Friday, March 18, 2016


Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a very good novel that you should read. I have been wanting to run a game based on it (Austen pastiche in moody Napoleonic-era Britain; wicked fairies, whimsical magicians, intrigue, kidnapping, murder) for quite some time; my setting Pernicious Albion is me turning it into a D&D game. I have been wanting to run something more true to form, but it's a bit tough. Magicians operate in quite a different scale than most people; one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a footnote where the author tells us Spain considered demanding reparations for one of the main characters after he rearranged a fair chunk of its geography.

Ars Magica and Fate are obvious solutions, but I'm not too hot on actually running them. This is a bullshit hack, but its starts to get at the feel I'm going for.

Character Creation
Make a 5th edition character. Pick human as the race, and do not pick a class. You are all Magicians.

Magicians start with 10d6 Magic dice. This represents the strength of their sorcery. They can temporarily lose Magic dice through exertion, but they can never have more than their maximum.

Magicians do not have a set list of spells. Each time they cast one, they determine what it does by assigning dice to its Duration, Range, Area Of Effect, and Intensity. Each category must have at least one dice, and can have up to 5. The total number of dice assigned to a spell cannot exceed a magician's current Magic dice.

Once a magician has determined a spell's effects, they roll all of the assigned dice.
  • When a dice comes up 6, the magician removes it from their pool of Magic dice until they take a long rest.
  • If a number of dice greater than a magician's level come up 1, the spell is a botch. Something happens, and it is related to the spell's effect, but only incidental to what the magician wanted to happen.
Casting a spell does not expend Magic dice unless they come up a 6. Unless the spell is a botch, the spell always works, even if the magician loses or runs out of dice.

The following charts state how many dice a magician must assign to a given category in order to achieve a given effect. All spells use the same Duration, Range, and Area Of Effect Tables, but no two spells use the same Intensity table.

Most of the tables are self explanatory. Area Of Effect details the size of the area effected around the actual spell. Intensity (each Intensity table is listed with each spell) details the greatest creature, object, or concept that can be affected by the spell. If a magician has an Area Of Effect that encompasses an entire city but an Intensity of "a torchfire" when casting the spell It Burns, they could put out every candle in town. If Intensity ever seems to encroach on Area of Effect, just use whichever the magician has placed more dice in.

1d6 A moment
2d6 A day
3d6 A week
4d6 A month
5d6 A year and a day
1d6 an arm's span
2d6 a stone's throw
3d6 shouting distance
4d6 within sight
5d6 out beyond the horizon
1d6 all within an arm's span
2d6 all within the range of a thrown stone
3d6 all within shouting distance
4d6 all within sight
5d6 all to out beyond the horizon

There are, of course, far more spells than this. Magicians start with 3.

Utterance of Black Feathers
Allows a magician to perform feats of manipulation, transformation, summoning, and destruction pertaining to crows.
1d6 one crow
2d6 thirteen crows
3d6 a murder of crows
4d6 crows to cover a field
5d6 crows to blacken the sky
Breath of the Holy Earth
Allows a magician to call forth, direct, and banish wind. (+Alex Chalk gets credit for this one)
1d6 a draft
2d6 a breeze
3d6 a gust
4d6 a gale
5d6 a whirlwind
It Burns
Allows a magician to enkindle, throw, extinguish, shape, and otherwise manipulate flame.
1d6 a torchfire
2d6 a campfire
3d6 a bonfire
4d6 a funeral pyre
5d6 a housefire
Fingers of Night
Allows a magician to create, shape, and banish darkness

1d6 a shadow like that of a passing cloud
2d6 the gloom of a thick forest
3d6 night, just as the last of the sun is leaving the sky
4d6 a moonless night
5d6 a darkness heavy enough to be felt
Greatest Folly
Allows a magician to ignite, strengthen, diminish, and twist feelings of affection.

1d6 Delight
2d6 Friendship
3d6 Infatuation
4d6 Craven Obsession
5d6 Love

Really should put up a setting sketch, but I'm tired and don't feel very good so eh. Tomorrow maybe. Here's some pictures of magicians.

the Lackaday Twins (not actual title, by John Singer Sargent)

John Pharoah, Ursurper to the Northern Throne (not actual title, from El Shaddai)

Lord Umberlin of  the Bells (not actual title, from etrian odyssey)
Claude the Gaul, wanted in 10 counties for violating the course of history (from Persona 5, not actual title)


  1. I think this gets the shape of it pretty well. JS&MrN is so atmospheric that a storygame/Dungeon World approach would probably fit it best but I also am not too keen on actually playing that way.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. After reading the book I thought it would mash up with the movie Brotherhood of the Wolves. This way a few musketeers could be enlisted. Arcane powers would be sourced from the faerie of Tintagel, tarot minor arcana, and perhaps New World mystics (druids). Put on the crazy backburner ;)