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#1 Celebrim

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Posted 15 November 2017 - 03:38 PM

So, previously I've only run CoC for one shots, and sort of had the attitude that if anyone survives a scenario with their sanity intact that I was doing it wrong.

But now I'm thinking of running one of the classic campaigns with the intention of somewhat more extended play, which means not necessarily picking the most brutal scenarios possible and treating PC's as the victims of one of those slasher/horror films where everyone dies.

One topic that this raises that has never been an issue for me before is PC spellcasting

Hitherto, I've always treated any CoC spell that was potentially useful to the PC's as badly designed, and - with the possible exception of prominent mythos spells like the Elder Sign - something certainly to be kept out of PC hands.  Likewise, hitherto, to the extent that I ever thought of PC spellcasting at all, it was to think that in the unlikely event the PC's learned a spell, it would probably be one with face melting consequences and in any event they'd probably never learn more than 1 or 2 of them anyway.  All of that is probably still true, even if the investigators do survive a few scenarios. 

But in this, am I being 'fair?. Does anyone consider it reasonable and expected for investigators that survive a while to become reasonably competent sorcerers with access to useful magic?  It feels like there is enough in the lesser grimoire these days, that you could almost manage to be a D&D style spellcaster if you had the starting POW and SAN to support it and enough time to learn the spells.  In particular, I'm concerned with the existence of spells that differ from the typical greater grimoire spells in that:

 

1) They do something useful.

2) They don't involve sacrificing POW.

3) They don't involve human sacrifice or other SAN destroying prerequisite or consequence (or both).

4) They often involve either minimal loss of SAN or no loss of SAN at all.   In particular, there are spells like healing, charm animal, cure blindness, heal, detect enchantment and so forth that are effectively costless and quite useful.

 

Should I be appalled at that?  Should I try to thwart acquisition of any sort of useful spell?   Or should I trust that as a practical matter, anyone attracted to that sort of power is eventually going to come to a bad end reading mythos tomes and trying out the contents.  In this sense, the 'good' spells might be seen as a sort of bait on the hook.  If 'good' spells didn't exist, experienced players or players that have examined the rules would have no reason (at a metagame level or at rational level in character) to pursue spell-casting making the contents of tomes pointless since why would you bother reading one?

 

And in particular, I'm thinking of preemptively house ruling that casting any spell always costs at least 1 SAN as a means of ensuring that at no point could casting a spell be routine.  Does this seem reasonable or am I being paranoid?   What are some of your experiences as keepers/players with characters learning more than a single spell or in particular learning spells they were able to use as more than one time panic buttons or plot devices?




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#2 tjgreenway

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 05:44 AM

I can only speak from limited experience, but I'm personally trying to avoid my PC's having access to spells that they'll want to cast too readily and I agree with your idea that all spells should have some kind of negative impact on SAN (maybe not an automatic loss on lesser spells, but a SAN check instead). That said, I tend not to tell the players exactly how the spell works until they cast it except for the basic necessities IE. "you will need to be in a stone circle on a full moon, with access to a silver dagger". That way, I think they'll think twice about attempting to cast it - I may not always have the spell have exactly the same effects twice as well (each time the stars are aligned differently leading to subtle changes in the magic), which I hope will stop the players from thinking they can rely on it too much. So far, my players have avoided magic, but that may change in the next session, so we'll see!

That said, I am extremely interested in real life occultist movements of the time and intend to introduce the likes of Alistair Crowley and WB Yeats as NPC's at some point during my campaign, so if real life 'magick' seems to be something my players are interested in, I may introduce a couple of (largely innefective but still useful) lesser 'spells'. This may involve a slightly accelerated method of healing, but nothing over the top. SAN loss from this may be an option - not from a successful casting, but from a failed attempt, which shakes their belief in their methods and abilities.

#3 Celebrim

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 01:09 PM

I also tend to not tell players what a spell does or even identify it except in the vaguest of terms, but presumably against experienced players or with players very familiar with the rules this has only limited utility unless every spell you introduce is homebrew.   That said, I would also consider homebrew drawbacks to spells other than imposing say a 1 SAN point cost to the spell, and I do have some 'clever' ideas in that regard for hideous and horrific but subtle side effects of using mythos magic.  I still maintain that if a Mythos spell is useful to someone who isn't a mythos cultist, it's badly designed, and that all well designed CoC spells should have only highly circumstantial utility to investigators simply because the costs to them are more than they should want to bear most of the time.

 

As for Alistair Crowley, I'm much more inclined that if he ever showed up as an NPC in the game, to treat him as a totally clueless buffoon, whose idea of magic is pretense, showmanship, and narcissism.   Indeed, I'd assign Crowley a rather low POW score and make him mentally incapable of handling actual exposure to real magic.   Not only do I think this is a reasonable assessment of Crowley's character as a person (and heck, the actual published rules encourage keepers to view Crowley this way if you go back and read some of the early Chaosium books and essays, probably because the last thing they wanted to do during the RPG Occult scare was encourage interest in real life occult), but I think it fits better within the framework of the Cthulhu Mythos.  If Crowley is a real sorcerer, then at least a portion of humanity is groping toward a true understanding and even control of the universe.   But if in fact all occult lore is basically rubbish and all well known magic traditions simply rank superstition and ignorance, then occult is no more refuge for the human race than science is.  The Cthulhu Mythos is basically about kicking the feet out from under humanity's arrogance, confidence, and security.  Crowley advocates rather the opposite point of view.  If you really can get to be superpowered heroes, that undermines it completely.  The only useful intersection of the mythos with the real Crowley in my opinion is Crowley's obviously questionable sanity, but that might be reversing cause and effect.

Besides which, having Crowley be a mythos sorcerer is unimaginative in that players would just shrug and go, "Of course he is."  I prefer that if I'm going to use a real person in that way, to hit the players with something unexpected.   For example, the fictional Carl Sagan of the alternative reality represented by the game is a mythos sorcerer.

 


Edited by Celebrim, 16 November 2017 - 01:23 PM.


#4 GBSteve

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 01:37 PM

I think you're being a bit rough on Crowley, expert chess player and mountaineer. But that's probably not the real issue here.

 

Magic use by PCs in Call of Cthulhu comes in all stripes. It ranges from the pulp spellslingers who habitually shrivel Deep Ones and go toe to toe with Serpent Folk to the "I cast one spell ever and now my whole family is doomed, unto the 7th generation." As with most games, it's up to you to bring the flavour that you and the player characters want. So don't worry about what other people have done, find a flavour that you enjoy.

 

For me, one of the key aspects of interaction with the Mythos is how much it costs the PCs. You can only defeat the Mythos by using its methods, but using them makes you Mythos. It's the old problem from the Westerns. Gunslingers represent barbarity and need to be defeated, but only by becoming a gunslinger can you defeat a gunslinger. And hence you become the problem.

 

SAN is only one of the cost PC can pay in encountering the Mythos. Delta Green looks at the effect this has one the PCs relationships. The Mythos will break them all, leaving you alone and isolated, kept outside that which you wish to protect. What else might be on the table? What will you sacrifice to save something which will then ostracise you for having made that sacrifice?


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#5 Celebrim

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 02:03 PM

I think you're being a bit rough on Crowley, expert chess player and mountaineer. But that's probably not the real issue here.

 

I may be being rough on Crowley, but what does his ranks in Art(Chess Playing) and Climb have to do with his ability to cast spells? 
 

But I agree, that's not the real issue and just a tangent from the thread.

The claim that you can only defeat the Mythos by using its methods would not be one you can sustain from the text of the stories.  The vast majority of successes against the Mythos in HPL's work did not come from using Mythos magic against them.  To the extent that you can defeat the mythos at all, the text indicates that various times, depth charges, stoically piloted steamships, fire arms, well trained and loyal dogs, and barrels of carbolic acid are as effective and probably more effective at buying humanity time and sanity than chanting mythos spells.  While your gunslinger analogy has some merit, the analogy I find in the CoC game is often more like that of soldiers, who endure sanity rending horrors that leave them forever changed and shaken in order that their community might not witness and endure such horrors.  Investigators swallow up the deadly mythos lore, and in doing so destroy both it and themselves, like a phagocyte engulfing deadly bacteria (to use another metaphor).  Certainly Delta Green very much has this sort of analogy going on, and not necessarily the Gunslinger analogy (although, of course investigators do 'go bad').  I'm not sure however even these attractive analogies work for the HPL text itself, which depending on the story sometimes even resembles the triumph of manly rationality over superstition seen in Stoker's Dracula text, and doesn't have a consistent theme.  For example, we can't even reliably identify the protagonist/narrator as the hero of the story, and often as not its the villagers getting out pitchforks and torches (as it were) that resolves the situation the narrator has unwisely involved themselves in.  And certainly something like 'Shadow over Innsmouth' has a very complicated relationship to its protagonist, who in saving humanity finds no hope for himself and turns away from it.  The problem there is not so much that he can't take the alien horrors he's witnessed and helped eliminate, but that he can't take the ordinary mortal and very human horror of dying.
 


Edited by Celebrim, 16 November 2017 - 03:43 PM.


#6 DadsAngry

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 02:16 PM

I think you're being a bit rough on Crowley, expert chess player and mountaineer. But that's probably not the real issue here.

 

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#7 mvincent

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 11:09 PM

4) They often involve either minimal loss of SAN or no loss of SAN at all.   In particular, there are spells like healing, charm animal, cure blindness, heal, detect enchantment and so forth that are effectively costless and quite useful.

 

Which classic campaign are you planning to run?

 

Are these available in it?



#8 Gaffer

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 11:46 PM

SAN loss from this may be an option - not from a successful casting, but from a failed attempt, which shakes their belief in their methods and abilities.


How do you determine whether a casting attempt fails?
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#9 Blackmyron

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 11:47 PM

Those spells are from "Return to Dunwich", and are within the arsenal of the Believers.   Other spells with low (or no) SAN loss are in the possession of tribal shamans and such.

 

In most cases, those types of spells are generally only known to an insular group of people who would rather loath to share with strangers, I'd imagine.  



#10 Celebrim

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 01:49 AM

mvincent, on 16 Nov 2017 - 6:09 PM, said:mvincent, on 16 Nov 2017 - 6:09 PM, said:

Which classic campaign are you planning to run?

 

Are these available in it?

 

MoN.  And I'm not sure yet, but from what I can tell practically every famous mythos tome is in it somewhere, as well as quite a large variety of scrolls and diaries with spells on them.   Plus there are a couple of non-Brotherhood sorcerers that could become unlikely allies of the enemy of my enemy sort.  Since most mythos tomes do not specify all spells that they contain, it's pretty much up to me to decide what sort of spells that they should contain.

 

I haven't finished deciding what spells they should contain, but I'm fairly certain that I don't like the spells that provide for routine magic like 'Command Animal' or 'Heal' and they seem to have only multiplied the longer the game has gone on.   I could of course just keep the spells out of their hands, and they are going to be limited in the time they have to study and learn spells anyway, but I'm less interested in whether or not I could metagame against the players than whether or not simple changes might make it so I don't have to.

 


Edited by Celebrim, 17 November 2017 - 01:50 AM.


#11 GBSteve

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 02:24 PM

Celebrim, I did preface my magical inclinations with "for me". I'm not suggesting you have to adhere to them, just giving you a data point to consider when designing your own system.

 

I think however you need some kind of carrot. I agree that magic should be difficult and dangerous, but needs to be worthwhile. In Fearful Symmetries, I've dialled back the danger and difficulty because it's a campaign based around the use of magic and I don't want to incapacitate the PCs too quickly. But there is still a price.

 

The nice thing in Mythos gaming is that you don't have to make that price explicit upfront. If they glibly do something which they later find out retroactively caused the capture of their grandparent's souls by Llloigir. Well, they should have been a bit more careful.


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#12 mvincent

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 07:01 PM

MoN.  And I'm not sure yet, but from what I can tell practically every famous mythos tome is in it somewhere, as well as quite a large variety of scrolls and diaries with spells on them.   Plus there are a couple of non-Brotherhood sorcerers that could become unlikely allies of the enemy of my enemy sort.  Since most mythos tomes do not specify all spells that they contain, it's pretty much up to me to decide what sort of spells that they should contain.

 

- I haven't encountered this issue the times I've run MoN (but I'd likely be ok with it if I did)

- I believe most Mythos tomes specify the spells they contain (I don't add more)

- I see nothing wrong with you choosing to provide PC's with safe, good spells - but that's your choice, and it would change the nature of the campaign. The default is 'spells have a cost', except in Pulp mode (which MoN is certainly suitable for).

- Old Bendari could provide training of some good, safe spells... but per the source material: I don't believe he would (nor would the PC's have time).

 

fwiw: I tended to encourage PC spell use (despite ubiquitous SAN costs), and these were my favorites:

1) Resurrect: allowed for PC attachment and campaign continuity (while allowing me to not hold back)

2) Flesh Ward: allowed for D&D style hit points during epic battles (mostly used by enemy sorcerers)

3) Alter self (or whatever it's called): allowed for cinematically high APPearance PC's (even though that is normally a dump stat) and encouraged roleplaying.



#13 Aklo

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Posted 17 November 2017 - 07:03 PM

The nice thing in Mythos gaming is that you don't have to make that price explicit upfront. If they glibly do something which they later find out retroactively caused the capture of their grandparent's souls by Llloigir. Well, they should have been a bit more careful.

 

Well said!

 

In my games I usually have the PC's learn spells at either great physical or mental risk to themselves, though I tend to let them learn them quicker than most rule's guidelines, with the explicit purpose of them being used by scenario or case's end, no point learning one without eventually unleashing the power, despite, or in some cases because of, the cost.


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#14 Eusebio

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:52 PM

I do not prohibit spell-use in my games, but players should understand magic is not something of the mundane and always has it's cost.

Sanity is the easiest cost you can have, I guess. Cast a certain spell, use a certain amount of sanity. It limits the amount of times the spell can be used, underlining it is never an easy solution.

Other costs are possible though: maybe the casting of a spell leaves the character weak and sapped, with reduced scores? (Think of the psychic that needs a rest after a seance).
Maybe it leaves the caster with a splitting headache ? (doctors can't find anything, but it gets worse and worse everytime the spell is cast)

The cost can also be monetary: the ingredients or items needed to actually cast the spell are very hard to come by and leaves the player with a very limited amount of actual castings and the decision 'when is it worth it?"

Or perhaps the cost is a social one?
After all, once seen casting magic, opinions on the character will change, often for the worse. The character might find people shunning him, whispering behind his back. He may suffer penalties on persuasion, fast talk and credit rating tests when in a crowd of people that know he is 'a witch'. 

What will his companions make of it? Will they accept magic because 'it is convenient'? Or will they speak out against it? (creating great roleplaying opportunities, especially in longer campaigns)

And last but not least, just like a weapon can jam or misfire, spells can also go wrong. Maybe the entity summoned isn't bound or controlled? Maybe the sigil drawn isn't entirely correct and therefor, it doesn't deliver the expected protection ? (surprise!!!!!) 

As being said before already, the cost of a spell doesn't have to known up front. Maybe it builds with every time it is used. When rolls are involved, why not have the Keeper roll them and keep the result a secret (until it becomes painfully clear you fumbled). Magic is always a high risk- high reward approach and it can go either way.



#15 Gaffer

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:56 PM

As I inquired above:

 

How do you determine whether a casting attempt succeeds or fails?


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#16 Eusebio

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:02 PM

Chapter 9 of the 7th edition rules gives a good system to determine whether it succeeds or fails via a hard POW roll. It also presents two tables on possible effects when a spell fails.

 

For me, it also depends on the type of spell. Sometimes I ask for an occult roll instead (knowing the succession of ritual acts you need to do to pull it off). 
Or why not an extra Art roll to see how good you drew that protective rune? 

I guess it all depends on how elaborate (a quick spell or an intricate ritual) you want to make it?



#17 Shanty

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:11 PM

I allow all spells, but don't tell players exactly what they do. My experiences have been good! So far they've taken a chance on "Call forth the Winged One" and, despite being stunned that it actually worked, managed to pull off a spectacular heist on the Carlyle estate aided by Byakhee. I tried to downplay the immediate cost (magic points and SAN drain left the would-be-wizard exhausted, but not incapacitated) and focus on the in-world "cost" of spellcasting.

 

Here's a quick handout I whipped up for the aftermath.

gb6aAmk.png

 

Their original spell caster is indefinitely institutionalized (fell to about 5 SAN after witnessing the God of the Bloody Tongue), but another party member has made a serious study of the Liber Ivonis, so they'll be ready for another round soon. I expect they'll focus on Wheel of Mist, but they tend to get pretty creative, so I'm hoping they'll also have some fun with Create Gate, Deflect Harm and maybe Wither Limb.

 

Keeping the effects and costs more or less secret seems to give them enough pause that it hasn't become a spell extravaganza (and to be honest as far as combat goes they'd be better off investing in tommy guns for the whole party anyway)



#18 Gaffer

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 03:38 PM

Chapter 9 of the 7th edition rules gives a good system to determine whether it succeeds or fails via a hard POW roll. It also presents two tables on possible effects when a spell fails.

 

For me, it also depends on the type of spell. Sometimes I ask for an occult roll instead (knowing the succession of ritual acts you need to do to pull it off). 
Or why not an extra Art roll to see how good you drew that protective rune? 

I guess it all depends on how elaborate (a quick spell or an intricate ritual) you want to make it?

 

The 7th ed rule applies only to the initial casting of a newly-learned spell and states that after the first time succeeds, no further casting roll is necessary. I think I might require a simple POW success each time. Not sure how I would handle it in a multi-investigator ritual.


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#19 Lisa

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 05:42 PM

Early Chaosium adventures and campaigns sometimes made tomes way too available without thinking about context. I'm not just talking "oh noes! The PCs will be too powerful!" Yes, that's potentially a thing, and yes, there are a number of ways of dealing with this without cutting back on the overload of books and spells, and yes, that said, when a player kept saying "You know, there's a time gate spell", I kept saying loudly, over and over, "No, your characters do NOT know about that, and I have not decided if it even exists, and in any case, I am NOT letting you guys have a spell that undoes the campaign because I am NOT dealing with this." Sure, one could, but this was not the game I was running, and it annoyed me a lot that the player was trying to use out of character information to force the campaign in a particular direction. I don't care whether it was the "solve all the problems" direction or the "let's have even worse problems".

 

All of which is a tangent to a completely different problem with all those tomes. Okay, great, maybe I have a stack of wonderful Awful Tomes. I'm as likely never to have that chance, but never mind that. The same adventures that shower me with tomes are from editions of Call of Cthulhu that have rules that keep me from reading all of these goodies in any time to do anything, and that's ignoring the "you don't gain mythos until you thoroughly study it, but you lose SAN when you crack the cover" rules of these editions.

 

The Masks of Nylarthotep Companion tried to address this, valiantly -- we're talking the original free pdf release. I used this when I ran Masks in 2013. The Companion failed, as it still took too long to study the books. And one of the few spells I dangled, the Candle Communication spell, was dismissed by a player as "oh, it's useless". Spells that came into play were the Create Zombie spell (which was used in an unsuccessful attempt to manipulate Shakti's cultists) and the Eye of Light and Darkness, and that's it.

 

And you'll note that these two spells, unlike "have some Tomes -- with Spells!", actually matter to the content of Masks. Eye of L&D is crucial, and there's an NPC who will learn the spell unless the PCs go to spectacular lengths to fail (utterly possible, of course, but the point is that the campaign is working to make what needs to happen possible). And the zombie spell comes from a sorcerer they've actually faced, who's actually used that spell -- I had my NYC cultists exhume Elias and raise him as a zombie, which just seemed the natural nasty thing to do.

 

So, if you're using any published scenario, but especially the older ones, review them. Are the tomes and spells woven into the scenario? If not, feel free to cut them. You don't need the extra clutter.

 

I'm not sure about not identifying spells. It boils down to whether the PCs actually need them to succeed or not. If not, yeah, sure, keep them murky. If so, the PCs really need some way to find out what they have.



#20 Celebrim

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 06:55 PM

The Masks of Nylarthotep Companion tried to address this, valiantly -- we're talking the original free pdf release. I used this when I ran Masks in 2013. The Companion failed, as it still took too long to study the books.

 

I may have to buy the Companion, because while I was originally excited to run MoN, the more I study it the more problematic the whole thing seems.  I keep asking myself, whether taken by themselves, any of the scenarios would be fun.  In many cases it is not clear on a scenario by scenario basis what interest the scenario has or what particular horror is supposed to be involved. 

 

Yes, the overall idea of racing around the world to thwart the Dark Brotherhood sounds interesting, but the actual details of that are highly problematic.  Too many of the scenarios seem lame, and so much of it seems based on the assumption that the keeper will actively metagame to keep the game on the particular rails he prefers.  For example, I cringe every time I read, "Unless Nyarthalhotep intervenes..."  Yeah, like treating Nyarthalhotep as a personal adversary is fun or leaves the players with any agency at all.

 

But on topic, the particular issue you raise here, that the MoN campaign seems to have a copy of every major mythos tome in the game somewhere in it, but at the same time these tomes are largely irrelevant because you have neither time nor sanity to study them, is one I've also noted and am not sure what to do about.  Conceivably the whole great grimmoire and a portion of the lesser grimmoire is available in the collection you could acquire, but so what when the world is going to end in six months and it takes that longer than that to ponder a single volume. 

 

You assert, "Eye of L&D is crucial...", but that's not really the sense I've gotten.  I can certainly see players hitting up using Eye of L&D are "the plan", but it's an ambiguously useful one even leaving aside "unless Nyarthalhotep intervenes" because it seems rather unlikely to me that the PC's could win matching sorcery against sorcery.  They are just way too out matched in that regard.  It seems like the only really viable plan is intervene with the timing of the Dark Brotherhoods carefully synchronized plan, and that could be done in any number of ways, a well timed casting of Eye of L&D being just one of them.  As long as the plan can't go off on time, you don't really have to try to achieve the impossible of actually stopping the Dark Brotherhood, which if you were to attempt it, feels like it would be very much having NPCs do the heavy lifting.  Heck, arguably even Eye of L&D falls in that category.