As a current Ars Magica character has a specialty in self transformation, I thought it would be interesting to see how a wizard can change their form into gargantuan creatures with hermetic magic. When doing some research into quasi-mythical giant monsters there was a wonderful variety of artwork to source for inspiration, so I have made this an image heavy blog post to reflect some of the great material I found.
In the designs I am thinking of a Behemoth, a Leviathan, and a Dragon. This is so I can cover a transformation appropriate to land, sea, and air. The dragon could almost cover all three at once if was designed to also swim and breathe underwater, but separate spell transformations will allow for more specialised form;, and I think that is a better overall flavour. Why have only one form, when you could have three?
An important factor for transformation spells in Ars Magica makes these forms exceedingly poor for actually fighting other mythic creatures or other Magi.
This is because a transformed Magus is under the effects of a an active spell, and that active spell means they cannot physically attack through the Magical Resistance or Parma Magica of a potential opponent. This means that these new transformations are basically useless for combat against other magical creatures and other spell casters with MR.
Sure a very large creature can sit and look intimidating, but it somewhat reduces the overall appeal when the dragon can’t actually bite anything with MR.
It’s a shame, because otherwise it would be wonderful thematically for Magi to fight “beast vs beast” against opponents.
Regardless of the deficiencies and constraints of hermetic Magic with regard to transformation, lets look at some spells to transform the caster into a gargantuan creature (hint: this is a darn long post).
Part One – How many features and how large for the creature designs?
In a previous blog post about the powers which might be in-build into a newly designed form (Thoughts on Muto Corpus guidelines), I came to the conclusion:
A few similar thematically alterations only cost +1 mag, but many will cost another +1 mag. So the extra +1 mag allows for say 12-15 powers, where the limited one allows for a handful.
For these creatures this type of boost makes sense because the intent is for them to be powerful and strange, so we should apply a general +2 mag modifier of complexity to all the forms when they are designed fully, so that they can properly mimic whatever physical potential is designed into the monster shapes. The sub-sections below list some suggested powers that each style of creature might have, such as universal digestion, breathing water, extra thick hides, and so on.
While some of the examples in the core rules allow for thematic effects (have a read of the Steed of Vengeance spell in ArM p.119) they shouldn’t be thought about as “magical powers”, but aspects and accents of the physical form. Anything which grants a separate mechanical advantage which is unrelated to the physical shape and form of the beast should be either not allowed, or paid for in extra magnitudes of spell complexity.
To start the spell effects must pay for the base to effect the target, which in this case is a Magus caster (Corpus base is included for size -1 to +1 humanoid), and then pay the magnitudes to reach the target size. For almost every creature I can think of in this article, bigger will be better.
Then when considering the size of the creatures there is a guideline implied by many of the Muto effects, that a base effect can affect a creature from base Individual size or smaller, and Muto can then alter it up to only 1 size rank. Then each +1 magnitude allows a further +3 size ranks (discussed here). So the first mag pays for a basic effect to alter the size up to +1, and then each additional mag adds three more size levels. 2 mags for up to size +4, 4 mags for up to size +10, 5 mags to +13, 6 mags to +16. Frankly anything larger is going to be far too high level to cast, and certainly beyond gigantic.
My read of this now is that for each +3 shift in size ranking a +1 mag is needed in a spell effect.
Then we need to know how big a rank is to plan what powers make sense. The base rules measure the size ranks by approx weight of the creature, not the height so that the difference between bipeds and quadrupeds is moot, and each increase of 3 size ranks makes the creatures weight ten times larger.
Therefore a size +3 creature is up to around 1300 pounds, and a size +12 creature is 1,300,000 pounds (or 530 imperial tons, which is apparently two and a half times the weight of the Statue of Liberty). Even if the math and rounding is a bit off (your saga may vary this a bit), that kind of order of magnitude in the size is exactly what these transformation effects need.
A handy table from a d20 resource gives rough weight and height sizes for their standard size ranges. It shows a humanoid creature of 32 to 64 feet tall might weigh 16 to 125 ton, which in the Ars Magica sizes is around creature size 9 and size 10.
Here is a sketchy generic effect for a human to giant transformation; designed to use some of the guidelines above and also not be such a high level spell as to be too difficult to learn.
Form of the Lumbering Jotunn
Muto Corpus 20, R: Personal, D: Sun, T: Ind
This effect enlarges the Magus up to a very large (size rank 10) version of themselves. At this size the Magus is around 60 feet tall, and weighs over 100 tons.
The character’s combat mechanics are greatly enhanced, adding +20 Strength, +10 to Soak, -10 to Quickness. The character also gains the reach and leverage associated with the truly massive stance.
Requisites are required when cast to transform clothes and equipment, and not all equipment will be included in the transformation. The effect is designed with a girdle as the focus, which is removed to end the effect prematurely.
(Base 3 to utterly change the size of a person although still human up to size +1, +2 for D: Sun, +3 for an additional 9 size ranks)
The base effect is identical to the Ars Magica core rules effect Preternatural Growth and Shrinking. The effect could be made more versatile by allowing it to be cast on others (Range: Touch +5 levels), or also potentially include all the equipment and arms the target is carrying which would make for a far higher and more complex effect.
It is also worth noting that a size +10 creature is almost beyond the size table in the basic rules, and certainly beyond any typical supernatural creature. A more palatable version of this spell might retain the imposing size of a giant, but not allow for enlargement of the caster’s physical size by such a dramatic degree.
Rewritten the same effect could be designed at Muto Corpus level 15 and still allow the caster to transform into a size +6 or +7 form, which still stands well beyond anything non-mythical.
If another +5 magnitudes were added to push the size even further, the spell might allow for a maximum creature size of 25 as a level 45 effect, which is getting well beyond reason! Roughly speaking that is 50 million tones. I cannot think of something which a size +10 giant creature cannot do which might require a +25 version. Swat large birds from the air like flies, or wade through a narrow sea?
No additional changes (like the powers or abilities listed below) were added to this spell design, so that it did not need to include extra levels of complexity.
Now that we know it will be a moderate level effect to allow a human to transform into a giant, and that the spell needs additional complexity to have truly impressive monsters, we can get to designing the monsters.
Part Two – The Behemoth, a tyrant of the wilderness.
In terms of relevance to the medieval setting in Ars Magica the behemoth can be referenced in the bible (Job 40:15-24 apparently), and as such is appropriate to a mythic setting. The Behemoth is the more basic of the three creatures from a Hermetic magic perspective because it does not require additional thought as to how it flies or how it might swim or float in design, and therefore uses a lower level spell guideline.
The artistic references above make the behemoth massive, far in excess of a “normal” supernatural creature. A rough guess should have each of them being hundreds of yards tall, and able to crush large houses beneath their humungous limbs. This means the spell complexity which might be saved from not flying or swimming will likely be spent in the difficulty of making the form even bigger.
As a gigantic mythic creature in a supernatural game the logical limitations of maximum creature size that we know in the 21st century should not apply. I’ve seen gamers argue that a giant couldn’t actually walk on their legs as they can’t support their own weight, and while that is true in reality I do not accept that as a valid limitation in a role-playing game designed around the myths and legends of the middle ages (if you agree with taking a 21st century view I’m surprised you read this far).
In terms of physical form here are some suggestions for shapes and forms which might be interesting in addition to the massive size.
(a) Battering Ram Skull / Forehead – the area is heavily protected by resilient hide and supported by extra think bone within the skull and spine, providing a natural battering ram which can be used to thrown down gates and smash fortified walls with ease.
(b) Crushing Limbs, Feet or Tail – these appendages are shaped and reenforced specifically to crush flat everything under them.
As in game effects this aspect ensures that the form will take no damage from blows it strikes with the transformed limbs, as they are almost as resilient as stone. For combat purposes the limb can strike as an area of effect weapon, inflicting additional damage to it’s normal damage to the area affected.
Area of effect should be relative to the the size of the limb, and your SG should help adjudicate the effect and damage. A stomping foot might inflict an additional +5 damage to it’s normal attack, or a true wrecking ball limb (see the picture above) might inflict +10 to +15 or more extra damage to a group (i.e. If a normal huge creatures strikes for +15, the wrecking ball inflicts +25 damage to a set of targets). The limb should also be able to inflict structural damage, passing through traditional damage reduction effects that structures sometimes have.
This should also have a secondary side-effect of greatly reducing the form’s ability to discern details by touch with the limb, reduce manual dexterity, or fundamentally removing the sense of touch from the area in the wrecking ball example.
(c) Impregnable Hide or Armour – the creatures hide is highly resilient to weapons, so much so that it offers a very large bonus to soak against all damage. I think the natural armadillo or turtle shell is a suitable source for the effect, but this might also be expressed as scales, overlapping plates, or a bone carapace. For the bonus to be effective the physical appearance must be pronounced.
This could grant a variable degree of protection depending on where the additional armor is located on the creature. For smaller creatures it makes sense to have a single +mod to Soak, but for massive creatures I can see an option to have different locations with different Soak values.
A series of armored plates which cover the creature’s limbs, torso, and head might grant a very large bonus to soak, but also allow a targeted attack to try to pierce between those plates, or potentially strike in locations where they offer less protection.
A huge creature also will have larger and thicker armor plates than any creature we are used to in nature. A turtle shell is already formidable, and should be impenetrable for a turtle which is 10 feet high at the shoulder. The modifiers to soak should be impressive, such as +10 or +15, and then +20+ in the areas which are highly protected.
(d) Able to lift huge weight – the form can leverage it’s large size to also apply a very power dead lift ability for short periods; such as uprooting large trees, or lifting structures from their foundations. This feature adds special muscle bulk and enhanced tolerances for lifting so that the form is highly resistant to the damage that such lifting would normally incur.
(e) Swallowing Maw – the creatures mouth is a gaping maw, so large that it can swallow a man whole. It may also be lined with a terrible array of vicious teeth, a crushing jaw, or any manner of intimidating feature which makes the mouth of the beast a fearsome weapon. For this feature to be used the creature should be around 5 size ranks larger than it’s intended target, to allow for the difference in size required to swallow the target.
(f) Massive Bellow – the roar of the creature will intimidate other creatures, and force bravery personality checks. An already monstrous creature roaring in anger should be terrifying, and this ability is noted so that it can be considered in the potential mix of natural abilities. Volume should be relative to the form’s overall size (from a lion’s roar at size 2, through to a horrifying cacophony above size 6).
(g) Human Speech – for a Magus transforming into a new form, it is highly desirable for the form to still be able to speak full sentences fluently and cast spells.
(h) Resistance to Acids and suchlike – the skin of the form is highly resistant to acids and corrosion, which grants a +5 to +10 soak bonus against these types of damage sources. This style of benefit might be added multiple times for a different resistance (crushing damage, fire, lightning, etc). The creature’s description and style should match the abilities described.
(i) Sweeping Tail, or limbs – the form is granted an additional limb (or potentially many limbs) which can strike and sweep opponents like a weapon. This has the advantage of making the form more offensive at all quarters, and less likely to have a flank which cannot attack.
(j) Burst of Speed – the form can use it’s extra muscle bulk to sprint for short distances very quickly. This maybe combined with the ramming attack, or to charge through a group of mundane combatants.
In the spell design the base level must be increased to allow for the reference of many powers being animalistic in nature, which uses the Muto Corpus level 10 guideline.
Form of the Charging Behemoth
Muto Corpus / Animal 35, R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Ind
The caster is transformed into a enormously large and imposing monster, up to a size +7. The form stands upright and hunched well over 20 feet tall, with two main fore limbs formed into crushing weapons, and a long tail capable of crushing and sweeping opponents aside. Two small additional limbs are below the main set, which can grasp and and use implements.
It’s hide is almost impregnable due to the overlapping carapace of scales and spikes which cover its body, the spines and spikes being especially long and sharp along the creatures upper body and tail. Two massive horns adorn it’s head, forming the basis of the creatures ramming charge. When charging it will sprint using the large forelimbs and hind legs to build speed.
The physical form as the following aspects: a battering ram skull which can be used to charge, crushing fore limbs, sweeping tail, an impregnable hide of intersecting armor plates, quick bursts of speed, massive bellow, and human speech.
(Base 10 size change into an animal of max size +1, +1 D: Diameter, +2 for an additional 6 size ranks, +2 for a broad set of physical abilities)
Part Three – The Leviathan, a great denizen of the the deep.
A leviathan is common in myth, and could be viewed as sea monsters, the Loch Ness monster, a natural alpha creature above sharks, or even constructed as a mega-shark.
The artwork reflects a quasi-sinister aspect of the creatures, and implies that many of the creatures have many multiple limbs, vicious teeth, and crushing powers. Some versions are still very fish or whale like, or sea turtles, or squid like, with others tending toward an under-sea dragons.
(a) Breathing underwater – is the first obvious ability, and either additional option fish-like gills or a huge capacity to hold its breath will do. I like the addition of gills as a secondary breathing method as it allows the lungs and voice to potentially still be present.
(b) Multiple limbs with specialised purposes – these could be the tentacles of a kraken, secondary grappling limbs, or still allow for arm and claw type limbs on a sea creature. Perhaps the creature can sense and see through it’s additional limbs, detect minor changes in temperate, or smell over great distances, akin to sharks.
(c) Underwater tail, fins, etc for propulsion – the beast needs to reflect a style of swimming. A huge tail, controlling fins, and all the small streamlining changes should be bundled together to form an aspect of the creature, so that it is essentially aquatic.
(d) All the senses altered to suit aquatic environments. The creature should be thought of as an aquatic beast, but may then also be able to see, feel, smell, touch outside water as well. The artwork often has the monsters raising themselves out of the water as they attack, so they need to function in air as well as underwater.
This may be better facilitated in the creature by adding additional sensory organs into the design, which grant the abilities. i.e. The creature uses one set of eyes when above the surface, and another below. When using it’s underwater sense it should not have an penalties to perception.
(e) Crushing Grip and Deep Pull – this style of ability allows the form to grapple and crush a target, and draw it downward into the water. This should inflict damage proportional to the creatures size, and is mentioned specifically so that the form can also break apart boats or hold foes while it swims downward. The kraken has a mythic ability to entangle a ship and then pull it downward, using the water to kill the inhabitants.
(e) Tolerance for freezing oceans – the form is well insulated which means it can swim and function normally in even the coldest oceans and seas.
(f) Cloud of Ink – this ability grants the form a reusable reserve of black ink which it uses to create a large murky slick within the water. This has the effect or blocking all normal vision in the effected area. The ability should only be usable once or twice before needing to be “recharged” over an extended period.
The size of the slick should be enough to comfortably envelop the size of the new form and the surrounding area, up to around ten times it’s volume. This grants enough room for the creature to flee. Optionally the ink may also have other side effects such as a revolting smell, or overly sticky.
(g) Universal Digestion – the form can digest almost any biological material for nutrition given enough time. This may assist the caster surviving in an otherwise hostile environment for extended periods.
Part Four – The Dragon, the supreme lord of the air.
(a) Winged Flight – the form can launch itself into the air and fly. For a very large form the wings will need to be large in comparison to the overall shape.
(b) Spiked Hide – as a further defensive feature the skin or hide of the form is covered in a variety of spikes and fins. When places upon the limbs or tail they form a natural weapon.
(c) Corrosive Blood – the form’s blood is naturally corrosive. The blood inflicts +5 damage for each round of exposure.
(d) Tolerance for thin air and hostile conditions – the form has been designed so that it can breathe at very high altitude and also ignore the effects of long term exposure to the freezing winds, storms, and resistant to other environmental hazards such as desert conditions.
Part Five – Statistics
Building the stats for these various forms is a task unto itself. My starting point for creatures is Ars Magica is always the free pdf for Beasts (available from Atlas Games website) and then modifying it to suit the increased size and mass of the new forms. That sample does not give specific mechanics for how much damage a swipe with a giant octopus testicle will inflict, vs a huge claw, vs a bite from a lion-like which is 300 feet tall at the shoulder.
Essentially such attacks again a typical human should be deadly. Forget resisting or soaking the attack.
Part Six – Special effects
There are a number of powers and abilities that monsters have in the myths and legends, and the approach in this blog post has generally been to look at the physical form benefits, and ignore the special powers. Adding powers into the existing transformation spells is not the flavour of Ars Magica magic, as each effect really should be it’s own spell. There are some suggested guidelines in the Muto Animal section for how to do this, but it is mostly adding more magnitudes of power into spells which are already very high.
(a) Soaking Damage – Mechanically speaking it is not a true gargantuan creature unless it can soak up a lot of damage and keep moving; so a very high Soak score is needed. The ideal way to do that is to add a resistance of a sort for common weapon types, and also dramatically increase the Soak score itself.
To increase soak, we look to the Muto Corpus spell guidelines and design this effect, based upon +1 Soak per magnitude:
Gift of the Herculean Fortitude
Muto Corpus 45, R: Personal, D: Diameter, T: Individual
The caster gains a bonus of +8 to Soak.
(Base 40, +1 Diameter)
A bonus of +8 to soak in combat is a monumental number. Consider that combative creatures tend to already have Stamina (say +3), their natural armor (say +3), and then size adjustments – an effect which grants a +8 bonus is making that creature all but immune to most normal weapons.
A lightning bolt (which can inflict +35 damage) will still fry whatever it hits; but weapons are kind of moot when the creature gets a combined soak of +14. So it feels about right, and then make the creature +6 size ranks larger and the Soak is +20. Whoof!
(b) Fire Breath – this is a popular power for dragon forms so its included here. There are a number of ways to create a fire breath like effect, and for the sake of brevity I’ll only demonstrate one.
(c) Huge Armor and Arms – if the transformation might also make use of equipment or armor, then transforming what the caster already has is a viable approach, or as an alternatively have them shaped from the environment at the time needed.
Humility and Versatility for Cormoran and Jack Alike
Muto Terram 40, R: Touch, D: Sun, T: Ind
This effect allows the item touched be resized up to the desires of the caster, up to eight times each dimension, and thirty-two times the mass. Requisites are required for the Form of the target. The original item may be no larger than a small hut.
Note that a weapon effected by this spell will be resisted by the MR or Parma Magica of the opponent. The spell is named after the desire to use the same equipment for Jack the Giant Killer and a foe Cormoran.
(Base 4, +1 Touch, +2 Sun,+2 affect metals, +1 to affect an object ten times larger than a large chest, +2 for extra quadrupled)
As a base from Object of Increased Size which doubles each dimension of an object, with an eightfold increase in mass, the effect allows for gargantuan equipment and weapons. The rationale is that the base effect doubles the size, so each magnitude also doubles; 1 mag is double which is the base spell, a further +1 mag is four times, and +2 mags is eight times the length and thirty-two times the mass.