Spell Matrices

Published on 23.09.2016

Art by Kathy SchadOne of the features of the Earthdawn setting is the magician's use of spell matrices, to protect them from the harmful magical energies and astral taint the Horrors brought into the world. In the Step System, spell matrices mainly serve as a mechanic for restricting the number of spells a magician can cast safely. The simple rules in Earthdawn: The Age of Legend do not necessarily require restricting spells, so the use of spell matrices is implicit: there is no mechanical impact unless your story has actual demand for such detail.

Some of you still want spell matrices to be more prominent in their games, however, so the following optional rules add mechanical detail to all magician characters. They also change the way spells affect the narrative of your game.

Raw Magic

Casting spells without a spell matrix is no longer safe, but considered to be "raw magic"—the magician channels astral energy directly through his own pattern and shapes that energy into the spell he needs.

The upside is that casting spells this way doesn't require the magician to spend a Karma Point—raw magic is easier to cast. The downside of this is two-fold: the astral energy is damaging and attracts unwanted attention.

  •   Casting raw magic does not require spending a Karma Point. Adjusting parameters works as normal.

  •   When casting raw magic and rolling a “No, and…” or “Yes, but…” result, the magician receives a Condition based on the severity of the situation (the more powerful the spell used, the worse the Condition).

  •   The effect of casting a raw spell is equivalent to firing a brilliant flare on a dark night. Horrors and other magical beings may take notice and act accordingly. Because of this inherent danger, magicians generally resort to this method only in dire emergencies.

Matrix Casting

A spell matrix is a magical construct a magician attunes to form a single spell. Once attuned, the magician can cast the attuned spell more safely, because the matrix filters the astral energy and dampens the effect.

  •   A spell matrix must be attuned before use. This is either done automatically with a short ritual or on the fly by making a beating-the-odds roll. On a “No, and…” result, all of the magician's spell matrices are wiped (and need to be re-attuned before they can be used again).

  •   Once attuned, the spell a matrix carries can be cast safely over and over again. A spell matrix can only hold a single spell. Side-effects of a “No, and…” or “Yes, but…” result will only apply to the effect of the spell, but not to taint or the attraction of unwanted attention.

  •   Casting a spell through a spell matrix requires the spending of a Karma Point (as per the regular rules).

Number of Spell Matrices

A magician receives a number of spell matrices depending on his Circle of Mastery: Novice=2, Journeyman=3, Warden=4, Master=5.

Developing Spell Matrices

At certain Circles of Mastery, magicians can use Character Points expand the capabilities of their spell matrices. The following enhancements are compatible and can be combined. Each enhancement (Enhanced, Armored, Shared) is added as a Tag to the spell matrix in question.

  •   Enhanced (2CP, Journeyman): Spending a Karma Point while attuning the matrix allows you to adjust a parameter (as per p.136) and lock it into the matrix. Every subsequent casting of the spell starts with this parameter set as default, and can be adjusted further as normal.

  •   Armored (2CP, Warden): Like all entities, spell matrices can be attacked, disrupted, and damaged. An armored matrix is more resilient to such effects, making them more difficult to achieve.

  •   Shared (3CP, Master): A Shared Matrix can hold more than a single spell. It must be attuned by making a beating-the-odds roll, with each additional spell adding a penalty die. On a “No, and…” result, all of the magician's spell matrices are wiped (and need to be re-attuned before they can be used again).


Shamans store their spells in fetishes, physical objects representing the spell. A spell fetish works exactly like the spell matrices described above, but must be held in hand when the spell is cast. Spell fetishes can also be developed and carry the same enhancements as above. Losing a spell fetish is equivalent to a wiped spell matrix, requiring the magician to rebuild the object and attune it. Enhancements aren't lost; they apply to the new fetish.