L’Académie des Arcanes – Lester Smith

L'Académie des Arcanes coverIn a world secretly threatened by fée magic, one nation dares to guard the doorway between realms and police the supernatural. Do you have what it takes to join them, as a member of L’Académie des Arcanes?

Background

The history of France has been long and convoluted. Its secret history even more so.

Stone tools found in the region place early humans there nearly two million years ago. Between 400,000 BC to 40,000 BC, Neanderthals dwelt in the land. They were followed by the ancestors of modern humans, who left the world’s oldest representational art, the 32,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings.

By 1,000 BC, Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians had established colonies along the Mediterranean coast, each leaving their influence on the evolving French identity. By 50 BC the entire region became part of the Roman Empire, but raids by druid-inspired Germanic Franks eventually broke Rome’s hold, and in the late 400s AD, the Frankish king Clovis I ruled most of the area. Frankish rule continued under the empire of Charlemagne, from which emerged the medieval Kingdom of France.

From the late 800s until the early 1800s, a series of monarchies and dynasties rose and fell in France, as royal houses vied for control. During the last 300 years of this period, a tortuous system of dynastic rule and favor currying known as L’Ancien Régime brought the nation to the height of its power, leading to colonization of Western Africa, much of the Americas, and Southeast Asia.

Eventually, however, a peasant revolt guided by a few independence-minded leaders led much of the aristocracy to the guillotine and established a republican democracy. What is less well known, though hinted at in French fairy tales, is the truly inhuman nature of the old French aristocracy.

Steeped in magical forces since the Stone Age, France had proven impossible for external empires to hold, for it contained numerous portals to the world of the fée. The most human-seeming of those beings were also the most magically powerful, ruling over the multitudinous other creatures of their realm. Through the French portals, they came to seek mastery over the mortal world as well.

Fortunately for humankind, some members of our race were able to learn the ways of magic and oppose the fairy lords. (Some, such as the infamous Morgan La Fey, even bore a bit of fée blood in their veins, from fairy ancestors who had consorted with humans.) Thus began the legendary enmity between wizards and fée folk, which culminated in the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror, a convocation of wizards in Paris—scholars known as Les Sept (The Seven)—managed to suppress fairy magic long enough for the guillotine to do its deadly work and largely rid the land of its alien rulers.

Their work did not go unopposed. Maximilien Robespierre, a fée changeling, infiltrated the Revolution and nearly succeeded in seizing ultimate power for himself, before the guillotine claimed his head. And his student Napoleon, through a mix of political cunning and fée magic, even managed to reconquer all the lands Charlemagne had once held, then turned the democratic revolution on its ear, crowning himself the new Holy Roman Emperor. Even when temporarily defeated by Britain, Prussia, and Russia—each bolstered by wizardly machinations of Les Sept—and banished to the isle of Elba, Napoleon employed his magic to escape, and to charm the very Republican soldiers set to guard him. Les Sept were forced to act again, this time suppressing Napoleon’s magic altogether, to utterly defeat France’s last emperor.

With the Republic now on sounder footing, Les Sept set about warding the earth from further fée incursion. Guided by their Hermetic master, Eliphas Levi, they inscribed an enormous pentagram of ley lines across France itself, with points near Lille, Toulon, Quimper, Saint-Louis, and Bayone, and centered on a small castle near La Châtre. Here, at the Château de Sarzay, they anchored the one remaining portal of any size between our world and the fée realm, and they established in secret L’Acédemie des Arcanes to forever guard it.

Not that temporary breaches between the worlds don’t occur elsewhere on earth. Students from L’Acédemie des Arcanes are often called upon to travel to remote regions of our world, to hunt down magical threats that have escaped the fée world, and to either execute them or drag them back in cold-iron chains to the school itself for magical deportation.

Occupations

Not all characters need be directly involved with the academy. Those outside it can have any imaginable modern occupation.

Characters attending or employed by the academy can choose a magical profession (one of the six main schools) or any other occupation appropriate to a college (from administrator to security to janitor).

Skills

All listings from the Basic Skills chapter are appropriate. Also, characters involved with the academy (even those with non-magical occupations) can learn individual spells from any school as skills. (See the Special Rules.)

As with other settings, the maximum number of Focused skills is nine. Consequently, a character who knows nine Focused spells has no room for other Focused skills. Starting characters may also have up to three Unfocused skills (including spells) as usual; and spells, like other skills, can benefit from Experience Points. Spells cannot be used as Unfamiliar skills, however.

Special Rules

L’Académie des Arcanes teaches six schools of magic—alchemy, conjuration, elementalism, illusion, necromancy, and sorcery—each headed by one of Les Sept. (Those schools are detailed below. A seventh, “master” school—hermeticism—is also briefly described.)

Each branch of magic is an occupation with its own approach to the arcane arts, its own advantages, and its own limitations. Within those parameters, a character can create any sort of magical effect imaginable, at a cost in Success Levels (see “The Formula” below). To reduce this cost, each school employs rituals and materials known as “anchors.”

The Formula

Magic imposes changes on reality. The more extreme the changes, the more difficult the magic. In game terms, a character must achieve a certain number of Success Levels for the intended effect to occur. The Success Levels required are determined by the following formula (rounding up):

SL = D × C × S × R ÷ A

Success Levels = Duration × Consequence × Size × Range ÷ Anchors

Values for the four multipliers are defined in the following table:

Multiplier Duration Consequence Size Range
1 Instant Mental Fist Touch
2 1 minute Physical Goblin Brawling
3 1 hour Graze Human Throwing
4 1 day Stun Horse Shooting
5 1 month Hit Elephant Viewing
6 1 year and a day Wound Dragon Global
7 100 years and a day Knockout Leviathan Extradi-
mensional

Notes: Instant is immediate or equates to one combat round. Mental can be either emotional (affecting Will) or intellectual (affecting Wits). Physical implies a non-damaging effect like sleep or shape-change. Dragon is the size of a small house or sailing vessel; Leviathan is the size of a castle or large ship. Touch affects the caster or a target by touch; Brawling does not require touch. Global involves any one spot on earth known to the caster; Extradimensional involves a spot known to the caster anywhere in time or space.

The Schools

Alchemy is the infusion of magic into potions. (Legend has it that in ages past, an alchemical item known as the Philosopher’s Stone could even transform lead to gold and grant immortality. But if that item ever existed, it does no longer.) Potions can be used by anyone and are frequently sold to non-alchemists. Anchors include ingredients (herbs and such), equipment (cauldrons, ladles, distilling tubes), and preparation (heating, stirring, incantations).

Divisor Ingredients Equipment Preparation

1

2

3

Common

Uncommon

Rare

Common

Precious

Priceless

Simple (an hour)

Complex (a day)

Painstaking (a fortnight)

Notes: Rare ingredients typically require some sort of mission to gather, and Priceless equipment is usually locked up in the school’s vaults or jealously guarded by the wealthy and powerful. Preparation time (which must be undisturbed by anything but sleep) is how often a task roll can be made to accumulate Success Levels toward completing the spell. Alchemists can cooperate to combine their Success Levels, but any bonus Success Levels beyond the intended number are wasted, and a single failed roll ruins the potion.

Example Potions

Healing: Healing potions come in many strengths; this example instantly heals three levels of damage in a human-sized imbiber.

SL2 = D1 × C5 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 2 × 2)

Charm: Often sold as a “love” potion, this simple elixir makes a human-sized creature who imbibes it utterly devoted to the giver for one minute. How the user employs that time will determine consequences after the potion wears off.

SL3 = D2 × C1 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (1 × 1 × 2)

Sleeping: This traditional fairy tale potion puts a human-sized target to sleep for 100 years and a day—unless magically woken.

SL6 = D7 × C7 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (3 × 3 × 3)

Invulnerability: The name is a bit of an exaggeration; this potion merely allows a human-sized imbiber to ignore any damage less than Wound for a full day.

SL9 = D4 × C6 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 2 × 2)

Conjuration allows mages to summon objects or creatures through temporary portals between our world and the fée realm. It is sometimes disparagingly called “demonism,” especially when used to summon and bind genii to service, but these fée spirits are forces of magic, not fallen angels.

Because the summoned object or creature already exists, with its own capabilities, rather than being created by the spell, the Consequence of conjuration formulas is treated as “1.”

Conjuration always involves incantation, which creates a contract between the conjurer and the thing summoned. Anchors of this incantation are name, purpose, and payment.

Divisor Name Purpose Payment

1

2

3

General

Specific

True

Aid

Goal

Assignment

Release

Immunity

Boon

Notes: General means any of a class of things, such as “tiger”; Specific means one item in particular; True means a specific item for which the caster knows the secret name granted by the universe. Aid means general assistance; Goal means help to achieve an objective; Assignment means a specific task for the thing summoned. Release means the summoned thing returns to its origin when the spell ends; Immunity means release and the item can never be summoned again by the caster; Boon means release and the caster owes the summoned item a favor (such as a new gem added to the scabbard of a summoned sword, or a future service performed for a summoned creature).

Example Conjurations

Conjure Item: This spell can summon for one minute, from anywhere on earth, any specific item designed for one-handed use, at the cost of an owed boon.

SL1 = D2 × C1 × S1 × R6 ÷ A (2 × 2 × 3)

Beckon Friend: This spell allows a one-time summoning for an hour, from anywhere on earth, someone whose true name the caster knows.

SL4 = D3 × C1 × S3 × R6 ÷ A (3 × 3 × 1)

Summon Genius: This spell can summon a specific creature from the fée realm, for one hour, to perform a single task for the caster. The caster need not know the being’s true name but can never summon that specific creature again.

SL6 = D3 × C1 × S3 × R7 ÷ A (2 × 3 × 2)

Elementalism magic focuses on the four classical Greek elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Each student chooses one of those elements to be Focused; its opposite is considered Unfamiliar (which means the elementalist cannot cast spells of that type), and the remaining two are treated as Unfocused.

Earth opposes air; fire opposes water.

The anchors for this school are unusual: (1) Because its magic draws upon universal elements, all spell costs are halved; and (2) the Size of an effect is dependent on local quantity, so not included in the equation. Size does, however, affect the time required to cast a spell: Subtract the caster’s Success Levels from the Size multiplier, and consult the Duration column. Example: A caster with 3 Success Levels would need a day (and a lake or river) to raise a Leviathan-sized flood.

Example Elemental Spells

Fist —of Stone: The caster’s hand turns to stone (usable as a club); —of Air: The caster produces a ball of fresh air; —of Flame: The caster produces a ball of fire (which can strike and ignite one object within Throwing range); —of Water: The caster produces a double handful of fresh water.

SL1 = D1 × C2 × R1 ÷ A (2)

Meld —with Earth: The caster can pass through solid materials at walking speed; —with Air: The caster can travel through air in any direction, as if swimming; —with Fire: The caster can pass through flames unharmed; —with Water: The caster can travel through water at walking speed without breathing or suffering effects of pressure.

SL2 = D2 × C2 × R1 ÷ A (2)

Shield —of Earth: The ground rises as a personal shield, blocking sight and damage from one direction; —of Air: A tiny whirlwind reduces the damage of all ranged attacks against the caster by one level per spell Success Level; —of Flame: A circle of flame surrounds the caster, causing one level of damage per spell Success Level to things that touch it; —of Water: A wave strikes all within the caster’s Brawling range, interrupting their next action and forcing a Grace check to avoid falling prone.

SL2 = D1 × C2 × R2 ÷ A (2)

Elemental Assistant: The caster conjures a goblin-sized creature of earth (gnome), air (sylph), fire (salamander), or water (undine), which serves as a companion and aide. (If conjured for a day or longer (by increasing spell duration cost) the being must spend 6 hours of every 24 resting immersed in its native element.)

SL3 = D3 × C2 × R1 ÷ A (2)

Hermeticism is the highly ritualized magic by which Les Sept can achieve miraculous effects (such as the pentagram sealing off the fée world). Though it is not an occupational option, characters may learn an Actuate Hermetics spell, allowing use of hermetic constructs—such as communication and travel via existing ley lines.

Specific effects and Success Levels required are left to the Game Host’s discretion on a case-by-case basis. The Game Host is also invited to use hermeticism as a catch-all for any sort of magical effect needed for an adventure.

Illusion is the very heart of magic, its masters argue. They believe all of existence is merely a well-sustained illusion, and that a being with sufficient skill and will could create its own reality. Fortunately for our world, illusion magic is impermanent and often insubstantial. By choosing the level of seeming consistency and authenticity, illusionists can reduce the cost of their spells.

Divisor Consistency Authenticity

1

2

3

4

5

Solid

Grainy

Translucent

Transparent

Two-dimensional

Detectable to all five senses

All but taste

Sight, sound, & touch

Sight & sound

One sense (caster’s choice)

Example Illusions

Passenger Parrot: This ghostly bird appears at a specified location to deliver a spoken message, then disappears.

SL1 = D2 × C1 × S1 × R6 ÷ A (3 × 4)

Fairy Food: More than one mortal has dined sumptuously at a fée table, only to wake famished. In a pinch, a serving of “fairy food” can keep a person going; but repeated use can result in sudden death by starvation when the spells wear off.

SL3 = D3 × C1 × S1 × R1 ÷ A (1 × 1)

Bogus Beast: This illusory guard dog appears at the caster’s side and protects its creator for one minute. Being illusory, it cannot be killed (though it “seems” to take damage), and any damage it inflicts in return disappears when the illusion ends. Attributes: Grace Focused; Wits Unfamiliar. Skills: Focused bite (base Graze damage, per the spell formula), hold, track, sneak, run, leap; Unfocused any number of tricks. Focus: 7. Speed: 2 actions.

SL4 = D2 × C3 × S2 × R1 ÷ A (1 × 3)

Sham Shelter: This small illusory tent offers protection from the weather, and a bit of privacy.

SL4 = D4 × C2 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 3)

Formula for a larger, more detailed “Sham Chateau”:

SL8 = D4 × C2 × S6 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 3).

Necromancy is often characterized as “The Dark Arts,” just as “Goth” is often mistakenly equated with “Emo.” It is true that necromancers commune with the dead, which many people find distasteful. But necromancers revere the dead for their wisdom and their otherworldly insights.

Anchors for this school involve blood sacrifice and personal sacrifice. The divisor for blood sacrifice is equivalent to the Size modifier from the spell formula table. (For example, sacrificing a horse or bull would give a divisor of 4). The divisor for a personal sacrifice is outlined in the table below. (Note that these sacrifices are forever lost to the caster.)

Divisor Personal Sacrifice

1

2

3

4

A simple memory (e.g. this morning’s breakfast)

A vivid memory (e.g. a double rainbow)

An intimate memory (e.g. a first kiss)

A day of physical possession

Example Necromancies

Invoke Spirit: This spell raises a dead spirit to counsel the necromancer for one minute. Normally, casters rely upon spirits they know and trust. When information must be gained from an unfamiliar spirit, a further sacrifice may be negotiated.  

SL1 = D2 × C1 × S1 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 1)

Astral Travel: With this spell, the caster’s consciousness can travel the shadow realm of the dead, to view any place on earth for one minute. Unless the caster is intimately familiar with the location to be viewed, a dead spirit must first be invoked and negotiated with to act as guide.  

SL3 = D2 × C1 × S1 × R6 ÷ A (2 × 2)

Summon Familiar: This spell allows the caster to bind a spirit into a small animal, to serve as a personal assistant for a year and a day. Because of their personal bond, the caster and familiar can communicate thoughts and senses telepathically. But if the familiar is slain, the caster suffers Knockout damage, which can be healed only by time—one level per month.

SL4 = D6 × C2 × S1 × R1 ÷ A (1 × 3)

Reanimate Corpse: This spell can infuse a dead soul into a dead body, allowing it to rise and serve the caster. The body continues to decay, however, and once all muscle tissue is gone, animation is no longer possible. On the other hand, the body is impervious to pain and suffers no dice penalties from wounds in combat.

SL4 = D4 × C2 × S3 × R1 ÷ A (1 × 1)

Sorcery is the ability to charm living creatures, and even to change their form. A sorcerer may use this shape-changing ability to transform an enemy into a pig, or to personally change into a hawk, a wolf, or some other shape.

For shape-changing, conservation of mass requires sorcery to make up or aborb any difference in Size, so this part of the magical equation involves the difference between shapes (to a minimum multiplier of 1). For charms, Size is excluded from the formula.

The weakness of sorcery is that it always requires a Will test. Charming or shape-changing another creature involves an opposed Will test. If the sorcerer scores higher than the victim, the spell succeeds; a tie means the spell fails; and if the victim scores higher, the spell affects the caster instead. Because of this danger, the Success Level cost of all sorcery spells is half normal.

The only anchor for sorcery spells is an item related to the target, as shown in the table below.

Divisor Related Item

1

2

3

4

Meeting eyes, or telepathic contact

Dead cells from the target (often hair)

A prized possession from the target

Living cells from the target (often blood)

Example Sorceries

Charm: With a touch, a gaze, and a test of Wills, the caster gains the target’s favor (a positive emotional reaction) for one minute.

SL1 = D2 × C1 × S1 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 1)

Shapeshift: For a day, the caster changes to any animal—from eagle (goblin-sized) to horse—or assumes the appearance of another person. A hair, feather, or claw from the target is needed, and a simple Will test.

SL2 = D4 × C2 × S1 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 2)

Transform: Using a person’s living blood, with a touch and an opposed Will test, the caster turns that target to a crow, a cat, or a similarly sized animal for a year and a day.

SL3 = D6 × C2 × S2 × R1 ÷ A (2 × 4)

Magical Balance

The power of magic tends toward balance. In game terms, if a player devises a spell that seems too powerful, the Game Host is free to adjust its effect or cost. In story terms, Les Sept constantly police magic use. Anyone abusing its power will run afoul of them and their many servants.

Conversely, if a desired effect seems too expensive, the player and Game Host can negotiate added restrictions to justify a lower cost.

Equipment

Any item appropriate to modern Earth or earlier is suitable for this setting. Items from mythology or fairy tales can also be justified under the umbrella of hermetic magic.

Denizens

This list focuses on beings from French mythology. Many creatures from other mythologies can be imported from other D6×D6 settings.

Beasts of Gévaudan are wolves large as a lion, armored in magical boar’s hide. Attributes: Grace and Brawn Focused; none Unfamiliar. Skills: Focused bite, claw, run; Unfocused none. Focus: 4. Life: Graze × 3. Speed: 2 actions. Toughness: 3. Number: Typically 1.

Dames Blanches are fée ladies who haunt bridges and paths, demanding a tribute (usually a dance or a courtly bow). They are masters of sorcery.

Gargouille is a water dragon that once plagued the Seine, terrorizing boats and causing floods. Attributes: Brawn and Grace Focused; Will Unfamiliar. Skills: Focused bite, claw, elementalism (water), navigation, swimming. Special abilities: Its hide acts as heavy vehicle armor with no dice penalty; its bite does vehicle kill damage; its claws strike twice per round and do normal kill damage; in water its base movement rate is 8 meters. Focus: 6.

Morgan le Fay is the most infamous of fée, despite her human ancestry. Like a trickster god, she may aid heroes or hinder them. Some tales say she is half sister to King Arthur, others his lover. A former apprentice to Merlin, she is a master hermeticist.

Oberon is the current King of the Fairies. Rumor has it that he is also the son of Morgan le Faye and Julius Caesar. Oberon is unrivaled as an illusionist and sorcerer, by which he holds his crown.

Woodwose are savage creatures of human shape but bearlike size, covered with a thick pelt of hair, who dwell deep in woods. Attributes: Brawn Focused; Wits Unfamiliar. Skills: Focused athletics, bite (Wound), camouflage, club (Wound), elementalism (earth); Unfocused none. Focus: 5. Life: normal. Speed: normal. Toughness: 1. Number: Typically 1.

Adventure & Campaign Ideas

Give any legend from anywhere in the world a fée spin, then send the heroes to sort it out.

Pale Banyan: A British aristocrat is wasting away from a mysterious malady. Will the heroes discover in time that his banyan tree transplanted from Guam hosts a  Taotao Mo’na (ancestor spirit).

The New Beast of Bray Road: Legend has it a supernatural beast slaughters farm animals in Southern Wisconsin. Now people are dying, too. Has some new fée beast slain the old one?

Credits

Design: Lester Smith. Editing: Dale A. Donovan. Proofreading: Winifred Lewis. Layout: Ralph Faraday. Cover: K8 Smith, with “Premade BG 32 a” photo by Brenda Clarke, “Vatican: Guards and Pope’s Guests” photo by Zheng, “Love those cobble stoned streets!” photo by shankar s, and “Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) in Heron Pond in Cache River State Natural Area” photo by Miguel Vieira, all licensed under CC BY 2.0 and edited.

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