Monday, 7 January 2013

Magic Levels and Tekumel

One of the fundamental questions facing a GM running a Tekumel game, I've been discovering, is just how much Magic is a part of the setting. For a world as well-developed as Tekumel this would, I had initially thought, be settled in canon long since. It seems, though, that the High Magic/Middle Way/Low Magic options in the Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook are there for a reason. No two players seem to agree on just how prevalent magic should be in the setting.

That magic exists and functions in unquestionable. However, from the older versions of the game- made to give a similar experience to D&D- there is a much greater proliferation of magic spells and items than I'd have expected from just reading the source material. I found myself being torn in two directions as to how to take this- I could appreciate that a Low-magic game would force players to focus on the society and setting more. But the spells and items I read about- especially the higher-level Temple spells I had to search earlier versions of the game for- were just so atmospheric, and I didn't want to exclude them from the game. So which level of magic should I choose?

The answer I finally settled on was- I'd use all of them. I decided that magic level would not be a single set thing for the whole game world. Instead, the magic level would be determined by the innate power of the magician, with the more powerful magicians being correspondingly rarer.

In T:EPT terms, someone needs a minimum Pedhetl of 6 (two levels of High Pedhetl) in order to use magic. I considered basing magical potential purely off this, but other factors do apply. Therefore, the average of Pedhetl and Psyche would be used.

If the average of Pedhetl and Psyche (not rounded) was less than 6, a character can't use magic.

If the average is 6 or more, they can use the Low Magic rules.

If the average is 8 or more, they can use the Middle Way rules.

If the average is 10- meaning they have the human maximum in both attributes- the character used the High Magic rules.

This will mean that the majority of sorcerers are lowly people using the Low Magic rules, having only a handful of spells to their names. This will preserve keep magic relatively rare in the setting. However, each Temple in a major city will have a few Middle Way sorcerers, and these wield magic far more potent than that of most magicians. These are the people who learn the potent Temple Magics, meaning that spells like Revification and Demonology can be used by the Temples, but making them rare because of the few who can cast them.

And then, there are the even rarer High Magic sorcerers, of which there are only a handful in each generation. The number of such in each empire at one time can likely be counted on a man's fingers, and having the allegiance of such a mage will be a great source of power and status for the Temple the sorcerer belongs to.

I also decided that the Skein of Destiny for such an individual will have sorcery woven into it on every level. This means that magical events and encounters will be far more common for such a person, and those travelling with them. Tekumel as a whole might thus become more mundane, but a group including a High Magic sorcerer will have many encounters such as those in the solo gamebooks, where ancient magic and legendary magicians seem to lurk around every corner.

Having decided that this was to be the case in my version of Tekumel, I then had to consider what it meant for my campaign as a whole. The party has been assembled specifically to escort Kemuel, the budding archmage, to Sokatis. Given the background I'd just thought up, someone like Kemuel would likely be incredibly valuable- why would he be travelling with just a handful of poorly-trained Clan-cousins as his escort?

The answer was obvious when I pondered it for a moment. He'd been given such an escort because whoever found out how powerful he was hadn't told people about this. The background of the campaign is based on a conflict between two factions in the Temple of Dlamelish, and the heretics in Sokatis wanted Kemuel for themselves. If it became publicly known just how powerful Kemuel could be, then it would be impossible to stop the Temple in Jakalla from grabbing him. Therefore, the Heretics decided to try and keep things quiet, arrange for him to be sent to Sokatis, and hope that he'd reach them before anyone was any the wiser.

This plan is likely to falter due to Kemuel's habit of bragging to everyone he meets about what a powerful sorcerer he's going to be, and the bizarre arcane happenings that he's going to attract. Once word gets out, powerful factions will start to move- such a powerful mage-to-be being found in the background I envisage will be like a major oil find in the modern world. Everyone will want to have him- or to stop their rivals from having him.

Events in the latest session (write-up to come) are very likely to start the ball rolling.


  1. I think this is an excellent way to handle magic. Very innovative. *grin*

  2. This actually sounds fairly similar to how Prof. Barker used to run his games. Some characters were VERY powerful, but that did not automatically translate into social standing; others were somewhat skilled in sorcery, but had more social status. Not that there was always an explicit link between the two.

  3. One way to think about this might be that the stronger your pedhetl is, the thinner the "barriers between the planes" are around you, and this thinning effect moves with you as you move. Hmm, that might actually jibe with "magic dampeners" too. Somehow they thicken the barrier in a zone around them.

    You might want to think about the large scale variation in magical richness, or thinness of the barriers between planes, that is noted in the Sourcebook. There might be similar variation on smaller scales. Comments from Barker's players have indicated that there were "ley lines" and other components of the magical landscape in Tekumel Prime, but none of that ever made it into a publication. You might also want to poke around the Temple level spells in S&G (maybe in Gardasiyal too?) There are some static long-term rituals that get applied to temples and other structures that could be relevant. Supposedly ships get some kind of anti-magic protection too, but I don't think it's been written up either.

    1. I have the Gardisiyal boxed set (see my comments on it at the very start of this blog) and pdfs of the Swords and Glory stuff, which I've been plundering for use in the campaign. I found the Temple Spells which have already been converted on the Yahoo group, and am slowly looking over the others with a thought to possibly converting those myself.

      I do like the idea of high Pedhetl exerting an effect on the planar barriers, like a massive object affecting space-time with it's gravity well. I'd already planned to use the "Magician's Sphere of Protection" optional rule from p.115 of T:EPT, and expand on it- this fits the concept nicely.

      The arcane events are thus explained by the thinner barriers around the powerful magician causing things which had become quiescent in ages past to awaken due to the sudden influx of planar energy.