Decided to mix things up a bit here by presenting one magical discipline and how it works. Let’s start with how magical disciplines work.
On the whole, magical disciplines are two things: expensive and powerful. All disciplines, both magical and unmagical are broken up into levels which give you access to various effects. For instance, someone with one level in the Knife Junkare discipline never actually has to draw his blade as an action. Magical disciplines, however, give you access to spells at the various levels, with lower levels having minor effects and higher levels being the stuff of legends.
We’ll use my favorite magical discipline here as an example.
Wind Mastery is a form of sorcery that deals with wind, rain and thunder.
Level one means you can make a wind rope. You take a piece of rope and tie complicated knots along the rope. For every knot, you capture one gale of wind into the knot. This means that you can calm down the wind or when untying a knot, release the wind.
Level two allows you to make rain through chanting. Pretty handy in an agricultural society or a ship out at sea.
These are the basic spells that the Wind Witches of the Scandian mountains use. The levels beyond these are actually dangerous. It’s worth noting that levels one and two only deal with controlling weather, you can’t make windknots if it’s calm and you can’t make rain in a desert. The weather is also natural, so it has no major mechanical effects in that sense. The advanced spells, that follow, are the ones that deal with unnatural weather.
Level three gives you control of thunder. You can call down lightning during a thunderstorm, and you can actually make a thunderstorm if there’s any rain. This allows you to start fires through lightning strikes and if you have really good aim, you can use lightning to fry your enemies if they’re caught out in the open. The lightning still works like natural lightning, so it won’t hit someone standing next to a high mast or a tall tree.
Level four allows you to make a storm out of nowhere, with hurricane-level winds. It’s strong enough to tear down buildings or sink ships. People caught out in the open will be unable to move against the wind.
Level five is Become the Storm, the pinnacle of Wind Witchery. The sorcerer can actually become a storm, move about with the speed of storm wind and reform back into a human whenever the sorcerer desires. The storm is roughly equivalent in strength to the level four storm, so the sorcerer can knock over people while being a storm.
So, what’s the drawback to doing major magic like these? Simple. Since we have this system where you roll a number of dice and look for matching numbers, we use the same mechanics for magic, of course. However, when you roll for major sorceries, any dice without a match become Backlash dice. A roll with one backlash dice is ok, two or three backlash dice might give you a headache, but anything beyond that starts to become problematic. If you roll an utterly poor roll like eight dice without a single match when attempting to Become the Storm, you might end up becoming a completely ordinary storm, with our body and mind permanently gone. Whoops.
The thing here is that experienced sorcerers know about the dangers inherit in working with the unnatural. Every discipline has it’s own form of preparation you can use. For example, you’d want to do a longer ritual chanting session when working with the Winds to avoid backlash. The more you prep, the more you can eliminate Backlash dice.
Also, successes negate backlash dice. For each matching dice in a roll beyond the first , you can eliminate one backlash dice. Being successful means a lot. Sometimes it means not exploding. You can also decide before your roll to roll less dice than you have available, which in game terms means you retrain yourself to using the full extent of whatever powers you have.
Also here’s one more thing. Having a magical discipline at whatever level doesn’t mean you’re actually good at using it: it just means you have raw power. And raw power without the ability to control it might be very, very dangerous.