THE WFRP STORY XXII: IT’S A KIND OF MAGIC

This post continues my history of WFRP1, which started here.

Like WFB1, WFB2 dedicates an entire booklet to magic, but the new edition’s coverage of the subject is considerably more extensive than its predecessor’s. The greater scale, however, does not deliver a radical rewrite of WFB1‘s system. As for other aspects of the game, the revised magic rules are an evolution and expansion of what had gone before.

The core spellcasting mechanisms of WFB1 are unchanged. Spells are stratified into four levels. Casting spells still requires the expenditure of Constitution Points (CP).

There are, though, some refinements. Talismans are no longer required. Preparation and rest times have been eliminated. It is no longer possible to cast spells above a wizard’s Magic Level. Wizards are also not constrained by Life Energy, though their Intelligence scores now limit the number of spells they can cast.

There is a revised miscast mechanic, which comes into play when a spellcaster has fewer than 12 CP. Wearing armour increases spell costs by one CP per pip of armour save, and prevents CP being recovered by rest. Magical awareness is slightly modified so that a spellcaster must remain motionless for a turn.

While the basic principles of spellcasting are similar to the previous edition, there are more substantial changes in the spell lists.

Unspecialised magic has been renamed Battle Magic. The name perhaps owes a debt to RuneQuest‘s Battle Magic, though it is a sufficiently nondescript term that the resemblance could be coincidental. The unspecialised spell list has undergone a major overhaul. Eighteen new spells appear, and thirty-nine former spells have been removed. Five of the lost spells are recategorised into other magical specialisms, and four would subsequently return as Petty Magic in WFRP1, but thirty others disappear altogether. Many of the spells that remain have been refined, in particular with a more systematic approach to auras and zones.

Battle Magic

Battle Magic in WFB2**

Even more extensive changes occurred in specialised magic. WFB1 includes a small number of Necromantic spells and Forces of Fantasy a handful of Elemental ones, but the promise of magical specialisms was largely unfulfilled. That changed in WFB2, which presents greatly expanded spell lists for Necromancy and Elementalism, plus entirely new ones for Illusionism and Demonology.

Magical specialisms were, of course, not a new idea. Len Lakofka had proposed them for the original D&D game in Liaisons Dangereuses 59 (July 1975), and used the terms Illusionist and Elementalist in Liaisons Dangereuses 61 (August 1975). Peter Aronson created the D&D Illusionist class in Strategic Review 4 (Winter 1975) and Dragon 1 (June 1976). Similar ideas had appeared in Warhammer‘s forerunner Reaper (1978 and 1980), which mentions necromancers, summoners and elementalists.***

The Necromantic Magic spell lists build on those in WFB1. Four spells are retained, but five are dropped and fourteen new ones added.

Necromantic Magic

Necromantic Magic in WFB2

Elementalism retains even less of what little had been presented in Forces of Fantasy. Only one of the three Elemental spells that appear there can be found in the new lists. A further four spells have been recategorised from unspecialised magic. Twenty-seven of the spells are new.

Elemental Magic

Elemental Magic in WFB2

The Illusionist spells are all entirely new.

Illusionist Magic

Illusion Magic in WFB2

Demonology is also new. One spell is a modified version of an unspecialised spell in WFB1; the rest are novel.

Some of the inspiration for Demonic Magic may have come from White Dwarf. Between August and December 1983 it ran a series of articles focused on the subject. There was ‘Dealing with Demons’, a three-part piece for RuneQuest in WD44-46 (by Dave Morris). WD47-48 carried a conversion of these demons to AD&D (by Liz Fletcher), and added the Demonist AD&D character class and a selection of Demonist spells (both by Phil Masters). Citadel produced miniatures of these demons (with an insert described in this post)****. There is a reasonable possibility that these might have influenced Citadel’s thinking in adding Demonic Magic to Warhammer, though it should be noted that there are few specific similarities in the spell lists.

Demonic Magic

Demonic Magic in WFB2

Overall WFB2 established the magic system that, with only minor changes, would be used in WFRP1. However, it seems that at this stage it was envisaged that WFRP1 would contain an expanded magic system.

Warhammer Battle Rules deal only with … battle magic; more complicated magic is covered by the Warhammer Role-Play Rules.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle, second edition, ‘Battle Magic’, p6

Most amulets have uses other than those described…, forming constitual [sic] parts of the more complex and subtle magic employed in Warhammer Role-Play.

op cit, p31

Ultimately WFRP1 did not contain more complicated magic. It contained the same spell lists as WFB2, except for the addition of a small number of Petty, Clerical and Druidic spells. It seems the promise of “more complex and subtle magic” did not describe material that was already written, but was simply a statement of intention. In the rush to complete WFRP1, it would prove impossible to honour the promise.

Overall, the [WFRP1 rulebook] was done in rather too much of a rush, and I think it shows especially in the magic system. The numerous mentions of Realms of Sorcery really amount to an admission that we knew the magic system needed some work, but we didn’t have time to do it then, and we really intended that RoS would come out very soon after the rulebook and fix everything!

– Graeme Davis, Warpstone

In addition to its detailed discussion of mechanics WFB2 contains a small number of interesting comments about the background of magic and orders of wizards.

Some wizards belong to specific schools of magic, or may pursue specific magical philosophies; wizards of this kind are often referred to as cultists. Cultists are no different from other wizards really, although they are likely to receive formal tuition, and are more likely to hold some sort of title.

– Warhammer Fantasy Battle, second edition, ‘Battle Magic’, p6

One of the most powerful magical cults of the Old World is known as the Calisthenea; its members are called Calisthenics. Like most cults the Calisthenea operates a number of secret temples, [sic] the exact number is unknown. Within these temples the members of the cult meet, indulge in their secret rituals, appoint officials and organise their work. What exactly their work entails is a mystery, but most cults aim at the perfection of the individual spirit – presenting a personal spiritual goal to their members rather than a material or collective one. Most cults have secret rites, and utilise various important ritual objects as well as ancient chants and books. The Cat of the Calisthenes is the most sacred object of the Calisthenites. Upon his initiation the new cult member, called a neophyte in this cult, is permitted to lay his right hand upon the life-size golden statue of a cat. The statue contains a residue of power, which passes into the ritually prepared mind of the neophyte enabling him to become a wizard.

op cit, p34

The remarks echo WFB1‘s brief comments on the subject:

Wizards are often associated with specific “cults” and may assume their own titles of rank within these schools – for instance Grand Master, Ipsissimus, Magister, etc. Some titles are not associated with power but with tasks performed during certain magical rites – for instance Scribes and Wizard Artificers.

Warhammer Fantasy Battle, first edition, ‘Magic’, p6

It is interesting how this presentation of magic blurs the line between sorcerous arts and the divine. Schools of magic are presented as quasi-religious organisations. They do not simply provide technical tuition, but have mystical, spiritual aspects. They have temples and are even called “cults”.

It is very different from the presentation of magic in contemporary D&D and AD&D, which clearly segregate the spells of clerics and magic users. It more closely resembles the magic of second edition RuneQuest, even down to the use of the term “cult”.

Of course, WFB2‘s description of magic and religion is so sparse that the examples might not be representative of its designers’ intentions. It is possible that the designers envisaged developing separate clerical magic at a later date, and indeed such magic appears in WFRP1. But there is no trace of the idea in WFB2.

WFB2‘s example cult is also notable for its exotic and fantastic character. It is somewhat different from the low-magic, gritty tone that WFRP1 acquired, and more like the colleges of magic that appeared in later WFB3 and WFB4.

Very little is said of the metaphysics of magic, which may signify that such matters had not received much consideration. However, the ritual of the Calisthenea makes it clear that the magic of that cult is not an innate ability, nor a purely technical skill that can be learned. Its magic is extrinsic and the power of spellcasting can only be bestowed through an initiation ritual.

Though extremely brief, WFB2‘s description would remarkably be the most detailed account of orders of wizardry and the nature of magic until Warhammer‘s conception of such ideas changed radically with the introduction of the colleges and winds of magic. Early Warhammer left these concepts nebulous.

FOOTNOTES

* Added in Forces of Fantasy.

** Rows that are shaded grey contain spells that disappeared before WFRP1. Spells in white rows survived until then, though possibly in modified form. Bold text highlights new spells.

*** The AD&D Player’s Handbook (1978) classified spells into eight categories (abjuration, alteration, conjuration/summoning, divination, enchantment/charm, evocation, illusion/phantasm and necromantic), but did not establish them as separate disciplines.

**** The RuneQuest demons box set was connected with GW’s aborted QuestWorld supplement. QuestWorld was a non-Gloranthan setting sponsored by Chaosium, in which third-party games companies could each develop a continent. GW was one of these third parties. The supplement never appeared, as GW lost the RuneQuest licence. See Dave Morris’ blog post for more information on the QuestWorld pack.

The next post will look at the development of the Warhammer background.

Title art by Peter Andrew Jones. Used without permission. No challenge intended to the rights holders.

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