A mysterious chaotic unstable force permeates the very air we breath, most are oblivious to its existence, but there are those learned and reckless enough to tap into its vastness, and at any cost untold power and vision will be theirs.
Every day the Magic-User will sit down with their spellbook to memorise a certain number of….
Fuck that. A Magic-User’s spell limit is how many spells they can SAFELY cast. Not how good their memory is (or how many spells the mind can contain if you prefer, if that was my problem I’d bring some goddamn notes with me), but how many times they can channel otherworldly energy through themselves before they become exhausted and things start to go awry.
In my setting, there is no memorising of spells, if a Maleficar (also known as Hagborn, Wormeater, Plague’d One, Harbinger, or just plain Witch) has their spellbook with them they may cast any spell they know. Unless they already found the spell in preparation, casting from a spellbook takes one round longer than usual while they turn through the pages to that cherished spot, so Maleficar often carry items bearing the formula for spells they may need quickly, their minds are too full and scattered to perfectly memorise spells.
Corfus Gnash the Bloodied, (Maleficar, obviously) wears a breastplate bearing an iron bookrest and candle holder, which secures his spellbook to his chest with leather straps attached to his shoulders. The notched axe he carries has his formula for Stinking Cloud carved into the haft, something he often finds useful in a tight spot. If you ever got close enough to see his inner arms you would also find the scarred formulas for Army of One and Gaseous Form, researched and carved into his flesh during his short imprisonment.
Osman Vermald (another Maleficar, imagine that) does not carry a spellbook, instead each spell has been lovingly inscribed into a rat skull and hung from his neck and arms. He raised each rat from birth and can find them at a moment’s notice.
The Further Adventures of Tearing Power from Beyond
I like my Magic-Users nasty and strange, and no matter how dirty they are as soon as they sit down to memorise spells for the day they look like the prissiest wussies at the garden party.
In that spirit, I’ve mentioned risky spellcasting several times in the play reports I’ve posted, which is an idea I first gleaned from False Machine.
When they can’t cast any more spells safely, Maleficar may attempt to cast further spells with a 3d6 Cast the Bones roll. A penalty is applied for every spell level above 1st, but bonuses may be applied by using appropriate spell components, requiring a further round per bonus to prepare. There can be consequences to this. For a minor consequence roll on the Chaos Reigns table. When you’ve done fucked up roll on That Which Should Not Be.
|3d6||Cast the Bones|
|5-7||Success/That Which Should Not Be|
|1-4||That Which Should Not Be|
Further to that, taking damage doesn’t stop you from casting, but it does mean you need to make a Cast the Bones roll with a penalty equal to the damage you took if you want to maintain your concentration.
Maleficar can also attempt to cast any spell they know without reading from their spellbook or an item, but since that’s an awful lot to remember it requires a Cast the Bones roll, with a penalty for every spell level above 1st.
Encumbrance doesn’t stop players from casting, that’s dumb, as long as they can move they cast spells. Besides, the more they’re carrying the more will turn into goo when they have a spell mishap.
I like the Dungeon Crawl Classics idea of spells having variable effects, however, I also think that having a table for every single spell is an enormous pain in everyone’s butt.
In my setting spells normally have the same effect every time, after all a lot of time and willpower is spent learning to harness that spell in a specific way. But if the Maleficar wishes, they can relax their hold on the spell, attempting to create a greater affect with a 3d6 Conduit of the Cosmos roll. The player announces what they want to happen, and the Referee applies penalties accordingly. An effect without penalties would be something like double duration/damage.
e.g. If a 1st level Maleficar wants their Magic Missile to throw out two missiles, that would be a normal roll. However if they want the missile to enter their enemy’s head and crackle and grow until it explodes, spraying his friends with skull shrapnel and brain lightning, that’s probably going to be a roll at -4.
Creativity should be encouraged, so if the Maleficar spontaneously conceives of a way to use the fundamentals of a spell they know for a different purpose, they can attempt it with a Conduit of the Cosmos roll, taking penalties as the Referee sees fit, and bonuses up to +4 if it is significantly less powerful than the true spell.
|3d6||Conduit of the Cosmos|
|5-7||Spell Collapse/Chaos Reigns|
|1-4||That Which Should Not Be|
On a result of Spell Collapse roll or just decide what makes most sense for the spell/situation.
|2||Half spell effect inflicted on caster|
|3-4||Spell works in unexpected way use your imaginaaaation)|
|5||Half spell effect inflicted on random target|
|6||Half spell effect inflicted on target|
|1||Roll on Abyssal Side-Effects. Not only does this effect happen now, but every time you cast this spell from now on.|
|2||That's new... Roll on Transmutation table.|
|3||A rotting golden idol melts out of thin air and hovers in the centre of the area. Everyone present rolls 3d6, including animals and inhuman monsters. Whoever rolled highest increases a random ability score by 1. Whoever rolled lowest loses 1 from the same ability score. Anyone that rolls:
18 may make a wish. Roll again. If you roll less than 13 it goes horribly wrong.
14 has golden maggots to the value of 500sp wriggle out of their tear ducts.
10 gains a random insanity.
6 permanently sheds their hair, nails and teeth.
3 collapses in agony as enormous blisters swell from their flesh and burst, releasing mud-fleshed olive green creatures somewhere between a lobster and a squid, as they writhe on the ground their flesh turns the same mud olive and the creatures consume them before the whole scene collapses in a reeking puddle.
|4||A screaming hairless hound manifests, it disembowels itself with fleshy pink hands, then offers you its entrails. Screaming all the while from its toothless maw.|
|5||You start violently weeping and you don't know why. Anyone looking at you while you weep can see a dripping halo of blood over your head.|
|6||Save vs. Magical Device every time you want to read something from your spellbook. If you fail all you can read is a shorthand account of all your personal shortcomings in the hand of whoever you have held most dear in life.|
|7||The caster's mind switches place with that of a random enemy, or if no enemies are present, that of a man-sized putrid pink anthropomorphic toadbeast that claws its way out of the ground. The caster retains their spellcasting abilities.|
|8||The scent of rotting cabbage wafts through the air within 30' of the caster. Save vs. Poison. Those who fail shake and sweat as if with a fever and become sexually uncontrollable for the next d4 turns (each rolls separately).|
|9||A pale green mist billows from the caster's mouth and they lose consciousness for d8 turns. During this time the player may control the mist. They cannot communicate, move at a Lightly Encumbered rate, can expand to fill a 30' radius, and are affected by things as a normal mist would be. Anyone who breathes in the mist must save vs. Poison or die as their lungs liquefy.|
|10||Everyone within 30' begins to feel an itching in their flesh, and if they look closely they will notice pores stretching and closing as if something was moving through them. Something is now moving beneath the skin and it burns. If anyone digs into their flesh they will discover shimmering turquoise things like jellyfish the size of fingernails, but with tentacles that harden like glass needles. After d6 rounds the itching stops and the jellyfish disappear.|
|11||You fall to your knees and regurgitate (roll d8):
1. Green algae filled with struggling black crabs.
2. Bubbling water, you hear whispers and childlike laughter as the bubbles expand and burst.
3. A golden eel with the face of a man.
4. A bloated, pregnant rat whose belly splits open when it hits the floor, spilling its young.
5. A pool of gritty tar. A multi-sided puzzle box is slowly revealed in the centre of the puddle, it doesn't appear to emerge from the floor, more like it remains still and the tar sinks down from its sides. You can't be sure of how many sides, you always seem to lose count. You have no idea how it fit through your mouth let alone your throat.
6. Blood. And eyes and teeth and hair. Like a burst tumor.
7. Writing. Not on paper, not in patterns, just writing. It doesn't make sense and nobody else can see anything but vomit but you regurgitate writing. It tells you how you die. But you can't read it, the words won't make sense, and they keep moving, and you try to hold them down but they slip through your fingers, but you know that the writing tells you everything. If only you could read it.
8. Eight gold coins. If these coins are used to buy something, that night the person who used the coin will dream of the one they gave it to.
The air is nothing but bushfire-black fog, and molten gold runs from their face. It might fill their mouth, their eye sockets, pour from their ears.. They desire to murder you with a psychotic rage, you wronged them, why did you wrong them? If you kill them in your dream you will wake up covered in blood and brain matter, standing on their bed in what used to be their head. And vice versa.
|12||A plant grows in the caster's stomach. One night per week d3 dry black tendrils emerge from the caster's orifices and bear glossy plump deep purple fruit. In the centre of the fruit is a small black multi-limbed figure in a foetal position, of the same consistency as the fruit.
If the caster has been acting immorally the fruit is sweet and grants increased Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence, with a 25% chance of addiction.
If the caster has been acting morally the fruit tastes of ash and salt and induces extreme paranoia and jealousy.
|13||Everything the caster is wearing* has a 50% chance of (roll d6):
1. Decomposing into a swarm of cooing lime green spiders which caress you with their tiny limbs.
2. Turning into rose-coloured glass that reflects things all wrong.
3. Becoming pliable and moist. It will fuse to your skin the next time you touch it.
4. Puffing into a foul smelling dust which swirls in place for a few minutes, then reforms, then puffs into dust, and so on.
5. Splashing to the ground like thick paint.
6. Turning into hair from some kind of beast you've never seen before, some parts still have bits of scalp attached and tiny lice swarm throughout.
*Packs count as one item but anything important inside gets its own roll.
|14||A dog runs into the area, if you were attacking someone it immediately latches onto them. He's just the cutest most loyal little dog ever yes he is. Anyone else that looks at it sees its fur shivering and shaking while its head splits open and the monkey skull within screams at them.|
|15||The caster vomits forth an enormous pink toad which croaks loudly and collapses into a puddle of slime. For the next 3 hours everyone who was within earshot must save vs. Poison when they wish to speak, otherwise they vomit up a small pink toad which stares and follows them. The bumps on its back constantly sweat beads of black fluid.
If you actively lick one there is a 3 in 6 chance it cures you, otherwise you hallucinate for a number of turns equal to your roll, with a 10% chance of gaining a random insanity.
|16||Black Blood. The caster's Strength increases to 18 and they fly into a murderous frenzy. Any wound they sustain immediately sprays acidic boiling black blood. Every round there is a 50% chance the caster sprays blood from their eyes as a 10' ranged attack in addition to their other actions. This lasts for d8 rounds, after which the caster blacks out for that many hours.|
|17||Everyone within view of the caster must save vs. Magic. Those who fail begin to give birth through their mouths, umbilical cord and placenta and all. The foetus is them. If they kill it there are no consequences, if they allow it to live it will leech a year of their life every day, growing visibly older.
If they eat the child, increase a random ability score by 1. Do this again for every day the child has lived.
|18||Your lips seal shut like they never existed and your tongue seems to double in size, it's moving around your mouth and feels like it's getting bigger, it's trying to choke you. If you bite your tongue in half you'll find that your mouth is full of black, legged maggots, and your lips were never sealed shut.
50% chance you really did bite your tongue in half.
|19||Beacon of Sin. Others find it hard to repress taboo desires around you. A trail of incest and lynchings is left in your wake for the next d6 weeks, with 6 being permanent.|
|20||Everything in a 5' radius around the caster is liquefied into a foul-smelling orange pus. Including the floor, their hair, and everything they are wearing. Researching spells the caster had already learned only takes half as long as usual. There's a 50% chance that living beings completely caught in the sphere will retain their sentience despite liquefying into pus.
|That Which Should Not Be|
|1||A dozen hands push out in a line down your torso, drawing back your flesh like a stage curtain. When you look into the darkness it's like going through a tunnel until you reach yourself illuminated by a hundred tallow candles, standing before an enormous canvas, brush in hand, painting the present scene.
The jagged, segmented grey legs pulling themselves through the hole in your torso are getting longer and more numerous, like a great spider with a thousand legs, you keep painting them growing further and further out. Your companions look terrified, you paint one fallen to their knees, praying to a god they have never known. You paint a look of realisation on your closest friend, that this is the end of all things, that this creature will rot the world and drink the remains. You have the same realisation as you paint more and more legs dragging themselves through your curtain of flesh.
There are too many legs to paint over now, you can feel them on the canvas, they penetrate through all things, but the body has not yet emerged, though you feel it no longer needs the help of your brush to pull itself through. You are still painting, and you know that time is running out.
|2||The next time the party wakes they will find the caster crusted to their bedding like a chrysalis, their hand sticking out the side like it is expecting to be held. If anyone touches the hand they feel a sting before it shrivels back inside the crusted shell. Save vs. Poison or the same happens to you the next time you sleep. You may not want to wait to find out what will eventually hatch from the cocoon.|
|3||The next time the caster sleeps, the Wounded Wretch appears to them in a dream. Limp brown hair hangs over her face and she lets her thin white shawl drop to the floor, revealing three sets of pendulous breasts. Her belly and thighs are a mess of scar tissue and rings like rope burn decorate her calves, ankles and wrists. She asks the caster to suckle her. If the caster is female they are invited to become one of her Wombs. If the caster doesn't agree to become a Womb choose a breast or roll d6:
1 (Top Left). If female, the caster becomes pregnant. If male, the next woman the caster touches becomes pregnant with their child. The child will grow to be a highly influential figure. And a secret killer.
2 (Top Right). Fruiting bodies with vibrant pink caps and fluorescent yellow/green gills continually grow from the caster's stomach, the fungal mass within now sustains them and they no longer need to eat. The mushrooms themselves are incredibly poisonous, killing the imbiber with knowledge.
3 (Middle Left). The caster's lips meld to the Wretch's breast and it is the most comforting thing imaginable. The Wretch cradles and feeds them for all time.
4 (Middle Right). The caster sees the Wretch's true face and screams, until their throat is bloody and raw, for the rest of their life.
5 (Bottom Left). The caster drinks their own blood and fluid from the mother's breast, shrivelling into a dried husk.
6 (Bottom Right). Regardless of gender the caster immediately begins birthing a true child of the Wretch. As the baby crowns from whichever orifice it is using its body opens like a Pear of Anguish, tearing its way through the caster, and the writhing snarling mass of bubbling nightmare flesh within begins to cry for its first meal, lashing out at anything nearby. HD equal to the caster's level.
|4||Thin white iron spikes with hanging wires and ridges and rings pierce outwards from the caster's shoulders and neck in an elaborate halo. Faces suspended within the mess chatter noiselessly and tiny men and women walk around on hanging bridges debating judgement and stabbing and rutting amongst themselves. 50% chance the denizens of the halo judge the caster worthy, remaining with them and providing a d4 bonus to any Cast the Bones or Conduit of the Cosmos rolls. Otherwise a beautiful marble woman rises through the crown of the caster's head, her arms delicately held above her in a classical pose, lowering them to softly lick the blood and brain matter from her body like a faun drinking dew from a leaf before leaning down and pushing her arms through the pupils of the caster's eyes, leaving them in a gibbering mess on the floor.
It's like a Kris Kuksi sculpture.
|5||The ground melts into a surface like white light without a glow, sound causes soft spikes like bars on an equaliser to bounce out of the ground and cling to the source of the noise. Footsteps echo and coat your legs. Silence is golden.
(If there are enemies present the Referee should have one yell and run at the caster. Spikes leap out of the ground so high that you lose sight of them, when the spikes retreat back into the ground a featureless pure white figure with black pinholes for eyes is standing in their place. Turning to stare at you wherever you move.)
|6||The caster's head shreds open and a fountain of blood towers out of their kneeling body. The blood is thick and viscous and shifts into surprising palettes of colour, it splatters and spreads across the roof, there are things in it. They reach out with breaking joints before slopping to the floor and reforming as something else, they give birth to things which consume them and crawl towards you with a scream that is a gurgle then float to the roof like a drop of water watched in reverse.
You should probably seal the door.
|7||A dripping ball of smouldering black sludge consumes your heart, burning a hole through your chest. You still live. When you deal damage the sludge consumes half the Hit Points, also transferring them to you if you are wounded. It grows bigger and hotter, slopping out of your chest cavity and slapping against your stomach. When you take damage the sludge is diminished by an equal amount. When it reaches 25HP it begins to beg for more blood, more carnage, making a d8 attack of its own if exposed in combat. If it reaches 50HP it will envelop and slowly digest your body while regenerating your flesh, using you like a magical fission reactor to power its hysterical killing spree.|
|8||The Ocean. When you are wounded your body gushes saltwater instead of blood, tiny translucent organisms and vibrant crustaceans you never imagined writhe about on the floor. If you are killed your body will burst and release the ocean.|
|9||Everything goes dark, you lose sight of the walls, your companions are around you with shining white eyes, they rend and tear at your flesh, stuffing their mouths, not even chewing in their haste to fill their bellies, your attempts to fight back pass through them like a shadow.
Your companions find themselves sitting in a circle around the place where you last stood with distended bellies and blood soaked hands and mouths. The only remaining trace of the caster is a wax-sealed skull sitting in their midst.
|10||Snake birthing pit. Your throat expands and they begin to slide out of your mouth, your stomach splits open and piles of them slop to the floor, offspring slime out of their wombs and reach adulthood almost as fast as they are born, in turn giving birth to their own young, they slither across the floor in an ever expanding pile of writhing flesh and scales.
(Blood ruby red, their diamond scales seem raised from the surface of their flesh, tiny valleys running between them. If bitten save vs. Poison. In 4d20 hours you'll share the same fate. They'll stop birthing after they've multiplied enough to fill a 30' room. After a day they harden into actual ruby. If you break them a baby snake falls out and the process starts all over again.)
|11||Your flesh bubbles into bulbous purple mounds, becoming a hive for long-legged beetles which seem to glide rather than crawl. Your consciousness now resides in the beetles, not your ruined hive of a body. Create a separate HP listing for the body with maximum starting HP (6 by LotFP). You can no longer be healed. As long as the beetles aren't wiped out they will repopulate at 1 HP per week, repairing the body at 1 HP per day. If the beetles abandon the body entirely it takes 3 times as long to secrete a new one, or they can infest a corpse and convert it at the normal rate. When outside a body the beetles only have AC10 but take half damage from anything other than area attacks.
You are a single consciousness split into many parts, when part of you is lost your thoughts become erratic and confused. Intelligence is decreased for every HP of beetles lost, down to a minimum of 6 until the beetles repopulate.
|12||Heavy rain begins to fall from the floor into the sky.
If you're inside, a pool of sloshing water forms in the ceiling, and after d4 rounds pastel colour-shifting spined tentacles emerge and seek those below, one for every being present. They grapple with 18 Strength, save vs. Paralysation if they take hold. If they pull you into the water the ocean stretches in blue darkness further than you will ever see, constellations of pinhole lights swim and dance all around you and you feel nothing but calm as you are pulled into the swirling mass of colour and sentience that engulfs most of your vision.
If you're outside, a swirling pastel colour-shifting cloud forms overhead, and after d4 rounds sparks of brain-lightning flash inside its mass and the rain begins to fall back to earth, carrying plate-sized albino soldier crabs with hands instead of claws, d4 per being present. Save vs. Paralysation if they get their hands on you. They crawl onto your chest and lean into your face, speaking from their terrible mouths. They tell you all the secrets of the cosmos. Your brain feels like someone is pouring acid on it and you will never remember any of it. Halve your Intelligence, round down, and add the amount you lost to Wisdom.
|13||One of the caster's eyes pops from their head and a crimson serpent slithers from the socket holding the eye within its mouth. The serpent coils and rears up, staring at those around it. The dry leaf whisper in their minds asks them what they wish of it.
Any wish granted by the serpent decreases the caster's HP by 1, but this isn't obvious aside from the growing flow of blood from their empty eye socket. If the caster reaches 0HP they fall and dash against the ground into a pile of dust.
After a number of weeks has passed equal to HP lost by the caster anything bestowed by the serpent will turn to blood, either literally or figuratively.
|14||Hours later, slowly at first, the flesh of your stomach begins to twist inwards. It continues to churn into your body until a spiralling tunnel gapes between your ribs and groin, seen from the front it seems to extend at least 30' into your body. The twisting flesh of the tunnel emits a faint blue glow, and at the end nothing can be seen but whispy tendrils of darkness. You feel phantom stomach cramps of hunger around the recently dead.
Any recently killed flesh placed within the spiral is drawn gently inward and floats along its length until it disappears in darkness, and soon afterwards d10 gold coins of an antiquity no one can place clatter out of your belly. Once 400 coins have emerged, the thing inside is satisfied with the flesh offerings and the host's body is stretched and turned and curled backward around the spiral tunnel, forming grotesque screaming ever widening rolls of flesh as the tendrils of darkness are drawn ever closer to the surface until it erupts and fills the room with glowing blue flesh and darkness, corrupting minds and bodies with enlightenment. The flesh of anyone in the immediate vicinity erupts in unimaginable constantly changing new forms while their minds expand into unreachable levels of consciousness even as everything they were as a person implodes.
Over the next hour this influence radiates a further 900' in all directions, after which every living thing in that sphere will disappear, save for a few mindless abominations apparently rejected from ascendancy.
|15||Another, naked you falls away from you to the floor, like a photograph being moved away from another, strands of pus and membrane string between you. There is a 50% chance that the naked one is actually the caster. If the caster is killed and the Other is not, inform the player after the session who they are.
If the Other is allowed to stay with the party they will be friendlier than ever, and will become steadfastly loyal to whoever shows the most interest in a true friendship. Once they have made a true friend they will want to be near them always, and one night while their friend sleeps by their side the Other's jaw will dislocate and stretch, and they will try to swallow their friend whole.
|16||You lift into the air and d4 limbs tear themselves away from your body. Flesh rips and tendons snap, you watch as the limbs dissolve in mid air as if being digested before you drop to the floor.|
|17||Someone is calling to you when you sleep, they need you, go find them, you stop by the water, they're so close, they need you, go into the water..
Every night for the next 2 weeks you come to your senses next to the blue moonlit water, even if there was no water nearby when you went to sleep, save vs. Magic to resist stepping in. Every night you get closer to her/him/whatever you find most attractive before waking up soaking wet in the morning light. On the 6th night you enter the water they will embrace you and consume your flesh with translucent echidna-quill teeth while making love to you.
|18||You keep seeing a shadow in your peripheral vision but when you turn it's never there. As soon as it can get you alone this damp ashy shadow doppelgänger will try to kill you. It wants to be you. The real you. It has the same Ability Scores as you, gains a shadow version of any item that you take in your hand, and has +2 AC, it's mostly incorporeal, and it wants to change that. It would rather not injure you, preferring to strangle or choke you with its fist. If the doppelgänger kills you it will split you open and eat your organs before wiggling into its new flesh. Your new flesh. Re-roll your Ability Scores while you get settled into your new body. Skills, spells and memories are inherited.|
|19||Save vs. Poison. If successful spend the next 2d6 rounds vomiting up an egg sac. Otherwise, congratulations! You are now pregnant with godflesh. You want to share this blessing with everyone. Especially your friends. While they sleep.|
For Nothing is Constant, Little Mortal
Even apart from memorising spells, I’m just not a fan of Vancian/traditional magic. I don’t like a regimented allocation of spells per level per day. I get why it exists, but that kind of resource management and categorising just doesn’t work with the whole image of magical voidstuff energies I have going on. It doesn’t jive with spell limits being a measure of safety instead of memory, and the issues with that become pretty obvious at higher levels.
Take the following situation involving Gruhm Wickerteeth (20th level Maleficar) and his friend Tithe Colquhoun (a Fighter but that’s not important):
Gruhm: “DAMNATION! I’ve inflicted two 9th level spells upon this hellbeast and yet the wretched thing still lives, I cannot possibly control the energy required for another spell of that magnitude until I have had a good night’s rest.”
Tithe: “But Gruhm! The beast is nearly through dismembering our linkboys and my sword is snapped at the hilt, is there nothing more you can conjure?!”
Gruhm: “Oh yeah man I can cast like forty-three other lower level spells today no biggie.”
Instead of that, I use a Cataclysm point pool as an easy measure of how much casting is safe, and every spell uses points equal to its level. Yes, that does allow the possibility of much more high level spells being cast per day, but doing that will also quickly make anything else the Maleficar wants to cast that day highly dangerous.
Spell levels are a bit silly, so I’m going to allow Maleficar immediate access to every spell and just use the level to indicate how many Cataclysm points they drain. For one reason or another some spells are just harder to cast than others, maybe they’re more powerful, maybe the formula is just fucking confusing.
If the Maleficar wants to cast the same spell more than once in a day roll on Conduit of the Cosmos. Repeatedly calling up that kind of power in the same way can attract unwanted attention.
Once they’ve reached their Cataclysm limit, they can attempt to cast further spells with a Cast the Bones roll, taking a penalty for every point needed after the first.
As for how to determine the size of the Cataclysm pool, there are a couple of options:
The first and most horribly boring option involves going through the Magic-User spell chart and multiplying each spell by how many times it can be cast at the current level, then adding them together.
You should feel ashamed for wanting to do things this way and you will have no one to blame but yourself when you realise that Gruhm Wickerteeth can potentially cast Sleep 183 times a day.
The second option admits that magic is not constant, what was safe yesterday may not be safe today, energies morph and fluctuate and an overzealous Maleficar may suddenly find themselves faced with That Which Should Not Be.
After each extended rest, roll a d6 per level of spell a traditional Magic-User could cast (that equates to 1d6 at 1st level, and an additional d6 every second level after, up to 9d6). This is how much casting they can bear safely before resting again.
Before this happens the Maleficar saves vs. Magic, if successful they’re able to feel their own limits, and therefore roll themselves and write the limit on their sheet.
Otherwise, the Referee rolls and simply makes a note of the limit.
When the Maleficar tries to cast a spell that requires more points than they have left, if they save vs. Magic the Referee will warn them that something doesn’t feel right, and they can choose to follow through with a Cast the Bones roll, release it as a Spell Collapse, or snuff out the casting, using any points they did have left. Otherwise they’ll simply be told to Cast the Bones.
While this will often allow lower level Maleficar to cast more than usual, most of the time they won’t know what their limit is until they reach it, so overconfident Maleficar probably won’t live long enough to make everyone else look bad.
Needs More Eye of Newt..
Earlier I mentioned using spell components.
Spell components can be used to gain a bonus to Cast the Bones/Conduit of the Cosmos rolls, or if the Maleficar hasn’t already reached their casting limit can be used instead of Cataclysm points, channelling the energy through more of a prepared ritual rather than the caster’s mind and body.
Spell components take an extra round per bonus to prepare, and in terms of encumbrance a Significant Item’s worth of spell components is enough for 5 bonuses.
Looks Like A… Pinky
In my rant about Hit Points I mentioned a disdain for healing potions.
Well hey I also happen to think that scrolls and charged wands are balls.
In my setting you can only imbue an item with spells if it comes from something which has already had prolonged exposure to mystical energy. A candlestick stolen from a sacrificial alter, the broken foundation stone of a church, another Magic-User’s hand, you get the idea.
These Fetishes do not cast from themselves, they act as a conduit to cast their inscribed spell. Casting using a Fetish does not use Cataclysm points, as the Fetish is bearing the strain.
Fetishes can also provide a bonus equal to their highest level spell when used to enhance a Conduit of the Cosmos roll. This can be used with any spell, and uses Cataclysm points as normal.
Inscribing a spell does not require Permanency to be cast on the item, takes as long as writing a scroll (spell level x 2d6 days), and costs 50sp per day for components necessary to prepare the item. Note that this is different to Corfus’ Stinking Cloud axe which wasn’t prepared as a Fetish, it’s just a visual aid.
Every Fetish has an Integrity value based on how many years organic items were exposed to magic, or how many decades for inorganic items. If it isn’t known how long it was exposed to magic, roll percentile dice to determine how many years/decades. Integrity can be increased by 2d4 by spending a further day fortifying the Fetish with smaller mystical materials, like covering it in witch’s teeth with a glue made from a child prophet’s shinbones. This can be done a maximum of 3 times and costs nothing but the materials.
Every spell inscribed decreases Integrity by 2d4. If a Fetish is Insignificant (like a pinky bone in a vial), it only has half the Integrity it would normally have.
Every time the Maleficar uses the Fetish they have to roll under its Integrity, otherwise Integrity is decreased by d100. When it reaches zero the Fetish is torn apart by the energy being channeled through it and they must roll on the Overload chart. If the Fetish was Insignificant roll d10 instead of d20.
|1||Liquefies and seeps into the caster's veins like quicksilver, roll on Chaos Reigns.|
|2||Grows a mouth and starts screaming awful secrets about the caster which may or may not be true.|
|3||Backfires the spell on the caster and crumbles into dust.|
|4||Implodes into a tiny vortex and takes its highest spell level's worth of fingers with it.|
|5||Casts a random spell of one level higher than the caster, then explodes inflicting damage equal to spell level on the caster.|
|6||Becomes brittle, something pricks the caster's hand and the item shatters to the floor. The hand swells to double its size within d6 hours, it doesn't seem to be stopping. The prick on your finger is weeping a thick pus though, maybe if you let a bit more out..
Within the caster's hand is a colony of clear sharp-faced worms, about 100 per hour the hand has been swelling, they want to be back within flesh.
|7||Pops and showers the caster in yellow spores, coating everything they were wearing within sight of the item. Others within 5' can save vs. Breath Weapon to avoid the same fate. Soon straps will begin to break, blades will dissolve, the spores cannot be wiped clean, they just grow back, and within d6 hours everything inorganic they covered will have disappeared leaving nothing but a blackened paste.
They can't be cleaned from skin, they grow back as fast as they're wiped away, they slough onto the floor, I think they're embedded a few layers into the epidermis..
|8||Puffs into a vapour drawn directly into the caster's lungs. A young woman is crying, she is begging you to stop, you cannot see her, she is always there. Save vs. Magical Device whenever you want to sleep.|
|9||Drains the caster of their remaining Cataclysm points and deals that much mind-opening horrific dreamscape damage to the target, regardless of the intended spell.|
|10||Twists into the air radiating blinding violet light, but the caster alone hears the infernal angelic voice shrieking the secrets of a random spell of their highest level while blood streams from their ears, deafening them for 2d6 hours. If the spell is not written down within the next hour it will be forgotten, and the caster will never again be able to comprehend or learn that spell.|
|11||Everything around the caster stops. Even a drop of water would be found to be invulnerable, but movable. The item begins to crumble away like sand. After 1d6 turns it will be gone, falling through flesh if it has to, and time will go back to normal.|
|12||Consumes all light and sound. When the caster regains their senses they find themselves in a rotting lavishly decorated room. An iron-bound tome is forged into the iron alter that holds it, and the haggardly aged portrait hung above it bears an uncanny likeness to the caster if you squint. The portrait will answer any question that the caster is likely to know the answer to in future, and the spellbook contains every standard spell, in the caster's own script. After every answer, and after any page is torn from the book, roll on Chaos Reigns. When the caster leaves the room via its bronzed door, they will find themselves back at the exact moment they left.
If the caster somehow tries to leave with the whole book roll d4 times on That Which Should Not Be.
If the caster tries to leave with the painting, when they step through the door they will find themselves staring into the room they just left, with the book and alter below them, unable to move, forever.
|13||Crumbles into ash in the caster's palm, revealing a newly grown eye when it is cleaned away. The eye sees things and secrets which may or may not be there, all the time.|
|14||Breaks in half revealing a small phlegm-coloured toad which quickly burrows into the caster's flesh, if it reaches the torso there will be no way to remove it. After a week 4d6 nodules appear on the caster's back. Over the next week they grow into translucent green boils with tiny tadpoles inside, once this period ends they have matured and hatch dealing 1 damage per boil. After mating the cycle continues.|
|15||Sprouts thin slippery feelers that penetrate into the caster's flesh and tries to pull itself up to their face, in the back of their mind the caster can hear “iwillgiveyoupoweriwillgiveyoupoweriwillgiveyoupower” over and over in a desperate whisper. If the caster allows or fails to stop it reaching their head it will embed itself into the nape of their neck. It can no longer be used to cast its spell, but its Conduit of the Cosmos bonus is increased by 1 and no longer requires an Integrity roll. Every time it is used as a conduit, the bonus increases by 1. Once the bonus reaches 15, it will vie for control of the caster's physical form, roll Domination (d20 + caster level vs. d20 + bonus).|
|16||Decomposes into a pile of tiny oil slick winged creatures with multiple needle limbs and black hole mouths with swarm HD equal to the level of the spell. The caster may make a Domination roll (d20 + caster level vs. d20 + spell level) to gain control, otherwise they go for the eyes.|
|17||Becomes molten, rolling under Dexterity may save the caster's hands from being melted off, or at least one of them.|
|18||Melts into a blackened shiny surface spilling secrets, save vs. Magic to tear your gaze away and suffer -1 Wisdom and a random insanity, otherwise stare into the item in horror for the rest of your days.|
|19||Implodes and in its wake something else may have come through, roll on That Which Should Not Be.|
|20||Collapses and tears a hole in the fabric of reality, causing a Summon spell.|
And that’s how I do magic.
Even if you’re happy with traditional magic, as I know many many people are, you’ve now got a Maleficar class to use if someone wants to play a more manky Magic-User, and a bucket of mishap tables to bolt on wherever you please.
When I find the time to learn InDesign I’m going to make a decent PDF of the tables with short clear rules instead of rambling discussion, but in the meantime the tables can be found in boring PDF and open document format in Penny Pamphlets for your convenience.
[Edit: M. Diaz of the Gloomtrain has created his own tables to go with these rules, so if the body horror above is a bit much for your tastes or you’re just looking for some more table entries, go indulge in his Black Magic Remix.]
Check in on The House of Rules for magical addendums such as Blood Magic.
Wow–this is an incredible synthesis and then total revision of some interesting options taken to 11 and made extremely usable and quite frightening. Excellent stuff!
Of all the nice things you just said, “usable” is the one I appreciate most.
I’d love to see these tables converted to kid friendly entries. Such an amazing idea!!
Thanks John, have you had a look at M. Diaz’s Black Magic Remix yet?
There’s a link at the end of the post up there, and it’s basically the tables re-done with entries that are just as atmospheric, but without all the disturbing body horror and vague psychosexuality.
These are tears of joy I am weeping…
So much atmosphere. And a perfect explanation for why wizards and that crowd run around with things scribbled unto their clothes/body/eating utensils.
Together with the bit about how reading magic is dangerous… and the town generator… and everything else…
Interesting and really inspiring! I have two questions: what exactly are the mechanics of a save vs. Magic – is it an arbitrary DC set by the DM? And when you call for those using a Fetish to “roll under it’s Integrity,” which dice are used? 1d100? It does seem somewhat abuse-able, but I may be missing something.
Thanks for the really inventive new mechanics, sure to spice up my own dreary campaign!
The save vs. Magic would be against the Magic-User’s save target set by their level (if you don’t know what that is maybe download the free version of the LotFP rules from here: http://www.rpgnow.com/product/115059/LotFP-Rules–Magic-Free-Version, that’s what I was playing when I wrote this, but the Saving THrow progression is pretty similar in most older versions/clones of D&D) – the original idea was that higher level Magic-Users have better saves, so they’d be more likely to be aware of their limits than a less-experienced Magic-User with harder saves.
Since this post though I’ve gotten rid of Saving Throws in my game and just use Ability Checks, so I would have replaced the save vs. Magic with roll under Intelligence.
And yeah the idea with the Fetish was to check its Integrity using d100 (since the highest Integrity they can have is 100), so Fetishes that have low Integrities to start with, or have degraded due to use, are more likely to blow up in your face.
I’ve actually been putting together a new version of this system though, which still uses 3d6 as the core mechanic, but mishaps are determined by different doubles or triples rather than a set result scale.
It started after reading one of Arnold K’s posts at Goblin Punch that mentioned the basic idea of doubles and triples, which I love because it’s even more “Cast the Bones”, and it’s now got a similarity to magic in 2nd edition Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, which someone pointed out to me after I’d sorted out the main details, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out. It should be much faster to use than this original system, simply because there’s a lot less maths involved in terms of penalties and bonuses and whatnot.
Looks great, and full of doom. I’m still looking for an opportunity to use a proper Maleficar in a game, and especially the ‘wizard skulls have spells in them’ bit from one of your other posts.
What I’ll definitely be doing is using Fetishes as potentially-exploding wands in an upcoming Pathfinder game. I’m converting Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and wanted the ship-builders to have had a little bit of magic. They don’t have much experience and finesse with it, so they’re using brute force and magically-steeped materials instead.
Result: Fetishes. A sceptre carved from the bones of saints that rebukes/commands humans. A deck of gem-studded cards that tells the future. An orb of gold and black glass given a taste of magic that hungers for more. Useful effects with an unknown number of charges before their power escapes its bindings and runs rampant.