Categories for Magical Skill

These are broad classifications to describe TTU residents' skill with universe-shaping. It is meta-information; people inside TTU do not use this system.

In order of increasing power:

-- mage cutoff --
Unearthly (see notes)

Expanded definitions are given below.

General Power Level Comparisons

Any mage within a given category can generate effects that are roughly as powerful as any other mage in that category, regardless of the spellcasting method or personal limitations they may have. They may not be able to cast the same types of spell (and, especially at lower levels, may not even be able to duplicate others' effects), but they have approximately equal capability to change reality through willpower.

As a general rule of thumb, an individual mage's effectiveness doubles for each level above the mage cutoff.

Guidelines for Mage Conflicts

In a contest of wills, where two mages want to generate conflicting effects on the world, any individual mage from a higher category will almost always win against one from a lower category (as they say, the race doesn't always go to the swift nor the fight to the strong, but that's the way to bet). Within the same category, two mages' competition will generally be decided by skill at the specific task being attempted; external factors; flashes of insight; advance preparation; the advantages/limitations of their respective schools/traditions; or sheer dumb luck.

In a magical duel, due to the specific skills and speed that are necessary, mages who have specifically trained for combat or duels have a disproportionate edge. Mages without training fight at one level below their true class (note that Unearthly mages are automatically considered to have training).

When groups match off, there are too many wildcard factors to offer hard and fast rules for who wins, but a good idea of the odds can be had by adding up the power levels of all the individual participants (using the doubling-per-level counting mentioned above). For instance, three Strong and one Competent (3 * 4 + 2 = 14) mages would have a tiny edge against one Exceptional and five Basic (8 + 5 * 1 = 13), assuming all were equally prepared for the same battle of wills. The raw power of a larger group of less talented mages will be greater, but more skilled mages will have better experience in leveraging their force; like water flowing downhill, they don't need as much strength to reach their destination.

When mages match off against non-mages, it's even more complex, and a lot depends on whether the non-mages have an investment in the situation (untrained application of willpower) or are merely assuming that the world won't slip out from underneath them (adding inertia). For the latter, creativity and the leveraging process described above are key; for the former, sheer weight of numbers prevents many things. For example, even after the Changes, no force whatsoever can intervene to force a lottery win (there are too many people playing with too much investment in the game; all the willpower cancels out in one giant turbulent mess). However, several mages cleaned up in Vegas (where all they had to overcome was an impersonal House) before desperate casinos cracked down with countermeasures.

Skill Level Descriptions: Non-Mages

These are the categories for people who -- even though they may have some knowledge of magic, and even though they may even have generated magical effects -- have not yet passed the epiphany that gives them access to actual, conscious spellcasting. They are not protected from other mages' direct effects, but reality does seem to shield them from unintentional weirdness: if something supernatural happens to them (through accident or experimentation) and they panic, they generally end up picking themselves up afterward with no sign of what spooked them.


This character does not believe they have the capability to change reality through willpower. Even after TheChanges, a majority of humanity, and even some theris, fall in this category. Everything that happens around them is an external force, just something else in the world that's beyond their control; magic is something that mages do and they aren't one.

They may be tempted by promises that they too can learn to cast spells, but after buying a book or ritual kit and getting no effects out of it, they'll give up again, reinforcing their disbelief in their own capabilities with every failure. Or they may be scared to even approach the subject, citing religious issues.

These people can still become mages, but it's a laborious process, requiring individual instruction, until those first connections are made. Consider what most people would think about teaching themselves trigonometry and you'll understand why this category is as populated as it is.


This character is open to the idea that they can work magic, and might even have accomplished some simple effects, but they just haven't had that flash of insight that opens their eyes to how it works. Magic is still something that mages do, but they have reason to believe that if they can just learn the trick behind it, they can join that group.

Commonly, people in this category are convinced that they should be able to cast spells, but they have no idea how to go about it. They may have read dozens of books with dozens of theories and tips and rituals laid out, but they haven't been able to turn those ideas into the solid, visceral experiences necessary to shape their will in the right way. Plenty of mages are open about willpower being the key, so people with Insignificant power are even likely to have the right foundation laid, but that's a very different thing from actually doing it.

Adding to their woes is TTU's huge, thriving market for magical tools, aids, materials, guides, books, and other assorted quick fixes -- almost all of which is the rawest snake oil. Magic isn't in the tools, it's in the individual. Once a would-be mage gets it in their head that they'll break through if they can just find the right product to coax out their natural skills, they've entered a long downward spiral back toward the None category.

A tiny fraction of people, of course, do find that right tool to bolster their belief just long enough to make that leap. Great for them, but bad for everyone else as their enthusiastic testimony props up the harmful myth.

Insignificant skills often express themselves as subtle, hard-to-control effects -- weird minor twists of coincidence that ease the person's life a bit. Insignificant mages may have also stumbled upon a very specific skill, like lighting a candle, that they have made repeatable through rote confidence-building ... it's a great party trick, but they don't understand it enough to figure out why that works for them and nothing else does. Some Insignificant would-be-mages may persist, and (for example) progress from lighting candles to extinguishing cigarettes or maybe causing a light bulb filament to glow ... but they won't be able to expand that into other areas, or affect anything but the most minor reality tweaks without a breakthrough.


This is very much a wild-card category. Some people may have an innate connection to magic -- through genetics, childhood experiences, strange dreams, alleged reincarnation, etc. -- but not be able to actually break through and consciously tap into it. People can't choose to be Uncontrolled mages; it's something that happens to them. If they manage to develop it, they become a full-fledged mage. If not, they will occasionally and unintentionally draw weirdness into their life.

Magic may manifest around them in subtle or obvious ways. They may realize there's something going on when a bully hits them and his sleeve gets set on fire -- or they may never realize anything, if a bully crossing the street to harass them gets "conveniently" hit by a car.

Uncontrolled mages have no choice about when these effects manifest. They will have no choice about how these effects manifest, either. Their powers, although unpredictable, will not manifest in self-harmful ways -- although the social consequences or side effects of these powers may certainly be dangerous!

In general, because there is not conscious willpower behind these powers, any lasting effect will wear off over time. Instead, uncontrolled magic tends to come in bursts -- individual events, strange visions, panic defenses -- then tends to wander away again until next needed.

Skill Level Descriptions: Mages

Beyond this line, people have made an active and conscious choice to change reality with their will. They have acquired the skills and training to do so. And they are no longer protected should reality choose to change them in return ...


Someone with Basic magical skill has arrived at the epiphany that they can change reality -- and they've had that crucial insight that lets them see just how to extend their willpower and push in the right ways.

Basic mages are likely to still be learning the spellcasting trade -- or relearning it, if they're switching away from a familiar but too-limiting style. At this stage, their greatest challenge is overcoming their own assumptions about their abilities. Too-cautious mages will need to expand away from the few rituals that have cemented their confidence; too-ambitious mages will need to learn to narrow their focus to keep from canceling their own efforts through overextension.

At this level, magic is a conscious, deliberate act requiring total and extended concentration. Even something like snapping a finger to light a candle requires a moment of focus and an extra little push at the right moment. But what separates them from Insignificant-skilled non-mages is that they no longer think of it as lighting a candle -- it's casting a spell, and the candle is just a specific projection of it. They have internalized that there's nothing about lighting a candle that's different from flipping a light switch, turning a traffic light green, fixing the skip on a CD player, or scabbing over that paper cut -- and realized what, specifically, they're doing that is common to all of those changes. Basic mages may have limited power, but they understand the true implications of it. (This isn't to say every basic mage can do anything; ritual mages, while realizing that they're capable of any ritual they want, will still need to research or create those rituals first.)

While they have learned to open their inner direct connection to communal reality, Basic mages are still adjusting to their epiphany, and still learning to look at the world through that lens. They can sense magical effects around them only if they're actively looking, and not always reliably.

For most mages, this stage is a transitional one. Some might plateau here if they're fighting a lot of internal resistance to cast spells in the first place, or if they're just fundamentally incapable of grasping the subtleties of projecting willpower, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.


Competent mages have taken their earlier epiphanies and built out that foundation with a little self-assurance. They've developed a repertoire of spells for a variety of situations. They've realized they don't need to push reality at full strength to generate simple effects. They are irrevocably confident of their abilities, in much the same way that you can't unlearn how to ride a bicycle.

While magic is still a conscious act, some of the applications with which they're most familiar are becoming second nature. Certainly, gathering and projecting their own energy feels natural, and they have started provoking simple effects without any preparation. They have learned or developed a few of the common gestural/vocal/focus shortcuts that willworkers use to gather and project power. And most Competent mages have been surprised by magic one too many times to let themselves think they know it all.

They have probably begun to recognize and consciously react to that funny feeling of the world around them being tweaked. They will be familiar with the idea that spells can be cast in different ways to mask this sensation, but they may or may not have the skills to do so themselves.

Generally, someone with Competent magical skill has begun to realize the broader implications of willworking. It's difficult to reach this level without having run into at least a few other mages who cast spells in a completely different way, so they will probably have confronted a crucial paradox: they can't assume other mages of equal skill will be able to duplicate their results when using their tools in the exact same way.

The Competent level is a common plateau for mages who don't make spellcasting part of their daily life; it's also a glass ceiling for mages who cling too stubbornly to the rituals that brought them this far. How to progress from here is subtle to the untrained eye. The major differences between Competent and Strong mages are finesse and magical instinct; those only come with practice and willingness to adapt.


Someone with Strong magical skill is thoroughly grounded in the principles of willworking, to the point that they've begun integrating it in their daily life. Tiny effects are second nature; larger effects are old hat; and they've begun refining their technique to push and poke in just the right ways to use the environment in their favor.

Strong mages are not only comfortable with their own power, but also the power continually exerted on them by the surrounding world, and have developed a crude but literal sixth sense to feel that flow around them. While they may not always understand why that flow moves as it does, they'll usually know if it's moving unexpectedly. As a rule, Strong mages sense non-disguised magical changes unless distracted, and know at least one way to disguise the spells they cast.

Some use their new knowledge to craft, consciously or unconsciously, simple defenses against ills both magical and mundane. Others may focus on positioning themselves to maximize their power by casting effects in tune with the world's flow. (The few non-theri mages that use magic to shapeshift are among them.) Still others may push at the boundaries by making subtle changes to that flow itself, shifting the very potential of the world around them so physical laws behave differently. Those who make enough progress in these fields have the potential for greater things.

One doesn't get to the Strong plateau without a broad range of magical skills and at least a passable understanding of spontaneous magic. This is the level at which fellow willworkers will have nothing left to teach the mage, except by comparing notes and offering examples of their own work. As such, this is a natural plateau for all but the truly dedicated. To progress from here to Exceptional, a mage must have constant magical exposure ... and perseverance, creativity, and intelligence (or at least two of the three).

Incidentally, most of the mages with pre-Changes willworking experience started at this level -- they'd already had plenty of practice recognizing and shaping magic in a world with far harsher restrictions than post-Changes TTU's.


Someone with Exceptional magical skill lives and breathes magic. They are rarely seen without at least one spell being maintained in the background -- sometimes even while they're asleep! They no longer approach magical challenges with a "can I do this" attitude; they think "How can I do this?" And generally, unless they're trying something formidable or under environmental constraints, they figure out a way.

Exceptional mages fundamentally see the world in a different way. It is no longer a buzzing hive of separate individuals, it's a giant, seething tapestry of conjoined interconnections, swaying in the winds of willpower. (Mages at this level sometimes try to describe their experiences by referring to the world as a "weave"; nobody remembers who first used the phrase, but it's filtered into broader mage slang via one of CharacterDennisRedwing's books.) Spotting and identifying undisguised magical changes in this tapestry is subconscious and effortless -- a true sixth sense, with the versatility of one of the other five. (However: Using this sense to substitute for one of the others -- such as tracking the motion of a physical body solely by changes in magical potential -- is far harder, and a different skill. If they've learned to do it at all, it's much more of a conscious effort.)

Living as an Exceptional mage requires deep dedication to a willworking lifestyle and a superb grasp of spontaneous, self-directed casting. Only mages in top form can reach this level, and they can't stay here without constant use of their skills and senses. As a result, magic at this level is casual, immediate and highly flexible, with ritual a virtually discarded crutch (although mages still may retain the styles or the foci that they used while maturing). Mages in the pragmatist school are most common among TTU's few Exceptional willworkers, with volitionists a minority; other styles tend to plateau too early. (Some argue the causality is reversed: Pragmatists devote so much of their life to learning magic that they can't help but grow in power.)

Even Exceptional mages with little combat experience are quick thinkers, able to react with enough speed to effectively defend themselves and counterattack; duel- or combat-trained mages at this level are formidable machines, with a repertoire of sneaky, hard-to-counter tricks. Many Exceptional mages, and all combat-trained ones, will have some form of "panic defenses": using magic to shield themselves from the world's rude surprises even before they can consciously react.

At some point, all mages at this level have received a visit from CharacterKiasu.


This category is not available to TTU characters without specific circumstances.

Unearthly mages have powers that are literally beyond non-mages' comprehension. They shape the world not as an effort but as an unconscious reaction, almost like you or I would recoil at the touch of a hot stove. They take for granted the tugs, billows, and caresses of the Weave -- to the point that they can feel the winds of fate, and sense the likely path of the immediate future, with the ease that we would hear music or see the drift of stars across the sky -- and they would feel naked and vulnerable without that sense.

At least, that's the speculation, based on the clearest-eyed moments of the most contemplative Exceptional mages. The truth is, nobody knows ... or if they know, they're not telling.

It would be tempting to write off this level of power as a legend, except for insistent hints that there really is something to the speculation. There are occasional reports of strange occurrences that talented mages would have sworn were impossible as willworking effects; there is talk of strange artifacts; there are arguments about literal miracles that speak of something deeper than believers' faith. There are whispered tales about CharacterKiasu and whatever cabal he might be protecting; there is talk of strange, desolate alien landscapes if you turn the wrong corner at the wrong time or get too careless with your teleportation; there are legends of a deep, buried history that locked itself away until the world was ready again. How much of this chatter is mere speculation? Nobody believes every one of the theories, but very few mages are prepared to discount them all.

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