Magic from the Masters

When I was about 10 years old, Mattel introduced its He-Man toy line. I remember going over to a friend’s house to see the entire original line, which his grandparents had bought him for Hanukah. If I’m honest, they didn’t do much for me. I was a freak for G.I. Joe and military stuff at the time, and really had no interest in swords and sorcery. As a result, I never had an interest in He-Man. I mostly saw it as a cheap Filmation cartoon. It would still be two or three years before a chance meeting with Tolkien’s The Two Towers and Dungeons & Dragons would get me interested in the fantasy genre.

Fast forward to adulthood. What did not interest me as a G.I. Joe-loving kid now does interest me as a weird retro-loving adult. I can now appreciate just how bizarrely creative Mattel’s toy makers were with the MOTU line, and I can even appreciate the cartoon, though more by way of laughing at it (gently and with love) than of thrilling to the adventures of He-Man (who I just now discovered shared his voice with Morris the cat – even weirder).

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been watching a He-Man cartoon at night before bed to unwind, and in addition to the entertainment value I’ve been inspired to write a few spells that will find their way into Esoterica Exhumed. Here’s a sample:

Battle Beast (Evocation)
Level: Druid 5, Magic-User 6
Range: 30′
Duration: 10 rounds

One animal targeted by this spell becomes a battle beast, doubling its size and Hit Dice, and increasing its damage rolls by +2 points for the duration of the spell. While under the effects of the spell, the animal is treated as a monster rather than animal, and its coloration changes to something weird and unearthly. The animal gains limited sentience and low intelligence in battle beast form.

Blinding Light I (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 1, Druid 1, Magic-User 1
Range: 5′
Duration: 1d6+1 rounds

One creature immediate in front of you is dazzled by a sudden intense light that flashes from your eyes. The victim is blinded for 1 rounds, and then dazzled for 1d6 rounds. A dazzled creature suffers a -1 penalty to attack rolls and to all task checks involving sight.

Blinding Light II (Evocation/Illusion)
Level: Cleric 2, Druid 2, Magic-User 2
Range: 20′ cone
Duration: 1d6 rounds

This spell causes those caught in the area of effect who fail a saving throw to be dazzled, suffering a -1 penalty to attack rolls and all task checks involving sight.

Chasm (Conjuration)
Level: Druid 4, Magic-User 5
Range: 60 feet
Duration: 10 minutes

You can cause the ground to suddenly disappear, shifting it briefly into the elemental plane of earth. The resulting chasm has the following dimensions: Width is equal to 5 feet plus 2 feet per level; length is equal to 1 foot per level and depth is equal to 2 feet per level. After 10 minutes, the earth shifts back into position from the elemental plane, burying anything that was in the chasm or displacing gases and liquids (such as water or an obscuring mist spell) that might have been in the chasm to the surface.

Cosmic Comets (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 hour

You conjure three miniature comets which orbit you at a radius of up to 10′. While orbiting, they provide a +1 bonus to Armor Class. Melee attackers that miss their attack roll against you by only 1 point are struck by a comet for 1d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage. You can also send these comets streaking out at a single target, who can avoid it with a saving throw. Targets that are hit suffer 2d6 damage + 1d6 fire damage.

Homing Spell (Divination)
Level: Magic-User 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent

Once a magic-user has placed this spell on a nonliving item, she can, with mild concentration and while rubbing the temples, discern its location relative to her in terms of direction and approximate distance. This homing beacon is permanent, but can be removed with dispel magic or suppressed while in possession of a creature with magic resistance (dice to determine).

Raise Pillar (Evocation)
Level: Druid 3, Magic-User 4
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 hour

With the lifting of your arms, a pillar of solid rock rises from the ground. The ground in question must be solid – i.e. there must be rock to form into a pillar. The pillar rises 5 feet plus 1 foot per level, and is roughly 4 feet in diameter. The pillar can be raised under a creature’s feet, in which case they must pass a saving throw to avoid being lifted. If they fail this saving throw, they are carried upwards and could potentially be crushed if the pillar’s height plus their own would force them to violently contact the ceiling of a chamber or cavern. If they are crushed, they suffer 3d6 points of damage. After one hour, the pillar slides back into the ground. This spell can conceivably be used to raise buried treasure to the surface, but the soil in which the treasure was buried forms into solid rock and therefore may make the treasure difficult to access.

Sleeve of Holding (Conjuration)
Level: Magic-User 3
Range: Personal
Duration: 8 hours

The magic-user can stuff 100 pounds per level worth of non-magical, non-living goods up his left sleeve. After 8 hours, the magic-user must dump the goods out of his sleeve or they disappear into dimensions unknown.

Mars, Venus and Beyond

If you have read Blood & Treasure Second Edition, you might already know that I had a sample planar system that resembles the old geocentric model of the universe combined with Gygax’s idea of the outer and inner planes. At some point, I’m going to expand on these ideas and write a book called The Outre’ Dark – sort of my version of the Manual of the Planes.

To that end, I’ve already written an article in NOD on the planet Pluto, which stands in for the negative energy plane in Nod’s cosmos. This week, I’ve been playing with maps of Mars and Venus (or Martis and Veneris) for the Nod setting, and thought I’d show them off here, along with a few notes on the settings.

MARTIS, PLANE OF WAR

In the Nod cosmology, Mars is a planet of Neutrality, over which the forces of Lawful Neutrality and Chaotic Neutrality fight a never-ending war.

Mars3
  • The humanoid Martians come in a multitude of colors, from purple to amber to burnt sienna (and even some maroons living below the surface). They spawn via spores and do not nurse their young. They may have been engineered by a Zetan civilization that destroyed the plane with atomic weaponry before leaving Martis for Nod, where they were involved in founding the Nabu civilization (destroyed in a similar cataclysm).
  • They are joined on Martis by green mutants in the wastelands and bat people in the mountains.
  • The purple Martians are the most civilized (LN). They dwell in hive cities connected by canals.
  • The amber Martians dwell in the north, and might be considered pragmatic Neutrals.
  • The burnt sienna Martians are nomads (and former seafarers).
  • Atop Olympus Mons there is a monastery of weird Zen Neutral monks.
  • Martians wear little armor (or clothing) and arm themselves with swords, whip-swords, daggers, darts, jezzails and pistols.
  • The Martians also use flying ships (skyremes) levitated by weird rays.
  • There is a plant in the Martian deserts that oozes plastic nodules, which the Martians melt down and use to make a variety of objects.
  • The moons of Martis (those little specs underneath the planet) are home to ghouls, who launch themselves into space when astral ships approach too close.

VENERIS, PLANE OF LIFE

Veneris is the positive energy plane in Nod’s cosmos. I mixed the idea of positive energy = life with the old ideas of Venus as a jungle world. The map is still in the “rough draft” stage. It is partly inspired by this post at Malevolent and Benign.

VenusMap
  • Humanoid Venusians come in two varieties – the cyan-skinned cave dwellers and the jade-skinned tree dwellers. They are beset by many evils on the planet, for it is populated by numerous beastmen.
  • Venus has very little technology, and all of it in the hands of the gold amazons, who dwell in flying cities. Their sons, the myrmidons, are seafarers and defenders of humanity.
  • Most of the peoples of Veneris have neo-stone age technology, maybe some in the chalcolithic age – giant stone cities, simple weapons, etc. Very Flintstones.
  • There are dinosaurs (though not of the earthly varieties) and other prehistoric animals.
  • Beneath the surface of Veneris is a core of positive energy, which erupts from time to time from volcanoes.
  • The plant life of Veneris is a riot of color. It grows very quickly – a trail cut with machetes would disappear in mere minutes.
  • There are massive oozes on the planet that rise from the seas and cause ecological havoc.
  • The mountains are made of solid gemstone.

MERCURIUS, PLANE OF ELEMENTAL EARTH

I’m adding this one after the fact, having just finished the map. I’m picturing a world almost devoid of plant life with a thin atmosphere where all the real action is under the surface, where the powerful elementals dwell. On the surface, where adventurers are likely to spend their time, there are cities of crystal people who dominate their fellows by dominating the mineral springs they must bathe in to survive, and plundering metallic men who serve the greedy shaitan. I’m using the old idea that Mercury always had one side facing the Sun and the other in perpetual darkness – in this case, the cities of Parahelios and Nyx mark those spots.

MercuryMap2-1

Scads of Magic

Imagination!

I’ve long been a fan of Seventh Sanctum, and tonight I decided to play around with the magic item generator. You get names for items that don’t always make sense, but often have in them something you can use … with a little imagination!

So, here’s a scad of magic items in thumbnail sketch form, plus a couple with names I loved that even I wasn’t sure how to flesh out with actual gamable abilities.

+1 Banded Mail of Heat Resistance: Stay comfortable in hot weather (summons cold air from elemental air plane), -1 damage per dice of fire damage

Amazon’s Pill: As heroism spell, females only

Barrel of Monkeys: Can summon 3d4 monkeys, once per week
Beggar’s Sandals: Feel no hunger or thirst if one eats/drinks once per week

Celestial Cube: When subjected to magic light, produces a prismatic/rainbow spell of the same or lower level

Coat of Sludge Repulsion: Cannot be engulfed by oozes

Coat of Slyness: Better pick pocketing, hides stolen goods

Earrings of Dancer’s Grace: +1 to AC, +1 to saves involving movement, gain ability to dance (fascinate as bard) once per day

Elemental Gauntlet: Gauntlet can on command turn into one of the following – an elemental earth gauntlet that smashes stone and +1 save vs. acid; a white hot gauntlet of metal that deals +1d6 fire damage and +1 save vs. fire; a gauntlet of ice that deals +1d6 cold damage and +1 save vs. cold; a sphere of swirling air that grants +2 AC vs. missile attacks and +1 save vs. electricity

Elixir of Blood Control: One can cause their own wounds or others to stop bleeding with a glance

Ethereal Brew: When poured out, it causes a whirlwind on the ethereal plane

Evil Drum: Bonus to hit for goblinoids

Flute of Ooze Alteration: Forces oozes to save vs. dancing; bards can cause them to move as they wish within sound

Fork of Time: When banged against metal, it forces all time displaced creatures within 100 ft. to shift into the present; against adamantine or mithral, it shifts the adventurers ahead 1 hour (do not move in space)

Hand Axe of Wind Shield: Can be swung around to create a wall of wind, when thrown, accompanied by a gust of wind

Hauberk of Revealing: Light reflected from this mail dispels illusions and reveals hidden and secret things

Haunted Tower Shield: Once per day can become a portal into the negative zone, releasing a single incorporeal spirit (HD no higher than users) to attack a foe

Helm of Ritual Fish Seduction: Hmmm … next!

Infernal Sitar: Playing causes people’s shoes to heat up (as heat metal)

Jar of Thought Absorption: One can hold a thought in the jar by putting against the ear and thinking; the thought cannot be accessed by mind reading – mage’s can do this with spells; can put thought back into head in same way – others can try, but may take Int damage

Massive Helm: A large, spherical helm – silly looking, but +3 to AC

Mechanism of Amazon Slaying: I have no idea, but what a great weird name

Pendant of Magma: Allows one to walk across magma and lava with no damage or sinking

Rainstick of Calming: Berserkers and barbarians cannot go nuts in its presence

Ring of Knocking: As knock spell, 3/day

Ruby Draft of Abjuration: Drink liquid to gain abjuration spell – water (1st), wine (2nd), other potion (3rd, and gain abilities of that potion); usable 1/day, spell remains in memory for 1 hour

Salve of Gold: Like fool’s gold spell, enough for ten tiny items

Sapphire Net: Becomes a large web of blue energy that can entrap air elementals and gaseous creatures

Sphere of Ursus: Metal sphere with a copper, silver and gold bear; copper bear summons a black bear, silver brown and gold polar; 1 bear per week, from a ray that fires from the sphere up to 30 feet away; destroying the orb summons a cave bear

Staff of Slime Absorption: Can absorb up to 6 HD of oozes or slimes (1 HD = 5 square feet); when broken or released, they all appear adjacent to staff; can also be ejected as a 30’ cone of acid (damage dice equal to HD absorbed)

Titan’s Wand: Can cast one third level magic-user spell per day, but requires two magic-users to swoosh it

Traveler’s Stick: +5 ft. per round to walking speed, walk twice as long without being fatigued

White Javelin: When it strikes undead, it absorbs their negative energy, up to 6 HD, turning the javelin black – the black javelin then absorbs levels/HD of living creatures until it negates the negative energy, so don’t touch it without a mithral gauntlet

Okay – one more, inspired by watching MST3K’s take on Cave Dwellers …

Helm of the Black Swan: Once per day, a roll of “1” can be turned into a “20”, or a roll of “20” can be turned into a “1” within sight of the wearer.

 

Simplicity Himself

I discovered Warhammer in high school. Some friends I met in art class were into the miniatures, and brought a catalog with them to school one day. Needless to say, I was impressed. I’d never been into miniatures before that, and the old Warhammer stuff was pretty cool. That led to me playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and buying, though never actually playing, WFRP and Rogue Trader. I didn’t keep up with Warhammer, but the old stuff definitely certainly fired my imagination.

Which brings me to Simplicius Simplicissimus, Warhammer’s great-grandfather (or maybe closer than that). Written in 1668 by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, it is a picaresque novel set in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). It is the story of a simple country boy who gets whisked into the big events of the day, and I would say definitely an influence on the grim world of perilous adventure presented in Warhammer … except I don’t actually know that this is true. I suppose if you’re making a game/setting inspired by the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, you’re going to end up with something akin to a book about those same events.

The main thing that makes me think there’s a link is the progression of Simplicius from career to career over the course of the book. He begins as a simple farm laborer, and then becomes a religious hermit, a fool, an outlaw and sneak thief, a dragoon, a charlatan, etc.

No trollslayers, but still …

The book is a fun read, and the Alfred Thomas Scrope Goodrick translation I read (from Project Gutenberg) was easier going than you might expect for something written a few hundred years ago. I’ll also note that the book moves along at a pretty good pace – old books are sometimes slow (because they didn’t need to compete with TV), but I never had the temptation to skip ahead in Simplicius. The book isn’t entirely “safe for work”, but it doesn’t delve too far into sex and bloody brutality. I definitely give it my recommendation as a book to read on par with most modern adventure fiction.

Literary merits aside, the book presents good fodder for fantasy gaming, Warhammer-style gaming especially. The supernatural shows up a couple times, but isn’t prevalent, so it’s mostly about normal people trying to make their way in a rough time and place. Here are a few passages from the book that I found particularly interesting:

This is the introduction to the hermit who takes him in. This guy is about as Lawful as the book gets:

So I plucked up heart to come out of my hollow tree and to draw nigh to the voice I had heard, where I was ware of a tall man with long greyish hair which fell in confusion over his shoulders: a tangled beard he had shapen like to a Swiss cheese; his face yellow and thin yet kindly enough, and his long gown made up of more than a thousand pieces of cloth of all sorts sewn together one upon another. Round his neck and body he had wound a heavy iron chain like St. William, and in other ways seemed in mine eyes so grisly and terrible that I began to shake like a wet dog.

A description of the soldier’s life. This would apply to most old school fantasy adventurers as well:

For gluttony and drunkenness, hunger and thirst, wenching and dicing and playing, riot and roaring, murdering and being murdered, slaying and being slain, torturing and being tortured, hunting and being hunted, harrying and being harried, robbing and being robbed, frighting and being frighted, causing trouble and suffering trouble, beating and being beaten: in a word, hurting and harming, and in turn being hurt and harmed–this was their whole life.

The goings on of the aristocracy at a party – I thought it might make a good random table for behavior in inns and taverns:

‘Twas indeed a wonderful pantomime to see how they did fool, and yet none wondered but I. One sang: one wept: one laughed: another moaned: one cursed: another prayed: one shouted “Courage!” another could not even speak. One was quiet and peaceable: another would drive the devil out by swaggering: one slept and was silent, another talked so fast that none could stand up against him. One told stories of tender love adventures, another of his dreadful deeds in war. Some talked of church and clergy, some of the constitution, of politics, of the affairs of the empire and of the world. Some ran hither and thither and could not keep still: some lay where they were and could not stir a finger, much less stand up or walk. Some were still eating like ploughmen, and as if they had been a week without food, while others were vomiting up what they had eaten that very day.

A list of hangover cures:

There wormwood, sage wine, elecampane, quince and lemon drinks, with hippocras, were to clear the heads and stomachs of the drinkers;

A strange spell from the book:

And no sooner had the rogue mumbled some words than there sprang out of each man’s breeches, sleeves, boots and pockets, and all other openings in their clothes, one, two, three, or more young puppies. And these sniffed round and round in the tent, and pretty beasts they were, of all manner of colours, and each with some special ornament, so that ’twas a right merry sight.

If you like gore, the book has some gore. This could also work as a description of a fantasy battlefield:

The earth, whose custom it is to cover the dead was there itself covered with them, and those variously distinguished: for here lay heads that had lost their natural owners, and there bodies that lacked their heads: some had their bowels hanging out in most ghastly and pitiful fashion, and others had their heads cleft and their brains scattered: there one could see how lifeless bodies were deprived of their blood while the living were covered with the blood of others; here lay arms shot off, on which the fingers still moved, as if they would yet be fighting; and elsewhere rascals were in full flight that had shed no drop of blood: there lay severed legs, which though delivered from the burden of the body, yet were far heavier than they had been before: there could one see crippled soldiers begging for death, and on the contrary others beseeching quarter and the sparing of their lives. In a word, ’twas naught but a miserable and pitiful sight.

The effect of gunpowder on the world (i.e. look out high level fighters):

But ’twas this cause made me so great a man, that nowadays the veriest horse-boy can shoot the greatest hero in the world; and had not gunpowder been invented I must have put my pride in my pocket.

On the glories of gold (and some supernatural associations with gemstones):

Yea, I could even take upon me to prove that this same money possesses all virtues and powers more than any precious stones; for it can drive away all melancholia like the diamond: it causeth love and inclination to study, like the emerald (for so comes it that commonly students have more money than poor folk’s children): it taketh away fear and maketh man joyful and happy like unto the ruby: ’tis often an hindrance to sleep, like the garnet: on the other hand, it hath great power to produce repose of mind and so sleep, like the jacinth: it strengtheneth the heart and maketh a man jolly and companionable, lively and kind, like the sapphire and amethyst: it driveth away bad dreams, giveth joy, sharpeneth the understanding, and if one have a plaint against another it gaineth him the victory, like the sardius (and in especial if the judge’s palm be first well oiled therewith): it quencheth unchaste desire, for by means of gold one can possess fair women: and in a word, ’tis not to be exprest what gold can do, as I have before set forth in my book intituled “Black and White,” if any man know how rightly to use and employ this information.

Probably not the best name for a game (bolded text):

And though I did no deed evil enough to forfeit my life, yet was I so reckless that, save for sorcerers and sodomites, no worse man could be found.

On random encounters in the Black Forest:

… that I should not escape from the peasants of the Black Forest, which were then famous for the knocking of soldiers on the head.

A melee:

… when we did least expect it, came six musqueteers with a corporal to our hut with their pieces ready and their matches burning, who burst in the door and cried to us to surrender. But Oliver (that, like me, had ever his loaded piece lying by him and his sharp sword also, and then sat behind the table, and I by the stove behind the door) answered them with a couple of musquet-balls, wherewith he brought two to the ground, while I with a like shot slew one and wounded the fourth. Then Oliver whipped out his terrible sword (that could cut hairs asunder and might well be compared to Caliburn, the sword of King Arthur of England) and therewith he clove the fifth man from the shoulder to the belly, so that his bowels gushed out and he himself fell down beside them in gruesome fashion. And meanwhile I knocked the sixth man on the head with the butt-end of my piece, so that he fell lifeless: but Oliver got even such a blow from the seventh, and that with such force that his brains flew out, and I in turn dealt him that did that such a crack that he must needs join his comrades on the dead muster-roll. So when the one that I had shot at and wounded was ware of such cuffs and saw that I made for him with the butt of my piece also, he threw away his gun and began to run as if the devil was at his heels. Yet all this fight lasted no longer than one could say a paternoster, in which brief space seven brave soldiers did bite the dust.

A spell to force thieves to give back their stolen goods, worth 10 sp (or more or less, depending on your system):

And since ’tis as grievous to lose such things as ’tis hard to get them, therefore the said Switzer would move heaven and earth to come by them again, and did even send for the famous devil-driver of the Goatskin, which did so plague the thief by his charms that he must needs restore the stolen goods to their proper place: for which the wizard earned ten rix-dollars.

I hope this motivates you to give the book a read, especially if you’re a WFRP player or game master. Well worth the time!