View Full Version : Thaumaturgy - The Art of Wonderworking

2012-01-19, 10:54 PM
Summoning an elder evil. Healing the wounds of a fatally wounded man. Removing the soul of a violent being and imprisoning it within a gem. These are the tales of magic, of the powers beyond ken of man. Performing this type of magic is dangerous, powerful, and more than anything else, symbolic.

Thaumaturgy is the art of creating a magical force which builds, resonates, and expands. Often called rituals, thaumaturgy is not quick and dirty. While the procedure can be put together quickly, the magic needs to be empowered.

It is difficult to define thaumaturgy, because it encompasses so much. But, at its most basic, thaumaturgy is the art of bringing together distinct, separate symbols and working them together to produce a powerful magical effect. It takes a certain amount of belief in the symbols themselves, about the power of the whole image, and refinement in the ingredients making up the ritual for it to succeed.

The System
Thaumaturgy is a simple system with a great number of possibilities. It comes down to three parts: conception, components, and consequence.

The beginning of any act of thaumaturgy is that of Concept. The Concept is what is desired from the ritual, the seed which begins the magic itself. It sounds simple, but it isn't. The Concept needs to be clear and concise for there to be any hope for the ritual to succeed. Too broad an idea (I want to be defended from everything!) won't have enough precision to be hopeful to succeed, but an idea which is too narrow (I want to be protected from Almedzri poison delivered by dart) will likely possess too few components to really be effective. Therefore, the Concept is a crucial aspect of any attempt at thaumaturgy. Good Concepts will be listed in more detail further on.

The Components are really the meat and potatoes of the thaumaturgy, as they are the symbols themselves which are the mediums of power. But, more than that, the Components are many, varied, and highly subjective. Allow me to explain.

A Component is any aspect of a ritual which can be quantified and is specifically important for said ritual. This means, any aspect of a ritual which has any relation to the desired effect, such as certain movements, particular objects, or certain words said.

But, before you get too far ahead of yourself, you must realize something: components do not simply fall into the "Verbal, Somatic, Material, or Focus" line of thought here. Those four definitely exist, but they are by no means the only ones. A more concrete list of possible Components will be listed later on.

Not all Components are useful in every scenario, however. For instance, if you were trying to get a message to another practitioner, using fulgurite would be very useful (fulgurite being the stone formed when lightning strikes sand, generally associated with communication). But, using garnet (a stone usually associated with healing) would not be very useful at all in communicating with another person. In this case, using a garnet wouldn't be that helpful at all. However, if the garnet was not being used because of its associations with healing, but rather because the person being contacted was in the Land of Fire (fire being associated with red, and garnets being red stones), then that could be useful.

For every successfully used Component in a ritual, the player performing the ritual adds 1d12 to the pool. The pool starts with a number of dice equal to the level of the practitioners' skill (which is rated on a scale of 1 to 5). This pool is the number of d12s rolled when the ritual is performed. On a roll of 9 - 12, the die is considered to be a positive roll, and therefore beneficial to the accomplishment of the spell. A roll of 2 - 8 is a failed roll, and does not contribute to the accomplishment of the spell. A roll of 1 actually detracts from the ritual, causing one of the Components to somehow backfire (what exactly happens depends on what Component of the ritual backfired, and will be covered in more detail in the next post).

Rituals are, as can be expected, quite subjective and are intended to be developed on the fly (well, really with some kind of preparation, but they can be thrown together on the fly). The exact Consequences of an individual ritual are highly dependent upon what the ritual was and how well it was performed. Most thaumaturgic rituals have some kind of tiered results, where the number of successes from the pool indicate how well the results were. Exact numbers are impossible to list conclusively, but a generalized listing of possible effects will be coming up in the next few posts.

2012-01-19, 10:57 PM
Components are one of the trickiest, and most interesting, aspects of Thaumaturgy. They, by themselves, make up almost the entire system, and they are somewhat expansive as well. These are drawn from the special rituals found in nearly all high fantasy stories, the difficult ritual that requires certain specific directions to be followed in order to get a desired effect. It's something of an "ad hoc" system, since it requires quite a bit of DM fiat, but it opens the doors to so much that I find it a perfect trade off.

Without further ado, let's get to describing some Components.

Or, Why We Use Fulgurite To Talk To Each Other
The nature of magic in the real world can be summed up like this: things are associated with other things. If you look into the magical traditions of nearly any culture on earth, what you'll find is that they tend to be ritualistic in nature, tend to evoke all sorts of emotions and responses from others, and that they are not concrete. Magic is, by its nature, built from the symbolic associations that different things tend to accumulate over time.

If I were to kill a dove, what would come to mind? An end to hope? The blood of the innocent? Wanton destruction? Desecration, perhaps? These thoughts crop up for a number of reasons, most notably because of the associations that doves tend to carry in most cultures.

This is the exact process that thaumaturgy takes. By making associations between certain objects, materials, sounds, or what have you, the magic inherent in nature is better able to be drawn, formed, and efficiently released. Could it be done without the ritual? Possibly, depending on the skill of the practitioner, but the ritual makes the spell much more likely to be cast.

So, the first thing to really ask yourself when crafting a ritual is, what do you want to accomplish? This will shape what you use in the ritual to channel the magic.

What kinds of things do you use as components? Well now, that's a difficult question to answer. Let's see here...

Astrological Components: The phase of the moon, the alignment of the sun, when Jupiter is in retrograde: these are all examples of astrologically significant events that play into rituals. Oftentimes these events are rare or at least occur infrequently. Anything that involves the celestial realm falls into this category.

Audible Component: An audible Component is a part of a ritual that is controlled by sound. Audible Components usually aren't spoken, but tend to refer more to music played in the background, noises specifically made during the ritual in order to add tension or effect, or something in that vein. This can include spoken words, but those tend to fall under verbal Components more often than not.

Color Components: This is a Component not always thought of. Colors tend to have their own associations, and these can be channeled to achieve a better result in a ritual. If you were making a ritual to heal your companion of a blood disease, perhaps you would want to wear red clothing, use red instruments, or something of the like, trying to make an association with the blood. This is an example of a color Component.

Duration Components: Sometimes, a Component can be as ethereal as a concept. While the time of day often comes up in rituals, there are times that the length of time the ritual takes is also important. This is a more difficult Component to include, mostly due to the precision required to use it, but it can be potent if used correctly.

Focus Components: Another Component that tends to overlap with another, the differences between a material Component and a focus Component are subtle. Focus Components are usually objects which are specifically used to channel energy, rather than to make a symbolic reference. Furthermore, foci tend to be semi-permanent, whereas material Components are often more perishable. It's possible to reuse a material Component, but it's expected to reuse a focus; truly, most foci tend to gain more significance the more they are used.

Material Components: This is one of the first Components that jumps to most people's mind. You need to cast a spell that will make someone love you? Grab a diamond, an aphrodisiac, a marriage ring; something to symbolize what you mean by 'love.' So, when you grab a piece of petrified wood to use to help travel back in time, you're using it as a material component. Somehow, either symbolically, culturally, or otherwise, the object in question has been associated with some aspect of what you desire the ritual to accomplish.

Numeric Components: Numbers hold a power all their own, and that can be channeled for power in a ritual. This can take the form of a specific number of participants, a certain number of objects used, or even something like the amount of times a particular action is performed.

Olfactory Components: While often overlooked in Western cultures, smell is a terribly important sense, and can be utilized for ritual purposes. Smells are often some of the most powerful memories one can hold, and so they can be equally useful in rituals.

Sacrifice Components: Sacrifices are common to rituals, with the image of an animal killed being one of the more iconic images. However, a sacrifice can come from many sources; all that is required is that something is given up in order to gain power. This could be a life, but it could also be an object being destroyed, a sense being lost (plucking out your eyes), or even a memory being lost. All that is required is that the sacrifice is lost in the process.

Shape Components: Geometric patterns, squiggly lines, even three-dimensional forms; these are shapes, and they can be tapped into for power. Circles are the most common use, but many other shapes can be tapped.

Sigil Components: The written word can be just as powerful as the spoken word, and it can likewise be used for channeling energy. Anything which is a sign or word or character is considered a sigil, and can thus be a focus for power.

Somatic Components: Moving your arms in particular patterns, dancing around a circle, bowing and prostrating yourself before a rock; these are all examples of somatic Components. Somatic Components are just those Components which involve movement. This could be moving a object about in a particular manner, moving your body in a particular manner, even having the ritual itself move.

Verbal Components: Another common first thoughts for Components, verbal Components are those parts of a ritual that are spoken. This could be a song, a chant, a recitation, a prayer, what-have-you. The point is, this is something spoken to shape the spell somehow. Note, this can be different from an audible Component, but the two can overlap.

Other Components could be used, but the point is that there can be quite a bit exploited to make a good ritual. Notably, some of these are easier to get a hold of than others. A variant of this system could easily exist where more difficult to get Components have a better chance of success, extending the die roll from 9 - 12 to 8 - 12, or even further.

Additionally, multiple uses of a Component can be used, in much the same way. For instance, if I were attempting to channel a destructive spell, to kill a foe in his sleep, I decide that I want to employ a few different Components. I kill a crow, burn a slab of meat (specifically for the smell), and I chant a mantra about death's inevitable embrace. But, being the clever sociopath I am, I decide that if killing one crow is powerful, than killing more crows will be more powerful. Therefore, I grab three more crows and kill them all during the ritual.

What this does is empower the Sacrifice Component. Rather than add more dice to the pool, this increases the chance of the Sacrifice Component bringing success. For every additional crow killed, the Sacrifice Component succeeds on one lower number (so, in this case, I would now succeed on a 5 - 12, at least with the die that is determined to be the Sacrifice Component). But, no matter the number of reiterations of a Component, a roll of 1 always results in a fail (and a mishap of some kind).

2012-01-19, 10:58 PM
Reserved for Explication on Mechanics

2012-01-19, 11:00 PM
Reserved for Artifact Creation

2012-01-19, 11:01 PM
That should be all the space I need (I hope...), but we'll see what happens. Gonna get started right away on the Components part.

2012-01-20, 03:12 PM
I like it. And, you know, if you need a little inspiration for this, there's an OGL book on the subject of components here (http://www.purpleduckgames.com/eacaf).

Edit: Just upgraded to Halfing in the Playground. Momentous post, indeed!

2012-01-20, 08:04 PM
A definitely useful link. Thank ye! I'm sure it'll come in handy.