Mana Levels

Copyright Richard LeDuc © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"That is a barren and desolate land -- the very magic of the world has been sucked from the place."

Mana is the stuff that powers spells, but not all locations need to have the same amount of mana available to them. Some areas might be rich in mana, making spell casting easier, while other are poor in mana, making spell casting harder. I have been using both College of Magics and the core HARP rules in my games and I have developed a system for mana levels. In this system, the caster's mana source will determine the effect that the local mana level has on casting.

The Game Master may declare certain areas to have an unusual mana level. There are five new mana levels (plus the "normal" level which is the default assumed in the core rules). The levels are as follows:

  • Very Rich sites are usually small and short-lived areas where magic flows freely. Most spells can be cast without cost to the caster, but casting in a very rich mana zone is very dangerous. Any spell failure while casting in a very rich mana zone is considered a spell fumble, thus the slightest misstep can cause disaster. In my games very rich mana zones appear and disappear all the time according to the complex pattern of the flow of mana about the world.
  • Rich mana areas are usually small areas that allow for improved casting, and are considered very valuable to spell casters. I consider these areas to be more stable and tend to be about the size of a room or small tower. These zones are seldom conveniently located and are the cause for many a small keep to be built in remote and seemingly non-strategic locations.
  • Normal. These follow the normal rules in HARP and the College of Magics.
  • Poor mana areas are frequently large desolate places. They might be the site of ancient battles or remote highlands infested with orcs. Spell casting is difficult in these areas, and some casters may find that they can no longer gather enough mana to cast instantaneous spells. I have whole countries that are poor mana zones. In these lands mages are few and far between and the clerics only perform their miracles in the cloistered confines of their churches and temples.
  • Very poor mana areas are radically mana deprived. The lack of mana affects most spell casters ability to recover power points, and only the most desperate will linger in a very poor mana area. The exception is the fixed mana caster. As long as they can find enough objects to draw the mana they need for their castings, their spells are unaffected. All other casters find magic very difficult in these areas.
  • Burns are the worst. Almost all the mana has been removed from the area. Varying in size, they almost always have a story. Perhaps they are the result of a massive spell failure, or the clash of two gods -- whatever the source, these areas no longer support magic. Although spells can be cast in burns, most casters find the effort so great that they will only venture into them for great need. Unfortunately, due to their origins, burns frequently present a great need for a caster to enter them.

Effects of Mana Levels on Different Mana Sources

The effects on spell casting of mana levels vary with the mana source of the caster. Some mana areas decrease the power point cost of spell casting. These bonuses are treated just like scaling a spell, but in reverse. No spell is ever reduced below zero cost. Note that in rich and very rich mana zones some casters are able to cast very powerful spells. The Game Master is free to rule on the effects of spells leaving these mana zones. If an elementalist casts a huge fire ball that is ranged scaled such that it leaves the rich mana zone, I would usually let it be cast, arguing that the fire is physically created in the rich zone and then travels normally outward. On the other hand, I would not allow a long door to be scaled to super long range because I would say that the spell uses the mana at both the source and the destination and all points in between.

Personal Mana

These casters find their spells very much affected by the local mana level.

Very Rich: -10 PP cost, but remember any missed casting roll is a spell fumble!

Rich: -3 PP to cast and x2 PP recovery.

Normal: As per HARP rules.

Poor: +3 PP modifier for all spells.

Very Poor: +6 PP modifier, and power points return at half speed.

Burns: +12 PP modifier and power points return at quarter speed.

Channeling

I consider mana to be the medium that clerics use to channel power, therefore channelers have trouble contacting their deities in low mana areas.

Very Rich: -6 PP to cast.

Rich: -3 PP to cast and double speed for power point recovery.

Normal: As per HARP rules.

Poor: Spells can only be cast on sanctified ground. This usually involves at least one hour, and the appropriate Lore skill roll. Whatever skill the Game Master rules governs performing services of the cleric's church is rolled as a routine maneuver (+60). If successful (101+) then a small area, usually about the size of an altar, is sanctified to the deity. All spells channeled from the deity in this area are considered to have been channeled in a normal mana zone. Over time, whole temple complexes can be sanctified. In poor mana zones, clerics in their temples become a powerful force. Remember, all other spell casting in the sanctified area is still in a poor mana zone.

Very Poor: As above, but the roll to sanctify the ground determines the maximum number of PP that can be spent on a single spell. Use the following table.

Total Roll Difficulty Max PP: Very Poor Max PP: Burns
41+ Routine 2 1
61+ Easy 4 2
81+ Light 6 3
101+ Medium 8 4
121+ Hard 10 5
141+ Very Hard 12 6
161+ Extremely Hard 14 7
181+ Sheer Folly 16 8
201+ Absurd 18 9

Burns: As above, but the lower number is used.

Editor's Note: According to the canonical College of Magic rules, users of Granted Mana should be completely unaffected by the mana level of an area.

Ambient Mana

Ambient casters find it easier or harder to draw mana for their spells depending on the local mana level, which in turn increases or decreases casting time.

Very Rich: Here they can cast spells on the same round that they start it, but the effects of missed casting rolls can be spectacular.

Rich: Spells take one round for each 10 PP.

Normal: As per HARP rules. (One round for each two PP)

Poor: Casting takes two rounds for each PP and they can no longer cast instantaneous spells.

Very Poor: Three minutes for each PP and still no instantaneous spells.

Burns: One hour per PP and don't even think about instantaneous spells.

Fixed Mana

These spell casters experience the least effect from local mana levels.

Very Rich: Spells cost -3 PP or x -- whichever benefit is smaller.

Rich: As per HARP rules.

Normal: As per HARP rules.

Poor: As per HARP rules.

Very Poor: As per HARP rules.

Burns: As per HARP rules, but the fixed mana in objects is drained by 1 PP per year.

Cantrips, Charms and Other Low Magic

Most of these are treated as personal mana that uses very small amounts of power.

Very Rich: Cantrips cost 0, but missed rolls are fumbles. Charms last until removed from the very high mana.

Rich: Charms last 60 days -- no other effects.

Normal: As per HARP rules.

Poor: As per HARP rules, but charms last only 15 days.

Very Poor: Cantrips now cost x2 PP and charms last a day. Potions will loss their power within a few years.

Burns: Cantrips cost x4 PP and charms fail to work. Potions will lose their power within a year.

Suggestions for Use

Overusing mana levels can greatly unbalance a game, but when used judiciously they can add variety to both the hazards and benefits of adventuring. Very rich sites should be very rare and often only occur for a short while. They can be used as adventure hooks to drive a game. For example, the court astrologer may have determined that the mana level on the top of a particularly remote mountain will be very rich for three days around the spring solstice. This very rich mana zone might then be the only place where a dispel magic spell could be scaled high enough to undo that curse that was placed on the king, or to cast a past vision to see the true origin of the dynasty -- of course there may be people who would oppose either of these spells being cast. Likewise, on high holy days the main altar at a particular temple may be a very rich mana zone as a gift from the temples god. Since this is not the effect of consecration any caster could use it, but, of course, the temple's clerics will be an issue.

Rich mana areas make excellent strongholds or places of adventure. Perhaps that ancient temple the characters need to explore was built on a rich mana zone -- and perhaps those orc mages have used it to their advantage. Likewise, there might be a rich mana zone three miles from some city, halfway up a rocky crag. Of course the local wizards' guild will want to build their headquarters there, but being out of town will have its problems. Surely all the magic shops and wizards' taverns would cluster near the base of the crag. Over time a small village might develop at the base of the wizard's crag, and this little village would be an interesting starting point for many adventures.

Poor and Very Poor can be used in wide areas to limit spell casting. Old moors in the highlands might be stripped of their mana making them undesirable for anyone but outcasts. The Game Master may choose to set the entire game in a world that is predominantly mana poor. Thus even areas of average mana will attract spell casters. This has worked for me. Spell casters become less desirable and the game shifts in focus towards character's skills. Players tend to favor more "informational" and utility spells instead of direct combat spells.

Burns are frequently found at the site of ancient magical calamities. Magic cannot linger in a burn; over time potions will lose their power, objects with fixed mana will have it leached out of them, and everything becomes mundane. I like to use burns around the most desolate and undesirable places.

Detecting Mana Zones

I tend to be generous when it comes to detecting mana levels. At the start of any spell casting the mage will know the mana level, likewise if any continuing spell is re-powered. Additionally, I allow the Sense Magic Talent to see the current mana level on an average perception check.