All for One ~ Regime Diabolique Campaign Development Report 2

This post is intended both to help newcomers to All for One: Regime Diabolique get into the game more smoothly by discussing elements of the free-form magic system which can raise questions, and offer some ideas for reconciling magic and musketeers. Subsequent posts will look at physical combat, social combat, and the role of secret societies and underground groups in the setting.

Free-form Magic

The mood of All for One, and the Ubiquity Roleplaying System, lends itself to fast resolution and this can easily be harnessed to run a very heroic and daring game of chases, escapes, feats of courage and ability, and above all decisive action. In keeping with this, the magic system is one where effects are designed quickly and easily through a series of basic stages which define the range, number of targets or area of effect, the duration, and so on. As such, one never needs to look up specific spells as they are designed anew each time. Magical knowledge in this game means that those trained in the magical arts exhort supernatural forces to mix and conjoin in ways that they can control in order to produce desired effects in the mundane world. As with all human endeavours, however, the methods of doing this have diverged over time and become codified into Disciplines or Arts within broad Traditions.

It is important to note that while spell design for the players in All for One is fast and easy, the experience for the character is anything but. For the character, magic is a serious and perilous business not for the weak nor the cowardly.

On the mechanical side, the player simply has to decide on an effect, and then apply the complications (range, duration, etc) required to shape that effect in the scene. The character on the other hand has to enact a ritual which will follow the format of the character’s training in 1 of 4 possible Traditions. This difference in player ease versus character difficulty can cause some confusion at first, as can interpretation of the magical system through the lens of more traditional fantasy settings. In All for One, while very fast casting is possible, it is unlikely and extremely complicated for most magi. What tends to get overlooked at first is that each player of a magically adept character must choose to have had them brought up in one of four schools of thought regarding how magic works, and that each of those four traditions defines and shapes the method for casting spells. Mechanically, this choice really has no bearing on the execution of magical effects, but narratively and dramatically the choice has profound effects. Each choice is final, and does not represent a conscious decision of how to enact magic as it does a predisposition toward the style of magic one’s character can enact.

The Traditions

  • Alchemy – An alchemist prepares physical potions and compounds which have effects that exceed the sum of their components. This approach to magic is very scientific, requires a lot of equipment, and effects cannot be brought into being without the use and mixture of physical elements with specific properties of a physical and metaphysical nature which give them their shape, potency, and nature.
  • Theurgy – A magician from this tradition has been trained to exhort Angelic and/or Demonic forces to work miracles in the mortal realm. This tradition requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the names and natures of heavenly beings and their spheres of influence, understanding of and facility with the requisite and very complex incantations, a complete grounding in the practices and dogma of the Church, and confidence in one’s actions. One does not compel Angels and Devils lightly. To enact effects requires chanting and appropriate propitiation of the beings one seeks to compel, as well as the use of reflective or visually distorting surfaces.
  • Ceremonial – A magician with a background in Ceremonial workings is not all that different from the Theurgist in that it requires a great deal of learning and comprehension of the complicated workings and bindings which make up the approach. The Ceremonial magician requires symbols, diagrams, spiritually resonant substances, and the use of powerful and secret words to enact effects. The mages from this tradition exhort spiritual and highly conceptualized forces from other realms of existence to act according to the caster’s will on this plane and must bind and control them to do so.
  • Natural – A magus from this tradition does not truck with spirits from unearthly realms, but rather has the means and disposition to deal with the basic elements of this material universe to enact effects. While their approach is very similar to that of the Ceremonial magus, meaning they require the use of sympathetic and resonant components, symbolic tools, and incantations; their focus is Earthly.

In all four cases, without the paraphernalia required by the Tradition, no magic can be worked.

With the presence of the right tools, time, and focus, a magician can work effects even if other aspects of the casting are hampered – such as they must whisper, or their mystical gestures must be minimized – but not without them. Reading through the examples in the Magic section can obscure this as they are written to serve as both ideas for possible spell effects, and as an explicit explanation of how spell effects are built mechanically – not narratively.

Sources of Magical Learning

A great element for games with players running characters with Magical Aptitude are the secretive groups which teach it. A large section of the All for One core book is devoted to secret societies, but it barely scratches the surface of the sort of convoluted covert groups which could and would exist in such a world.

A significant element in the magical ideas of the historical period was one of initiation. Young apprentices were gradually awakened into a larger and more mystical world through ways and means congruent with the tradition itself and the goals of the order. A Ceremonial Mage might be inducted much like a Mason or other academically inclined occult group, whereas a Natural Mage might be taught by a gnarled spinster in the dark woods, or the world-weary farmer whose lifeblood nurtures the crops in his stony fields year after year. Likewise, the Theurgist undergoes harsh training and privations which lead them to epiphanies and revelations – and ultimately power.

Of the four Traditions, the alchemist is probably the most easily understood by most people today as it is based on experimentation and vast amounts of reading and deduction. This path is no less convoluted and revelation based than the others, but it is sourced more in personal discovery and expansion of knowledge rather than purely receiving it. Discovery and Experimentation are key elements.

Sword and Spell?

As was raised earlier, magic is much more complicated for the characters than it would seem based on the simple process used by the game system to determine its effects and their success. As such it can cause some concern when trying to reconcile its use with swashbuckling and derring-do. It’s not like your musketeer can just stop a battle with a demon mid-stroke and ask for a few minutes to prepare a mystic circle and light some candles…

In order to have magic be a vital and vibrant part of the game for players, this simple fact must be grasped and embraced by everyone. Both sides of the GM Screen have to get that the use of magic requires tools, and preparation, and that this will require a learning curve for the players at first. Initially, this can really be boiled down to two questions:

  • How many potions/concotions of how many different types can the Alchemist prepare during downtime? What effects on his other activities does this investment of time have?
  • What items, symbols, and foci are essential (as opposed to merely helpful) for casting in the other traditions, and what are the risks of carrying them on one’s person, and brandishing them in public?

Later, however, I think most will find that advance preparation makes more sense and is more thematically appropriate. In general, a mage has complete control over an effect while it is active. A mage that has empowered himself to fly via the Art of Transportation will be able to fly or not fly as he likes during the entire period of the spell’s duration. Therefore, having certain spells  with long durations available to the magus as a result of preparation may serve the character better than trying to address every need spontaneously as it comes up.

Magic is a mysterious and unstable force that one must work with carefully. It is not a sword that one can simply draw and use.

Magic and the Genre

The final point which can cause discordance between players and the setting in regard to magic is the genre itself. The setting is 17th Century France, with the Inquisition and the Church as primary elements of a character’s life. Science is in its infancy, and for many the supernatural is not superstition but reality itself. In this setting – they are right. Vile things do lurk in the darkness, witches can cast curses, obsessed men do ponder how to turn the impure pure, and Demons secretly move among the people to take advantage of their hidden flaws and hidden sins.

The premise is simple, this is a setting based on all the superstitions of that historical world being true. What is less simple is that these mysterious forces and creatures are no more visible or a part of day-to-day living than they were in the real world. These are the fears of the dark, and they would have much less power if they were hanging out in the Paris Market ripping people up at noon. Once encountered, these are the things too horrible to speak of, too horrible to ever be forgotten.

In the same vein, magic itself is not a frivolous activity or simple skill one learned somewhere. In the eyes of those living in this period, its use quite simply imperils the soul. Moreover, being caught for its use results in horrific torture and cruel execution. It needs to be treated with respect, awe, and fear, and those who choose it as a path must be bold, resolute, and of utmost conviction in all that they do. It is hard to picture any character more suited to this sort of dedication than the King’s Musketeers, no?

What’s Next?
The next post in this series will deal with specific questions about combat in All for One. If you have any of your own, feel free to add them in the comments of this post.

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