You can’t make things right by magic. You can only stop making them wrong.
—Granny Weatherwax, in Witches Abroad by Sir Terry Pratchett
Of course, the main characters are also magicians. That means that they will cast spells.
Magic is wild, natural, romantic, and English.
There are two great laws to magic: first, it cannot create something out of nothing. Second, it cannot hold something inherently protean in place. While you can change the shape of a fairy or the quality of an emotion with magic, it will twist and bend out of any magician’s grasp, and be what it was before the spell even finishes.
Spells, arts and tiers§
Every spell is part of an art, and every spell is either the apprentice, journeyman, or master expression of that art. Before you can learn the master tier, you must learn the journeyman. Before you can learn the journeyman, you must learn the apprentice. At the start of the game, you know two arts at the apprentice level.
For details on the arts and spells, see Appendix: Spells.
To cast a spell requires the use of magical tools. There are fifty-two magical tools available to English magicians, each with their own risks and each with their own effects on the spell cast.
You may use any number of magical tools to cast a spell, but only a few of them will have a material effect; the rest are florilegia, ornaments to disguise the essence of the spell-casting. An apprentice spell will require two tools, a journeyman three, and a master four.
Magical tools strengthen the spell in various ways. Each tool offers a few effects, but when you cast a spell, you must choose which effect you’re aiming for.
The effects are:
- Carefully: side-effects, costs, and unintended consequences will be minimized.
- Cleverly: anyone who tries to understand, unwork, or extend the spell will have a more difficult time of it.
- Impressively: anyone who sees the spell or its effects will be struck by the magician’s power.
- Powerfully: the spell will overcome barriers and obstacles easily.
- Precisely: the spell will affect only what the magician intends.
- Safely: the spell’s costs will be minimized.
- Subtly: anyone who works to detect or trace the spell will have a hard time of it.
- Swiftly: the spell will go from notion to reality rapidly, and when done will vanish just as quickly.
- Thoroughly: the spell will affect everything the magician intends it to.
Having selected a spell to cast from those you know, you should select the two, three, or four magical tools you will use to cast the spell. The Host will put down cards for those tools, and some related outcomes. Always at least “magical corruption”, and possibly one or two others, like “uncover magical secrets” or “suffer an injury”. If you are casting a master-level spell, the Host will also choose an outcome from among the masterwork spell outcomes: death magic, transgressive magic, treacherous magic, ancient magic, harsh magic, feral magic.
Draw one card per tool and outcome in front of you, plus one because you are a magician. If there is a fairy present, you can bargain away anything you like for an additional one to three cards. Once you have drawn all the cards you will, you may look at them, and assign them to tools and outcomes.
For a tool, a face card means you get all the effect, and none of the risk. A 6 to 10 means you get both the effect, and the risk. An ace to 5 means you get the risk, but not the effect (though you still have cast the spell, and get the effect of the spell).
The Host will interpret the risks that have come to pass, and describe the side-effects of casting the spell, and you and the Host will describe together how the spell works.
Take all the cards you’ve assigned and remove them from the deck for the remainder of the session. Shuffle the unassigned cards back in to the deck.
Miss Bellamy intends to cast a spell. She hopes to sneak out at night to the militia encampment, and get a sense of the soldiers’ life, and maybe find a way that she could become a soldier herself; she dreams of military valour, after all. This is dangerous on so many fronts: she might be found by her guardians, the sentries at the camp, or footpads on the road at night. So she prepares by casting the apprentice spell of Clarity, a spell to alert one of present danger.
As it is an apprentice spell, it requires two tools. She wishes to cast it precisely, because there are so many dangers that a constant buzz in her head warning her of danger is hardly useful, and thoroughly, as she does not want anything to pass below its notice. She considers the tools available to her, and settles on braids or knots, and rowan.
She begins the ritual at sundown, as it will last until sunup. She retreats to her bedroom, having gathered some rowan twigs that afternoon. She sings an ancient song her father taught her, and traps the words in the braids she makes in her hair, winding them around the rowan twigs. The result is less than fashionable, but as the intent is to help her pass unnoticed, that shouldn’t matter.
Now, there are two tools and one outcome to assign cards to: braids, rowan, and magical corruption. The Host considers whether any other outcomes are appropriate, and decides not. Miss Bellamy draws one card per outcome and tool, plus one as she is a magician: Queen of hearts, four of hearts, eight of diamonds, ten of spades.
She hesitates: any cards she uses will be removed from the deck for the remainder of the session. So perhaps it’s worth taking some blows for the good of all? No. This is too important. She opts to put the Queen of hearts on rowan, getting the effect thoroughly as she intended, the ten of spades on braids, getting both a precise effect, and a risk that the Host will interpret, and finally the eight of diamonds on magical corruption: she will take a mark for the remainder of the session.
The Host considers: when braids or knots go wrong, it can lead to any of discord, entrapment, lies. “Entrapment” could be interesting: just because she can tell when danger is coming and prepare, does not mean that there will be a way out past that danger. That’s it: “You feel the tingling on your scalp that tells you when danger is near, and you veer from it, but every step towards the encampment makes you feel that, while you are not in danger, the labyrinthine path to avoid it gets more tangled. By the time you can see the sentries, you know that there may be no turning back safely.”
Meanwhile, Miss Bellamy has also chosen a mark: “You develop a constant sensation of being watched.” Even once the spell has ended, the feeling of impending doom will linger.