Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Magic of Onderland

The bad thing about having multiple irons in the fire is, obviously, that one can get quite distracted and accomplish nothing.  The nice thing about having multiple irons in the fire is that when one needs a break from one project, one can turn to another, rather than, say, watch the E! Channel.  That's what I'm doing now. I have mentioned, in passing, my Onderland Campaign.  Unlike Dying Sun, this a much more traditional fantasy setting, heavily flavoured by Anglo-Saxon England during the Heptarchy.  It's got Elves and Dwarves and Dungeons and Keeps on the Borderland and whatnot.  I think the Anglo-Saxon background adds a lot to all of those common gaming elements, giving a nice grounding to those typical elements such as the fallen empire (the Rome equivalent), religious institutions (the Roman Church equivalent), and where those weird monsters come from (Faerie).

When I set up the campaign, it was my first try at running Spellcraft & Swordplay and wisdom would dictate that I try running the game as written.  So I didn't do that.  I immediately set about house-ruling the thing.  I respect M. Maliszewski's idea of running RAW and then evolving during play, although, as he has noted in re the Raise the Dead spell, that approach has it's drawbacks as well.  But I don't roll that way.  I'm a tinkerer from the get-go.  So, I made some house-rules and ran with them.

That, however, doesn't stop me from continuing to tinker as we play.  My herculean efforts at devising a Weapons vs. Armour Class chart that I liked, though devised for Dying Sun, inevitably leaked into Onderland.  That causes one minor ret-con (the barbaric Tatwulf exchanged his morningstar for a mace), but was otherwise seamless.  Soon thereafter, I introduced another change, this one unconnected to Dying Sun, and I haven't seen how that will play out yet.  But I'm awfully fond of the idea, so I put it in place and we'll see how it goes.

The idea was to redefine magic in Onderland.  I've never been terribly crazy about the traditional Magic-user/Clerical divide (if you think that phrase ought to have been "Arcane/Divine" divide, then you are too young to read this blog. No, no, I kid.)  It's fine.  I don't hate it.  But I don't really like it.  It just feels a bit off to me.  Coupled with my motto of "Kill the Cleric, Keep the Thief", I felt the need to do something new.  That urge was fueled by some discussions around the Net about automatic casting vs. casting rolls and then flavoured by my personal history as a recovering medievalist.

Conceptual divisions of magic are nothing new.  In fact, the real world probably gives us too many divisions for game use.  But one I like is the later medieval distinction between Natural and Demonic Magic, as expounded by philosophers such as Albertus Magnus, the Universal Doctor.  Natural Magic is so-called because it utilizes the occult properties of the world.  It’s on par with magnetism, to choose an good medieval example. Wondrous, but natural (i.e. Lawful).  Demonic Magic is the opposite: it relies upon summoning forces from the Underworld to enact their unnatural powers upon the world (i.e. Chaotic).  This doesn’t make it evil per se; there were many apologists for demonic magic in middle ages who claimed that they were following the example of Christ in using divine power to order demons and that it was actually a punishment for demons to be forced to do good things.  Also, as in the middle ages, Demonic Magic is based upon grimoires and ritual and therefore the only real people able to practice are the literate i.e. priests (the sub-culture of clerical necromancers is a fascinating topic with which I shan’t bore you at the moment).

That’s the fluff. Here’s the mechanical effects:

1. The Priest and Wizard spell lists get rearranged.  Natural Magic largely equates to Priestly magic, such as healing, detection, and abjurations. Those spells that appear on both lists (such as Light) are only Natural magic in this ordering.  The Demonic list is thus pruned a bit, leaving it the offensive and creepy spells--Sleep, Magic Missile, Arcane Eye, etc.

2. Wizards may use spells of either type.  They can, in principle, cast any spell in the game. Champions (Cleric analogs) are restricted to Natural Magic as a gift from the Powers.

3. Natural Magic spells are called virtues.  They are cast using the usual D&D system--no casting roll. They automatically work, as befits their Lawful nature, but the caster also always forgets them. OK--“memorizing” and “forgetting” aren’t really the right terms here, but you know that.

4. Demonic magic uses the Spellcraft & Swordplay system--the casting roll, the chance of success or failure, the chance of retaining or losing the spell.  The randomness befits the Chaotic nature of the practice.  If you read my little article in Fight On! No. 6, I’m using that idea here: memorizing the spell is actually performing the ritual summoning and binding of the demonic power. Casting is the unleashing of that demon.  If you succeed, the demon remains bound to you. If you fail, he is released and scarpers back to Hell.  If you roll snake-eyes, something weird and unpleasant happens.  Doug Easterly’s excellent Savage Swords of Athanor has a nifty little Chaotic Effects table that I might play around with.

One nifty little thing that this scheme opens up: I could actually see having a Witch in this system.   I've traditionally opposed the Witch idea in Ye Auld Game, probably because every iterations just seems more effort than it's worth.  New spell lists; new ways to cast spells, and so on and so on.  Leave me cold.  But with this system, I see a very simple way to do a Witch.  And by Witch, I don't mean an evil wizard, or a Wise Woman, or some sort of Margaret Murray devotee of the Horned God.   I mean the medieval conception of an apostate who gives dulia or latria to the Dark Powers in exchange for occult powers. And it's now easy to do: the Witches of Onderland are granted Demonic Magic spells only by their Underworld Masters.  They cannot learn new spells from grimoires.

That also gives me a flip-side option: the Miraculous Hermit (or Monk or whatever).  The Miraculous Hermit is just a normal guy--not a divine Champion; not a mace-wielding arse-kicker--who is granted the ability to use Natural Magic.

So that's what I'm doing in my off-time right now.  I'll conclude with the spell lists as I have them right now:

Natural Magic Level One
1. Cure Light Wounds
2. Detect Evil
3. Detect Magic
4. Disrupt Undead
5. Light
6. Locate Animal or Plant
7. Predict Weather
8. Protection from Evil
9. Purify Food & Water
10. Read Languages

Demonic Magic Level One
1. Charm Person
2. Deathwatch
3. Hex (Bane)
4. Faerie Fire
5. Hold Portal
6. Inflict Light Wounds
7. Elf-Shot (Magic Missile)
8. Sleep
9. Will-o-Wisp (Dancing Lights)

Natural Magic Level Two
1. Animal Summoning 1
2. Bless
3. Continual Flame
4. Create Water
5. Detect Invisible
6. Find Traps
7. Hold Person
8. Lesser Restoration
9. Locate Object
10. Remove Paralysis
11. Speak with Animals

Demonic Magic Level Two
1. Desecrate
2. ESP
3. Hand-Fire (Produce Fire)
4. Heat Metal
5. Invisibility
6. Knock
7. Levitate
8. Phantasmal Image
9. Wizard Lock
10. Cloak (Obscurement)
11. Warp Wood

Natural Magic Level Three
1. Animal Summoning 2
2. Cure Disease
3. Dispel Magic
4. Hold Animal
5. Neutralize Poison
6. Protection from Evil, 10’ Radius
7. Protection from Fire
8. Protection from Normal Missiles
9. Remove Blindness/Deafness
10. Remove Curse
11. Water Breathing

Demonic Magic Level Three
1. Call Lightning
2. Cause Fear
3. Clairaudience
4. Clairvoyance
5. Contagion
6. Fire Ball
7. Fly
8. Haste
9. Infravision
10. Invisibility, 10’ Radius
11. Lightning Bolt
12. Plant Growth
13. Pyrotechnics
14. Slow
15. Speak with Dead
16. Staves to Snakes
17. Unholy Blight

Natural Magic Level Four
1. Animal Summoning 3
2. Binding Oath*
3. Cure Serious Wounds
4. Daylight
5. Death Ward
6. Dimensional Anchor
7. Hold Undead
8. Plant Door
9. Protection from Lightning
10. Restoration
11. Speak with Plants

Demonic Magic Level Four
1. Arcane Eye
2. Black Tentacles
3. Confusion
4. Control Temperature, 10’ Radius
5. Cone of Cold
6. Charm Monster
7. Dimension Door
8. Enervation
9. Forest Legion
10. Hallucinatory Terrain
11. Inflict Critical Wounds
12. Insect Plague
13. Phantasmal Killer
14. Polymorph Others
15. Polymorph Self
16. Produce Fire
17. Vampiric Touch
18. Wall of Fire
19. Wall of Ice

Natural Magic Level Five
1. Animal Summoning 4
2. Anti-Animal Shell
3. Commune
4. Create Food
5. Dismissal
6. Dispel Evil
7. Heal
8. Hold Monster
9. Planar Binding

Demonic Magic Level Five
1. Animal Growth
2. Animate Dead
3. Blight
4. Cloudkill
5. Conjure Elemental
6. Contact Underworld (Contact Higher Plane)
7. Control Winds
8. Feeblemind
9. Finger of Death
10. Firestorm
11. Geas
12. Harm
13. Insect Plague
14. Possession (Magic Jar)
15. Pass-Wall
16. Telekinesis
17. Teleport
18. Transmute Rock to Mud
19. Wall of Iron
20. Wall of Stone

Natural Magic Level Six
1. Anti-Magic Shell
2. Lower Water
3. Move Earth
4. Part Water
5. Final Rest (Undead to Death)

Demonic Magic Level Six
1. Anti-Life Shell
2. Blasphemy
3. Circle of Death
4. Control Weather
5. Create Undead
6. Disintegrate
7. Enchant Item
8. Freezing Sphere
9. Invisible Stalker
10. Projected Image
11. Reincarnate
12. Slay Living
13. Stone to Flesh


  1. I love the word "Heptarchy!"

  2. Yeah, there aren't enough Heptarchs in the world.

    Fun fact: for several centuries the Jewish population of the Diaspora had an "Exilarch".
    I've tried to use that title in many games.

  3. good...

    cure of black magic

  4. I'd never heard that bit about Harut and Marut. That is an interesting story.