Advanced Philsys theory
Advanced Philsys theory is the idea behind digging into the guts of Philsys and knowing exactly how it works in order to create new things with it. GMs and players alike benefit greatly from understanding Philsys; players need to know how Philsys works in order to create customized abilities for their characters. It often takes a great deal of time, experience, and research to become familiar with these aspects of Philsys.
When complete, this article should be a guide that makes that process easier by providing clear benchmarks and a good look at the internal mechanics of the system.
In order for GMs or players to create customized abilities for characters, there need to exist a set of benchmarks that allow them to judge the relative power of the abilities in question. A set of benchmarks is designed to provide a list of points on a scale that can be used to approximate the power of a spell or ability. A player can theoretically look at the list, decide where a new ability will fall, and arbitrate a rank accordingly.
In Philsys magic, the minimum rank required to learn a spell roughly governs its power. Higher-ranked spells have greater effects.
- Ranks 1-5 produce minor effects.
- Ranks 6-11 produce moderate effects.
- Ranks 12-17 produce major effects.
- Ranks 18-25 produce incredible effects.
- Ranks 26-32 produce insanely incredible effects.
The terms "minor," "moderate" and so forth are intentionally vague. They divide magic into five categories of relative power. In the context of relative strengths, some numbers can be attached to the categories:
- Minor means +2.
- Moderate means +4.
- Major means +6.
- Incredible means +10.
- Insanely incredible means +20.
These numbers can be seen as ratios, but this is not necessarily true. A moderate spell is not necessarily twice as powerful as a minor one, and a major spell is not necessarily three times as powerful, but this is not a bad guideline. When spells apply general bonuses or penalties to all rolls or skills, these guidelines provide approximate appropriate numbers; a minor spell, for example, might be able to grant a +2 bonus to all rolls and checks of any type.
The next set of bullets is basically a lot of math that compares the effectiveness of spells at different ranks using the spells from the Philsys spellbook as examples.
- Minor elemental spells cost 4-8 MP, average 6.
- Minor elemental spell average damage (when learned at 1): 13 (2.2 dmg/MP)
- Minor elemental spell average damage (at minor cap 5): 21 (3.5 dmg/MP)
- Minor elemental spell average damage (at moderate cap 11): 33 (5.5 dmg/MP)
- Moderate elemental spells cost 12-16 MP, average 14.
- Moderate elemental spell average damage (when learned at 4): 37 (2.6 dmg/MP)
- Moderate elemental spell average damage (at minor cap 5): 42 (3 dmg/MP)
- Moderate elemental spell average damage (at moderate cap 11): 65 (4.6 dmg/MP)
- Major elemental spells cost 30-34 MP, average 32.
- Major elemental spell average damage (when learned at 12): 102 (3.2 dmg/MP)
- Major elemental spell average damage (at major cap 17): 132 (4.1 dmg/MP)
This is really just spellbook stuff, but the math supports the spellbook's numbers to a great extent. These are good damage benchmarks. Damage-over-time spells should be more MP efficient or more damaging to compensate for slower action (this applies to healing-over-time too):
- [Malediction=1]Poison (6 MP) - Level 3 poison (6d6 total damage, average 21, 3.5 dmg/MP).
- [Malediction=4]Poison 2 (12 MP) - Level 5 poison (15d6 total damage, average 53, 4.4 dmg/MP).
- [Malediction=6]Poison 3 (20 MP) - Level 7 poison (28d6 total damage, average 98, 4.9 dmg/MP).
- [Malediction=12]Poison 4 (32 MP) - Level 10 poison (55d6 total damage, average 192, 6 dmg/MP).
- [Element=1]Element 1 (4 MP) - Generic single target elemental attack. 8+rank*2+1d6 damage.
- [Element=4]Element 2 (12 MP) - Generic single target elemental attack. 14+rank*4+2d6 damage.
- [Element=12]Element 3 (32 MP) - Generic single target elemental attack. 20+rank*6+3d6 damage.
- [Element=4]Area Element (29 MP) - Generic multi-target elemental attack. Affects a small area or a limited number of targets. 10+rank*2+3d6 damage.
- [Element=8]Area Element 2 (54 MP) - Generic multi-target elemental attack. Affects a medium-sized area or a greater number of targets. 16+rank*4+2d6 damage.
- [Element=16]Area Element 3 (76 MP) - Generic multi-target elemental attack. Affects a large area or a very large number of targets. 22+rank*6+2d6 damage.
The "Element" spells listed above can be any basic element; fire, water, holy, astral, whatever. This is a suggested list of costs and damages. This is not always exactly what the spell's damages will look like, and it is suggested that for the sake of variety that players and GMs modify the damages slightly. For example, Element 1 could deal 4+rank*2+2d6 and it would still deal about the same amount of damage. Do some math if necessary and determine what is statistically fair. Spells that are more random (more dice or larger dice and a lower base damage) can cost slightly less if they do not do as much damage on average.
Some characters, especially older ones, have Element 2 spells with a rank*6 multiplier in the damage formula and Element 3 spells with rank*8. It is suggested that the rank multipliers listed above be considered more appropriate averages. At some point, many of these characters should probably change their multipliers, but this is really only necessary if the average spell damage is radically higher than it should be. Again, this requires some math on the part of the player or the GM.
Sample "Generic Spells"
- [Enhancement=1-5]Improve (8+(rank-1) MP) - Increases a minor physical substat by rank. Includes AT, PA, attack damage, missile evasion, or AC. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 2 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank).
- [Enhancement=6-8]Greater Improve (10+(rank-1) MP) - Increases a minor magical substat by rank. Includes MATK and MDEF. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 4 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank)
- [Enhancement=7-12]Capacity Improve (12+(rank-2) MP) - Increases a primary stat by 1/3 of rank, rounded down. Includes COU, WIS, INT, CHA, AGI, DEX, STR, and STA. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 6 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank)
- [Malediction=1-5]Cripple (8+(rank-1) MP) - Decrease a minor physical substat by rank or apply a minor general penalty of -2. Includes AT, PA, attack damage, missile evasion, or AC. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 2 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank). Effect can be increased up to 2x by quartering the duration.
- [Malediction=6-8]Greater Cripple (10+(rank-1) MP) - Decreases a minor magical substat by rank or apply a harsh general penalty of -4. Includes MATK and MDEF. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 4 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank) Effect can be increased up to 2x by quartering the duration.
- [Malediction=7-12]Capacity Cripple (12+(rank-2) MP) - Decreases a primary stat by 1/3 of rank, rounded down, or apply a serious general penalty of -6. Includes COU, WIS, INT, CHA, AGI, DEX, STR, and STA. Learn one skill per rank. Cost is determined by rank. Duration negotiable (add 6 MP to cost for every round on average the spell will last than rank). Effect can be increased up to 2x by quartering the duration.
These generic benediction and malediction spells require some explanation. The basic principle is that the character will learn to affect one attribute with each rank. For example, at rank 1, a character might learn an AT decreasing spell. At rank 2, they will learn the PA decreasing spell, and at rank 3 they will choose to learn the AC decreasing spell. The cost of of each spell can increase slightly with rank just for effect as opposed to having them all cost the same exact amount.
Whenever the generic formulas refer to rank, they mean the prerequisite rank required to learn the spell.
If a spell of rank 6 were to affect some attribute that was affectable by a rank 1 spell (say AT), it should be more effective somehow.
- [Creation=1-5]Call/Create Minor Object (6+(rank) MP) - Calls a relatively minor possession belonging to the caster to his location or creates a simple object.
- [Creation=8]Create Significant Object (20 MP) - Creates some sort of magical object with a minor enhancement.
- [Creation=12]Create Amazing Object (48 MP) - Creates some sort of very complex or impressive object or a magical object with a moderate enhancement.
- [Creation=18]Create Incredible Object (72 MP) - Creates an incredibly complex object or a magical object with a major enhancement.
- [Creation=26]Create Absurdly Powerful Object (168 MP) - Creates an artifact object. Truly powerful artifact objects will require a ritual.
These are summon spells that create objects of some nature. It is not required that a character have separate summon magic skills to create objects and creatures despite the fact that the skills used in these examples have different names.
Minor objects can be just about anything simple and non-magical. A spell should usually be limited to a certain set of objects, for example, a spell that creates any desired type of weapon, a spell that creates a set of clothing, or a spell that creates food. One spell should not be able to achieve all three effects unless the objects are possessions of the caster that are being summoned to him after being specially prepared as "summonable objects" (which would count as a limited set of objects).
Significant objects can be magical weapons or armor or more complicated things. While a minor spell might create a mortar and pestle, a significant summoning might create a coffee grinder (which has interlocking mechanical parts that must be arranged in a specific way). A weapon or armor should follow the rules for a moderate effect and have an overall bonus no more than +4. For example, it could call a weapon that grants a +2/+2 AT/PA bonus (a minor bonus to damage, say +2-4 as well, is fine in addition).
An amazing object will be quite impressive indeed. Creating a working grandfather clock would be an example (the caster would need to have a vague idea as to what a grandfather clock was like on the inside). Magical gear will have an overall bonus around +6, maybe as high as +8 on the higher end (rank 15-17).
Incredible objects can be just about anything the caster desires as long as he can clearly picture it. As with lower-ranked spells, the spell should be specific (summon arcane automobile, for example). Magical equipment should have an overall bonus around +10, maybe as high as +14-16 on higher-ranked spells just before the insanely incredible benchmark.
What constitutes an absurdly powerful object? While characters should never be able to conjure an artifact on the spot without some sort of incredibly long ritual, the sky is the limit to a great extent. This is the type of spell that aged wizards spend decades thinking about and imaginging the potential of; almost no one can cast them, so no one really knows what a spell of this calibur can do.
- [Summon=4]Summon Minor Creature (35 MP) - Calls a creature that is roughly as powerful as a 1st level character, but that is less versatile and usually not a spellcaster. Average HP 50. Base AT/PA average of 12/12. Base missile evasion of 16. Base MBlock of 16. Base damage average of 14+1d6 for a light attack. Base AC of 8. Spellcasting minor creatures will have a base MATK of 14, ranks capped at 1.
- [Summon=8]Summon Moderate Creature (50 MP) - Calls a creature that is roughly as powerful as a 3rd level character, but that is less versatile and usually not a spellcaster. Average HP 65. Base AT/PA average of 16/16. Base missile evasion of 18. Base MBlock of 18. Base average damage of 20+1d6 for a light attack. Base AC of 12. Spellcasting minor creatures will have a base MATK of 16, ranks capped at 4.
- [Summon=14]Summon Major Creature (72 MP) - Calls a creature that is roughly as powerful as a 5th level character, but that is less versatile. Average HP 80. Base AT/PA average of 18/18. Base missile evasion of 20. Base MBlock of 20. Base damage average of 26+1d6 for a light attack. Base AC of 16. Spellcasting minor creatures will have a base MATK of 18, ranks capped at 8.
- [Summon=20]Summon Incredible Creature - Calls a creature that is roughly as powerful as a 7th level character, but that is less versatile. Average HP 100. Base AT/PA average of 20/20. Base missile evasion of 22. Base MBlock of 22. Base damage average of 30+1d6 for a light attack. Base AC of 20. Spellcasting minor creatures will have a base MATK of 20, ranks capped at 12.
Creature summon spells are separate from Final Fantasy-esque "Spirit Summoning" spells that create a creature that deals damage for one or several rounds before departing. The damage of these spells should be compared to Elemental rank in terms of effectiveness and adjusted accordingly--they require ranks in more than one skill in most cases, and they also often deal their damage over time. This will usually mean increased effectiveness over equivalent Elemental spells (damage, duration, side-effects) for the same cost.
The spells in this list, rather, are used for spells that create semi-permanent creatures that have "real stats" like a PC or NPC. Creature summoning spells are not intended to use the average values for all of their statistics. Like player characters, some are intended to be higher and others are intended to be lower. A spellcaster summon should have higher casting stats than AT/PA, for example. The AT/PA and damage assume that the summon is not wielding a weapon. If the summon is wielding a weapon, the effective rank is capped as normal for the level, and damage should be calculated as normal for an armed character. Magic skill caps are intentionally reduced because of the power of such spells; being able to summon creatures that summon other creatures, for example, would be ridiculously powerful in most cases. If more than one creature is summoned at a time by a single casting of a spell, the resulting creatures should be weaker than a single creature would be.
Creating abbreviated stat blocks or NPC sheets for summoned creatures is an excellent way to condense relevant information.
Derivation of Benchmarks
The benchmarks of 1, 4, 12, 18, and 26 didn't just come out of nowhere. The first benchmark ever was the basic resurrection spell, which is placed at rank 18 in the spellbook.
- [Healing=12]Revivification (50 MP) - Resurrects a person that has only been dead for up to rank minutes, assuming that their body is repairable.
- [Healing=18]Resurrection (120 MP, 20 TP) - Revives a deceased person from the dead. The person must be willing to be revived, must not have died as a result of incurable diseases or old age, and the majority of the body needs to be largely intact--a person may be revived if missing limbs, but those limbs will obviously be missing after resurrection. Deceased characters must be revived within 48 hours in order to preserve the character's prior memories and skills. A resurrection ritual involves reshaping and calling the aura of the deceased back into its prior state of organization, and a standard resurrection ritual requires either (4+1d6) - (any modifiers in Ritual, Astral or Resurrection Magic that would logically benefit the caster) hours, of which must be a minimum of 2 hours regardless, or some other GM determined time period. If the character cannot be revived within this time period, it is still possible to animate the corpse, creating a zombie with the assistance of death magic through any number of processes. A zombie has none of the skills or abilities it had in life, but retains all physical statistics except INT and WIS.
- [Healing=30]Absolute Resurrection (# MP) - Resurrects a person without need for their body or a destroyed undead creature as the creature they were in life. Resurrection window is extended to rank days.
By deciding that resurrection of a person from the deceased is an "incredible effect" that should be difficult if not impossible without great dedication to the healing arts, and by creating a table of what maximum rank (with maximum dedication) is possible at what level, deriving benchmarks became possible.
Math as Evidence
The first table on the right is just a list of skill caps by level. This assumes that the character has a rank of 4 at 1st level and then puts the maximum 2 skill points per level up into that skill at every level, making them a true "expert." In order to achieve a rank of 36, the character must have +10 in all three base attributes, so to do so is quite a feat (if not impossible for most characters). Magical skills cap at 32 because the maximum for MAG is 6; therefore, the maximum base attribute sum is 26.
Increasing INT and WIS does not grant retroactive MP bonuses, but increasing MAG does, if applicable. "Average" casting stats for a PC caster are assumed to be INT +4, WIS +4, and MAG 5 at 1st level, which intentionally weights them low. The average caster will gain about 5 MP per level for most of his career. The most MP he can possibly gain at levelup is 12, which requires INT +10, MAG 6, and a roll of 4 (8+1d4 MP/level at this point). It is as such safe to assume an average MP gain of 5 per level and a base MP of 70. A very focused mage with high casting stats will have more, but not that much more (+10-20 MP).
If the levels chosen for the MP table seem arbitrary, it is because they are, but the general idea is to get an idea of average MP around each rank cap benchmark of 1, 6, 12, 18, and 26 to assist in determining appropriate spell MP costs. Resurrection is a good example of a ritual spell because its MP cost is such that many wizards will have to burn some HP casting it or need assistance. There are currently no generalized rules for mages working in concert to cast a ritual spell, but that should be corrected soon.
Putting it All Together
The general trend is that destruction should be easier than creation. An elemental attack burst is still only a major effect even at third tier because it is just a bigger fireball. Elemental damage caps are such that a PC can incapacitate an average person at rank 11 without a critical hit. At rank 12, killing an average person (or even a very tough person, STA +5 or so) is easy with a little effort. Lower cost damage spells are more slightly more MP-efficient, but they work more slowly, because a character normally only gets one spell off each round. Opponents also have multiple chances to resist multiple smaller spells, so a big spell that blows the target away in a single blast is usually preferable unless the caster needs to conserve MP.
Even instant-death spells should be at most high-tiered major spell effects. To undo life is very easy--to create it or repair it is more difficult. An instant-death spell that affects a very wide variety of creatures (such as celestials and demons, the most poweful of whom are presumably immune to many things that would kill a normal human) might breach the incredible threshold with appropriate justification.
PCs can gain access to "emergency" resurrection spells at the earliest at level 5, resurrection spells at level 8, and very powerful resurrection spells at level 14. This is not an excuse to kill off PCs at random in most cases, but it gives them a chance to survive a botched encounter if someone is a healer and the party is prepared. A GM should be aware of whether or not his party of PCs contains a character that is good at healing other characters when designing foes.
At the time of writing, no PCs in existence has access to incredible effects. Major effects are considered to be very powerful spellcasting in general, but not impossible to achieve by a dedicated wizard. Incredible effects demonstrate true mastery of an art (i.e., bringing someone back from the dead is far beyond the capacity of most casters unless they dedicate themselves to the healing art fully). Insanely incredible effects demonstrate power beyond that of most mortals. A rank 30 effect is effortless for a deity, but would require incredible expenditure of power by a mortal. Insanely incredible effects are generally considered to be only theoretical and are the kinds of things Gunnir Archmagi write long speculative essays about (the creation process of artifacts, returning an undead creature to its former life weeks after its animation, the summoning and binding of demons at least as skilled at magic as they are, raising an enormous pile of plush pink rabbits out of the Val'Ri Sea to create a small artifical island of stuffed animals, etc.) Some insanely incredible effects might be achievable at lower ranks through ritual magic requiring days, weeks, months, or years and adequate arcane assistance from followers or other aides.
The big point is the minor, moderate, major, incredible, insanely incredible benchmarking system. By splitting magical effects up into these five categories, we effectively establish rough but better defined guidelines. If you are familiar with White Wolf's system and its spheres for Mage: the Ascension, this system makes sense--essentially, the player is given a couple benchmarks and you're left to figure out what falls between them.
The most important benchmark, I decided, is the Resurrection spell. Bringing someone back from the dead is definitely classified as incredible, which is why the cutoff is rank 18. This is both a suitably hard to reach rank and an appropriate benchmark for most magical skills. Essentially, even the most powerful of basic area-effect elemental spells is only going to be a "major" effect--it takes a lot of energy and effort to blow up an entire room with damaging fire, but it doesn't really do anything that's more spectacular, reality-bending, or impossible than a smaller fireball.
Simple Standardized Techs
These are basic benchmarks that can be used for a few weapon or metamagic techs. Obviously, more complicated techs will be more difficult to devise, but these are a few good basic examples.
- [Light Weapon Skill=2]Precise Striking (2 TP) - Uses DEX to determine weapon damage bonuses instead of STR and eliminates all penalties to hit other than those caused by magical debuffs for one round. Heavy attacks are impossible when using Precise Striking.
- [Light Weapon Skill=4]Dextrous Striking (2 TP) - Adds DEX to AT a second time for one round.
- [Light Weapon Skill=6]Rapid Striking (3 TP) - Allows one additional attack (of any type) this round.
- [Standard Weapon Skill=2]Defender's Stance (1 TP) - Adds weapon skill rank to all PA rolls made this round. Even if no parry roll is allowed, half of the users's weapon skill rank is added to his PA for the remainder of the round. This tech cannot be combined with any other offensive tech, and the user forfeits any bonus attacks (but may use them, instead, as bonus parries).
- [Standard Weapon Skill=6]Full Attack (4 TP) - Allows one additional attack (of any type) this round.
- [Heavy Weapon Skill=4]Devastating Blow (2 TP) - As a heavy attack, but damage is multiplied by 1.5x. If the attack misses, the user loses his one of his parry rolls for the round.
- [Heavy Weapon Skill=6]Follow-through (5 TP) - Allows one additional attack (of any type) this round.
- [Ranged Weapon Skill=2]Aim (2 TP) - The user spends his turn aiming, trying to get a more precise bead on the target. Adds a +5 bonus to one ranged weapon attack next round.
- [Ranged Weapon Skill=6]Multishot (4 TP) - Allows one additional attack this round, unless the wielder's weapon would ordinarily take more than one round to reload.
- [Ritual Magic=4] Collaboration (X MP/TP) - If a caster doesn't want to pay the full MP/TP cost of a spell (either from preference or need), he can enlist other mages who will split the MP cost with him, usually equally but not necessarily. For the purposes of damage or MATK, roll using the stats of the caster with the highest total ritual or relevant magic-school rank. Other casters are essentially functioning as MP batteries/conductors for the more skilled ritualist. Casting time is equal to (MP cost*) - (the leader's ritual ranks) in hours.
- *MP cost paid by a single mage. If the MP is not being shared equally, then pick the highest cost a single mage is paying.
Applied Magical Theory is a [k] skill. Aside from its other potential uses (such as making checks to deduce or understand strange arcane phenomena), it can serve as the prerequisite skill for "meta-magic" spell modification techs. It is not the only skill that can serve as a prerequisite for these sorts of techs, and some more powerful meta-magic may require points in an additional skill as justification for the tech.
- [Magical Theory=4]Charge Spell (5 TP) - Holds and empowers a spell for a turn, doubling damage when the spell is finally cast on the caster's next turn.
- [Magical Theory=4]Focused Spell (3 TP) - Allows the casting of a spell through sheer force of will without any indication the caster is doing it, even if he is unable to speak or move, but the spell's rank prerequisites must not exceed his Applied Magical Theory rank. Unless observers succeed at an opposed check (observer's MAG*3+d20 vs. caster's rank+WIS*3+d20), it is impossible to discern who cast the spell, though depending on the circumstances, the caster may be suspect. Useful for pulling pranks.
- [Magical Theory=6]Spell Penetration (2 TP) - Adds a bonus of rank/2 to a spellcasting roll.
- [Magical Theory=8]Quicken Spell (6 TP) - Allows the caster to cast a spell as a free action--the cost of this ability is added to the cost of the spell. Only one extra spell per round may be cast in this way.
- [Magical Theory=12]Contingent Spell (6 TP) - Imbues a target with a latent spell effect. The MP cost of the spell is spent at the time of casting. The imbued spell's effect does not occur until a pre-determined trigger condition is met. Some example trigger conditions might include: When this object breaks, when a certain person is wounded, when this object is touched by a person that is not the caster, etc. When the condition is met, the spell is cast. The targets for the spell are determined when the condition is set; if no valid target that meets the specified criteria is available, then the spell fizzles. A caster may maintain a maximum of one contingent spell at a time per six ranks, and a contingent spell's maximum duration is rank/2 days; if the conditions are not met by this time, the spell is lost.