How To Play

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Design Intention

Dead Air is not a game where skill at arms or use of powerful destructive magic is likely to get you what you want. Antagonists will either be mundanes, so completely at the mercy of the powerful magicians of Hermes, or fellow magicians or equivalent, who are exceptionally difficult to magically harm.

The rules set out here are designed to cause the least disruption to play while allowing for an element of chance and risk.

Conflict Resolution: Physical Conflict

The key principles here are:

  • Numbers always win
  • Magic beats numbers - one magus versus forty mundanes, magus wins.
  • Loser decides severity and significance of injury
  • No physical contact unless agreed
  • Be generous in your play

Unarmed conflicts are easily resolved through weight of numbers.

  • If your character has more people on their side backing them up, then they win, simple.
  • If a magus, even a single magus, is facing normal mundanes, they win, no matter the numbers.
  • If numbers are the same on both sides, a stalemate results, with no “loser” until and unless a third party or other factor (such as "magical combat" as below) becomes involved.

The “loser” of the encounter should act appropriately and no physical contact should be made unless both sides agree through verbal prompts. Note that this physical contact should be no more than a minor tussle or arm grab, and that physical contact does not alter the outcome of any conflict – numbers still win – and is included purely for the purposes of creating theatre.

If you wish for the scene to involve physical contact you should use a verbal prompt to indicate to others you wish to do so –

  • Initiator: “You want some?”
  • Target: “Come get some” – I am happy to engage in physical contact
  • Target: “Any other response” – I am not happy to engage in physical contact.

In all cases, the loser of the conflict determines the nature and severity of any injury effects on themselves.

Using Magic

To manage conflict, all magi characters will have two numbers on their character sheet:

  • Spend - this is how much raw vis you can spend across the entirety of the Tribunal to boost your magic. Given this is seen by magi as currency, spending vis is a dangerous game and can be expensive to both you and your covenant. Every time you use raw vis, your Spend goes down by the amount used. There are some rare circumstances under which more Spend can be acquired but these usually involve leaving the Tribunal site on an "adventure" of some kind, which is not always a good idea.
    • A magus may expend their own vis in defence of another at an exchange of 2 for 1 - so 2 spend gives another magus one "Very". This requires physical contact so is very hard to be subtle about.

  • Magnitude - a scale of one to four, this is a measure of just how powerful a wizard you are in terms of the brute force of your spells.
    • The magnitude represents both how strong your native magicks are and how much you can boost any one magical effect by (either by spending raw vis from your Spend score as above, or through other means available as noted on character sheets).
    • As a quirk of the aura at Ends of the Earth, Magnitude is additionally limited by the day of the Tribunal - on Friday, only magnitude one effects can be used; on Saturday magnitude one or two; on Sunday, magnitude one, two or three. The very small number of magi able to use magnitude four effects may use them at any time. These tend to be associated with specific items or circumstances. Simeon, the Praeco, is an example of a level four caster.

Maximum Strength of Spells and Effects at Ends of the Earth
Effects Friday Saturday Sunday Maximum Spend Maximum Possible Effect
Magnitude One Yes Yes Yes One or caster's magnitude, whichever is lower Two
Magnitude Two No Yes Yes Two or caster's magnitude, whichever is lower Four
Magnitude Three No No Yes Three or caster's magnitude, whichever is lower Six
Magnitude Four/Special If Allowed If Allowed If Allowed Four or caster's magnitude, whichever is lower No limit

In most cases to use magic you will not need a referee. With respect due to the Limits of Magic, you can do anything you can imagine - only when you come into conflict with another magus is there an issue.

Contested Magic

The formula is:

Caster's Magnitude (limited by the day) plus any vis Spend (limited by day and magnitude) versus Defender's Magnitude plus any vis Spend (limited by day and magnitude)

Note defences are almost always stronger than attacks as passive defence is at full strength no matter what day it is.

All Hermetic magi learn as their very first charm the Parma Magica - the shield against magic. In almost all circumstances, this will prevent a magus from coming to harm in magical conflict, although it is not foolproof. As such, just slinging magical effects at one another usually just results in little more than a fireworks show.

Worked Example of Magic in Play - an attempted attack

As with all cases of magical subterfuge, a referee is required to witness the event and adjudicate outcomes. As per combat rules, the loser decides the full nature of the effect of a successful spell.

Archmage Beebo (Spend 4, Magnitude 2) has discovered a terrible secret about Lucullus (Spend 1, Magnitude 3). Lucullus has decided to silence Beebo before he can speak in Tribunal on Sunday and has set up an ambush with his friend Corvus (Spend 0 Magnitude 2).

Lucullus strikes first, with his strongest spell knowing Beebo's defences are strong. To indicate he is attacking he tells Beebo the rough effect of the spell and how strong it is (Lucullus' magnitude plus any spend). He chooses not to use his last vis spend, so it's strength is 3 (magnitude + expended spend). "My spell of silence is very, very, very powerful").

His spell is Magnitude 3, Beebo's native defences magnitude 2.

Beebo's defences are about to be overwhelmed, but the archmage expends vis ("My defences are very very very strong") to equal, and block, Lucullus's spell.

The game's up - Corvus piles in at the same time, ("Your feet are very, very on fire") but his magnitude 2 spell is easily stopped by Beebo's existing defences (as noted above, his defences have 3 very's and Corvus can only muster two) and Corvus has no vis left to strengthen it.

This is a poorly planned attack. All three magi are at this stage unharmed. Hurting magi with magic is hard... and with the noise of casting, others may be on their way.

Certamen: the Magical Duel

Certamen, once popular, has now fallen into disuse except at Tribunals. It was originally concieved as a way for magi to duel without harming one another. It is seen nowadays as formal and old-fashioned, but is still honoured. Both magi agree on a mutually-satisfactory forfeit for the loser, and then engage one another with their arts. This can take the form of an illusionary duel or a meeting of minds - it depends on the magi. It is seen as a spectator sport among many magi.

There is no legal compulsion to accept a challenge of Certamen - but refusing to do so sends a very bad political signal.

Traditionally a Quaesitor witnesses the duel, announces the winner, and imposes the required forfeit on the loser.

Worked Example of Magic in Play - a Certamen

Lupo (spend 2, Magnitude 2) has had enough of Philia's (spend 3, magnitude 1) nonsense by Saturday evening, and has decided a duel is in order.


The two players discuss terms ahead of time. Lupo's magnitude is higher, so he is the default winner. Philia, however, is not prepared to go down without a fight and commits one vis to the duel, evening the odds. The outcome would be a stalemate, which they would then act out with Philia roleplaying out that she has used vis to hold off Lupo, which may have social implications (being seen as wasteful or weak). Philia, in negotiations, signals her intent to use vis by saying "I intend my defence to be very powerful with the number of times very is said equalling the amount of spend used.

Given it is Saturday, Philia could potentially spend two vis - but because her magnitude is one, she can only spend one at a time on any day. Forcing a draw is therefore her strongest play.

Lupo could, however, decide this is important enough to him to spend one or both of his two vis spend (because it is Saturday and he is magnitude two, he could spend up to two vis), once more putting him on top. This would be roleplayed as both magi consuming magical resource, and might have an even bigger social cost as both would be seen to be wasting resources. Observers may also know Lupo now has low reserves, so would note this would make him weaker later on in the weekend. This would be a narrow win for Lupo.


Once the players have settled on an outcome through bidding their spend and negotiation, they act out the outcome of the Certamen publicly in any fashion they would like: showy or subtle, public or with few witnesses.

Important Calls for Magic:

  • "My Defences are ($very) Strong" - a call indicating a defensive number, signalled by the number of Very's used.
  • "My spell of (x) is ($very) strong" - a call indicating an attacking number, signalled by the number of Very's used.
  • "My attack/defence is overwhelming" - a very rare call, usually in defence. If this is used, the opposing call fails no matter its source or strength - if an attack using this cuts through an active Parma Magica, witnessing magi will be horrified.

I Got It Wrong!!!

In stressful situations like ambushes and surprises at a LARP, maths is often not high on peoples' priority list. It's possible that someone jumps you and you get your maths wrong - by calling a defence number you can't achieve, or spending vis you don't have.

This is probably inevitable over the course of the game, and while we encourage everyone to try and get this right first time, there's a recovery mechanism if you find you got it wrong, or overspent by mistake, or panicked in the moment and gabbled nonsense numbers.

  • First and most important, what's done is done - the past is not rolled back. Somehow, you managed to find the resources to exceed your abilities.
  • However, there's always a price and that price is Twilight.

If you think you got it magically wrong come and see a referee. We will provide you with a twilight fugue which may change aspects of your character, your magnitude score, character goals, etc.

Fair warning: if we feel this mechanic is being abused, we will impose harsher penalties through the twilight mechanic than if we think it's an honest blunder, and for repeat offenders things will get worse very quickly. This is designed as a means to provide in-game justification for errors and as a roleplaying tool, rather than as an actively-employed rules tactic.

Rules and Techniques

What We Promise and What We Ask - The Character Questionnaire - Event Structure

Introduction - The Order in 1346 - A Who's Who of Attendees - Rules and Techniques