Magic and Mysteries 3

THE CODEX

Magic & Mysteries

DUEL OF SOULS

All four of the men in black robes stared at Khemsa. Their vulture-like faces were immobile, their eyes introspective and contemplative. But Khemsa shook like a man in an ague. His feet were braced on the rock, his calves straining as if in physical combat. Sweat ran in streams down his dark face. His right hand locked on something under his brown robe so desperately that the blood ebbed from that hand and left it white. His left hand fell on the shoulder of Gitara and clutched in agony like the grasp of a drowning man. She did not flinch or whimper, though his fingers dug like talons into her firm flesh.

Conan had witnessed hundreds of battles in his wild life, but never one like this, wherein four diabolical wills sought to beat down one lesser but equally devilish will that opposed them. But he only faintly sensed the monstrous quality of that hideous struggle. With his back to the wall, driven to bay by his former masters, Khemsa was fighting for his life with all the dark power, all the frightful knowledge they had taught him through long, grim years of neophytism and vassalage.

He was stronger than even he had guessed, and the free exercise of his powers in his own behalf had tapped unsuspected reservoirs of forces. And he was nerved to super-energy by frantic fear and desperation. He reeled before the merciless impact of those hypnotic eyes, but he held his ground. His features were distorted into a bestial grin of agony, and his limbs were twisted as on a rack. It was a war of souls, of frightful brains steeped in lore forbidden to men for a million years, of mentalities which had plumbed the abysses and explored the dark stars where spawn the shadows.

Robert E. Howard – The People of the Black Circle


ARCANE COMBAT

Throughout the cosmos sarrum flows naturally from the Higher Wroughts down the Great Chain. When a mortal being dares to exert his will over reality, he disrupts the great order of things, ratting the Chain and rocking the universe. If two or more mortal would attempt to cause such a disruption at the same time, all begins to fall apart.

Simply put, two sarrumiza cannot exert opposing authority in the same immediate area at the same time. The forces and entities in any given area cannot serve two masters simultaneously. A spellcaster might attempt to cast a spell and then realize that the sarrum of the area belongs already to another. The violent conflict between spellcasters as they battle to gain control of areal sarrum is called the Duel of Souls.

The Duel of Souls is, quite simply, arcane combat. Combatants use spellcasting maneuvers to magically wrestle their opponent and gain control of the ambient magical flow in order to execute their spells. Arcane combat can last mere moments or several combat rounds. As soon as all a caster’s opponents submit or have a completely depleted arcane combat pool, the victor may cast his spell.

Here are some important terms:

  • Arcane Toughness (Arcane TO): A number of dice allocated from the SP to increase the resilience of a caster to aggressive arcane maneuvers. Placing more dice in ATO means that it is less likely you will lose control, but more likely your spell will be consequently weaker or you will take more Strain.
  • Arcane Strength (Arcane ST): A number of dice allocated from the SP to increase the potency of a caster’s arcane maneuvers. Placing more dice in AST means that it is more likely a caster will exhaust his opponent’s ACP, but more likely that his spell will be consequently weaker or that he will take more Strain.
  • Arcane Combat Pool (ACP): A pool of dice representing the effort of a caster to gain control of the flow of sarrum from opponents through arcane maneuvers. This pool is made from KA + ART (+ Arcane Combat Proficiency), and any applicable spiritual attributes. SA points can be allocated to either SP or ACP but not both.
  • Arcane Maneuver: A magical technique used by casters to deplete opponents’ ACP. While combat maneuvers require a certain level of proficiency, arcane maneuvers require a certain level of ART.
  • Exhaustion Test: A test which may be required of the winner of a duel to determine whether or not arcane combat has exhausted or distracted him too much to release his spell. This is a contest of WP/(10 – ACP remaining at the beginning of the round). This enables a clever and resilient spellcaster to effectively impede even mighty Cheiu from melting his companions’ faces.

WHEN TO DUEL

  • If two or more spellcasters are participating in cooperative casting, there is no Duel of Souls.
  • When one spellcaster announces his spell while in the vicinity of another spellcaster who is also attempting a spell, each caster becomes aware of the other as if they had been interrupted by an unseen distraction during an important conversation.
  • The vicinity is at the discretion of the storyteller dependent on such things as the Range and Magnitude of the spells being cast.
  • Each caster then has the opportunity to drop their casting.
  • If one of the two sarrumiza submits, the other spellcaster may cast as usual. In this case the submissive caster does not necessarily know the location of the other caster or what spell the other caster was attempting.
  • If neither of the casters will submit, the Duel of Souls begins. Before a sarrumiza begins a spell, he may roll SGT to determine if another caster is exercising any power. The obstacle here depends on size of the area. Using Sight in this way will help prevent cautious spellcasters from being discovered.

Master Koenrat is in his quarters teaching his new ward, Yan, some finer applications of Honing on some household objects. After the ward fails at melting a candle, Koenrat begins to slowcast Hone. During the longer casting time of his master, Yan tries his spell again again, but this time fastcasting. The storyteller determines that these casts are attempted simultaneously. Both the ward and the master become aware that another in the room is attempting a spell. Neither knows what the other is attempting to do, but Yan immediately releases the spell he was invoking. Just as he does so, he sees the candle melted to a bubbling puddle by Koenrat’s spell.

If Yan had attempted his spell just before or just after his master’s, there would have been no potential for conflict.


THE DUEL BEGINS

When the arcane combat commences, each caster first assembles their SP for the spell they are trying to cast. As always, if this takes place during melee combat, only fastcast cantrips, which have an instantaneous casting time, are feasible. Each caster then does the following:

  • Determines how many dice, if any, they want as their Arcane TO. These dice are removed from their SP and may be placed beside an Arcane TO marker
  • Determines how many dice they want in their Arcane ST. These dice are removed from their SP and may be placed beside an Arcane ST marker
  • Setting the remainder of their SP aside, each arcane duelist then assembles his Arcane Combat Pool (ACP): KA + ART (+ Proficiency)(+ SAs)

Arcane combat then progresses like melee combat:

  • Initiative: Each combatant throws red or white to announce aggressive or defensive maneuvers.
  • Winning or stealing initiative works the same as in melee combat.
  • Refresh: ACP refreshes at the beginning of each round.
  • Maneuvers: Successful aggressive maneuvers do no real damage to their victims. Instead they deplete the defender’s ACP. Each success removes a die. Those dice do not refresh at the beginning of a round.
  • Losing: When a caster refreshes at 0 ACP, he has lost control of the ambient sarrum. If the other duelist still has a positive ACP value, that caster may now cast their spell minus any dice expended from their SP during the duel.
  • Exhaustion test: The winning caster may be required to make an exhaustion contest. This roll is WP against a TN of 10 – his remaining ACP value after refresh. Failure means the caster cannot cast his spell during this round.
  • Another duel may begin if two or more casters attempt to cast again simultaneously. ACP completely refreshes and the duel begins again. Of course, the Sorcery Pools of either party may be exhausted to some degree.

The Cheiu master arranges for his ward to meet him in the duke’s hall. Yan’s task is simple. He must light the braziers on the far wall. Yan bows to his master, who stands nearby, and the duke, who watches from his throne, and gathers his Cantrip Sorcery Pool of 9. In the instant he begins to cast a CTN5 Hone cantrip to light the brazier, Yan feels an interruption as another sarrumiza, Master Koentrat, also attempts to exert authority over the area. Yan isn’t sure what his master is attempting to do, but it’s obvious to him now that this is the true test.

Yan won’t need his full 9 SP to light the brazier, so he sets 3 SP as Arcane TO and 3 as Arcane ST for the duel. Yan’s Arcane Combat Pool is normally 12 (KA 5 + ART 7). However, he has the spiritual attribute Drive 3: I will impress Master Koenrat, which brings his ACP to 15.

The duke and other mundanes in the room only see the young ward staring fiercely at his master. Yan and Koenrat, however, perceive a maelstrom of light and sound as the arcane duel begins. Yan throws Red and takes the first initiative. Echoes of grimoric words shudder around Koenrat as Yan attempts the Divert maneuver. Koenrat Parries. Yan rolls 7 dice and gets 4 successes. Koenrat rolls 6 and gets only 2. In the bottom exchange Koenrat is down two additional ACP as the flow of magic around him is disrupted and he cannot parry. Yan rolls 7 ACP dice and wins 4 successes in a Strike against his master. Koenrat cannot parry, so he Counters, spending 2 ACP for the activation cost, and rolls 8 dice and wins 5 successes. Yan gasps as the torrent of his own attack swirls through the duke’s hall and crashes on top of him.

At the top of the next round Koenrat gains +4 ACP to his 8-die Strike which comes up with 4 successes. Yan throws up a 7-die Parry and gets 3 successes. With Koenrat’s MOS 1 and Arcane ST 3, Yan loses 4 dice from his ACP for the duel, leaving him with 11. Yan grits his teeth and starts to think about how he can out maneuver his master.


ARCANE MANEUVERS

The following maneuvers are described in the same language as melee combat – attacks, parries, evades. It is important to remember, however, that the caster is not actually physically moving about. His soul and all his essences are doing intense battle with another’s. The player and seanachai are encouraged to come up with names for the maneuvers that would be appropriate for the characters.

The maneuvers listed here are only the most commonly known and practiced.

Aggressive maneuvers attempt to bend and twist arcane forces against an opponent in order to wrestle away control of sarrum. To those with the Sight, this might appear like streaks of light and sound, a mighty wind, or phantasmal bolts and ripples.

Strike (Art 4) Feint (Art 5) Divert (Art 6) Stop Short (Art 8) Double Strike (Art 9)

Defensive maneuvers nullify sarrum by diminishing magical force or setting up obstacles between the attacker and the defender. To those with the Sight, this might appear as explosions of light and sound, howling torrents of wind, or ghostly shields of ripples and echoes.

Parry (Art 4) Release (Art 5) Counter (Art 6) Support (Art 6) Block & Strike (Art 8)

Master maneuvers are signs of true masters of the art. These terrifying techniques are used in conjunction with other maneuvers. They require ART 10 or above.

Surge (Art 10) Fortify (Art 10) Drain (Art 11)

ABJAH’S SPHERE

The first thing a spellcaster learns when dueling is to summon Abjah’s sphere of protection, first studied and described by a Cheiu during the wars with the Khône. The sphere is actually the consequence of wrestling with the flow of magic in an area. The moment a duel of souls commences, all combatants may instinctively wrap themselves in a sphere. The sphere has the following properties:

  • The sphere has a 12 foot diameter centered around the head of its caster so it is possible for those standing close to a caster to be protected as well.
  • The sphere becomes more visible as the battle over sarrum manifests. See Manifestations.
  • Those within a sphere are immune to the effects of manifestation.
  • The strange manifestations of the sphere make the occupants inside more difficult to spot.
  • All ATNs for missile weapons increase by 2.
  • Since the occupants are bound within the disrupted arcane flow, the effective CTN of incoming spells is increased by 2.
  • Anyone who breaches the sphere automatically suffers a Level 2 Basic Damage Wound as the magic eats away at their mind and flesh.

MANIFESTATIONS

What exactly does arcane combat look like? It is up to the player and storyteller to decide what flavor best fits the characters involved. However, it is most likely that once the duel begins to manifest, descriptions will tend to reflect the Vagaries involved. Temporal vagaries would most likely be the most flashy, while mental and spiritual ones would be visible only in those realms until after several rounds, at which point no single realm could hold the conflict.

As arcane combat continues, the rattles against the Great Chain become more and more pronounced until they spill over into each of the Vagrant Realms. The result of mortal spellcasters playing tug-of-war with cosmic forces is terrifying and dangerous for all nearby. Clever mundane fighters will use the chaotic scenes described below to their tactical advantage, pressing enemies into the perilous dangers of manifested magic.

The following is a description of the escalating chaos.

Round 2 of Arcane Combat: Shimmers and ripples. During the second round of arcane combat the magical fabric may only just be visible as heat shimmers. Physically passing through the flow has no effect.

Round 3 of Arcane Combat: Cracks and colors. As the area begins to heat up magically, on-lookers may find there are slight alterations in their perception of the area – things seeming larger or smaller than they really are, crackling noises, and shifts in the color spectrum. Physically passing through the stationary manifested flow causes a level 1 wound.

Round 4 of Arcane Combat: Melding and swirling. Now the terrain becomes dangerous as the manifested magic can be perceived as great spinning wheels of light and color and strange sounds like thunder and rushing water. No longer stationary, the flow begins to ripple across the terrain slowly covering roughly a six-foot wide swath. Passing through the flow causes a level 2 wound while adjacency results in a level 1 wound.

Round 5 of Arcane Combat: Storm and tempest. The area has lost all metaphysical stability. The laws of the cosmos begin to break down. In addition to any number of random consequences, the flow is fully manifested as lightning, fire, wind or any other appropriate manifestation. The air around the terrain is lit with sparks of magical energy. Objects are flung to and fro or explode. People between the two duelists find themselves in mortal peril. The arcane flow may build up into great walls of light and sound. Those who wish to cross the flow must make a WP/9 contest. Passing through the flow inflicts a level 3 wound. Being within 10 feet of the flow causes a level 2 wound. Any living or nonliving entity caught in this tempest may be randomly struck repeatedly by visible and invisible catastrophe. Players may spend Drama to avoid such a fate.


RITUALIZED ARCANE DUELING

It is the practice of many sorcerous traditions to train their apprentices and wards in the discipline of arcane dueling, especially in places of power. There exist formalized spells to set up an arena to be essentially more stable. Such areas may prevent dangerous manifestations beyond the third or second level of manifestation described above. Other arenas may have other benefits.

Magic and Mysteries 3

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