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Copyright The Demented One

Breaking the fourth wall.

aka Authors, Protagonists, Tropers

You were going to be a legend. You were going to be a genius, a star, the greatest author that had ever lived, boldly defying the entire literary tradition and writing books that shone with the brilliant light of the truly new, the truly original. This was the certainty that had brought you through torturous years of high school, the light at the end of the Dante-esque hell that was college. And then, you sat down to put pen to paper, and you realized you just couldn’t do it. You couldn’t write a single story that hadn’t already been told before, create a single believable character that wasn’t a feeble replica of someone else’s. It was a crisis, but you did what you had to. You went ahead and wrote your stories that were nothing but derivatives, carbon-copies made straight from the literary canon. And people loved them.

This is the beginning of Tropamancy, the magick of stories. Tropamancers, or Tropers, seek to communicate their own individual and original truth through their writing, but they are forever shackled to the literary traditions of the past, the archetypes and tropes that run through all stories. They can play with them, subvert them, distort them, but they can never escape them, never write anything that isn’t marked by the influence of everything ever written before it. This paradox enables Tropers to work their mojo, pulling tropes out of stories and into the real world. Tropamancy is a subtle school, with more cunning manipulation and behind-the-scenes magick than big flashy special effects. The central principle of most Tropamancy spells is making the world work the way it does in stories. Once that’s done, everything should run the way the Troper wants it to.


Tropamancy Blast Style: The Tropamancer blast relies on the principle of Chekov’s Gun–"If a gun is shown mounted on the wall in Act I, someone better have taken it down and used it by Act III." Essentially, the blast causes its target to be harmed by something that’s almost completely coincidental, caused by almost trivial facts. If the GM mentions the building the characters are in has shaky construction, a couple bricks might fall on the targets head. If the target holstered a firearm and forgot to switch on the safety, it might misfire and hit him. If the target kicked a dog on his way to a bank robbery, that same dog might bite him as he’s trying to make a break for it.

Gain a Minor Charge: To gain a minor charge, you must write a story, poem, play, or similar. That story must be published somewhere–a magazine, a book, your blog–where at least 100 people will read it in the space of a week. You can only ever gain a single charge from each story. In addition, if you don’t publish the work by itself, such as in a magazine, an anthology, or a website, then you can only gain one charge a week from any particular source. For example, even if three hundred people read a story you publish a magazine, or if you publish two stories in the same week in one magazine, you only get one charge. Now, if you publish one story in a magazine, and another on your blog, or if you publish two stories in the same magazine in two different weeks, you could get charges for both, assuming they got enough readers.

Gain a Significant Charge: To gain a significant charge, you must write a story, poem, play, or similar, and get it published and read by at least 5,000 people. The same rules apply as for minor charges–only one charge per story, and one charge per source per week.

Gain a Major Charge: Write a book, or play, or collection of poems that becomes hugely popular. It must have been read by at least one hundred million people, and must achieve national recognition–getting on Oprah’s always good.

Taboo: The Tropamancy taboo is twofold, relating to the two halves of the Tropamancy paradox. Firstly, you can never write a truly original work. You can play with tropes, subvert them, even pointedly avert them, but you can never write a work that stands alone, with no influence from any outside sources. It doesn’t have to be a big influence–a Bible quote here and there, a few old plot devices copied from Shakespeare, a brief cameo by a character from someone else’s book, but it’s gotta be there. Secondly, everything you write has to somehow convey your own vision, which means three things. First, you can never write (or type) anything that isn't a story, poem, play, or similar form of self-expression. Grocery lists, written reminders, and tax forms are all gonna cause you to break taboo. Secondly, you can never use writing to record actual events, although you can write a story based on true events--hope you weren't planning on going into journalism. Finally, you can never collaborate with another person on anything you write--you may be a slave to the tropes of storytelling, but damned if someone meddles with your personal vision. It's a very sweeping taboo, more like a set of minitaboos, but their combined presence is about the same as the taboos of other schools.

Starting Charges: Newly-created Tropers start off with four minor charges.

Random Magick Domain: Tropamancers make life work like a story. They can use random magick for subtle manipulation of casuality, coincidence, and irony. Nothing big and flashy.

Charging Tips: If you’re a freelance writer, you might pull of a few minors each week from publishing in various magazines or journals, and running a blog is a good way to pull in at least an extra minor a week. Siggy’s are trickier to get, but writing for big name magazines can make you maybe one or two a month, and you may get some from the internet if you can pull your way up to the top of the blogosphere. Having a deal with an actual publishing company can bring in a consistent stream of significant charges, but slowly–writing books takes a lot longer than poems or stories. The taboo is relatively easy to avoid, although you’re gonna have to swallow your pride–and, depending on how badly you’re betraying your artistic vision, a few Self checks may be appropriate every now and then. Getting someone to take dictation for you, or a computer with voice-recognition software, will help with getting around the whole "personal vision" taboo.

Tropamancy Minor Formula Spells

Plot Coupon
Cost: 1 minor charge
Effect: How many stories consist of a hero tramping around and finding things–plot coupons–until he’s collected enough to trade them in for the denouement? Whether it’s a video game swordsman collecting magic crystals or a detective hunting down clues, a lots of heroes seem to spend most of their time collecting these little plot coupons. By casting this spell, you manipulate casualty in order to call to yourself an object that will somehow further whatever goal you’re currently seeking (or, at the GM’s whim, give you an entirely new goal). Within a day or two of casting the spell, you’ll come across the called item. There’s no overt signals that the object is anything but mundane, but you’ll know it’s a plot coupon when you see it.

What Do You Mean It's Not Symbolic?
Cost: 1 minor charge
Effect: Symbolism is an amazingly convenient way for an author to subtly convey a message to his readers. When you cast this spell, you can transmit a message to anyone, as long as you can picture their face and think of their name. Once you cast it, symbols start popping up around the target which will, if observed, convey the sense of your message. If you used this spell to try to warn someone they're in danger, they might have a few near-miss accidents; if you use it to express your love for someone, they might start seeing lots of flocks of doves and roses. The spell goes on for a day, or until the target picks up on your message, and most of the time they'll figure that out within a few hours.

As You Already Know
Cost: 2 minor charges
Effect: You ever notice how often a character will explain things to the readers, in the guise of explaining it to another character, even a character that already knows what’s being explained? It’s called expospeak. Read any piece of science fiction where someone has to explain how a piece of futuristic technology works, or watch a Bond movie. This spell lets you pull that off in real life. If you cast it on someone, they’ll begin explaining just about everything they do. This could be a bit tedious, but you could also snag some juicy info out of it–“I kidnapped the junkie ‘cause he knows how to get in touch with Dirk Allen,” “I robbed that bank so I could pay off the mob,” and so on. The target’s not going to spill every secret he has, but he’s going to explain the motives behind whatever he does. This bout of expospeak lasts for about five minutes.

Cost: 2 minor charges
Effect: Best way to cover a plot hole is to just handwave it away. With this spell, you can say anything to someone, and they'll accept it both as true, and completely logical. You tell you're boss you were late to work because you got attacked by ninjas, not only will he buy it, but he'll come up with his own explanation for why it makes perfect sense. If you use this spell to convince someone of something that deeply contradicts their personal ideology or world view--convincing a mundane that magick is not only extant, but commonplace, or telling a Pornomancer that the Naked Goddess was a sham--then they're allowed to make a Mind check. If they succeed, they don't buy it. After you cast the spell, your excuse only seems reasonable for about a minute. Afterwards, your mark realizes just how ridiculous what you said was. By spending two extra minor charges, you can bump this up to an hour, and with a significant charge, you can increase it to 24 hours.

Chekov’s Gun
Cost: 3 minor charges
Effect: The Tropomancy minor blast. Just aim it, fire, and let the forces of coincidence and irony do your dirty work for you.

It Was All Just A Dream
Cost: 3 minor charges
Effect: This spell lets you write anything off as just a dream, in the fine tradition of Alice in Wonderland and just about every soap opera ever. When you cast it on someone (including yourself), their memories of the past half hour become blurry and indistinct. They still remember what happened, but only as if it were a dream. A mundane who'd just seen a fleshworker pull his best friend's face off would be convinced it was just a nightmare he remembered, or a disturbing daydream. As a side effect of this, the target can re-roll any failed Madness checks he made in that last half-hour. In addition, repeated uses of this spell can damage the target's mind, a side-effect some Tropers take advantage off. If you use this spell more than once on the same target within a single 24-hour period, then they must make a Mind check each time after the first, or permanently lose one point off their Mind score.

Tropamancy Significant Formula Spells

Chekov’s Tactical Nuke
Cost: 1 significant charge
Effect: This is the Tropamancy significant blast, and it’ll cause more harm than you would’ve thought a simple coincidence ever could. If you came across a sea mine at some point in the campaign, this’ll be the spell that blows it up, right after it falls on top of your target.

Breaking the Fourth Wall
Cost: 1 significant charge
Effect: By Breaking the Fourth Wall, you can temporarily ascend to a higher state of mind, able to perceive the world from a meta-viewpoint, as if it were just a game, and you were a player. While in this post-Fourth Wall state of mind, you can ask any question and receive an answer, like the Bibliomancy spell Read Between the Lines.

You Never Asked
Cost: 1 significant charge
Effect: Wanna know a neat trick to give a character in a story a skill or talent they couldn’t possibly logically have? Just have them go ahead a do it, and have another character ask why they never mentioned being able to do that. The archetypical response to that question lends its name to this spell, which lets you do just about the same thing. You can pick a single skill, even one you’re completely untrained in, and use your Tropamancy skill in place of that one for about five minutes. You can flip-flop checks made for that skill, just like you could if it was your obsession skill.

Twist Ending
Cost: 2 significant charges
Effect: Cause and effect are an author's playthings, both in stories and real life. Whenever some makes a roll, you can cast this spell. If the result of their roll would normally be a success, it's instead treated like a matched failure, and if it would normally be a failure, it's instead a matched success. The only exception is critical successes and failures; those aren't altered.

Xanatos Roulette
Cost: 2 significant charges
Effect: It’s amazing how well villains in stories are able to scheme (especially if they're written by Dostoevsky). With just one triumphant quip of “just as planned!”, a string of coincidences and chance happenings can be revealed to be part of an infernally complicated plan. This spell lets you get in on the action. By blowing your charges and saying something scheming and clever–“just as planned” works, “excellent” is another good one–you can cause just about anything to happen, under the GM’s discretion. Something like “the guy aiming a gun at me spontaneously combusts” or “a briefcase holding the nuclear launch codes falls from the sky at my feet” might be a bit beyond the reach of this spell, but “the guy aiming a gun at me forgot to load his gun this morning” or “there’s a car with the key still in it parked in the alley next to me” could work. What’s best (for some Tropers, at least) is that no matter how improbable and coincidental the event is, it all seems to have been carefully planned out by you. This spell is pretty open-ended, and the GM may require you to spend more than the base two charges if you’re trying to get a really big effect.

Hero With A Thousand Faces
Cost: 4 significant charges
Effect: All heroes are, essentially, the same hero, and with this spell, you can be a hero too. Once the spell’s cast, you’ve got a minute of power in which to kick ass. Any time you get a successful result on a Body or Speed-based roll that’s below your Tropamancy skill, you may apply a shift of up to one-third your Tropamancy skill to that roll. You also gain a number of temporary wound points for the duration of the spell equal to your Tropamancy skill. These bonus wound points are lost before any of your normal ones, and once lost, cannot be regained. Finally, you do not have to make Violence checks while pumped up with this spell.

Major Effects:
Cause the entire world to work like it does in a particular genre of stories for one day. Overwrite someone's personality with that of a fictional character. Set off a chain of events that leads to almost any result you can imagine.

The Demented One | profile | Dec 12, 07 | 12:10 am

Visitor Comments

I like this a lot. Good work on it. A question though. With twist ending, are you evoking the effect before they roll or after? If before, it is an interesting effect that can go many ways. If after, it might be a bit powerful. I don't know, the power to simply make someones roll a botch is pretty powerful.

Oh, and the taboo looks like it can be pretty vicious. You could pretty much never take a college class with this character, or even write a quick note to a loved one. Then again, it is a game of sacrifices for power...

Alatain | profile | Dec 12, 07 | 1:33 am

Looks like someone spent a lot of time reading the TV tropes wiki.

Kingmaker | profile | Dec 12, 07 | 12:19 pm

>>With twist ending, are you evoking the effect before they roll or after? If before, it is an interesting effect that can go many ways. If after, it might be a bit powerful. I don't know, the power to simply make someones roll a botch is pretty powerful.

After. I'd thought about bumping it up to three sig charges, and will probably do that if I do a revision.

>>With twist ending, are you evoking the effect before they roll or after? If before, it is an interesting effect that can go many ways. If after, it might be a bit powerful. I don't know, the power to simply make someones roll a botch is pretty powerful.

Yeah, it's a nasty one, but I don't think it's much worse than any of the others.

>>Looks like someone spent a lot of time reading the TV tropes wiki.


The Demented One | profile | Dec 12, 07 | 12:26 pm


ezekielreigns | profile | Dec 12, 07 | 3:49 pm

I think it would be possible to work around the taboo if you were willing to make the player work on it. For a shopping list example:

Little Red Riding Hood went down the street to Wal-Mart with three packs of cherries, a bottle of scotch, and two packs of whatever chips are on sale. On her way there, she was stopped by the wolf. She ran away, but was eaten up when the wolf, disguised as a wal-mart clerk, ate her all up when she forgot her debit card was full. She should have made sure she had at least twenty dollars on her. The End.

The way this is worded now, it wouldn't break the no-story taboo, and it wouldn't break the recording of actual events taboo.

On the other hand, the concept of looking through the notes of one who writes down everything in short fairytale form is an Unknown Armies kind of cool.

CosmoKid | profile | Dec 13, 07 | 2:53 pm

tvtropes.com should be the secret gathering website for the mages trying to create new spells.

The blast spell got a chuckle.

Michael Keenan | profile | Dec 13, 07 | 10:22 pm

>>I think it would be possible to work around the taboo if you were willing to make the player work on it. For a shopping list example:

That was, although not stated, intended in the taboo.

The Demented One | profile | Dec 13, 07 | 11:53 pm

You could set a word limit on what breaks taboo (similar to the plutomancer dollar limit). For example, a note of ten words or less doesn't break taboo but anything more than that must be in the narrative.

Lilliana | profile | Dec 17, 07 | 8:48 am

I really like this school. I really have to say, they can do a lot... probably too much. I worry that the spells are too versatile. I think its because most of these spells are "as the author I can do this" and every one of them is clever and I would hate to part with any of them but they can give you almost GM level abilities.

I would almost say the taboo is too weak. There are a number of ways that you can get taboo'd but if you set up your life right it would never be a problem and I can't see ever getting taboo'd as long as you just write for charges and say that you included tropes...

I don't want to seem critical. I like the school and I am sure you have thought about its balance more thoroughly than me. I just feel it would be really easy to abuse.

ForgedinDakota | profile | Dec 03, 08 | 11:17 pm

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