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Duane Sibilly

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A Time Arcana for AGE, Part 1

6 June 2019

An image depicting time travel Yewdar has twelve deities. One of them, N’er, is the child-god of time itself. I try to ensure that every deity’s clerics (read: divine-powered Mages) and templars have access to magic that echoes the flavor of their patron. Despite there being 19 separate 8-spell arcana between the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook and Fantasy AGE Companion, though, there is no arcana for time. There’s the Fate Arcana, which is absolutely topical. It deals with manipulating probability to advantage yourself and allies and disadvantage your foes, which seems very much inside a time-god’s wheelhouse. I have considered the future of the games currently running in my world (two concurrent campaigns with the same players that I’m running and another being run by my son for his school pals), and I decided that I wanted there to be magic that played with time instead of fate.

Building Magic Arcana

Fantasy AGE has a total of 152 spells between the two sourcebooks previously mentioned. The spell list is extensive, and when you’re about to add another eight spells to the game you should follow some guidelines.

The Department of Redundancy Department

Magic talents grant access to spells, and you should make sure that each spell is relatively unique. It would not do to have a spell that does much the same thing as a spell from another arcana. Two spells that have very similar effects ends up cheapening both arcana they are a part of. If a caster can get the benefits of a spell concept elsewhere, they should have the clear choice of taking the existing arcana than in deciding between it and a homebrew one.

Dependencies Suck

At all costs avoid having spells that depend upon the player making specific choices at character creation or while leveling. For example, no spell should require a caster to have a specific talent like Lore or Alchemy. That gates your spells behind multiple prerequisites: choose a casting class, select this homebrew arcana, and now aim for this other choice if you haven’t made it already. Being a caster in AGE is complex enough already. Don’t make it more complex by adding dependencies!

Make Them Cool, But Give Them Limits

Every spell should, if well-designed, evoke within a reader a world of new possibilities if they could only cast it. The shadow’s embrace spell opens up all sorts of dynamic ways a stealthy character can enhance their chances for success, but it is limited in its applications. It only applies to a 36 square yard area for a limited time, and while a +2 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) tests is substantial, it’s not game-breaking; a +2 is effectively one difficulty tier worth of bonus. Limitations give a spell balance, and they also encourage creativity. Any spell that is sufficiently powerful will become the only spell a player will choose to use. It won’t be long after they discover this that they either break the game or become bored with their one-trick pony.

A Brief History of Time

In trying to cook up a time-based arcana, I did some research. I looked at how other tabletop RPGs handle time magic (if they handle it at all.) I looked at video games like the Final Fantasy series, which has a decades-long tradition of time magic in their fiction. My study helped me form some conclusions to inform my own designs:

  1. Time magic manipulates time and how beings interact with it, not chance. This is good, because we already have the Fate Arcana and I want to avoid overlap.
  2. While this is typically done in other games, I should avoid magic that deals explicitly with travel and healing. Stuff like teleportation and regeneration spells are common in both tabletop and digital interpretations of time magic, but given the way the magic system in AGE works I want to keep this focused. Casters who want to heal have Healing Arcana spells like regeneration, and those who want to flit about from place to place have spells like shadow form, wood walk, or invisibility to choose from.
  3. There are some tried and true concepts that seem to form a stereotype about how magic and time interact, and I would do well to make note of them if only to make this arcana easy to understand for the widest audience of players.

With that all said, this arcana is still in development. For one thing, I only have seven of the eight spells I need. I’m still working on a second option for a Master degree spell. Also, none of this has been play tested yet. I plan to do this in one of my current Fantasy AGE games soon so that I can start refining my ideas and dealing with any balance errors I’ve made or any spells I’ve made interesting-but-not-cool (or vice-versa!) Today I’m going to share the four Novice degree spells I’ve devised so far. Feel free to look them over, try them out in your own game, and let me know how it goes!

The Time Arcana Magic Talent

You have limited control over the flow of time and its interactions with the world.

Novice: You learn two Novice degree Time Arcana spells of your choice.

Journeyman: You learn one Journeyman or Novice degree Time Arcana spell of your choice. You gain the focus Intelligence (Time Arcana).

Master: You learn one Time Arcana spell of your choice from any degree. Choose one spell stunt; you can now perform that stunt when casting Time Arcana spells for one Stunt Point less than normal.

Haste

Requirements: Time Arcana (Novice)

Spell Type: Enhancement MP Cost: 6

Casting Time: Major Action Target Number: 12

You manipulate the flow of time to benefit yourself or another. Choose one target (you may choose yourself.) One the target’s next turn, they are granted a bonus minor action. They may spent this minor action as they choose. Actions that provide statistical benefits or bonuses, such as Aim or Guard Up, cannot stack; a target that chooses to take the Aim action multiple times will only receive a total +1 to their next Attack roll, et al.

Notes

I really wanted the base, signature spells of the Time Arcana to be available in the Novice degree. There are few things as iconic across all kinds of time magic as haste, slow, and stop spells. Since they’re Novice degree spells, however, they must be quite limited in power while extremely versatile in application. By turning haste into a simple “get a bonus action on your turn” effect with a limited duration and relatively high MP code (for a Novice spell), I hope I’ve managed to hit what I’m aiming for!

Slow

Requirements: Time Arcana (Novice)

Spell Type: Attack MP Cost: 8

Casting Time: Major Action Target Number: 13

Test: Dexterity (Initiative) vs. Spellpower

You impede the flow of time as it effects a specific being, slowing down their personal timeline. Choose one target within 10 yards that you can see. That target is restricted to a single action on their next turn. This action may be a major or minor action, but they can only perform a single one instead of one of each. This effect ends at the end of their next turn. Targets that succeed a Dexterity (Initiative) test vs. your Spellpower may ignore the above effect and instead take 1d3 penetrating damage as their resistance to time’s flow causes physical harm.

Notes

Haste grants a bonus action, slow takes one away. Symmetrical and simple, I think. Given its even higher MP cost and target number, I decided to granting the target an opportunity to shake it off while also ensuring that the caster’s successful casting roll isn’t a complete waste on a successful resistance test.

Stop

Requirements: Time Arcana (Novice)

Spell Type: Attack MP Cost: 6

Casting Time: Major Action Target Number: 13

Test: Willpower (Self-Discipline) vs. Spellpower

You temporarily halt a being’s personal timeline. Select one target within 6 yards that you can see. They are completely unable to move. They lose their Dexterity bonus to Defense and can take no actions, but they are also not subject to a coup de grace unless they are otherwise unconscious or dying. This effect lasts a number of rounds equal to the result of the Stunt Die on your casting roll. Targets that succeed a Willpower (Self-Discipline) test resist the effects of stop, and a stopped target may attempt this test each round on their turn to attempt to resume their timeline.

Notes

A more powerful version of slow, stop straight up takes your turn away from you. What’s worse, it can linger for multiple rounds. I’m thinking I might swap the MP cost of this and slow in a future iteration, given stop’s potency. As with slow, there’s a resistance mechanic so that a lucky or willful target can dispel the effect early.

Temporal Displacement

Requirements: Time Arcana (Novice)

Spell Type: Utility MP Cost: 4

Casting Time: Major Action Target Number: 11

You thread your personal timeline ahead of those around you. At the end of the current round, you move to the top of the initiative order as though you had performed the Seize the Initiative combat stunt. This may result in you acting again before others have had a chance to act. Like with the stunt, you remain atop the initiative order until someone else uses temporal displacement or performs the Seize the Initiative combat stunt.

Notes

The other spells in this degree either help or harm others. Temporal displacement is here to let the Mage or other caster help themselves. This is something I’m not 100% sure will work well in play testing, as it’s essentially a stunt-turned-spell. It kinda breaks my tenet above about not stepping on features or abilities from elsewhere in the game. However, I believe there’s some justification for this. First, it’s not another spell that I’m borrowing from; it’s a combat stunt that requires both success and the requisite number of stunt points. Also, at a cost of 4 stunt points Seize the Initiative is rarely used in my games over the last year. It is often entirely overlooked in favor of combat stunts that more directly influence the state of an encounter immediately, like Dual Strike or mixing up Might Blow with another stunt. Because of this underutilization, I feel like it could be a welcome addition to make this mechanic more accessible to parties that may have a time magic caster in their midst.

A Time Arcana For AGE Series

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