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In the latest M20 iteration of Mage: The Ascension we are a given a list with various "Magickal Difficulty Modifiers" for Arete rolls depending on various conditions that may apply such as:

  • Using a unique instrument: −1
  • Working with unfamiliar instruments: +2/+1
  • Spending Quintessence: −1 per point, max. −3

However, there is also the following entry:

  • Fast-casting: +1

Which, unlike the other entries, doesn't seem to be explained or detailed elsewhere in the book.


So far, I have been assuming that "Fast-casting" indicated, well, casting hastily or under time constraints. In my mind, it is the de facto modifier to use when a player casts an Effect inside combat, for instance, as that is conflicting with the, mostly, ritualistic and preparatory nature of Magick. It also made sense, since in a fight one is always busy with dodging and moving cautiously, while properly using their Instruments will be challenging within their turn's action, if not impossible (eg locking eyes with the target).

However, I have been recently informed by someone that this condition instead applies to situations where the Mage character is using an improvised or otherwise unprepared spell/Effect. The logical conclusion of this would be that if a character were to cast any spell, without foreknowledge of the need to do so, they would take this Difficulty increase in their roll, even if

  • There was no significant time-pressure and
  • The Focus/Instruments were valid and available

Is the information I was given, and my assumptions for it, the rule's intention for M20? If so, what are some passages/sources that hint to this?

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It's a little ill-defined, IMO, but I think these excerpts from the rules will help.

M20, Pg 535 Fast Casting and Working Without Tools

A desperate or reckless mage might try fast-casting her Effect – that is, making stuff up and firing it off without preparation or practice. On a related note, she might also try working without her usual instruments, trusting sheer force of Will to carry her through.

Pg 415 Fast-Casting in a Fight

In many cases, a mage in the heat of combat is fast-casting – that is, making stuff up in the heat of that moment. Rules-wise, a fast-casting character adds +1 to her usual difficulty, including the difficulty of any Effect cast in a single turn during a fight. Rituals that involve preparation before a fight, however, do not suffer this fast-casting penalty.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, in other words there is a limitation, but not as strict as I thought. You may cast any spell without this penalty, regardless of rote or combat, so long as you have reasonable spent time getting familiar with its process previously, or have the time to do that now. \$\endgroup\$ – Eldebryn Sep 4 '17 at 9:01
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In M20 fast-casting is anytime you cast a non-Rote spell. So this covers basically every combat spell as well as any on the fly improvised spell you need to come up with in the moment. The only time you don't get the -1 Fast-casting penalty is when you are casting a Rote you have payed for. If you have more time you could potentially offset this by casting the spell as a ritual and getting the bonus for taking longer than you need but it would still technically have the -1 fast-casting penalty factored in if it wasn't a Rote you had paid for.

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