Magic discussion (archive)
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Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 17:16:41 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

This is likely to be the first of several different threads related to magic in CoC and DG… I'll try to keep each thread focused.

First off, is all magic that is real within the context of the game mythos magic?

There seem to be a couple of arguments against this. It seems to me that it is fundamental that the human mind cannot deal with mythos forces without being corrupted, then it would seem likely that (probably) the use of all truly mythos spells (or other magic) would by definition run the risk of sanity loss, or have other major negative impacts on the caster due to the inherent alienness of this sort of magic.

This could be direct, as in the sanity loss from using the death spell, or indirect, such as contact deep one, a type of spell which obviously deals with mythos beings, and also offers the risk of personal corruption, and sanity loss from seeing the contacted entities.

There are however many official spells which seem totally harmless to the caster, such as create gate, summon bird, heal, etc, and also do not seem to involve mythos forces or entities in any way.

Also, there seem to be magical entities, even in official sources, such as werewolves, which do not seem to carry the mythos taint at all. The nature of werewolves seem very terrestrial, and do not have the utterly alien feel of even minor mythos creatures. A werewolf may be deadly, but to me in most ways it is basically clean, resembles a normal earth animal, and does not carry the sort of creepy or blasphemous "otherness" of mythos creatures. I mean, compared to a Hound of Tindalos, a werewolf is practically cuddly.

So where does the magic of the sort that create werewolves and power non-corrupting spells spring from? Is there some (withing the context of CoC and DG) aspect of magic that is human and/or terrestrial in nature, and non-mythos? Or should such apparently non-mythos magic be banned from the game?

Being a bit conservative in some respects and not wanting a CoC campaign like a bad Saturday morning cartoon, with a cast full of good witches, vampires and werewolves, fighting bad eldrich horrors, I am reluctant to embrace non-corrupting magic within the game (thin end of the wedge paranoia perhaps). I also don't want to be close-minded and discard something which could make the game more interesting, if used judiciously.

Or maybe I _should_ go the Saturday morning route. Lets see, we could have a stylish but smart teenage witch whose good advice the rest of the group doesn't listen too because she is too young, and old doddering but charming vampire (When he tries to scare people by raising his arms and bearing his fangs, his false teeth always fall out), and a goofy werewolf named "Wolfie," who is allergic to his own fur and frequently scratches himself (lots of room for flea-related barbs from his friends).

At the end of each episode, their recurring enemy Cthulhu would say, "I would have pulled it off if it wasn't for you darn kids!"


Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 15:48:09 -0700
From: Christian Conkle

First of all, let me preface my opinion on the subject of Magic by saying that my campaign is VERY magic dry. There is magic, but it's alien, unknown, and wielded by mad and powerful antagonists. It often drives the plot and is never of the "Lightning bursts from the fingertips" variety.

Having said that, I feel that Magic can play a fun role in a good CoC game. PC's might know some "good" spells such as Heal or Banish "something-or-other-minor-bug". But I would still keep the effects of magic indirect, uncertain. Cast a healing spell, nothing happens, but the next day the recipient feels much better. Was it the spell or good medical science?

Cast a death spell, and the target gets hit by a car! or a random bullet!

There should never be red glowing mystical energies emanating from the caster's hands. And then, of course, the spell just may not work. Have the PC's always guessing whether the spell actually worked or not. It's so much funner that way.


Date: Fri, 18 Sep 1998 22:49:26 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

In a message dated 98-09-18 18:23:07 EDT, you write:

There are however many official spells which seem totally harmless to the caster, such as create gate, summon bird, heal, etc, and also do not seem to involve mythos forces or entities in any way. Also, there seem to be magical entities, even in official sources, such as werewolves, which do not seem to carry the mythos taint at all.

Well stated. I have the same tendency: I want things to fit together. Basically the problem is that nobody, from Lovecraft onward, ever set out to make magic consistent among the various stories which were later lumped into the "Cthulhu Mythos." But that shouldn't stop us from giving it a shot.

As a fundamental definition, I consider CoC magic to be the conscious manipulation of energies which we consider mysterious and supernatural because they are as-yet undetected by human science. This was the bottom line of several Lovecraft stories, such as "Dreams in the Witch-House," which was discussed a couple of weeks ago in The Shadow Over Usenet. Magical forces are in fact natural, but they are essentially different from the electromagnetic energies which 20th century humanity has begun to understand. As a plug for MotM: see the cool articles on Mi-Go surgery for an example of this. A bunch of us goofy humans standing around watching the Fungi tear up a victim without touching him will gasp and say, "It's maaaagic!" To the Fungi, it's just business as usual, no more esoteric than plugging in an electric shaver would be to us. But, since to us it is certainly NOT business as usual, we freak out. We lose SAN. Our brains are not geared to understand such extra- dimensional forces which can be consciously manipulated by the will alone to effect drastic physical or psychic changes in the world and creatures around us; and if we DO come to understand those energies, then odds are we will be irredeemably remote from the rest of human society and understanding; in game terms, that's zero SAN.

As for Cthulhoid magic and monsters versus terrestrial magic and monsters, the distinction seems to be just that: alien versus terrestrial. A traditional werewolf is a human who has magically transformed into a wolf: in either case the werewolf is earthly in nature, though affected by forces which are certainly beyond current human understanding (i.e., magic). A Hound of Tindalos or a Dimensional Shambler are utterly alien entities which through magic have come to intrude into our reality and world. Their alien nature will in itself make them seem nastier; the fact that they do not respond to physical laws the way that we do will be the real mind-bender. Hence the SAN loss for a Hound of Tindalos is appropriately much higher than the SAN loss for a werewolf.

In short, I see no distinction between "Mythos" magic and "normal" magic except in application. Both seem to stem from the same basic forces, but Heal, for instance, is an effect which we humans can mentally handle better than, say, the Calling of the Black or Call/Dismiss Azathoth.

How's that for a quick retrofitting of themes?

PS: The degree to which magic should be used in a game is an altogether different topic, so I'll mostly leave it alone. Suffice to say that I like for magic to be important: if an investigator learns some, I think he or she ought to be affected by the knowledge, and certainly by its use. Personally I would recommend against handing out spells left and right and allowing their use with no more consequence than is described in the rules. But others may certainly have more fun with a more magic-prone game.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 00:47:05 -0400
From: Daniel Harms

First off, is all magic that is real within the context of the game mythos magic?

I'd say it depends on how you want to work it. IMO, no matter what, magic should always be something that the investigators should treat with respect and caution. Even non-Mythos spells should be difficult to acquire, and their results are likely to cause SAN loss at least the first few times (unless the agent's culture accepts their effects as part of their world-view).

A werewolf may be deadly, but to me in most ways it is basically clean, resembles a normal earth animal, and does not carry the sort of creepy or blasphemous "otherness" of mythos creatures. I mean, compared to a Hound of Tindalos, a werewolf is practically cuddly.

Depends on how you handle werewolves in your game. I'd make them extremely nasty, IMO.

I also don't want to be close-minded and discard something which could make the game more interesting, if used judiciously.

I think, in terms of non-corrupting magics, that there's very few that need to be used in terms of the game. Frankly, if I needed such a spell, I'd just make it up as the situation arose. The players would probably never get their hands on it.

I'd also be interested in how people make use of spells in their COC campaigns. For example, when we were tossing out character ideas, one of the players expressed an interest in being a Native American who worshiped Yig (for those who are wondering, he's not the Rohypnol guy). I'm considering giving him the "Contact Yig" spell without giving him any real indication of how it works. It's not a game-killer, IMO, and should make things a little more interesting - especially when the serpent man plot-angle starts up…


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 03:19:12 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

In short, I see no distinction between "Mythos" magic and "normal" magic except in application.

Nice suggestions. Still, how might the consequences of a pc or npc learning non-mythos magic (or learning mythos magic and not using it) be played? San checks the first time a pc casts a non-mythos spell? Occasional san checks due to the very fact that the character is becoming other than human in their world view? Higher chance of possession due to their being magically open?

Perhaps the pc becomes a beacon to mythos creatures because they have a magical flavor or put off a magical signal?

It would be funny if a group of non-mythos mages attracted a mythos being or a whole infestation due to the magical ripples their experiments caused. Imagine a group of coven of nurses doing healing spells at the local hospital, and perhaps waking a sleeping lloigor, or attracting an ambitious ghoul sorcerer who desires more power through the learning of more spells. Or cultists seeking tastier sacrifices. The DG team figures out what is going on. Do they kill the nurses? How do they stay human and sane if they go around killing nurses who have the most humane intentions? Sounds like it could be the basis of a good scenario.

Do you know of mythos stories in which "normal" non-mythos magic appears? Any titles I could read? How much of it is by HPL? Intellectually I understand that mythos and non-mythos magic could coexist in the same game, but I would like some examples from original sources to break down my resistance. I'd be especially interested in stories that have "traditional" monsters (such as werewolves or vampires) or magical effects of the sort that often occur in non-mythos tales.

I have not read all that much of HPL's original works, maybe twenty short stories, and it has been awhile since I read them.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 03:36:10 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

Our brains are not geared to understand such extra-dimensional forces which can be consciously manipulated by the will alone to effect drastic physical or psychic changes in the world and creatures around us; and if we DO come to understand those energies, then odds are we will be irredeemably remote from the rest of human society and understanding; in game terms, that's zero SAN.

Would they really, I wonder?

Lets say I knew healing, several varieties of call animal, cast out devil, and a number of other non-san blasting spells, enough to have at least some sort of a basic understanding of how magic works. I'd still put on my pants one leg at a time. I'd still need food and water. I'd still see in the same spectrum, and my other senses would likely stay the same. I'd still enjoy the company of friends, and, especially, the opposite sex (and as a married man, let me assure you, they can sometimes be _extremely_ opposite ;) ). My tastes in art and music probably wouldn't change much, if at all, and I'd be much more human, and have much more in common with my fellow humans than _not_ in common with them.

Zero san seems to imply (to me) that your goals and motivations are entirely different from other humans, and/or that your fundamental _values_ have changed radically from those of normal humans. It would also seem to mean that your sense of empathy with and caring for other humans would be missing.

If non-mythos magic is simply not tainted as mythos magic is, should the various shamans (such as the U.S. Military veteran DG friendly who learned magic in Africa in DG, and the Believes (in "Return to Dunwich"), who are all effective mages, all be runnung around at or near zero San? Should being proficient in enough spells to give you an understanding of CoC universe magic really make you as alien to humans as a Shoggoth, or even a ghoul?

PS. I'm not trying to be overly critical, though I might be being too analytical.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 15:42:55 +0100
From: "Clairr O'Connor & Kevin Honan"

I'd think I'd have to agree with the nays regarding the use of magic or a semi-regualar basis. The idea that Alphonse (in his infinite wisdom yada yad yada rama lama ka ding dong…..) would train DG ops to use magic just doesn't sound right I can't think of an rational explanation to dissuade him, it just doesn't seem to mesh with the Lovecraftian aesthetic. It's too convenient. It's a step along that road towards a Derlethian vision of the Mythos "Where white hat elder gods, etc" (see the CoC 5th ed. rulebook for the rest of this rant) It sounds like those D&D games we all played as kids, the players knew they were going vampire hunting so they went into the General Store and went….

PC 1: "Right, we'd like a sack of holy symbols please."

Store Keeper: "?"

PC 2: "How many per sack ?"

PC 1: "OK then thirty holy symbols then"

Store Keeper: Sure would you like crucifix's, crescents or prayer wheels…?

PC 1: "Which are best ?"

PC 2: *mumbles* "30 holy symbols at 25 gp per symbol….that's….750 gp".

Store Keeper: "Oh they're all good."

PC 1: "OK then, ten of each"

PC 2: "What's the encumbrance on that ?"

The again admittedly I really hate magic, except when absolutely necessary I don't use in my games…the most spells a single PC learned in a game was six and he cast two of them and this character was a stage magician. The first time was in Edge of Darkness to dismiss the beast and the second one was Summon Bykhee "just to test it out". He went nuts and disappeared for two years, he was discovered naked up a tree in Norway, babbling insanely and vomiting ichor. He didn't do that again.

That may seem a little harsh, but look at it this way…how many of HPL's characters cast spells "just to test them out" and got away with it. Most of them died in nasty ways. So far as I'm concerned players should never be allowed be comfortable with magic, its far to alien for that. At the best of times it should be a safe as playing baseball with nitroglycerin.

That's my 1.2 pence (the dollar's weak right now),


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 11:06:10 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

Nice suggestions. Still, how might the consequences of a pc or npc learning non-mythos magic (or learning mythos magic and not using it) be played? San checks the first time a pc casts a non-mythos spell? Occasional san checks due to the very fact that the character is becoming other than human in their world view? Higher chance of possession due to their being magically open? Perhaps the pc becomes a beacon to mythos creatures because they have a magical flavor or put off a magical signal?

Depending on how you want to tell your campaign's storyline, it could be any or all of the above. For instance, in Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" certain humans are prone to perceiving the quasi-telepathic energies of the Great Old One: artists, occultists, and so on, people who have been exposed in some way to the larger nature of the cosmos or who have a distinct right-brain personality. I would certainly use this as a precedent to make investigators who learn magic more sensitive to Mythos forces and presences and more of a "presence" to them. If that soul-sucking Horror From Beyond has a choice of which investigator to suck, odds are that in my game it will go for the one who can do the most magic, who stands out as being more in touch with Forces From Beyond. I would tailor this to the circumstances, though.

Just because an investigator knows one comparatively innocuous spell doesn't mean he or she should be getting visits from Dimensional Shamblers every fortnight!

But remember, even a benevolent spell like "Heal" involves metaphysically making a conscious physical change in another person. Certainly this in itself should not be SAN-blasting, but it should be worth at least a point (once, not every time) to hint at the "unnatural" forces at work. On the other hand, Heal could well be a common spell in your campaign. Certainly there's no shortage of real-world occult healers.

(The Nurses scenario idea which followed was beautiful: give that as a tale of terror to Mr Hatherly!)


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 12:55:00 -0300
From: "Roberto L. Vargas"

Would they really, I wonder?

<some interesting concepts about magic snipped>

and I'd be much more human, and have much more in common with my fellow humans than _not_ in common with them. Zero san seems to imply (to me) that your goals and motivations are entirely different from other humans, and/or that your fundamental _values_ have changed radically from those of normal humans. It would also seem to mean that your sense of empathy with and caring for other humans would be missing.

To me, it comes down to what type of game you are running. CoC, in my own little mind, is a dark alien universe where the players discover things they should not have.

What if this player with healing magics, who at first develops empathy with those sick, then starts thinking that he is special.

Why can he heal when others can't? Is there something wrong with him?

Where does this healing power come from? From within him?

Is he chosen? By whom, God? What of the responsibilities of such power?

And those he has healed, will they worship him, hail him as a prophet of their own religion, or the healer's religion. Will they call attention to him?

Will pilgrimages start to see this wonderful person who can cure cancer,close wounds, and realign the back?

That's a lot of pressure. Sure, it should be less than with other overtly chaotic magic, but nerve racking nonetheless. Maybe a character can stay blissfully unaware of what is happening, but I believe anything that cannot be explained in a satisfactory manner, or at the very least by faith, can have SAN sapping consequences.

That could be an explanation of why shamans do not loose sanity when healing. Even priests think of themselves as only vessels; the power comes from above. A being that cannot be explained, and that maybe shouldn't be.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 11:55:29 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

So far, I've been arguing for minimalism in magic. Let me take the other tact for a moment.

"A" cell and most veteran DG agents know that Delta Green deals with horribly powerful forces which are vulnerable to very few things.

Alphonse knows the Elder Sign, and he knows that it can sometimes be used to Save Your Ass (SYA) when a Great Old One comes calling.

Shouldn't the Elder Sign be required training for all full Delta Green agents?

Surely DG could pull strings to arrange for some "vacation" time off from the agent's day job to spend a couple of weeks in study and training (not under Alphonse, of course, but perhaps under another agent) to learn its use.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 18:08:42 -0400
From: Daniel Harms

Alphonse knows the Elder Sign, and he knows that it can sometimes be used to Save Your Ass (SYA) when a Great Old One comes calling.

I'd say that's incorrect. Alphonse knows that in certain books, the Elder Sign is said to provide protection against a certain group of beings. He also knows that werewolves are stopped by silver bullets, that sunlight hurts vampires, and that the evil eye might be warded off by a certain hand gesture. There's no really certain way to test all of them…

On the other hand, if Alphonse has cast the Elder Sign and experienced the power drain, he knows that it does have some effect. But what effect, exactly? Does it merely drain his vitality and not put anything back? Does it have an unanticipated side effect which may not show up until later? Would all field agents have the wisdom not to use it repeatedly, losing the ability to resist mental attacks and possibly killing themselves in the process?

All of these, IMO, are valid reasons why this wouldn't occur.


Date: Sat, 19 Sep 1998 20:09:38 -0500
From: Nightstar

In my CoC campaigns, magic is unexplained, mysterious, and possibly malignant. I have noticed that my players aggressively seek magic spells and artifacts at all times. Based on my observations as a long time Keeper, I offer the following conclusions:

1 - Magic is highly addictive. Once exposed to it, characters are compelled to seek it out in spite of the physical danger or Sanity loss it might cause. It is far more addictive than crack cocaine, compelling characters to tread through the Gates of Hell to get that magic tome that might have a spell. And once obtaining that tome, characters will read and study the tome until they comprehend and learn the spell losing sanity in the process. Then after knowing all this, the character will cast the spell and summon something that will shatter their mind. Definitely a harmful consequence. If the character survives this series of events, they will repeat the entire sequence again as soon as they get wind of another 'magic book' somewhere.

2 - Magic is not compatible with humanity as we define it. The great majority of magicians and sorcerers with any skill at all are usually totally insane. As they gain power, their world view begins to shift from an altruistic view to a personal egocentric view. At this point, their goals supersede the goals of humanity and humanity is relegated to a position of less importance. This decline in the status of humanity continues until humanity is of no importance. At this point, the magician will be completely focused on his personal goals to the detriment of all others. The end will justify ANY means.

3 - Magic exhibits residual side effects much like radiation from atomic energy. Since the character knows little or nothing about magic, he can do little or nothing to protect himself from this "radiation". Hence, the slow physical changes and degenerations that begin to occur and compound as the character becomes more adept. The fingers blacken from paging magis texts. The lungs atrophy from breathing noxious fumes from magic ingredients. Scaly patches appear on the body. The body ages prematurely and unnaturally, the skin becomes leathery or becomes like tissue paper. In the case of more powerful magic, abominable changes occur such as mouths in the palms of the hands, eyes in various parts of the body, or an extra nose just above your rectum.

In summary, magic is powerful, deadly to all whether quickly or insidiously, and inimical to humanity. Allowing players access to unlimited magic should expose them to unlimited dangers. Before long, they will be the focus of some other benevolent group's mission. Or some other magic addict seeking his next mana fix.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 13:55:19 +0900
From: "David Farnell"

Agent Nightstar wrote:

1 - Magic is highly addictive. Once exposed to it, characters are compelled to seek it out in spite of the physical danger or Sanity loss it might cause.

Definitely true in my experience. I've even done this as a player several times. Seems we never learn. I've had maybe 2 or 3 characters killed during "experiments," summoning up Richard Roundtree and the like. Actually, I had one character survive only half of his first adventure before he summoned up a Byakhee just to see if this magic stuff was for real, then got carried off into the night. Nobody else knew what he was planning to do, and he was alone at the time, so they never knew what became of him.

2 - Magic is not compatible with humanity as we define it. The great majority of magicians and sorcerers with any skill at all are usually totally insane. As they gain power, their world view begins to shift from an altruistic view to a personal egocentric view.

snipola

Very true. Yet, I think that as Agent Vargas pointed out in another post, shamans and such in traditional societies may suffer lesser or even no SAN loss, at least when casting traditional spells. They are supported by a culture that provides a place for the twisting of perceptions, providing a psychological motif as it were to prevent their going insane. This will only work with a limited body of spells, however, those deemed "acceptable" by the shamanic society. It is highly unlikely that players, especially DG agents, would be members of such a subculture even if they are, say, Lakota Sioux. They would have to be fully initiated into the authentic shamanic subculture of the Lakota, which has been all but wiped out, and they would have to "live" the shamanic life. Taboos, for example, must be rigidly adhered to to avoid SAN loss, as they are an essential part of the subculture.

New magic-oriented religions such as Wicca may or may not have enough of a psychological cushioning built up to prevent SAN loss when confronted with real magic. Probably, the really serious witches can handle very minor magics that fit with their world-view (weak love spells, that kind of thing). More serious magic would probably be too much for now—they need to create a more fully realized subculture before they can handle that. They're definitely not ready to discover the ties between Shub-Niggurath and earth-magic. (Note that I'm completely speaking in game-terms here, no offense the the Wiccans out there.)

3 - Magic exhibits residual side effects much like radiation from atomic energy. Since the character knows little or nothing about magic, he can do little or nothing to protect himself from this "radiation".

Again, traditional magic subcultures may have developed defenses, and again, it only works for an approved body of spells. Players will almost certainly not be able to protect themselves.

If you DO have a player from one of these subcultures, come up with a lot of taboos to make playing such a character very tough. Taboos can also limit how and when magic is used to prevent overdoing it. You may not have to make up anything—just study up on that culture's magic, and you'll find plenty. The idea of a shaman participating in DG ops is pretty ridiculous, after all, and shouldn't be encouraged. If the player manages to make it work with excellent role-playing, then that's all to the better.


From: Shane Ivey

Lets say I knew healing, several varieties of call animal, cast out devil, and a number of other non-san blasting spells, enough to have at least some sort of a basic understanding of how magic works.

Just because Matthew knows tons of magic does not automatically mean that he knows the whole story about the cosmos at large.

That's what the Cthulhu Mythos skill is for: if Matthew has a Mythos skill of 18%, then he does NOT know a whole lot about how magic and the cosmos is composed.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 02:22:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

That's what the Cthulhu Mythos skill is for

OTOH, if, as has been speculated here by some, that "terrestrial" magic and mythos-magic are both real, and not by definition _both_ tainted by the unnatural and corruptive mythos influence, then one would need little (if any?) Cthulhu Mythos knowledge to have at least some sort of a reasonable grasp of the theory behind the way magic functions.

If one had a fair arsenal of non-sanity blasting spells, and had a pretty fair amount of experience using them, it seems to me that you might well gain at least some grasp of magical theory, just by empirically means.

Lets say there was a sort of nature magician, maybe a county healer type, who knew heal, lots of call animal spells, and that sort of thing, and spent their time treating birds with broken wings, communing with nature (lets assume an area with no Cthulhu mythos influence about) and that sort of thing.

Might they not develop a feel for the sort of subtle forces at play, and be able to discern their patterns, and how they work?

The converse of your suggestion is troubling also. It might imply that if you had a fairly high Cthulhu Mythos score, you could pretty much design your own spells, because your mythos knowledge gave you such a good grasp of the theory behind magic. You'd be comparable to an engineer who knew all the formulas, and how to apply them, and could "build" the things he needed (barring those that required very special components).


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 02:44:39 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

Shouldn't the Elder Sign be required training for all full Delta Green agents? Surely DG could pull strings to arrange for some "vacation" time off from the agent's day job to spend a couple of weeks in study and training (not under Alphonse, of course, but perhaps under another agent) to learn its use.

First off, based on what I remember, DG had a very limited understanding of the mythos, so they might (as someone else said), not realize how useful the elder sign might be. OTOH, Alphonse might choose to train one person per cell in the sign, sort of like having one person in a special forces team know a great deal more than the others about, say, defusing bombs.

On the other hand, Alphonse might not want to turn a agent on to magic. "Gee, great, now I can do magic, maybe I can find some more spells and really do some neat stuff!" I can imagine a DG agent develop an unhealthy obsession with magic, to become a huge danger in all sorts of ways.

I would imagine that in a conspiracy such as DG, "need to know" would be stressed, and even the knowledge that powerful (or any) spells existed might not be common knowledge. Even more so if a particular cell was new, and not yet seriously tested.

Perhaps DG's leaders prefer their people to triumph through the power of the human will, with human-made technology, and maintain at least a degree of faith in humanity, and its power.

Also, DG could have a few select agents who were on call, people Alphonse knew who (perhaps) had learned the Elder Sign themselves. They could be called in for emergencies perhaps.

Just a few ideas

PS, consider a idea, what if a trained in the Elder Sign DG agent had fled into a building, and knew that he was trapped and being stalked by some major mythos nasty. He puts Elder Signs on every available surface, and does not realize that he went mad when he saw and ran from the thing. He keeps casting, and casting, and casting, and when a DG follow-up team find him, he has shriveled into a horrific mummy-like form, drained of all POW, perhaps with the last vestiges of mad intelligence flickering in his eyes, just before they drained away forever.

It could be dangerous to have such a helpful spell.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 05:59:41 -0500
From: William Timmins

In my past campaign, magic was relatively common. My spin was that as soon as any agent found a spell which was useful, DG made an effort to record it for possible future use. Among the most common was the Flesh Ward spell, and Elder Sign.

OTOH, DG, as an agency, distrusts magic. Magic is obviously a potential source of supernatural danger to the people of the US, and a tempting power.

One of the big DG agent NPCs in my campaign was 'Mike', who had Dust of Suleiman, Command Ghost, and a host of spells. He was also quite 'twitchy'. For all intents and purposes, he was a potentially dangerous tool DG would carefully consider using when magical firepower seemed warranted.

As it was, Mike vanished at one point, and other agents sent to find him kept disappearing (along with friendly military attachments). Turned out a group of vampires had signed him up, and he was now a huge security leak/potential danger. Woo.

It's part of that staring into the Abyss thing. It's so tempting to use methods that work, even if you suspect it will ultimately cost… deals with the Devil, y'know.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 10:11:23 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

OTOH, if, as has been speculated here by some, that "terrestrial" magic and mythos-magic are both real, and not by definition _both_ tainted by the unnatural and corruptive mythos influence, then one would need little (if any?) Cthulhu Mythos knowledge to have at least some sort of a reasonable grasp of the theory behind the way magic functions.

As I've said before, I would portray "terrestrial" magic and Mythos magic as manifestations of the same forces; as for the taint, Mythos magic is by definition tainted by the corrupting and unnatural influence of the Mythos.

That's what distinguishes it from the relatively benign Heal or Summon/Mind Fruit fly spells.

My point about Mythos skill and "magic theory" was that IMO one could have a reasonable (but limited) grasp of the way genuine magic functions (enough to say the incantations and make the mojo happen) without knowing the Full and Horrible Truth of the Mythos cosmos. But I would certainly limit the capacity of any such sorcerer to come up with all-new spells, especially those which are beyond the fairly terrestrial shamanic magic described earlier: devising new spells of any real power would in my games only be possible for a character with a very high Cthulhu Mythos score, very high POW, and a lot of other spells already known; not a player-character, in other words (Agent Umbaerto notwithstandingwho gave this guy fifty-four FREAKING percent in Mythos??). A sorcerer like Leng Fu (or whatever his name wasthe immortal master from TFFY/Day of the Beast) or the aforementioned punk Carl Stanford would be such a human who could devise new spells, possibly new spells of some power. (Note: there was a whole thread on crafting new spells a few months ago if you want to dig through the archives.)


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 10:12:27 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

He keeps casting, and casting, and casting, and when a DG follow-up team find him, he has shriveled into a horrific mummy-like form, drained of all POW, perhaps with the last vestiges of mad intelligence flickering in his eyes, just before they drained away forever. It could be dangerous to have such a helpful spell.

It would make for a cool scene in the story, though! ;-)


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 12:09:06 -0500
Robert Dushay

Excellent posts on magic. Two thoughts.

1. David Farnell's idea that traditional society protects the magician from SAN loss is excellent. Notice that a member of a modern, Western society would almost certainly have to lose some SAN to learn any magic at all. There would be a big modification of the Western world-view to accept magic.

2. I get the feeling that Delta Green as an organization wouldn't trust magic, Elder Sign or no. The standard M.O. is to sterilize any Mythos contact, and magic would seen as part of that Occult stuff. They might be willing to trust a Friendly who knows magic, but I get the impression DG is more interested in physical means and heavy weapons to deal with Mythos threats than magic.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 12:36:16 -0500
From: Nightstar

In my campaign, there is no "natural, terrestrial" magic. There are no benign, supreme beings looking out for mankind and providing them with powers in times of need regardless of their puny, mundane, and diversified religions and belief systems. Magic is not undiscovered physics or technology. Magic exists and comes from one source only, the Mythos.

As a result, magic is totally alien and incomprehensible to most of humanity, which is why most of humanity goes insane when they begin to grasp the concepts. As to creating new spells, this is impossible for a human regardless of their Mythos, occult, or whatever skill unless they have the "guidance" of a Mythos being to "open the pathways of comprehension". And since we all know how these Mythos beings feel about us, the inherent perils of such guidance should be apparent. As a result, even the most benign appearing spell, such as Heal or Summon Fruit Fly, carries within it, by the very nature of its origin, a malignancy that is detrimental to the caster. Humans who believe their magic is a gift from God, Satan, Mother Earth, Nature, or Fifth Dimensional Tri-Particulate Ambrium-Quantum physics have been deluded by the Mythos beings to disguise the true nature and purpose of its existence. And that purpose is to bring ruin and destruction to Mankind. Therefore, there is no benevolent magic; only malignant magic that masquerades as such. The purpose of such magic could be to lead the magician to more questionable spells until the magician is lost to the Mythos.

It is probable that Alphonse knows this, and would explain why the massive amount of magic data that has been accumulated by Delta Green has not been disseminated among the various cells for field application. To do so would destroy Delta Green from within.

By the way, has anyone checked Alphones' reading lists lately?


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 14:18:01 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

Humans who believe their magic is a gift from God, Satan, Mother Earth, Nature, or Fifth Dimensional Tri-Particulate Ambrium-Quantum physics have been deluded by the Mythos beings to disguise the true nature and purpose of its existence. And that purpose is to bring ruin and destruction to Mankind.

Ruin and destruction for Mankind are certainly effects of the various forces and entities of the Mythos, but I would not call it their purpose. I can't imagine any OG or GOO giving a flip one way or another about Mankind, except Nyarlathotep, who just digs fucking with our minds.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 11:18:24 -0700
From: Joseph Camp

2. I get the feeling that Delta Green as an organization wouldn't trust magic, Elder Sign or no. The standard M.O. is to sterilize any Mythos contact, and magic would seen as part of that Occult stuff. They might be willing to trust a Friendly who knows magic, but I get the impression DG is more interested in physical means and heavy weapons to deal with Mythos threats than magic.

We have some experience in this area and have made use of it in the past. If you recall our history, it was this tool that enabled us to ambush the oceanic humanoids so effectively years ago. However, we don't teach the practice of magic to our agents as a matter of course; the costs are generally too great. We try to learn as much as we can without actually engaging in the practice, in other words.

The best way we've found of routinely dealing with paranormal threats is to avoid the direct manifestations and concentrate on the human agents responsible for bringing them to bear.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 16:43:02 -0500
From: William Timmins

Actually, which is worse… the Mythos doesn't care about humanity, the Mythos wishes to destroy humanity… or the Mythos is trying to help?

Shudder.


Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 09:18:25 +0900
From: "David Farnell"

The again admittedly I really hate magic, except when absolutely necessary I don't use in my games…the most spells a single PC learned in a game was six and he cast two of them and this character was a stage magician. The first time was in Edge of Darkness to dismiss the Beast and the second one was Summon Bykhee "just to test it out". He went nuts and disappeared for two years, he was discovered naked up a tree in Norway, babbling insanely and vomiting ichor. He didn't do that again.

<snip>

I agree. Even my villains use a lot less magic than they seem to in most published adventures. Sorcerers in the books seem to know random spells like "Summon Shantak" for no good reason. I generally cross out half the spells that the big baddies have, and just use the ones left all the more effectively and cleverly. Some of the nastiest cases have been evil dudes who know maybe 2 or 3 spells and use them in very nasty ways. When they know a bunch of spells and use them a lot, the horror of magic flattens out. It should be very rare, and generally very dangerous.

As an addendum to what I wrote earlier about shamanic magic, please keep in mind that this does not mean that priests and shamans of such traditional groups will likely know spells. Only a very few will really know any magic, in the same way that very few Buddhist priests are really trying to attain Enlightenment. Most of them are just doing their job and don't think of the more mystical aspects. Thus, even within the aforementioned Lakota shamanic tradition, of the very few shamans left, only a tiny number of them will really know magic and be able to teach it. And if you aren't fully initiated and "living the life" so to speak, you're going to suffer the nasty side-effects.


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 20:36:44 EDT
From: Michael Layne

There are a few occasions where it may be useful for an agent to learn some "mostly harmless" spell on their own, given special circumstances and resources.

Dr. Falworth, for example, has spent a goodly amount of time poking around in the Great Library of Ulthar — not to find out how to shoot lightning from her hands or to turn Gugs inside-out, but to find out about Healing spells and the like! Why? It's a little hard to take that 1998 medical bag into The Dreamlands, and Eloise Falworth is a physician (with a POW of 17, so it might do her some good…), who takes her vocation seriously, and she wants to have available something beyond simple bandaging and folk remedies, if one of the people with her gets ill or injured…

Of course, the Healing spells she ends up learning may _only_ work in The Dreamlands, but that's, in fact, likely to be beneficial to her SAN! ("Well, this is The Dreamlands — the laws of physics must be slightly different here…")

In the Waking World, she is far more likely to use her high First Aid and Medicine skills, and the contents of her Doctor's Black Bag, even if the spell also works there!

In the Ulthar Library:

Fred: "Hey, Doc! These are some really neat spells in this _Book of Black Magick_!"

Eloise: "I don't especially trust books with such names! I agree with Master Sean O'Lochlainn concerning Black Magic, and I am very particular about both symbolism and intent!"

Fred: "But the spells in here would let me summon _demons_, and level whole towns! I could turn invisible, and contact the Outer Gods!! Who cares about _healing_, anyway?"

Eloise: "Me.. Fred, if you _must_ go play, go somewhere really _isolated_ first!"

Fred: "Sure! I don't want you reading over my shoulder and learning useful magic… These are the secrets to _power_! Yep, I'm gonna be a Mighty Wizard…"

Pity about poor Fred… :)


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 22:12:03 EDT
From: Shane Ivey

Sorcerers in the books seem to know random spells like "Summon Shantak" for no good reason. I generally cross out half the spells that the big baddies have, and just use the ones left all the more effectively and cleverly.

Come now—it takes a lot of forethought to describe a character thus:

"Spells: All in the rulebook plus any the Keeper deems necessary."


Date: Sun, 20 Sep 1998 23:50:15 -0400
From: Daniel Harms

« Sorcerers in the books seem to know random spells like "Summon Shantak" for no good reason. I generally cross out half the spells that the big baddies have, and just use the ones left all the more effectively and cleverly. » Come now—it takes a lot of forethought to describe a character thus: "Spells: All in the rulebook plus any the Keeper deems necessary."

Actually, I've wondered how much more good twelve spells is than six, when it comes to the CoC system. If the evil wizard doesn't have some sort of magic-point reservoir, he's in trouble quickly in a prolonged situation. After all, most Summon/Bind spells cost 10 MP, and don't forget those spells which require a MP vs. MP contest to be successful…


Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 02:40:18 +1000
From: Rob Shankly

Greetings.

I don't think that DG would be supplying much in the way of "training" in any circumstances. I can see agents and friendlies being instructed on how to pass messages, and occasionally spending an hour or two with an unknown contact (who might even be the shadowy "Alphonse"), but training? Nah. DG agents are selected from those who have the requisite skills as understood by DG (a _military_ organization).

Some members of the organization might know spells, but I'm sure they are in the minority:

1/. DG is more inclined to support direct, violent action against its enemies. This is one of its limitations, and potentially a good source of roleplay. Investigator groups can be placed in a situation where their orders are to destroy an entity which might be better left alone for study, or even made a temporary ally (remember the "ghoul" thread?).

DG strikes me as choosing magical or occult solutions as a last resort, after mundane methods have been ruled out. They are unlikely to spend time training agents with techniques they abhor.

2/. DG's operational experience must weigh heavily against trusting anyone even associated with magic. "The sucker went mad, Captain…!". I frequently keep a private log of Investigator's SAN & HP losses during games, secret from the players, because it adds to the paranoia if they are unsure of their health level. Players tend to get VERY cautious.

Anything that might further injure them is looked at most critically!

3/. Many "useful" magics require drain of Power or Magic Points, which must feel unpleasant. Given the circumstances surrounding most spell casting in CoC, I'm surprised at the number of PCs prepared to stand around and watch while one of their number invokes some horror from the abyss…

4/. I expect magic is treated as the very most sensitive "need to know" information. There are two reasons: first, magic tends to drive its practitioners mad, and DG has enough problems without loopy ex-investigators showing up on "Geraldo" or in front of Senate sub-committees. Second, magic use must be a red rag to M-12's bull-nothing could be more likely to mark the Investigators for close attention from the enemy.

From a Keeper's perspective, I would rather make the task of acquiring a spell into a small scenario (a classic quest!) for the PCs to deal with.

Investigators don't need to learn spells from unpleasant books; there is good role-play to be had when the PCs try to persuade some benign practitioner to teach them magic.

For instance, the magician might be an aged DG operative, scared of being cleansed by Alphonse. He invites a lone investigator to a meeting, then hustles him away at gunpoint: a week at an isolated cabin, locked in the basement while some wild-eyed, gun waving fanatic teaches your character an incantation to drive off beasts might make a cool solo interlude. Make it clear to the PC that the gun is for him if he doesn't cope with the new knowledge… add the rest of the character's cell, thinking it's a kidnapping…

moc.loa|rJrekaorC#moc.loa|rJrekaorC wrote:

(Cut)

Alphonse knows the Elder Sign, and he knows that it can sometimes be used to Save Your Ass (SYA) when a Great Old One comes calling. Shouldn't the Elder Sign be required training for all full Delta Green agents? Surely DG could pull strings to arrange for some "vacation" time off from the agent's day job to spend a couple of weeks in study and training (not under Alphonse, of course, but perhaps under another agent) to learn its use.

Back on the topic of wild-eyed fanatics, there is a tradition in horror stories for the heroes to be assisted by a "professor" character who provides clues and expertise. Van Helsing is a good example, so is Henry Armitage. I suppose I see DG approaching magic a bit like a large company hiring consultants. Rather than have operatives learn spells, wherever possible arcane solutions are provided by outside experts. These people probably think they are trusted DG insiders, and almost certainly have a valuable role forwarding unusual news items for investigation. But in reality they are carefully watched and always suspected of "going over the edge".


Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 09:23:04 -0500
From: William Timmins

Evil (or good, for that matter) mages in CoC NEED MP reservoirs to get anything significant done, beyond S/B and specific 'useful' spells.

In any magical conflict, huge amounts of MP get burned up, and the mage will almost assuredly loose, unless the mage has something on the order of 30+ MP. MP costs, then MP tests, mean most spells will fail with normal amounts of MP, AND the mage leaves himself vulnerable to spells with MP tests. Great. ;)

One PC in my game had Power Drain and Mental Suggestion, but almost every time he tried them, he failed. (Mental Suggestion… spend 8 and then a MP test… not very likely, under most circumstances)

One good option for PC mages (assuming you, like me, allow such a monstrosity to occur) is 'Channel', from The Golden Dawn. Allows moderate gain of MP above and beyond normal level, but not that open ended… although it should be noted that there are no fixed mechanics to control MP upward spiraling (I get 10 MP, and then Power Drain everyone I meet!)

It is, however, rather simple to make such a character's life bad. (Excess MP starts causing mutations, or attracts astral parasites, or grounds as HP loss if you ever roll 00, or…)


Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 01:08:56 -0700
From: Phil A Posehn

One good option for PC mages (assuming you, like me, allow such a monstrosity to occur) is 'Channel', from The Golden Dawn. Allows moderate gain of MP above and beyond normal level, but not that open ended… although it should be noted that there are no fixed mechanics to control MP upward spiraling (I get 10 MP, and then Power Drain everyone I meet!) It is, however, rather simple to make such a character's life bad. (Excess MP starts causing mutations, or attracts astral parasites, or grounds as HP loss if you ever roll 00, or…)

Thanks! I've always been fond of the Golden Dawn book and wondered when someone was going to bring it up in this connection.


Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 17:08:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: Marco

Someone mentioned that they allow a bit of leeway in how spells are used, such as letting a Death Spell have a subtle and delayed effect, such as, instead of doing all the damage immediately, for the damage to happen as a result of a "coincidental" car accident. I like such subtle used of magic (which is part of why I like the way GURPS Voodoo and Mage The Ascension treat magic), and would like to see how to apply it to CoC.

I don't remember who posted the idea I am referring to, so if you are out there, I'd like it very much if you responded. I'd also be interested in the ideas of anyone else on the list.

What would allow you to tweak the way existing spells are used? Cthulhu Mythos rolls? POW rolls? INT rolls? A good explanation within a role playing content? Some combination? What if a pc gets such a spell, and only reluctantly uses it as a last resort? How do you determine if they can custom cast it the way they want?

Would you change the magic point cost, either higher (due to changing the "normal" way the spell is done), lower (because the spell is being expressed in a more natural manner, through understandable accidents)? Would you perhaps make the SAN cost a touch lower, since the mage can perhaps partially convince them self that it was luck, not the spell that killed the victim? Or maybe higher, since the caster may fear that any or all accidents are really the result of supernatural agencies?

Would you still have to be around the victim when you cast, or could you use something from them (hair, finger nail parings, etc) to cast it? How much could you tune it time wise? Could you delay it, and if so, for how long?

What do you think?


Date: Tue, 22 Sep 1998 15:50:20 -0700
From: Christian Conkle
Well, I was the one who suggested it, but I doubt I'm the first to think of it. It was mainly just an idea, hypothetical mostly. I haven't had an occasion where a CoC PC uses Magic yet in a campaign. As I said, my campaigns are fairly magic-lite and usually only the Baddies have access to that kind of thing. The chief limiter to PC spell-learning in my campaigns is that the PC's are always in a hurry, usually to do something or get somewhere, so they never have 24-48 weeks to sit and read any arcane tome they get long enough to learn any good spells. And then they usually die. Plus, they usually play character types that are skeptical and don't think about magic (within the game context). My PC's tend to be more interested in Cryptozoology and Mythology than in the Occult and how to abuse it.

But if a PC were to use magic in my campaign, I wouldn't apply any modifiers, rules, or limitations to the existing rules, I'd just use descriptive storytelling and role-playing to mask the effect within the often ambiguous workings of the universe. I'm not suggesting being subtle to the point of the PC's always saying "Did it work?" I'm just saying that the effect of the spell should be described in such a way so that the PC's should say, "Did we just do that or was that a coincidence?"

In other words, I'd never have glowing energies burst from fingertips and zap people or Bigby's Upturned Finger or anything, but I would allow the PC to point at a target, say some goofy stuff, and rather unremarkably, the target would collapse with a heart attack, or at most burst into flame mysteriously, but never EVER have a glowing energy bolt blast the target.

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