23 January 2021

All Wizards Are Warlocks

No human can just learn to manipulate magic.

The so-called wizards who brag and drone on about their long years of careful study that granted them supernatural powers simply don't want to acknowledge the obvious: You cannot build a tower without the foundations. You cannot make a cow fly without some serious help. Indeed, humans can use magic - but only with help, if they are given the Gift by a spirit of some sort.

A patron, if you will.

Thus every magic user must follow a certain pact that grants them access to their preternatural powers, though the exact nature of such pact and the price they pay differs wildly between practitioners. While there are no hard and fast rules for sorting magicians into neat and clear-cut categories, at least some of the most common kinds of magic users and their approaches to magic and the spirit world are discussed below.
 

"Wait! I can go up to ten babies, but not a single one more."

 
Sorcerers would be the exception that proves the rule, as they do have an inherent gift of magic that they can train and hone on their own - except they are not human, not fully. Their pact is one of blood and bloodline, their patron the non-human ancestor who set their whole family apart from the rest of the human race.

Sorcery tends to have a very narrow focus - a dragon may sire a lineage of pyromancers, a fairy a line of illusionists - and departing from one's hereditary, traditional craft is basically impossible. Indeed, sorcerous families oftentimes gravitate towards a strong sense of tradition, elitism and purity of blood, stoked by the fear of loosing that which makes them special. As their bloodline gets diluted over generations, the sorcerous spark grows ever weaker and their gift of magic eventually fades away. This unfortunately drives many sorcerers to search for ways of preserving the power of their family. Affairs with non-humans and incestuous relationships are regrettably common among sorcerers. And while this does keep the magic in the family, it also sets the sorcerers ever further apart from true humanity, with each new inbred generation being more powerful, more mutated and more insane, until at one point, it's no longer possible to consider them human magicians any more, but rather magic beings in their own right.

Such creatures are then quite likely to find a human spouse for themselves, and the cycle starts anew.

Mediums pay for magic with their bodies. In exchange for power, they offer agency to any spirit who desires a more physical presence in Reality. In short, they willingly let themselves be possessed.

This form of the Craft is probably the easiest to start with - a spirit who would enjoy a ride in a living body can be found pretty much everywhere and all a prospective medium has to do is keep an open mind as say "Yes" - but doing it in a safe and useful manner is very hard. After all, you are opening your Self to a magical being and the only way to gain more power is to let more powerful spirits in. As the saying goes, there are no bad mediums, only dead mediums.

The good ones, though, eventually end up either bonding with a single spirit and gaining a great, focused power through the breadth and depth of their connection; or amassing a host of multiple spirits for short-term possessions, each a different tool in their toolbox. The former run a high risk of eventually merging with their possessing spirit and shedding their humanity as a newborn magical beast. The latter should take care to play all of their spirits off against each other, lest the spirits grow discontent with their limited access to the medium's body and unite their forces, resulting in an involuntary possession by the whole host of spirits, banishment of the medium's soul and the birth of a creature known as the wisp-lord.

Priests are quite obviously serving a higher power, a distant deity that deigns to answer some of their pleas for help in exchange for regular prayers and rites. Never forget, though, that there's really not that much of a difference between a cleric of the Lord of Light and a cultist of He-Who-Lurks-In-Corners - both are trying to catch the attention of a being that could squash a city without even meaning to, and that doesn't really listen to, care about or understand its worshippers. Priestly magic is very powerful, but unreliable and prone to missing the point or being helpful only in mysterious, alien ways.

Evangelists are often seen as priests with another name, but that's plain wrong. Evangelists don't work with the gods, they work with angels. And where priests might be fine with going through the motions of reverence with no true faith or zeal behind it - they are so deep beneath the notice of their patrons that all but the most egregious sins and mistakes are overlooked - evangelists have to always stay true in their ardour.

Indeed, angels tend to take a great interest in evangelists, keeping them an unseen company at all times, helping and guarding them, but never forgiving. Angels are spirits of holy war and vengeance. Angels are razor focused on battling evil in all forms and shapes, enabling a lone evangelist to repel an army of the dead or go toe to toe with a greater demon, until they misstep and get smote on the spot.

Diabolists are the archetypal warlocks. They made a pact for power or knowledge, pledging their services or selling some bits and bobs of themselves to a patron who has need of what the warlock offers and can provide magic in exchange. The name "diabolist" is misleading, as they didn't necessarily have to make a deal with the devil - they could have made a deal with any number of other otherworldly entities - yet the principal difference from other magicians is that a diabolist's power is strictly contractual, its limits and conditions clearly stipulated. The magic of diabolists is the most reliable of all the forms of practice, as long as they are able and willing to keep their side of the bargain.

Druids cater either to the many small nature spirits that infuse every tree and spring and herd of animals, or to the great spirits of nature who oversee whole forests, mountains or islands. They build up favour with a location until the very wind and ground and undergrowth likes them and tries to help them and fulfil their every wish. They hold great sway while in their place of power, but they are also greatly limited should they leave. While the spiritual word of mouth may allow them to draw upon some of the favour they amassed even elsewhere, the spirits of nature are jealous, fickle and territorial - if the druid is gone for too long from their demesne, they may return to find that the place has forgotten them, or even worse, faults them for leaving.

Shamans work with lesser spirits too, but where druids build their relationship with all spirits in a location, shamans try to win the affections of specific spirits - ancestral and heroic ghosts, petty gods, minor demons or Folk, anything goes. All their magic is very much quid pro quo, and the nature of favours they may draw upon depends on the kind of spirits they commune with. They are the socialites of magic users, they have connections, they know a guy who knows a guy. They also have to juggle their spirit friendships very carefully, as trying to woo two feuding spirits could result in some bad blood very easily and getting bad-mouthed by an angry spirit might seriously threaten their Craft.

Elementalists, necromancers and demonologists are all proud to differentiate themselves from one another, but they are all in fact just specialized summoners. They are not even that different from shamans, except that a shaman has a long-standing relationship with their spirits, whereas a (whichever) summoner calls upon any random spirit of their chosen type, offering it a payment for one specific task. Take it or leave it, we don't need to see each other again once the job is done.

An elementalist doesn't throw a fireball, she feeds some delicious bat guano to a fire elemental and it makes an explosion for her. A necromancer doesn't animate the dead, he offers to return corporeality back to the dead in exchange for servitude. And a demonologist exchanges souls for services.

Magi are sometimes disparagingly called the dabblers or wandslingers, or with less prejudice the collectors. They didn't make a pact or build up favour - they found a stick and learned how to activate it.

Of course, that is an exaggeration. A magus is often a determined individual who sacrificed a lot to win their wand or spell-blade or another artifact. Their magic is simple and strong and stable, but also set in stone - there is no flexibility, no growth. Once they learn to use their artifact, that's all they will ever be able to do unless they hunt down another artifact. Plus they are the only type of magician whose magic can easily be stolen. Easy come, easy go, as they say.

Alchemists are the strangest bunch - they force magic to happen. Other magicians occasionally fabricate magic items, but alchemists specialize in it. They create spirit-lures in the form of tasty potions, interesting scribblings on scrolls, or strange alloys of metals forged into rings; then they bind the spirits they entice, with the only way out of the binding being to perform as requested. They can trap nearly any magical being and when they negotiate, it's always from the position of power. They are masters of magic runes and circles and sigils. They build golems, craft enchanted arms and armour, even transmogrify living creatures with biomantic surgery-seals. With the right formula, they can make nearly any magic happen. The greatest of them take years to reshape the landscape into geomantic bindings that enslave gods.

They are also universally hated by the spirits. They have to be very meticulous and methodical, because if they make the tiniest mistake, all hell breaks loose.

Goblin kings, or filthomancers, are the living proof that even awful things can be useful. It is a common knowledge that goblinism is contagious. It is not a normal disease, though, but rather a spiritual one. A wild disease-spirit that can nonetheless be tamed with gifts and drawn on for magic.

Everything a goblin can do, a goblin king can do better - creating a variety of noxious and toxic odours, slipping anywhere unnoticed, smelling out everything from what you had for lunch to hidden treasure or emotions, surviving nearly anything by becoming more disfigured and disgusting, getting bigger and stronger and tougher by eating a lot, making others suffer. And with the favour of the goblin-spirit, the "friendship" of goblins comes hand in hand. A prospective goblin queen will soon find herself with a cohort of goblins that follow her everywhere (especially where she doesn't want them to follow) and kind-of help with everything (but mainly make a big mess) - thus also the title of a queen or king.

Importantly though, goblin kings are prime carriers of goblinism. Everything they touch and anyone they interact with will be at least a little bit tainted - a little bit under their control. They don't need to build a trapped mansion for themselves - any building they live in will eventually become an ugly, filthy goblin-shack, full of nasty and dangerous surprises for trespassers. They have no need for magic weapons - any knife they use for a while will become a serrated, rusty, poisonous, deadly goblin-shank. If you're willing to debase yourself enough, goblin magic can be disgustingly useful and treacherously versatile.
 

For the low price of your sanity...
From Magic the Gathering

 
And what about the wizards? Those who would be bloody insulted if you called them a warlock, insulted enough to singe your eyebrows off with a lightning bolt, even? Those who are always accompanied by their familiar, a spiritual guide and helper and friend? A familiar that they made a pact with, a pact for power or knowledge?

Yeah...

11 January 2021

Black Moon of Vanth

Eons ago, a miniature black hole emerged in near vicinity of Vanth. Today, no one can recall whether it was a natural quantum coincidence, a failed experiment of stupendous science, or an equally failed deployment of a planet-busting superweapon, but the black hole caused a series of cataclysms on the surface of Vanth before being contained in a powerful antigravity field by a cabal of scientists, gods, sorcerers and a time traveller. Since then, it had settled into a stable orbit, causing only a periodic visual distortion of the night sky well-known to all vanthian stargazers.
 

Black Moon rising above the North Mountains.
From here.


While the Black Moon doesn't have a true surface, there is one structure built atop of it. The Black Tower started as a simple space station housing the magical and technological apparatus necessary for maintaining the antigravity field, but has been repeatedly expanded and upgraded until its current incarnation. First, it was just the addition of new barracks for a garrison of defenders, should someone try to seize control of the antigravity field for nefarious purposes. Then a new technology stolen acquired from a crashed alien starship allowed for a mineshaft to be drilled through the event horizon of the black hole, and an explosive growth of the station begun soon after the first chunks of the extremely valuable black hole metal ore were extracted.

The station was further fortified as attacks of both space pirates and covetous civilizations grew in frequency and ferocity, until after a century of power struggles and interplanetary wars, a group of no-name psi knights calling themselves the Blackstar Order blind-sided everyone and took over the Black Tower. This Order eventually gained system-wide recognition and acknowledgement, after they withstood the onslaught of many enemies and entrenched themselves into the economy by virtue of their monopoly on black hole metal production.

While the Blackstar Order runs its black hole metal mining operation to this day, its primary interests have slowly shifted more towards politics. The crenellated duralloy bulwarks of the Black Tower no longer have to defy endless would-be conquerors, rather they serve as a secure neutral meeting ground for world leaders, gods and alien ambassadors. Or at least they served, until the recent failure of the Galactic Beacon. With interstellar travel, trade and communications suddenly severed, the Order faces an unexpected end to their routine power plays. However, with their accumulated wealth, an army of psi knights and mercenary troops, and connections throughout the whole solar system, the Order might stand to gain much from this sudden isolation, if they play their hand right.

1 January 2021

Class: Random Advancement Vampire

Vampirism - You don't need to eat, sleep, or breath, but you must drink blood. Allergic to sunlight. Powers and weaknesses develop as you drink more people.

 
A character of mine in a Finders Keepers game currently has this trait. The question remains, what kind of powers and weaknesses will a vampire develop? You can use the generator below - once you drink enough blood, press the button and you will gain one random power and one random weakness.

While the powers and weaknesses were created with Finders Keepers* in mind, they can easily be used for vampiric characters in any Into the Odd-style game. To make it work as a GLOG class, you could grant Vampirism and one roll on the generator at template A, then one extra roll each level. Or just use it to inspire powers for your NPC vampires.







 
Dead blood is any blood removed from a living body for over an hour, or taken from a dead body that already started to grow cold.

To feed someone your blood, take d4 damage unless otherwise specified.

*) Some of the abilities are frankly stolen from there.

25 December 2020

Čert

While watching the many folk and fairy tales that are on the TV during the Christmas holidays, I realized that Czech take on Hell and its inhabitants is perhaps a bit unusual. In pretty much every story, the devils (or rather čerti, singular čert) and Hell are displayed in a positive light.

Čerti are not malicious, true evil is always found among humans. Čerti might be lazy, bureaucratic and ineffectual, but in the end they are there to punish and take away the sinners, thus leaving Earth a bit better off than before. Interestingly, angels, Heaven and God appear very rarely, and justice is generally served because čerti and good humans cooperate against evil humans. The mills of God Hell grind slowly but surely.
 

A čert coming out of the oven to get you!

 
Three main types of čerti appear in the folk tales:

The trickster čert is charming and the most diabolic, tempting people to sell their soul for money, power or magic. However, he likes and oftentimes ends up helping good people who defy him, even borrowing them magic items or coming to their aid. He will employ his human friends to get at sinners who protect themselves from Hell with holy ground or other magic. He will always have a contract for one's soul ready, to be signed in blood.

The punch-clock čert is ugly and dirty, but scary only because it's his job. He will try to frighten you, but if that fails, he will probably offer you a roast and a beer, then complain about how boring the job is, or hellish wages, or some such. He's very likely to be fooled and trapped by some evil human, who than uses stolen hellish magic to commit actually evil deeds. In that case, the čert will need to be saved by the human protagonist.

The clueless, young čert is either the protagonist, or his (soon to be) friend. He's really not good at this devilish stuff, and one of his blunders will probably strand him on Earth until he can recover a lost magic item / find a fugitive sinner / otherwise make up for his mistakes. He also tends to fall in love, which generally ends up in a wedding (becoming human optional).

When Lucifer, the King of Hell himself, appears, he ranges from being a wise mentor to the protagonist, to a strict and grumpy, but still fair and just ruler. He always comes off as nearly a saint in comparison to the corrupt, lazy, spiteful and outright cruel nobles on Earth. He will grant a wish (or three wishes) as compensation to innocents dragged to Hell by mistake (caused by the young čert above).
 

Lucifer in attendance on human wedding.


Every čert

  • is male. Female čertice are very rare.
  • has horns. These grow with age and power, so a young and weak čert will have tiny horns, while an older čert will have much bigger goat's or ram's horns.
  • may have a hoof instead of one foot, or a tail. This is not always the case, though, so let's say 1-in-6 chance of each.
  • spits brimstone, which can start fires.
  • is immortal and immune to fire.
  • is repelled or even burned by anything holy.
  • cannot harm an innocent person.


d6 Hellish Powers

  1. Human disguise: Loose the horns, hoof and tail, plus change from any demonic garb into a commoner's clothes (weak čert), huntsman or soldier uniform (trickster čert), or a noble attire (powerful čert). Also removes the soot and smell of brimstone.
  2. Animal form: Transform into a black (d6) dog/cat/goat/horse/crow/rooster.
  3. Hell portal: Teleport between Hell and Earth with a cloud of smoke and brimstone. Most čerti can only do this when they drag a soul to Hell, but Lucifer and his trusted lieutenants can pop anywhere at will.
  4. Pyrokinesis: The more powerful the čert, the hotter the flames.
  5. Telekinesis: Only the most powerful čerti.
  6. Wish: Can grant wealth or build palaces to humans who sign away their soul in blood. Only Lucifer can grant wishes without getting a soul in return.


d8 Gifts from Hell

  1. Cloak of invisibility: As any other cloak of invisibility, but doesn't work when wet and burns up when touched by holy water.
  2. Tablecloth of wine and dine: When you unfold it, conjures a magnificent feast.
  3. Sack of soldiers: Open to summon a squad of damned soldiers that will be loyal to whomever holds the sack. Treat as normal HD 1 soldiers, except they have Morale 12 (if they run, they go back to Hell; if they die, they go back to Hell) and disappear in flames when killed.
  4. Bag of many items: Take out any item you can think of and that could fit inside of the bag. Each item taken is a sin.
  5. Coat of gold: A dirty, threadbare overcoat. When you reach into a pocket, you always find a gold coin. However, no amount of grooming can make you presentable (-4 Charisma, -4 to Reaction rolls) and the coat disappears if you ever take it off.
  6. Seven league boots
  7. Scarf of fire resistance
  8. Posh needle: Knits the most beautiful attire you can imagine out of thin air, but the clothes become ash when touched by sunlight.

 
All of these were given to the protagonist of one fairy tale or another.
 

Sinners in cages and boiling in cauldrons.

 
Here are several films that should give you a taste of čerti and their Hell:

  • Anděl páně (Angel of the Lord): A čert tempts his angel buddy to fall, then does his best to get him back to Heaven. Available on Netflix.
  • Čertí brko (The Magic Quill): Quite anvilicious, but has very nice depiction of bureaucratic Hell. Available on Netflix.
  • Nejlepší přítel (Best Friend): This one actually inspired the post. Available here, but without subtitles.
  • Princezna ze mlejna (Princess from the Mill): Your friendly neighbourhood čert. Available on Netflix.
  • S čerty nejsou žerty (Give the Devil His Due): Basically a cult classic around here. Available here, but without subtitles.
  • Z pekla štěstí (Devil's Own Luck): How being friendly with Hell can help you slay a dragon. Available here, but without subtitles.


So maybe the next time your players run into devils, these might be well-meaning collectors of evil souls, or good-natured spooks just doing their job.