A lever and a firm place to stand
Welcome back to our tour of Awakening‘s Fallen World Chronicle. To the list of fora I’m now monitoring, we can add Penny Arcade’s tabletop roleplaying game thread. Hello everyone over there!
So. What’s a “Yantra,” then?
Put simply, when we were designing Fallen World Chronicle, wedecided to organize the spellcasting rules — every form of dice penalty would go together, and then every form of dice bonus. It’s especially important given that spells now obey the full dice action rules for the Storytelling system – you have a dice pool, you apply penalties (spell factors) and bonuses, then roll. You only need one success, but getting five means an exceptional success.
Because that means that you pre-determine your primary spell factor instead of applying successes to it (yes, mages trying to injure people with magic have to decide ahead of time how much damage they’ll do – if you think about it, that’s what the mage is actually doing while casting.) we found we needed more forms of dice pool bonuses than the handful the game’s current edition has.
And that, in turn, led us to magical style. Mages can cast spells while blindfolded and naked, without moving a muscle, but that makes for dull play, so in Fallen World Chronicle you’re rewarded for describing how your mage casts her spells. Rewarded with dice. In-world, mages use items, places, events, and actions with Supernal weight to help focus their mind on the spell they’re casting.
Because “Magical Tool” only covers a subset of all the different ways you can boost your magic, we needed a word for it, and I wanted to avoid “Focus” at all costs to avoid confusion with M20. We went back and forth between “Yantra” (a mystic pattern that, when meditated on, puts you in key with the divine) and “Instrument,” eventually splitting the difference and saying that the Diamond uses the former while the Free Council uses the latter. We have to call the game mechanic something, though, so majority rules. Apologies if that offends any hardcore Libertines.
One more thing before I hand over to the first draft of the Yantra section in the Chronicle Book; we have three types of spell in Fallen World Chronicle.
- An Improvised Spell is just that – something you’ve used your knowledge of the Arcana to come up with.
- A Praxis is a spell you’ve become especially practiced at, iconic for your character. You get one with every dot of Gnosis, and can buy more with Arcane Experiences. When a mage uses one of her praxes, all Magical Tools (NOT all Yantras – tools are a subset, as you’ll see) count as being Dedicated, which greatly reduces but never quite eliminates Paradox Risk.
- A Rote is an imago designed by a Master and either cast by following the instructions in a Grimoire or learned with Experiences by less-developed mages.
All three use the same dicepool – Gnosis + Arcanum. If you’re casting a rote out of a book (which takes hours), or one you designed yourself, you get the rote factor (reroll failures) on the roll. There are other benefits of rotes, chiefly around Paradox, but we’ll save the detail of that for a future blog – for now, if you’re familiar with the current edition you’ll know the habit of some spells saying “with +1 dot in the Arcanum you can…” – for these purposes only, a mage casting a rote counts as the Master who designed it.
And now, the Yantra excerpt…
Magic is the act of transforming will to power. A mage needs no more than that — just the ability to think clearly enough to form an imago is enough to work magic. But mages are also humans, and humans find the focus necessary to form and maintain all but the simplest imago at the drop of a hat is elusive at best. Instead, mages do what all humans do: they use semiotic shortcuts. Just as a first-grader may learn “Roy G. Biv” as a mnemonic for the colors of the rainbow, so a mage uses symbolic times, places, words, items, and movements as a key to forming an imago. The Diamond call these keys “Yantras,” after the Sanskrit word for a mystical design or apparatus. The Free Council prefer the more prosaic “Instruments,” focusing on their grounding in humanity’s acts of creation, while the Seers know them as “Chains,” mystic signatures burned into the Fallen World by the hands of the Exarchs.
Sleepwalkers and Sleepers alike often mistake the medium for the message, believing that the Yantras associated with a given working are in and of themselves sources of power. This belief — that anyone can work Supernal magic with the right combination of items, motions, and words — is sadly mistaken. To a mage, they are aids to concentration and keys that unlock parts of an imago held in memories.
Each Yantra has a meaning above and beyond the Yantra itself — to the mage who wields it, a crystal rod is a tool of clarity and a means of action at a distance, of touching beyond one’s grasp. To some mages, it is a symbol of male sexuality. Others see it as a means of channeling power and removing illusions. Still others see it as a tool of command. All of these things are true — this crystal wand is a reflection of the Crystal Wand that casts a shadow on the wall of Plato’s cave.
In order to use a Yantra, a willworker has to recognize a specific symbolism in the tool. That reflection then factors into her arcane understanding, enabling her to use that symbol as the foundation for an imago. Rather than drawing a picture of what she wants freehand, she instead has a stock image she can trace or use as inspiration. The more Yantras she uses — whether different interpretations of the same tool or different tools altogether — the more basis she has for her imago, making it easier to form.
Naturally, using Yantras in this way has its limits — if the mage can’t fit any of the symbols associated with the Yantra into her working, she can’t use it to bolster her magic. A Guardian might set up a Chamber of Veils that she uses to hide truths and reveal secrets, but unless she can connect her Supernal understanding of the Chamber of Veils to a place of healing, it won’t help her when a cabal-mate stumbles through her door holding his intestines in place.
Unlocking the Imago
When a mage uses a Yantra in the working of a spell, she adds bonus dice to her spellcasting dice pool. The number of dice varies by the Yantra that she uses. These bonus dice can help eliminate penalties to her spellcasting pool, or provide bonuses. A mage can only get so much help from Yantras — after offsetting any penalties, the maximum bonus from all her Yantras combined cannot exceed 5 dice.
A mage may want to use as many Yantras as possible in her spellcasting, especially for powerful acts of magic. She can however only access so many pieces of Supernal knowledge at once. To reflect this, the number of Yantras she can apply to a given spellcasting pool is limited by her Gnosis. If she uses one ritual item in many ways, each individual use counts as one Yantra for this limit.
(DAVE’S NOTE – Breaking into the section for a moment, the number of Yantras you can use are:
1 or 2 2
3 or 4 3
5 or 6 4
7 or 8 5
9 or 10 6)
It takes time to draw upon the Supernal sympathy of objects and actions. A mage can draw upon one Yantra as a reflexive action when casting a spell; each further Yantra extends the casting time by a turn. Someone who wants to interrupt an involved casting thus has plentiful opportunities to snatch away mystic items, block out the light of the full moon, or just shoot the mage in the head.
Mages seek out — or create — locations that border the Supernal in the hope of using that proximity to enforce ascended laws on the Fallen World. Others find places — or times — where the Lie reflects the Supernal without any specific proximity.
Many willworkers enhance their ritual space with a soul stone, turning it into a weak form of Verge. Mages most often decorate their ritual spaces according to their Order — a Mystagogue’s ritual space may be a storehouse of knowledge that reflects the Order’s Tarsi Archive, while a given Libertine may fit hers out as a machine shop or embed the soul stone in a sacred tree.
A Demesne is of most use in ritual casting. It provides a prepared, sacred space where the mystic can work without the interruptions of the Lie; only a few (such as a dojo used by an Adamantine Arrow to practice sacred weapon forms) are of any use with instant spells and then only in defense of the Demesne. Beyond that, the construction and sacred tools within a Demesne determine what magics it can apply to. A Libertine’s machine shop helps with spells that build, repair, or dismantle. An Arrow’s training room helps with spells involving duels, preparation for battle, self-mastery. A Guardian’s Veiled Room helps with spells of disguise, misdirection, and uncovering truths.
Effect: Casting in a Demesne has a +1 modifier
Places and times in the Fallen World can bring about the Supernal if they reflect the spell a mage is using. An Acanthus may use the sun at noon to see through falsehoods, while a Magistos might use the light of the full moon reflected in a pool of water to scry across vast distances. Locatin is just as important — many Obrimos seek out churches to perform spells of persuasion, command, and stewardship.
An environment has to link to the spell itself, not just the mage. The Obrimos in a church cannot use it as a Yantra to magically charge her cellphone. The magic must link to what Sleepers know about a place or time, not because their perceptions cause Supernal notice but because they act as unconsciously reflect the Supernal attributes of a place.
Effect: Casting in an appropriate location grants a +1 modifier.
In places where the Supernal touches the Fallen World, willworkers find it much easier to draw power through an imago. Such places are natural Yantras, lending their power to those within. Each Supernal Verge teems with the power of one of the Supernal Realms, and lends its power to the Ruling Arcana of that Realm.
Supernal Verges are thus as valuable for their versatility as their power. In a Pandemonic Verge, any spells that use the Mind or Space Arcana can draw upon the Verge’s power, be that a long ritual to superimpose two locations or a simple spell to fuddle an opponent’s senses. A mage in a Supernal Verge can use his mystic connection to the Watchtower to use it as a Yantra on any ritual spell that doesn’t involve the path’s Inferior Arcanum.
Effect: Casting in a Supernal Verge has a +2 modifier.
Everything a willworker does can be magic. Orders teach ritual gestures that bring the imago of a rote to mind through conditioning and muscle-memory. High Speech allows a mage to intone or write her spell not in the imperfect tongues of the Fallen World but the sacred glossolalia that is what it describes. A mage can even hold her spell’s imago in her mind, focusing on it beyond the point of creation in order to maintain Supernal truth upon the world.
Some mages use actions as Yantras to get out of a bind — even stripped naked and chained in a cannibal killer’s dungeon, a théarch can speak words of High Speech and focus upon the imago of a spell. It takes a little practice to get used to, but given a little time to breathe he can work magic far easier than if he formed an imago from whole cloth.
Many spells finish when the willworker forces the Lie to change. Some hold on for as long as the mage can impose her will. It’s a draining task, but worth it. Most common is a mage who holds her imago in her mind. If she’s particularly skilled in the High Speech, she may find it easier to keep the spell in mind by slowly translating her imago into runes back again, focusing on them. In either case, she must focus on the spell and only the spell. If she wavers, the effect is lost.
On a basic level, concentration is a mage exerting her will over even her own mind, forcing herself not to weaken. As such, it’s a symbol of ongoing action — and a means to have a spell last longer than it should. The vast majority of mages focus on a spell over time in order to bolster its duration. A few mages instead see concentration like a lens, focusing Supernal truth. While this interpretation can bolster a spell, it also leaves the mage open to disruption until she completes her spell.
Effect: Concentrating on an effect provides 2 extra dice. If the mage is hurt or takes a non-reflexive action while the spell is active, it ends immediately.
High Speech is both a language and not a language, a description that is the thing described. Though even mages hear it as gibberish, its Supernal nature ignores the Fallen idea that the map is not the territory. As such, a mage uses High Speech to intone her imago, describing the change that she wills and thus making that change real. As a means of changing the world it is flexible — it requires no external props nor ongoing concentration — but it requires her to speak the words out loud. It’s not enough to coop them up within the mage’s mind, she has to express her desire so the Lie can hear it.
As a Yantra, High Speech is very versatile. Almost every mage knows enough to declaim her control or dominance over a subject. She can repeat the words over and over again as she casts to build up a defense. It is however not subtle. She cannot work words of High Speech into a normal sentence to compel a listener to her will. The metalanguage of the Supernal can not hide in the shallow grammars and inflections of the Lie.
Effect: Vocally intoning her imago confers a 2-die bonus. As it takes time to speak the words, she cannot use any Yantra reflexively when using High Speech — every Yantra including this one adds a turn to the casting time.
Mudras are Supernal mnemonics taught by the Orders that draw on skills and knowledge of the Fallen World, cast through the Order’s philosophy. Creating mudras is part of defining a rote, codifying the structure of magic in the symbols of the Lie. Mudras come in many forms — Buddhist Libertines may use zazen, while the Arrow may tense specific muscles in a set pattern, and Guardians use specific rhythms of walking and representative hand gestures. Each rote is unique to the mage who created it — some encode specific symbolism into the positioning of individual fingers to allow a student to form his own mnemonic; far more present a paternalistic approach that teaches the mudra and the magic without an intervening step to consider the actions’ meaning.
Effect: Using a rote’s mudra adds the user’s rating the rote’s encoded Skill to her dice pool. If the Skill is one of her Order’s specialized rote skills, she adds an extra die.
An intersection between incanting in High Speech and concentrating on an imago, some mages use runic High Speech to enhance the power of a spell. Most use the boost from a runic Yantra to boost a spell’s duration; the need to scribe the runes on to the spell’s subject makes them less useful for most other castings. Anything that disrupts the careful shape and arrangement of the runes makes them an imperfect description of the spell’s imago, ending the effect.
The runes themselves are a written form of High Speech quite apart from the fortune-telling iconography of Sleeper occultists. They most often speak to effects of permanence and durability. Some inscribe the runes of a healing spell onto their cabalmates in the form of mystic tattoos that heal injuries, while others paint or carve them into solid objects to make them harder than diamond. When using runes on a person, a mage may paint her subject, scribe the runes with a tattooing gun, or brand them right into the subject’s flesh.
Effect: Runic casting adds 2 dice to the mage’s spellcasting pool. If anything damages or disrupts the runes — whitewashing runes painted on a wall, or slicing through a runic tattoo — while the spell is active, it ends immediately.
Each mage maintains at least a handful of magical tools, mundane items that have a symbolic link to specific kinds of magic. Almost no mages rely on just a single tool. Even if she only uses magic appropriate to its symbol, it’s too easy to take the tool away from her.
Effect: Each item used as a Yantra adds +1 to the spellcasting pool.
Each Supernal Realm has its reflections in the Fallen World, and a mage knows the tools of magic that align closely to her Path. While mages with a background in Sleeper occultism recognize that the Path tools show up in several traditions, their direct elemental or Tarot symbolism is the Lie’s corruption of the Supernal Realms’ truth.
Each path has five tools, each of which has a specific magical function:
Coins or other symbols of material wealth, which represent construction, repair, and inanimate or intangible things that last beyond mere human lifespans. It is the tool closest to the Fallen World, and so is often used to manipulate it directly, for money or other resources.
Cups or other drinking vessels can involve healing, intuition, perceptual magic, and gathering together. Drinking from a shared cup is a common way to spread a spell between a group. It’s often seen as a symbol of female sexuality, though what that means depends on the mage.
Mirrors may be actual mirrors, polished plates, or reflecting pools held in containers of the appropriate material. They represent sight, soul, and the self, and are the magical tool most commonly used when the mage would work a spell upon herself.
Rods, wands, or staves are symbols of control — the ability to point and have a thing happen. Pointing a rod is a way of singling out a specific victim, while holding one is a symbol of rulership and command. It’s also used as a symbol of male sexuality.
Weapons, most normally knives, are symbols of thought made action — any spell that takes direct, decisive action on the world (or a person) can benefit from a weapon. While often used to harm, weapons also represent the mastery of intellect and will over the world.
Each Path has specific materials that elevate a magical tool from merely an object to something resonant with a Supernal Realm, as well as weapons that can replace the traditional knife.
Acanthus: Glass, crystal, silver, reflective materials; Rapier, bow, precision weapons
Magistos: Iron, brass, leather, worked materials; Curved sword, whip, cruel weapons
Moros: Lead, bone, gems, buried materials; Hammer, mace, crushing weapons
Obrimos: Steel, petrified wood, gold, perfected materials; Double-edged sword, spear, noble weapons
Thyrsus: Wood, copper, stone, natural materials; Axe, sling, hunting weapons
An Order’s magical tools draw upon that Order’s symbols rather than those of the Supernal world directly, focusing a willworker’s magic in a way that matches her teachings. The formal magical style of the Diamond Orders and the Seers of the Throne all resonate through the same tools — the Arrow use martial tools as symbols of conflict, the Guardians use cloaks, masks, and veils as symbols of things hidden and revealed, the Mysterium teach books, writing, and language as tools of knowledge and communication, and the Silver Ladder uses signs of authority to as tools of status and persuasion. The Seers of the Throne each choose a sigil or word that they must display to use it as a tool.
The Free Council are an oddity among all the other Orders. Each Libertine learns a style of magic that draws from Sleeper occult beliefs, and their magical tools demonstrate that eclectic learning. A Libertine raised in Wiccan beliefs may use the trappings of that religion, while one who studies sacred architecture may use geometric tools.
(DAVE’S NOTE – Me again! As you can probably guess, many Orders have Merits that modify your Yantras. Adamant Hand, for example, lets you use your own combat rolls as a “Weapon” Tool. The Free Council have a Merit called Techne that lets them decide what their “Order Tools” are, based on what aspect of Sleeper culture they’re interested in.)
The Seers of the Throne do not work their magic alone. Ascending through the priesthood of the lie drives a Seer to serve her patron Exarch. Once she gains its notice, it tests her. If she succeeds, she becomes a Prelate, and she can use her patron Exarch’s symbols to draw on its power. Each Exarch has its own symbols — its own strings that it uses to puppet the Fallen World like a broken marionette. A prelate can use his Exarch’s strings as Yantras for his own magic, but each individual Exarch has her own symbolic resonance that limit what its prelates can do with it’s blessing as a tool.
Rather than defining the “what” of a spell, sympathetic tools define the “who” — the person, place, creature, or institution upon which the mage forces her will. She may have a person’s real name or a lock of her hair, a ghost’s anchor, a chunk of concrete taken from a building, or a company’s articles of incorporation. Whatever the case, sympathetic tools give her a much easier time working her subject into the spell’s imago. As such, a sympathetic link is always suitable as a Yantra against the specific individual.
Effects: Each sympathetic link is a separate Yantra. A mage has to use a Sympathetic Yantra in order to cast a spell at Sympathetic Range.
(DAVE AGAIN – But you can use a Sympathetic tool even if you don’t have any dots in Space or Time, and the target’s right in front of you. Feel free to tear a picture of someone in half in order to cast a Fraying spell at them)
A sacrament is any magical tool symbolic of the spell in question that the mage destroys during casting. Many times — though by no means always — it also provides a sympathetic link to the subject of her spell. She may infuse bread with herbs and spices to make those who share the loaf work together smoothly. She may burn a man’s driving license and passport for a spell that removes him from government records. She may fire a male figure out of clay then crush it to powder when changing her body to match her gender. If she can find one of her enemy’s magical tools, she has both a sympathetic link and a sacrament for any spell that would hurt him.
Some mages go further than finding or creating things to sacrifice during casting. Some engage on quests into the other realms of the Fallen World, leaving the flesh behind to uncover items with magical properties of their own. Destroying them during casting can make a spell flare with power. Particularly twisted mages kill animals and murder humans for the magical power. The surest way to kill a powerful enemy with magic is to sacrifice something close to him — a beloved pet, or a family member.
Effect: Most sacraments grant a single die bonus. If the mage has to spend significant effort to find the right item or component, the bonus increases to +2, or +3 if the item comes from a realm other than the physical world. Using a blood sacrifice as a Yantra gives bonus dice equal to the amount of mana otherwise gained.
Some mages invest in their cabal and in their shadow name, coming up with a whole new persona as a willworker, independent — or at least, significantly divergent — from who they were as a Sleeper. A persona binds her magical style, her personal mysteries, and her Shadow Name into an identity that, over time, leaves its mark on the Fallen World. By playing to this fictional persona, she can tap in to a level of Supernal sympathy. Her actions must play in to her personal story, however — a fortune-teller or faith healer can’t use her persona as a Yantra to harm another. By contrast, the faith healer could use his persona not just for healing, but to bolster his reputation and give his words greater gravitas, making people more likely to believe him.
(DAVE REDUX – As you almost certainly can guess, this is a Merit. There’s one for Cabal Symbolism as well)
Each mage has a dedicated magical tool — an item that synchronizes with her Nimbus and that feeds in to her understanding of magic. An Thyrsus who trusts to nature to provide may not have much by way of possessions, but his walking stick is his staff, and he uses it even for spells that do not benefit from its symbolism. A Botswanan Libertine who learned the magic of the Sangoma may tap a rhythm on her drum even when the noise has no bearing on her spells, as the drumming is part of her Nimbus. These dedicated tools can be of benefit even when the tool has no semiotic link with the mage’s desires, limiting the risk of paradox.
Effect: Using a dedicated tool as a Yantra gives the mage REDACTED PARADOX-REDUCING BENEFIT. She only gets bonuses to the spellcasting pool when the tool is symbolically appropriate.
And there we have it!
Next week will be the last proper update until after GenCon (I’m going to forgo the usual poll next week and just post the Inspirational Media list for the game on the GenCon weekend, as I’ll be traveling when I’d normally assemble the post for you,) so we’ll make it a biggie. Paths or Orders?