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Rookery

Lovecraftian magic, spells and rituals

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Rookery

I was after some ideas for Lovecraftian rituals and spells – but it’s difficult to find the sweet spot of being interesting, uncanny and yet also accessible for player-characters to want to attempt.

 

I’ve never liked the idea of spells being too workmanlike – just draw sigil A and effect B happens. I’d imagine that these things have accrued lots of ritual, tradition and various affectations as they’re passed from master to apprentice, copied out of mouldering tomes or scryed from a rival. It might be that any bowl will do, but one made of meteoric iron is tradition (Human sacrifice or one really fresh egg?) or it could be that not using the silver bowl removes vital protections, so who would risk it? So every caster probably adds their own superstitions, dogma or beliefs, which are aped by their imitators.

 

I also like the rituals being creative and weird – the magic circle, chanting and candles is a classic or a cliché – what about when it has to be performed waist deep in water, or with runes written on hands and feet or using exciting props. Something that dilletantes can’t stumble upon, or that someone must REALLY want to contact Bugg-Shatash if they’re prepared to fast for a week, paint a sheep skull blue and be buried with it to get the visions of the beyond.

I like the style of some of the Unknown Armies rituals – something other than blood and candles – an unbroken square of pickled onion, and a freshly worn pair of human shoes stuffed with losing lottery tickets. Though for Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green something less post-modern is probably needed. Ideally creepy and uncanny – if it works then you’ve made the Armour of Y’Tsill which should protect you from the ‘weapons of the unconsecrated’ – but it might just leave you bleeding out in a shirt woven from your own hair and pig fat. Did you miss a vital ritual component, or just not have enough faith?

 

Finally, there is PC accessibility. In Call of Cthulhu, spells are there as a player reward – to be able to do something cool and get some good spotlight time, as well as potentially offering some new solutions to problems. For their characters, it can be more mixed – losing sanity, strange results. Which is when spells have a ‘temptation’ component – if the caster is greedy, curious or desperate enough to contemplate it. That can go for the player as well.

I’ve noticed that some canon spells and rituals, because they’re done mainly by the bad guys tend to be so evil or immoral, that players and PCs won’t even consider doing them. These are usually the grand guignol ones involving human sacrifice, human fat candles, and acres of runes and circles painted in human blood. I’ve found that most PCs won’t even consider these (good for them!) – but even if they do the logistics are very difficult (as they should be?) even for fairly minor spells.

 

The ones I like tend to be those which could be performed by a solo practitioner and often in secrecy, using traditional materials in a strange way. These materials might be generic as these spells could be old – milk, blood, wax, etc or simple but weirdly specific – the eye of a lamb born on St Swithins day or the hair of a man who has not been on consecrated ground for 40 days. An occult student could study two rituals for the same thing and find little in common – the difference between a Lovecraftian Nanny Ogg and a Hermetic Mistrum Ridcully spell – does the fact that they both request the aid of Yog Sothoth matter? Is one safer than the other? Is the ‘sigil of Earthly binding’ the same as ‘Your true name?’ But that’s the kind of concern that drives occult students to their sallow complexions and sleepless nights.

 

So we need something acceptable enough for a PC to try, but strange or difficult enough that it requires commitment and doesn’t become mundane. Killing a person with magic* should take more than just ‘Avada Kedavra– the universe asking a ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ by demanding the caster make a clay vessel out of clay and essential essences to house the Celestial Servitor they’re calling forth.

 

I’m writing some rituals and spells to include in handouts and prop tomes, and while the published spells tend to just give the mechanical effects, I like all the fluff and alchemical recipe-book stuff.

 

Do people have any that they’d like to create – or could point me towards any sources which describe this kind of thing. I’m happy to share my own if people are interested – 101 Lovecraftian spells and rituals?

 

“A Mystick Working to change your shape to another 


Make use of your learning and cunning wayes to devise a device or sigil which you know is representative of yourself. Be sure to keep this conceal'd as its knowing will hold power oe'r you and your form. Take a bowl of clear water or fresh milk and cast into it the entrails of a creature which nurses its young. It should still be in its death thoes as the entrails contort in the liquid.

 

Do this whilst two beeswax candles, dyed crimson are burning. Do not let these burn down or you must begin again. Observe the shape made by the entrails in the pool. This is your sigil of going forth. The sigil of the crawling chaos, the worm that walks and the mask of Nyarlathotep. Keep this sigil burning in your mind, and see it intertwine with your sigil of self. Turn to each of the five directions of the circle and recite 'I, (name), hold the key of Gor-Goroth and invoke the power of Nyarlothotep!' in a loud voice. When done, drop your robe to show your skyclad form and knot a braid of human hair around you. It can be as great as a belt or as small as strands but it must form a circle. Some magicians claim that biting an eye, or swallowing a gold ring are also requir'd but I haf seen it perform'd without this.

Whence done thou is prepar'd. At a time of your choosing, visualise your sigil of self, then the sigil of change, and the sigil you are using to represent the form you are taking. Repeat the invocation 'Gor-Goroth, I hold your key. Nyarlathotep, I invoke your change' and take a deep breath. As you release it so your form will change. Take care not to forget your sigil, lest you lose your true form.”

 

This is a variation of the classic 'Bodywarping spell of Gor-Goroth' - finding this in the library of their enemy/target will tell investigators of this possible ability, and also that it is possible for them to do it - none of the ingredients are uncommon, but any medieval peasant could identify it as witchcraft. It also shows how a caster can store a spell, hints at the dangers (don't morph yourself into a voiceless form) but doesn't cover any mechanical game effects - POW loss etc. A ritual magician could dress it up with arcane circles, the dramatic or insane could use human sacrifice but this could be done as easily by a secretive  witch from the 16th century or a bored teen from the 21st. The dangers of the creeping mythos!

 

*“I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never could.” – Jonathan Strange.

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CTPhipps

I try and generally find a balance beween the effectiveness of Call of Cthulhu magic with its role as a horrifying thing which should not be.

 

Some rules I use are as following:

 

1. Most Wizards Only Know a Few Spells: A single spell is a gamechanger in the lives of a lot of people living in the Mythos. A dozen spells and you can probably control a nation from behind the scenes.

 

"Summon Fish", "Control Weather", "Heal" are all things that can change the lives of entire communities.

 

2. Spells should be potent but not exactly reliable: A Control Weather spell should potentially have power for backlash and summoning ANYTHING is never a guarantee for survival. Magic is not really ever "tame" in the Mythos. It's sticking your finger in a wall socket.

 

3. Magic should have a cost: Blood sacrifices, sex, and pledging your soul (if such a thing exists) to one or more of the Mythos gods is how this stuff works. Even the "good" sorcerers are neck deep in moral ambiguity as Nodens might require a regular murder conducted in his name or Bast to impregnate a woman with Catspawn every year.

 

I always liked the Howard bit where he says a wax candle was made from a virgin's fat and hair who lost her virginity to her father after she'd been murdered by him.

 

4. No one understands how magic works: One of the most effective moments in my game was surprisingly for a PC who loved playing wizards. I had Professor Armitage explain that not only did no one understand the principles of magic, there is no basis to even begin studying how it works.

 

No one can say for certain if magic is the result of Dreams, psychic powers, drawing from the Great Old Ones, or something else. They have guesses but basically it amounts to, "madmen scribble down spells and sometimes they work."


It is completely anti-scientific.

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eternalchampion

Hi Rookery, you might want to check the monograph "Mythos Magic", it does not get to describing specific ritualistic spells but it can give you some good ideas about the subject.

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Malkavellian

When describing the more evil-natured spells (for inflicting physical harm to others) that can be cast on the fly, I often give them a sort of gruesome "attunement ritual" first. This is a once only seremony in which they have to "open their mind" (read:letting go of moral shackles) to make use of the spell. Often I give vague reasons like "a powerful memory in which to draw your magic from". For example: ending a persons life (aged x summers/winters and free from sin) in a certain way, sleeping next to the corpse for x days in a special constructed place....and so on...

 

Of course I don't expect my players to actually go through with these rituals. This way they have their own insights when examining crime scenes and I can convey to my players of what the cultists are actually willing to go through.

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CTPhipps

I do like to make fun of some of the magical element of HPL because it's good to undermine the seriousness the cultists take it.


For example, I generally describe any Summoning spell as, "You make a smell and ring the dinner bell for something to come eat this poor human. Then something does. The cultists think this is holy when it's really a dog coming running for supper."

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Rayven

@Malkavellian That is a gruesomely awesome way of putting some one in the mind set at least. *Shivers.*

 

@CTPhipps I love the dog and dinner bowl description *LOL*

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RogerBW

I wonder if one could model it on the process of subverting an intelligence asset. Sure, here's a handy small magical power. You want more? Well, just do this little harmless but embarrassing thing. See, that wasn't so bad was it? Here's more power. Oh, you want more? Well, that'll take a bit more effort on your part…

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CTPhipps
10 minutes ago, RogerBW said:

I wonder if one could model it on the process of subverting an intelligence asset. Sure, here's a handy small magical power. You want more? Well, just do this little harmless but embarrassing thing. See, that wasn't so bad was it? Here's more power. Oh, you want more? Well, that'll take a bit more effort on your part…


One thing I note for this kind of magic is that it is more likely to be a mage or ghost or Serpent Men/Deep One/Ghoul to do that.

Because most Mythos entities don't care to play the Devil.


Humans and former humans, however, do.

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ZeroMostel

I do Mythos style magic circles as a form of art on my DeviantArts page.

 

https://www.deviantart.com/zero-mostel

 

If I can find someone who can come up with rituals to go with them I would love to put a book out and share the profits.

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thevampman24

I’m trying my hand at making a couple of rituals and such just to try and flesh out and make the spells seem more real. Only have two so far and I consider the two rather lacking.

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MrHandy

I created the Ritual of Transmogrification for my only published scenario so far, The Recluse, which is one of the ones in Devil's Swamp. You'd have to be desperate or insane (or both) to attempt it. The ritual is carried out as a surgical procedure that takes several hours, which involves carving various symbols into the skin of the victim patient. Bad things can happen if it gets interrupted partway through. I mean different bad things than the ones that happen if the ritual is successful.

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Malkavellian
8 hours ago, thevampman24 said:

I’m trying my hand at making a couple of rituals and such just to try and flesh out and make the spells seem more real. Only have two so far and I consider the two rather lacking.

 

I'm actually making my own artwork for the spells my players learn. I think it gives it more weight when they have a A4 sheet with the ritual, instead of just a name under their "Spells" coulmn. I try to make them in the style of the tome they were found in (for instance Panchama Veda/Sutra of the Small Crawler is in the Mughal art syle)

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thevampman24

 

21 hours ago, thevampman24 said:

I’m trying my hand at making a couple of rituals and such just to try and flesh out and make the spells seem more real. Only have two so far and I consider the two rather lacking.

 

Here are my attempts if anyone wishes to see. The Elder sign is by ZeroMostel.

 

Elder Sign Excerpt.pdf

Bless Blade Excerpt.pdf

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Malkavellian

The spell Send Dream the investigators found in the Twelfth Book of Moses (Borrowed from TUO#19).

 

Send Dream.jpg

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PaulStJohnMackintosh

I like the Delta Green/Fall of DELTA GREEN approach, where the forces of order and sanity try to get away from irrationality by relabelling magic as "hypergeometry," and fail catastrophically.

 

There's two approaches combined in that which I think are very true to the spirit of Lovecraft. First, magic has some kind of relationship to multi-dimensional geometry and intersecting universes. Look at the formulae in "The Dreams in the Witch-House," or "The Dunwich Horror" - plenty of planes and angles. That doesn't mean getting down with slide rule and protractors - after all, hedge witches could do it to. But mathematics definitely has power to affect the flow of things.

 

The second is that magic is totally arbitrary and irrational. No consistency, no logical order. Nonsense rhymes, rituals learned by rote, sequences of steps or drawings, that appear as random and maddening as the doodlings or ravings of a schizophrenic. And yet they work. The only way to learn them is blind repetition, because they literally make no sense. 

 

The nearest real-world stuff I can think of to that is hyperbolic non-Euclidean geometry, the Möbius strip, Escher's impossible objects, and the other brain-busting levels of higher mathematics. Put that in your rituals and signs, or at least describe it, and you've got something genuinely disorienting.

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CTPhipps

Nyarlathotep makes it work.


Because he wants it to.

:)

So don't cast them at him.

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agedangel
3 hours ago, PaulStJohnMackintosh said:

The second is that magic is totally arbitrary and irrational. No consistency, no logical order. Nonsense rhymes, rituals learned by rote, sequences of steps or drawings, that appear as random and maddening as the doodlings or ravings of a schizophrenic. And yet they work. The only way to learn them is blind repetition, because they literally make no sense.

 

Aiden Kelly, in Crafting the Art of Magic, pointed out the irrationality of folk magic.  He commented that, given 500 folk magic spells, it is impossible to infer from them a 501st spell, because they all have nothing to do with one another.

 

Of course, in a Mythos setting, they might have everything to do with one another, because frail human minds can't perceive the larger enfolded order that encompasses the seemingly random hodgepodge of rituals, tools, chants, and the like.  (If you're Nyarlathotep, though, it's all very obvious.)

 

AA

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PaulStJohnMackintosh
1 hour ago, agedangel said:

Aiden Kelly, in Crafting the Art of Magic, pointed out the irrationality of folk magic.  He commented that, given 500 folk magic spells, it is impossible to infer from them a 501st spell, because they all have nothing to do with one another.

 

Isn't it great when you can lever real-world irrationality and craziness to mess with the players' heads? 😂

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thevampman24

Once again I claim no credit for the art that still goes to ZeroMostel but another ritual done, this time with a bit of a dark ages Viking esque vibe.

 

Summon_Bind Shantak.pdf

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ZeroMostel

Thank you Vampman24!

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thevampman24

 

11 hours ago, ZeroMostel said:

Thank you Vampman24!

 

You're welcome. I only hope I give your art the justice it deserves

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Gaffer
On 29/01/2019 at 02:36, MrHandy said:

I created the Ritual of Transmogrification for my only published scenario so far, The Recluse, which is one of the ones in Devil's Swamp. You'd have to be desperate or insane (or both) to attempt it. The ritual is carried out as a surgical procedure that takes several hours, which involves carving various symbols into the skin of the victim patient. Bad things can happen if it gets interrupted partway through. I mean different bad things than the ones that happen if the ritual is successful.

 

What a cinematic moment to have the environment in the room/temple/grove change drastically with each symbol -- arctic cold to sulphurous steam to blinding light to fiery furnace to verdant grove to... And with each environment different servitors lurk outside the summoning circle and you feel the stress of a different deity's regard as it approaches. And the only way back to the starting plane/point is to placate the ultimate entity.

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MrHandy

That's an awesome idea! It's a transformation ritual rather than a summoning one, but that could still work.

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thevampman24

De Vermis Mysteriis Chapter 8 excerpt.pdf

 

Tried my hand with the beginning part of a chapter of a proper mythos tome. Again Zeromostel did the art. I hope my writing is helping some people out.

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ZeroMostel
18 hours ago, thevampman24 said:

Tried my hand with the beginning part of a chapter of a proper mythos tome. Again Zeromostel did the art. I hope my writing is helping some people out.

 

Mind if I take your verbiage and my art and run with that?

 

I have a ton of fonts and background. I think I can do you justice.

 

Chapter 8.pdf

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