Terra Occulta: Magic Rediscovered

Magic is back! At least that is what you are determined to prove. You and other like-minded individuals have taken it upon yourselves to revive English Magic and to bring back to the forefront, the arts of practical wizardry which have for so long laid dormant. This will require experimentation, scholarship, and a determination to see the world in new and exciting ways.

This is a daunting task and many hurdles lie in your way, but you have a powerful tool in your arsenal, a tool for any explorer worth his salt: a map. This is a strange map because it does not map the geography of any land (as far as you know) but rather it is a map of the Terra Occulta, the hidden landscape of magical knowledge, the secret telemetry of arcane lore. It is a magical item, in and of itself, a massive parchment when unrolled that appears mostly blank. When supplied the blood of the prospective students, the map begins to draw itself to reveal the current status of the practitioner's magical journey. Different sites on the map stand in for nodes of knowledge, necessary stops on the path to further knowledge.

But before we get to the contents of this map, mostly blank though it may be, we should first meet our students.

Character Creation

Sparks: Each student of sorcery comes with them areas of fascination and areas of study that excite and draw them in. These things which kindle the fire of the imagination are Sparks and these will act as ways to determine your niche in practicing and studying magic.

Come up with three Sparks. You might want to choose, roll, or be inspired by the table below:

1d20 Sparks:

  1. Death and Life and all Things which Lie Between
  2. Mirrors and Reflections: The Hidden Roads of the Us that is Not Us
  3. Spirits and Principalities: The Binding of Angels and Demons
  4. The Pacts of the Ancients: The Old Laws of Nature
  5. The Dealings of Faeries: Knowing and Binding the Locus Genii
  6. Power and Ruin: Destruction and Warfare
  7. Makings and Conjurings: Creating Wonderous Objects
  8. Lead to Gold: Alchemy and Potioncraft
  9. The Secret World: The Mind of Man and its Manipulation
  10. Higher Spheres and Starry Portals: Other Realms and Dimensions Not our Own
  11. Time and Temporality: The Secrets of the Clock
  12. The Flesh and the Secret of Life
  13. Healing and the Mending of Wounds
  14. What Might Come: Divination and the Knowledge of the Past and Future
  15. Travel and Traversal: Doors Which Lead to Far off Lands
  16. Transcending the Mortal Coil: Pursuit of Transcendence and Immortality
  17. Pure Imagination: Illusion and Enchantment, Creating False Worlds
  18. The Old Blood: Beings which Man was not meant to Know
  19. Monsters and Monstrosity: Study of the Dark Things which Lurk
  20. Curses and Hexes: Exert the Power to Harm and Change
Skills and Professions: What were you before you sought the way of magical study. Come up with your background and a skill that you had. For example, you may have been a Baker who excelled in Archery, or perhaps you were a Soldier who dabbled in Painting. Or perhaps you were a Cultist who was fond of Gardening. Whatever these things are choose them.

Peculiarity: Roll or pick from the table below for a Peculiar thing or quirk you possess:

1d12 Peculiarities:
  1. A Strange Children's Book: You have a bizarre and unnerving illustrated book which has haunted and intrigued you since you were young. You are certain that there must be something more to this eerie text but there is nothing overtly magical about it.
  2. Whispers of the Dead: You have occasionally been able hear the voices of the deceased. It is not something over which you have a great deal of control, but with focus, you might be able to coax something useful out of the ghosts which haunt you.
  3. Dream Walker: You walk in strange lands in your dreams, perhaps you have another life altogether. What mysterious locale of the dreamlands eludes your grasp?
  4. Visions: You have had disturbing dreams and visions. Are they things to come? Are they things that are hidden from the eyes of others? What fate awaits this magical endeavor?
  5. Tongues: Sometimes you can speak and understand languages of human and non-human creatures. You have limited control over this, but with effort you might be able to make it work.
  6. Artist: The things you craft have an uncanny life-likeness to them, seeming to move out of the corner of your eye or change when no one is looking.
  7. Family: Your family long claimed that you had a great destiny. All throughout your life they invited their "friends" over to see you and all treated you with strange deference. They conducted you through strange rites and treated you like royalty, but something was wrong. Whatever plans they had for you were always less for you and always more for whatever thing was lying in wait behind their proud words and greedy gazes. They wanted your flesh, not you. Perhaps you would be a sacrifice. Perhaps you would be a vessel for some foul thing of the outer dark. What went wrong? How did you escape? Does your family still live?
  8. Regret: Someone you love died. For many, this would be the end, not so for you. You are determined to undo death even if it means sacrificing your soul.
  9. My Friend in the Attic: You have found something in a hidden place, a mummified corpse, a skull, a flayed human skin, whatever it is, it speaks to you and you alone. It is your precious treasure, your dear friend. You must keep them secret from the world, they say. No one would understand, but if you listen to them, they can tell you secrets of power.
  10. Gifted: You are good at magic. Even before you knew almost anything about magic, sometimes things would happen for you that you just couldn't explain. Sometimes you worry that the magic doesn't come from you at all, but where would it come from otherwise?
  11. Last Knight: You are the last of a knightly order going back generations to protect the world from terrible evil. You are not content to let your order die out but rather to find new ways of carrying on your ancient mission. 
  12. Quest: You are after something, an ambition to perform something truly great: creating the Philosopher's Stone, achieving immortality, becoming a teacher of a great magical school, finding the cure to all diseases, putting your nation on top, creating something that people will always remember you for, something along those lines? What is your ambition?
Is that It?: Potentially. I plan to run this game where the players are yet to have even stepped through the Lesser Gates, the beginnings of magical knowledge. If you would like to begin your characters with a little bit of arcane knowledge already, look to The Lesser Gates below.

The System

At it's core, this is running off of my Weirdways system. Roll 2d6 add a modifier as assigned by the GM based on your Sparks, Peculiarities, Profession, and Skill.
  • 10+: Success
  • 7-9: Mixed Success with a hard choice or drawback
  • 6 or less: Failure with consequences
Look to the linked Weirdways Universal post for examples of how this works in play.

This system will use the Normal Harm Track.

For this system Sparks, will apply towards experimenting and studying to progress on the Terra Occulta.

For actually performing feats of magic, your rank in a particular Arcana will be the key determiner of your bonus to the roll.

Game Phases

This campaign will be split into two phases, the Home Phase and the Field Phase. One does not necessarily follow the other. The meat of the game is based around the Terra Occulta. Field expeditions are made so the magicians can continue their study. Each Home Phase, the magicians may perform any of the following actions

Study: Using the library at your manor, you may delve into magical secrets and gain more understanding. Each path in the Terra Occulta has a clock determining how much study is needed to progress down the path, even if it is only 1 tick. When you Study, your GM will call for a roll based on your Sparks, consult the following:
  • 10+: 2 Ticks
  • 7-9: 1 Tick, with a Drawback.
  • 6 or less: 1 Tick but you encounter a Block.
Study Drawbacks might be any of the following:
  • All-nighter: Your study exhausts you.
  • Requires New Books: Might cost money or finding new arcane books by some other means.
  • Magical Misunderstanding: Something is off about your understanding of magic, the GM may, at any time during your next Field Phase, say that one of your spells goes awry and has some strange side affect.
  • Strange Encounter: A Spirit of the Terra Occulta takes notice of your progress and approaches you with interest or challenge. Be careful or you may be cursed.

Blocks are total roadblocks to further progress. If a Study or Experiment Action gives you a Block, you must overcome it to continue down the path. If the roll would have you arrive at a point, then you first gain all the benefits of the point but you cannot progress out of this point until you resolve the Block.

Some paths come with Blocks built in that must be resolved before you can progress.

Resolving a Block usually means you must make an expedition and undergo a Field Phase.

Study Blocks can be any of the following:
  • You lack some rare book that is necessary for your research, acquiring it will not be a simple matter
  • The knowledge you seek is not in any book at least that you know of. You must find someone or something that knows what you are looking for.
  • Some artifact is key to moving forward. It might be in some forgotten place or in unworthy hands.
  • An ancient and forgotten place or strange dimension must be visited to proceed.
Fabulous Arcana:

An Arcanum is an area of magical knowledge or power. Arcana might open a new kind of magic like Alchemy, allow you to access the powers of a particular dimension or entity, give you access to new Spirit Names, or learn a new category of spell.

Once you arrive at Arcana on the Terra Occulta, you immediately gain the rank of Apprentice in the arcane knowledge held within. You can study a particular Arcanum to increase your rank. From Apprentice to Journeyman, it is 2 Ticks. From Journeyman to Master, it is 3 Ticks.

Arcana can be mixed together and experimented with. It is up to the GM to decide whether a particular use or mixing of Arcana works. The three Lesser Gates each are kind of opposed to each other. Players may offer arguments as to why their use is within the conceptual frame of the Arcana. The GM has the final say. You can also use rolls to identify the boundaries of Arcana. If a spell fails because of the role, perhaps it is because the practitioner attempted to use Arcana in an improper way. If the GM wants to run this way, they should make sure to take notes of these revelations.

The Lesser Gates:

If you want to travel into the lands of the Terra Occulta, you need to first pass through the Lesser Gates. Magical knowledge is not strictly a scholarly endeavor. The magician is transformed in strange ways to make them receptive to the secrets of unnatural power. The map displays three different Lesser Gates and nothing else to begin. Only through at least a single person in your party venturing through these gates will you find what might lie beyond. Each Lesser Gate is an Arcanum which you might gain access to.

The Gate of the Secret Flame: 

The Flame illuminates and reveals unreality. The Flame has to do with detachment of the mind and body, implicitly recognizing the body and the material world as illusory while the mind and realm of pure forms is real. The Secret Flame unlocks the mind to new potential, but embracing the unreality of being is dangerous. This level of detachment becomes and unavoidable reality for the practitioner the deeper into this knowledge they go. It might actually hinder the practitioner from practicing magic which requires their attachment and harmonious existence with the world. On the other hand, the magician on this path is on a straight shot to true Gnosis and ascension to a bodiless existence on a higher plane.

In order to open this gate, you must be inducted into the Mystery of the Flame by someone who has also been inducted themselves into one of the many secret orders who have dabbled with this Arcana. You have searched far and wide for anyone who might fit this description and come up dry, but wait! A rumor is on the wind that there is a surviving member of an old secret society who is on the verge of death in an ancient manor house on the Scottish moors. Perhaps this is your way in!

From this Gate, you believe that you might be able to access further Arcana deeper into the Terra Occulta concerning control over the elements and divination.

The Mossy Gate:

English magic has its deepest roots in the tradition of the Druids. The druids of the British Isles, contrary to the various orders of the Secret Flame, focused on communion with the world of spirits and nature. This Arcanum brings one into communion with the world of fairies and spirits, allows one to see the activity of the little folk and invoke the names of nature spirits to summon, bind, or treat with them. Fairies are powerful creatures who are not all amicable to humanity and should be treated with reverence. Taking this Gate might attract the eye of forces that you might rather stay ignorant of you.

In order to open this gate, you must go to an ancient and sacred place, taking the ritual substances, and making the ritual markings on your skin. You must make a fire and create a circle about yourself and show hospitality to the spirits with proper offerings and etiquette. You will face the spirits and one will become your guide or maybe it will kill you. Hard to say.

From this Gate, you believe that you might be able to access further Arcana deeper into the Terra Occulta concerning assuming the forms of animals, communing with plants and wildlife, and communing with the spirits of the dead.

The New Gate:

The mind is key as the Flame says, but the physical world is not false. The world of nature is important, but Druidic worship is improper. By the ancient alchemical traditions and new pursuits of natural philosophy, a new path of occult power has opened up to understand the Creator's will and the position of mankind in that Creation.

This Arcanum is the knowledge of physical natures and the aspects of material substances, how to break them down and recombine them. The New Gate teaches a kind of quasi-science that alters the practitioner's perception of reality, heightening and altering their capacity to identify patterns, creating categories, and how these categories interact. 

To open this gate, the practitioner must change one thing into another in a way ordinarily thought impossible. Your attempts to do this at home have been frustrating and more than a little damaging. There is a kind of fair for strange arts and new sciences coming to town soon, perhaps you could learn from someone already acquainted with this field? Or perhaps steal the information from them? Up to you.

From this Gate, you believe that you might be able to access further Arcana deeper into the Terra Occulta concerning specific alchemical formulae and the secrets of fundamental forces.


This is a first draft that might undergo significant changes. I think I might use this to run a new campaign with this and I want to talk to the players about how they want this to go. However, I have no time right now, so it might not be any time soon.

Special thanks to Sailing the Stygian Seas for their post about Arcana. That really helped me cement my approach for this game.


  1. I should also credit Marizian's Garden for the Study system http://maziriansgarden.blogspot.com/2020/04/downtime-activities-magical-research.html?m=0

  2. You've been talking for a while about this idea about a "magical exploration" game where the study of magical arcana is itself like a traversal of a space, diegetically, analogically, metaphysically, and even somewhat literally. It's a natural combination of your Weirdways style of exploration and interest in religion, theology, and magic, and it's cool to see how it's coming together.

    I really like these tables. The combination of the Sparks as something almost like magical schools but less rigid and perfunctory, with the Peculiarities, I could see how the various combinations could lead to interesting interpretations.

    The Gates are also cool; I'm always up for a game that has magical zones at its core, and conceptually these seem fitting, but I like that these are just the starting points. Also, the idea of gates and blocks along with the traversal concept makes me think of a circuitboard.

    It's interesting how the Flame Gate and Mossy Gate seem to be at two ends of a spectrum, and the New Gate as being like the middle ground. The Flame Gate being about the insignificance of the material world, the Mossy Gate about a deeply interconnected natural world, and the New Gate "The mind is key as the Flame says, but the physical world is not false.".

    It's also interesting in light of the other parallel one could make. You explicitly compare the Mossy Gate to Druidism of the British Isles, and even though the Flame Gate in some ways sounds Buddhist to me, there are other ways in which it can sound Platonic, and the overall framing of this (and iconography) strongly suggests Christianity, so I'm going to say if Mossy Gate is more about animism and naturalism, Flame Gate is more about spiritualism per se. And then New Gate seems to be like science or alchemy, but treating it as an intermediary between the two others, which I really like and I think is more nuanced than the kind of "magic vs. technology" type stuff you usually see.

    Anyway, subtext can be multilayered and analogical mappings can get out of hand so I'm not trying to pin this into any particular interpretation or another, but it's interesting how it suggests these kinds of interpretations.

    1. Your interpretation of the Gates is very in line with my own. My thought with the Flame is that it would probably originate with Platonic Greek philosophy, make its way through Gnosticism, and then survive and mutate in the West through secret societies. I imagine Buddhist thought could have entered the mix at some point along the way and syncretized well with the Gnostic thought.

      However, the New Gate is more straight forwardly the descendent of Western alchemy which becomes pretty explicitly Christian throughout the ages, and so that is the one that is most Christian to me both in its history and its outlook. Its about the meeting of heaven and earth, the unity of the mind and body, the place of mankind in Creation. The New Gate obviously bends more towards the mind than the body, but it is intensely interested in the material world and how understanding it allows us to better understand God which is a sentiment consistent with many of the early scientists at the dawn of modernity.

  3. This is some extremely good work. Love the list of Sparks, you could make a magic supplement out of just that.

    1. Thank you, Dan! I enjoyed writing the Sparks. A lot of those will undoubtedly show up on the map of Terra Occulta in one form or another.


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