Monday, September 30, 2019

Flim Flam Wizardy and the Figmentalist

As I write and research old grimoires, I think about magic users, wizards, witch doctors... who in the real word were often deluded or charlatans, while in the fiction of RPG worlds, were powerful wielders of arcane might.

… or where they?  Well some clearly were legitimate wizards and sorcerers, but I think a fair amount of magic "users" in RPGs were people who used a bit, or a lot, of chicanery, props and trickery to pretend to wield magical power.  These figures sometimes became so good at their games - and picked up bits and pieces of real magic along the way - that they became almost as good as the real thing.  Fake it till you make it.

I've always been intrigued by these characters.  The archmage of Ras Bolon is actually a fighter with the magical adept and ritual magic feat (5e system), but despite this he has cowed a level 9 necromancer into leaving him alone - not worth the risk of a confrontation.  I haven't published others, but several of my others NPCs over the years have been like this, many whom have fooled the world - and sometimes the PCs - into thinking they were more than what they were.

I'm not the only person who's thought about this. It's often been claimed that all Gandalf accomplished could have been done by a level 5 wizard.  Not to be outdone, it has been claimed that Gandalf was actually a highly intelligent fighter, reasonably convincingly so I may add (I may be biased because this parallels my own creation - but the fact that 2 people came up with the same idea independently is telling).

So how would such a flim-flam wizard present themselves?  How would it work?  Well first let's think about the "fiction" and then about the rules.

First, how do they *look*?  I think there are going to be two trends here.  First there is outrageous eccentricity (see this glorious image, and really take the time to take in all the details) to convince others that you REALLY are a wizard.  Look at all those runes!  Those funny colored smokes!  The outlandish outfits!  It *has* to be a sorcerer or something right?  On the other hands, others will do their best to appear as a respectable scholar who may wield terrible power.  This is usually done by flim-flam wizards who can afford not to be taken for a wizard at all time because they have something else going for them: either independent wealth and/or they actually are scholars.

We also have to consider the placebo effect, faith, deception and delusion.  People often think a placebo is fake, but this's more nuanced than that - a placebo is a fake medicine that provides a *real* result.  And depending on the illness/condition, placeboes are effective roughly 25% of the time.  Would you rather see a doctor who tells you "well, you're done.  Just lie down and die already" or one who will chant and sprinkle you with spirit water and *might* cure you?  The patient's faith in the doctor and the doctor's own belief in their cure - or their capacity to lie about it - is critical in making the placebo work.  For non-medical effects, delusion and suggestion are powerful tools to make a simple trick appear wondrous - sleight of hand, cleverness and a glib tongue will carry you far.

Actual know-how is another factor.  A flim-flam wizard may know one or several techniques that, while not magical, actually work.  The Petit Albert has a number of these (perfumes, acids, baits for fish...), and this excellent blog entry lists medieval scientific innovation from the Islamic world that must have seen like magic.  Alchemy had a lot of mumbo-jumbo going on, but a skilled alchemist could make real acid!  Greek fire, who's exact recipe has been lost, was devastating.   Knowledge about magic itself could be all over the place - from deep scholarly studies to a complete web of lies and/or superstitions.

Of course a flim flam wizard would want to augment their repertoire with actual magic if they could.  Magical items would be a great way to do this - potions, scrolls, wands, dusts... Xanathar's Guide has a lot of common, cheap but impressive items, and my previous entry has tables of minor magical items they could use.   If they are lucky, they might find something actually potent.  You stole a Staff of the Magi and figured out to make it work?  Heck you're 50% of the way to being a real wizard based on that alone!  A crystal ball makes you a seer.

Some flim flam wizards actually managed, to a degree, to cast *some* spells and can manage a few cantrips or minor spells.  5e does this very well with the magical adept feat.  There may also be some "idiot savant" types of casters - they can't manage the simplest spells BUT for some reason they can cast one or two big one like a master - like fireball, or teleport.

Some casters - flim flam or otherwise, operate mostly through the use of magical beings - they can't do magic, but they can control/summon creatures that *can*.  A lot of grimoires rely on this - of course a human can't do X Y Z but if you call upon this specific saint/spirit/devil they will lend you their aid and tada, magic!  My mom would pray to Saint-Antoine to find lost objects.  A flim-flam wizard who's really into smoke and mirrors will summon a "demon" (a disguised assistant) to impress the audience... but they may have acquired the services of a real supernatural creature?  

So how do we turn this into rules we can use in play?   Well for NPCs it's easy.  Do *whatever you want*.  You're the GM, your NPC can be however you desire.  Don't waste your precious time making sure they follow the rules, just eyeball it.   Need to make one in a hurry?  This great post has a good generator

For PCs it's much more difficult, especially if you want to make this not a "side show" of your fighter, rogue etc, but the actual core of the character...  I would say as a guideline, a flim flam wizard needs more skills and more hp than an actual wizard, to pull off the shenanigans and to make up for the lack of actual spell.  In 5e the rogue chassis might be a starting point?  But in 5e I think the artificer would be best - you could simply reskin it, or use it as a guide for the mixture of skill, utility and power level.  Finally I'll note that really, a 5e warlock is nothing more than a flim flam wizard that found a good, but demanding and sinister, patron woah things are getting intense!   So whatever the exact decision - and I 'll definitely have to take a crack at this class later -  the GM and the player will need to talk it out, test things and see how it works out.  Flim Flamery is not the path to awesome power, but shenanigans, fun and sometimes surprising utility.  The villain gloating in his anti magic field will sure be surprised when you "fireball" him with a fat flask of greek fire or a jar filled with bees!

In other system it can be a challenge (the pathfinder's alchemist *might* do).  In the GLOG, where class making is easy and balance just a vague approximation, it's easier, and as a result there are already a number of pseudo casters kicking around.  I will give you now another one, based on the Yoon Suin setting:


It is well know that the hallucinations of opium users sometimes congeal into a real-ish form known as figments, and that these solid spirits can be enslaved by wizards who know the proper rituals.  A figmentalist is a spellcaster who's only talent is the enslaving and usage of such creatures.  This "wizard" has no true magical skills - the figments do the work.  It is hotly debated amongst Yoon Suin society if a figmentalist "counts" as a wizard, i.e. should they received the life extending yellow tea.  They certainly are considered to be somewhat... crass.  Human figmentalists are not troubled by such polemics and are happy to ply their trade.  (the stats for the figment are in the Yoon Suin Book, I will translate them to a GLOG equivalent).

For each level of Figmentalist the number of figment you can control and summon at one time increases by 1, up to a maximum of 4 at level 4.

A: Figmentalism
B: Fraternisation, magic sacrifice
C: Bronze Collar,  blood sacrifice
D: greater figment, master of figments

Figmentalism:  The knowledge on how to summon figments and bind them to you.  The level of figment in a given area is dependent on the opium usage and population level - in a large city or a metropolis 2d6 minutes in a secluded area is sufficient.  A town or large village might take 1d4 hours, and a thinly populated area may require the figmentalist to generate the figment himself by going on an opium bender.  A figmentalist can only summon figments once a day.  A figment that isn't liked can be dismissed at will (it does not disappears, it runs off, which may matter) and replaced if no figments have been summoned that day.

Figment:  An imp-like figure of short stature, vaguely devilish features and oddly colored skin (purple being frequent).  Stats 7 in everything.  HP 3, AC 10, 1d4 damage (bite).  50% chance of being able to fly.

A figment also has one MD and knows one random spell (see list below).  A figment lives 3D6 days, or 1d6 hours after losing their MD.  They know their lives are short and are perfectly ok with this, but while not cowardly, they will attempt to preserve said short life if convenient.  They will perform tasks to the best of their abilities, with a slight penchant for laziness and mischief.  Eating figments is a bad idea as their substance eventually vanishes, which could have negative effects on the consumer.  Also, they taste like playdough.

Fraternization:  Have a figment who has an MD transfer it on one who has none.

Magic Sacrifice:  Sacrifice a minor magical item to summon a single figment.  This can bypass the one figment a day rule.  Some say a wizard's tooth can also be used.

Bronze Collar:  By inscribing special runes on a bronze collar and putting it on a figment, the figment's attachment to reality is strengthened.  This process takes a full day. The figment no longer vanishes after a while, and regains its MD after a long rest.  Its stats increase to 9 in everything, its HP increase to 6, AC to 12, damage to 1d6.  It is more loyal and capable.  The spell known and its ability/inability to fly does not change however.  Only one figment may be enhanced such at a time, and it will usually demand a name, or come up with one for themselves.  Figments are devastated if their collars are removed, as they have grown used to existing.

Blood Sacrifice.  By sacrificing a figment and eating its heart, 1d4 hp can be regained.  alternatively, by eating its brain, a strong opium-like effect will be experienced.  This tends to unnerve the other figments.

Greater Figment.  Your collared figment improves in potency.  It now hits/saves as a 3HD creature, its AC increases to 13, stats are at 10, HP is now 9.  It learns a second spell, randomly selected, and retains its MD on 1-5 on the 1d6 roll.  The collared figment has to have been collared for a full day before this takes effects.  The figment will now eat a ration a day, and probably want some clothes.  It can carry up to 5 items for you and use simple tools.

Master of figments:  Figments encountered in the wild are liable to recognise your authority and will be very reluctant to attack you. - you can convince them to do minor tasks for you.  If your figment contingent is not full, you can fill your allotment.  It is said that the Old City surrounding the Yellow City has numerous figments roaming around.

Spells (1d12)
1. Blink
2. Darkness 10’ radius
3. Magic Missile
4. Cause Fear
5. Dancing Lights
6. Stinking Cloud
7. Colour Spray
8. Create Mist
9. Invisibility
10. Blind
11. Grease
12. Stone to Mud

Equipment:   Flashy but cheap silk robe, large "mystical" amulet, a dagger, a bottle of cheap spirits. 

1: apprentice:  can read and write, detect magic
2: charlatant:  advantage on deception checks
3: diletant  : advantage on knowledge checks 

Design note:  This is clearly weaker than a wizard in magical power, but it does give you cannon fodder and people to boss around.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tomb of the serpent King, Session 5: Town and Basilisk

In late July, I ran the 5th session of the the Tomb of the Serpent Kings by Skerples. Sessions one , two three and four can be found by clicking on the links.

4 players showed up this time, unfortunately Twitch's player could not make it:

Elrond, a Low Elf knight and historian. I informed the player that low elves are still much better than humans, and he proceeded to roll better stats than anyone else

Smartas, the human Illusionist. Has a fear of cheese. The new player, sarcastic but momentarily out of inspiration, came up with this fetching name. We grabbed random miniatures and hers was much bigger than the others so it was agreed that this was an unfortunate residual illusion that had never left her, and she appeared to be 7 feet tall. Also has the most HP in the party.

Gildorf the dwarven Summoner. The leader of the newcomers. Here to kill goblin. (player used to be Argus). Not the best entities but good hp at least.

Sabriel the Elven Necromancer. Another new player, still very excited to explode corpses. 

Critically short of supplies, the group arrived in the village of Borgenhoff hungry, purchased a few more rations, and traveled to the city of Elderstone to sell their fat loot. Twitch excused himself, having ... things.... he needed to deal with. No one was sure if he was telling the truth or just taking his share of the money (93 gold was not inconsequential) and running. The party wasn't quite sure how the total added up to 93, but decided to ignore it (I had calculated 93 gold, but I couldn't make the math work... unless there was one more player. I decided that the gnome Min, stuck in his invisible state, somehow got a share of the gold! the player might come back next session).   Every morning, Smartass's enchanted finger (that was now a snake-like weapon) tried to bite her, to her growing frustration.

In Elderstone the loot was sold (Twich did that, but the player being absent we handwaved the details it away). Smartas was delighted to learn that Elderstone had an office (not a full college) of the College of Illusion, but far less happy to learn she owed an enormous sum in student fees (the player forgot.  While this is a funny aspect of the GLOG, it may be less funny for people with actual studen loans?).  She grudgingly forked over 70 gp and used some of the remaining money to buy a high quality mirror.

After buying better armor (Elrond sporting Brigandine now) and equipment, the party still had a few more esoteric items to sell, and were interested in acquiring enchanted equipment for themselves. Gildorf knew of someone - Lurm the Enchanter, in the Golden Field district. Gildorf had done him a favor or two - not enough to get free stuff, oh no no, but at least enough to get in the store and talk shop honestly.

Lurm was not able to identify the small snake statue - it was clearly a broken piece of an entire whole. Elrond traded it, along with 15 gold, for Lurm to enchant his sword - Lurm assured him that while it wouldn't be the work of legend, the knight would be satisfied. The party also sold the Enchanter 2 of the 3 warming eggs for 5 gp each, electing to keep one for themselves. Lurm wasn't willing to pay much for these "clearly limited" items, but he was sure he would find a buyer for the eggs sooner or later.

During conversation about spell acquisition, Sabriel more or less blurted out that she was a necromancer, and Lurm pretended not to understand her meaning - but he flashed a warning glance at Gildorf. He then said he only dealt in proper, legal magic, not things that would lead one to be condemned by the Church and burned at the stake, oh no. The elven wizard, chastised, found a spell she just *had* to have, and forked over 30 gold for a roaring flame spell. Gildorf asked Lurm if he had found any... special... spells. Lurm said he had not, unfortunately, but that perhaps Gildorf could use this bargain wand to his advantage, one that briefly summoned the mysterious entity known as "Dave" and made him sing. Gildorf gladly paid 5 gold for it. Lurm instructed the party to come back in 2 days to pick up the sword.

Having acquired a small fortune and spent a fair chunk of it, the party pondered how to make more money. Gildorf speculated on how money could be saved by herding chickens as rations. He also reminded the others that he had a contact in town that would pay him 100 gp for eliminating the goblins, although he didn't seem very hopeful that the gold would materialized. Sabriel, not impressed by this, wondered how much would a dead Basilisk fetch. This lead to the even more enticing question: how much would a *live* basilisk be worth?

The party pondered how accomplish this. Perhaps the basilisk would be defeated or cowed with the help of a more powerful monster, such as a phoenix. However, no one knew how or where to get a phoenix - it's not on the price list! Inquiries on the topic were unsuccessful, although rumors of a sailing expedition to China were discovered (… I have no memory what this was about).

They decided to try to find scholars who might knew something on the topic of basilisks themselves.  The party was directed to the Round Church in White Wall (a district paved with *skulls* and filled with pestering children) to see a knowledgeable monk, brother Cadfael. Brother Cadfael gave them some rather useful information on the basic biology of the Basilisk (I rolled to see how much he knew, and the dice were kind), and also warned them of the perilous curse that could befall them should they kill it. Although there was some disagreement as to the details, the ancient tomes were unanimous: the Basilisk's slayers always came to a bad end.

After picking up Eldron's sword, the party headed back to the tomb. In Borgenhoff, they purchased 5 sheep and hired a peasant to assist in their endeavor: the shepherd Margery, who was stoic, sleepy due to the incessant hooting of owls, and who smelled of ice-cold water - clear henchmen material if I've ever seen it.

They returned to the Tomb. Smartass, to save on torches, used her Mirror Object to duplicate one. Because of her new nice mirror, the fake torch was much better quality than the ones she had created previously. The tomb was the same as they had left it but... not. There was a strange smell in the air, and high pitched voices could be heard occasionally in the distance. Margery seemed surprisingly unconcerned about driving sheep in a goblin-infested dungeon to feed a basilisk, and helped the party lower them beyond the secret door.

They carefully made their way to the basilisk, and with their hench-peasant's assistance, drove two sheep towards the basilisk, who made quick work of them. Gildorf, summoning his courage, stepped forward and noted that the basilisk was smelling the air, but was intentionally avoiding direct eye contact. They finally got a good look at the beast - it was chained to the ceiling and wearing a bronze collar and wearing a metallic visor. Gildorf came closer and gingerly petted the beast, who seemed to liked it. Gildorf petted with more vigor (this is not a delicate kitten) and the beast indicated that it wanted the collar removed. Gildorf could see that the visors were adjustable, but he couldn't figure out how to operate them. He also saw that, attached to the basilisk's collar, was a large, complex iron key...

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The best OSR tables

There are a lot of great OSR blogs out there, and it can be tremendeously useful.  GMing takes time, and there is nothing wrong in using the work of others to help things along - that's why these blogs exist!  But this information is scattered over the web, and can be hard to re-find.

So mostly for myself but also you my few readers, I'm going to make an index of great tables and generators I've found over the years. This post will be a "living document" - I will add to it as I find new things :)   At the moment this is very "Skerples heavy" (I'm a fan) but I hope that I can find/add more from other authors.  I *know* I'm forgetting some important ones, which I think demonstrates the need for such an entry.

What are these goblins doing?
Never again will goblins be boring.

Goblin names

Why are you alone in this dungeon?
So your PC died and the party is in the middle of a dungeon.  Should you wait till the end of the session to play again?  Hell no.  The party runs into your new character in the next room!  But why are you here?  Roll on the handy table to find out.  (btw, this is a good argument for quick PC generator).

Interesting hallways 

Dungeon Merchants

Interesting architectural features 

Cool city/town leaders

Peasants and Nobles

Sooo flavorful!

City Features
Encounters, mapping, jobs, guilds and more!

City Generator
This is a must-read.

History generator 

City bazar
What does this town/city sell in particular?

Village generator

Fantasy map generator

Starship map generator
(hey, you never know when you need a starship in a fantasy game!)

job/occupation tables
Basically this page, but specifically for jobs/occupations

minor magical items
So flavorful.  Pathfinder could learn from this!

More flavorful magical items
From Bastionland

+1.5 magical weapons
Far more interesting than plain +1.

1d12 flaming swords
very, very creative, totally usable.

Magical items of the North and the Old Empire

Favorite GNOMCO products
... it's note quite a table, but there are many gems in here

Magical gemstones
Horrifically made by evil gnomes

Bargain Bin Spells
Worth a look for the entertainment alone.  Good Troika material too.

Garbage potion generator
It's a gambling game too!

Dubious Wizard Generator

100 Proper Spells

99 entities you can summon 
It's for the excellent GLOG summoner class, but I'm sure there are other use for these in your campaign.

God Generator

Magical Powers

Wild surges and other magical mishaps

(scroll down to see them)

More curses and spooky omens

Missions for sell-swords
You can build an entire campaign from this one table

Problems you can't fix with a sword
Some of these are more of a "room" than an adventure, but great stuff.  Some definitely would work with Troika!

100 items to solve problems 

100 misfortunes on the road   (From UVG!)

Biological mutations and supernatural mutations  and more mutations 

Distant Land Generator 

Deep Sea Encounters
A wondrous mixture of research and fantasy.

Lastly... just look up Yoon Suin.  It's 30% tables and several of them are excellent.  Drugs?  Gods?  Poisons?  Merchant treasure?  Who rules a city state, what resources do they have, what's wrong with the place?   All that and more!

Edit:  Not really a table, but great lists of blogs

450 blogs with descriptions! :O

Who's who in the Glogosphere

Friday, September 20, 2019

Yoon Suin and Troika!

I've recently discovered the gaming system Troika! .  It's based on those old "choose your own adventure" fighting fantasy books, and while I'm probably biased and I will have to write a full review, let's just say it's awesome.  It's very straightforward (you can learn the rules in 5 minutes, and also make a character in 2-5 minutes), evocative and fun.

What I find striking is how flexible the system is - you don't have classes, you have "backgrounds" (a lot like careers in Warhammer), and you can easily write new backgrounds for your campaign/setting.  For example, with a day or two of work, you could convert all the Warhammer careers into backgrounds and play Warhammer using Troika!   I would argue that it would work just as well, perhaps even better than the original rules - you might have to add a rule or two re insanity, or fate points, and slow down healing, but that's not too hard is it?

So, how would this work for Yoon-Suin?  Well I've been running a 5e game with Yoon-Suin for 2 years now, and I've been *thinking* about a GLOG Yoon-Suin game too.  5e works well, but it results in a bit of a "power Yoon-Suin" experience.  My PCs are level 8 now, and they have access to potent magic and are kicking ass.  It felt like the GLOG (or maybe B/x) would have a more toned down, grubbier, magic is unreliable feeling.  Troika! on the other hand would also be more toned down but also more … psychedelic.   And shouldn't that tell you which system is the best?

So back to backgrounds and Yoon-Suin.  After looking at them, I found that even though they are designed for a different setting entirely, the majority of them work quite well for Yoon Suin (out of 36, maybe half a dozen don't work at all).   Intriguingly, some of the ideas/setting elements in those backgrounds really fit well into the setting.  For example

- Dwarves are not biological living creatures - they are crafted by other dwarves.  This is why Dwarves are not trusted - they are outside the wheel of reincarnation, and thus evade retribution for their misdeed.  Each clan of dwarves made each other, and it's why they have their own language.  The dwarves are in decline because of the increase of Poorly Made Dwarves (that's a background!), who are warlike but lack any crafting ability (ie are "sterile").  This, incidentally, is a subtle dig at the typical "warrior dwarf" PC that doesn't respect the dwarven craftmenship ethos.  I would suspect that slugmen learned some of their Golemology mastery by dissecting dwarves - it is something they would do, is it not?  (tangent:  check this out to see that idea explored in full).

The dwarves are also genderless/sexless (they don't reproduce right?) so I feel it provides a nice contrast to the hermaphroditic slugmen.

- There is a background who is essentially is a cult that worships bonds, flies and toads.  Pissing in the pond is a holy act.  This... totally fits in Yoon Suin.

-  There are a few "scholar adventurer" backgrounds that are informative, like the Mathmologist.  Mathmology sounds like a worthwhile field of study for a slugman

- Members of Miss Kinsey's Dining club.  Slugmen can eat almost anything and have refined taste... and are bored.  Some will pay large sum for exotic ingredients...

- The Rhino-Man, an other "created" race.  I don't think it really adds to the setting, but it wouldn't detract either.  I can see these burly mercenaries active in the Hundred Kingdoms.

- Temple Knight of Telak, the SwordBringer.  This fits remarkably well with the Bull of Battle.  The curved swords are symbols of his Divine Horns. The background gains a bonus to armor based on how many swords are carried (a blessing of the Bull of Battle).  They are vigilantly waiting for the end of the world - and what would that end be but the Rise of the Krakens?

- Thinking Engine.  This is easily re-skinned to a clockwork golem, but it introduces the notion that some clockwork golems have gone rogue - whatever magical item or incantation that controlled them is long lost.  Now they act independently.  As the power level of clockwork golems varies a lot, some of them are suitable player character

- Giant of Corda:  this doesn't really fit, but there are elements that echoes the Ogre-mage.  Using Troika, a "weak" ogre-mage would totally be a playable character

- Yongardy lawer.  Trial by combat is not a practice in the Yellow City... but it is in Occidentalia, and it could be in strange lands beyond Xian as well.

The monsters have a few gems too.  In general, several of the monsters just... fit so well in the Yoon Suin ethos.  They don't change the setting in any way, just add to the flavor.  For example, the manticore kidnaps people to be its servants.  If hired to rescue a kidnap person, wise rescuers would bring many books, as the manticore love having his servants read to him, and their isolation make finding new literature challenging.  You can just drop this in.  Undead dwarves are, fittingly, *unfinished* dwarves.

So in conclusion, with a little bit of work, Troika! would work splendidly as a Yoon Suin system.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Petit Albert, initial thoughts on gamifying

I'm going to take a break from translation to think about how we can use these spells in an RPG game.

The spells in the Petit Albert can be roughly divided in four groups, not based on the effect, but rather on the process/result of the spells.

The first are incantations - say a few magical words and presto, magic!  This is tremendeously useful for the adventuring magic user as it's the kind of spell that can be "cast in a round".  Unfortunately, these spells are rare.

The second are "talisman" based magic - following complex enchantments and preparation, the magic user creates a talisman - an amulet, a staff, a ring - that confers benefits on the user.  These often would be bonuses on certain checks (gambling for example) or might even affect the random encounter results (keeping brigands at bay).  This is very useful for the adventuring magic user too, but the effects often tend to be subtle, not spectacular.

The third are rituals - you do a series of steps, use certain ingredients, and something happens.  The bird catching spell is a good example of this.  The main difference from incantations is the amount of *time* involved.  They can be tremendeously useful, but they can't be used in combat.

The last are "consumables" - I want to call this alchemy, but some of the rituals and talismans clearly have alchemy involved too, so I don't quite have the proper term for this yet.  This is a bit like a ritual, but at the end instead of having a magical effect, you obtain a magical thing - an elixir, a magical candle etc. - that you can use later.  This item can only be used once, or a limited number of time, but the usage tends to be a lot quicker to deploy than the rituals, making their use in combat more applicable.

I'm not sure how this should be balanced incidentally - item/consumable based casters are difficult to balance without making serious stylistic sacrifices.

Speaking of balance, the limitation of this magic user means that the character shouldn't be "crippled" by very limited stats (1d4 hp etc).  The character should be able to do things besides casting.  The GLOG, incidentally, does this well.  Most characters (with the exceptions of the martial specialists like the fighter or barbarian) fight about as equally well, meaning they can all contribute in a fight even if magic isn't available.  Our magic user might have a brace of pistols, an enchanted sword or a good stout stick.

I'm not sure if I should have these spells be leveled, or level-less.  My gut says the later, and again this is something that the GLOG does well.

Lastly, I'll note that a lot of the spells are not "battle" spells.  The Petit Albert and other grimoires make it clear that the magic user's concerns were not focused on battle and war, but on solving all sorts of problems and challenges.   This makes the time constraints of the spell casting less problematic.  When I start "gamifying" the spells themselves, of course I will pick pells that are useful for an adventuring magic user, but I'll have to cast a wide net.  Could an adventurer use a fishing spell?  Maybe!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Petit Albert Spells - Booze, Birds and Fish - requested translations

Publishing the entire list was a good move, and the fishing spells proved remarkably popular on the OSR Reddit page. Perhaps fishermen are a superstitious lot? Or perhaps they play B/X, I don't know, but I do aim to please!

To enrich yourself by fishing

You will assemble an infinity of fishes in a place where you can easily catch them, if you throw there the following composition. Take ox blood, blood of a black goat, sheep blood from the small intestines, thyme, oregano, flour, marjoram, garlic, wine lees, as well as fat or marrow of the same animals; you will crush all these ingredients together and you will make little balls that you will then thrown in the spot in the river or pond, and you will see wonders.

... it's almost like a stew recipe... do you really need to fish if you have those ingredients? It's an overly complicated bait really.  Wait a minute, this what you readers wanted all along!  Those fishermen sure are cunning!

Other spell on the same topic

To catch great number of crawfish, when you have discovered the area where  they live, you will put there traps in which you have put pieces of goat guts, or a few skinned frogs, and by this mean you will attract a prodigious number of the largest crayfish.

.... this isn't a spell at all!!!  but not all hope is lost:

Other spell on the same topic

To make fish assemble at a spot in the sea, you will take 3 shells of those that grow on rocks (Barnacles? Mussels attached on rocks?); and having removed the fish (flesh) found inside, you will write on these shells with your own blood, the following two words, JA SA­BAOTH; and having thrown these shells in the spot where you want the fish to assemble, you will see in no time an infinite number (of fish).

Now *that* is a spell. Mystical words written in blood, yes, very good. I just hope the cut doesn't get infected.

Now on bird catching spell - I sense a food theme to the requests here. Most of the "spells" on catching birds are essentially clever traps or ways to poison them (one is basically a bait with alcohol) so I won't bother translating them, but this one is too good to pass up:

To catch a large number of birds

With an owl that you will tie to a tree at night in a forest or copse of trees, and you will light near him a large candle that sheds a lot of light; then, two or three people will make noise around the tree with drums, the birds will come in large numbers to perch near the owl so to make war to him, and it will be easy to kill as many as one would want with small lead (birdshot) .

… to make war to him.  The author is a mediocre writer, and yet he has moments of brilliance (the French wording used is "pour lui faire la guerre").  The entire thing is hilarious.  You need drummers, an owl (from the owl store?  there is no owl-catching spell in the book), be careful not to set the forest on fire or have the owl claw your face out, have several muskets loaded at the ready (don't hit the owl!)… I love it.

There was also a lot of interet in alcohol based spells.  People wondered if they were actual spells or merely recipes.  Let's find out!

To make Hyppocras in a short time so that it is excellent

For four pints of wine, you will prepare the following drugs, a pound of good fine sugar, two ounces of good cinnamon coarsely ground, an ounce of grains of paradise, an ounce of cardamom, two grains of the finest ambergris, crushed in a mortar with rock candy; you will make of all these drugs a clear syrup, which you will purify by filtering 2-3 times in an etamine cloth, and you will mix this syrup with four pints of excellent wine, and you will have the best hypocras that one could drink.

This seems like a pretty legit recipe, but it's not a spell.   Next is the "medical grade" alcohol

For the ardent water, which serves for an infinity of grand operations

You will take a strong old wine, strong in color and violent, and in two pints you will make an infusion of a chunk of good quicklime, about half a pound of it, forty ounce of sulfur, as much of good tartar from Montpellier, as much of common salt; and all this being crushed and mixed together in a an good alembic, you will distill under low heat up to three times you ardent water, which you will preserve, for your usage, in a bowl of strong glass.  Some people content themselves to distil serpentinite infused in wine and quicklime.

Ooof.  Mixing quicklime, tartar (most probably cream of tartar) and sulfur must have some interesting effects.  I would have to do some calculations to figure how the chemical equation balances out... but why bother, the distillation will isolate the alcohol from all that.  But perhaps some magical "essence" is transferred along.  I'll note that there seems to be a lot more solid than liquid, so that must be irksome - must be hell to clean your alembic after that.  Lastly, I will note that the word "operation" could mean a medical procedure, or perhaps a magical one?  "Medical grade" is a bit of a  guess on my part here.

More translations requested in the OSR reddit group will follow soon!

P.S.  Regarding the strange spam from last post.  Apparently this is quite common in some parts of the world (thanks mtb-za for pointing this out to me!).   And honestly, while it's more discrete and rarer, such services are also available in North America.   Magic thinking lives on!

(source of the text: )

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Petit Albert Table of Content - the entire spell list.

At this stage of my Petit Albert deep dive, I think it would be good to provide a list of content.  If there is any spells in particular you want me to translate, let me know!

The love spell - the most common spell in the le Petit Albert (about 20 of them!), along with a few slightly naughty one (how to make a person dance in their night-shirt for example).  There are also spells to restore virginity, to have a vision of your future husband/wife, spells to reduce desire, prevent cheating, and reduce stretch marks.

The impotence spell

The counter spell to the  impotence spell

To be fortunate at games of skill and/or luck

To catch a lot of fish (7 spells for this effect)

To stop birds from eating grain in a field

To catch a lot of birds (4 spells)

To have pidgeon come and multiply, to protect them from predators (4 spells)

To keep dogs at bay

To heal dogs wounds, especially if it has rabbies (it is said that the true way is to swim in the ocean, but since the ocean is not always conveniently close, this spell is needed.  The author still recommends to travel to the sea and use the spell while traveling)

To keep away wolves,

To deal with a wolf problem in an area (the author then states that there are so many secrets to deal with this and they are so widely known that he will not detail them and instead switch to more interesting topics).

To keep drunkenness at bay, followed by to remove drunkenness

To fix a spoiled wine (3 spells)

to make a great vinegar

To make a fine liguor

To make Hyppocras

To make Armenian spirits, which has great health benefits

To have sweet, juicy and great smelling melons

To have ripe grapes in the spring

To have your wheat seeds be truly fruitful

To keep pest from  your crop

To know if the harvest will be good next year (2 spells)

To create a deadly miasma (this is interesting because this spell - clearly "black magic" is nestled within a paragraph talking about miasma in general and how they are bad for your health

The antidote to said deadly stink and other misamas

The  Planetary talismans of Paracelsus  - each works on only one day of the week and has a different effect - these are much more complex than the average spells in the book.

To make mercury become solid so that one may use it to make a talisman to make the Mercury planetary talisman.  It also mentions that this solid mercury can be used to make a mysterious ring, but doesn't say how.

To make other "planetary talismans", along with arguments on how they work and it's absolutely a natural phenomenon, not evil spirits!

As part of the argument to prove that magic is "natural", a spell to keep snakes at bay

The four people inhabiting the four elements:  Salamanders, Gnomes, Sylphes & Nymphes.  This is a somewhat challenging chapter, mixed with reported opinions on the topic from various philosophers (including Paracelsus).

This is followed by 7 Daily Perfumes, with the planetary blessings, that are pleasing to Gnomes, so they will not object to mining endeavors and treasure seeking.

A spell to use along with the above perfumes when starting a mine/treasure dig

Commentary on spirits and apparitions that can guide someone to treasure, and how to distinguish them from mischievous spirits seeking to lead  you astray 

Incantation to prevent cave-ins and commentary on superstion about mining.  

On finding "vile" things underground - these are tricks from the Gnomes, how to counter their charms and return these vile things into precious metals. 

To make a treasure finding candle

Fake Mandagore divination (for scamming people?)

Fake head of a Saint (again, so you can run a scam?)

The headless candle

To appear as elephants and horses

To make a chamber appear to be full of snakes and other terrors

To make the frogs cease croaking at night

The hand of glory - a candle made from the hand of a hanged man, which stupefies those seeing it (allowing you to rob a place)

A ward that will stop the hand of glory from working

Anti torture charm

Couter spell to the anti torture charm (well that's mean to publish that...)

Resistance from fire ointment

To make medical grade alcohol

To make Greek Fire (or is it *Gregorian* fire?)

To have a peacefull life, two spells  (make a new character ha!)

Traverler's garter belt (for speed and against fatigue)

Traveler's staff vs bad luck

To speed up a horse

To calm a furious horse

To make a horse fall as if it were dead, and then be sturdier

To turn oneself's invisible with the use of a solidified mercury ring

To make a  ring that will counter the invisibility ring

To make other rings which will bring the benefits of the planets (not really clear what they are), as well as the precise time to craft such rings.

General commentary on talismans and philosophers

As an example of the above, a talisman to help with gambling and haggling

To make celestial water and healing balm

A balm against plague

To make rotted teeth fall out

To heal new and old arquebus wounds (2 spells)

To heal sword wounds

To heal twisted ankles, sore eyes, damaged vines and keep storms at bay from crops

The mandrake of good fortune

The different mandrake - the lutin

Mandrake talisman

Symapthetic powder to heal wounds

To make gold (6 spells - so there are more spells for love and to catch fish!)

To dissolve gold

To make tin into silver

To make borax (for further use in alchemy)

To make pearls using pearls (…. profit?)

To make musc

To make ambergris

To make incense cones (you need musc and ambergris ha!)

To soften ivory

To cut new rope with a strand of grass.  This one is particularly interesting - the spell is a ritual to fool a bird into creating a rope-cutting magical strand of grass, which you then can use later for your own purpose.

To easily break a bar of iron

To make a magic ring to cure "le mal caduc" (epilespy).

A talisman vs poison and venomous beasts

Four other talisman:  vs gunshots & luck in military entreprise, for travelers (vs brigands, pirates and sea wrecks), one to gain the favor of spirits to increase  your luck in life, the last is potent - not only does it give luck for gambling and haggling, it also protects vs brigands AND foils or reveals treasonous plots against the wearer!

To make the "water" given to the Queen of Hungary.  This magical cure, totally what the queen uses, is good to re-energise, clarifies the mind, dispels darkness (depression?), protects the sight from the failing of old age, makes the user seem younger, is beneficial to the chest (breathing? breasts?) and stomach (digestions but *maybe* keep the waist thin?)

To remove skin blemishes or make the skin paler (the text here is pretty offensive, basically saying how brown people can be white with a special cream...)

A powder to enhance the face

To make hand and face soap (… no special power here, just making a nice soap)

To make angel water.  It doesn't say what angel water *does*, but it's apparently exquisite.

A sleeping lamp, related to the hand of glory (implying strongly that this is for theft), that makes everyone inside the room fall asleep and not be able to be woken up while the lamp burns.  Ok but then won't the wizard fall asleep too?  Who's supposed to commit the crime?

A wondrous secret to make a sympathetic compass that allows you to communicate instantly with a friend at a long distance.  I like how this is *only for use with friends*  A magical telecommunication network will need a lot of work - and friendship.

To double the range of your gun.  Or maybe, if you actually try this, to perhaps make your gun blow up in your face.  Proceed with caution folks!

A method to make a syrup that will preserve life.  This will keep illness and bodily corruption at bay, evacuating it towards the bottom.  This will ensure that you stay hale and strong as you age.

To plant a branch of a tree so that it takes roots

To augment (as in, take some and cut it with something else so you have more of it)
- Soap
- Saffron
- Milled pepper
- White wax
- Musk (keep this one secret!)

To make hair dye

A beautiful golden varnish

Against kidney stones and how to cure them

To clean teeth and gums

Against bad breath

Against intermittent fever

An admirable secret to stay healthy, used by Charles V

To know if someone ill will live or die

To ward oneself against gout

For fistula

To remove smallpox scars

Against bladder stones

Against abdominal pains

Against difficulties in urinating

Against water retention

Against stomach aches.

A table listing precise sunrise times in France and in Italy

And that is it!  Overall, we see a lot of spells for love, healing and agriculture, as well as rather complex talisman-building operations.  The level of complexity and difficulty varies wildly overall.  While the majority of spells have very relatable motives (who doesn't want love, health, food and riches?), a few are quite... particular in their objective.  My earlier quip about spaghetti beards may not have been entirely accurate...

Saturday, September 14, 2019

More Petit Albert Spells

In my last post, I introduced Le Petit Albert, a real world book of spells published in the 1700s and written in French (real world as in this book actually exist and was quite popular, I'm not claiming the spells work!).  I think this is interesting both from a historical perspective, and also from a gaming point of view.  I'm still compiling stats and I'm not ready to have some kind of RPG-usable conversion, so for now, let's simply translate a few mores shall we?

First, this interesting spell is, well, quite "easy".  Anyone could do this - I'm not recommending trying it, but you could if you wanted.  Gaming wise, could there be a use to putting a horse down?  It's quite situational, but yes.  For example,  gambling on a horse race?  Keeping someone from chasing you?

To make a horse fall as if it were dead.

You will have a serpent tongue that you will coat in virgin wax, and you will put it in the left ear of a horse, he will fall to the ground as if he was dead; and as soon as you remove it, he will get up sturdier than before; one should not leave the tongue too long (in the horse), out of concern that it may be harmful to the horse.

One run on sentence but it's not too long, only two ingredients, and even some concern for the welfare of the horse.  I like this one!

Ok, let's go the other way and go for the absolute bonkers.  This spell is right after the "make a magic candle to seem headless" spell I translated in my last post, so we are in the "make freaky illusions" portion of the book.

Other on the same topic

If you want that all those who are in a room to appear in the form of great elephants or of horses, you will make a perfume in this manner.  One must crush alkekenge (winter cherry, Chinese lantern) with dolphin fat, and make small grains out of it, of the size of lemon seeds; then you will have dung from a cow that is not nursing a veal; you will dry this dung well, so that you that you could burn it, and you will have the entertainment (or diversion, the word could mean either) that you wished for, as long as the room is well sealed so that smoke could only escape by the door.

Oh boy, where to begin!  The ingredients are pretty straightforward at least (good luck getting dolphin fat these days though!).  But what are you trying to achieve?  Is this a party trick to wow people, or some kind of disguise/ploy/distraction?  It's not clear.  Either way the means of achieving it are... not very practical.  You essentially have to take your little grease balls and burn them on a dung fire.  I don't care if you are throwing a party or doing some shenanigans, in either case a dung fire is freakishly inconvenient!  Lastly I note how what to do with the dung and the grains is never stated, merely implied - I've deduced that you are to burn them, but I could be wrong.

Onward to something a bit more sensible:  Making your gun (ie musket) shoot further.

To make a gun's range be double as normal

You need, for example, for two ounces of good powder, to add one ounce of coarsely crushed white pepper, and mixt it well together; load your gun with said powder and add a bit more than usual, and on top of this powder put on camphor that you will ram well, then put the bullet, wrapped with paper, a pistol will shoot as far as a musket. 

So far so good - the spell is useful and relatively straightforward, the translation is not too difficult.  If you did this in real life it probably would result in a much more impressive shot (the bits of crushed pepper would fly out making lots of a spark).  I don't *think* it would actually make the bullet go farther nor make your gun explode, but please don't try this at home.  Unfortunately, the spell is not done.

You also take an herb that is called psillon; it is a seed that one harvests during the sign of the Lion: this herb has small seeds like mustard; and one burns it in the barrel of the gun, by reddening the barrel in a forge, and it's done.

I'm not entirely sure about this second half of the spell - I can't determine what herb is psillon - is it psyllium? I think the idea is this is some kind of "enchantment" you must do the gun for the enhanced powder to work, but I'm not sure.  Is this for every shot?  I also note that heating the barrel like that could affect the heat treatment of the gun and make it more liable to burst, I would *not* advise you do this without proper research and skills!

You also would think that this part of the spell should have gone first... I sometimes feel frustrated by my mediocre writing skills, but reading this Grimoire makes me feel a *little* bit better because it could be much worse...

Last spell for today will be a talisman.  One group of talisman is attributed to Paracelsus, the father of toxicologist but also an alchemist and a bit of a braggard.  They use the beneficial power of planets to bring benefits to the wearer.  Each of them has a a specific day they must be worn on.  These are quite complex, and I'm going to translate one of the easier ones. 

Talisman of Saturn, on Saturdays
This talisman must be formed on a round disk of lead, well purified, and on one side we will print the mysterious number of 15 distributed in lines, in the following formation:

2 4 9
7 5 3
6 1 8

(a comparison with the version by Agrippa is included in the Grimoire for some reason, I'm not sure if this was included by the original author or the website maker, this is simply a different ordering of the numbers)

On the other side of the disk, we will print the hieroglyphic figure of the planet, which will be a bearded elder, holding in his hand some kind of pick-axe or mattock, and above his head a star, with this word, Saturn.  One will begin the impression of the mysterious figures with ferremens (iron fittings?) at the moment we predicted that the constellation of Saturn (Saturn is *not* a constellation!) is in a favorable aspect, with the moon entering in the first degree of the sign of Taurus or the Capricorn.    And once the operation (the work) is done, you will wrap the talisman in a piece of black silk.

(the image can be seen here , and that's clearly a scythe, not a pick-axe! )

This talisman is a great succor, first, for women who are having a hard labor, for they will suffer almost no pain; this is what has been tested many times, with a happy success, by people of quality who were subjects to miscarriages.  The talisman also multiply and augment the things in which one puts it.  If a horseman wears it in his left boot, his horse will not be able to be injured.  The talisman has all the contrary effects as those listed above, when it is made at a time where the constellation of Saturn is in a situation that favors misfortune, and the moon is retrograde in the above mentioned signs (Taurus or Capricorn)

There are several other such talismans, and several are even more complex. I think that some may have potential for gaming, but translating all of them is beyond me.  I also note how … polyvalent this talisman is.  On one hand it has a very specific effect (protection vs miscarriage, a very laudable goal) and the other is "multiply and augment things", which is … very broad.  How to adjudicate this in a game?   The "anti-talisman" is, IMO, black magic - something that makes women miscarry is quite nasty.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Magic in the 1700s, or, Le Petit Albert: an introduction

So back in the days people believed in magic. What did this mean exactly? The spells magic users (I think we need as broad a term as we can here) created tells us a lot about what people believed was possible for a human to achieve via supernatural means. It also tells us a lot about what people *wanted* to achieve, what they wished was possible or true. There aren't any spells to turn your beard into spagetti, because no one has any interest in achieve that goal. Almost always though, there are love spells.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because Marquis did an excellent take on the subject, building an old D&D spell list for magic users, based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian spells. You should really check it out, it's a very impressive piece of work and quite interesting read. I thought that maybe I too could contribute somehow.

Now I don't' have access to old Egyptian texts and I'm not a "real" scholar, but I do have something – I'm fluent in French and I have access to some old magical texts, or Grimoires. So let's talk about one – the Petit Albert.

The Petit Albert is a grimoire for "the small people" - the peasantry, the country gentlemen, the humble burger. It has well over a hundred spells, although the exact number is difficult to determine, as some spells are not spells at all but basically recipes to make nice soap, and others have a meandering formulae with little "side trips" that turn out to be distinct spells in and of themselves.

It was first published in 1706, and was attributed to Albertus Magnus, although it also cited o other authors as source, such as Cardano and Paracelsus.  As these authors are from after Albertus' death, clearly he must have been a time-lord.  Atributing grimoires to church leaders as a "cover" was not an unknown practice (such as the Grimoire of Pope Honorius, which I will have to review in a different entry). Le Petit Albert's author also took pains to make its spell seem benign and the result of good Providence, not black magic. Le Petit Albert was a "sister book" to the Grand Albert, which was a more serious, perhaps even more dangerous, Grimoire. Despite the attribution and the lighter tone, the Church, of course, took a very dim view to these Grimoires and denounced the book as a tool of the devil.

Nevertheless, le Petit Albert was, if the Wikipedia entry on the topic is to be believe, immensely popular. In one year, 400 000 copies were sold in a region of Belgium alone! Everyone had a copy. This is despite the fact that many of the spells were obscure or quite difficult to perform, requiring odd or very expensive ingredients, and thus weren't that useful for peasants. I'm uncertain if they were purchased because they were seen as a useful tool or for "entertainment" value. Why to people read horoscopes even to this day?

I was unsure how to tackle this and other Grimoires, but I was wisely counselled to try to make this into a series of of blog entries instead of some king of megapost. Perhaps, out of all this, a "late renaissance/early modern" spell list to be used in a more "historical" RPG game could be made? We'll see. The spells are not the "one action casting time lightning bolt" type – they take a long time to prepare, and often operate indirectly.

So I will give examples of spells in the Petit Albert, try to gamify some of them (in what system? Troika? the GLOG?) and translate some of them. Note that I a *not* a translator, and some of the terms are obscure or may have changed in meaning over time. Making things worse is the tendency towards Hermetism, where coded language was often used – mercury might mean quicksilver, the planet, the God, or something else entirely. Thankfully le Petit Albert seems to freer of that than some other Grimoires, and while I can't promise I will get it right, at least it will be better than what Google Translate will get you. So here's an example to get you started:


(some of the spell titles are … something)

Here is the method to make a magical candle, with which the person holding it will appear headless. You will take a freshly shed snake skin, some orpiment
(arsenic sulfite crystals), Greek pitch, some reupondique (no idea what this is, neither does Google...), virgin wax and donkey blood; you will crush all these things together and you will boil them under a gentle heat, for 3 to 4 hours, in an old pot full of swamp water, then letting them cool off, you will separate the mass from your drugs (your medicine, your ingredients) from the water and you will with this mass assemble a candle, which will have a wick made of threads from the shroud in which a deceased was buried; and whoever light this candle will be illuminated and appear headless.

Looong run on sentences, hours of work, strange ingredients for an oddly specific objective... that's the lot of the 1700s magic user.  Of course, I bet no one has ever tried this particular spell because no one knows what the hell reupondique is, let alone the shroud requirement.

Well that's it for now, Stay tuned! 😊