On other games, some staff ask for something called 'Phenomenon, Action, Theory', or a PAT. We don't use the PAT approach. We just use the process capsulized on page 501 of M20 Core. If you're familiar with the PAT approach, we essentially require the "P" and the "T". If you're struggling to get it after reading more below, just write the P and the T.
Step One – Effect: Identify what you're trying to accomplish and what spheres you're using to do it. For example: "I'd like to use Prime 1 to sense magickal energies."
Step Two - Ability: Identify how your mage can do it. Touch on the following points:
- How does your character focus belief and practice into making it happen?
- Which tools and/or rituals are you using?
- Are any allies assisting you?
- Do you have any mundane skills that might help?
- How long does it take? (Optional - ST will determine based on required successes and instrument of choice)
- Is what you're doing vulgar or coincidental? (Optional - ST will determine based on IC details and chosen effects)
In order to answer "How does your character focus belief and practice into making it happen?", write a sentence that ties one of your character's Practices into one of your Paradigmatic Keyphrases. For example, a mage might have "High Ritual Magick" as one of their three practices and "Ancient Wisdom Is The Key" as one of their Paradigmatic key phrases. They might say, "As Ancient Wisdom is the Key to power over sprits and otherworldly beings, I can bind a specter through an act of High Ritual Magick."
Next, to answer "which tools and/or rituals are you using?", single out one or more of your Instruments. For example, "I will draw a Magick Circle on the floor inscribed with Latin and then use an Invocation."
If you are not sure if you have "mundane Skills that might help," don't hesitate to ask your storyteller. A mundane skill is a literal skill on your sheet, like Crafts, Meditation or Firearms. If one of your instruments reasonably would be expressed as a skill roll, this is a 'mundane skill that might help'. For example, if your mage is using dance as an instrument, they might roll Dexterity + Performance.
Put it all together:
I want to summon a ghost with Spirit 2 (and this here fetter). Because Ancient Wisdom is the Key to power over sprits and otherworldly beings, I can summon a specter through an act of High Ritual Magick. I will draw a Magick Circle on the floor inscribed with Latin and then use an Invocation to command the Spectre to manifest within the circle.
I want to look into the fuuuuture with Time 2. Because Everything Is An Illusion, I can bypass the thoughtforms that create it by using Chaos Magick. I'm using Instruments of Chance, creating a cut-up out of news articles like some kind of Dadaist ransom letter, and what will happen here next week will end up in the randomly generated sentences.
You can go far more in depth than this and illustrate your paradigm in detail if you like, but these short descriptions are all you need. If you are the sort of person who likes to break down the mechanics, you are welcome to provide them, but all we require is a sentence that says what you want to accomplish, the Practice you use, the Paradigmatic keyphrase that empowers that practice, and the instrument(s) that facilitate that practice.
It is not your responsibility as a player to know how many successes you need, what the difficulty is, or any of those particulars. Yes, knowing this information is greatly appreciated by the storyteller(s) and typically speeds up the process, but the only thing you're required to actually do is role play your character, be generally familiar with the mechanics, and follow ST instructions. Not knowing how to do something should never be a blocker to telling staff you want to do a thing.
It is your responsibility to know what difficulty modifiers you wish to use since we can't really read your mind. Storytellers will attempt to do some of the lifting for you since we all like to make difficulties on dice rolls friendlier to us, but if you want your character to use the node, use a transcended instrument, and so on, we can't read your mind and you'll need to tell us. You can find the Magickal Difficulty Modifiers listed neatly out on page 503 of M20 Core.
How Much Time Does It Take?
The amount of time something takes is informed largely by the amount of necessary successes to achieve an effect. Your choice of a particular instrument might also inherently come with a time frame depending on what it is, but that is a little self-explanatory (one doesn't have to know the mage mechanics to know that dealing some tarot cards takes less time than, say, bringing a big cauldron to a boil). If you are in doubt about how long a particular instrument's usage should take, ask your storyteller.
We use the Dividing Successes rule (page 504 M20 core) and we use the Ritual, Ceremony, And Great Work rule (page 541 M20 core), and so when finding out how much time a spell will take to cast, work out the successes you need.
Casting In Combat
When in combat, an arete rolls take a single combat round, which is 3 seconds or less. The fast-casting penalty will apply unless the spell is a rote or the instrument used is violence (see p 415 M20 core).
When casting in combat, please note that there are specific rules towards accumulating successes over multiple Arete rolls. The moniker 'fast-casting' is poorly chosen and is referring to casting under pressure or unprepared, not when trying to cast something as fast as possible. Please see the 'Partial Successes' section.
When a prepared spell requires 5 or less successes, that is a "Brief Rite". Each Arete roll for a brief rite takes an abstract amount of time that is significantly longer than a combat round, but typically no longer than a couple of minutes. There are no stamina rules that apply to Brief Rites, and so there is plenty of narrative flexibility for how long a particular spell should take to achieve. Still, each roll should represent a block of time long enough that application in combat is unrealistic.
Once you acquire your targeted amount of successes in an Arete roll, you are done rolling for the spell. If you happened to get more successes than you originally planned in a given arete roll, you get to keep them and distribute them as you like, but you do not get to roll again to obtain even more. For example, Jimbo has rolled once already and gotten 2 of his necessary 3 successes. He rolls one more time to get that third success and is lucky: all 3 of his Arete dice come up successes. He only needed 3, but he got 5! He gets to keep the extra 2, but is done casting his spell.
When a prepared spell requires 6 to 10 successes, that is a "Ceremony". Each Arete roll for a ceremony takes an hour. Additionally, as pointed out on page 541, a Mage can cast for one hour per dot of Stamina until they have to make Stamina checks.
Narratively, storytellers and players may depict that an Arete roll doesn't take a full hour and instead takes some other (still considerable) amount of time such as thirty minutes. Mechanically, however, each Arete roll in a ceremony is treated as if it is one full hour for the purposes of Stamina checks regardless of the narrated passage of time. So, a storyteller and mage might agree that each Arete roll takes 20 minutes in the narrative sense. They will still need to do Stamina checks as if each Arete roll took an hour.
When casting Ceremonies off-screen, such as in +jobs or through automated systems, one Downtime point gets deducted from a Mage for every completed Ceremony. This downtime cost is not applied when you're actively in a scene with a storyteller but it does count when casting in any off-screen context.
Once you acquire your targeted amount of successes in an Arete roll for A Ceremony, you are done rolling for the spell. If you happened to get more successes than you originally planned in a given arete roll, you get to keep them and distribute them as you like, but you do not get to roll again to obtain even more. For example, Jimbo has rolled several times already and gotten 7 of his necessary 8 successes. He rolls one more time to get that eighth success and is lucky: all 3 of his Arete dice come up successes. He only needed 7, but he got 10! He gets to keep the extra 2, but is done casting his spell.
When a prepared spell requires more than 10 successes, that is a "Great Work". Each Arete roll for a great work takes a demanding and significant span of time: five hours.
Narratively, storytellers and players may depict that an Arete roll doesn't take a full 5 hours and instead takes some other (still very long) amount of time, at least two hours. Mechanically, however, each Arete roll in a Great Work is treated as if it is five hours for the purposes of Stamina checks regardless of the narrated passage of time. So, a storyteller and mage might agree that, narratively speaking, each Arete roll is taking 4 hours, not 5, for whatever story reason. They will still need to do Stamina checks as if each Arete roll took five hours.
For clarification regarding the stamina rolls described on page 542 of M20 core, you do, in fact, need to perform all your Stamina rolls before 'unlocking' your first Arete roll for a Great Work. If you have Stamina 3 and set out to perform a Great Work, for example, you'll need to roll Stamina twice before you can roll Arete. After that, for each Arete roll you want, you'll need to roll Stamina 5 times.
When casting Great Works, one Downtime point gets deducted from a Mage per Arete roll. You can go into negative downtime for simplicity (you'll just not be able to take other off-screen actions until your downtime pool is replenished). This downtime cost is applied even when you're actively in a scene with a storyteller.
Once you acquire your targeted amount of successes in an Arete roll, you are done rolling for the spell. If you happened to get more successes than you originally planned in a given arete roll, you get to keep them and distribute them as you like, but you do not get to roll again to obtain even more. For example, Jimbo has rolled once already and gotten 11 of his necessary 12 successes. He rolls one more time to get that twelfth success and is lucky: all 3 of his Arete dice come up successes. He only needed 12, but he got 15! He gets to keep the extra 2, but is done casting his spell.
Maximum Spell Successes
There is technically no upper limit to however many successes you can design a spell to have, but there is a limit to however many arete rolls you may take (Arete + Willpower), and therefore there's a ceiling from a practical standpoint. Logically, at Arete 2 and Willpower 5, if you can only roll 2 dice 7 times, you can only get 14 successes, and rolling nothing but successes all 7 times is pretty damn unlikely.
If an Arete roll's difficulty is ever increased to 10, the difficulty is actually 9 and the additional difficulty modifiers (which stack) are tacked on as pre-requisite successes to get a spell going. So, if you are casting a spell that requires 5 successes and then keep failing such that you rack up what would technically be difficulty 10, you'd be rolling at difficulty 9 and require 1 more success (6 total successes). If you failed that difficulty 9 roll, then you owe yet another success (7 total successes). See page 387 of M20 Core for in-depth details.
In combat, your Arete rolls are typically one and done. You get the successes in one roll or you don't.
There is an exception to this rule: the Partial Successes rule. Those who specifically state ahead of time how many successes you are going for can roll in the next combat round if they acquire half the required successes for an effect. You need to acquire half of the successes in both arete rolls for this effect to occur, or else the entire spell is lost. If your first arete roll achieves half or more of the required successes, you can in fact carry your spell into the next combat round at +1 difficulty. That second Arete roll will be your last because you're expected to get half of the total required successes in that roll.
Again, it is important to note that you need to call this shot before you roll Arete. You cannot look at the results of your roll and then deem that you want to roll again in the next round.
Due to the nature of a Ceremony (a spell that takes 6+ successes) requiring an hour of time per Arete roll, you can only use this Partial Successes approach to cast spells that require 5 successes or less. A Mage can still be perfectly fatal with 5 successes or less (and so can a guy with a shotgun).
Jimbo Bani Ignis wants to murder someone with the iconic fireball (Forces 3, Prime 2, Vulgar). He does not specify how strong he wants his fireball to be, rolls Arete vs 7, and gets only 1 success. That would do no damage, so he tries to continue to cast in combat round 2. The storyteller says, 'tough titties, man.'
Jimbo's time to shine comes again. In this combat, he's says, "I'm going to do a 4-success fireball so I can murder Tim." He rolls his Arete vs 7 and he gets 1 success. Womp womp. Jimbo then gets cracked in the face by Tim, who was meanwhile studying the blade.
In his next fight, he tries the 4 success Fireball Of Death again. His first Arete roll gets 2 successes. He can now roll Arete again in the next combat round at a difficulty of 8. The next combat round comes around. He gets 1 success. Womp womp: he needs to get the other half in the second roll and he didn't. Jimbo then gets cracked in the face by Tim, who was meanwhile studying the blade.
Third time's a charm. Jimbo fights again. He rolls his Arete vs 7 and gets 2 successes. He can nearly taste victory. "Kame hame!" he cries, in combat round 1, looking forward to his imminent "Ha!". Jimbo then gets cracked in the face by Tim, who was meanwhile studying the blade and is by no means going to stand there and let Jimbo charge his laser. if Jimbo wants his "ha!" then he must succeed on a difficulty 8 Willpower roll (see "Interference", page 540).
Jimbo passes his Willpower roll. Combat round 2 rolls around. He gets 2 successes. At last, he casts his fireball. Fireballs can indeed be dodged, but oh lawd, that fireball comin'.