Principles of Nimbic Energy
In Nimbus, magic is the art of harvesting, binding, and manipulating nimbic energy, which comes in a variety of different types. Most commonly found is the energy of the four major powers: light, earth, fire, and shadow. Energy is a physical substance that permeates objects, like water in a sponge. It can be extracted with binding rituals, which often damage the object when the energy is used in a spell and always deplete its supply of energy. It can also be extracted by completely destroying an object, i.e. by fire, in which case the energy is released as nimbic vapor. If there is enough nimbic vapor of the same type in an area, it will condense into a semi-stable cloud of energy called a nimbus.
Everything in Nimbus has some energy bound within it and the particular composition of that energy determines what makes the object unique. For example, most rocks contain almost entirely earth energy, but sulphur is unique from other rocks because it contains a small amount of fire energy as well. Living things’ physical forms and personalities are also determined by the composition of nimbic energies bound within them. Common medicine holds that ailments stem from an imbalance in the person’s nimbic energies that is incompatible with their nature. Warriors even more than mages cultivate an internal pool of nimbic energy to enhance their physical strength and combat skills.
In order to cast a spell in Nimbus, a mage must first obtain energy for the spell, then shape it into a pattern specific to the effect they want to create. Energy can be obtained by force, extracting it from the environment with binding rituals, or by worshiping or bargaining with magical entities who have large amounts of innate energy, such as gods and fey. After finding some energy and binding it to their control, a mage must shape it using the internal energy in their hands and bodies to guide the external energy in a technique called channeling. Simple spells can be performed just by channeling a single type of bound energy, but more advanced ones require precise mathematically defined patterns of a rainbow of different energy types. Once shaped, releasing the bindings on the energy produces magical effects.
There are many other uses of the basic principles of binding and nimbic energy. For example, there are certain magical entities such as fey who have so much nimbic energy within them that binding that energy binds the entity’s physical body as well, which can be handy for making deals or restraining rampant flamekin. Also, since the composition of an object’s nimbic energy determines its form, infusing particular types of energy into an object and extracting others allows you to transmute one object into another, which is the basic principle for alchemy.
In addition to energy from the major powers, you can also find energy from a variety of minor powers such as air and water energy. The difference between the major powers and the minor powers from an arcanist’s perspective is not how easily they are found (many minor powers can be found quite easily), but what concentrations they are found in. Air energy is thinly distributed across the world and it is rare to find enough of it in one place to be useful. Earth energy, on the other hand, is often found in concentrations sufficient for spellcasting. It is unknown just how many types of energy exist but some scholars theorize there are an infinite number. For example, wizards from Haytower have recently claimed they were able to extract cheese nimbic from a particularly unique gruyere; their experiments do not hold much weight with other scholars, though.
The principles of nimbic energy above describe the magic system of Nimbus in the abstract and could be applied to any RPG system. In order to make use of nimbic magic in a game, an implementation of rules specific to the system is needed. Below, I have implemented mechanics for nimbic magic in D&D 5e, D&D 3.5, and Fate Core.
Wizard/Sorcerer Subclass – Nimbus Arcanist
This path grants the ability to cast additional spells by using the nimbic energy around you and can be pursued as either an arcane tradition by wizards or a sorcerous origin by sorcerers. Upon taking this subclass, the arcanist gains the Nimbic Binding and Energy Channeling abilities. At higher levels, after acquiring this subclass, whenever you would gain a subclass ability choose one from the list below; each can be taken only once:
- Giant Binding
- Wild Binding
- Elemental Binding
- Destructive Channeling
- Empowered Channeling
- Elemental Affinity
You can spend an action performing a binding ritual on an inanimate object within 5ft of you of medium size or smaller that you have not previously bound. Before performing the ritual you may ask the GM what kind of energy the object provides. The energy types are: light, earth, fire, or shadow (one of the major powers) or any spell damage type (one of the minor powers). Upon completing the ritual, the object becomes bound to you and you gain one unit of energy of the appropriate type.
When casting a spell, you can spend an amount of energy bound to you equal to the level of the spell of a type that matches the spell to cast it without expending a spell slot. Energy matches a spell if the energy type is among the spell’s damage types or the spell manipulates that type of thing. For the major powers, this is as follows
Light: spells that create light or deal radiant damage
Earth: spells that manipulate earth or deal acid damage
Fire: spells that create or manipulate fire or deal fire damage
Shadow: spells that create darkness or deal necrotic damage
Upon expending the energy, the objects bound to you providing the energy take unbinding damage equal to 1d8 force damage per unit of energy expended, likely destroying simple non-magical items.
You can bind objects up to huge size. Bound objects grant an additional unit of energy for each size category larger than medium.
Instead of binding a specific object, you can cast a general binding in the vicinity. When you do so, roll 2d6 and gain two units of energy based on the number shown on each die. Expending energy from wild binding does not deal unbinding damage.
1: any minor power (any spell damage type other than acid, fire, radiant, or necrotic)
2: earth energy
3: fire energy
4: light energy
5: shadow energy
6: any major or minor power
In addition to inanimate objects, you can bind elementals. When you attempt to bind an elemental, they can make a Charisma saving throw against your spell save DC to escape the binding and can repeat this saving throw at the end of each of their turns. Bound elementals have disadvantage on saving throws against your spells (this ability is not a spell). A bound elemental cannot willingly move more than 30ft from you; if they unwillingly do so, you lose the energy gained from binding them and they suffer unbinding damage accordingly. Binding an elemental grants an additional unit of energy compared to an inanimate object.
The unbinding damage dealt to objects when expending energy is raised to 3d8 per unit of energy expended.
You can spend energy to empower a spell you are casting as long as the energy type matches the spell. Add 1d6 to the spell’s damage for each unit of energy expended. Energy expended in place of a spell slot does not count for this. Unbinding damage occurs as usual.
Choose an energy type when acquiring this ability. When you bind an object with energy of the chosen type, gain an additional unit of energy. When you cast spells that deal the chosen damage type, add your spellcasting ability modifier to one damage roll.
For version 3.5 of D&D, the nimbus arcanist is a prestige class instead of a subclass but most of the mechanics remain the same.
Prestige Class – Nimbus Arcanist
Skills: Knowledge (arcana) 8 ranks, Spellcraft 8 ranks
Spells: Ability to cast 3rd level or higher arcane spells
Hit Die: d4
Skills: 2+Int (as wizard)
Saves: Will primary (as wizard)
BAB: increase every other level (as wizard)
You can take a maximum of 5 levels of this prestige class. At 1st level, gain the Nimbic Binding and Energy Channeling abilities described in the 5e rules above and spells equivalent to +1 level of an existing arcane spellcasting class. At subsequent levels, you may select an ability from the abilities listed in the 5e rules above or the Elemental Control ability described below, and also gain spells equivalent to +1 level of an existing arcane spellcasting class.
The 5e rules for this ability refer to spell save DC; consider that DC to instead be 12+Int. The 5e rules for this ability also refer to disadvantage on spell saves; consider that equivalent to -4 on the elemental’s saving throw.
Requires elemental binding. As a standard action, you can attempt to take control of a bound elemental by making a Knowledge (arcana) check against 10 + their hit dice. If you succeed, the elemental is compelled to obey your orders as long as the binding lasts; they may continue to try and save against it.
Fate Core does not have a default magic system of its own, so the following implementation of nimbic energy and binding comprises a complete magic system that can be used by any Fate character, rather than an extension as the D&D implementation above. This system introduces two skills, Binding and Channeling, an optional character aspect, Favor, and several stunts. Energy in this system exists as tokens on aspects that can be consumed through channeling or spellcasting.
Description: Binding is the skill of connecting to and asserting control over energy around you. It allows you to harvest energy for spells and channeling and also has a variety of uses for utility and countermagic.
Attack: Binding cannot ordinarily be used to attack.
Defend: You can use binding to defend against any magical attack.
Create an advantage: You can use binding to bind energy in the world around you. Do this by taking the “create an advantage” action on a scene aspect or something described as being in the scene (which becomes an aspect). Roll 4df+binding and put energy of a single type appropriate to the aspect onto the aspect in an amount equal to the amount you beat the GM’s difficulty by (GMs: I recommend setting this difficulty at zero most of the time). You can use this energy later to power channeling and spells. You can only perform this action on a given aspect once per scene.
Overcome: You can use binding to remove opponents’ bindings by overcoming the amount of energy they have bound on an aspect. When you succeed, remove all of your opponent’s energy on that aspect, but do not remove the aspect.
Description: Channeling governs raw elemental manipulation of energy – moving earth, creating balls of fire, etc. In order to use the channeling skill you must expend one energy of any type. You can optionally expend more energy of the same type before you roll, with each additional energy granting +1 to the roll.
Attack: When you attack with channeling, you manipulate a physical manifestation of your energy type to do harm to your opponent. The damage you deal is of the energy type expended.
Defend: Same as attack. You can defend as long as it makes sense to do so with a physical manifestation of the energy type.
Create an advantage: You can create an advantage that involves physically manifesting or manipulating your energy type.
Overcome: You can use channeling to overcome physical obstacles where it makes sense to do so.
The favor aspect represents your character’s philosophical alignment with one of Nimbus’ major or minor powers. It is written with the associated power and a rank, which begins at 2 when you take the aspect, for example, “Earth Favor 2”. When your favor aspect is compelled, you do not gain fate points and you do not have to pay fate points to refuse the compel. Instead, you will gain or lose a point from your favor rank (up to the maximum skill rank for the campaign). For compel reference, a quick summary of each major power’s philosophical stance follows:
Light: Walk the path of the gods
Earth: Do no harm
Fire: Follow your heart
Shadow: Acquire power
You can take the “create an advantage” action to use favor to gain energy of your favored type by rolling 4df + your favor rank, then putting that many energy tokens onto your favor aspect. This can be done whenever there is no energy on your favor aspect.
Fiat elemental manipulation with channeling only goes so far. There is much that magic can do in Nimbus that is beyond that skill. Therefore, I recommend including a variety of spells accessible to players that can be used to spend energy in more interesting ways. Each spell has a cost in a combination of at least two elemental energies (because using only one energy type would be channeling) and an effect that describes what happens when the spell is cast. A roll is not required to cast these spells, just take an action and expend the energy. I recommend limiting a mage’s initial repertoire of spells to a handful so there is some thought given to energy types, but the maximum number of spells a mage can learn is unlimited. Below are some sample spells, all of which operate within the same zone as the caster and last until the end of the scene unless otherwise noted.
Cost: 1 Light, 1 Earth
Effect: Target character gains the Warded aspect with two free invokes.
Cost: 1 Shadow, 1 Earth
Effect: Target character gains the Slowed aspect with two free invokes for you and your allies.
Cost: 1 Fire, 1 Air
Effect: Quickly fly to a location up to two zones away even if you would normally be unable to do so due to obstacles related to distance or height.
Cost: 2 Earth, 1 Light, 1 Water
Effect: You create a Fairy Coins item aspect worth as much as you need it to be. The coins disappear at sunrise, no matter who has them at the time.
Cost: 2 Light, 2 Fire
Effect: Target character is enchanted with an illusion that makes them appear wealthier and more attractive. They gain the Glamered aspect with two free invokes, which lasts until sunrise.
Cost: 4 Fire, 1 Shadow
Effect: You summon a small fire demon. It is not under your control.
When expending energy from a bound aspect, destroy the aspect or deal 1 shift of damage per energy removed if the bound object is able to absorb damage.
You can expend energy of a single type on non-channeling physical attacks. Every 2 energy expended before rolling grants +1 to the roll.
When you succeed with style overcoming an opponent’s binding, you may bind the energy to yourself instead of removing it.
In addition to inanimate objects, you can bind to elementals using the “create an advantage” action. When you bind an elemental, create a Bound aspect on it representing its magical restraints with a free invoke and an amount of energy equal to your binding roll. A Bound elemental cannot willingly move out of the zone you are in and will follow you to new zones.
Prerequisite: Elemental Binding
You can perform mental attacks with binding against an elemental you have Bound. If you defeat the elemental with this damage, you may bind it to your will, taking control of it until the end of the session. Update the Bound aspect to reflect the elemental’s new status as your servant.
Prerequisite: Binding 2
Instead of binding a specific object, you can cast a general binding in the vicinity. When you do so, roll 2d6 and place two energy tokens on this stunt based on the number shown on each die.
1: any minor power
2: earth energy
3: fire energy
4: light energy
5: shadow energy
6: any major or minor power
Paragon of Favor
Prerequisite: Favor 3
Gain an ability based on the major power you have the favor of.
Paragon of Light: You can use Favor as a social skill representing your honor and status when interacting with anyone in civilized places.
Paragon of Earth: After rolling Favor, you gain a +2 boost on a defense roll made before your next action.
Paragon of Fire: After rolling Favor, you gain a +2 boost on an attack roll if you make one in the next exchange.
Paragon of Shadow: When rolling Favor, you can take a consequence for a +2 bonus.