats, these levels of inconvenience start to become mandatory: say, if the Feat requires 20 or more successes, you must choose an Instrument that's at least somewhat inconvenient to use; if it requires 25 or more successes, you must choose an Instrument that's significantly inconvenient to use; and if it requires 30 or more successes, you must choose an Instrument that's extremely inconvenient to use. On top of that, if you must use a certain level of inconvenience, you don't get the difficulty reduction for using it. Consider this an extension to the rule about mandatory vs. optional Instruments, where using the former doesn't reduce your difficulty but using the latter does.

    The notion of what qualifies for each level of inconvenience is where the largely freeform and narrative-driven nature of Mage kicks in: that is, it's ultimately up to the Storyteller after taking into account the Effect being worked and the mage's Focus.


  • #2
    I think there's already something of a "soft" requirement in the form of rituals. While getting 20+ successes over multiple rolls isn't by itself so hard that you have to throw every difficulty bonus you can to make it happen, you do need multiple rolls to stand a chance.

    A mage with Arete 10, casting a spell at difficulty 3, with an applicable Sphere specialty, and spending a WP would hit 20+ in a single roll as a freakishly lucky shot. No mage seriously trying would rely on a single roll to do this.

    As such, applying the Rite, Ceremony, and Great Work optional rule seems to handle so much of this with that by itself. Any of the god-like feats are inherently Great Works, with all the narrative and mechanical difficulties that will impart on the action.

    I'm not sure I agree with forcing a high Arete mystic on using Instruments for high end magic though. I would append this to a different thing: acting in concert. Basically, I'd make a spell benefiting from acting in concert default to the most restrictive Instrument requirements of the group. If you're using a Cult? You have to use Instruments, they can't understand and thus add to your working without appropriate tools guiding their actions. If you have a group of mages planing a group ritual and one mage hasn't discarded one Instrument the group considers necessary? Then they all have to use it to have that mage involved. If you can collect a group of like minded mages that have all discarded the appropriate Instruments, or want to go solo and not use the Instrument difficulty bonus you still get despite discarding them? That seems like plenty of hurdle to deal with on top of applying the optional rule from the book.


    • #3
      Remember, Instruments don't necessarily have to be physical objects. In fact, I tend to see what you do (using the physical tools, if any) as being more important than the tools themselves. Instruments include Blessings and Curses; Dances, Gestures, Postures, and Other Movement Practices; Eye Contact; Formulae, Equations, and Sacred or Advanced Mathematics; Group Rites; Languages; Meditation; Music; Numbers and Numerology; Ordeals and Exertion; Prayers and Invocations; Social Domination; and so on.

      The point isn't so much to require “stuff” as to require Practice-appropriate activities; and Instruments are the existing game system that's closest to that.


      • #4
        The physicality of an Instrument wasn't part of my post, nor something I intended to be read as part of my point at all.

        Seriously, we have discussed this game enough that you know I don't need a lecture about what the sample Instruments list includes. If you're at the point where you think that I don't remember that chanting can be an Instrument, I think I've earned at least a reread of my post to make sure you didn't misread something.