333, Chapter Three: Thaumaturgy, Part 1

This chapter describes the 333 setting’s main element; the public use of Ritual Path Magic, and relevant Traits. The 333 setting uses the Ritual Path Magic system as outlined in the supplement GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic with additional content from articles in various issues of Pyramid.

An Overview of Ritual Path Magic in 333

The setting is TL 8 even without magic. Magic does not replace mundane technology, magic complements it and is considered a part of it. A divination spell can answer a math question, but calculators are available. Magic can produce light, but flashlights can be freely bought in department stores. Curses can injure from afar, but Reaper UAVs and rifles exist. Pyromancy is common, but books of matches are used to light cigarettes. Magic can heal wounds and cure disease, but mortal science has hospitals and vaccines. Restaurants exist alongside spells for conjuring food out of mid-air. Mobile phones and e-mail are very common elements of daily life, despite the simple spell of telepathy. Why did people bother to develop mundane means when magic was available?

The main reasons for this duality are threefold; powerful magic often has big costs (monetary or otherwise) associated with it that not everyone can afford, the threat of botches makes some magic too risky in casual situations, and the background TL of the setting limits certain rituals as Greater effects (see Visualising the World in Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic page 8).

Also, please note that magic is sometimes inferior to mundane technology (the revolver versus the Fireball ritual, for instance), some parts of Earth are “dead zones” where magic does not work, there are any (unverified) theories about whether past magic could even accomplish what present day magic can, and numerous anti-magic security/weapons have been developed as a matter of course. All of these elements further explain why 333’s magic has not replaced the technology of our real world.

Another factor to consider is that magic requires a human being as a central component; no magic item can be truly manufactured on a factory assembly line (not yet, anyway). Enchanted items require a Ritualist to craft them first, and using them may require the Thaumatology skill. Rituals, charms and elixirs are even more limited by the inefficient and risky necessity of having to rely on a human being to craft them. Magi, as a general population, do have reputations for dishonesty, greed, ambition, spitefulness, arrogance, and treachery – do you really want one in your house? Touching your innermost personal possessions (which can be stolen and used for arcane connections)? Would you trust your security to one? Can trust a Mage to get it all correct and not slack off or make a mistake? If not, you will have to fall back on mundane technology to see you through. Dealing in magic means dealing in the all-too-human element – a matter of messy HUMINT, not reliable mundane SIGINT.

Of course, such gadgetry has its own weakness; it can not resist magic on its own, unlike animals, the undead and spirits. Any inanimate object you wish to protect against rituals must be warded or possessed by a bound ghost/spirit (a genius loci, for a building).

Some fringe Thaumatologists have advanced some weird theories about the world’s relationship to magic. For example, the “History B reality quake” theory states that parts of an alternate reality are bleeding into our own – which is why ancient magical artefacts were uncovered in historical ruins, despite magic supposedly being secret for centuries. History as we know it is a collective delusion, our flawed minds working in tandem with a leaky cosmos to patch up metaphysical holes drilled by entropy – magic is what we can get if we poke our proverbial fingers into those holes.

A few advance the “consensus reality” theory that all of human perception of reality is merely a collective delusion enabled by adaptive metaphysics – the true nature of existence is only glimpsed momentarily by learning what we know as Thaumatological lore, so magic works by letting in select portions of the “pure” natural order to mix with our flawed grasp of the universe.

Another theory states the magic of the past worked on different rules, particularly concerning Lesser and Greater effects. The most popular speculative theories state that historical mages could only work Lesser effects, or ritual effects were divided into Covert/Vulgar (and witnesses without Magery or Thaumatology skill caused Covert magic to fail) instead of Lesser/Greater, or the background TL wasn’t high enough for mages to visualise more useful/powerful effects.

Another well-known (if not exactly popular) theory is that the Ritual Adept advantage is a recent development and that historical magi never learned, or were born with, the advantage.

Of course, the standard “lost golden age of magic” theory also comes up. The origin of the first spellcasters, self-taught or otherwise, is mostly a mystery for now, although ongoing historical research and archaeological digs have uncovered some fragmented insights into the nature of past thaumaturges.

Sidebar: Mage Slang & Jargon

As with any subculture, magical folk have developed their own lexicon to describe aspects of Thaumaturgy and its practitioners.

The list below includes examples of common modern Western terms (sometimes used in other places) and is by no means exhaustive, it does not cover, for example, specific regional or national slang.

  • “Left Handed” – general term for the most despised illegal and immoral spells, “black magic”.
  • “Tripper” (from the word “Cantrip”, the term for a minor spell) – a slang term for a newbie, weak, or incompetent Mage.
  • “Null” – slang term for someone with anti-magic static (can’t cast or be affected by magic).
  • “Gutter Magus” – insulting term for a spellcaster who is a criminal, poor, untrustworthy, outcast, weird, disgusting, homeless, or otherwise “sketchy”.
  • “Cabal”, “Coven”, “an argument” – term for a group of witches.
  • “Empty bottle”, “blunt”, “puritan” – insulting terms for a mundane (non-Mage).
  • “Casting black” – casting a spell that’s illegal.
  • “Playbill” – Grimoire.
  • “Solving the mystery”, “Drawing the circle”, “Walking the path” – casting a spell in general.
  • “Sage”, “Witchfinder” – a mundane that knows enough theoretical knowledge about magic to cast a spell but doesn’t actually cast spells or learn practical applications of magical theory (in game terms, points in Thaumatology skill but NOT in any Path skill).
  • “Screamer” – a Mage casting spells to counter other magic (typically, wards against magic).
  • “Brick”, “magebane”, “Mage armour”, “spell breaker” – a Ward Against Magic charm carried on-person.
  • “Wandcross”, “Certamen”, “The Clash” – Mage duel.
  • “The Rite of Imperium”, “Solving the Imperial Mysteries” – learning the Ritual Adept advantage through study, rather than being born with it.
  • “The Circles”, “The Spheres”, “The Arcana”, “The Nine Truths”, “The Basic Mysteries”, “The Nine Ways” – the Paths.
  • “Imperial Magus” – formal title for an Adept, sometimes substituting “Magus” with “Wizard”, “Magician”, “Sorcerer”, or other term for a Thaumaturge.
  • “Spell Caddy”, “Mojo Mule”, “Banner-bearer”, “Spear Carrier”, “Proxy”- a mundane assistant who possess charms, elixirs and conditional ritual on their person, typically to use such magic as part of their job or to help out a Mage with casting spells.

What Mundanes Know About Magic

Magic has been public knowledge and a fact of life for decades by the year 2016.

The standards of first world education typically require children as young as 9 to learn the simple basics of what magic is, and a high school education will teach you enough to recognise general concepts like places of power, charms, botches, the outer planes, gates and sacrificing FP and HP to power spells. None of this will be enough to be worth even a point of Thaumatology skill, however. In nations where magic is banned or mostly taboo, this education will be less in-depth.

Nevertheless, a mundane is likely to recognise an attempt to cast a spell for what it is – covering your mouth when incanting or tucking your hands in your pocket to hide your gestures is a worn-out cheap trick on par with tucking shoplifted stuff into your zipped-up jacket. Nobody is going to be fooled by “You wouldn’t deprive an old man of his walking stick, would you?” Everybody knows how long it takes to create a charm or an elixir. Everybody knows how being a non-Adept Mage handicaps you (ritual space, connection to a living target, long casting time). They also know of the gambit wherein an Adept fakes being a non-Adept in order to seem a weaker target or not capable of committing a given crime (“I didn’t see him all day, and I haven’t got anything of his anywhere near me, so how could I cast that ritual?”). They know that if they find a small cut on their thumb or they bit their lip hard, it means they anticipated a magical memory manipulation and are signalling their future self to get themselves checked for Path of Mind rituals. In game terms, a successful IQ roll (perhaps preceded by a successful Observation roll) means someone catches on – and the roll will get big bonuses to figure out simple tricks. The Occultism skill can also identify subtler signs of spell casting (like the mystic markings left by a quirked ritual as per Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic page 53), and is more common in the 333 setting than in the real world. As per Optional Specialities (B169), this narrowly focused schooling on the general facts about magic, rather than a general study of all folklore and mythology, can be represented as Occultism (Magic) (IQ/E). The most common use of such a specialty would be ritually desecrating a place to prevent non-Adept magi from gathering energy for a ritual (Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic page 21), a common security measure for both public and private buildings.

Fiction and nonfiction within the setting alike depict magic with varying degrees of detail (and accuracy). Much like any highly technical pursuit, Hollywood movies depict spell casting with “artistic license”, often by portraying high powered rituals as much less dangerous and time-consuming to cast than they really are.

Magical Duels

See Pyramid 3/91 page 30-35 for rules on magical duels. All civilian magic duels, both one-on-one or team-versus-team, are required to be non-lethal by law. It’s a popular sport both on Earth and in the outer planes, with multiple national leagues and dueling circuits for professional duellists. Tournaments are held in several famous metropolises every year, with hefty cash prizes and trophies. The Olympics have mage duelling as an event in the vein of fencing. Just like any international sport, there are variant rulesets for mage duels that govern team size, win condition, arena layout, equipment loadouts, time limit, and so on. Underground duelling rings are a common attraction for illegal gambling and street gangs. In the wildest towns of the outer planes, mage duels are acceptable replacements for legal trials and local elections.

Lethal duels are illegal in any civilised area (just like quick-draw gunfights at high noon), although maverick magi may ignore the law and duel to the death over matters of money, love, honor, or revenge, despite the danger and criminality of such violence. There have been legally sanctioned lethal mage duels fought by soldiers of warring countries, though…

Option: Undermining Magical Defenses with Social Engineering and the Arts

“Bardic” wizards can use music, poetry, advertising campaigns, logical debates, vicious satirising mockery and other social arts as a vehicle for his rituals, giving him a bonus to casting or a penalty to the target’s resistance rolls. Rituals cannot give bonuses to create such art, since that would violate the Stacking Spells rules.

Using the Poetry skill to gain a bonus to rolls is explained in Thaumatology page 88. Skills such as Propaganda, Public Speaking, Singing and Musical Instrument (with all relevant modifiers as usual) can be used against a target prior to casting, with the target’s Will resisting. A debate (Social Engineering page 34-35) or an insult contest (Social Engineering page 35) may work. The caster must win the Quick Contest, and the target suffers a penalty to resist the ritual equal to the caster’s margin of victory. If the subject wins, the resistance roll gains a bonus (half the target’s margin of victory, round down, maximum +5) instead as the clumsy attempt at memetic warfare bolsters targeted magical defenses. Both these bonuses and penalties lower by one per two full days before the ritual is cast.

If the GM feels this should be a special trick, he should require an Extra Option Magic Perk to use it. Undermining magical defenses with artistic influence is considered by peaceful and civilised people to be a dirty trick at best, terrorist tactics at worst. That said, militaries may use the trick as a weapon of war and sanctioned mage duellists have used it as an allowed (and crowd pleasing) strategy in non-lethal matches.

Option: Energy Reductions from Backlash and Required Materials

The energy cost reductions via Backlash works as per Pyramid 3/66 page 38, but with the following details;

You can only add Backlash to a ritual that either you have a Grimoire for (it gives a bonus to that ritual), or if you have one of several certain magic perks (Ritual Mastery, Secret Spell or Shortcut to Power) for.

Secondly, if the Backlash is or includes a Fright Check for the caster, that is worth a -20% reduction.

Similar to Backlash, energy cost reductions can also be gained through Required Materials – that is, a spell can specify a certain object/s that must be wielded by the caster while unleashing the spell or the ritual automatically fizzles. You can find and cast such versions of a ritual in Grimoires only – and the Grimoire will have its Required Materials fixed by the GM and have only that variant of the ritual (no bonus without using the Required Materials). Required Materials give energy cost reductions equal to a percentage half the object’s value as a Trigger limitation, and the ritual’s contribution to the Grimoire’s final price tag is also reduced by that same percentage (so if the ritual’s Grimoire would normally be worth $2600 and the energy reduction is -10%, the Grimoire instead costs $2340). In a Collection Grimoire, the Required Materials money cost reduction only applies to the single ritual with the reduction.

Option: Daath

In a more pulpy or “high fantasy” campaign (not the default), Daath actually exists, both as a realm (a lethal anti-universe/primordial chaos/Realm of That Which is Not True) and The Path of Non-Existence as detailed in T:RPM…but very few people know for sure that it truly exists. Monsters from the Realm of Daath are horrible reality-eating abominations, their movements overseen by the great Qlippoth known as Chronozon (in his true form, at least, since his false forms go by other names – Andor Drakon, Mara, Randall Flagg, The Comte de Saint-Germain, The Saint of Paradox, ‘Umr at-Tawil, etc.). The PCs certainly know nothing of Daath. Daath rituals use the Corruption rules as detailed on Pyramid 3/66 page 7. The default assumption for the setting is that the genre is more towards “low fantasy” and prosaic adventures, so Daath is either non-existent or a rare, minimal (but still sinister and dangerous) influence – a bogeyman superstition about dark corners of the outer planes that doesn’t threaten the world enough to justify a big fancy Globe-Trotting Quest to Save Humanity. Introducing a Cosmic Horror would drown out the street-level crime drama, the downbeat slice-of-life picaresque, and the corporate espionage thriller.

To be continued…

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