Spell Books and Spell Variety in Savage Worlds

In the real world magicians (or people who thought they were magicians) had spell-books full of spells and bits of magical lore that served as textbooks for learning and performing magic. If you wanted to cast a spell, say to cause someone to fall in love, or to protect against curses, you’d look it up and perhaps find several variations, differing in ingredients or circumstances. You might have to try several charms before you found one that was effective.

For the Haunted Realm campaign, I’d like the most common form of magic to work more or less like that, but Savage Worlds’ core system relies on magic users having a handful of powers, with it being quite expensive (costing an Edge) to add to the list of powers known.  Even in old editions of D&D, while magic users had to walk around carrying big books of spells, they were mostly blank; the maximum number of spells your spell-book could have per level was about a dozen, a dozen-and-a-half.

I also wanted to address the fact that even though the Fantasy Toolkit has plenty of suggestions for utility spells, the limited array of spells an SW magic-user has would discourage anyone from taking any that they didn’t foresee using almost every session.

Fortunately, Cliff Black published an answer to most of my needs in Shark-Bytes Issue 2, in an article about Arcane Rituals in SW.  Although it seems primarily aimed at settings where nobody (or no PC) has a AB:Magic, it’s readily adaptable to higher magic settings.  The basic idea is that SW powers can be cast as ritual magic, where instead of costing power points they take a lot of extra time: 10 minutes for the first PP worth of spell, doubling for each PP after that.  So, e.g. Healing which costs 3 PP has a casting time of 40 minutes.  Rituals are cast out of books or scrolls, and can be cast by anyone who can read them.  Each ritual has a penalty associated with it based on how widely applicable it is (so a spell that provides armor only against undead would be, say, -2, while a spell that provided armor good against anything would be -4).  For powers that have duration, the ritual is cast on a focus–with what the focus must be defined in the ritual e.g. a human shin-bone for the Avoidance of Death armor v. undead ritual–and thereafter whoever holds the focus benefits from the power.  There are also rules for learning  rituals by rote so you don’t need to consult a book (up to Kn:Rituals/2 rituals can be learned this way), and Quick & Dirty casting of rote rituals in combat time (with severe penalties).

So first of all, I decided to adapt this to the Haunted Realm setting.  Rituals would be allowed, and anybody with access to the secondary sources can cast them, and those with Knowledge:Arcane can learn up to K:A/2 rituals by rote.  Powers cast on foci will only last until you let go of the focus, and the focus has to be wielded in an inconvenient manner (e.g. Tybald’s Water Breathing requires that the focus be a pearl, and you have to hold it in your mouth; Avoidance of Death requires that you hold the human shin-bone tightly in your left hand); this is to prevent Rituals from being used to equip an entire party with cheap magic items. Quick and Dirty casting is banned altogether, to avoid devaluing standard spells that have to be bought with Edges.  If you want Feather Fall as a ritual, you’re going to have to cast it on a focus and carry that focus around carefully.  Each ritual has to be crafted or at the very least approved by the GM, and most secondary sources containing rituals would be discovered during play.

Which leads finally to rituals as cast by professional spell-casters, with their thick tomes of knowledge and arcane libraries.  I decided to tweak the Arcane Background: Magic to specifically accommodate this, coming up with:

Arcane Background: Scholastic Magic

Arcane Skill: Spellcasting (Smarts)

Starting Power Points: 10

Starting Spells Known: 3

AB: Scholastic Magic works the same as AB:Magic from the core rules, with the following addition.  Due to the many years scholastic mages have spent in an academic setting, studying the theory and practice of magic, and the long hours in the library taking copious notes, Scholastic Mages possess a Grimoire of rituals and magical principles and experiments they’ve performed.  Armed with their Grimoire, given time Scholastic Mages can alter the trappings of their Powers and invent new Rituals.  To alter the trappings of an existing power, the Scholastic Mage must spend 1 minute (10 rounds) thumbing through the Grimoire and make a successful Knowledge:Arcane roll (not Spellcasting), the GM may apply penalties for doing this under adverse conditions; the Mage must also give the resulting spell a name.  Alternatively, the Mage may attempt to alter the trappings on the fly from memory, applying a -1 to the casting roll per PP of the spell.

To invent a new Ritual, the Mage must spend 10 minutes and make a successful Knowledge: Arcane roll: a success indicates the Mage has cobbled together a ritual with a UM of -2 (hardest and most general), each Raise makes the ritual one level more specific (+2 to the UM) while still being suited to the situation at hand, and again the Mage must name the ritual.  The Mage may retry for a better (more specific) result, but a roll of a 1 on the Kn:A die (regardless of the Wild Die) means that the Mage has exhausted his current resources and may not try again for the same Power this session.  A botch (1 on both dice) means there was a subtle flaw in the Mage’s reasoning and the the Mage believes he has a good result, but the ritual will have an adverse side-effect of the GM’s choosing. (If you’re rolling in the open and can’t trust the players not to use their meta-game knowledge that the ritual is flawed, the botch means that the flaw is in one of the Mage’s rituals, but not necessarily this one; at a time of the GM’s choosing one of the Mage’s rituals will have an adverse one-time-only side-effect).

The Mage picks the Power and trappings, but the GM will determine what the specifics of the Ritual are and what focus is needed for ongoing spells (the focus must be something that is available or reasonably obtainable given the current circumstances–the Mage is specifically trying to figure out a Ritual that he can use, so it’s not fair for the GM to thwart a success by requiring an impossible to get item).  Rolls to devise a new ritual may be cooperative (as long as all participants have Knowledge: Arcane) and may be enhanced by research in collections of books with a bonus based on the size of the library consulted but a penalty of +1 day or a +1 on the roll, doubled for each additional +1.  Once a Ritual is devised it may be recorded by the Mage, either on a scroll or in the Grimoire; this takes 1 hour.   To find and cast a particular Ritual once recorded in the Grimoire requires 1 minute and a Knowledge: Arcane roll (just as changing a trapping); newly devised Rituals may also be memorized once recorded as long as the Mage has a “slot” left.

Because a Mage’s Grimoire represents a life-time of careful experimenting and note-taking, and is highly personal, they are nigh irreplaceable.  Mages may keep a duplicate copy somewhere, but they have to update it by hand; this takes an 8-hour day if they do it after each adventure, a week (or more at the GM’s discretion) if they do it less frequently than that.  If they ever lose their Grimoire(s) completely, it will take 2d6 weeks with access to at least another mage’s Grimoire or a small magical library before they can use it to alter trappings on their own powers, and 2d6 months and access to a large magical library to replace the information sufficiently to begin crafting new rituals.


The AB:Scholastic magic is intentionally pretty similar to being a Weird Scientist with the Gadgeteer Edge.  It would be perfectly reasonable to separate out the Grimoire as its own Edge, just like Gadgeteer, but since I wanted this to be the standard way magic is done in the Haunted Realm setting I didn’t want to make mages spend an extra edge on it.  It also will usually take a bit more time than Gadgeteering, since (at least for a new ritual) you have to first devise the ritual (10 minutes) and then cast it (10 minutes, doubled for every PP of the spell) vs. 1d20 minutes (at minimum) for something that can be used instantly once created.

You could probably also allow Quick and Dirty casting without really unbalancing things. The penalties for Q&D casting are pretty severe, so most expensive spells just can’t be cast that way with any reasonable hope of success.  I was more concerned with getting the feel right, and I liked the idea of mages needing to spend time chanting and gesturing and drawing magical symbols on the ground, and as long as they have their standard powers for combats I don’t see much of a down-side to making the utility powers mildy inconvenient.  You could also choose to allow Q&D casting only for certain rituals at the GM’s discretion.

As for foci, I think you have to do something like the restriction I put that the spell ends as soon as you let go and holding it must be inconvenient enough to preclude some other activity, or else you’re going to get everybody in the party wearing various articles of clothing and jewelry with all the rituals the party knows cast on them.  Cliff’s original article, where the foci were essentially permanent until broken, pretty much assumed that the campaign would have a scant handful of rituals with foci that would be hard to obtain or perhaps immoble (where you might have an entire quest to obtain the scale of an Old One so you could cast the ritual, or the focus is a chalk circle).  To use it as I want to in order to open up scads of otherwise-not-worth purchasing spells is just an invitation to abuse, unless you limit it in some way.  One alternative would be to have the foci have a limited number of expendible Power Points, like Gadgeteering, but that’s more bookkeeping than I want, and I think could still be abused by players mass producing magical widgets.