Let's Get Metaphysical
If you are like myself, and some others in my gaming group, then you probably have a few problems of with the magic system as it exists in the Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPGs. Here are some alternate rules for magic and psychics in the Angel/Buffy-verse. Some of the material here was adapted from the Witchcraft RPG from Eden Studios.
Metaphysical Potential – Essence Points
All living beings have some form of metaphysical potential. Some people, like witches and warlocks, can manipulate this potential to create magic. Others can focus this potential for psychic powers. Supernatural creatures like vampires and demons, and humans with supernatural abilities like the Slayer, often have greater metaphysical potential than a normal person. A character's Metaphysical Potential is represented by Essence Points.
To determine the starting Essence Points of a character add the character’s Primary Attributes together. The average person will have a Metaphysical Potential of between 5 and 11. See the section on Qualities for how a character can gain additional Essence Points.
Running on Empty
As a character's Essence Points drop (through spellcasting, using psychic powers, or whatever), they suffer side effects. Once their Essence drops below 5 points a character starts to feel dizzy and suffers –2 to all rolls. When the Essence reaches 0 the character must make a Survival Test to stay conscious, and now suffers –4 to all rolls. It is possible through a variety of means for the pool to drop below 0. For every 5 points below 0 there is a cumulative –2 penalty to the Survival Test and an additional cumulative –2 to all rolls. For example, if a Witch's Essence Points dropped to –11 they would need to make the Survival Test at –4 and will suffer –8 to all rolls.
Essence Points are recovered at a rate of 1 point per point of Willpower per hour of sleep, or per 2 hours if the character is resting (not asleep, but also not performing any strenuous activity).
Using any kind of magic costs Essence Points. To determine the number of Essence Points available to a magic using character, start with their base number of points as described above and add any points from the Sorcery Quality or any other additional sources (see Qualities below).
Casting spells works pretty much the same as in Chapter 4 of the BTVS Revised Core Rulebook, with the following changes:
- Casting a spell costs the caster a number of Essence Points equal to the Power Level of the spell.
- Quick Casting doubles the Essence cost of the spell.
- Spells that have an increased effect based on the number of Success Levels of the casting cost an extra 2 Essence for every Success Level used beyond the minimum needed to successfully cast the spell.
- Casting multiple spells does not incur a penalty. The exhaustion caused by large amounts of spellcasting is reflected in the side effects from low Essence Points (see Running on Empty above).
Magical Telekinesis also works about the same but, as with spells, multiple uses do not incur a cumulative penalty. The Essence Point cost to use Telekinesis depends on the Strength of the Telekinesis. Every point of Strength costs 2 Essence Points. The Witch must still make a roll every round to determine what "Strength" the Telekinesis is that round, with the number of Success Levels determining the cost in Essence Points used to maintain the effect for that round.
Directors should feel free to add additional Essence cost to particularly powerful spells and rituals, especiall those that have major or potentially catastrophic consequences.
Life Force and Essence Points
When a spellcaster's Essence Points reach 0 (or less) they can't cast any more spells, usually. At the Director's discretion, Witches and Warlocks (i.e. characters with the Sorcery Quality) may start substituting Life Points for Essence Points. For example, in a pitched battle against a powerful demon Willow runs out of Essence Points. She wants to use Telekinesis and makes the roll, getting 4 Success Levels. Normally this would cost 8 Essence Points. Instead the Director allows the Willow character to suffer 8 points of damage. This is usually saved for last-ditch, Hail Mary plays since a person can wind up killing themselves by using Life Points to cast spells.
Life Points substituted for Essence cannot also be used to gain a bonus to the casting (Magic Box, p.53), but additional Life Points can be sacrificed for this purpose. For example, Willow sacrifices 5 Life Points to gain 5 additional Essence Points for a spell. In order to gain a +1 bonus to the casting attempt she would need to sacrifice and additional 5 Life Points, for a total of 10 Life Points. Hope the spell was worth it. As with Life Points sacrificed for a casting bonus, those spent for Essence Points must be recovered naturally.
There are several means for a magician to increase their power (Magic Box, p. 50). In each case, the end result is the magician gaining additional levels of Sorcery. This boost also includes the additional Essence Points gained with the additional levels of Sorcery. The catch is, when the boost (whatever its source) wears off the magician subtracts the extra Essence Points from their current pool total. If the magician has been going strong with the magic this could result in having a current Essence Point pool well below 0, with all the resulting side effects (see Running on Empty above).
For example: Willow (Season 6) has an Essence Point pool of 53, 18 points in base Essence plus 35 from her Sorcery (7 levels x 5 points per level). When she got a Power Boost from the magic pusher Rack she gained an additional 4 levels of Sorcery (and 20 more Essence Points) and her Essence Point pool was increased to 73. Then she and Amy hit the town casting some serious spells left and right. For this example we'll say that by the end of the evening Willow's current Essence Point pool was at 5. When the Power Boost from Rack wore off Willow lost the 4 levels of Sorcery and the additional 20 Essence Points. This means her Essence Point pool dropped to –15! Even with a few hours sleep Willow would still be near 0 Essence Points. No wonder she couldn't even muster up the energy to open the curtains telekinetically.
Sources of Magic
There are several ways for a magician to gain Essence Points. The most common are:
- Ambient Magic
- Places and Times of Power
- Storage Devices
- Group Magic
- Sacrificial Magic
The most common source for Essence Points is the magician himself. Everyone has an Essence Point pool as described in Metaphysical Potential above. Additional sources for increasing an individual's Essence Point pool vary, but the most common is the Sorcery Quality. For every level of Sorcery they possess the magician gains an additional 5 Essence Points.
Magic in pure form flows freely in Nature, just like the Force (except you don’t need midichlorians to use it). To tap into Ambient Magic the caster must use symbols, rituals and other activities that attract these natural forces, tapping them for use in a spell. Since only Magicians (people with Sorcery) can tap into their own reserves without major penalty, Ambient Magic is the main source of Essence Points for non-magicians.
Places and Times of Power
There are areas where the natural flow of Magic is stronger. These Places of Power naturally accumulate Essence Points, which can be more easily tapped than "normal" Ambient Magic. These places have the obvious limitation of requiring one's presence there to get the power. The Hellmouth is an excellent example. That is why so many strange things could happen in Sunnydale High, it being directly over the source. Of course, the Hellmouth is evil so any Essence Points tapped from that particular source were by their very nature corrupt. Additionally, certain times of the day, month and year seem to increase the strength of Magic in these places.
Enchanters (see Magic Box, p. 90) can "fix" some amounts of Essence Points to a specially prepared object or place. The Essence Points can then be stored indefinitely for future use. After the stored energy is used, however, it must be replenished. Directors should be careful of allowing a character to have too much stored Essence Points in Magic Items.
Several Magicians can pool their resources to perform a spell or ritual. This allows all the participants to contribute the necessary Essence Points for the spell. In some instances even non-magicians can contribute points from their Essence Point pool.
Generally limited to black magic, another way to gain Magic Essence is through ritual sacrifice. By sacrificing an animal, or human, or even demon, vamp or other supernatural creature, a magician can gain a significant amount of Essence Points for a spell.
Each of these sources of power will be discussed in detail in the Tapping the Vein section below.
Tapping the Vein
For a Magician the most convenient source of Essence Points is him- or herself. Anyone with the Sorcery Quality can use his own Essence Points to power a spell or ritual. Generally speaking, this is the only source of Essence Points available to Magicians who are Quick Casting a spell. The Essence Points of a character who does not have the Sorcery Quality can be tapped as well, usually by a Magician or as part of a ritual. See Group Magic and Sacrificial Magic below for a few examples. Directors should feel free to come up with other situations if it works for an Episode.
Since non-magicians have a hard time tapping into their own natural Magical abilities, the only way they can get a hold of enough Essence Points to cast a spell is to tap into Ambient Magic. And the only way to tap into Ambient Magic is through a ritual. Luckily this is the only way for the average Joe Schmo to cast a spell anyway. Basically, for every Success Level earned in the spellcasting attempt the caster taps into 2 Essence Points from the Ambient Magic. If this is insufficient to cast the spell (fewer Essence Points than the Power Level of the spell), the spell will not happen at all. If this is enough Essence Points to cast the spell, but the number of Success Levels is less than the Power Level of the spell use the Side Effect guidelines (BTVS Revised Core Rulebook, p. 161-162).
Magicians who use a ritual to cast a spell, as opposed to Quick Casting, may use Ambient Magic to supplement their own Essence Points to cast the spell. Ambient Magic is not available in addition to, or rather is supplanted by, the additional Essence provided by Places and Times of Power (described below).
Places of Power
Certain areas have a greater flow of Essence than normal. Most of them are places where the barriers between Earth and other dimensions are thin, allowing for energies from other places to enter into our world. Others are places where ancient magical cults conducted their magical ceremonies.
Any ritual performed in such places can tap into this extra power. The extra power can also be tapped by supernatural beings, some of which use it to manifest themselves in the area. Places of Power are often plagued by haunts, evil spirits and strange occurrences.
Most such places become shrines, temples, haunted houses, or other remarkable areas, often the focus of local legends. Many have been claimed by groups of Magicians, and they do not look kindly on intruders. Finding a Place of Power that nobody has laid a claim to can be an adventure in itself. Keeping it once it has been found may also be harder than it sounds.
All Places of Power have an "overflow" of Essence that can be tapped by anybody performing rituals in the area. This overflow renews itself every twenty-four hours, and it works on a “first come, first served” basis – after somebody exhausts the overflow, no extra Essence is available for the rest of the day. A minor Place of Power has an overflow of 10 to 50 Essence Points. Most Places of Power have 50 to 100 Essence Points. The most powerful ones have hundreds or even thousands of available Essence Points.
Directors must devise the rationale for each Place of Power, its background story, and the number of available Essence Points.
Times of Power
Essence flows from many things. The Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars emit Essence as well as gravity, light and other forms of energy. Their influence does have an impact on this world. In that matter, astrology is correct (although often misused and misunderstood). The external powers create a special significance to some times of the day, dates of the year and special events. During these Times of Power, extra Essence can be tapped by Magicians to perform rituals. The same is true for supernatural beings, which means that those Times of Power are also more dangerous than usual. During periods other than the Times of Power, the amount of ambient Essence is only sufficient for regular magic and ritual practice. No additional Essence is available.
The extra Essence available during a Time of Power can be tapped by any Magician once during that period, and not again until the next such time. In general, the extra Essence available is cumulative.
For example, a ritual conducted during the Vernal Equinox at Midnight garners a total of 25 extra Essence Points. Some of the most common Times of Power are listed below.
Noon and Midnight: Midnight is known as "the Witching Hour" and is a traditional time of Magic and the supernatural. Less well known is the fact that noon is a similar Time of Power. These two times see a "peak" in the flows of Essence energies. Any spell or supernatural ability performed during these hours (the benefits last for the entire hour) gains an additional 5 Essence Points.
Full Moon: The moon emits great quantities of Essence, perhaps as a result of its proximity to Earth. During the full moon, lunar energies bathe the land at peak strength. Rituals conducted at night during a full moon can tap an additional 5 Essence Points, or a total of 10 points when conducted at midnight.
The Solstices and Equinoxes: These solar dates mark the beginning of the seasons, and are important times of change and transition. They also provide great power. The Summer and Winter Solstices are approximately June 21 and December 22, respectively. The Vernal (spring) and Autumnal Equinoxes are approximately March 21 and September 23. During these days, Magicians can tap an additional 20 Essence Points.
The Four Days of Power: During four particular dates of the year Magical forces flow in greater abundance. So noticeable are these flows that the four dates have long held religious significance. They are each traditional pagan holidays. The four dates are, in chronological order: Imbolc (February 2nd), Beltane (April 30th), Lughnasadh (August 1st) and Samhain (October 31st – Halloween). During these four days, 30 extra Essence Points are available to Magicians.
This not the same as a magic wielder gaining a power boost from an Enchanted Item (Magic Box, p. 51). Magical Storage Devices are artifacts that by their nature or through sorcery have an inherent Essence Point pool that the magician can draw from to enhance their own Sorcery. Storage Devices contain 5 Essence Points for every 1 Power Level they are created with. Once used the Essence Points in a Storage Device are gone for good; they do not replenish themselves, unless an Enchanter puts more into the device.
Sorcery is more effective when performed by a group. One of the obvious reasons is that all the participants can infuse their Essence into the spell, speeding up the Magic and allowing more powerful effects to take place. Additionally, certain numbers of participants actually draw ambient Essence towards the group, increasing the available energy beyond the sum of the Essence Pools of the participants.
The Power of Numbers
Certain numbers and combinations of numbers seem to have a degree of intrinsic power. By working as a group, Magicians can gain great amounts of Essence. Even three relatively weak Magicians working together can create powerful effects by tapping into this additional energy. Of course, when manipulating such amounts of Essence, the problem of controlling, focusing and then dismissing the power remains. More than one overly ambitious group of warlocks has been obliterated by playing with far too much power.
For whatever reason, groups of certain specific sizes attract a great deal of power. The most powerful groups are those numbering three, five, seven and thirteen individuals. Groups of nine and eleven also grant extra Essence, but less on a person-by-person basis than the previous ones. This additional Essence available is represented as a multiple of the external Essence typically available; either from Places and Times of Power, or from Ambient Magic (all described above). The Group Magic Essence Table provides the amount of extra Essence generated by groups of various numbers. This Essence is immediately available to the group, no matter how long the spell or ritual takes to cast.
Group Magic Essence Table
|Size of Group
|Increase in Essence
Conducting Group Magic
Working as a group requires coordination and skill as well as power. Most Group Magic is conducted by forming a Circle, facing inward. As a closed form, the Circle is useful in focusing the power of the gathering on the Task at hand without letting it escape through any corners or gaps. Sometimes, the members of the group hold hands, although this is not necessary. A member of the group, usually the most skilled Magician present, becomes the Leader of the Circle.
The basic steps perform magic are still used; the only changes are the contributions of the group to the process. Only characters with the Sorcery Quality can participate in a Circle.
Performing Group Magic: During the casting of the spell/performing of the ritual the members of the Circle all contribute Essence to the process. The participants can contribute as much Essence as they wish, limited only by how long the Circle wishes to wait. Circle members who do not know the spell being attempted are less effective, however; every 2 Essence Points they contribute only count as 1 Essence Point.
Like individual spells or rituals, the process can take as few as a handful of seconds or as long as the members can stand in a Circle. The process ends when all the available Essence has been absorbed by the Leader, or when the Leader decides he has gathered enough power. The Leader takes all the combined energy unto himself; this includes any "free" Essence generated because of the number of participants present (see the Group Magic Essence Table). In some cases, the Leader will be holding hundreds of Essence Points. This experience is intense – a feeling of power and exaltation pervades the Leader until the Essence is released.
The Leader is the one to make the skill check to perform the Magic. If the standard Working Together rules (BTVS Revised Core Rulebook, p. 125) are being used, then the Leader of the Circle is the same character that is taking the lead in making the check to perform the Magic, with the others in the Circle providing bonuses to the check from working together.
Evil magicians can also draw Essence from individuals through blood sacrifice. The sacrifice does not have to be the stereotypical virgin; anyone with a decent Essence pool will do just fine. It’s rare to use sacrifices as an Essence source for any old spell, but some complex and powerful rituals might require a sacrifice (or two, or three) as an essential component. The main reason for using a sacrifice as a source is that the victim's Essence pool doubles at the moment of death; this is true for any sacrifice, be it a small animal, teenage co-ed, or supernatural being.
In your typical evil ceremonial ritual the crescendo is the murder of the sacrificial victim, enabling the Warlock to tap the dying victim's doubled Essence pool to help power the spell the ritual was casting. In the case of Group Magic (see above) it is the Circle Leader who typically performs the sacrifice and taps the released Essence from the victim.
Needless to say, sacrificial magic is usually a Very Bad Thing and should not be performed by heroes or champions except under the most dire or circumstances.
The Psychic rules look a lot like the Magic rules described above, and they supplement the rules presented in The Magic Box.
In the same way that true Witches and Warlocks need the Sorcery Quality in order to perform magic, Psychics need the Psychic Potential Quality (see Qualities below). Once the character has the Psychic Potential, they can acquire individual Psychic Powers. Psychic Powers are also Qualities, each one representing a different power. A character only needs one instance of the Psychic Potential Quality, after which they can acquire any number of Psychic Powers.
The Magic Box sourcebook contains several Qualities that are considered Psychic Powers. The Psychic Powers Table lists the Qualities from The Magic Box that qualify as Psychic Powers. Directors are free to create their own Psychic Power Qualities to augment the list.
Psychic Powers Table
Using Psychic Powers
In order to use a Psychic Power a character must first activate the Power. Activating a Power is automatic and does not cost the character an action. It does, however, cost the character a number of Essence Points equal to the purchase cost of the Power. For example, Telekinesis has a purchase cost of 3 pts/level, so activating Telekinesis costs 3 Essence Points; and Telepathy has a purchase cost of 5 points so it costs 5 Essence Points to activate. Once activated, a Psychic Power remains active until the end of combat, or until character turns it off or runs out of Essence Points. In addition to the activation cost, Psychic Powers usually also cost Essence Points to use. See the individual Power descriptions for the Essence Point cost of using a Psychic Power.
Under these rules Telekinesis acquired as a Psychic Power behaves differently from Magical Telekinesis as described in the Magic section above. Once the Telekinesis power is activated, the Psychic makes a roll equal to Willpower + levels of Telekinesis. For every Success Level earned the character earns 1 point of TK strength. For every point of TK strength they wish to use the character must expend 1 Essence Point. These Essence Points must be expended every round the character wishes to use the Telekinesis.
These Magic and Psychic rules include some changes to existing Qualities from the rulebooks and sourcebooks as well as some new Qualities used with these rules.
The following changes apply to existing Qualities.
Characters with the Sorcery Quality add 5 Essence Points to their pool for every level of Sorcery they have.
Supernatural beings like the Slayer and Vampires have more Essence Points than a normal person. These types of characters add the point cost of the Quality representing their "Supernatural Occupation" to the character's Essence Point pool.
List of Supernatural Occupation Qualities:
|BTVS Core Rulebook
|BTVS Revised Core Rulebook
The following new Qualities are used with these Magic and Psychic rules.
Increased Essence Pool
1/5-point Supernatural Quality (1/2 point after character creation)
While all human beings have Essence, the supernatural generally have a greater amount. Their connection to the mystic has strengthened their souls, making them living beacons of energy. Having a large Essence Point pool is both a blessing and a curse. While Essence Points can be used to affect the world in many ways, it also attracts the attention of evil supernatural beings and creatures that feed on other’s Essence.
Spending 1 point during character creation adds 5 points to the character's Essence Point pool. This can be done multiple times. After character creation, every 2 Essence Points costs 1 experience point. This makes it more cost effective to build up Essence when creating the character, representing the relatively slow improvement of the supernatural being’s powers during the course of their lives. Any character with the Psychic Potential or Sorcery Quality can increase her Essence Points, although it is most useful to practitioners of Magic, Psychics, and Supernatural beings. At the Director's discretion characters with a Supernatural Occupation or even normal humans can be allowed to increase their Essence Points with this Quality.
5pt Supernatural Quality
You are gifted with the powers of the mind. This Quality must be purchased by any "normal" in order to buy any Psychic powers (Qualities). Purchasing this Quality adds 5 points to the character's Essence Point pool.