Thursday, February 17, 2011

That Old Black Magic...

Yet another exerpt from my developing background for The Mighty Sons of Risus! campaign. I was attempting to provide some information on Greek magic, without coming up with some cumbersome rules (Risus doesn't really do cumbersome rules).  I'm not really sure how useful these guidelines would be, so I would welcome some commets and suggestions.


            While magic in The Mighty Sons of RISUS! is basically just a matter of rolling dice, the following information is intended to flesh out the differences between different styles of magic, for the benefit of the player. 

RITUAL MAGIC: Sorcery and Elementalism
The two types of ritual or ceremonial magic in MSoR! are Sorcery and Elementalism. Both require the same general components: a ceremony of some length, ritual items appropriate to the ceremony, a verbal component (possibly including song), and appropriate gestures and motions. As the magician becomes more experienced and powerful, some or all of these components may be abbreviated or done away with.

This is the kind of magic practiced by magicians like Circe and Medea all the way down to rural hedge witches.  Though it is sometimes used for the benefit of others, many sorceresses are feared and persecuted until their powers are needed. For this reason, many of them conceal their abilities or live alone in the wilderness (even Circe dwelt alone on her private island). Because sorceresses deal with powerful underworld beings, they worship deities like Hermes and Hecate as patrons.

Sorcery is a catch-all term for a number of different magics, some of which overlap, and mostly practiced by women.  They often specialize in one or another category, so they might be known as a necromancer, conjurer, witch, enchantress, charmer, etc.  Here is a brief but non-exclusive list of the most common types of sorcery:
·        Necromancy: this is the most loathed and shunned use of sorcery.  It is often used to communicate with the dead to learn secret knowledge, to exorcise the dead from a haunted place or victim of possession, etc.
·        Binding and Compulsion: Compelling the living to obey your will. Often used to keep people from acting against you (such as testifying against you), as a curse, to make the victim believe something which isn’t true, or even as a kind of love magic (a particularly common request). Often, the victim doesn’t even realize that he or she has been ensorcelled. The most extreme form of this type of magic is the Evil Eye, by which the sorceress can inflict pain, madness, or even death.
·        Pharmakia: Knowledge of the magical properties of herbs and other substances, used to create potions, antidotes, cures, poisons, hallucinogens, etc..  That which can be used to heal may often be used to harm, so pharmakoi were as often feared as they were sought after.
·        Conjuration: This is more like summoning a djinn than summoning a physical being. There were numerous spirits and demons available from the Underworld.
·        Metamorphosis: The ability to change from one form into another. Witches are famous for using this ability to change into the form of a bird; Circe, who changed Odysseus’ men into swine, is another. Those shapeshifters who can naturally assume more than one form are not considered sorcerers.
·        Counter-magic: This is magic employed to protect against the effects of harmful magic, or to dispel the effects of such magic once they have taken effect.

            Tools and Techniques: Sorcery is usually not an instantaneous form of magic; it takes preparation to be effective, which usually takes time.  The following are some tools and techniques which may be employed at the discretion of the sorcerer; not every spell cast needs to have all of the following elements.
·        Magical preparations, including herbs, ointments, oils, etc., often introduced into the food of the victim, rubbed onto the skin, etc.
·        Magical devices, such as wax dolls, which must be impregnated with something associated with the victim (hair or nail clippings, sweat, blood, urine, feces, etc.).
·        Props such as the iunx (a disk of wood, ivory, or some similar substance, twirled on a loop of cord, making an eerie noise), instruments such as flutes, leaden tablets inscribed with curses, the thighbone of a dead man carved into a wand.
·        Preparation during special times, such as holidays, the hours of twilight, dawn, dusk, noon, midnight, etc.
·        Placing the item in a special place that the victim must come close to (under the doorstep of the victim's house, under the victim’s mattress or floorboards) or put where the powers of the Underworld will find it (buried in a new grave, dropped into a deep hole or well, left in a cave, etc.), where it cannot be found or disturbed by others.
·        Spoken or written words, including the names of foreign gods and famous sorcerers, and instructions (“May Testicles of Thrace be plagued by boils and wind so that he may not be attractive to my love, Cleone, daughter of Aristos”)
·        Words and images engraved upon a gem or metal tablet (more permanent), or sometimes just written on papyrus (less permanent)
·        Amulets or talismans prepared like many of the above, primarily for defensive purposes
·        Driving a nail through a wax doll, curse tablet, etc., often emphasizes the destructive nature of the magic.
·        When speed is of the essence, some sorceresses will make a promise to some underworld power (dead person, Hecate, Persephone, etc.), which they had better fulfill.  Typical promises might involve sacrifices (sometimes human), blood, or a malicious act in the name of the power invoked.

            Professions particularly associated with sorcery:
·        Midwives: helping to conceive and carry children to term, to deliver safely, and to avoid unwanted pregnancies
·        Prostitutes: to avoid unwanted pregnancies and to attract customers
·        Immortal demigoddesses living in solitude on an island in the middle of the sea.
·        Country women: being out in the country, there’s no telling what superstitious mischief they get up to
·        Foreigners: being from other lands with strange ways, that makes them even more likely to be sorcerors than country women

Hermes and Hecate are regarded as patrons of Sorcery. Persephone, as Queen of the Underworld, is often invoked for spells involving death and the Underworld. Hades is only invoked under particularly dire circumstances, often to the regret of the invoker.

A Philosophy-based branch of magic based upon the manipulation of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and their properties (hot, cold, wet, and dry) by means of their  corresponcences (see the table below). Elementalism is similar in many ways to traditional alchemy.
The popular notion of a magician who can cast fireballs from his palm, draw rain from a cloudless sky, form the earth itself into a wall, or scatter an army with a hurricane are somewhat (but not entirely) exaggerated. 



Hot and Dry, Light and Active
Cold and Moist, Heavy and Passive
Hot and moist, light and active
Cold and dry, heavy and passive
Brass, gold, iron, steel
Copper, silver
Aluminum, mercury, tin
Lead, mercury
Yellow bile
Black bile
Gall bladder
Easily angered, bad tempered
Calm, unemotional
Courageous, hopeful, amorous
Despondent, sleepless, irritable
Type of Magic
Sex, healing
Fertility, purification, healing, divination, dream
Finding lost or stolen objects, magic of the four winds, visualizations, divination
Fertility, tree magic, herbal lore, prosperity,
Zodiacal Signs
Ares, Leo, Sagittarius
Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Hour of Day
Symbolic Creatures
Lion, fire-breathing dragon, horses
Scorpion, serpent, snake, dolphin, dragon (serpent), all water creatures
Eagle, hawk, butterfly
Bull, sphinx, stag
Fire, sun, stars, volcanoes, candle flame, hearthfire
Waterfalls, all bodies of water, rain, fog, lakes
Sky, wind, clouds, incense
Mountains, caves, gems, fields, rocks
Symbolic Plants
Nettle, red poppies, garlic, onion
All water plants, ferns, lotus, moss
Aspen, mistletoe
Red poppies, thrift plant, ivy, grains

Mystic songs and poetry affecting the emotions of those who listen to the music. Orphics study the songs and poems of those who have gone before them, and gradually learn to compose their own songs.  The greatest orphics can affect beasts, trees, even rocks and rivers! They do not have control over these things, but can sway them to act in friendship, sorrow, or anger. Many Orphics also study the Numerist philosophy due to the mathematical basis of music. Musical instruments and songs are the tools of their trade.a

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