Much like with the Dresden Files RPG, I’m loving the experience of toying with the magic system in TtB. I’m glad I’ve started stretching and tweaking it, too, because it’s shown me some areas that need touching up, and some areas that need watching, and some opportunities for exploration that my Fated might not have noticed on their own. That last point is particularly the case, since Fated come into their magic in a much more limited fashion; we’re seeing this right now with our “spelliest” character, Worm, not having access to any magic as he’s yet to secure a grimoire.
One thing that I initially attempted when building spells was the creation of big “combo” style effects. However, after working my way through samples from various canons, I recognized that the TtB system isn’t really intended to achieve that. Players get a base of 2AP, plus the 0 action, to spend relatively unopposed. Because spells can cost anywhere from 0-4AP (you’d only be spending 4 if you were a Casting Expert with Fast, but it’s still theoretically a possibility), a player can build combos on her own simply by how she meters her actions. So where I initially wanted to build spells that let a player teleport to a target and swing as one action, I eventually recognized that’s a seamlessness that would come from the description of multiple AP being spent in unison. This differs from something like DnD, where spells generally occupy the character’s entire action. TtB allows a character to tug someone into melee range with one spell (maybe Elemental Projectile with the Wind Immuto three times) and then hammer them with a vicious attack (say, Disassemble Creation Unchained to affect Living targets). With the Wind Immuto, that attack could actually shove the target back out of melee range. Visually, that whole effect might resemble something out of the recent X-Men: Age of Apocalypse. The character hooks her fingers in front of her, and a target is borne towards her on a shredding carpet of dust and wind. Then the character thrusts forward with one hand, a stream of dust and dissolution pouring from her palm to scour the target and send him sprawling backwards.
This approach is made even easier through the profusion of Immuto that reduce the efficacy of a particular Magia. If the intention of a spell is to drag someone into melee range, then you can pay for quite a few levels of the Wind Magia with Reduce Severity and Reduce Damage. The way they’re worded, I think you want both—Reduce Severity explicitly states that effects only occurring when the target is damaged still occur, even though the rest of the Immuto is written to address flat damage spells. Reduce Damage then lets you peel the damage down a step, to 0/0/1, for a -4TN spell that won’t inflict any significant injury on its target, but is ready to receive 4 yards of pushes from Wind Immuto without altering the initial casting value. After playing with it a bit, I may decide to just add Reduce Severity’s language to Reduce Damage, making it so that Immuto can let a Magia still inflict effects without damage; I could also see making a TN increasing Immuto that bakes the additional effects of other Immuto into the successful attack of a spell, rather than damage. It needs playtesting to see what feels right.
Straight damage spells are also extremely potent; I built an example spell using the Touch of the Grave Magia with Increased Severity to create a spell that deals 4 damage each hit, with a stacking +1 to damage taken each time it lands. To keep the TN at a reasonable level, I bumped the spell up to a 2AP cast and dropped it to range 1, but a spell-focused character can probably rely on hitting TNs higher than 11(C); an additional crow to the TN would just about buy you dropping the spell to 1AP, and a Graverobber wouldn’t be paying for one of the crows anyway. A dedicated character with Specialized Skill (Necromancy, C) is still casting that version of the spell for its numerical value, and could add a third crow with the expectation of cheating it in. If the party has a Collaborator around—or the character is one herself—you can push the number of chosen suits in your duel even higher. Tapping someone twice with the spell means you dealt 9 damage, because of the +1 damage condition, and have the target taking +2 damage from anything else for the next minute. You did this ignoring Hard to Wound and even if you were just tying Df/Wp with each attack.
The base range Immuto is an interesting implementation in the system. It allows you to shift from anything between 1 yard and Line of Sight, increasing or reducing the TN as appropriate. However, it can’t alter a Magia’s basic attack type, so you can’t have a Projectile spell (like Elemental Projectile) drop below 5 yards, and you can’t increase a Melee spell (like Elemental Strike) above 3. This restriction doesn’t apply to symbol-less Cast attacks, and those are numerous, so it’s still possible to make a melee-oriented Mage with a variety of debuffs. It does also mean that the starting range for most non-buff spells is 15 feet, which is helpful to the FM when thinking about how encounter ranges should play out. I have noticed—and appreciate—that the Penny Dreadfuls will often state exactly how far from the party NPC’s are expected to start an engagement. It leaves the disposition of forces flexible, but also lets the FM know how quickly he can expect to be up in the party’s grill. The Blast Immuto stacks blasts onto the spell in a “push” format similar to how wounds are calculated in White Wolf games. You start by adding a Blast to severe damage, then get one on Moderate as well with a second purchase, and finally stack a second one onto Severe (so none/blast/blastblast). Pulse costs twice as much as a single use of the Blast Immuto, which is interesting to me. The Pulse will hit everyone within a yard (which can be increased with Increase Pulse), but all those targets get a chance to avoid any impact from the Pulse with a TN10 duel. Increase Pulse ups that TN as well; and there’s also Increase Resistance, which is worded to do the same thing to TNs–for the same price–but won’t affect the Pulse size. If you’re already forcing any other duel, such as a Horror Duel from the Terror Immuto, Increase Resistance helps land your status effects. If you just want to spread some damage around, Increase Pulse probably helps more by maximizing your damage’s reach. But either way, I’m a bit surprised that the Pulse feels so much more limited than the Blast; I suppose that’s in line with how AoE’s work in the tabletop.
It’s obviously the case that the magic system allows for incredibly powerful spells that a character can reliably fire off. This is somewhat alleviated by the limitations of the Grimoire system; my example 4 damage Touch of the Grave (which I modeled after the Cruciatus Curse because my group has Potter fans) requires 5 Immuto and a Magia. Granted, that version includes a few things not mentioned when I was discussing it previously. It has Spirit, allowing it to ignore Armor and Hard to Wound (only useful for the Armor bit, but intended to ensure you have reliable damage from it), and Alternate Resistance so it targets Wp. Doing the increased crow trickery would require another Immuto, putting the spell at 1 Magia and 6 Immuto. That’s roughly two Grimoires’ worth of power, barring some of the special Grimoires in the later books. Since you can only use a single active Grimoire, that spell is completely out of reach for a start character, and only one who built her Pursuit and Talent choices with the explicit aim of obtaining that ability. Even then, achieving that would likely require bouncing between Graverobber and Dabbler, only picking up the Mastered Immuto options when available. This does result in a character with a deadly strike—one that could be enhanced with at least one extra crow if Graverobber was part of the build. However, a comparably powerful melee character would be Flurrying for 3 attacks a round, potentially with Melee Expert. A comparably powerful Ghoul/Bully would be an engine of deathless fear and destruction. A comparably powerful Augmented/Animator would have the ability to peel people open (healing in the process) to make an army of gnashing or gun-firing monstrosities.
I’ve definitely seen examples of characters getting extremely powerful spells very early on, and it is something I’ve kept an eye on for my game. Luckily, my players aren’t power gamers, and there’s been enough of a mix between combat and conversation that a pure murder machine wouldn’t be able to contribute roughly half the time. Even Worm has focused some of his attentions into paranormal investigations and coercing—well, glowering at—NPC compliance. Playing with building spells has mostly reinforced to my mind the power of Manifested Powers, and especially the Mage Pursuit. However, even that character would be waiting until Step 3 to create the 4-damage Cruciatus, and wouldn’t have the benefit of ignoring suits unless she swapped into other Pursuits along the way. Such a character would also have no “off” switch for her magic; she could wreck a target with that spell, but not use lesser (or greater) versions without giving up all of her Manifested Powers to that end.