Spell Research

Spell Research is not an activity that most Magi ever indulge in, as it is both time consuming, costly, and risky. The spell lists of the Great Orders are generally static, remaining unchanged from one town to the next, or from one generation to the next. Nevertheless a dedicated Mage (or Sage) may sometimes devote the time to inventing (or re-inventing) an obscure magic. Occasionally an outcast Mage cut off from new spells will be forced to do the same.

Designing a Spell

Spell Research involves designing a new spell from first principles. Even if the object is to develop a spell that already exists (e.g. a lost spell, secret spell of a particular group, or even a standard spell that the Mage cannot access) it still must be invented anew. To do this the Mage must discover what arcane mental patterns are required to channel energy to produce their desired effect, and then work out what gestures, words, materials and mental states are needed to create that pattern.

In game terms spell design involves the following steps:

  1. Design the spell's effect, keywords and duration
  2. Choose the spell's Rank and Energy Level
  3. Calculate the Fatigue and Casting Difficulty
  4. Assign the Research Difficulty
  5. Research until the spell is created

Design the effect

The first step is to design the effect that you want to produce. If you are attempting to re-invent an existing effect then you can simply refer to the Spellbook, otherwise you must decide what the spell is to do, and then pick appropriate keywords and duration. At this step you must make sure that the spell is plausible, and fits within the limits of the Order and setting. While many a Mage might desire a Rank 1 spell that inflicts 100 Lethal damage, that is not in keeping with the spells that exist in the game.

The Mage Animus wishes to design a spell that gives the Black Order a ranged attack similar to Sunspear. He envisions a simple spell that creates an obsidian missile that can be hurled like a javelin, inflicting 2D4 damage with a base range of 10 and using the Mage's Javelin or Magic skill to hit. He calls this spell Darkspear. Although somewhat more powerful than other Black Order spells of low level, Darkspear is not unreasonable, so it's a plausible line of enquirey for Animus.

Here are some Guidelines for spell effects and power.

Attack Spells (Attack, Aimed and Ranged Keywords)
Any Order can create spells that launch attacks (with the Attack keyword) easily, although the form of the attack varies. The Red Order is better at creating spells that launch direct attacks (with the Aimed keyword). A spell of any other Order that has the Aimed Keyword has +1 Research Difficulty. Red Order spells tend to do more Lethal damage than other Orders, but this is not an absolute. Black and White Order spells tend to be better at Social damage than other Orders. Spells which are not Aimed (do not require an attack roll) should have a low fixed range, or low damage (1-2D4), or both. If the range at level one exceeds 8 then add +1 Casting Difficulty and +1 Fatigue.
If Lethal Damage exceeds 2D4 add +1 Research Difficulty for Red or Blue Order spells, and +2 Difficulty for other Orders. If Social Damage exceeds 1D4 add +1 Research Difficulty for Black and White Order spells, and +2 Difficulty for other Orders. Other sorts of attack spells, such as those that cause emotional states, blind, or strike at unusual targets are +2 Difficulty. Spells which ignore some armour are +1 Research Difficulty. Attacks that can reach further than the Mage's touch (those with the Ranged Keyword) have +2 Casting Difficulty.
Augment Keyword and Attributes
Any sort of spell can have the Augment Keyword, which represents enhancing something. Red Order spells are best at Augmenting Attack, Agility, Bravery, Presence and Physical. A Red Order spell that Augments anything else gets +1 Casting Difficulty. Black Order spells are best at Augmenting Defence, Perception, Summoning and Armour. A Black Order spell that Augments anything else gets +1 Casting Difficulty. Earth Cleric spells are best at Augmenting the Cleric. An Earth Cleric spell that Augments anything else gets +1 Research Difficulty.
Circle Keyword
Circle spells are a special instance of Fixed duration spells. The Mage draws a circle and then uses this as a focus for the spell. The spell continues as long as the circle remains unbroken and the target (usually something contained in the circle or defended by it) stays inside. Circle spells have +1 Fatigue, +1 Research Difficulty and +1EL.
Creating items (Creation keyword)
All Orders are bad at creating items. There are very few item creation spells, and the items that they create generally only have a +1 or +2 bonus over a normal item. All item creation spells use twice as much fatigue as normal, and must be cast at least three times before the item is created. Spells that create items (and have the Creation keyword) have double the Casting Difficulty and +8 Research Difficulty. Red Order spells can only create items of Stone (but not Obsidian), Metal, Bone, Oil or Earth. Black Order spells can only create items of Obsidian, Ice, Clay or Star Iron. Grey Order spells can only create items of wood or cloth.
Elemental powers
Only Black Order spells affect water and darkness. Only Red Order spells affect fire and light. Only Blue Order spells affect air, wind and lightning. Both the Black Order and Earth Cleric spells can affect earth and stone, and any sort of spell can affect living creatures. Red Order spells give survival bonuses in the Deadlands and Drylands, while Black Order spells give them in Twilight and the Darklands.
Damage to the Mage
Most spells do not risk damaging the Mage unless the channel roll fails. Summoning and Healing spells are an exception to this. Spells which are not summonings or healings may sometimes require the Mage to spend Health or other Attributes, or to take damage, generally because of a compromise in their design. A spell that requires the Mage to take damage to cast have -1 Research Difficulty. A spell that requires the Mage to sacrifice attributes has -3 Research Difficulty.
Most spells are Instant or Fixed duration. Red, Grey, Blue, Black and White Order spells generally have durations measured in rounds or minutes. Add +1 Casting and Research Difficulty for durations measured in hours. Add +3 Casting and +2 Research Difficulty for durations measured in days. Earth Cleric spells naturally have longer durations, often lasting hours, and are not made more complex by this. Spells with the Survival keyword can ignore these rules on durations. Spells with the Maintained Duration are very rare, add +4 Research Difficulty to design one. Spells with Extended Duration are fairly rare, add +1 Research Difficulty.
Fast Spells
A spell with the Fast keyword can be cast quickly enough to interrupt someone else's action (using the rules for Reactions given under the Wait action). Only a 1 EL spell can be fast, and it cannot have a material component. Fast spells are very hard to design and cast. Spells with the Fast keyword add +3 Research Difficulty and +3 Casting Difficulty.
Keldian magic has a very limited ability to heal. Only Red Order and Earth Cleric magic can normally heal, and all healing spells require some sort of sacrifice of energy, either using the Mage's own health or having the risk of damage. Healing spells have +2 Fatigue and +2 Research Difficulty. Add +1 Research and Casting Difficulty if the spell heals more than D4. Add +3 Research and Casting Difficulty if the spell heals more than D6. Healing spells are all at least Rank 2. Only a White Order spell can raise someone from the dead, and that is not a pleasant fate.
Links (Link Keyword)
When you cast a spell that transfers energy between yourself and someone else, or allows you to exert mental control over them, or shares your senses, it creates a Link between you, which can be exploited by other spells, or senses with magical vision. Creating a spell that does any of these things without creating a Link applies +1 Casting Difficulty and +2 Research Difficulty. Spells that manipulate or alter existing links have +2 Casting Difficulty.
Material Components
Most spells have few or no material components. The spell's pattern is formed from words, gestures and mental states. Adding material components required for casting makes research easier. Ubiquitous or valueless materials (a handful of dust, a razor grass stem) give -1 Research Difficulty. Valuable materials worth 4-6 Wealth (metal tools, semi-precious stones, oils, dusts, pigments) give -2 Research Difficulty. Very expensive materials worth 7-10 (rare feathers, gemstones, obsidian, star iron, crafted items) give -4 Research Difficulty. Most spells that require expensive materials are more complex and take more time. Add 1 Energy Level.
Power Levels
Most spells have 1 Power Level enhancement available. Each additional Power Level enhancement the spell has adds +1 Research Difficulty.
Resisted spells
Most spells do not allow the target any sort of active resistance, if successfully cast they just take effect. This is especially true of Attack spells. Some spells commonly do have some sort of roll allowed to ignore or reduce their effects. Common resistances are: Presence vs. Spirit for any spell which applies mental or emotional control, or drains fatigue; Agility vs. 10+Rank for any spell which has a physical component that you might dodge; Physical vs. 10+Rank for any spell which overpowers you, knocks you down or poisons you; Int vs. 11+Rank for any spell that attempts to control a demon.
If you design a spell that commonly has a resitance without one, add +1 Rank and +4 Research Difficulty. If you design a spell that commonly does not have a resitance and add one, apply -1 or -2 Research Difficulty depending on how hard the Resistance is.
Sense spells (Sense Keyword)
Spells can create magical senses, or allow the Mage to move their senses to the location of another person or place. All Orders can create such spells. Spells which give the Mage an additional sense (such as dark vision) have -2 Casting Difficulty. Spells which link a Mage's sense to another person should gain the Link Keyword. Spells which move a Mage's location to another place will generally have a fixed range. If this is more then 1 Kleg / Level add +2 Casting Difficulty and +1 Research Difficulty.
Subtle Keyword
Subtle spells are easy to cast surreptitiously. This generally means that they use far fewer gestures and words, and more mental gymnastics. A spell with the Subtle keyword has +2 Research Difficulty.
Summoning demons and spirits (Summon keyword)
Spells with the Summon keyword summon something from another place, either another part of the world, the spirit realm, or a celestial body. Only the Red Order can summon things from the Sun, and only the Black Order can summon things from the Dark Side. Only Earth Clerics can summon spirits from the Spirit Realm. Summoning all but the most trivial of creatures requires a sacrifice, usually one or more attribute points. A summoning spell without such a cost has +2 Research Difficulty. Most summonings are temporary. One that summons something permanent has double the Casting Difficulty and +2 Research Difficulty. A summoned creature that also has a solid physical body is usually also a creation spell. A spell that binds a creature (summons it for more than a short duration) has +1EL.
Survival Keyword
Red Order, Black Order and Earth Cleric magic can create spells that help Keldians to survive their world, either by creating food, nourishing plants, or lessening the effects of hostile conditions. Only Red Order spells can protect against heat, fire and sandstorms. Only Black Order spells can protect against cold, ice and drowning. All three Orders can prevent hunger, or enhance the growth of plants. Survival spells generally have a longer duration than other spells, and ignore increased difficulty for duration as given above. Survival spells that affect more than the Mage and his immediate surroundings are +1 Rank. Survival spells that affect large areas are +2 Ranks. Survival spells of Extended Duration are always at least EL2.

From the guidelines we can see that Animus is trying to design an Attack spell, with the Aimed keyword. Looking at the keywords we can see that the Black Order gets +1 Research Difficulty for aimed spells. We can also see that since the base range is over 8 we need +1 Fatigue and +1 Casting Difficulty. There is nothing else especially odd about what Animus wants to design.

Choose Rank and Energy Level

Once you have designed the effect you need to pick the spell's Energy Level and Rank. Some of the keywords you chose may have set a minimum EL or Rank.


The more powerful the spell, the higher the Rank. Common spells that affect only the Mage or close targets, cause small amounts of damage or other minor effects, provide a resistance roll or defence, or have short durations, may be Rank 1. For each of these limits you break, add another Rank. For example a spell that causes a large amount of damage to one close target would need to be Rank 2, as it breaks one limit. A spell that affects a whole town and lasts a cycle would need to be Rank 3, as it breaks two limits. If your spell would be more typical of another Order, add 1 Rank. Newly designed spells, without the benefit of centuries of refinement, tend to be a higher Rank. Always err on the side of caution if you are unsure.

Energy Level

Most spells have 1 Energy Level, which means that they have a spell pattern that most Mages can easily comprehend and requirements (gestures, words, thought patterns) that they can execute in just a couple of minutes. If your spell requires complex setup, such as selecting multiple targets, entering a trance, arranging items, or sending your mind to a distant place, then it is probably 2ELs. Some spells are 2 Energy Levels because the effect is particularly complex, and demands serious mental gymnastics of the caster. Spells of 3 Energy Levels or above are much rarer, and tend to be item creation spells, or other magics which have long and involved casting requirements. You should only set the Energy Level at 4 or more for spells that create major and long lasting effects, such as golems, permanent alterations of the magical field and so on.

Earth Cleric spells tend to be of higher Energy Level than other Orders. Most Earth Cleric spells have 1EL more than standard.

Animus' Darkspear spell is very similar to Sunspear, which is a Rank 1 spell. However throwing aimed attacks is a Red Order speciality, not a Black Order one, so this should be Rank 2. Since this is a simple combat spell, without a complex effect and requiring no materials, then it is clearly a 1 Energy Level spell.

Calculate Fatigue and Difficulty

Once you know the spell's Rank and Energy Level you can calculate the Fatigue and Difficulty. Some of the keywords you chose may have imposed additional fatigue or Casting Difficulty. Work out the normal costs first, and then apply the modifiers. The following is a table of the defaults per Circle.

Circle 1 2 3 4 5 6
Energy Level 1
Difficulty -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8
Fatigue 4 5 6 7 8 9
Energy Level 2
Difficulty -5 -6 -7 -8 -9 -10
Fatigue 7 8 9 10 11 12
Energy Level 3
Difficulty -7 -8 -9 -10 -11 -12
Fatigue 10 11 12 13 14 15


Most spells have a Fatigue cost of EL x 3 + Rank, so a spell of Rank 2 and EL1 would cause 5 Fatigue. This cost is a reflection of the complexity of formulating the spell and the magnitude of the energy that needs to be channelled. Spells with very low powered effects (not necessarily simple ones) have reduced fatigue, as do spells that give energy (such as Power of the Red Order). Reduce the fatigue from the standard if this is true. Spells that create something have increased fatigue costs, up to a maximum of double the normal cost. Reduce Fatigue cost by 2 if the spell is Extended with fatigue and has a base duration of 1 round.

Casting Difficulty

Casting Difficulty is the modifier to the Channel roll applied when casting the spell. Most spells have a Difficulty of EL x 2 + Rank, so a spell of Rank 2 and EL1 would have a Difficulty of -4. Very few spells have a Difficulty of 0 or less (i.e. a bonus to your Channel). High Difficulty is a reflection of challenging procedures and complex pattern. The higher the Difficulty the longer you need to hold power, and the more control you need over it. A spell with a simple effect for it's rank should have the Difficulty lowered by 1 or 2 points, while one that is challenging for it's rank should have it raised by a similar amount. If the Difficulty after modifiers for design and keywords is more than 5 over the standard for the Rank, it should probably move to the next Rank up and have the Difficulty modifiers lowered by 4.

Varying Fatigue and Difficulty

Many spells have slight variations in Fatigue and Difficulty for their Rank. For example spells intented to be used in combat often have lower Fatigue and higher Difficulty. In general you can lower Fatigue by 1 by raising Difficulty by 2, and vica-versa. Larger scale variations increase Reasearch Difficulty by 1. Many standard spells are more efficient than this, a reflection of centuries of refinement.

Animus' Darkspear spell is Rank 2 and 1EL, so it has a standard Fatigue cost of 5 and a Casting Difficulty of -4. The spell design tells us that we need to add +1 Fatigue and +1 Difficulty, so we arrive at 6 Fatigue and -5 Difficulty.

Assign the Research Difficulty

Once you know out of character what spell you are designing you can finalise the design in character. This process requires a Cycle, and a successful Int + Academics / Sorcery roll. If you fail, make another roll after another cycle, until you succeed. If you pass you have designed the spell and can assign the Research Difficulty. The Research Difficulty is based on all of the calculations done so far. It equals :

10 + 3xRank + Energy Level + Modifiers

Where the Modifiers are accumulated from the spell design and Keywords you chose. You can try and lower the Research Difficulty by making compromises if you wish, as follows:

It is easier to design a spell that already exists, or is a slight variation on it, than to make a wholly novel effect. You may need to design an existing spell if you are an outcast denied access to the Orders. Modify the Research Difficulty by the following factors if the new spell is the same, or similar to, an existing spell which you could cast (i.e. it is of the right Rank and Order).

Replicate existing normal spell -2 Difficulty
Replicate existing restricted spell+0 Difficulty
Modify a spell you know -2 Difficulty
Modify a standard spell -1 Difficulty
Modify an existing restricted spell+1 Difficulty

If this is still too high you will need to redesign your effect.

Animus has finished the design of his Darkspear spell, and is ready to put it together. Animus has Int 12, Academics 2 and Sorcery 6, so he needs to roll anything other than a 20 to put his design together. He rolls a 10 and can proceed. We know that his spell has Rank 2 and EL1, which gives us a base Research Difficulty of 17. Because Darkspear is an Aimed spell in the Black Order there is a further +1 Difficulty, for a final result of 18. Darkspear is a modification of an existing spell (Sunspear) but not one that Animus can cast, so he gets no modifier for this. Since Animus has a working Sorcery skill of only 18 he considers weakening the spell somewhat to make research easier, and decides that the spell needs a material focus in the form of a small Obsidian chip worth 5. This reduces the Difficulty by 2 to 16.

Performing the Research

Once you have conceived of and designed the spell you can begin to research it. Research is difficult, costly, risky and most of all time consuming. Researching a spell requires long experimentation, repetitive practice, endless tweaking with gestures and words, note taking and trial and error. Most combinations of gestures, words, materials and mental states don't produce any effect. New patterns are very difficult to arrive at. A researcher will spend much of their time drawing diagrams, meditating, or pouring over other spells (or tablets and inscriptions and marks in the sand).

You cannot Research a spell you could not learn. Your Int + Academics / Sorcery must equal or exceed the spell's Rank + 10 or you cannot begin, although you could pass your design concepts to another Mage to pursue.

Labs, Helpers and Equipment

Most Magi conduct their research in dedicated scriptoria or research labs, surrounded by tablets, scrolls, crystals, sacred iron, slaves, rare materials and arcane tools, but in theory a sufficiently dedicated Mage could design a new spell in a blasted cave in a desert. The only hard requirements are Sorcery skill, time, and a freedom from distractions. You cannot make a research roll in a cycle in which you were struggling to survive (see Survival rules), wounded, or in which you cannot dedicate at least half of each day to your work.

Although you do not require complex materials, costly tools, and assistants, you can certainly benefit from them, and will likely suffer if you have to do entirely without. Tools are the best help, giving you a bonus on every research roll in return for a large initial outlay. Library access does something similar, enabling you to consult other spells and research notes. Materials and Assistants give you a bonus on a single roll in return for a one-off Wealth or Status cost (make a normal Wealth or Status roll to get help). The following table summarises these effects.

Help Cost Effect
No Lab - -2 Research Skill
Basic Lab 6 (Wealth) -
Lavish Lab 11 (Wealth) +1 Research Skill
Lab Tools
No Lab tools - -4 Research Skill
Mundane Lab tools 8 (Wealth) +0 Research Skill
Basic Lab tools 14 (Wealth) +1 Research Skill
Rare Lab tools 17 (Wealth) +2 Research Skill
No Helper - -1 Research Skill / roll
Slave Helper 4 (Status) +0 Research Skill / roll
Wizard Helper 9 (Status) Research assist rating for 1 roll
Mage Helper Mage's Status Research assist rating for 1 roll
Basic Materials 8 (Wealth) +1 Research Skill for 1 roll
Rare Materials 10 (Wealth) +2 Research Skill for 1 roll
Wound Quality - Cannot research

With his design finalised Animus can begin work on his new masterpiece. Animus has Status 9 (he is a little bit of an outsider), and a Wealth of 6. He spends some time setting up a lab in which to work. A lavish lab is beyond him, but he aims for a basic one, needing to roll a 10 or less (Wealth 6 vs. Cost 6). He rolls a 9 and sets up a basic lab. Animus really wants some basic lab tools, but they are beyond his finances, without them he has to suffer a massive -4 penalty. Instead he spends a Treasure 2, and 1 Wealth level to try and get some mundane tools (tablets, quills, rock crystals). This gives him Wealth 10 vs. cost 8, requiring a roll of 12 or less. He succeeds and gets his basic equipment, though his Wealth drops to 5 afterwards. Luckily with Status 9 a Slave helper (cost 4 status) is easily affordable, so he makes sure he has a slave to do the heavy lifting in his lab. Animus ends up with a lab that has no bonuses or penalties.

Research Rolls

Research requires making multiple rolls of :

Intelligence + Academics / Sorcery resisted by Research Difficulty

You will normally make 1 roll each cycle. Apply the results as follows:

Critical Add 1 total success for each success, reduce Difficulty by 1
Pass Add 1 total success for each success
Fail You make no progress this cycle
Fail with multiple failures You make no progress this cycle, raise Difficulty by additional failures or accident
Fumble Project ruined, or accident

When you accumulate total successes equal to the spell's Research Difficulty, you have successfully invented it.

Animus begins his long-term work on his spell design. His Int + Academics / Research is 19, and his Research Difficulty is 16, so he needs to roll a 13 or less to succeed on his research rolls. After 1 cycle he rolls and scores a 10. This is a pass with 1 success so he accumulates 1 total success. He now requires only 15 more successes to complete his work.

Failures and Accidents

If you fail your Research roll then something has gone wrong. You make no progress towards your goal, and run the risk of ruining your project. A single failure merely indicates no progress, anything else indicates a serious problem. You may either raise the Difficulty of the project (which means you need more successes and are less likely to succeed on a subsequent roll) or suffer an accident. If you choose to raise the difficulty it means that some aspect of your understanding, or spell design, has proven to be seriously wrong. Your line of research is flawed, and the goal is harder than you anticipated. Repeated failures can end up in a design so unwieldy and mis-conceived that you might be better abandoning it and starting over.

If you choose to have an accident instead you take a significant risk. For each failure you absorb you must suffer one of the following effects:

You should decide exactly what form this accident takes, and can only suffer a plausible effect (i.e. if you are an outcast with no contacts you cannot lose Status, if you don't have any lab tools you cannot destroy one). Possible accidents include: a fire in your lab, an explosion, a channelling backlash, accidentally summoning a demon, damaging vital equipment, collapsing from exhaustion, contracting a fever from overwork, being condemned for your illicit experimentation.

Should you fumble a Research roll you are in dire straits. You either suffer a catastrophic accident or your entire design is ruined and you must start again at +2 Research Difficulty. A catastrophic accident requires you to suffer twice as many accident effects as you might otherwise be required to do.

After 3 further cycles (5 cycles since he decided to start on a spell), Animus has accumulated 3 total successes, and is moving slowly to completion. On the 4 cycle of Research he rolls a 19! This is a failure by 6, giving him two failures. Animus must choose whether to raise the Difficulty by 1, or suffer an accident. He decides to raise the Difficulty by 1.

The following cycle he rolls against a 17, requiring a 12 or less. Instead he rolls an 18, another failure by 6! Once again he has the choice of raising the Difficulty to suffering an accident. Animus doesn't want to give up on his line of research (raising the difficulty), and instead chooses to suffer an accident. Some possibilities include his Slave being killed, losing an attribute, status or wealth point, having his lab burn down, or taking a wound. Animus cannot afford to lose his lab (he can no longer afford to replace it), and does not wish to lose any attributes, so he chooses to suffer a wound. While attempting to perfect one part of the spell's pattern Animus accidentally half conjures his Darkspear, but impales himself with it as it manifests inside him!

Animus must put his project on hold until the hideous wound has healed (takes at least 2 cycles on top of the one he just wasted), and takes to his bed to recover.

Sucessful Spell Creation

Assuming the mage completes his research without accident, or abbandoning the project, he has a finished spell, recorded on tablets or in a spellbook. Once complete the spell can be taught to others as normal. If the spell ended up compromised, someone (the same Mage or a different one) can attempt to refine it by inventing a new version based on the current one.

The Orders of the Eternal Empire are suspicious of innovation and change. When a Mage embarks on Spell Research they will be viewed with distrust, and may find themselves shunned or avoided. If the Mage has duties it can be hard not to neglect them. Many a Mage has abbandoned Spell Research because of the condemnation of their peers rather than any failure of theory. Nevertheless if they do succeed then it is a very noteable achievement. Gain Status equal to the Rank of the Spell invented.