Mastering the Mystic Arts

Originally published in Dragon magazine annual #4

Magic and Mysticism in the Marvel Universe

Hoggoth, Oshtur and dark Valtorr,
Faltine, Agamotto and Raggadorr,
Seraphim, Watoomb and Cyttorak,
Satannish, Ikonn and cold Denak,
By the Vishanti’s eternal light,
Powers of magic, protect us tonight!

— Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme

The mystic arts, powers of magic far beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. It is in the shadowy world of mysticism that magicians like Dr. Strange, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, maintain eternal vigilance against hordes of demons, evil wizards and cosmic beings from other dimensions, protecting an unsuspecting populace from their dire plots.

The Game Book for the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game provides basic information on the power of magic and those who wield it. This article offers an expanded look at the mystic arts in the Marvel Universe, with additional information and options usable by players and Narrators alike.


What is magic? According to the Sorcerer Supreme himself, magic is the study of forces and how to use them to cause things to happen. A magician who learns how to manipulate the right energies can do almost anything. Magicians are limited only by the extent of their knowledge and will. Magic is not like other powers because it is not granted by cosmic rays, mutation, strange machines, or chemicals. Magic is learned through years of intense study and practice. While everyone may have some potential to wield magic, only a select few have the drive, dedication and willpower needed to develop that talent into true skill in the mystic arts.

The great majority of magicians are “novices” who have learned a few spells here and there, but do not have the skill of a true Master of the Mystic Arts. The MARVEL Game Book refers to them as “dabblers.” The Scarlet Witch is one such individual, Dr. Doom is another. Although she knows some true magic, the Scarlet Witch relies for the most part on her mutant hex power. Likewise, the Lord of Latveria prefers the tools of science to those of sorcery.

Novices have a Magic intensity of 9 or less. They choose spells (stunts) from a limited list of powers, as follows: Astral Projection, Detection (Magic), Dimensional Travel, Energy Blast, Ensnarement, ESP, Force Field, Illusion, Life Support, Telekinesis, Telepathy and Teleportation (Self, Summoning). Novices also have to draw a card whenever casting a spell. If the card’s value is greater than the novice’s Magic the spell fails, and if the aura of the card is negative, a mishap occurs, left up the Narrator.

Magicians with a Magic intensity of 10 or greater are masters of the mystic arts, able to duplicate virtually any Power with a trump suit of Intellect or Willpower as a spell. Magic does not normally allow a mage (even a master) to affect his or her own body, ability scores or skills. For this reason, mages often make use of various helpers and henchmen to handle physical matters. Even heroic sorcerers like Dr. Strange regularly call upon the help of other heroes.

The following Intellect- and Willpower-based powers cannot be duplicated using Magic: Chi, Cosmic Energy Control, Luck Control, Power Amplification, Power Duplication and Reality Warping. Many other powers are rarely, if ever, duplicated by magicians, including: Computer Link, Darkforce Control, Gravity Control, Kinetic Control, Pheromones, Radar, Radiation Control and Sonar. The Narrator should consider carefully before allowing a mage to duplicate these powers.

Schools of Magic

Magic-wielders in the Marvel Universe fall into one of three broad categories or “schools.”

Order magic, also known as “white” or “good” magic, is based around protection, truth and the maintenance of order in the universe. It is the school of magic followed by such powerful sorcerers as Dr. Strange and his mentor, the Ancient One.

Neutral magic, often known as “nature” magic or “gray” magic, focuses on principles beyond good and evil, such as the forces of the natural world or the rules of the scientific method. Mystics like Shaman from Alpha Flight practice neutral magic, as do alchemists like Diablo, showing that neutral magic can be used for either good or evil.

Chaos magic, also known as “black” or “evil” magic, is based around destruction, deception, and the creation of chaos and disorder. Magical villains like Baron Mordo and Dormammu are masters of such magic.


Spells shape magical energy to create an infinite variety of effects. Spells draw energy from two basic sources: personal and external.

Personal energy spells draw on the magician’s inner reserves of strength. Powers that use personal energies are: Astral Projection, Detection (Magic), ESP, Illusion andTelepathy.

These spells do not require any special incantations or gestures, only a modicum of concentration on the part of the magician. A magician can cast these spells even while bound and gagged, or otherwise restrained. Personal spells still take place as Contingent Actions, as described on page 164 of the Marvel Game Book.

A magician can cast personal spells without being noticed by making a difficult Magic action. The difficulty is only average against opponents with the Overconfident hindrance (see page 109 of the Game Book). Dr. Strange uses this tactic against Overconfident foes like Mordo or the dread Dormammu quite often, loosing his astral form or creating an illusion to distract his foe and give Strange time to overcome him.

All other spells require the magician to tap into external sources of energy, either from the Earth or other dimensions, using names of power, incantations, and gestures to summon and direct the energy. The magician must be free to speak and move in order to cast these spells. A mage who is gagged, silenced or bound can only use personal energies. Some of the more common magical powers are described here, along with the names used to invoke them.

Dimensional Travel: Magicians travel between dimensions and often deal with beings from other dimensions. Magic makes use of two new stunts of Dimensional Travel.Gate creates a “door” between two dimensions, allowing travelers to simply step through. Keeping the gate open requires an average Magic action for each exchange beyond the first. Banishment sends a target to another dimension chosen by the caster, requiring an average Magic (Willpower) action. Dimensional Travel spells include theMists of Hoggoth, the Shades of the Seraphim and the Winds of Watoomb. The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth , the Fires of Satannish and the dreaded Spell of Eternal Vanishment are banishment spells.

Elemental Control: The powers of Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Weather Control are common for magicians, especially followers of a neutral “nature magic” school. Power over the elements is granted by Gaia, the Earth Mother, as well as many elemental spirits.

Energy Blast: The standard magical Energy Blast is called a Bolt of Bedevilment , which is taught to every novice. Additionally there are the Baleful Bolts of Balthakk(black lightning), Crystals of Cyndriarr (dozens of flat, razor-sharp squares), the Crimson Crystals of Cyttorak (sharp, reddish crystals), the Daggers of Daveroth (flat red triangles), the Disks of Denak (flat purple circles), the Flames of the Faltine (green flames), the Light of Agamotto (bright light, usable only against evil creatures), the Seven Suns of Cinnibus (blazing light), the Storms of Satannish (lightning bolts), and many others.

Ensnarement: Magicians often use spells to entrap foes. The most famous is the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, but there are many others, including the Chains of Krakkan, the Dark Vapors of Valtorr , Icy Tendrils of Ikthalon and the Roving Rings of Raggadorr. Some spells provide the Multiple Targets stunt of Ensnarement, trapping all opponents within firing distance, such as the Ribbons of Raggadorr and the Seven Bands of Cyttorak.

Force Field: The most common magical force field is the Shield of the Seraphim. There are many other sorts of defense, including the Conjured Crystal of Cyttorak (a reddish crystal), a Nirvalonic Sphere (which gains +2 intensity, but is immobile once created) and the Seraphim’s Grim Shield (which provides Detection (Evil) in addition to protection). Magicians also use force fields to trap opponents with spells like Dyzakk’s Cage, the Scarlet Sphere of Cyttorak, the Shining Circle of the Seraphim and one of the Spells of the Omnipotent Oshtur.

Nullification: Magic is used to nullify many things, particularly other magic. Some common nullification spells include the Flames of the Faltine (vs. animation, ensnarement, or mental control), In the Name of the All-Freeing (vs. bonds and mental control), the Hosts of Hoggoth (vs. magic), the Illusions of Ikonn (vs. illusions), theLight of Agamotto (vs. bonds and mental control), the Light of Nirvalon (vs. emotion control), the Mystic Moons of Munnopor (vs. energy fields), Oshtur’s Mighty Hands (vs. magic), the Shades of the Seraphim (vs. ensnarement) and the Stumbling Vapors of Valtorr (vs. Agility).

Teleport: Mages can move across the face of the world in an instant using spells like the Winds of Watoomb or the Shades of the Seraphim. They also use Summoning spells to bring objects and creatures to them, such as the Demons of Denak, which summons a group of demons to serve the caster, or the Flames of Falroth, which can summon any item or being known to the caster.

Transmutation: Magic can transform virtually anything. The Weirdling Planes of Pholdak is a complex spell that requires three exchanges to cast (any interruption spoils the spell). It requires an average Magic (Willpower) action and turns the target two-dimensional, like a pane of glass. If the target is shattered (an average Strength action) it is destroyed. This spell is quite rare, found only in a few obscure books and scrolls. More mundanely, magicians use Transmutation to repair broken objects, transform their clothes and waterproof their spooky old mansions and towers.

Miscellaneous Spells: There are far too many other spells to describe them all, but here are a few of the classics. The Light of Agamotto and the glow of the Mystic Moons of Munnopor can have a Blinding effect on evildoers. Daranthon’s Lost Lore provides Detection spells. The Sign of the Seraphim permits a mage to reflect a spell back at its caster (Energy Reflection). The Illusions of Ikonn can create any type of Illusions. The Images of Ikonn induce specific feelings (Emotion Control). The Munnopor’s Mystic Maze, the power of Amtor the Unspeakable and the Wheel of Bromagdon induce Paralysis. The Mists of Morpheus provide the Sedation stunt of Psychic Blast. The Mists of Munnopor and the Vapors of Valtorr cover an area out to firing distance with a dense mist that acts like Shadow Control. The Spell of Silence provides the Silence stunt of Sonic Control.

The mystic trinity of the Vishanti (Agamotto, Hoggoth and Oshtur) is the greatest magical force for good known, capable of granting virtually any spell, and often invoked by good sorcerers.

Playing a Mage

A student of the mystic arts, whether a mere novice or an experienced master, has considerable responsibilities compared to the average hero. Mages have a sacred trust to use their powers responsibly, for the good of all. Those who violate this trust are drawn to evil, and may suffer a change in Calling. Magicians must be vigilant against various magical threats: cults, evil mages, magical creatures and dimensional conquerors seeking to use the power of magic for their own ends.

Mages operate in a world that’s weird even by the flexible standards of the Marvel Universe. I mean, heroes tackle alien invasions, megalomaniac scientists and mutant terrorists without batting an eye, but mages have to handle sanity-bending dimensions, creatures out of myth and legend and cosmic beings that rule entire universes. On the other hand, magicians have the power to do it. It’s not an easy job, and outsiders often don’t understand what it takes.

Magician heroes can often be occupied dealing with magical threats, while other heroes handle the physical stuff. For example, while Dr. Strange goes spell-to-spell with Baron Mordo or Dormammu, other heroes can take on hordes of demons, cultists or Mindless Ones. Mages often need a little help with the physical side of things, and even the Sorcerer Supreme can be taken out with a well-placed shot, or just a grappling attack that keeps him from casting spells.

Playing a mage is a great opportunity to ham things up. Mages-even the heroic ones-tend to be pompous and long-winded. They’re prone to speeches and dramatic dialog, to say nothing of the spells. Ah, yes, the spells. Mages turn out rhyming tongue-twisters about the Many Moons of Munnopor and the Roving Rings of Raggadorr at the drop of a hat. Narrators should encourage players of mage heroes to make up their own spells, using the names from this article and the Marvel comics. It’s lots more fun to say “Evil now be held back, by the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!” than to tell the Narrator “I use Ensnarement on the villain.” A player who comes up with a cool incantation that wows the group should definitely get a bonus on that spell!

Magical Items

Many different magical items are spoken of in the annals of the Marvel Universe. The most powerful items are in the keeping of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange. Other items are unearthed from time to time and fall into the hands of sorcerers seeking to abuse their powers or, worse yet, people who have no idea of their powers and dangers. It’s up to the heroes to keep that from happening.

There are spellbooks containing magical lore. The Book of the Vishanti contains nearly every good magic spell gathered by Earth’s Sorcerers Supreme, while theDarkhold is the ultimate tome of evil magic. Other books may contain scraps of lore useful to magicians.

Items like the legendary Wand of Watoomb increase a magician’s powers. The wand grants its wielder ESP 20 and the Rangless stunt for Magic. It can also absorb magical energy directed at the wielder and convert it into power for spells (Absorption 20 with the stunts of Absorption Conversion and Healing). Dr. Strange’s Orb of Agamottoprovides ESP 20 across space and dimensions.

Magician heroes can also make magical items on their own, using the Equipment rules from the Marvel Game Book, or the expanded inventing rules from Mike Selinker’s article “Super Science in the Marvel Universe” in Dragon Annual #3. The mage must have the Occult skill and Magic intensity is substituted for Intellect in the inventing process. The Narrator should take care not to allow magician heroes to create items that will spoil the fun of the game. Magical inventions also provide lots of opportunities for backfires, thefts by cultists or evil sorcerers, or quests of exotic or rare materials, some of which may only be available in other dimensions.

Magical Dimensions

Masters of the mystic arts explore a myriad of different dimensions. Some dimensions are fairly safe, while others are filled with dangerous creatures.

AsgardOlympusHeliopolis and several related dimensions are home to the gods of myth, as well as many creatures like trolls, giants, hydras and the like.

The Astral Plane is an abstract place of floating shapes. Heroic sorcerers often try to shift their battles here, to protect innocent people on Earth whole might get caught in a magical “crossfire.”

The Dark Dimension is the domain of the Dread Dormammu, a Lord of Chaos and powerful sorcerer. It is a magical world of floating islands, abstract shapes and mystical energy. It is bordered by the Domain of the Mindless Ones and ruled from the grand palace, where Dormammu schemes to take control of Earth’s dimension. Although he has been deposed several times, first by his sister Umar and later his niece Clea, Dormammu always regains control of the Dark Dimension to plot anew.

The Dream Dimension is the realm of Nightmare. It is the place where humans go when they dream. Nightmare sometimes takes the opportunity to torment a helpless mortal, but he has been thwarted many times by Dr. Strange and other mystic heroes.

Magical Creatures

There are many different magical creatures on Earth and in other dimensions. Some are the servants of powerful sorcerers, while others are villains in their own right.

Cultists worship extra-dimensional beings who seek dominion over Earth. Individually, cultists have little power, but as a group they can be quite dangerous. They have names like the Cult of Sligguth, the Dark Cabal, the Darkholders, the Sons of Satannish and many others.

Demons come in many different shapes, all of them nasty. Some have more powers than those listed, including Body Armor, Cold Control, Fire Control, Horns and various Resistances. They are summoned to serve sorcerers or sent by their infernal masters to serve their cults on Earth.

Elementals are spirits of the primal elements: air, earth, fire and water. They can be conjured by magicians to serve them. The statistics provided are for a fairly typical elemental. Those summoned by more powerful magicians have higher Strength, Agility and Element Control. See the Alchemy power on page 129 of the MARVEL Game Book for more information.

Eye-Killers are Native American spirits with the head of an owl, the forepaws and upper body of a lion and the lower body of a snake. They are able to assume human form and may serve evil sorcerers.

Gargoyles are animated creatures of stone. They can turn other people into gargoyles by touch, and are found in the service of evil sorcerers.

The G’uranthic Guardian watches over the gateway to the Dark Dimension. It is a giant multi-armed statue of stone with a single eye that projects a will-sapping beam.

The Mindless Ones are also inhabitants of the Dark Dimension. They are walled off by a powerful spell cast by Dormammu, since they are beings of endless violence. They exist only to fight and destroy.

Vampires are corpses reanimated by magic that live off human blood. They have many powers, but also a number of weaknesses.

Zombies are also reanimated corpses, but mindless. They serve necromancers who call them back from the grave. They’re not too tough, but they keep on coming back for more until they are completely destroyed by fire or something similar.

Name Str Agl Int Wil Health Powers/Skills Hindrances Calling
Cultists 3X 3X 2D 4X 10 Some have Magic1-5; Occult Obsessive (Cult) World-Domination
Demons 6X 3X 1X 3X 10 Claws and Teeth +2, Poison 10, Wings 6 Susceptible (Silver) Demolisher
Elementals 8X 8X 1X 1X 10 Body Armor +4, Invulnerability to Element, Nature Control (element) Susceptible (opposite element) Guardian (of element)
Eye-Killers 9X 6X 6X 6X 17 Claws +2, Energy Blast 12, Enhanced Vision 9, Imitation 9 Fatally Vulnerable (sunlight) Vengeance
Gargoyles 12X 6X 2X 1X 10 Additional Limb (tail) 6, Body Armor +4, Claws and Horns +2, Transformation (into gargoyle) 9, Wings 6 None Demolisher
G’uranthic Guardian 16X 4X 2X 12X 10 Body Armor +4, Life Drain (Willpower) 16 Physically Disabled (cannot move) Guardian
Mindless Ones 8X 3X 1X 1X 10 Body Armor +4, Energy Blast 8, Invulnerable to Mental Control, Regeneration 20 Bruiser Demolisher
Zombie 8X 2X 0X 1X 10 Invulnerability to Mental Control, Life Support 15 (Reformation), Regeneration 8 Physically Disabled (0 Intellect) Demolisher

Magical Adventures

Players don’t necessarily need magical heroes to embark on magical adventures. Magic is everywhere in the Marvel Universe. Players can run magical heroes like Dr. Strange, Shaman or Brother Voodoo, or heroes like the Avengers or the X-Men can mix it up with demons and evil sorcerers for a change of pace. Dr. Strange is a great way of getting a group of disparate heroes together, like he did with the Defenders, to help the Sorcerer Supreme deal with a magical threat to Earth. There’s also the possibility of a group of players all running novice magicians, possibly students of Dr. Strange like the X-Men were students of Professor X.

Here are some ideas for magical adventures:

  • A two-bit sorcerer gets his hands on a magic item that grants him power to rival that of the Sorcerer Supreme. The mage uses his newfound magic to banish all good magicians from the Earth into another dimension, perhaps the Domain of the Mindless Ones. The magical heroes have to figure out how to survive and get back to Earth, while other heroes fight the evil mage without the aid of magic.
  • Dr. Strange’s mansion is full of twisting corridors, hidden rooms and various powerful magical items. When the good doctor disappears into the depths of the mansion and doesn’t return for weeks, his friend Wong becomes worried and contacts the heroes. They have to make their way through the bizarre rooms and halls of the mansion to find Dr. Strange and figure out what happened to him.
  • A cult has plans to bring their demonic patron to Earth, using a complex magical ritual that requires a human sacrifice. Unfortunately for them, the sacrifice they’ve chosen is a friend or loved one of one of the heroes. They have to track down the cult before it’s too late, and probably end up confronting the cult’s demon master.
  • The heroes are “spellnapped” from Earth to another dimension. Sorcerers in that dimension are fighting an invasion of magical creatures like demons or Mindless Ones and cast a spell to summon aid. It brought the heroes. Now they have to use their powers to help stem the tide of the invasion and find some way to turn it back. Things get more interesting if there is a powerful mage, like Baron Mordo or the Dread Dormammu himself, behind the invasion.
  • The heroes are plagued by terrible nightmares that make it impossible for them to get any rest. They become tired, listless and cranky during the day. It turns out that Nightmare is responsible for the bad dreams. He is using the psychic energy gathered from the nightmares to extend the power of his domain, causing more bad dreams, until everyone is trapped in a permanent nightmare they can’t wake up from. Mystic heroes may sense that the nightmares are more than they seem. The heroes need to go into the dream dimension to confront Nightmare, and their own worst fears.