Runequest Thursday #168 - The Sorcerer's Mind Palace!

Clint Staples




I have often based Sorcery spells and spellcraft upon different sources: I have done a lot of conversions from Advanced Wizard. BTW, great news that The Fantasy Trip has, after far too long, (mostly) reverted to creator Steve Jackson! I am looking forward to whatever he does with it. But just as often, the source of inspiration might be the magic system in a fiction series, or the necessities of a game I am running. These latter two are the inspiration for the offerings today.

One of my favorite fantasy series is that of author Miles Cameron (who was kind enough to appear as a guest on our show last year), collectively referred to as The Traitor Son Cycle. This series of five books has it all: epic storytelling, terrific (and terrifying) characters and character growth, mythic resonance (from Arthurian to Native American to the medieval Christian fear of the unknown, and more), use of historical research and the medieval martial arts, and a highly detailed and well imagined magic system (also based in large part on ancient and medieval understanding of magic).

I could expand upon any of these subjects as it relates to Runequest. But today, since the subject is sorcery,  I will limit myself to the last.

One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Cameron's magic system is the notion of the Mind Palace. Known to Greek and Roman rhetoricians (like Cicero), the Mind Palace is a mnemonic tool for the storage and retrieval of information. The practitioner uses visualization and spacial memory to create a structure for whatever information that will be stored therein. As suggested earlier, this is by no means new, and has been used in modern reality in memorization contests, and in fiction by the likes of Salman Rushdie, Thomas Harris, and Stephen King. Miles Cameron reserves it largely for the province of magic and that is how I will treat it here.

In the Traitor Son Cycle, the Mind Palace is a core attribute of the magical mind. Even in those who are essentially untrained natural mages, the Mind Palace exists. The Mind Palace of each mage is unique and idiosyncratic, reflective of the imagination, drives and life of the mage who brought it into being. The Mind Palace of a mage trained in the Imperial School might resemble a scriptorium, with a work-desk, inks, scrolls of parchment, and bank upon bank of niches containing scrolls - each of which could contain a spell that the mage knows, or the mental magical apparati used to construct them. A more primal mage might imagine a grove of ancient trees with special leaves that contain the workings of magic, a pond or lake representative of magical energy, and and perhaps spiritual aides in the form of sacred animals that can act as guardians and assistants.

These and other things are known in the Mind Palaces of the the Traitor Son Cycle. I tried to take it all into account when I wrote up Mind Palaces for Runequest. A sorcerer (and potentially other types of casters in the game) can create a Mind Palace by taking the Feat of Arms of the same name. The basic expenditure of Hero Points grants a rather sparse and undeveloped Mind Palace. But further work (and Hero Point expenditure) can make this much more functional, elaborate, defensible and comfortable. In some games, the Mind Palace could also be part of what every mage begins with, like spells, and magical skill. In this case the original 2 Hero Points may be waived - the young mage is assumed to have paid them during an apprenticeship or similar.

Mind Palace – POW 15, Magical Skill at 50%

Cost: 2 Hero Points, and you must train with a tutor who has the feat for 1d4 weeks, paying what they demand.


You have created a Mind Palace, sometimes called a Sanctuary or Sanctum Sanctorum, within your mind that allows you certain benefits, depending on the number of Hero Points you invest. You may add Hero Points as you wish, increasing the abilities of you Mind Palace. The total value of your Mind Palace cannot exceed your Manipulation Limit x2.

For the base cost of 2, you gain the following:

  • Timelessness: While you are within your Mind Palace, effectively no time passes. This is not true of your body or its environs, however, which limits what you can accomplish and how long you can stay within your sanctuary.
  • No Distractions: While you are within your Mind Palace, you can think, speak and act, even cast spells if you have unlocked that ability, without distraction from within or without your sanctuary. Your body might be dying, but your Mind Palace would be unaffected. This does not apply to attacks originating from WITHIN your mind palace, and so mages are often very careful who they invite into their sanctum.
  • You may decide on the appearance and other aspects of your Mind Palace, so long as they reflect the abilities you have unlocked (below).

Unlockable Powers:

  • Casting Assistant: You may embody (within your Mind Palace) a portion of your Mind as a casting assistant, even granting it a name, appearance, personality, etc. In addition to acting as a companion within your palace, your casting assistant allows you a single reroll of any roll made within your Mind Palace, be it a sorcery check, a lore, check, even a POW check. Your Casting Assistant can do this once per day. If you have a casting assistant, it can also act as your agent within your Mind Palace in the event that you are barred from access, disembodied, or dead. Your casting assistant lingers after your death for one hour per Point invested in it, upon which time, your Mind Palace dissolves if it has not already done so. A spirit or magical entity might also act as a Casting Assistant.
  • POWer Storage: You have developed your Mind Palace such that you have significant stores of POWer there. You may spend a Hero Point to allow you to store 5 POWer in your Mind Palace. This power is available to you for casting or ritual purposes. It also represents a separate collection of POWer that recovers spent POWer at the same rate you do.
  • Spell Storage: You have arrays of spells at your beck, sequestered against need in the fabric of your Mind Palace. Each Hero Point you spend on spell storage, allows you to store 5 Ranks in spells. These ranks, even though they may not be Memorized, are available to you whil you are in your Mind Palace.
  • Potent Wards: The fortifications of your Mind Palace are impressive. Each Hero Point you spend on Wards may be spent to add 20% to your Sorcery Check when barring access to your Mind Palace. You may also sacrifice these Wards as one-use versions of Countermagic or Dispel Magic of equal value (the number sacrificed is up to you) against intrusions upon your Mind Palace. 
  • Cabal Hub: Your Mind Palace is connected to others of your Cabal. They cannot easily access your sanctum, but they can contact you (and you them if they have unlocked Cabal Hub) mentally, regardless of distance, with a successful Sorcery Check. You may choose to respond or not, and may attempt to repel intrusions and attacks on your Mind Palace with contested Sorcery checks.


Limitations of the Mind Palace:

  • The Mind Palace is a mental edifice. If the mind of the owning mage is damaged or destroyed, the Mind Palace will suffer. If the Manipulation Limit is reduced far enough to encroach upon the cost of the Mind Palace (limited to Manipulation Limit x2), surplus features will be destroyed.
  • The mage may choose in which order, but they can only be recovered should the ML rise again, and they must be rebuilt with new Hero Point expenditure. Upon the death of the mind of the controlling mage, the Mind Palace is destroyed.
  • If the mage is corrupted or driven mad, his Mind Palace will reflect these conditions. Generally this will also result in the reduction of Manipulation limit, but if it does not, the player is encouraged to alter the Mind Palace to suit its owner’s new state.
  • Death of the mage cause terrible damage, or utter destruction, to the Mind Palace. Even should the mage be returned to life, the Mind Palace will require effort (and Hero Points) to reorder.


FYI, Fall of Dragons, the final book in the Traitor Son Cycle, is available (as are all the other volumes)!