Mundane Magic

Magic is awesome. Fireballs and sleep spells and summons, oh my!

Regular tabletop role playing magic, however, is mostly focused on what might be useful to, y'know, an adventuring party. While that is useful to the players, you'd think that in a world with magic people would come up with relatively mundane, day-to-day uses for it. Because what good is magic to a farmer if it doesn't help with the harvest? What is good for a merchant if it doesn't help her make a profit or balance the books?

 So here's some more everyday uses of magic, many of which conveniently duplicate things we've achieved via technology (i.e. we know they're actually useful). I guess the list could be looked at as a background detail generator table or some such - if you squint hard enough, that is.
  1. Legal documents sealed/signed with drop of blood. Magic can then be used to verify identities of the relevant persons. Anyone who works with paperwork carries a special needle for drawing blood together with writing implements.
  2. Enchanted ledgers that total up income and expenses on their own and are capable of updating them. (Sort of like magical spreadsheet apps. Only inkier.)
  3. Harvest-mages wander the rural countryside looking for work. They mostly only knows spells that speed up harvest, such as Beltor's Fruit Shaker or Greater Wheat Reaper. They get a lot of call in wartime, when being able to bring in the harvest quick and with few people is important.
  4. Mages specialising in pest control. Rats routed, bedbugs banished, termites terminated - or your silver back! Gives me ideas for wizards in coveralls.
  5. Credit-enchanted items - work like our credit cards, but on magic, rather than technology. Come to think about it, if I were a wizard in a fantasy setting, banking in general would seem like a field that could benefit from magical expertise.
  6. Pay crystal balls for contacting home when you're away.
  7. Spells for copying texts from one sheet to another. Who needs printing again?
  8.  Magically-powered keywords allow accessing relevant chapters of a book quickly. Useful in big manuals, encyclopedias and reference books.


The Murderhobos and the Abandoned City, Session 1

(Last Saturday I started running a campaign. What follows is a summary of  the first session.)

 Dramatis personae

Magrur - a Magic user going through financial hardship
Prince Charming - a Fighter of great Strength
Rosie - a non-haughty Elf

What went on

The PCs all started out with a debt to the city of Zotanga* (I made them roll 2d6x10 after obtaining initial equipment). The backstory was that they had chosen to participate in an expedition explore an abandoned ancient cliff city rather than go do hard labor in the debtors' prison.

After the expedition airship had arrived and deposited the participants on the ground, the PC decided to look up some advice and ended up talking to a scarred ancient elf with a missing eye. He advised them to look for magical materials and artwork and warned them to stay clear of the yellow mold.

After surveying possible entrances, and witnessing some other explorers having to deal with some vicious shrubbery at one of them, the party decided they'd prefer a method of ingress at about third floor. Using Prince Charming's grappling hook and succeeding to climb up the rope, they found themselves standing on a parapet with two closed doors leading inside. While all windows were arrow slits, the wall had crumbled between a couple of them, providing some slight view of the interior to the cautious Magrur. The coast seemed clear, so Prince Charming tapped one of the doors with the ten foot pole and after all seemed safe, opened it up.

Inside things seemed safe enough, and after exploring a couple of rooms, filled mostly with debris, the party finally stumbled into one containing a painting. Since it was too unwieldy to carry around they left it behind and looked at one more room. the room happened to be a home to a shrub much like those at the entrance. The party proceeded to strap a torch to the ten foot pole and light the shrub on fire in relative safety. They decided afterwards that they were too paranoid about the other exploration teams afterwards and returned for the painting, which they took down to the expedition's camp. On their way to turn in the painting to the officials, a young female halfling tried to chat them up about the painting but the PCs found her to be suspicious and brushed her off. After arguing over the worth of the painting with one official and then another, they managed to convince one of them to accept the painting for a 100 silver** deduction to their debts by including a bottle of wine as a "gift".

Emboldened by their previous success and hoping to quickly get the rest of the debt money the party returned to the dungeon cliff city, this time using the second of the parapet doors for entry.

They were initially met with a small swarm of glass butterflies, which they ignored as being harmless and proceeded down a corridor to a room where they found a small pile of coins covered with the yellow mold the old elf had warned them about. Luckily, it seemed to retreat from fire and they started packing the money away to one of their backpacks. Less luckily, they were attacked by a couple of stirges while doing so. A dagger slash from Magrur and some well placed shots from Rosie's longbow quickly dispatched the creatures and the PC quickly finished packaging the loot and retreated back to camp, hoping the coinage to be sufficient to cover their debts.

Upon exiting, they noticed another party returning from the ground floor - seemingly hauling some loot of their own and in good spirits.

Returning to the official who had taken the painting off of them, they were pleased to find that not only had they covered their debts but also had a bit of the money left. The official noticed that while they were free to go now, they could also stay and keep exploring, as long as they sold off artifacts to him or his colleague.

(Here the play stopped since one of the players had to leave. All in all, the players got lucky and pretty much explored one of the safest parts of the dungeon. We'll see how they fare further on.)

* I only realized later how much of a rip off of Burroughsian Barsoom, or, more precisely, Zodanga, that name is. None of the players had read the books in question so they didn't mind.

** The game world uses a kind of silver standard.


Deities & Priesthoods 2: Teluru

Teluru, the Guardian God. Teluru, the Shield-and-Spear. Also known as Tywimh and Shinn Of The Walls. Everywhere where there are enough people to warrant a garrison of professional soldiers there is someone praying to him.

We'd probably depict him like this. But with more arms. (From here.)

Although depicted as a four-armed warrior in ancient armour carrying a shield and a spear Teluru is not a god of war. He is the god of protection and guardians and - by extension - patron of the city guards and watchmen. Every military unit tasked with protecting a civilized locale will have a shrine to Teluru in their barracks and if there's enough of them, they'll have selected a dedicated chaplain from amongst their ranks. (About 10% chance of having one for every 100 soldiers, maybe? I don't know, something like that sounds reasonable.)

For all intents and purposes, this chaplain functions like a cleric of any other god, with some slight exceptions. Firstly, the chaplain does not share the weapon restriction the other clerics have to deal with - instead of all the weapons possible he or she can only carry a spear or another polearm. And secondly, through practice with the weapon, the chaplain wields it as a fighter would.


Family trees

In the Lakelands it is usual for any person wealthy enough to acquire land - which is rather expensive in the region - to plant a long-living tree of a species that tends to grow to great size somewhere on the property. This then becomes their family tree.

Not like this (from here)

The family then attempts to preserve the tree as best as possible and follow several other tradtions, to wit:

  • The jars with the ashes of the family's dead from now on are burried between the tree's roots.
  • When a new child is born into the family, their name is written on a bit of ribbon, which then is added to a garland of other such ribbons that hangs on the tree. (The first ribbon is simply tied to a branch.)
  • On major holidays and family feasts the tree is decorated with lanterns.
  • If the tree dies, there is a mourning in the family as if several members of it had died at once. Complicated rituals take place for choosing a new tree and a place for it. 
 More like this (from here)
If the family loses the land with the tree, the tree is burned down where it stands by the new owners and then a fence is put up around its former place. Nothing is done with this patch of land for at least a year. Since this is similar to having all your grandparents being burned alive at the same time, families will often choose to give up other things before giving up the land with the tree. It is therefore not unusual in the Lakelands for a formerly wealthy family to be reduced to living at the base and in the branches of their family tree in poverty, because the tree and the clothes on their backs are the only things that are left to them. (Cautious family tree pickers will often prefer trees that grow marketable fruit for this reason: they figure if their family grows impoverished, then perhaps selling the fruit will help them out.)


Ogden's Hangman & Supernatural Executioners

Have you read Maurice Ogden's The Hangman? If you haven't, go read it on its wikipedia page. I'll wait.

(From here)

I don't remember how I came across this poem. It's got a message about witch-hunts and conformism and passivity towards evil and bla bla bla. But when I read it I immediately thought that the hangman as described would make an interesting opponent in a game session. My initial thought was just a psychopathic psion of an NPC who uses his power of suggestion to make people submit to his will and then kills them off one by one.

But now I have a set of tables & "rules" for spooky executioners.

Method of Execution

  1. Hanging.
  2. Burning at stake.
  3. Decapitation.
  4. Being hanged, drawn & quartered.
  5. Drowning.
  6. Animal pit.

Nature & Motivation of Executioner

  1. Psychopathic psionic human, doing it for the kicks.
  2. Non-psychopathic psionic human, seeks revenge against town for death of wrongfully executed parent.
  3. A ghost, trying to free itself by putting the living to the same death it experienced. It doesn't work.
  4. Limited manifestation of unknowable eldritch horror, using deaths to fuel entry into this plane of existence.
  5. Incarnation of unjust capital punishment. Just following its nature.
  6. Disembodied entity that keeps possessing a new executioner if the old one is dispatched. Feeds on the fear and suffering it creates.
 Also roll d100 for percentage of original population still remaining (at least 2 people, though) when  players enter town.

My idea is that people need to roll saves at a big penalty or submit and helplessly watch the executioner dispatch its victims... Or be the victim as the case may be. Repeat roll at every execution. Strong compulsion to attend executions - similar save as before to avoid. When attempting to leave town with the executioner undefeated, succeed similar save without penalty or lose conscienceness for 1d6 hours - or until next execution, whichever is sooner.


Hoarding Hedge-wizard's Horrible Habitat

Because so many mages, and especially hedge-wizards have a tendency to have bizzare laboratories stuffed with magical paraphernalia, it makes sense that many of them would have a hoarding problem.

Roll d8 for whatever may hinder you while visiting a home of one of these weirdos for some reason.

(From here)
  1. 1d4 scrap golems (formed of residual magic field and random refuse) aggressively defend a corner they consider their territory. (Scrap golems are from Varlets &Vermin. But you could come up with your own.)
  2. A stairway leading downwards has filled with random crud. Seems like regular floor, but if entered from a side without actual stairs, one tends to sink through the stuff. Roll d6 on subtable.
  3. A crate of 1d6 unlabeled potions of unknown origin or purpose. Might also be expired. Have fun with this one - I recommend this table.
  4. Giant friggin' cockroaches. At least 3d4 of 'em.
  5. A disgrunteled homunculus-in-a-jar is trapped under some random garbage. Will offer information if freed. Has 50% chance of having gone insane, in which case the information will be absolutely useless.
  6. A corner stuffed with stacks upon stacks of old arcane science journals. 10% chance of finding new useful spell. 10% chance of triggering random spell effect if disturbed. 5% of journals animating and behaving like a swarm of small flying creatures - such as bats.
  7. Moving seemingly valuable item (staff, robe, book – whatever) releases disgusting mold spores. If inhaled, chances of being: 25% - halucinogenic, 10% - poisonous (save or die). If not either, then trigger coughing and sneezing, wasting time and attracting attention.
  8. Precarious stack of junk. If fighting nearby, 10% chance of collapse. Randomize combatants affected, does 2d6 damage to each.

Stairway crud subtable

1-3. Sticky crud. Works like quicksand
4. Light and large and properly unsupported things. Works like a pit, except there's stairs out. Falling damaged still applies, though.
5. As 4, but there's something jagged or spiky and hard on the stairway. Works like spike pit trap.
6. As 5, but there's also something smeared on the jagged thing. Works the same, but there's also 50% chance of non-lethal poison, save or take 1d6/hour for 1d6 hours.