[At the Gates] Arts and Magic

“Magic will be Gaia’s salvation or the tool of her destruction.”

— Luisa Drosser, President of Orydonia

Magic — in its myriad forms — is a cornerstone of life in Gaia. With magic, an individual can improve their lot, rid the world of an enemy, or acquire glory for their people. Daemons only reinforce the appeal of magical mastery. To tame and harness the power of a sublime entity is the objective of many a hero.

Magic is a tempting force and most Gaian peoples have experienced or witnessed it to some degree. To be magical is to be wondrous, and Gaia is a world filled with unparalleled wonders.


At a stage around adolescence, a person’s Soul blossoms, enabling them to more than dally with magic. As the individual pursues greater endeavors, overcomes arduous challenges, and experiences internal growth, their Soul allows them to wield more dangerous, reality-altering magics. Though the most potent casters are venerable in years, having discovered magics to lengthen their lives and keep their skin and bones together against the ravages of the elements, it’s possible for a young hero of great fortitude and deed to accomplish impressive magical feats and become a prodigy among their peers. Ultimately, it all depends on the person, their will, and the development of their Soul. As the Soul strengthens, so does their capacity for magic.

A character’s Soul is measured in two aspects: Echelon and Energy. 


The Echelon is the overall limit of a character’s Soul capabilities. In the world of Gaia, this term originated in scholarly circles, such as the universities, laboratories, and dungeons where enterprising casters tutor their apprentices, though the term has escaped these confines to penetrate wider society. In military and governmental roles, an Echelon may be referred to as a “rank,” while among the youngest heroes, the words “grade” and “level” see use, but all mean the same thing: a Soul’s power. The greater the Echelon, the greater the character’s ability to wield and craft rarer, more dangerous magics. 

When a character’s Soul first flourishes, they’re considered to have an Echelon of 1, sometimes referred to in more elaborate terms depending on their surroundings. 

At Echelon 1, they choose a Pillar of Spells from the selection available to their Path (detailed starting on p. XX) and can access all the Spells within that Pillar for which they meet the prerequisites. The Pillar to which the individual dedicates themselves helps define them as a hero. For example, the stalwart adventurer who wields Elementalism magics broadcasts a more fearsome intent than the sly necromancer with a penchant for Providence magics. Of course, subtleties exist within each Pillar and no person is entirely beholden to their magical origins.

Pillars are made up of Blocks (e.g., Fire, Judgment, and Energy are all Blocks within the Elementalism Pillar), and at Echelon 1, the character selects one Block to become their Keystone. From this point on, all Spells cast from the Keystone Block always gain +1 Enhancement as the caster has internalized the process and tied their identity to this Keystone.

Characters increase their Echelon by overcoming major story milestones (see Character Advancement on p. XX). At Echelon 2, a character finds themselves capable of accessing more complex magics with greater impact and effect, and the access to more disturbing, wondrous, and world-changing magics only widens as a character’s Echelon increases to a rating of 5. 

Regardless of Echelon, a character may only cast each of their Spells once per period noted in the Spell breakdown. This restriction can be overcome, however, through the expenditure of Energy (see p. XX).


Energy is an expendable resource, representing the depths the character can plumb within their Soul to recast Spells already utilized in the given round, scene, or story. A character may feel more potent or hardy for possessing a deep Energy pool, or it could translate to having greater capacity for wisdom, learning, and understanding. Regardless of how the character views it, everyone in Gaia knows a hero has a limit to the amount of magic they can access, meaning the canny caster waits out an individual’s suspected Energy before bombarding them with an onslaught of magic they’ll struggle to resist.

Characters can cast any number of Spells they know. However, they are limited to using those Spells once per timeframe given in the Spell description (i.e., a Spell may only be available once per scene, or once per story see p. XX for more information). Energy changes that. As a character’s Energy deepens, they can expend points from this pool to refresh their ability to use a previously cast Spell.

When a character’s Soul first awakens, they possess 4 Energy. This volume increases with the character’s Echelon, with the pool expanding as shown in the Echelon table.

Characters can feel their Energy depleting. As it does, they feel more connected to Gaia, their immediate surroundings, and the people within it. Though some philosophers reason that depletion of Energy should weaken a hero, it has the opposite effect, bolstering the character’s inner strength. When a character reaches half their starting Energy value, they immediately gain the Refreshed status effect, which applies to their next three actions. Should their Energy reach 0, they immediately gain the Inspired status effect, which applies to their next action, whatever it may be. Magical scholars reason this sudden burst of vigor as Gaia working through the caster as a “last hurrah,” but whatever the case, once the status effect elapses the character is left without Energy and therefore magic, unless they find a way to replenish it.

Replenishing Lost Energy

Characters have many ways of replenishing Energy, though some are easier than others. Experts within the various kingdoms of Gaia are always discovering new ways for people to rejuvenate their depleted Souls, though few consider the cost of doing so. Energy can be regained via simple, harmless means, though such actions rarely reward an individual with a mass of Energy. Greater replenishment requires sacrifice, typically of something dear to the individual. Gifting a dear weapon or artifact to Gaia in exchange for Energy is costly at a personal level, but if Gaia is a thinking world, she considers it a cost worth repaying in great volumes of Energy.

Notably, characters cannot take the same replenishment action multiple times in one session to recover Energy. In simple terms, this is because sleeping, eating, or simply relaxing beyond one’s needs is unlikely to feel rewarding to the Soul. Gaia’s esotericists believe it’s for a more arcane reason, however: Gaia has a will, they say, and Gaia is fickle. She grows bored easily and doesn’t respond well to receiving the same offering or same gift over and over. Additionally, a character can’t regain Energy over their Echelon’s cap.

Sacrifices to Gaia typically entail burying an item in an earthen mound or gifting it to a lake. Gifting an item to a friend, neutral party, or enemy is a special form of sacrifice, as many heroes have attempted to do this, regain Energy, and then recover their item, only to find Gaia punishing them later by not replenishing Energy gained through other means. Whether this is a willful act on Gaia’s part, cosmic balance, or some other form of supernatural leveling is a hotly debated topic between diviners, mages, and other such thinkers.

Dark Sacrifice

Sacrifice has a darker, bloodier side, though few adventurers explore it. Held in reserve for the Storyguide and their characters is the ability to sacrifice without giving back to Gaia. These kinds of sacrifices entail draining energy from the environment, weakening the immune systems and hastening disease among crops and animals, and arguably the most horrific form of sacrifice: ending innocent sentient lives. Dark sacrifices are rare, and heroic types never pursue them. Doing so separates the caster from Gaia, forcing them to forever be bound to similar sacrifices. Fiendish necromancers dragging a legion of helpless sacrifices-to-be across the mountains are thankfully a rare sight. 

1 thought on “[At the Gates] Arts and Magic”

  1. This is a neat look at magic in At The Gates. I like the concepts and from a mechanic standpoint I think the dynamics of using magic also being empowering sound fun. The thematic picture where expending Energy is connecting to Gaia so you are strengthened in turn, and giving back to Gaia replenishes your magical energy, and in contrast getting power back through the sacrifice of others is separating you from Gaia, that’s compelling, and selfish dark rituals have a good place in the JRPG catalogue. Two things in particular are thought-provoking to me:

    First, it follows that magic is something mystical but also examined and well-understood in this world, but I feel like it might more interesting if all the different terms for the Soul’s power had slightly different in-fiction standards depending on where they were used, rather than corresponding diegetically to the Echelon number in an exact fashion.

    Second, I feel like the framing of greater sacrifices to regain energy being known in-character as tied to personal significance could encourage some… strange incentives? The passage that references people trying to loophole it addresses this, but to some extent it seems that it can’t commit to an answer because it’s a rough edge that originates in out-of-character reasons. On the base level there’s nothing convoluted that people understand that using energy is offering it to Gaia and regaining energy is a part of acts that contribute to Gaia or encourage caring for it, but the implication that sacrifices can be symbolic or of emotional significance as a studied factor, that makes the conversation messier.

    Thematically I think the holistic suggestion is good, though.


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