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The Magic of Neverwhere

Magic in Neverwhere comes in two forms: the magical quirk, a kind of special skill which is supernatural in origin, and high magic, also called ceremonial, ritual, or proper magic.

The magical quirk

Magical quirks are special skills which, at least to the outsider, seem to be supernatural in origin. They need not be supernatural to the wielder; in fact, to the wielder they are usually as natural as walking, eating and sleeping.

All magical quirks are innate. They may be improved and they may even have to be studied, but without having an innate ability to use the quirk in the first place all learning efforts will remain fruitless. Magical quirks have a sound basis in the character of their wielder.

For character creation purposes, any magical quirk should be decided upon before the game starts. While the initial value need not be high, and the quirks may even be undeveloped yet, the character will develop no other quirks during his or her lifetime.

Quirks don't have to be positive in nature. It may be a good idea to balance additional positive quirks with negative quirks on character chreation to preserve game balance. A negative quirk could for example cause electronic equipment to malfunction when the character comes close. These will often be rolled for by the game master.

Magical quirks come in various flavours. The difference between the flavours is the trait with which the quirk is connected. Most quirks manifest as either quirks of Concentration, Reason, Willpower or Intuition, although quirks connected to other traits are feasible as well.

Concentration quirks

Concentration quirks are only accessible when the character can rest and prepare for the utilization of the quirk. Such quirks are special abilities which have always been there, maybe even honed to perfection, but need special attention to be used. They might even need a small ritual to cast.

Imagine having to multiply two three digit numbers in your head. While you may figure it out given time and leisure, you will probably not be able to do it while driving a car through heavy traffic or being otherwise distracted. This is the nature of Concentration quirks.

Reason quirks

Reason quirks must be learned, even though the aptitude has to be there from the beginning. A Reason quirk is based on understanding a fundamental (but unknown to the outside world) principle or fact about reality. Door's family, for instance, has the ability to open locked doors without a key and even open passageways where there are none. Door had to learn this special ability. Her family has a unique way of looking at locked things, which Door has to understand first in order to utilize the quirk.

Willpower quirks

Willpower quirks are perfect examples of mind over matter. A character with such a quirk is able to inflict his or her will upon reality and change it in a way not usually possible. This is contrary to understanding something about reality; in spite of knowing perfectly well that what you are about to do is not possible, you do it anyway.

Intuition quirks

Intuition quirks are a bit like Intelligence quirks in that they are based on understanding a facet of reality, but while Intelligence is rational, Intuition is irrational. There is no reasonable cause for the additional insight, but it is there nonetheless. Intuition quirks cannot be taught, only triggered or awakened through key situations.

There is yet another kind of quirk, but one that does not manifest as a skill. This is a permanent oddity/irregularity about the character that is neither controllable nor does it change. An example for this is the seeming invulnerability of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.

There is no need to roll for such permanent quirks, and therefore they need not be connected to a trait. They are just noted on the character sheet and are always active. They should be highly unique and rare; powerful quirks of a permanent nature are best reserved for very important NPCs, especially antagonists, while PCs should only have minor permanent quirks in order to keep the game balanced.

During character creation, the player and game master should first flesh out the workings of the quirks for the character and then decide which trait they are most closely linked to. The actual value is then determined like any other skill value. Permanent quirks are defined but left without a value.

High magic

High magic is a different thing altogether. While quirks are very focussed in what they can do and are usually easy to use, high magic is more versatile, but needs a lot of preparation and study before any results are scored.

There are many ways to practice high magic. The New Age department of any bookshop may give you an idea of the various magical paths there are. One may be a shaman calling on spirits, a willworker, an alchemist, a soothsayer etc. Once one has decided which path to walk, however, it is rarely changed. Think of the path as your character's religion, his or her view of the world. And magic is never only lip service; it works only when you are at it with your heart.

For game purposes, let us divide magical practice into four areas without regard to actual paths - four different effects to be achieved by magic. And sorry - there are no balls of fire here. Magic is about subtly influencing and changing reality, improving (or diminishing) luck, tapping hidden forces within or without you (read: your player character), not turning your enemies into heaps of ash.

The four magical areas of practice are Enchantment, Divination, Invocation and Evocation. Not every magician is necessarily skilled in all four and most will probably use only one. Each of these areas is considered to be a skill governed, according to the path the magician follows, by Reason, Willpower or Intuition. The path of Alchemy, for instance, could be seen as based on Reason, while Shamanism might primarily be ruled by Intuition.


Enchantment is the art of influencing things or people directly by magical means. Curses, charms, creation of talismans and amulets are often done through this skill. Enchantment uses rituals, which are often lengthy and very formalized. It cannot be said that a certain ritual must have a certain effect, or that a certain effect can only be reached by a certain ritual. The purpose of the ritual is to weave the magic into the tapestry of reality - the more extended the ritual is, the more difficult it is to keep up, the more sincere the magician is about the effect of the magic.

Furthermore, many traditions state that magic is a result of subconscious control over reality. Complicated rituals help subliminating the desired effect, pushing out of conscious thought and moving it into the area of subconsciousness, where it can work more efficiently.

Most rituals make use of symbolic actions or materials. The voodoo doll is a well-known example for a symbolic / sympathetic material which takes the place of the target of the spell.

For game purposes, rituals are usually traditional and therefore must be learned either from a teacher or from a book; masters of Enchantment (with a skill value of 50% or higher) may modify rituals or even create new ones. The GM may call for rolls against Concentration if the ritual is complicated to see whether the magician manages to keep his or her mind on the task. If so, a roll against Enchantment is made and the outcome is interpreted by the GM; in many cases the roll should be made by the GM in secret and the player should not immediately be told about success or failure.

The song Marquis de Carabas sells to Lear is a product of enchantment. The actual Enchantment in this case is on the tune itself, not the player of it, and the player need not have any magical aptitude.


Divination is the art of finding out information about past, present or future using magical means. Divination does not make extended use of rituals, except maybe personal rituals for achieving a trance to simplify access to the magical means of Divination, which may be a deck of Tarot cards, a pendulum, runes, the lines in the palm of a client's hand or whatever else fits the description of the magical path of the character.

Results are always open for interpretation. For example, Tarot cards do not have specific meanings which do not change; rather the meaning of the cards adapts itself to the question asked. The diviner always has to interpret the result, it is never clear-cut.

A magician should stick with one or two varieties of divination which fit his or her path. For divination, a roll is made (usually by the GM) against the skill value, and the GM divulges unspecific information about the question asked according to success levels. The better the roll, the more detailed the information may be. There should never be blunt statements like 'Your enemy will perish and you will succeed', but rather allegorical and symbolic images which must be interpreted by the magician in context. A generous GM might listen to these interpretations and develop his or her plot accordingly, if the divination succeeded but the interpretation did not.

Tarot cards are especially suited for divination, as the GM can select cards and card spreads as if drawn during the divination. This way, the symbolism is ready for interpretation, and the player of the diviner PC can actually work with the cards.


Invocation is an art based on the assumption of outer forces like angels, gods, demons, spirits, Platonic ideas etc. The purpose of invocation is calling upon the power of these forces and adding them to the target of the spell. A shaman, for instance, could call upon the spirit of raven (a symbol for wisdom) to increase his insight into a problem. The outer force here is a symbol again and is usually fully understood as such. Invocation is used to increase or decrease abilities, skill levels etc, for a time.

Invocation makes excessive use of ritual, but it is possible to perform a ritual binding a certain spirit (read: the desired ability, symbolized by the spirit) to oneself and activate it through a minimal, conscious act. For example, the shaman could call upon raven and bind the spirit to a ring. The moment the shaman slips on the ring (even days later), the desired additional wisdom, a bonus on Reason-related rolls, becomes effective.

Usually the invocational effect will fade after a time. If the effect was intended for a certain occasion, it ends when the occasion ends at the latest. If the effect is to be kept going over a longer period of time, the GM should call for additional Concentration or Willpower rolls. If they fail, the effect ends.

The power level of the effect should be directly connected to the success level of the Invocation skill roll. A partial success might yield a minimal bonus for a very short time, while a success may give a bonus equal to the quality of the roll for an extended period of time. This is all left to GM discretion.


Evocation is the opposite of Invocation. Evocation creates a spirit or an agent in contrast to calling upon a preconceived spirit or other force. Evocation takes a part of the caster's spirit and projects it outside as an emanation of the magician's design, again by means of a ritual. This new spirit is invested with certain abilities and tasks which it may then execute.

Such spirits are usually invisible. They may appear to the magician when needed; for instance, if the magician wants to be reminded of something on a specific occasion, the spirit may appear to do so when the occasion arrives. Spirits can be watchers, informants, and sometimes they may be able to affect wordly things as well, if they are really powerful. The life saving box the Marquis gave to Old Bailey is a highly specialized form of evocation, in which the marquis placed a copy of his whole spirit in the box. Old Bailey's fear may have been that the spirit escaped the box and took possession of him.

These four magical skills open a wide variety of options to the magician. For purposes of game balance, more difficult feats require better rolls and longer rituals. Then there is the high cost of magic: usually, the GM may inflict mental or psychic damage on the caster due to exhaustion or stress. In many cases, the damage will not be cancelled until the effects of the magic wears off and the magician gets some rest. As a rule of thumb, benign or neutral magic will usually result in mental damage only while black or detrimental magic may result in psychic damage which may be difficult to heal.

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