Compared to the Vancian spell system, Ceremonial magic is slow (typically requiring one turn to cast) and dangerous (mishap rolls are possible, black magic leads to corruption).
The rules for ceremonial magic are more complicated than the standard spell system, and since my players don’t have access to the Heroic Fantasy Handbook, I’m providing a summary of the key concepts here.
Eldritch magic can be dangerous to a caster’s soul. Spells are divided into three categories, depending on how dangerous they are to use. Spells which have an inherently corrupting influence on the soul are black magic. Spells which may or may not be corrupting, depending on the purposes to which they are used, are grey magic. Spells which are inherently safe to cast are called white magic.
Eldritch spellcasters acquire corruption points whenever they learn or cast a black magic spell, or cast grey magic spells for corrupt purposes.
The stain of corruption is nearly impossible to remove. When a caster accumulates a number of corruption points equal to his Wisdom score, he acquires a corrupting weakness. This is usually a shift in alignment towards Chaotic, but can manifest as physical or mental disfigurements as well.
The maximum number of weaknesses a caster may have is equal to the highest level spell in his repertoire. Such a caster is as depraved as he can be, given his knowledge; additional corruption cannot taint him further until he unlocks even darker secrets (e.g. learns higher level spells). He still accumulates corruption points, however.
Ceremonial magic relies on lengthy chants, symbolic patterns, magical reagents, and complicated movements to cast spells.
Ceremonialists practice their art within a set of traditions, each representing a school or technique of invoking magical effects. In the Black City Campaign, most ceremonialists will be from either the runic or shamanic traditions.
Traditional Implements are the various paraphernalia, fetishes, and accoutrements that a ceremonialist relies upon in his ceremonies. These are rated by level, and a cast must have implements of a level equal to or exceeding the level of the ceremony he is performing.
A ceremonialist’s repertoire functions exactly like an arcane spellcaster in ACKS, save that ceremonialists do not require spellbooks (although they may use a codex, libram, or grimoire as part of their traditional implements).
Some ceremonialists may acquire ceremonial talismans. These are magic items that provide a bonuses to perform particular types of ceremonies, and are typically small objects such as amulets, bracelets, pendants, rings, and the like.
To actually perform a ceremony, the caster must have his traditional implements, spend the requisite ceremony time, and then succeed on a ceremony throw.
A ceremony normally takes 1 turn (10 minutes) to perform. The caster can attempt a hasty ceremony (1 round) with a -4 penalty to the ceremony throw. Or he can take the time (6 hours) to perform a methodical ceremony and gain a +4 bonus the ceremony roll.
The base target values for a ceremony throw are given in the table below:
(The grey numbers indicate ceremony levels available only to runeseers and witches.)
Modify each roll by the ceremonialist’s WIS modifier. Add +1 to the ceremonialist’s roll if he possesses one or more ranks in Performance. Add +1 or more to the ceremonialist’s roll if he is using a talisman of the appropriate type.
If the ceremony throw results is a natural 1 – or a natural 1-3 in the case of a hasty ceremony – then a botch occurs. The caster suffers from the stigma of failure (see below) and may trigger a mishap (refer to the Heroic Fantasy Handbook for details).
A ceremonial trinket is a minor magic item that allows a ceremonialist to perform the ceremony it contains as if he were casting it as a spell. A ceremonialist can create trinkets in advance and have them ready to use during an adventure. A trinket is specific to its creator – they cannot be activated by other ceremonialists, even if they are from the same tradition (but see the comments, below).
Trinkets can be of two types, disposable or rechargeable. Disposable trinkets are destroyed when they are uesd, while rechargeable trinkets are merely drained and can be recharged simply by performing the trinket’s ceremony on it. (The ceremonialist does not have to pay the reagent cost when recharging an emptied trinket.)
A trinket also requires magical reagents of value equal to the base cost. A ceremonialist is usually assumed to use “generic” reagents, but if he can locate “special” reagents (which are specific to each ceremony), they will provide a bonus to the crafting throw.
Creating a trinket takes 6 hours, limiting the character to one per day, and requires a Crafting throw with target values as given below:
Modify each roll by the ceremonialist’s WIS modifier. A ceremonialist may add his ranks in one Crafting profiency one Knowledge proficiency, as described in the Heroic Fantasy Handbook. Add +1 or more to the ceremonialist’s roll if he is using a talisman of the appropriate type.
If the crafting throw results in a natural 1 then a botch occurs. Note that the ceremonialist suffers the effects of corruption and stigma when he creates a trinket, not when he uses it.
Failing a ceremony causes a ceremonialist to acquire a point of stigma. Stigma represents a loss of attunement with the metaphysical, a disorder in the ceremonialist’s soul brought on by the stain of failure. If a ceremonialist accumulates enough stigma, he will lose the ability to perform ceremonies until he purifies himself.
The amount of stigma a ceremonialist can withstand is known as his stigma threshold and is equal to the highest level of ceremony he knows. When a ceremonialist’s stigma equals or exceeds his stigma threshold, he loses the ability to perform ceremonies until he purifies himself of the stigma. (A ceremonialist can, however, still make use of his existing trinkets while under the stigma of failure.)
A ceremonialist can purify himself of all accumulated stigma by resting for 8 hours and then spending 1 hour (6 turns) engaged in various cleansing rites with his traditional implements. At the conclusion of the cleansing rites, the ceremonialist reduces his accumulated stigma to 0.
As a side effect of purification, all of a ceremonialist’s trinkets are destroyed or emptied – the ceremonialist has cleansed himself of all his past metaphysical connections, both good and bad.