Friday, 5 April 2013

Noircana - magical signatures

This is a first contribution to the noircana project I posted about yesterday, a possible campaign toolkit that JD, Garrisonjames and I are talking about below this post at The Disoriented Ranger.

This system covers magical signatures for users of magic and sources of power in a landscape, for a sandboxy, oracular-dicey campaign.

Key elements are size, signature, generation and strength, for casters and sources.


The size of the caster community and/or landscape is shown with a die. The more faces this has, the larger the community/landscape is, e.g. a d6 if small, maybe d100 if large.

If the community or landscape changes in size, the die can be changed or the results for new areas modified, e.g. if a party enter a new region, signatures for that region may be the usual size +30. If this creates overlap, that could mean current or historical contact.



When a caster is created, found or implied, roll the size die once. The result represents the caster's magical signature, a kind of fingerprint left by that caster's magical ability.

This signature is left on surfaces, within materials and over areas affected when the caster uses magic and can be identified by a caster a) present when it is used, b) using a detection spell or similar in an appropriate place or c) in close proximity to the caster.

The closer the numbers of two casters, the more alike their signatures. To offer players a themed equivalent, the numbers can be interpreted numerologically, perhaps by adding together all of the digits in stages until the total is 10 or less and using this as a scale for casting quality, for mood, colour or pattern, or to obtain a letter for inspiration.

The further apart the levels of the casters, the less the lower level will be able to identify.

Any signature may also be given a strength, as described in the sources section below.


If two casters have the same number, roll again for each. The result is the signature for the caster's master for the ability used. If still the same, roll into the past until they differ.

The signature of the master is not left with that of the student, but a caster identifying a signature will know whether the master's is higher or lower, and by roughly how much.

For example, a caster uses a detection spell to check for magic at a murder scene. Magic was used so the GM rolls the size die, getting 39 for the signature (which adds to 12 (3+9), which adds to 3 (1+2)), with the GM assuming that the two casters are of similar levels. The GM reveals that the wound is magical and has a recognisable signature, and that the casting is rather coarse (3 being low on the 1-10 scale). When the party later visits a bar, three wizards are quaffing potions. Deliberately tripping, the caster moves close and the GM rolls for each: 12, 27 and 39. The GM feels the culprit would be in the area so declines to roll masters for the two 39s. They have their mage...

If any given signature is potentially that of a certain caster, the GM can roll 1d6: on a 5+ it is. If the party is presumably closing in on a caster, the GM might reduce the range of results, e.g. if the size die is 1d60 (1d6, 1d10) and the caster being pursued a 39, the GM might reduce the range by 10 for each step closer, rolling 1d50+5, then 1d40+10 etc.

Older casters or traces of magic use may originate any number of generations back at the discretion of the GM, and possibly a number proportionate to a roll of the size die.


Each source of power in the world also has signature determined by rolling the size die.

It leaves this signature strongly within material created from it and weakly within material located nearby. The GM may set a value for a) the strength imparted to a created material, b) the strength imparted to a material nearby per unit of time and c) the unit of time. For additional complexity the GM may vary strength over time based on proximity.

If a material is linked with more than one source, it is marked with the signature of each.

The status of a material at any time can be noted in the form sig.1(str.1), sig.2(str.2) ..., and each signature is a fraction of the full material history to be found by dividing each strength by the total strength, for sig.1 as str.1/(str.1+2), for sig.2 as str.2/(sig.1+2) etc.

A caster using a detection spell discerns fractions of a history equal to 1/level or larger, e.g. a third level caster can detect any fraction larger than 1/3, a tenth level any fraction larger than 1/10. The GM can and probably should round fractions up or down for speed.

For example, a great artifact is forged at a magical wellspring (signature 42, strength 5) and transported almost immediately to its owner. While on a quest for a mythical portal to another world (signature 7, strength 1 per century) the owner is killed on the cusp of discovery. Just over 1,000 years (10 centuries = strength 10), a party of adventurers stumble upon the remains. The artifact is now 42(5), 7(10), i.e. strength 15, so the discernable fraction for 42 is 5/15 = 1/3, for 7 is 10/15 = 2/3. A first level caster (1/1) senses only the portal signature, but a third level (1/3) or higher the origin signature too.

This information can be found randomly by using a number proportionate to the result on the size die for number of signatures and strength of signature, or more simple 1d3 for number and 1d20 for each strength. The first signature can be taken as the origin and the GM can determine later how long the material was near each additional source.

A material may also be given the signature of the caster(s) who created it and/or used it for some time. One item may be given individual signatures for each major component.

It looks complex, but the core ideas are fairly basic and you can pick the mechanisms you actually want to use. Better yet, you can adapt or rework it all to fit your campaign.

If you notice any glaring errors or have any suggestions for improvement, feel free to say.

As more tools in the series are posted at the other blogs, I might revise bits and pieces, to integrate it better with the rest of the kit and create a more cohesive and more useful whole. If you want to get involved as well you're more than welcome. Go ahead and post.


Jens D. said...

Very nice! Mine will be up in a couple of minutes and I think it fits (size could correspond with region level...).

Porky said...

For everyone following, JD's post is here and it's inspirational, full of ideas.