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Quick problem: spells as demons

Started by Bailywolf, May 13, 2002, 05:01:12 PM

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Good news!  I think I've got my D&D sodden regular group to take a serious shot at Sorcerer.  It will favor a buffyverse style more than a little, and I'm yoinking more than a lot from Joshua's most excelent Hellfire.  

To satisfy these guys I need some solid crunchy mechanics (or some reasonable reinterpretations of existing mechanics) for them to grasp hold of when they start to pine for saving throws and Armor Class and spell lists- specificly how to interpret demons and sorcery itself to model the sort of ritual (and sometimes not to ritual) spell casting as seen in Buffy.

I've got a decent handle on the basics:

Contact:  basicly research to find the right kind of spell
Summon:  The long hocus-pocus ritual to invoke the spell
Compell:  Shortform on-the-spot invocation of a spell's properties.
Punish:  ???????  Perhpas best used as antimagic against an enemy sorcerer's spell?
Banish:  your basic spell breaking anti magic.
Binding:  Mastering a spell.  Basicly creating a magical object (an object demon) or binding the spell well enough that you need not Summon/cast becomes a part of you (a parasite).

I like this because I don't have to reinvent the wheel- the system works fine as is.  The dangers magic poses to the humanity of the caster (in a pretty basic human=empathy/good lack if it is bad kinda thing) is easy to understand.  But here is where I'm having some trouble:  Need and Desire.

Need:  ???????? I'm having trouble.  I can see spells Needing candles, magic circles, sacrifice, mystic diagrams, chanting, inscence and other ritual rubish.... is this a good interpretation?  Does this work out?  If I invoke a spell of teleportation (basicly a Travel and Transport demon) I "feed" it with chanting and mystic gestures...  If I fail to keep it "fed" it weakens until the spell fades out of existence and must be completely recast (summoned).  Even if Bound (like a Parasite- a knot of mystic knowledge living in my mind and soul) I still have to reinforce it with the occasional power ritual to keep it from unraveling.  

Desire:  Here I'm lost all together.  What would the spell Desire?  In the primary source material (Buffy), spells frequently "go off on their own" like naughty demons.... could a desire as simple as "To Be Used" serve here?  You invoke one of these mindless things, it exists only to be used, to do its thing, to work its mojo.  If you have a Spell of Wrath and Pain resident in your mind, its going to lash out when you're angry...if you have that teleport spell, you'll find yourself waking up in some mighty strange places after drinking.  

Perhaps in their very responsiveness, spells can be as much trouble as full blown demons (which work just fine in this kind of setting).  The difference is that spells can't interpret instructions or work on their own (unless "cast" on someone else- basicly making a demon which possesses, lives within, or confers to someone else).  Sometimes you want something with the brains to go out and carry out your instructions- "Braxus, go fourth and slay those who would stand in the way of my election to Class President!".

I think if I can work out this kink here, my players will bite, I just need to have a nice solid explaination when they ask about how it is supposed to work.

Thanks all.



The ritual magic that I've seen in Buffy is pretty much straight Sorcerer, or for that matter ancient Greek.  Library research is just flexing the Lore muscle to find necessary contact, summon and bind rituals.  At least in the Greek tragedies that I've read, and magic in Buffy follows these patterns, the supernatural being must be known or identifiable as the first part of contacting. The first part of the ritual, with the candles and diagrams, is part of contact.  Prayer or incantation is a type of summoning. Some object is typically sacrificed (things burnt in first, crushed and ground, etc.) acts as the binding covenant.  Traditionally, especially in Greek and Hebrew cultures, the sacrifice was blood, and the blood had to be handled in a certain way. Buffy has fluffy new-age magic that uses something else, for the most part, unless the end of the world is at hand.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management


Thanks Clay.  But I want less "real" and more "TV".  I also want to be able to divide the 'stages' of magic into easily discernable catagories.  Hince reinterpreting Contact as Research- digging through musty books of forbidden lore is such a significant element in the way magic works in the show that I thought it needed to be represented fully as an almost ritual sorcery action.

What is your take on Need and Desire though?

Mike Holmes

I've actually often thought of how to make "regular magic" out of Sorcerer mechanics.

What you've got so far is OK, but the fact that you're missing the whole Need/Desire thing is abig problem. Those are the things that drive the whole negative end of the Sorcerer mechanics. More telling is that you haven't defined Humanity. You shgould always start there, IMO.

As long as we're going with Buffyness here, we could refer to the episodes where Willow gets addicted to magic (about the thinnest drug analogy I've ever seen, but...). You could say that humanity is you connection to the mundane world, and using magic makes you more detached from it. More etherial. Eventually at Humanity zero you disappear into a puff of smoke forever after to drift in the astral realm or somesuch (Didn't we ceome up with something like this before?).

Anything that would "normally" cause humanity loss like violence, etc, still does, as it makes the character feel as if he's drifting furtheer from normal life. A wizard might kill arrogantly, thinking that he is not bound by the normal strictures of human society. I'm seeing a TV shot of a character hovering four inches off of the ground, hair standing from static, and eyes glazed over black from too much magic use, laughing detachedly as they reach humanity one and are on their way to humanity zero. You get the idea.

Given this definition of Humanity, spells and such lure you away from normalcy. That's what the Humanity rolls associated with Sorcery are about. Demons, the spells themselves as you put it, want to be cast. That's their desire. To be employed, and to suck the caster away from the mundane world. As such, they will tend to work better when they are used a lot. Often enough that the caster risks getting into trouble by doing so. Make it too much of a good thing, or nothing at all. A spell that is not used often will "refule to use it's powers" defined in game as the Wizard being rusty with it or something. The relationships with the spells will be all about trying to find that balance where you can use them regularly enough to keep the spell functioning well, but not so often that you get into trouble. A relationship that the spells should actually often get the upper hand in causing the character no end of problems.

Spell Needs should be like you described, but proportional with their power. All spells require candles, circles, etc during the summoning, that's de rigeur. The Need should be that something special that's required to use the power thereafter. This is following the sympathetic rules of magic. So, if you have a small spell that simply protects you from fire, say, you should have to bathe in ice to make it work. No big deal. If you have a Teleportation spell, that's a bit more useful, and might require, oh, I don't know, crushing gems (cliche) to release their etherial power. If you have a death spell, perhaps you have to kill someone else yourself first to make it function. Essentially, you get what you pay for, with a small profit as an incentive to use these abilities. Remember, except for the first one, the GM creates all Demon Needs. Make magic have a cost.

So, I see a bunch of young adult characters caught up in the thrill of Magic, and not really ready for the costs that are involved. Yep, very Buffy, or Charmed. Note that in both of these shows, "regular" Demons exist (non-spell) and as part of the cosmology sorcery can be used on them. You may also want to develop a cosmology that includes Demons as Demons. Or, if not, a notion of where Magic comes from, and what it's about can go a long way to knowing how spells are designed.

How's that sound?

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Lore in this context represents knowledge of a specific demon and
knowledge of the rituals that demons are subject to.  This knowledge
may be gained through direct experience (e.g. putting a hex on the
werewolf that you know and love), via research (The countless hours
spent with Giles in the library), or via your coven members (one of
the things that Willow and Tara are up to off camera).

Humanity is straight empathy as defined in Sorcerer's Soul.  

Contacting and summoning is handled by various parts of the ritual.
Diagrams and candles and the like enable contact.  The contact is
going on as the diagram is constructed, and concludes during the first
part of the ritual (when the caster can feel the entity on the other
side).  Summoning begins as the offering is made (something must
always be offered and destroyed); this must be representative of the
desire/need requisite for binding.

"Spells" as presented in this environment are power granted by a demon
or supernatural entity.  For instances, Willow's spells are
manifestations of the power of the Goddess.  A spell to find something
would be a form of Hint, for instance.  Desire and need in her case
are very classical - the Goddess needs propitiation (prayers and
worship) and desires sacrifice (destruction, typically by burning, of
some item of value).  This conforms pretty much exactly with classical greek religion/magic.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management

Uncle Dark

Think about this:

You could use Pacting (from Sorcerer and Sword) instead of Binding 9 times out of 10.  One use of feeding the demon's need (the paraphenalia of the ritual) gets you one use of the demon's powers.

Buffyverse demon desires are often rather simple.  Destruction, bloodlust, corruption, temporal power; the ususal range of b-movie villian motivations.  It's interpreting need into the setting that requires a bit of stretching.

The scoobies often need rare herbs or odd artifacts for the spells.  These could be needs.

Think, also, of the Mayor.  He had to make regular sacrifices to keep up his end of the bargains he made with several demons.  Maybe this was re-pacting, maybe he was feeding their needs.

Reality is what you can get away with.


Cool man, thanks for the beta.

I had humanity sussed- pretty much basic entry level humanity.  Empathy, love, joy, yadda yadda.  Vampires are powerful possessers, but in the vamp-wida-soul scheme, parasites.  Same for most of the shape changing werewolves, mantis women, heyena gang, prickly puss demons etc.  

I was trying to reinvent the demon as spell so I could keep the sorcerery system entirely unchanged- use it to summon a bestie to work your will or to conjure up a spell...functionaly identical, practicaly fairly different.  And as always, any sorcerer can use all the rituals.  

I'm tapping some of the Sword and Sorcerer alternate rules for things like Pacting, more colorful combat, perhaps the groovy necromancy rules, but especialy the "unnatural" trait description option for semi-supernatural and crossbreed characters.

There is a lot of "divine name dropping" in buffyverse magic- lots of unseen powers are invoked, even for the down to earth spells.  I figure this is just an aspect of setting color for Lore (and I'll grant bonus dice for especialy cool incantations and rituals of course).

There was an episode of 'Angel' with the carrie-esque telekinetic danger girl... pretty cool idea for a one-demon sorcerer type (lore 1) with a very powerful parasite... again not a 'demon' in any kind of conventional sense, but pretty fun to play I'm sure.  The Need and Desire tied strongly into the host's personal isues and emotional baggage. ("Protect Host" and "Never be a Victim Again" or some such.  Don't spill that pig's blood).

I liked your interpretation of a wizard's 'spells getting rusty from disuse'.  It made a nice way of describing how a mindless spell's need gone unmet might reduce it.  Practicing one's "mastered" spells with little abreviated version of the full casting rituals makes a solid easy to deal with (and describe!) need.  Now where did I put that mugwort?  Damn!. No wonder magic shops do such a bustling buisness- magical housekeeping.

I think there is some great ground to be covered by using spells to externalize the sorcerer's own motivations, hang ups, and issues.  Instead of a relationship with an external being, they create an inverted relationship map, bringing the sorcerer's own other selves to the surface.  The spells Desire to be used...if the calm collected Master of the Lodge won't do it...what about the crying boy who hated the dark?  Somwhere inside the Master, the boy still least in outline.

Good stuff Clay.  Thanks.


Baily, are you trying to beat me to the punch again? Heh...

I ask because this is the focus of the supplement I've been dropping hints about working on for a while.  I've been attempting to specifically model modern fantasy elements and certain well-known games with Sorcerer.

Of course, I'm not attempting to do a straight conversion, Sorcerer and its mechanics are far too deep to turn into a dungeon-crawl-of-the-week, and I've no desire to do so.

I'd already hit on the whole "demons as spells" idea (or rather, demons as magical knowledge/ability), and what might help you out is the Need/Desire aspect I decided upon:

It's simple, really: give all spellcasters a Need which is required for them to maintain their magical abilities.  Meditation and study for hours each day is an example.  Maintaining and having available a spellbook is another. Destruction/consumption of certain items and materials is yet another, as is dancing and gesturing.

I'm sure with enough thought, you can come up with many more, and many more creative ones. Depending on how you handle it, each type of spell could have a specific Need(s), frex, summoning spells require carefully prepared circles made of powdered silver, etc. You could even require one Need per point of Lore.

Desires wouldn't be specific to the magic (unless you want to go the Terry Brooks route and make magic a living force), but rather to the spellcaster themself.  Why are they studying magic? They use magic to fulfill their Desire, even if that Desire is the acquisition of magical power (of course, the question is "For What?").
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio



Why exactly are you turning the sorcerer into a demon (giving him a need/desire)? Or for that matter, making a "summoning spell"?  Summoning is just a regular part of sorcery, and the study of magical tomes is part of the preparation for sorcery that you use to get bonus dice.  Meditation is a legitimate component to contact, made explicit in the base rule book.  It hardly requires a special supplement to encourage that.

So what are you goals with these modifications? Unless I'm mistaken, you're trying to customize your game to include familiar magic elements from Dungeons & Dragons. It sounds like you're trying to bring along both the showy, flashy bits (which are all perfectly possible to do, and well, with Sorcerer) and the rather peculiar limitations that were put there in the interest of balance. What you do with your own game is certainly your own business, but I personally always found the very mechanical handling of magic from D & D to be the most unsatisfactory bit.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management


Holy Poop On a Stick

I just saw this weeks Buffy.

Now I have a great mental image of that last game session before a zero humanity character gets yoinked into GM control.

You have a choice- do the normal thing, listen to your friends at the last second, and come back from the edge...or just scream "fuck it!" and RIP SOME DUDE'S SKIN OFF!

Talk about a prefect extension of my thinking here- the spells want to be used...addiciton, power madness, decaying humanity.  Damn, but that was cool.


Holy poop on a stick, indeed! Willow rocks. I must be on my way to zero humanity, 'cause I was cheering her on.

Thanks for all the great ideas.



Your reply confuses me to a certain extent. Either you're missing what I'm saying or I'm misunderstanding what you're saying. I'll go through question by question and try to answer to the best of my abilities.

Quote from: ClayWhy exactly are you turning the sorcerer into a demon (giving him a need/desire)?
It isn't the sorcerer who has the need, but the magic; the fact that the magic is a part of the sorcerer makes it seem as though the sorcerer has the Need.  The sorcerer must perform X ritual/behavior in order for their magic to continue working, or else it eventually "rebels" (or rather, they lose control of the magic).

QuoteOr for that matter, making a "summoning spell"?  Summoning is just a regular part of sorcery,
I believe I should have used "enchantment," "illusion" or "abjuration" instead in order to avoid confusion: a type of spell, its "school" to use the D&D terminology.

Further, note that this was not something I'm doing, but an example of something that could be done. In fact, one could make every D&D spell into a unique demon as well, each with their own Need.

More to the point, the manner in which I was envisioning this working is best explained via example: one problem with generic magic systems in most games is that they lose their flavor -- the magic of the College of Red Sorcery is ultimately no different from that of the runecasters of the northern wastes.

By using Needs, one can construct a very interesting, unique "system" of magic for each type.  Runecasters, frex, would have the Need: "Must have carven rune." That is, a rune of the appropriate type carven in and produced with the appropriate material (birch wood and blood ink) in order to utilize their magical abilities.

Quoteand the study of magical tomes is part of the preparation for sorcery that you use to get bonus dice.  Meditation is a legitimate component to contact, made explicit in the base rule book.  It hardly requires a special supplement to encourage that.
It is here that you completely lose sounds like you're talking oranges while I'm talking apples.

The magical system I am speaking of would have no demonic/otherworldly sentience component. Your example of meditation being used for Contact is understood well enough, but is thus irrelevant. I further suspect miscommunication based on the last sentence above, in regards to the creation of a supplement to encourage meditation, since such an attempt is not being made.

QuoteSo what are you goals with these modifications?
With this specific modification? To make a Gandalf-like wizard possible in a Sorcerer game without resorting to the granting of abilities by a supernatural entity.

QuoteUnless I'm mistaken, you're trying to customize your game to include familiar magic elements from Dungeons & Dragons. It sounds like you're trying to bring along both the showy, flashy bits (which are all perfectly possible to do, and well, with Sorcerer) and the rather peculiar limitations that were put there in the interest of balance.
My only response to this is "Eh?"

QuoteWhat you do with your own game is certainly your own business, but I personally always found the very mechanical handling of magic from D & D to be the most unsatisfactory bit.
I am uncertain where you perceived the idea I was doing the above(?); quite explicitly, I am changing the flavor of "demons" without modifying the current rules, demons are "spells" or rather "magical ability" instead of seperate entities.

The point of Sorcerer has has been carefully maintained in my pursuit of this: power still requires sacrifice, still requires its own price. Only the image has changed, not the theme.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Okay, let me take another stab at this - I think I'm beggining to understand what you're up to.

Sorcerers (wizards) must keep a spell book which presumably has  information about the demon granting the powers (i.e. the spell).  To get the demon to work for you, one of the things that you have to do is stroke its vanity by reading the spell book (i.e. the demon's press clippings and p.r.  material) and tickle its ego by doing little practice versions of the ritual.  

Every sorcery school learns different ways of appeasing and titilating these spirits.  Because these different approaches will cause the demons to respond slightly differently, the power/demon will appear different for each school.

You probably just tripped a knee-jerk reaction when you said that you were trying to make it seem like D&D magic.  That magic system has always irked me because of how mechanical it was. The thing I like best about Sorcerer is how mechanical supernatural things aren't. Sounds like you're just casting Sorcerer mechanics into terms that D&D players can understand.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management


Looks like with the Pacting rules its a snap to mimic D&D "fire and forget" magic.  You pact with a demon...AKA prepare/memorize your spell.  Bascily it then hands about until you tell it what you want it to do...a demon with a Ranged Special damage can be a magic missle, a fire ball, a flaming skull that spits acidic maggots ect.  When you "cast it" you just tell the thing what to do (with a Command roll).  With most spell demons it's fairly obvious what they can and will do.  A magic missle spell will shoot out and hurt someone.  A Fly spell will bear you aloft for the scene etc.  When the spell-demon has done its thing, it vanishes according to the pact.  What the thing Needs is the long preperation ritual when you cast it (books, incantations, special ingredients ect).  Whan it desires is to be used.  

Hell, this most cerntainly has a place in my game too... herm...thanks for the debate guys, it got me thinking in another good direction.



If you follow the path that it sounds like greyorm is going down, not everybody would get magic missile or fireball.  If you came from one school, your ranged lethal attack manifests as a glowing missile, from another its a fireball, and from still another you shoot lightningbolts out your eyes (a trick my high school calculus teacher had learned).

Because of the way that Sorcerer mechanics work, the strength of the attack is based not on the form it takes, but how powerful the demon is that the sorceer can control.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management