More rules for the FUDGE Occultism magic system.

By Sharon Tripp and Scott Gray.

Also see GRAPE, a complete roleplaying game by Scott Gray.

1.0 - Background

"That we do not know all there is to know about our universe is a given. Throughout history there have been advances in our understanding of how the universe works. Each new level of understanding, from Newton's ideas to Einstein's to Heisenberg's, contradicts ideas which we previously understood as fact.

"Much of what exists in reality is outside the range that can be detected by our five senses. Though we have no direct ability to sense magnetism, many birds are born with a magnetic sense. Yet we understand the workings of magnetism by noting its indirect effects. We hypothesize grand quantum laws that explain the behavior of things too small to ever directly observe. But how much is there in 'reality' which we still have no notion of or hint about?

"As our questions about the universe turn to the invisible and unseeable, we must rigorously investigate any evidence against our current, admittedly simplistic, view of how the universe works -- looking for the reality that lies beyond our senses. We must hope that in so doing, the prejudices of 'common sense' do not prevent us from finding and recording what information we can about the true workings of our universe."

Dr. Alexander Drakkar, State University of Dresden, 1972

There are various theories as to the nature of reality. Some say that physicists are right about "our" universe -- but that our universe borders another with an alien physic, where will is interchangeable with matter and energy. In some places the veil between is thin, and the border between the two worlds indistinct. Others believe that we have within ourselves powerful, evil souls which long to gain dominance so they can devour us and all else. Some groups claim that spirits of the dead pursue various ends -- helping the living, or seeking vengeance against them for being alive. Still others maintain that we shape reality by our beliefs, but we are unfortunately beings prone to dwell on the unpleasant....

Some researchers into the paranormal claim that certain people are more open to sensation and experiences that lie outside "normal" reality. Such people can be said to have a "sixth sense." In an attempt to learn more about this "other reality," researchers concentrate on studies of the sixth sense and how it functions. Many reports seem contradictory, however; and as most of the subjects are deemed mentally unbalanced, they are not very reliable sources.

The fact that subjects seem to have different notions and experiences of the other reality continuously frustrates researchers. Some explain these differences using the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant. John Godfrey Saxe's retelling of this legend follows:

"It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

"The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

"The Second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, "Ho! what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

"The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

"The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

"The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

"The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope.
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

"And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!"

Each man understands only one aspect of the whole, and so their assertions seem contradictory. It is much the same way with the various claims as to the nature of reality and of magic. Some spells seem to support the belief that there is a world beyond our own, and others seem to support solipsism. Both types of spells work, despite the apparent inconsistency.

Of course, this is only one way to handle a campaign setting in which multiple schools of magic are available. A GM using Occultism might instead choose which, if any, disciplines of magic work. Under such a method, it is very important that magic be subtle. This makes it difficult to know if events occurred due to a successful spell casting, luck, or just simple probability.

If a particular school of magic does not function within the game world, the player or GM should still roll Sanity checks. If the caster thinks the spell was successful, he might psych himself out.

2.0 - Modifying Occultism for a Sane World

The system can easily be modified for a campaign in which magic does not threaten a mage's sanity. In the modified system below, spell casters risk physical harm, rather than emotional or psychological danger.

2.1 Traits

The Health attribute replaces the Sanity attribute. Damage Capacity, Body, or a similar trait might be used in place of Health. This attribute describes a character's general state of being and ability to fight off illness.

2.2 The Health Roll

When a mage casts a spell successfully or near-successfully, make a Health check against the Difficulty Level set when the spell was crafted. This roll is identical to that used for the Sanity check in the base rules. It determines whether there is any effect on the caster, and whether the effect is temporary or permanent. The roll to determine the nature of an ailment is as follows:
A minus indicates the mage's Health drops one level.

A blank means that the mage acquires a physical affliction. The relative degree by which the Health roll fell short of the Difficulty Level determines the severity of the ailment.

A plus indicates the worsening of a preexisting condition. Unlike with Sanity-based Occultism, where a plus merely increases the difficulty of controlling the insanity, a worsened physical condition is actually worsened. It becomes a more serious illness, and may become life-threatening.

A character whose Health drops below Terrible lapses into a coma, goes into cardiac arrest, or the like, as decreed by the GM. If the effect is "temporary," the character has a chance of survival or recovery -- but it is by no means guaranteed.

2.21 Types of Ailments

Physical damage to the mage can take many forms, ranging from physical wounds or infection, to general weariness, to diseases or disorders. A failed Health check may also cause unnatural changes which alter the mage's physiology, causing such magical debilities as: effectively Hurt in direct sunlight; rapid aging; physiological dependence on consuming high-protein plasma at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit; etc.

If an effect is permanent, this simply means that it is a condition that will not resolve itself. Medical treatments may be able to help cure "permanent" afflictions, depending on the time period/genre in which the campaign is set. A slight, temporary effect might indicate a cold or flu; a more severe form of the same could indicate pneumonia or other serious, but nonpermanent, illness. An example of a relatively minor permanent effect would be arthritis, and a major one would be cancer.

2.3 Difficulty Levels

Health roll Difficulty Levels do not necessarily map onto the Difficulty Levels given for a Sanity-based system. What causes psychological strain will not necessarily cause physical strain, and vice versa. Generally, creating physical effects creates greater strain upon the caster than mental effects. For instance, telekinetically moving a particular lottery ball so that it is the one drawn will cause a greater strain on the caster than it would to influence the mind of a wealthy person to give the caster money.

Maintaining an effect causes a continuous physical strain on the mage. At the GM's discretion, the mage might suffer action penalties to maintain a spell effect, or may suffer from a temporary worsening of physical infirmities.

Suggested Difficulty Levels in a sane world
Poor: Simple divination.
Mediocre: Mental suggestions.
Fair: Complex divination, blatant mind control.
Good: Affecting the probabilities of events, illusions.
Great: Telekinesis.
Superb: Physical changes to an object, communicating with other planes.
Legendary: Physical changes to a creature.
Legendary+1: Creation of mundane objects.

2.4 Formal spell aids

Due to the differing rationales between a Sanity-based and Health-based magic system, and the disparate sorts of penalties which might occur due to casting, the spell aids tend to differ. Rather than lowering the Health Difficulty by using a pentagram in the casting of the spell, a mage might subtract two from the Difficulty Level if he chews on mandrake root during the casting.

Health problems gained from casting may decrease the ease of using certain casting aids. For example, if a spell aid requires mobility, a mage who remains bedridden due to his spell casting will have trouble making use of such an aid.

2.5 Options

The World View Option listed at the end of the Occultism chapter is irrelevant if Sanity is not used. A character should receive no bonus for casting within a specific world view.

However, you may choose for the players to pick tendencies. These would denote their physical weak spots, rather than psychological ones. The character may be hereditarily prone toward certain disorders, or be at risk of others due to poor dietary and exercise habits.

Just as Sanity may be regained through various means, PCs may regain lost Health. Health might be recovered slowly through intensive physical training. Medicines or surgery might also allow a partial improvement of Health.

2.6 Further Modifications

This being FUDGE, there's always room for tinkering to customize a system to your exact tastes. Here are a few further suggestions: