Casting traditions are a set of optional rules that allow players and GMs to customize magic itself to fit their needs. Rather than being forced to fit their ideas into the arcane/divine traditions of the core rules, a GM can create her own traditions, adapting magic itself to fit the setting, whether it be creating a world where wizards must invoke animal spirits and collect souls to power their magic, a world where the black market regulates highly addictive and illegal spell components, or a world where elemental-based casters use martial art forms to control their power. Likewise, a player could customize their character in any number of ways, creating characters based off favorite books, games, television shows, or custom ideas without first worrying how those ideas will translate to a world that assumes only wizards, clerics, druids, etc.
In Spheres of Power, casters are not automatically assumed to have any limitations on where, when, or how they can use magic. Whereas the core magic system includes a divide between divine and arcane magic, no such distinction is assumed in this system. Likewise, while arcane casters from the core system must chant, gesture, and provide material to cast spells and cannot use magic effectively while wearing armor, an this system caster requires little more than a thought to create a magical effect, regardless of her situation. Casting traditions, then, are a way for players and GMs to re-introduce these requirements and distinctions, as well as create new ones to fit their world.
Casting traditions are comprised of general drawbacks, sphere-specific drawbacks, and boons. General drawbacks and boons must be selected when the caster gains their first level in a casting class, while sphere-specific drawbacks are gained when the character first gains the sphere they modify.
Despite their mechanical implications, casting traditions is primarily a tool of story telling; thus, it is a GM’s tool first and a player’s tool second.
Casting traditions are designed to allow GMs free reign over the how’s and why’s of magic, allowing them to forge magic to fit their needs. This could range from carefully recreating the settings from the earlier days of the fantasy roleplaying game (Traditional Magic, Divine Petitioner, and Druidic traditions only), to creating an adventure dependent on a particular magical plot device (e.g., magic is the exclusive realm of cultists who use blood magic, the conjuration sphere, and the death sphere to terrorize the populous). Once a series of parameters have been selected, players may customize their characters as they see fit, developing unique character concepts and implementing them at the table.
In many ways, casting traditions are similar to magic items; they may be employed in strictly mechanical ways, but they are much more flavorful and fun when incorporated into the story. As always, the GM is allowed to disallow any casting tradition or casting tradition option if she feels they might upset the game or do not belong in a particular setting.
GMs should decide before the campaign begins what role casting traditions will play in his game. If the players and the GM do not want to worry about the why’s and how’s of magic, they may simply remove all casting traditions. Or, they may allow all casting traditions, allowing each player to decide the how’s and why’s on his own. Most often, however, the GM will want to explore casting traditions before the campaign begins, presenting them as dictated by the needs of the game.
Example: Jake the GM is creating a campaign centered around the conflict between four groups of magic users; wizards, clerics, druids, and cultists. He determines that wizards will use the traditional magic casting tradition, clerics will use the divine petitioner casting tradition, druids will use the druidic casting tradition, and the cultists will use the blood magic casting tradition. Before the game begins, Jake informs his players that, unless they can provide a reasonable explanation for how their characters learned another kind of magic, they should limit their characters to one of these four traditions.
Players and GMs are encouraged to talk to each other about what role casting traditions will play in their game, and what their implications will be. After all, a monster responding to and exploiting the weaknesses of his enemy (silencing a verbal caster, disarming a focus caster, using magical signs to identify a caster’s abilities) is simply good tactics, as well as a response to the choice the player made as to how his caster would function in the world. Mechanically speaking, a caster taking both the Verbal Casting drawback and the Silent Spell metamagic feat, or the Somatic Casting drawback and either the Arcane Armor Training feat or the Still Spell metamagic feat is not a redundancy, but rather a good mechanical choice.
The following traditions are presented as a starting point for GMs and players. A GM or player may always create their own traditions by combining individual drawbacks and boons, which are presented in the following sections.
Hidden within the ramblings of the insane, one name is often repeated: Manaen. Some healers theorize that Manaen is the hidden god of madness, gaining power from—and granting power to—those who surrender their minds to him. There must be some truth to this theory, because sometimes, when those with Manaen on their lips are displeased with their surroundings, they possess the ability to change them. An addled caster gains +1 spell point, +1 per 6 levels gained in a casting class.
Drawbacks: Wild Magic, Verbal Casting, Addictive Magic
Boons: Easy Focus
One of the most dangerous forms of magic, blood magic, promises great power to its practitioners, but with a price. Blood magic is difficult, lengthy, complicated, and draining, but for its practitioners the promise of insurmountable power is worth the mere price of their life force. Blood mages are constantly performing a dangerous dance, for the closer they are to death’s door, the greater their power.
Drawbacks: Draining Casting, Verbal Casting, Somatic Casting (2), Extended Casting
Boons: Deathful Magic, Overcharge, Fortified Magic
Somewhere in the bowels of the criminal underworld, an alchemist cracked the code of magic and created Essence. This powerful, addictive powder would grant magical ability to anyone who consumed it. The crime lord who first distributed Essence sold it everywhere, eager to gain a dedicated following of addicted ‘wizards’, but he underestimated the power of the addiction—and of the addicted. The lab was destroyed as magic users descended on it to increase their supply and steal the secret of its creation. Now Essence can be found virtually anywhere people are rich enough—and foolish enough—to seek it out. A contaminated caster gains an additional spell point for every odd level gained in a casting class.
Drawbacks: Addictive Casting, Material Casting, Wild Magic
A divine petitioner gains their magic through service and prayer to a divine source, such as a Deity. A divine petitioner must pray every day to regain their spell points, petitioning not only for their magic, but specifying how they intend to use it that day. Divine petitioners do everything in the name of their deity and find it difficult to even manifest their power unless they have their holy symbol in hand. A divine petitioner gains a bonus spell point at every odd level they gain in a spellcasting class.
Drawbacks: Verbal Casting, Focus Casting, Prepared Caster, Aligned Combatant (Destruction), Aligned Protection (Protection)
A druid gains their magic through communion with nature and the spirits contained therein. While many casters band together for mutual study and protection, druids take this a step further, possessing their own secret language that identifies one druid to another. The hierarchy of the druids is a very sacred thing for them, and there are only so many high-level druids in the world at any one time. Indeed, a druid rising through the ranks often times must claim their new title by taking it from another druid through a demonstration of superior magic. A druid gains +1 spell point, +1 per three levels gained in a spellcasting class.
Drawbacks: Verbal Casting, Prepared Caster, Animal Shaman (Mind)
There exist those who bear in their blood a touch of pure fire. Details of their origin are spotty at best, but the tale is told of a tryst between a mortal woman and the elemental spirit of fire itself, granting the power of fire to all her descendants. The flame-blooded are often as brash and volatile as the element that powers their magic; to cross one is to invite a swift and deadly response.
Drawbacks: Energy Focus (fire blast, Destruction), Limited Warp (requires fire, Warp), Focused Weather (heat, Weather)
Curses are terrible things and lycanthropy more so than most. For some casters, however, lycanthropy is the beginning of a long journey to power. These souls not only learn to control their animalistic natures, but to expand them, pulling power from their curse and turning it into a source of magic. Practitioners of this magic should beware however; curses are not trivial things, and a lycanthrope’s magic is unpredictable at best. A lycanthrope gains an additional spell point at 1st level, plus one for every 6 levels gained in casting classes.
Drawbacks: Lycanthropic (Alteration), Wild Magic
When the power of the spirit is properly cultivated through physical discipline and meditation, it can elevate itself to a form of magic. There are orders of monks who practice this form of magic, using their monastic traditions to guide their pursuit of magical awakening. Renowned for their versatility of power, casters of these monastic orders are often solitary, as the very source that gives them such great power also makes it difficult to manifest that power outside of their own bodies.
Drawbacks: Somatic Casting (2), Lycanthropic (Alteration), Meld into Dark (Dark), Deathful Touch (Death), Destructive Touch (Destruction), Bodily Enhancement (Enhancement), Personal Magics (Enhancement), Personal Fate (Fate), Personal Illusion (Illusion), Touch of Light (light), Regenerate (Life), Nature Spirit (Nature), Limited Protection (Protection), Personal Time (Time), Solo Combatant (War), Personal Warp (Warp)
Boons: Easy Focus
Runists study the first language—the language of creation itself. With this knowledge, they can create magical effects by writing out the appropriate runes—a time-consuming process, but a powerful one. Runists spend their lives mastering true names and meditating on the meaning of the runes, for once a runist has mastered a rune’s essence, they master that aspect of creation itself. A runist gains an extra spell point for every level gained in a casting class.
Drawbacks: Extended Casting, Somatic Casting (2), Skilled Casting (Craft [Calligraphy])
While not exclusively the realm of assassins and thieves, it cannot be denied that shadow-wielding is a natural choice for those who work their crafts in the dark. Shadow-wielders are empowered by darkness, learning to bend shadowstuff into any form they desire, to use shadows to teleport, and numerous other abilities.
Drawbacks: Limited Creation (shadowstuff, Creation), Limited Warp (darkness, Warp)
Born of ancient royalty, a song-wielder makes magic through the power of their voice. It is an ancient art and difficult to master, but very rewarding. Because a song-wielder’s magic is tied to their voice, they grow in strength the longer they sing. Often, it is only when a song-wielder has sung himself hoarse that his true power manifests.
Drawbacks: Skilled Casting (Perform [Singing]), Verbal Casting
Boons: Empowered Abilities
Sometimes, when a magic-user dies, a part of their spirit (called an echo) remains attached to the objects they wielded in life. This is the case with the house of Remunda, where the heir-.apparent inherits the Remunda’s Sword on their 15th birthday. Not only does this ancient sword still cut as well as the day it was forged, but it also carries the echo of Remunda herself, granting its owner access to Remunda’s famed magical power. Wielding the sword is exhausting, but it is a small price to pay to access its magic.
Drawbacks: Focus Casting, Draining Casting
Boons: Fortified Casting
Traditional magic is the study of the natural world, astronomy, alchemy, and ancient learning to create magic through a combination of gestures, words, and magical components. Traditional magic is based on performing specific rites and observing various taboos, meaning its practitioners must decide each morning what magic they will use that day so they may perform the appropriate rituals. Traditional magic is the realm of academics, making it a long and grueling course of study but granting wisdom and power in equal amounts. A practitioner of traditional magic gains an extra spell point every level they gain in a spellcasting class.
Drawbacks: Verbal Casting, Somatic Casting (2), Material Casting, Prepared Caster
There exists an order of monks who pull power from an ancient pact formed with the spirit of the moon. These water-magi are born with the power to bend water to their will, pulling it as the moon pulls the tides. Through dedicated practice, they use their movements to control this liquid and bring its power to bear against their enemies.
Drawbacks: Somatic Casting (2), Limited Creation (ice, Creation), Energy Focus (ice blast, Destruction), Limited Telekinesis (water, Telekinesis), Focused Weather (precipitation, Weather)
Boons: Easy Focus
If a player or GM wishes a player to follow two traditions (similar to creating a wizard/cleric in traditional Pathfinder), they may do so. When gaining a level in a casting class beyond their 1st, the caster may apply that casting level to a new tradition. They gain an entirely separate set of spheres, talents, caster level, spell points, drawbacks, and boons, which are determined similarly to but completely separate from the first set. When creating a magical effect, they must choose which of these traditions (and its associated spheres, talents, spell points, etc.) they will use; they cannot use aspects of one tradition to empower the other.
Whenever the caster gains a level in a casting class, they must decide which of their traditions that casting class level will be applied to for gaining spell points, casting level, and talents.
Material Casting Designer’s Note: The negligible cost of most material components in the core Pathfinder magic system is different from the material casting drawback. While some Pathfinder GMs require players to shop for material components and fight villains who’ll sunder the PC’s spell pouch, others simply ignore all but the most costly materials, playing as if material components didn’t exist. GMs should decide the role materials will play in their worlds before allowing this drawback; the materials needn’t cost a silver piece per caster level as recommended, but a player shouldn’t be allowed to take this drawback, only to counter it with a one-time purchase of a 5 gp component pouch.
Spheres of Power © 2014 Drop Dead Studios LLC, Author Adam Meyers