Note 2018-06-05: Eldritch Realms has been renamed to Magonomia This is a spell I recently wrote for Eldritch Realms. It's a prime example of what we mean when we say the magic system is based on period folklore. Let's jump into the spell and then I'll explain some of the design decisions behind it.
Sending the Library Angel
Summary: A spirit delivers a short passage from a book to a person you designate.
Science & Degree: Theurgy, third Degree
Prerequisites: The message must be a short passage of pre-existing writing, as from a book or pamphlet. At least seven copies of the text must exist in the world, and the wizard must have one of them.
Aspects: Spirit Magic
Fate Point cost: Always
Preparation: Obtain an Occult Token for the recipient of the message.
Casting: No roll is required to cast the spell, but Scholarship: Overcome may be required to find an appropriate passage from a book.
Effect: When the wizard discovers this spell, she binds an airy spirit called a library angel into a seal, bottle, or other container. She can then command the spirit to deliver a message by exactly reciting a short passage of written text, up to about 25 words, to a person or location within sight, or to whom she has an Occult Token. The range of the spell is unlimited.
Extras: There is a certain type of airy spirit that is intellectual and curious about books. They can often can be found in libraries, flipping through the pages of open books as they read the knowledge within.
All library angels have the power to read and speak any language, but they cannot translate from one language to another. From time to time, they assist mortals if they want to. When a library angel overhears researchers discussing what they are looking for, it can help by nudging the right book so it sticks out a bit on the shelf. It can even go so far as to push a book off the shelf and make it fall open at the exact passage that is most useful.
Each of them has Superb (+5) mastery of one branch very narrow and obscure branch of knowledge, such as “Anglo-Saxon Nobles of Lincolnshire” or “Habits of Yorkshire Werewolves.” You or your fellow players can use a Fate Point to create a story detail to have the angel just happen to have an expertise that overlaps with whatever you need to know.
Termination: After the message is delivered, the spirit returns to the wizard but does not bring a reply or report on success or failure.
Roleplaying Notes: You, the player, don't have to find an exact text you want your character to send! Just summarize what the message should say, and perhaps describe the source. The GM might call for a Scholarship: Overcome roll to have your character know of a passage that fits the occasion. If you succeed at a cost, the recipient may misinterpret what your wizard meant by that quotation!
If you do want to use a quote from a period source, coming up with the perfect line from Shakespeare or Marlowe can add a lot of atmosphere to the scene, and is often well worth a Fate Point award. Please be sure not distract from the game by searching for one while you should be paying attention to the story. Also, don’t worry too much about the publication date: it’s more important to come up with a quotation that is dramatic or funny than to fret over whether it had been published yet.
Characters in Eldritch Britain are much inclined to use passages from holy books (the Bible, Talmud, or Quran) because, if the recipient is a co-religionist of the caster, they’ll know the quote’s context —probably. Other widely-read religious books include the English Book of Common Prayer and works by Saint Augustine or Thomas Aquinas. Scholarly characters might prefer Plato, Homer, or Ovid. The library angel isn't picky about what text the message comes from: a bawdy line from The Canterbury Tales or a headline from a pamphlet (the tabloid newspapers of the day) will serve just as well.
Commentary on the Spell
This is one of the more authentic-seeming spells we've written so far, which is why I've chosen to showcase it.
Summary: A spirit delivers a short passage from a book to a person you designate.
Spell descriptions can be long and detailed so they each have a one-line summary that will fit on spell list or maybe a card. When it appears separately from the full text, this would be accompanied by a page number where the full spell description begins.
An important point about this spell is that a spirit is actually sending the message on the caster's behalf. Magic that works against spirits, like a ward to keep it from entering a house, can prevent the spirit completing its task.
Science & Degree
Magic is divided into categories called Sciences. Think of the Sciences as independent schools of thought about magic. This spell is from the Science of Theurgy, which is concerned with conjuring spirits who are willing to serve.
We've rated this spell as third Degree. Degrees go from first (the weakest) to sixth (the strongest). Sending a message over a distance can be quite powerful under the right circumstances. The primary factor in a spell's Degree is how much influence it can have on the course of events in the game. Being able to call for help, report back to headquarters from hundreds of miles away, or perfectly coordinate when one character creates a diversion and another breaks into the enemy headquarters are quite powerful effects! If this spell were as flexible and effective as a walkie-talkie, it would be sixth Degree. Communication is really, really important! The fact that the communication is one-way, the messages must be short, and the content of the message is very tightly constrained bring the Degree back down into the middle of the range. It's still a very useful spell that enables characters to do things they couldn't otherwise consider, but it doesn't enable them to steer the fate of a nation.
The prerequisites of a spell are important conditions the wizard must meet in order to use the spell. Sometimes they're things the wizard must do before she can learn to cast the spell at all, and sometimes they're things that must be done before she can cast the spell at a particular time and place. This is the latter sort of prerequisite, a prerequisite for using the spell.
Most spells don't have prerequisites. For those that do, they're clearly stated as a line item early in the spell's description so players can easily see the special restrictions that apply to the spell.
In this case, the prerequisites are really just a colorful way of setting some tight constraints on a communication spell to lower its Degree. It makes sense (to us) that a library angel is best a delivering a message that is taken from a book. I considered a couple of alternatives. At first, I thought the angel could deliver any short message in written form, like a raven on Game of Thrones. We already have a spell that does that (not that we've shared it with anyone yet): The Faithful Messenger, which is fifth Degree. The design goal for this spell is to make it less flexible and more accessible than The Faithful Messenger. My next thought was to have the caster express the message's intent, and then the angel delivers the message by finding the line in the library that best matches the caster's message, and pointing out that line to the recipient. That's cool, but impractical: it would only work to deliver messages to librarians. After a few minutes' thought, I settled on having the angel only able to deliver quotes from books and plays. I think you can do quite well, and have fun, passing messages around by trading Shakespeare quotes.
Aspects are a major feature of the Fate Core system, explained in the System Reference Document. This spell has the Spirit Magic Aspect, meaning it works by the wizard conjuring a spirit and having the spirit do something magical in the world. Spirit Magic spells can be blocked by magical wards, and the spirits themselves usually can be seen (most spirits in Renaissance folklore have material bodies).
Fate Point Cost
Spells that have a big impact on the story are meant to be used infrequently. They cost a Fate Point to cast. This is one of them. It would violate the Renaissance feel of the setting for characters to be able to send messages whenever they want, as often as they want. Making the spell cost a Fate Point influences players to use the spell very sparingly and only when it really matters.
Preparation is what your character has to do in the game world to cast the spell. Preparation is usually routine and occasionally challenging, depending on the circumstances of the story. It's different from prerequisites in that it's not a special and unusual constraint that might affect whether you as a player would want to choose the spell at all.
In this case, the wizard needs an Occult Token, a mystical stand-in for another person so they can tell the library angel whom to deliver the message to. The canonical occult token is a hair from a person's head. Think of it as like a police dog-handler giving a bloodhound a piece of clothing to smell so the hound can distinguish the owner's scent. Spirits don't have senses and reason that are similar to mortals. They need careful and magically-oriented instructions to be able to carry out a task properly. That's what casting a spell is.
Most spells require some kind of skill roll to cast. This one doesn't because it costs a Fate Point instead. We don't think it would be fair to ask a player to spend a Fate Point and then risk failing a roll to cast the spell.
The "Effect" section describes what the spell does in direct terms, referring to rules and numbers when necessary. This one has a short "Effect" section.
Extras are a rather complicated concept in Fate Core that's briefly explained in the SRD. In this case, the spirit that the spell conjures, a library angel, has some meaningful capabilities besides its ability to perform the spell itself. Whatever rules and statistics are needed for special cases like that are listed under "extras."
All good things must come to an end, and so must spells in Eldritch Realms. The "Termination" section of a spell description states how long the spell lasts and whether anything can end it prematurely. In this case, the spell doesn't last longer than the round-trip time for the angel to deliver its message and return. Spirits can move very fast: quite a bit faster than the speed of sound, but it still takes them a couple of minutes to travel the length of England.
The "Roleplaying Notes" section of a spell helps clarify whatever you need to know to make the spell as fun and easy for your character to use as possible. In this case, the key point is that your character is delivering a message in the form of a quotation from a book, play, or pamphlet. It would be burdensome and anti-fun if you, the player, were required to find the exact quote you want your character to deliver. I call that sort of thing "mandatory creativity" and I don't think anyone enjoys it.
With this spell, I realize I'm going out on a bit of a limb: someone reading it could easily jump to the wrong conclusion about what the player's experience should be when their character casts it. The roleplaying notes explain how to avoid the potential pitfalls while preserving the opportunity and the invitation to personalize your character's magic with a bit of a literary flourish, if you like that sort of thing.
What I like about this spell is that it takes the relatively straightforward task of sending the equivalent of a modern text message -- very useful in solving challenges that arise in the story -- and wraps it in authentic occult lore (library angels aren't something we made up, though I can't guarantee they are strictly in-period) until it feels completely esoteric. That is what the best Eldritch Realms spells will do.