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Apotropaic Mysteries

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  • Apotropaic Mysteries

    Inspired by the ansho in Tokyo, here are some other Mysteries that have an adverse effect on magic, and can serve as fodder for Mysteries, antagonists, and what-have-you. Apotropaics are folkloric countermeasures to supernatural powers; protective amulets, talismans, etc.

    GORGONEIONIC SIGILS / SEAL OF MEDUSA

    In Greek folklore, a Gorgoneion is a particular kind of protective amulet or sigil, a display of the Gorgon's head. Most of these are, like most folkloric magical countermeasures, ineffective against Supernal workings. But every so often, a sleeper catches glimpse of Something out of the corner of their eye. In the pattern of cracks on glass, in the scattering of dust, in strange patterns of stars seen only momentarily. They've seen It, become a Gorgon. The Gorgon gets into their head, and changes their minds. These changes tend to be essentially neutral; favorite colors can change, musical tastes, particular interests or skills. Others can be malign or beneficial; kick or start a new addiction. Many do not even consciously know that they saw anything at all, and go on about their lives. Until the dreams, and the compulsions, and the visions of the Pattern everywhere they go start kicking in. Once Seen, the Gorgon can not be Unseen.

    Some can learn to manipulate the Pattern, and create imperfect - but still powerful - copies by drawing, sculpture, scratches into the walls of their cell, even particular musical patterns. These are Sigils, and every Gorgon can create a few or learn more from others. Only the original copy, hand-made, has an effect; photographs and the like just read as simple patterns of circles, lines, and dots. Other Gorgons can read information contained within a Sigil; a communication strictly through intuition, rather than a conscious language, able to pass on simple concepts like "Danger!" or "Safety." Most Gorgons feel a deep desire to create new Sigils, though they cannot crank them out; it is an exhausting and demanding process, taking hours and causing a deep fatigue. Very few of those exposed ever discover that the Sigils can protect against (certain kinds of) magical beings, but their existence is known to some occult groups that nip at the heels of the Wise, ever jealous of power. Some Gorgons are enticed with excellent dental plans, others coerced, in service of these agencies.

    An Awakened entity who perceives a Sigil is in for some trouble; while the Sigil is in their perception (field of view, they can hear it) or their short term memory (a minute or so after exposure) forming an Imago is almost impossible; the Mage takes a spellcasting penalty equal to their Gnosis. Something about the Sigil's particular shape and design is intensely poisonous to Awakened Gnosis; the more of the Hidden World you understand, the more you are aware of how deeply Wrong the Sigil is. The Sigil's pattern encodes in the mind and soul of the Gorgon, making efforts to read their thoughts or soul more difficult as well, and has a similar effect. Should a Mage conduct some sort of sympathetic or mystical bridge between their minds and the Gorgon, it's both A. very unpleasant and B. causes a more long lasting penalty. Visiting the areas of the Gorgon's Oneiros that have been transformed by the Sigil is potentially fatal; the Mage's astral form may become trapped. Even remembering the Sigil is unpleasant and confusing for a Mage, though not to the degree that it has a mechanical penalty.

    Sigils can also have this effect on magic that intersects with them in some way; typically a sympathetic spell targeted against the Gorgon will be subject to the scrambling effect. A home protected by a Sigil is protected from being a target of magic - and it has to be a "home" - it has to be tied to the mental and spiritual landscape of the Gorgon, a place they think of as their own, an extension of them; this is usually just a person's house, but I suppose a workaholic's office would serve too. This means you probably can't send that death spell across the globe if the Gorgon is on the couch playing Madden, but you can probably get a piano to fall on his head when he's walking to the 7-11.

    Looking at a Gorgon's soul in Mage Sight is dangerous, but potentially rewarding. Scrutinizing the true Sigil (the one encoded in the Gorgon; not the imperfect replicas they can make) in Mage Sight temporarily suspends a Mage's Gnosis as the Pattern tears through the Mage's intuitive understanding of the Supernal world, unless the Mage takes on a new obsession, "The Medusa."

    If the Mage rejects the obsession, then they are unable to cast spells; their Awakened soul is "spiritually petrified." It feels claustrophobic and frustrating, like when you are trying to recall a word you know but can't quite remember. This lasts for a scene or so; the understanding comes back slowly, over the course of another scene. A mage gains some Arcane XP as their gnosis regenerates; a good way to learn about something is to take it apart and put it back together, after all.

    If they accept the Obsession, they begin to seek out the source of the pattern; this is a synchronicity-bound path rich with potential Arcane Experience, attainments, artifacts, or just like a good story to tell. But they will start to see the Pattern in more and more mundane surroundings; hear it in birdsong or static. And it will lead them to "Her." The Mysterium records two apparently successful attempts to "glimpse the Medusa"; both resulted in the Mage in question comatose and motionless, beyond medical or magical help, until they passed away of natural causes. In neither case did the seeker believe the Medusa was a literal being, but instead an "error in reality - broken Supernal code." They both intended to "fix" it, thinking that perhaps repairing a broken part of the Supernal World would improve the Awakened condition somehow.

    In game terms, the Gorgon Sigil is a Mystery with an Opacity set by the Storyteller as usual, but with the added complication of a Mage Sight itself being a risk. For playable Gorgons, whip up a Supernatural Merit or an Endowment.

    What's really going on? Three options:

    1- an archmage did it

    2- the god-machine did it

    3- the Supernal Realms did it; there's a damaged collection of supernal truths ("The Medusa") that a mage has to repair by "mirroring" the phenomenal with the supernal. This is the only way to banish the Medusa back to the supernal realm safely. Easier said than done.

    Inspired by "Medusa's Web" (Tim Powers), "The Medusa" (Thomas Ligotti), "Details" (China Mieville), and "Everything's Eventual" (Stephen King.)

    THE WELL OF THE NAMELESS / THE TRUE NAME OF NO MAN

    It's easy enough once you know the instructions. Find a dark place, a deep place. Climb down. Ensure that there is no visible light whatsoever around you - none. Not your phone. Not a dim beam of light. Nothing. Total darkness. Meditate. Think about your name. How many people know what it is? Who gave it to you? Who else has it?

    After some time, you may have caught the attention of the Well. If it feels like it that day, It will whisper to you, not in words, but in instinct. In that singular moment, say your name. Give it to the darkness. This has no mundane effect whatsoever. But no Awakened magic can, from that point on, target you sympathetically or directly. Which is not to say you cannot be affected by magic; a mage can set your hat on fire. He can conjure fire and throw it at you. He could summon a bunch of ants, and then give the ants the ability to throw fire, then scoop up all the ants, put them in a jar, and throw the magical fire throwing ants at you.

    But you cannot be the target of a spell. Information gathering spells and Mage Sight can indicate that you have been somehow "de-registered" (metaphorically) from the Supernal World; in game terms, it's a Mystery with an Opacity as usual that solving grants a vision of the Well. These methods can also discern the location of the Well; basically scrying spells reveal the Well, rather than the actual target. The Well wants to be found, and it wants its Mystery to be solved.

    A mage who tracks that down and descends will find your name (and anyone else who used that Well) carved into the wall, written in a book, or otherwise recorded at the location. It's a simple matter of erasing the name and ending the effect. It's also a really convenient place to target a person with sympathetic magic, as their True Name is just like, sitting right there.

    But a mage entering a Well is at some risk, because the entire purpose of this enterprise is to entice mages down. The Well doesn't want the names of regular mortals; it puts out this little technique to witch-hunters via urban legend and occult texts because they act as the lure on an anglerfish. Once led to a Well that's been already used (a Mage can't just go to any dark place - it has to be "primed" by a lesser soul) they can meditate, and can make the same offer. Most mages just dealing with a bothersome would-be Wytch-Fynder don't do more than give the Well a few choice words and move on with their lives, but they talk to other mages, and occasionally a sorcerer has wronged the wrong Wise and gets just desperate enough to track down that dark place to strike a bargain.

    This has some side-effects. The Mage can no longer be the target of a spell, even ones they cast on themselves. This is a powerful protection if you've made enemies with better magic than yours. The Well will also do a good job protecting your Name; it doesn't record it at the Well as it does for regular mortals. This is how things are for a little while; a few days, maybe a week. It can last indefinitely if the Mage resists any of their Obsessions. But after this point, doing the usual "occult detective" stuff; gaining Arcane XP, and so forth, doesn't allow the Mage to advance, not yet. It gets banked until it would be enough to acquire a new dot of Gnosis, and then it triggers a new Awakening. The Mage goes down, into the Well, a place of darkness, a cold place, where none of the Supernal Realms hold sway and the only truth is that of absence. If you were to somehow visit the Mage's original Watchtower, their name would be gone, scratched out. Congratulations, you've awakened to the Lower Depths!

    You can still absorb Mana, but you consume it and it goes...somewhere. There are forms of "anti-Mana" that pools in low places, in isolated places, in places defined by absence, hunger, or need. You can use it just like Mana, and you can gain Arcane XP just like you used to, but it starts to overwrite your Gnosis. You gain an understanding of the Hidden World defined not by Supernal Truths but by absence, omission; the blank spaces between symbols. Heal with anti-mana, and you're going to start seeing some physical changes. It also has an unpleasant, coppery aftertaste. Eventually, Magic stops working on you entirely. Stops working near you. At high levels of Anti-Gnosis, it might not even work in the same city as you. Want to know what a ley-line tastes like? Eat one!

    By this point, the Awakened community has probably deemed you a threat and run you over with a bus, but it was fun while it lasted.

    In game terms, the protection against direct spellcasting is a Mystery that requires some adventure tourism. The mages have to go find the Well, then they can do the usual Mage Sighting on it to get more information, and if they really want they can dynamite it shut.

    So what's really going on? Three options.

    1- It's a Lower Depth awakening, as above. The Well is a Lower Depths entity and this whole scheme feeds it Mana.

    2- An Archmage did it

    3- The Oracles did it; each Watchtower had an associated Well. They were designed to be used by a Mage who wanted to renounce magic; you would descend the Well, transfer your name. The Well would then aid you in healing Wisdom, and eventually rejuvenate your Gnosis. Something broke in the whole process and now the Wells are desperate and parasitic. It might be possible to repair the Wells, and restore them to a place of healing and sanctums of Wisdom.

    Inspired by: The Ring, The Descent, The Dresden Files (Jim Butcher - specifically the True Name stuff, and the trade offs between supernatural power and free will), and that bit where Odysseus tells the Cyclops his name is No Man.

    Last edited by Professor Phobos; 01-11-2021, 03:41 AM.

  • #2
    It can also be a combination. Maybe an Oracle made the Well as a sanity check, in case of people who didn't want to Awaken and were forced by circumstances or those Harrowed by an archmaster forcing it. But then more Imperial level shenanigans broke it.

    Maybe the God Machine made it as a counterbalance to mages, as a trap for the power hungry or mad. Maybe it found the Well corrupted from its original purpose, tried to fix it and gave up, like what happened to the Underworld.

    I really like the Medusa as well, alongside the implication that the victims didn't see her through the shield of Athena (reflected upon her with Wisdom).

    These are very solid Mysteries, excellent stuff.


    New experiences are the font of creativity, when seeking inspiration, break your routine.

    The Agathos Kai Sophos, an Acanthus Legacy of strategists (Mind/Time)
    The Szary Strażnik, an Obrimos Legacy of Scholars of the Glyphs of Fate (Fate/Prime)

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    • #3
      Thanks! They are from the notes I wrote up when I briefly flirted with a Mage campaign, and wanted antagonists that weren't as complicated-to-story-tell as other Mages, but still posed a meaningful danger.

      ALEXANDER MASTER'S PYRAMID OF LUCIFERAN MIGHT

      The website states that it is a five-thousand year old method of binding one's "inner demons" using the ancient wisdom of Solomon, and that this secret wisdom has been passed down through the generations. Alexander Master claims that through three levels of initiation, some modest donations, and dedication, he can cure you of addiction, depression, headaches, heartache, sexual dysfunction, and acne. It involves some rituals, wearing a golden wireframe pyramid on your head, lots of chanting, group discussion where Alexander gently prompts you to confess embarrassing personal secrets. It involves invoking the demon of inner darkness, Faral-Horam-Gal. The group used to meet down at the community center on Saturdays, but it's been successful enough they were able to purchase what used to be a fitness club franchise that went out of business when COVID-19 slammed the industry.

      The reality is the cult was founded a couple years ago when "Alexander Master" (real name: Floyd Guthrie) needed a moderate amount of money quickly, didn't want to work for it, and thought it would be a good way to meet hippie chicks that were cool with "keeping things casual." No genuine occult knowledge went into the making of the cult's doctrines, the wireframes are not made of real gold, and "Faral-Horam-Gal" came about when Floyd slapped his keyboard and deciphered a demonic name from the result. Floyd has leaned into the "Alex Masters" persona, wears a lot of black turtlenecks, plays up the True Sorcerer vibe. Because he's an attractive man who is generous with his ready supply of cocaine, many of his "followers" are there entirely by choice. Initiation fees aren't crippling and "Alex" doesn't have the cruelty needed to make an emotionally abusive arrangement work. People stay or leave depending on their personal lives and how much fun they are having flirting with Yoga Mat Satanism. As cults go, it's relatively benign, and there's no hint of criminal activity that has attracted the attention of local authorities. Even the nearby evangelical church has other concerns.

      There is even some truth - though Alex has no idea - to the promise of self-help-through-inner-darkness. Cult members who achieve third level initiation actually do have an easier time breaking addictions, or out of unhealthy relationships. Their inner demons really are tamed, to an extent. Not significantly enough a scientific investigation wouldn't simply say it was the placebo effect, power of suggestion, and so forth, but it's real. Mechanically, a normal human who goes through the whole process to become a level 3 initiate gains 1 dot of Resolve and Composure, for free.

      It was, however, deemed potentially useful by a Guardian of the Veil, who attempted to take over the cult to add to the local Labyrinth. That was when he discovered that all the "Level 3 Initiates of Inner Darkness" - those who had worn the Pyramid and pledged to Faral-Horam-Gal - were utterly immune to Mind magic. Thoughts could not be read, memories modified, nothing. Life could still induce a seizure, all other Arcana functioned normally, but Mind magic failed. Call Immunity to Mind Magic a 3 point supernatural merit or so, possibly as the reward for Mystery Cult status with the Pyramid of Luciferan Might.

      Floyd, and as far as the Guardians can tell, all the cult members, have no idea that anything /really/ supernatural exists. One of them might be descended from an ancient witch-lord of Ireland, but it could also be a genealogical coincidence. Another was found to live in the same house as a ghost, but they had apparently never noticed. Some are New Ages or Satanists or lapsed Catholics, but as for the "real deal", they seem basically clueless.

      So what's really going on?

      1- The mathematical structure of the pyramids combined with the ritualistic initiation rite has triggered a God-Machine protocol originally intended to protect the minds of Holy Engineers from subjugation by Battery-Backup-Godhead during regular maintenance. It's pure random coincidence that ended up the design of the pyramids in use by the cult. In addition to Mind magic, they can safely glimpse the true form of God, the Yellow Sign, the emergence of an Ancient One from the kelipot, long-running 4chan threads about anime, and any number of other sanity destroying sights.

      2- An archmage did it. As a prank.

      3- Faral-Horam-Gal came into existence the moment Patricia Kenny, 38, cat lover and World of Warcraft devotee, put on the Pyramid and went through her Level 3 Initiation. Patty had a crush on Alex, which he did not exploit because he was stoned at the time, and unbeknownst to anyone, Patty is the distant reincarnation of a dead Supernal god that the sorcerer-kings of the Time Before killed and buried in what later maintained ontological resonance with the California town of her birth. She had never participated in a quote-unquote "real" magical ritual, and by doing so activated dormant god-energy in her soul which subconsciously brought the "Demon of Inner Darkness" into existence. Faram-Horam-Gal is as surprised by this as anyone, and has been spending much of its time getting used to the idea of being a minor god of personal improvement and self-confidence. It also finally got a Netflix account; big fan of Stranger Things. It is incarnated as a mortal-god-form in a male human body that looks kind of like Alex Masters, but with better hair and an idealized physical figure. It moved to Chicago immediately and wants nothing to do with the cult; at the moment it contemplates getting a degree in psychiatry. The blessing of the demon-god protects the mortal mind from unwelcome influences, and the ritual used by the cult now has the power to bring that blessing down upon anyone who follows through the process. This is a valuable secret once someone figures out what is going on.
      Last edited by Professor Phobos; 01-11-2021, 09:02 PM.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Professor Phobos View Post
        Faral-Horam-Gal came into existence the moment Patricia Kenny, 38, cat lover and World of Warcraft devotee, put on the Pyramid and went through her Level 3 Initiation. Patty had a crush on Alex, which he did not exploit because he was stoned at the time, and unbeknownst to anyone, Patty is the distant reincarnation of a dead Supernal god that the sorcerer-kings of the Time Before killed and buried in what later maintained ontological resonance with the California town of her birth. She had never participated in a quote-unquote "real" magical ritual, and by doing so activated dormant god-energy in her soul which subconsciously brought the "Demon of Inner Darkness" into existence. Faram-Horam-Gal is as surprised by this as anyone, and has been spending much of its time getting used to the idea of being a minor god of personal improvement and self-confidence. It also finally got a Netflix account; big fan of Stranger Things. It is incarnated as a mortal-god-form in a male human body that looks kind of like Alex Masters, but with better hair and an idealized physical figure. It moved to Chicago immediately and wants nothing to do with the cult; at the moment it contemplates getting a degree in psychiatry. The blessing of the demon-god protects the mortal mind from unwelcome influences, and the ritual used by the cult now has the power to bring that blessing down upon anyone who follows through the process. This is a valuable secret once someone figures out what is going on.
        I just want you to know I have a massive smile as I'm reading your post. Especially this part.
        Last edited by Teatime; 01-12-2021, 06:40 AM.


        ~

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        • #5
          SOUL WORMS

          Most people have them. For sleepers, they are pathetic, shriveled little things attached like a lamprey to the soul. Indestructible, imperceptible, and able to survive any spiritual journey wherever the soul might go, they wait for enough ambient mystical energy to feed off of and become active. Normally, even a mage does not absorb enough mana to resuscitate a soul worm. But live and work with a powerful enough Hallow for long enough, and the worm will start to move. It will start to think. It will start to talk. This is stage one of the infection.

          An active worm is invisible to Mage Sight, but the few who have studied the phenomena can detect the tell-tale traces of a soul worm in the holes burrowed through the soul if they know what to look for. It's a simple matter to force the worm back into quiescence; merely expend all stored mana and avoid more for a couple of weeks, and the worm will fall back into slumber.

          The worm desires only to feed and reproduce. It is not unreasonable. It has an offer to make; an even exchange. An active worm can whisper the terms of five bargains to the mage. Each bargain modifies one element of the mage's soul and by extension, the associated subtle arcana. Accepting one to four bargains puts the worm at stage two of the infection; it becomes larger, the mage can perceive it through self-examination. It looks like a cross between the chestburster from Alien, a lamprey eel, and a tangled set of power cables, wrapped around the spine with its "head" at the base of the mage's skull. It has no eyes, but it does have teeth. At stage two, the worm can no longer be lulled back into dormancy, it feeds off of the spiritual detritus spilling off the mage's soul.

          The bargain of Fate is simple; the mage replaces their destiny with that of the Worm's. Destined to kill your father and marry your mother? Swap it out with the destiny of the soul worm, which is...nothing. Soul worms are not part of the web of fate, they have no strange synchronicities, omens do not follow their every move, and the stars above give no concern to their movements. The downside for the Mage is anything requiring a destiny is null and void. Destined to save Britain from it's hour of third greatest need? Better hope it's a financial crisis and some other economist can handle it.

          The bargain of Mind is a little more subtle. The mage's personality, memories, and emotions are unaffected; those are as much a part of their physical brain as a matter of the soul. What does happen is that the mage's virtue and vice are swapped to that of the Worm's. The Worm's virtue is "Survival" and it's vice is "Reproduction." Why would a mage make this particular bargain? Well, imagine if you could immediately abandon your impulses towards pettiness, bruised ego, wounded pride, guilt and cruelty? The Worm holds no grudges, demands no self-sacrifice. The mage's obsessions still operate, they still love and can form bonds with others, they will hold to other bargains and alliances, but they are no longer compelled by whatever Virtue or Vice they previously had. For some, this is a blessing.

          The bargain of Spirit ties the Mage's "supernatural location" to that of the Worm. Soul Worms are inherently creatures dependent on the existence of human souls, most of which are found in the mundane world. Make the bargain of spirit, and you can no longer pass to worlds beyond, with the exception of the Astral Realms. This has some upsides; if a mage has found themselves burning for eternity in the Inferno, the bargain of Spirit will bring them right back to the mundane world to exist as a floating soul. Spiritual predators cannot drag you off to the Shadow. Anger the True Fae? They ain't taking you anywhere.

          The bargain of Death means the Mage can no longer die. Specifically, spiritual death; their body can still be destroyed. Lose your brain function due to oxygen starvation, and you will no longer be able to think. Get your body incinerated into ash, and you're not going to be doing much of anything as an insensate spiritual remnant. The Mage's soul does not pass on to any of the final mysteries of the afterlife, nor can it become a ghost. The upside to this is you are much, much easier to restore to life by magic; have your allies or prepared spells build or steal you a new body, and you are good to go.

          The bargain of Prime is perhaps the most powerful. Soul Worms know souls; instinct and long experience (they have a hive mind with all other soul worms, but they never discuss this) - the Mage immediately gets to supplement their knowledge of Prime with the Soul Worm's advice and knowledge. This catapults them to Prime 5 and adds a dot of Gnosis, off the bat, for free. At the Storyteller's discretion, the Soul Worm can provide useful advice on other Mysteries involving the soul. The downside is the Mage has to "let the worm in." It no longer feeds off of the dead spiritual skin shucked off the soul through day to day moral choices. It burrows, and it burrows deep.

          The Worm is careful and restrained. It goes after dead and rotting spiritual flesh, rather than the living. In game terms, the Worm can "eat" one loss of Wisdom, per day, restoring the dot the Mage lost immediately. The Worm describes it as taking the part of the soul that was damaged and consuming it before it can spread the damage elsewhere, like maggot therapy. What the Worm does not reveal is the replaced dot of Wisdom isn't the Mage's, it's the Worm's. Mark the Wisdom 1 dot, moving up one dot at a time every time the worm is fed. The Worm wants the Mage at Wisdom ten, to get a full replacement, and will encourage Wisdom in the Mage's deeds. Once all ten dots are replaced, the Mage's mind links to the Soul Worm hive mind, and they are now driven by their strange, alien agenda. Soul Worms want more people, so there are more souls, and they want those people to live spiritually and metaphysically powerful lives, so the worms can feed. How the Mage approaches this long-term task is up to them; for the most part, their personality and free will are intact. Call it a Long-Term Aspiration.

          The Worms are not unreasonable, they will never demand the Mage choose between them and, say, a loved one. Mages who have had all their Wisdom digested and replaced by the Worm are unaware of their connection to the Hive-Mind; it acts on an entirely subconscious level, essentially an extension of the Mage's brain. The Worm-Mind often has useful advice, and generates Arcane XP as intuitions about the soul float up from the unconscious. A Mage generally only learns he's on a party line with seven billion soul worms if he enters the Worm's Oneiros, and speaks to the Hive-Mind directly.

          Accept all five bargains, and the Worm can spawn. The Mage becomes Obsessed with visiting powerful Hallows and gorging themselves on Mana, then going to an area with lots of new human life to spiritually birth a clew of juvenile soul worms. This costs all Mana the Mage has, spread out by however many turns it takes them to spend it in a painful, convulsive process. These new worms attach to newborns and enter dormancy.

          So what's really going on?

          1- The Soul Worms are the result of an Archmage's efforts to make a better humanity. The human soul is a flawed thing, filled with kindness and cruelty, despair and hope. The Soul Worm is a rational thing, it's desires are simple, achievable. It experiences no existential crisis.

          2- The Soul Worms are a natural part of the spiritual ecology of the Astral Realms; evolved to scavenge off of dead and wounded souls, they have spread around the world alongside humanity. They have a deep knowledge of the Soul and do not mind sharing this information for a mutually beneficial purpose.

          3- The Worms only start with the human soul. They are the maggots infesting the gangrenous wound of the cosmos itself; as a worm eats souls, it grows larger, and eventually shucks off the Mage, leaving behind a worm-eaten soul unable to die and unable to restore itself. This now stage four Worm descends to the Anima Mundi, and begins to parasitically feed off the soul of the world. Eventually, the Worms will hollow out the soul of the universe, and replace it with their own.
          Last edited by Professor Phobos; 01-14-2021, 08:25 PM.

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          • #6
            HAMARTIA

            A deeply personal mystery, unique to any Mage that experiences it. Derived from a term relating to a Greek hero's tragic flaw, a Hamartia mystery relates to a singular incapacity of a Mage's magic - typically a path's greater Arcana - when the Mage should be able to perform the magical feat, but somehow cannot. Hamartia always occurs when a Mage deeply desires that particular working. Examples:

            The Thyrsus healer Daniel can cure any disease, except the tumor growing inside his brain.

            The Acanthus oracle Majid can see into anyone's future, except the adopted children he swore to protect.

            The Magistos psychonaut A-Shadow-Name-With-Gravitas-Damn-You wants to understand his recurring nightmare, but has never been able to dive into his own Oneiros.

            The Obrimos warrior Constantine has no magical defenses against a native daughter of his home country, particularly the one engaged in a bitter vendetta against him.

            In game terms, a Hamartia mystery is chosen by the player and it adds a new, specific Obsession, as well as a particular Condition that acts as a specific block to their magic in one narrow use-case. Whatever use case the player chooses has to be deeply and personally important to the character; something they really want.

            There are three ways to end the Hamartia. The first is undergo a journey of personal growth and understanding, following the Obsession. The Hamartia journey is divided into milestones separated by individually specific Mysteries. These are Mysteries about the Mage, their soul, their mystical path, and so forth. They are generally not big, campaign-world-shattering secrets about the deeper Mysteries of the cosmos, but more about the symbolic weight of personal choices, character traits, and experiences. That being said, every so often a Mage might discover something relevant to the wider Fallen World. Example:

            The Moros necromancer Goliath could speak to the dead, except that of his father's, with whom he badly wanted to reconcile. The first milestone revealed his father was a ghost and also wished to speak with him, but was somehow blocked or held back from the usual methods. The second milestone revealed a dense spectral mist that formed between him and his father's ghost, any time they would otherwise be able to communicate. The final milestone revealed the mist was a product of his magic responding to the symbolic weight he gives his father's judgment. This resolves the Hamartia and the two play ghost catch or something.

            The second method of resolving the Hamartia is to try to cheat it by having someone else use magic on your behalf. Some other healer can pull the tumor out of Daniel's brain. This might be worth it in the case of brain cancer, but it does nothing to resolve the Obsession and worse, transforms the Hamartia condition into a Doom condition. The Doom is full on the Fates-Hate-Your-Guts-Greek-Tragedy; it can not be avoided or mitigated, and it tends to have a destructive impact on people and places important to the Mage. The more the Mage attempts to cheat, the worse the Doom becomes. Example:

            The Thrysus healer Daniel asks his friend, another Thyrsus healer, to pull the tumor out of his brain. They do so...only to find that the cancer cannot be cured, only moved between people with significant personal ties to Daniel. He can be cured, but only at the cost of inflicting the disease on his wife, or brother. Having them healed by magic might mean a new, mutant form of hyper-infectious cancer spreads to the wider community, and suddenly it's a cancer-zombie apocalypse.

            The third method occurs if the target of the spell the Mage is unable to perform becomes irrelevant. If the chemotherapy and surgery work and Daniel is cured entirely through the mundane effort of doctors, then the Hamartia condition is unlikely to trigger ever again. Until the cancer returns, of course. This also does not end the Obsession; regardless of how inconvenient it is, a Hamartia is the beginning of a Mystery involving the Mage themselves, worth following, if only for the Arcane XP generation.

            So what's really going on?

            1 - Nothing in particular; magic is such an idiosyncratic, personal thing, it's actually surprising more personal hang ups and subconscious tics aren't more of a problem for Mages.

            2 - Hamartia are paradox echoes; every Hamartia journey has a secret, final Milestone, revealing sins of the soul the Mage committed at some point in their arcane history. Essentially the buildup of 0 dot paradoxes, the tiny, inconsequential breaches to the Abyss that aren't mechanically represented at the level of granularity the rules employ, but tossed in for flavor. Only by resolving this latent build up of paradox in their subconscious can they de-contaminate their magic.

            3 - Hamartia are imposed by the Watchtowers as a further test of the Mage. Resolving all Milestones results in a kind of mini-awakening or a reawakening, as the Mage gains further understanding of themselves and their Path. This can have minor metamorphic effects or have the Mage come out granted a minor artifact (as an awakening, but not as significant). More importantly, successfully resolving the Hamartia marks the Mage as worthy of the Watchtower's next test.
            Last edited by Professor Phobos; 01-17-2021, 02:08 PM.

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            • #7
              PSYCHIC CRAB MONSTERS FROM THE DARK FUTURE

              ...is how the Free Council investigator described them, in a somewhat rambling account to the Eastern United States Assembly. Before mankind, there was the Rmoahals. After mankind, long after, there the Karkinos. By the time the Karkinos evolve to awaken to the Supernal Realms, the Earth is a frozen-over ice world, and their civilization (if one can call it that) clusters around deep ocean thermal vents. This is millions of years after mankind becomes extinct.

              The Karkinos are, individually, not self-aware; they have no conscious perception of themselves as a thinking being. An individual Karkinos-drone is a crab-style body plan, about the size of a Shetland pony, with an extremely dense armored shell. It's pincers can self-fragment into ever smaller fractal pincers, to the point where they can manipulate objects on a molecular level. They have three eyes, one of which is larger and more centered than the others, and can see down to the molecular level, as well as into the Shadow. As a collective, the Karkinos have a kind of emergent society.

              A Karkinos-drone takes its identity from its environment as an automatic, unconscious reflex. In a hospital, it becomes a doctor. In a factory, it acts as a worker. The context a drone finds itself drives its underlying behavior pattern; the context the Karkinos find themselves in (as living beings on a dying world) drive them to build a civilization, but they have no awareness of it. Their connection to the Supernal Realms is therefore vastly different than how humans conceive of them, which is where their apotropaic influences comes in, as being in proximity to a Karkinos causes a kind of interference pattern between the Mage's gnosis and the Supernal Realms. Two very different signal architectures all trying to contact the same receiver, metaphorically speaking. This also applies to the Karkinos; they have a harder time working magic when near a human willworker. And they can all work magic as if they were masters.

              Normally this isn't a problem. since all the willworkers save perhaps the Archmagi died out with humanity millions of years before the Karkinos evolved. But, well, six weeks ago, someone was messing with Time magics in the small New Jersey town of Delleberg, and did a bit of an oopsie. Every one of the town's 3,000 residents had their minds swapped with a Karkinos, millions of years in the future. The magic was so dramatic it pinged the peripheral Mage Sight of every Wise on the Eastern seaboard, and the Free Council got an investigator there first.

              For human minds trapped in a Karkinos body, there isn't enough neurological architecture to "run" self-awareness. Instead, the person is trapped in a kind of aimless dream state, slipping in and out of dim consciousness. To the Karkinos this appears to be similar to forms of dementia where they are no longer able to adopt context-based identities, and all 3,000 have been brought to what amounts to an asylum. There the Karkinos use their fractal-pincers to perform brain surgeries in an effort to correct the disorder. Since the Karkinos feel pain as an automatic response and don't "suffer", they are unaware of how unpleasant this can be for the mortal mind trapped in a Karkinos body. Basically, an endless nightmare about being claustrophobically sealed inside a cold, dark, underwater cave while crab monsters poke and prod at your brain.

              For a Karkinos mind trapped in a human body, there is too much neurological architecture devoted to concepts of self. They process the sensation of being an individual separate from their environment with profound anxiety, and almost all are suffering from what human medicine would diagnose as extreme stress disorders. Basically an endless nightmare about constantly showing up at something important you cannot quite remember, and did not prepare for, and do not understand.

              Their context-derived identities mean each one basically adopted a human mask; the Karkinos that swapped minds with the town Sheriff acts as a town Sheriff. Prolonged, person-to-person contact quickly reveals something deeply off about the possessed human, as they have a hard time adapting to "mixed" environments, holding conversations about matters external to the context, and are almost incapable of expressing personal thoughts about their individual relationship to their environment or to others. A Karkinos communicates exclusively to exchange material information, not as a form of expression or emotive response. They have no opinions or preferences or personality.

              Strangely, their reflex-action behavior does seem to 'understand' that human beings have a sense of self, and can suffer; the Karkinos' instincts are a kind of rough approximation of Wisdom. They still lack the capacity for meaningful cruelty or kindness, but are capable of a theory of mind when interacting with non-Karkinos.

              The ones that arrived inside a local clinic wearing doctor's outfits acted as doctors, and the patients as patients, but there has been several "role switches" since then. The context-identify is sophisticated enough to handle commuting between a "home" and a "workplace", and as long as the person had enough physical indices of their other interests the Karkinos will follow them; a churchgoer, for example, whose home has religious iconography and texts, will produce enough context that the Karkinos will continue going to church.

              The wife of a local businessman was out of town, and when she found her husband badly out of sorts, took him on vacation. Now he's adopted the identity-context of a beach-bum in the Bahamas. She thinks he's having a mid-life crisis and is quietly hoping for a divorce. Mage Sight clearly reveals a possessing entity and a nonhuman intelligence in the driver's seat. The Karkinos themselves do not have any kind of hostility towards mages or mankind in general.

              However, they are all degenerating as the complexities of human civilization continually trigger "empty" parts of their brain - that would normally be filled by a human ego - and becoming trapped in bizarre, increasingly dangerous, behaviors. Mechanically they've been suffering the equivalent of Wisdom losses since they arrived, and the more they lose, the more "human" they become, but without any of the psychological tools to deal with emotional reactions to stimulus, they tend to default to fight or flight.

              Entering Delleberg is tricky for a Mage, because outnumbered 3,000 to 1, the Karkinos supernal realms take priority. The Supernal Realms being beyond time and space, the mere fact of separation by millions of years doesn't serve as an impediment to Karkinos' natural willworking. The five gross arcana are identical; the laws of physics and such have not changed. The five subtle arcana, however, have seen some changes.

              Mind is replaced by "Context"; Karkinos Context-Magic can modify the social context of a location.

              Spirit is replaced by "Molt", for reasons unknown, Essence in the Shadow has reversed its thematic orientation; a spiritually resonant event releases essence of its opposite nature, not the same. An event of Despair gives off Hope essence. Spirit Mages can make the adjustment easily enough once they understand it.

              Death is replaced by "Lethargy." Karkinos do not die, cannot die; a Karkinos' soul does not pass on after its physical destruction, instead reincarnating. They will eventually see the heat death of the universe, a fraction of a second at a time.

              Fate is replaced by "Purpose." It's largely similar to Fate magic, but it has a more instrumental and practical flavor.

              Prime is unchanged. The Supernal remains the Supernal.

              In game terms, a Mage gets their rating in a relevant subtle Arcana swapped out for one of the Karkinos' subtle Arcana while in the town of Delleberg. This is largely an excuse to force some creative re-interpretation of the Arcana to get what you want to happen, while fighting the mental breakdown of psychic crab monsters from the dark future. Hopefully some player characters can figure out a way to undo the time oops and get the residents of Delleberg swapped back. Or maybe there's too much valuable arcane insight available from studying the Karkinos and sacrifices have to be made...

              What's really happening?

              1 - an archmage did it

              2 - the God-Machine glitched

              3 - The Karkinos did it; one of their exploration swarms found an ancient temple of the Time Before, which happened to be a temporal experimentation lab displaced from the timestream. Once they entered the magical mad scientist time machine laboratory, they became magical time machine mad scientists, and well, the rest is history.
              Last edited by Professor Phobos; 02-15-2021, 06:00 PM.

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