The Dragon's Teeth
Preserving and Defiling
Users of arcane magic (in game terms, those with the Magery advantage) face a terrible choice. In order to create magical effects, they must sacrifice life energy: either that of the living things around them (defiling) or, the more difficult option, their own (preserving). ‘Defilers’ are wizards who generally resort to defiling, while ‘preservers’ are wizards who commit to preserving. In reality, many spellcasters will use one or the other depending on their circumstances. The exceptions are Veiled Alliance members, for whom defiling is a crime punishable by death. Defiling is believed to be the reason why Athas is the barren wastleland it is today, and as such, all wizards are persecuted, defilers or not.
In game terms, whenever a wizard casts a spell, he must declare whether he or she is defiling or preserving. It is sensible to agree a ‘default’ setting with the GM, and only discuss the other option if it becomes necessary.
Preserving requires the wizard to sacrifice FP as per the usual GURPS rules. It has no impact on the environment.
Defiling, on the other hand, causes several negative effects within a radius equal to the spell’s FP cost in yards. This is referred to as the defiling radius. Within the defiling radius:
- All vegetation withers to ash, and the ground is rendered sterile for many decades.
- All living animate beings (including humanoids, insects, animals, and so on, but excluding undead and constructs) are treated as if their FP had been reduced to 1/3 (i.e. halve Move, Dodge and ST scores) for one combat turn.
The following conditions may increase or decrease the defiling radius:
- Maintained spells increase the defiling radius by the maintenance cost each round.
- Multiple spells cast from the same position will increase the ash crater by 50% of the new spell’s defiling radius.
- The density of vegetation can increase or decrease the defiling radius. An area of dense vegetation, such as a rainforest, might decrease the defiling radius by -50%, while sandy wastes or salt flats might increase it by 200-300%.
Note that the above only applies to characters casting spells via the Magery advantage. As with preservers, characters with Power Investiture follow the normal GURPS rules for spellcasting, i.e. by paying the spell’s FP cost.
The use of arcane magic invokes strong reactions from observers. The default reaction penalty from anyone who has observed you casting a spell or who knows that you are a wizard is -2. This applies regardless of whether you defiled or preserved: for most, the motto is “persecute first, ask questions later”. This reaction penalty can be mitigated or exacerbated depending on the observer. Some examples include:
- -4 to -8 from servants of a sorcerer-king.
- no penalty from characters who believe that you are a committed preserver, and who understand the difference between preserving and defiling (this includes characters trained in Occultism or Thaumatology).
- no penalty from servants of a sorcerer-king if you are also in the service of the same sorcerer-king.
- -8 from elemental priests, Veiled Alliance members, and others with a personal reason for hating defilers.
Concealing Magic Use
In a crowded area, you can try to cast a spell discreetly. Make a contested Sleight of Hand vs. Observation or Vision roll. You may receive a bonus or penalty depending on how obvious your spellcasting is, whether you preserved or defiled (defiling is more apparent), and the crowd’s general level of ignorance – few Athasians have witnessed arcane magic first hand.
Success means that no one notices that you cast a spell, and you escape the reaction penalties listed above. The spell’s effect and the defiled area may still attract unwanted attention, however.