Horrific magic

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World of d20d20 Modern Horror

Of all the possible kinds of horrific magic one could use in a modern setting, the standard D&D Vancian memorize-and-forget is the worst. It has no basis in myth, folklore, religion, or popular culture. Quite simply, it has to go.

Two different systems replace it—one with discrete spells that almost anyone can use, one more free-form that requires a combination of extensive training and natural talent. The first is ripped from Call of Cthulhu, the second from Mythic Earth.

Ritual Magic

Ritual magic uses the system for incantations, with the following changes:

  • The base DC of all checks is reduced by 5.
  • The primary skill used to cast, research, or create incantations is Metaphysics. It is not possible to create incantations untrained.
  • The final Metaphysics check is matched against the target's defense. Since the DC is so high, a successfully cast ritual will almost always overcome defenses.
  • Every ritual is based in a magical tradition, and require actions and paraphernalia appropriate to that tradition. Some also require other feats to work properly (such as Command Undead or Craft Permanent Spell). If neither you nor any characters assisting you in the ritual possess the proper mage or tradition feat, increase the spellcasting check DC by +5 for each feat you lack.
  • If you fail two consecutive spellcasting checks for a ritual, the spell fails, you suffer a –1 penalty to all spellcasting checks for the rest of the day, and the spell mishaps. If, while casting a ritual, you end the ritual voluntarily instead of failing two spellcasting checks, no mishap occurs, but you still suffer a –1 penalty to all spellcasting checks for the rest of the day. This stacks with the spellcasting penalties from failed dynamic magic.

Each ritual cast or learned brings the possibility of acquiring depravity.

Verbal, Somatic, and Material Components: All ritual spells require verbal, somatic, and material components, and many require reusable material foci as well.

Static Magic

Static magic can most properly be described as fast rituals, though some of them are based more on alien science than magic proper. A static spell usually only requires a single standard action to cast, using a Forbidden Lore check to overcome the target's defenses. This ease comes at a price, of course.

Static magic is debilitating, and requires personal sacrifice. Most often this takes the form of temporary Wisdom damage, but major spells can cause permanent harm. Each spell cast or learned also brings the possibility of acquiring depravity.

For examples of static spells, see d20 Call of Cthulhu.

Verbal, Somatic, and Material Components: Virtually all static spells require verbal and somatic components, and many require reusable material foci as well. Static spells do not require one-use material components.

Taint: When learning or casting static spells, use the listed Sanity loss as the bonus of a Taint check. For example, if a spell normally costs 1d4 Sanity to cast, roll 1d4 + 1d20. If the check equals or exceeds Horror Threshold, you gain a point of depravity.

Some spells target Fortitude defense and give a point of corruption instead.

Dynamic Magic

Dynamic magic, or spontaneous magic as it's also called, is mostly the province of true mages. There are magical creatures like fey and fiends that has natural affinity for some forms, but their ability pales to that of a true mage.

There are ten magical "Arcana" — Attack, Charm, Create, Cure, Defend, Divine, Illusion, Move, Summon, and Transform. Spell power is measured in levels, typically from 1 to 20. Higher-level magic is possible, but seldom comes into the hands of player characters. Casting spells requires a check, and the DC is higher to cast more powerful spells.

To cast a spontaneous spell — a spell that does not require a ritual — a human must take a tradition feat, and each tradition feat grants benefits dependent upon the beliefs of that tradition. Some spellcasters might use powers of the fey, others might have magic granted to them by the ghost of an ancestor, and others might possess psionic powers.

Members of naturally magical races must still possess a tradition feat to cast spontaneous spells, but for them the tradition feat tends to represent inner power, while for humans a tradition feat often represents either intense training or a deeper understanding of universal truth.

Magic Rating

Your magic rating determines how powerful spells you can cast, and how good you are at casting them. Each class has a listing for magic rating. When multi-classed, you add the magic ratings of all classes.

Your magic rating is the limit for how powerful spells you can cast without overcasting.

Spellcasting checks use your magic rating + your Charisma modifier to determine whether the spell is successful, if casting the spell taxes you, and if you manage to overcome the target's defense.


To cast a spell, you must have a tradition feat and the appropriate Arcana. You can cast any spell if its level is less than or equal to your magic rating. Casting a spontaneous spell takes two full rounds, except that signature spells can be cast as a standard action.

At the end of the second round of casting a spontaneous spell, make a spellcasting check (DC 10 + spell level + number of spells cast in this encounter). You cannot Take 10 on this check. A natural 20 does not automatically succeed, nor does a natural 1 automatically fail. If you succeed, the spell functions normally. If you fail, the spell may still function, but you suffer drawbacks.

  • If you fail by a margin of 1 to 5, the spell functions normally, but you incur a –1 penalty to all spellcasting checks for the rest of the day.
  • If you fail by a margin of 6 to 10, the spell fails and you incur a –1 penalty to all spellcasting checks for the rest of the day.
  • If you fail by a margin of 11 or more, the spell fails, you incur a –1 penalty to all spellcasting checks for the rest of the day, and the spell mishaps.

Verbal, Somatic, and Material Components: As a default, all dynamic spells require verbal and somatic components, but see the Focus rules below. Spells do not require material components.


As a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity, you may make a Concentration check (DC 20) to gain magical focus. When you are magically focused, you may expend your focus to cast a spontaneous spell without verbal or somatic components, without increasing its level. Once you are magically focused, you remain focused until you expend your focus, become unconscious, or go to sleep. For psychics, magical focus is often called psionic focus.


Normally, when you want to cast an powerful spell, you run a great risk of not just injuring yourself, but also wasting your time in combat or other tense situations. It is possible, however, to cast a spell in advance and hold the completed spell for later release. Doing this lets you face the risk of having a spell go awry in controlled circumstances.

To precast a spell, you must be magically focused. You then choose a spell to cast and make the appropriate magical skill check against the normal DC. If you fail you suffer the normal effects. If you succeed, the spell does not take immediate effect. Instead you gain the ability to expend your magical focus to cast the spell as a standard action, with a DC 0 spellcasting check. If you lose your magical focus, the precast spell is lost. You can only have one precast spell at a time.

Spellcasting Penalties

If you fail to cast a ritual spell, or if you fail the spellcasting check for a spontaneous spell, you suffer a –1 penalty to spellcasting checks for the rest of the day, generally until you get a good night’s rest. Regardless of how many times you sleep, you can only negate these penalties once in a given day. If you do not rest at least 4 hours, the penalties remain, even beyond one day.


When spellcasting goes awry, the result is called a mishap. The default mishap is that the caster and any other characters involved in casting the spell take damage equal to the spell’s level, but the game master is encouraged to use the suggested mishaps for the spell’s magical tradition, presented with the appropriate tradition feat.

Signature Spells

Normally, spontaneous spells take two full rounds to cast. This represents the time needed to compose a spell on the fly. Characters will typically rely on their signature spells, those spells the character is most familiar with, which he is able to perform without thinking. Signature spells are just as difficult to cast as normal spells (i.e., their spellcasting DC is the same), but they take only a standard action to cast. A signature spell is a specific, premade spell of a specific tradition: for example, a specific Illusion 5/Gen 1 spell to make a target creature look and sound like a different person for ten minutes, using the Stage Magic tradition. The specific appearance of the illusion can be different, but the enhancements chosen are pre-determined.

You can know a number of signature spells equal to your total level plus your Intelligence modifier. Creating or changing the signature spells you know takes 8 hours of study and practice. You can choose any spell as a signature spell, even an overpowered spell.

Overpowered Spells

Normally, when you cast a spontaneous spell, you cannot cast a spell that is higher level than the number of ranks you have in the appropriate magical skill. You can choose to cast an overpowered spell, allowing you to cast a spell up to 5 levels higher than your number of skill ranks. Casting an overpowered spell deals 1d4 points of Strength ability burn to you for every 2 spell levels (round up) you went above your limit. Ability burn is like ability damage, except that it cannot be healed by magic. It heals naturally at a rate of 1 per evening of rest. A Treat Injury check (DC 20) can recover 1 additional point of ability burn, but a character can only benefit from this once per day. If your Strength is reduced to 0, additional ability burn is dealt to Constitution.

You can spend an action point when casting an overpowering spell to keep from taking this ability burn. You can wait until after you know if the spell succeeds before deciding whether to spend an action point this way. Thus, you can choose instead to spend an action point to increase your spellcasting check, since normally succeeding is more important than not being injured.

Creating Spells

As a baseline, all spells have the following characteristics.

Casting Time: Standard action.

Duration: Up to one minute (D). You can hold a charged spell after casting it, waiting to release its effect, but the duration is still tracked from the moment it is done being cast.

Range: Touch.

Target: A creature, object, or point in space.

Area of Effect: Up to one 5-ft. square.

Affecting Targets: When you cast your spell, choose a creature, object, or point-in-space within range. This is the center of the area of effect. If you choose a creature or object, the spell is anchored to it, and the area of effect moves wherever it moves. If you choose a point in space, the area of effect is static and unmoving.

Also, instead of a 5-ft. area, you may choose for the spell to simply affect one creature or object. Thus, if your friend and an enemy are grappling and in the same square, you could target a Charm spell to affect only the enemy, instead of a 5-ft. area.

Special Targeting: You can choose to charge the spell into an object that is within range, and the first creature or object it touches becomes the anchor of the spell. If you charge an object this way, you can then cast more spells without causing the charged spell to end. Remember, though, that the duration is running as soon as you cast the spell, so if no one touches the charged object, the spell is wasted. One example of this is charging arrows with Attack spells so they explode when they hit.

Enhancements: Magical skills have effects depending on the spell’s level, and when creating a spell, a character basically chooses enhancements that increase the spell’s level. Each magical skill has its own list of enhancements. Additionally, any spell can use general enhancements to improve the spell’s duration, range, or area of effect.

For example, with an Attack spell, 1d6 points of damage is a 1st-level effect, while 5d6 is a 5th-level effect. A character could also choose the long range enhancement, which increases the spell’s level by +4, allowing him to deal 5d6 points of damage to a creature within 800 ft. as a 9th-level spell. He could also choose to give the spell a 20-ft. radius, increasing the spell’s level by +2, creating a highly visible explosion or a very subtle draining of life energy at long range. This would be an 11th-level spell.

When describing spells, list their type and the number of levels of enhancements from that type, then include a listing of how many levels of general enhancements the spell has. The 20-ft. radius version of the example spell above would be listed as Attack 5/Gen 6.

Enhancements are listed in the following format.

Name of Enhancement (+x level increase for spell). The effect of the enhancement.

General Enhancements

The following are general (Gen) enhancements, available to any spell.

  • Discerning (+1 or +3). With this enhancement, the spell only affects creatures or objects of your choice in the area of effect. It costs +3 for Attack spells, +1 for all others. You can choose a maximum number of targets equal to the spell’s total level. For example, Jenny casts Cure 3/Gen 3 to affect a 20-ft. radius circle that contains both allies and enemies, with the Discerning enhancement. She can choose up to six allies in the area of effect so that they will be affected, but no enemies would be. Alternately, you can choose up to one 5-ft. square per spell level to be unaffected by the spell. Also, you can choose to have the spell anchor individually to each creature in the area of effect. This way, creatures in the area of effect when the spell is cast are affected, and remain affected even if they leave the area of effect. However, if creatures enter the area of effect after the spell is cast, they are not affected. Thus, the area of effect only really matters when the spell is first cast. Most Charm spells use this enhancement so that the mage doesn’t have to always stay within range of those he charms.
  • No Vocals (+1). The spell has no vocal component.
  • No Somatics (+1). The spell has no somatic component.


The spell has a range greater than Touch.

  • Range, Short (+1). The spell has a range of 30 ft., or generally the size of a small melee combat.
  • Range, Medium (+2). The spell has a range of 150 ft., or generally the size of any close- to medium-range gunfight.
  • Range, Long (+4). The spell has a range of 800 ft., or generally far enough to reach people who can see you, at about the limit of clear vision.
  • Range, World (+20). The spell has a range that reaches anywhere in the world and into high orbit. If you do not have the Movement Specialization (teleportation) feat, increase the cost of this enhancement to +25. You can only target somewhere that you can see, though live television feeds or remote viewing qualifies.
  • Ray (–1). The spell is a thin ray that either hits fully or misses completely. You must hit against Reflex defense, or the spell has no effect at all. If the effect normally targets Fortitude or Will defense, you must target the highest of Reflex and the normal defense.


The spell affects an area greater than one 5-ft. square.

  • Area, Radius (+1). The area of effect has a 10-ft. radius. The shape of the area must be simple and contiguous, such as a filled circle, a hollow ring, a cross, or an S-shape, but you cannot choose a more complicated shape. Thus, you cannot choose to target four random squares with enemies but avoid those with allies. For every 1 additional level spent on this enhancement, increase the radius by 10 feet.
  • Area, Local (+12). The spell’s area of effect is an 800-ft. radius.
  • Area, Vast (+20). The spell’s area of effect is a 1-mile radius.
  • Area, Regional (+30). The spell’s area of effect is a 100-mile radius.
  • Area, World (+40). The spell’s area is an entire world.


When you cast the spell, you choose all the spell’s effects, but the spell’s duration doesn’t begin until a certain trigger you set occurs. The trigger must be clear, and must be something a typical human could notice. Note that the trigger condition must be something that takes place within 30 ft. of the spell’s area, and the game master may disallow inappropriate triggers. A Create spell that sounds an alarm if anyone enters the area of effect is fair, but an Attack spell that fires at the third creature without ice resistance to talk in the area of effect is too complicated. You can only have one triggered spell waiting at any given time; if you cast another triggered spell before the first triggers, the earlier one has no effect.

  • Contingency, Short (+1). If the trigger doesn’t occur for 10 minutes, the spell dissipates.
  • Contingency, Medium (+2). As above, except the spell can lie in wait for up to one hour.
  • Contingency, Long (+4). As above, except one day.
  • Contingency, Month (+10). As above, except thirty days.
  • Contingency, Week (+7). As above, except seven days.
  • Contingency, Year (+14). As above, except one year.


Effects explicitly specified as lasting a single round or less, such as most direct Attack spells, have a transient duration.

  • Duration, Transient X (+X). A transient effect is extended from 1 round to X rounds.

Other effects have an enduring duration, with a base of one minute.

  • Duration, Concentration (+0). The spell’s duration is only as long as you maintain concentration.
  • Duration, Brief (+0). The duration is only one round. However, the spell only takes a swift action to cast, like a quickened spell. This duration cannot be chosen for a spell where the reduced duration is little or no drawback, such as most Attack or Cure spells.
  • Duration, Short (+1). The duration is 10 minutes.
  • Duration, Medium (+3). The duration is one hour.
  • Duration, Long (+8). The duration is one day.
  • Duration, Permanent (+30). The spell lasts until you will it to end, or until it is dispelled.

Special Cases

Combined Spells

It is possible to combine two types of magic into one spell. For example, you might cast a spell that creates plate armor on an ally (Create 8) and grants him a +4 enhancement bonus to AC (Defend 4), lasting for ten minutes (Gen 1). The spell would be listed as Create 8/Defend 4/Gen 1, and would be a 13th level spell.

When casting ritual combined spells, there are no special rules. When casting a spontaneous combined spell, you are still limited to having no more levels in a single spell than how many ranks you have in the appropriate skill, and the spell’s total level cannot be higher than your ranks in whichever magical skill you have the most ranks in that the spell uses. You use whichever skill is lowest on your skill check against the spell’s DC. Continuing the above example, you could cast the spell as long as you had at least 8 ranks in Create and 4 ranks in Defend, and at least 13 ranks in one of those two skills. If you had 13 ranks in Create and 4 ranks in Defend, you would roll d20+4 against DC 18. If you had 8 ranks in Create and 4 ranks in Defend, you could still cast the spell, but you’d become fatigued unless you spent an action point.

Effects that Aren’t Here

If you want to create an effect that isn’t clearly explained in these rules, it is up to you and the game master to determine what magical skill is appropriate, and what level the magic should be. For example, if you want to send a telepathic message to an ally half-way around the world, the game master might decide that would be a combination Divine (to find your friend) and Charm (for the telepathy).

If you want to emulate a spell from the core rules, as a rough guideline, double the spell’s level in the core rules, then add 1 to determine its level in this system. For healing spells, instead triple the spell’s level in the core rules, then add 1. For example, there are no clear rules in the Transform spell for altering only part of your body, but if you wanted to emulate claws of the bear (a 2nd level psionic power), a good guess would be a 5th-level spell in Mythic Earth.

Restricted or Improved Spells

One spell might grant damage reduction, but only against ranged attacks. Another might turn you invisible to fey creatures, but leave you visible to normal humans. Alternately, a spell might create a burst of flame, but not harm inanimate plants, while another might heal a wound but cause the wound to reopen if the healed creature attacks you.

Restrictions and improvements such as these have so many possibilities that this book cannot include them all, so it is up to the game master to increase or decrease the spell’s level by an appropriate amount. The base guideline is to increase or decrease by 1 level, but significant effects can alter a spell’s level by as much as 4.

This cost change should most often be used with ritual spells, which are written down and have odd quirks to them. Characters can cast spontaneous spells with special alterations every once in a while, but the game master should encourage players to come up with one or two special tricks and stick with them.


There are several different traditions of Magic practiced. Some would normally be classified as arcane and some as divine, but there is no real difference between the two. Likewise, psionics is just another tradition of magic. A mage can only be a member of a single tradition, and cannot rise above it unless she is Awakened.


The Technocracy


See Also

Modern Horror

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