Monday 23 July 2018

Dread Arts for Bad Wizards

So I've been thinking what can I do to make my wizards more horrible in my new setting.
Basically I want magic to be more Hyperborean and like Clark Ashton Smith. This is a speculative experiment and mostly to ad colour to evil wizards and a reason to hate them more. Some of the alternate material components here might just be for back up rather than the sole methodology.

Traditional wizards use four types of props in magic.
Somatic = gestural
Verbal = spoken
Visual = magical side effects
Material = a substance or thing

A wizard with NWP slots in abjure somatic, abjure material and abjure verbal skill makes one INT roll for multiple skill and can cast spells with a simple stare

Somatic Components 
These are hand gestures, dance steps and movements that other wizards can tell exactly what your doing if they know the same spell or might have some inkling. An Abjure Somatic Components NWP might allow one to cast without gestures but require a stat roll. Such a skill would be handy if a wizard lost a limb until they repaired it.

Verbal Components 
These are spoken elements of a spell which are often the biggest giveaway a wizard is up to something. Other wizards especially might figure out exactly what you are casting. An Abjure Verbal Components NWP might allow one to cast without a sound but require a stat roll. Such a skill would be handy if a wizard needed to be silent or was rendered a mute or effected by a silence spell.

Visual Components

These are visual effects as the wizard casts the spell including smoke, glowing eyes, eldritch flaming hands, floating glowing letters in pre human languages. Most manifestations like this include strange sounds also. They make it hard for a wizard to be subtle. An Abjure Visual Components NWP might allow one to cast without any visible effects from the wizard but a fireball or spell itself will be unaffected, just the wizard will not stand out. Very effective for charming people in public.

Material Components
Ingredients you just buy preferably from a wizard shop or gather yourself.
Generally i like the following formula if you cant find the stuff yourself
The modern approach of buying a level appropriate bag of ingredients is easy
Dragon 83? i think did a thing pricing ad&d components
Most organic components are preserved usually dried
Greater spells use several weird components (one per spell Lv hence the cost)
Bad wizards have developed cost saving horrible alternatives to fussy materials

Found spells might require research to modify the components if not to a wizards taste or no longer to be found in the current age
If the wizard had own workshops, mines, or spent own time might reduce cost of a particular spell but this gets pretty picky in game, a set cost is quick and easy and doesn't have you breeding a certain type of snail or running a sweatshop of miniature makers. Possibly other NWP might make cheaper like an Alchemy NWP to pre brew potions bulk for a lower price. Guilds tend to set these prices or a master might have factories and gardens and stockpiles they sell in packets to their students.

Spell Component Level & Cost

0 lv = 1cp
1Lv = 1sp
2Lv = 1gp
3Lv = 10gp
4Lv = 100gp
5Lv = 500gp
6 Lv = 1000gp
7 Lv = 5000gp
8 Lv = 10000gp
9 Lv = 100000gp

d12 Sample Material Components 
1 Plant or herb
2 Fungus
3 Rare mineral
4 Artwork*
5 Precious and semiprecious gems
6 Animal body part
7 Monster body part
8 Planar being body part
9 Human body parts
10 Incense
11 Narcotics
12 Symbolic object**

*idol, picture, calligraphic scroll, jewelry, embroidery, miniture
**possibly something with a similar name or symbolic assiciation almost like a verbal pun or like the kind of substitutions you get in primitive magic like a voodoo doll

Improvised Alternate Material Components

A NWP in Improvising Components in a pinch might help and would let them pre prepare before casting and could help in a prison break or if stranded but would take time. At least when it finally works you could repeat the replacement.

An Abjure Material Components NWP might allow one to cast without materials but require a stat roll. Such a skill would be handy if a wizard lost everything.

Of course some wizards just use drugs as a universal componant.
Black Lotus, Leng Dust, Space Mead, Ygthar Elixir among others.Often distilled at higher level with manticore spittle, baslisk blood, mummy dust and others brews.

Sure they are addictive but what wizard doesn't cast spells every day? Easier to carry when you can score them. Many places ban these drugs.

Sacrifice Health

A sacrifice Health NWP lets you instead spend HP 1/Lv, causing user pain and temporarily disfiguring them or rendering them unconscious. But at least you don't need to roll. It hurts and is desperation mostly but has uses and is cheaper. Cantrips just cause petty short lived effects like blood noses. Boils, hair loss, open sores, withered skin last until healed.

Sacrifice Vitality

A Sacrifice Vitality NWP lets you temporarily sacrifice Attribute points 1/Lv which take an hour to recover a point. This also hurts and is hard work but you don't need to roll.

Sacrifice Blood

Then there are those who use the blood of others with a Blood Sacrifice NWP but this requires a roll. A zero level cantrip needs 1hp possibly a mouse or a bug. Other spells require a HD per Lv (a d4 or d6 HD is ok for first Lv). It gets messy and is suspicious but works. Having a herd of sacrificial animals or people can be a problem. Possibly sentient beings act as +1HD and Virgins as +1HD making it possible to throw a fireball with just one virgin instead of three pigs or a ox.

Sacrifice Life

Some rather than draw blood just suck life force through crackling ebon bolts and can draw from plants and other life. It is indiscriminate and will draw life from your companions if close and victims with at least a d4 HD get to save vs HP Loss (1HP/HD). Vegetation blighted leaves dead patches for a year per level usually a yard patch of grass or a potted plant for a cantrip, and a 3 yard per level with greater spells. Trees and gardens work best but get a collective save from the Earth itself. Grass or grain crops or healthy soil draw an even larger area, possibly triple. Desert or Ice or stone might not work at all. With a absence of life the HP come from the caster who's body saves to resist. At least this method needs no NP roll but the saving throws, possible self harm and hatred it creates are a cost.

Some Notes On This

NWP is Non Weapon Proficiency a late 1st ed term
A d20 stat roll in most cases INT based covers most of these
A wizard with high stats wouldn't care about rolling any more obviously.
I use all kinds of weird wizard NWP for stuff like 3rd ed feats in my game

Im not sold on all this yet.

I have considered such wizards might get additional benefits like 2nd ed specialists
-1 to Save vs their spells or +1 spell of each level when you gain a new spell level
eg +1 1st spell at Lv 1 then +2nd Lv spell at 3rd +3rd Lv spell at 5th etc
Or just a single extra spell of whatever you can already cast
Possibly an extra NWP slot or something or perhaps use two types of material components like blood and standard components to qualify for such a bonus.

This table for my current setting for NPC wizards you meet.
Most of the wizards in this setting are hated jerks possibly using black magic from evil wizard ruled empires of old or serve a surviving arch mage with a territory.

Most players will be the standard sort from cities rather than dread cults or remnants of evil prehuman arts

Non human wizards like serpentmen will be the more horrible sort.

Sorcerers especially hate traditional 
material components 

d20 What Type of Wizard is This One?

1-2 Standard Components
3-5 Narcotics
6-7 Sacrifice Health
8-9 Sacrifice Vitality
10-11 Sacrifice Blood
12 Sacrifice Life

Some magic items might make all this easier too.
Pouch that provides for one spell or find a dozen components for a fireball casting in packets or pouches with that spell book. A spell to cast lower spells without components or higher level more subtle spells like a 2nd lv charm that takes a wink.

Your suggestions on this appreciated.


  1. The sacrifice ideas could use a little polish. In the White Wolf systems (mage, vampire) living things generate quintessential energy, drawing that out of blood is what powers vampires. Life circle mages can manipulate it to nefarious ends.

    if the RIFTS magic system all magic and psychic powers derive from the same core source, the "potential psychic energy" released on death, or the applied version of that "internal spirit points" so the really powerful magic can use the release of ppe in a sacrifice to fuel the spells.

    Some core mechanic akin to those two might be good.

    Working up to a frenzied psyche, like a houdoun entering a trance to get mounted by a loa would be a nice addition to the list as well. The skill checks for abjure you have could represent their inner ability to go into the spell frenzy state quickly. It would be a good way to emphasize the unnerving weirdness that drives that stare or voice.

  2. As I said It isnt well resolved yet

    I dont want any single magical fuel or principle - it isnt like any traditional occult and more like science, cause and effect, too modern and gamey. Id rather it makes no sense and not consistent. Its not psychic period even if magic does stuff like telepathy. Rational systems cant do things like sympathetic magic very well.

    Id rather clerics or shamen operate from spirits, what you describe is more or less how my shamen work. My wizards more domineering with lesser beings or make pacts with greater ones.

    I will do whole bunch of research practices for wizards too based on Eibon stories - involving travel, communing with dead wizards, looting them and magically repairing books turned to dust, speaking to ultratellurian alien wizards or spying on them with spells.

  3. Steven Hassan from FB:

    I love the idea if done correctly ... In a Hyperborean setting " there is no good arcane magic " the horrible way is the normal way, sacrificing parts of yourself and others is the ONLY way there is no " rare flowers , a gem and some bat poo " and you have yourselfs a fireball in such a setting. That's why wizards/sorcery is hated and rare it's not because of the spooky light show when casting spells it's because a community will straight up murder you if your a baby sacrificing psychopath rather than let you live next door to them.
    The only exception for magic not being evil in this setting is divine magic from a good aligned God or Goddess.

    Of course a baby might barley had a HD or 1HP but are very portable sentient and virgins so could power a fireball. Well done Steve

  4. i dont mind some new school wizards and players not being as horrible but most cannot be bothered and a thousand years of black wizard rule following a age in prehumanoid evil magicians has made the nasty way more common and tempting

  5. Black Wizardry IS Wizardry with a few exceptions; as stated above, those exceptions would be largely rooted in Divine Magic. It just seems that if a character is predisposed to engage in the Sorcerous Arts, then they are going to be all-in it comes to the vile ways in which those endeavors are accomplished.

    1. well talking to demons and gods and joining a cult isnt necessarily divine magic and im more interested in clark ashton smith tropes than traditional dnd tropes.


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