Arcane Backgrounds

Most roleplaying games feature “magic” in one form or another. Whether it’s hidden occult lore practiced only by dark cultists, voodoo rituals, the eldritch sorcery of powerful wizards, weird gadgets created by mad scientists, superpowers, or the psionic powers of the mind, these rules handle it all in one simple system.

For ease of use, we call all of these effects “powers.” Best of all, powers work the same from game to game, but the particular use and trappings give the same powers endless variations. That means you can create wizards, mad scientists, superheroes, and even creatures with one simple set of easy-to-remember rules.

You need to buy the Arcane Background Edge and choose which type of supernatural power your hero is blessed with. In Savage Mystara, only two types of Arcane Backgrounds are allowed: Magic (primarily wielded by mages) and Miracles (primarily wielded by clerics). Both types of powers use the same basic mechanics but with a few important differences in the details.

Available Powers

Arcane Background Novice Powers Available
Magic Armor, Beast Friend, Bolt, Boost/Lower Trait, Burrow, Burst, Deflection, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Elemental Manipulation, Entangle, Environmental Protection, Fear, Light, Obscure, Shape Change, Smite, Speak Language, Speed, Stun
Miracles Armor, Beast Friend, Boost/Lower Trait, Burrow, Deflection, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Elemental Manipulation, Entangle, Environmental Protection, Fear, Healing, Light, Obscure, Shape Change, Smite, Speak Language, Speed, Stun

Power Descriptions

Each power has the following statistics:

Rank: This is the Rank a character must be in order learn this power; Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, Heroic, or Legendary.

Power Points: The number of points it costs to use the power. Some powers allow the character to pay additional points for additional effects. This is always determined—and paid for—before the dice are rolled.

Range: The maximum distance the target of the power can be from the user when the power is first activated (it remains in effect even if the target moves out of range as long as it’s maintained). A Range of Smarts, for example, means 10” for a character with a Smarts of d10. If a power lists three ranges, such as 12/24/48, these are read just like missile weapon ranges, and subtract the standard penalties for each range bracket (0/-2/-4). The arcane character’s skill roll acts as both his “casting” and attack total for these type powers.

Duration: How long the power lasts in rounds. A power with a Duration of 1 lasts until the heroes’ next action. A duration of 2 means it lasts for two actions, and so on. If the Duration of a power has a second entry in parentheses, such as 3 (1/round), it means the power has a duration of 3 rounds and may then be maintained from round to round by spending the listed number of Power Points (1 in this case). Each power maintained subtracts 1 from future uses of the hero’s arcane skill.

Trappings: The powers listed in this chapter are designed to be as simple to use and remember as possible. This helps the GM remember what all the powers do, and helps players remember the rules for common powers even between different settings. But just because these powers work the same from setting to setting doesn’t mean they have to look the same or even have the same names (at least among the characters of the world). The bolt power, for example, is a very simple but flexible power. In Mystara, it might be called “magic missile” and take the form of yellow bolts of light. In a dark magic and crazed cultists game, the same power could be the ranged attack of an insect shaman that takes the form of a swarm of killer bees that rushes toward the heroes and stings them!

When the GM decides to dramatically change the trappings of a power, she’ll also have to figure out any special rules that go with them. If an armor spell forms a blazing shield of fire, for instance, perhaps it offers double protection against fire attacks, but none against bolts of cold or ice (or vice-versa). Similarly, if a power is tied to an item, such as a witch using a broom for the fly power, you’ll need to decide what happens if the item is taken away. Check out More Trappings for a few more examples.

Novice Powers


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Touch Duration: 3 (1/round) Trappings: A mystical glow, hardened skin, ethereal armor, a mass of insects or worms, densening.

Armor creates a field of magical protection around a character, or an actual shell of some sort, effectively giving the target Armor. Success grants the recipient 2 points of Armor. A raise grants 4 points of Armor.

Beast Friend

Rank: Novice Power Points: Special Range: Smarts x 100 yards Duration: 10 minutes Trappings: The mage concentrates and gestures with his hands.

This spell allows mages to speak with and guide the actions of nature’s beasts. It works only on creatures with animal intelligence, not humanoids. Nor does it work on conjured, magical, or otherwise “unnatural” animals. The target must be within the sorcerer’s range—it is not conjured.

The cost to control a creature depends on its Size. The base cost is 3, plus twice its Size for creatures with a Size greater than 0. A great white shark (Size +4) costs 3 plus (2×4=) 8 or 11 points. A roc (Size +8) costs 19 Power Points to control.

Swarms may also be controlled. Small swarms cost 3, Mediums 5, and Large 8. Thus a single rat costs 3 to control, as does a small swarm of the creatures.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 1-6 Range: 12/24/48 Duration: Instant Trappings: Fire, ice, light, darkness, colored bolts, insects.

Bolt is a standard attack power of wizards, and can also be used for ray guns, bursts of energy, streaks of holy light, and other ranged attacks. The damage of the bolt is 2d6.

Additional Bolts: The character may cast up to 3 bolts by spending a like amount of Power Points. This must be decided before the power is cast. The bolts may be spread among targets as the character chooses.

Firing the additional bolts does not incur any attack penalties.

Additional Damage: The character may also increase the damage to 3d6 by doubling the Power Point cost per bolt. This may be combined with the additional bolts, so firing 3 bolts of 3d6 damage costs 6 Power Points.

Boost/Lower Trait

Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Smarts Duration: 3 (1/Round) Trappings: Physical change, glowing aura, potions.

This power allows a character to increase any of a target’s Traits by one die type for a standard success, and two with a raise. The affected Trait can exceed d12. Each step over d12 adds +1 to his Trait total. For example, a raise on someone who already has a d12 in the affected Trait grants him d12+2 for the duration of the power.

The power can also be used to lower an opponent’s Trait. This is an opposed roll against the victim’s Spirit. Success lowers any Trait of the caster’s choice one step, a raise lowers it two steps. A Trait cannot be lowered below a d4. Multiple castings stack, though the caster must keep track of when each casting expires as usual.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 3 Range: Smarts x 2 Duration: 3 (2/round) Trappings: Dissolving into the earth and appearing elsewhere.

Burrow allows a mage standing on raw earth to meld into it. He can remain underground if he wants in a sort of “limbo” or burrow to anywhere within his range. A mage with a Smarts of d8 could therefore move up to 16” (32 yards) on the first round, maintain the spell and stay submerged for the second and “move” another 16”.

A burrowing earth mage can attempt to surprise a foe (even one who saw him burrow) by making an opposed Stealth versus Notice roll. If the mage wins, he gains +2 to attack and damage that round, or +4 with a raise. Targets on Hold may attempt to interrupt the attack as usual.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Flame Template Duration: Instant Trappings: A shower of flames, light, or other energy.

Burst produces a large fan of energy that bathes its targets in red-hot fire or other damaging energy. When cast, place the thin end of the Cone Template at the character’s front. Targets within the template may make Agility rolls versus the caster’s arcane skill roll to avoid the blaze. Those who fail suffer 2d10 damage. This counts as a Heavy Weapon. With a fire trapping, victims have a 1 in 6 chance of catching fire as well.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Touch Duration: 3 (1/round) Trappings: Mystical shield, gust of wind, phantom servant that intercepts the missiles.

Deflection powers work in a variety of ways. Some actually deflect incoming attacks, others blur the target’s form or produce other illusionary effects. The end result is always the same however—to misdirect incoming melee and missile attacks from the user.

With a standard success, attackers must subtract 2 from any Fighting, Shooting, or other attack rolls directed at the user. A raise increases the penalty to -4. This also acts as Armor against area effect weapons.

Detect/Conceal Arcana

Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Sight Duration: 3 (1/round) or 1 hour (1/hour) Trappings: Waving hands, whispered words.

Detect/conceal arcana allows a character to sense supernatural persons, objects, or effects within sight. This includes invisible foes, enchantments on people or items, mad science devices, and so on.

The power can also be reversed to conceal a single supernatural item, being, or effect. This has the same cost, but the duration is much longer—1 hour with a maintenance cost of 1 per hour. When used in this way, those who wish to see through the ruse with detect arcana use their arcane skill roll as an opposed roll against the concealer’s skill (rolled anew each time detect arcana is cast).

The detecting character may only attempt to see through concealed powers once per fresh casting.

Elemental Manipulation

Rank: Novice Power Points: 1 Range: Smarts x 2 Duration: Instant Trappings: A few simple gestures.

A character who chooses this power must select one particular element to control (though he may choose other elements as a new power). This allows him to perform basic “tricks” within his chosen element. The specific tasks that may be attempted are listed below.

Air: The caster can create lesser air currents to blow out a candle, fan a flame, lift a skirt, or cool his body in oppressive heat (+1 to a single Fatigue roll caused by heat).

Earth: A wave of the hand can open a one-foot square hole in soft earth (or half that in stone), or cause a spray of sand that might blind an opponent (+1 to a Trick roll).

Fire: The caster can snap his fingers to create a small flame (about the size of a hot match). With existing fire, he can urge it to spread (+1 to see if a fire spreads), cause it to flare (perhaps as part of a Trick maneuver), or slowly light an object over the course of a few rounds (as if holding a match to it).

Water: The caster can conjure up to a pint of water somewhere within his sight (not “inside” objects or people. A wave of his hand also purifi es one gallon of water, whether it be poisoned or simply salt-water. Those who have been poisoned within the last minute also get a second chance to resist any remaining effects.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2-4 Range: Smarts Duration: Special Trappings: Glue bomb, vines, handcuffs, spider webs

This power allows the character to restrain a target with snaking vines, lengths of hair, spider webs, or some other vine-like trapping. The arcane skill roll is opposed by the target’s Agility. Success indicates partial restraint so that the target suffers a –2 penalty to Pace and skills linked to Agility and Strength. A raise restrains the target fully. He cannot move or use any skills linked to Agility or Strength.

Each following round, an entangled target may make a Strength or Agility roll to break free. Other characters may also attempt to free the ensnared person by making a Strength roll at -2.

For 2 Power Points, entangle targets a single opponent. For 4 points, it affects everyone in Medium Burst Template.

Environmental Protection

Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Touch Duration: 1 hour (1/Hour) Trappings: A mark on the forehead, potions, “gills.”

Adventurers sometimes travel beneath the waves, in space, or other hazardous environments. This power allows the target to breathe, speak, and move at his normal Pace while underwater, in zero-G, a vacuum, in the lava of a volcano or the heat of the sun, the arctic wastes, and so on. Pressure, atmosphere, air, etc, are all provided for the character. Complete protection is offered only for background hazards. A fire attack still causes normal damage even with environmental protection, for example. A success is needed to accomplish the power. With a raise, maintaining the power becomes 1 Power Point per 2 hours (for that particular target).


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Smarts x 2 Duration: Instant Trappings: Gestures, eldritch energy, cold chills.

This power causes the target overwhelming dread and horror. The area of effect is the Large Burst Template. Every creature beneath the template must make a Guts check, apply -2 to the Guts roll if the caster got a raise. Wild Cards who fail roll on the Fear Table. Extras are Panicked instead.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 3 Range: Touch Duration: Instant Trappings: Laying on hands, touching the victim with a holy symbol, prayer.

Healing repairs recent bodily damage. It must be used within the “golden hour,” though, for it has no effect on wounds more than one hour old.

For Wild Cards, each use of the healing spell removes a wound with a success, and two with a raise. The roll suffers a penalty equal to the victim’s wounds (in addition to any the caster might be suffering himself).

For Extras, the GM must first determine if the ally is dead. If so, no healing may be attempted. If not, a successful arcane skill roll returns the ally to the game Shaken.

Healing can also cure poison and disease if used within 10 minutes of the event.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 1 Range: Touch Duration: 10 minutes (1/minute) Trappings: Different colors, floating globes, glowing palms, enchanted staffs.

The ability to create light is a pretty simple one as magical spells and powers go, but a party trapped in the dark with loathsome undead is happy to have an ally with this ability. Light must be cast on an inanimate object, such as a coin, a sword, a shield, or even someone’s clothing. Clever casters often cast light on a foe’s clothes or weapon to make him easier to see—ignore any penalties for illumination when attacking such an affected target. The light is as bright as a torch, and provides clear illumination in an area equal to a Large Burst Template.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Smarts Duration: 3 (1/round) Trappings: Darkness.

This power does exactly what its name implies—creates an area of obscurement equal to a Large Burst Template. Attacks into, out of, or through the area of effect suffer the standard penalty for absolute blindness of -6.

Shape Change

Rank: Special Power Points: Special Range: Self Duration: 1 minute (1/minute) Trappings: “Morphing,” talismans, tattoos.

Many cultures have legends of shamans or wizards who can take on the shape of animals. This power does just that. This version of the power only allows a user to transform into mundane animals, but more bizarre transmutations may be found.

A character may learn this spell while of Novice rank, but cannot transform into the more powerful creatures until he attains the appropriate rank. The cost in Power Points depends on the type of creature the character wishes to change into. Use the Shape Change Table as a guideline for unlisted creatures.

Weapons and other personal effects are assumed into the animal’s form and reappear when the power ends, but other objects are dropped.

While transformed, the character retains his own Smarts, Spirit, and linked skills (though he may not be able to use them since he cannot speak). He gains the animal’s Agility and Strength and linked skills, and cannot use most devices. He has no capacity for speech and cannot use powers, though he may continue to maintain powers previously activated. Vigor is the higher of the caster’s or the creature’s. The GM has final say on what an animal can and cannot do. A shaman in dog-form might be able to pull the trigger on a shotgun, for instance, but would use a default skill roll of d4-2 as the animal has no Shooting score of its own. The shaman’s Persuasion functions normally, but without speech, might suffer a -4 or worse penalty depending on what he tries to accomplish.

Shape Change
Cost Rank Animal_. Types
3 Novice Hawk, rabbit, cat
4 Seasoned Dog, wolf, deer
5 Veteran Lion, tiger
6 Heroic Bear, shark
7 Legendary Great white shark


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: Touch Duration: 3 (1/round) Trappings: A colored glow, runes, sigils, crackling energy, barbs grow from the blade.

This power is cast on a weapon of some sort. If it’s a ranged weapon, it affects one entire magazine, 20 bolts, shells, or arrows, or one full “load” of ammunition (the GM may have to determine the exact quantity for unusual weapons). While the spell is in effect, the weapon’s damage is increased by +2, or +4 with a raise.

Speak Language

Rank: Novice Power Points: 1 Range: Touch Duration: 10 minutes (1/10 minutes) Trappings: Words, pictures, hand motions.

This power allows a character to speak, read, and write a language other than his own. The language must be of an advanced form—not animalistic. A raise on the arcane skill roll allows the user to project a particular dialect as well.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 1 Range: Touch Duration: 3 (1/round) Trappings: Blurred motion, “floating,” acrobatics.

Warriors who need to close with their foes quickly often use this power, as do those who sometimes need to outrun things Man Was Not Meant to Know. Speed allows the target of the power to move faster than usual. With a success, the recipient’s basic Pace is doubled. With a raise, running becomes a free action, so he may ignore the usual -2 running penalty.


Rank: Novice Power Points: 2 Range: 12/24/48 Duration: Special Trappings: Bolts of energy, stun bombs, sonic booms, burst of blinding light.

Stun shocks those within a Medium Burst Template with concussive force, sound, light, magical energy, or the like. If the arcane character scores a success, targets within the area of effect must make Vigor rolls or be Shaken. With a raise, victims must make Vigor rolls at -2.


Misadventures in Mystara dm_punks