Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur is an RPG based on the science fiction & dark fantasy world of David J Rodger; it’s the universe shared by those novels, taken through an apocalyptic event caused by agents of H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos; the stories pick up 10 years after this event has devasted planet Earth.
I’m currently going through a massive overhaul of the current version of the rulebook (version 2.1). You can follow updates about this project here.
This excerpt comes from the work-in-progress, drafting version 2.5 of the rulebook; specifically it comes from a much enhanced chapter called “The World of Yellow Dawn”. It covers the concept of Magick within the Yellow Dawn universe – its resurgence from the shadows thrown over the Middle Ages by the dawn of Enlightentment (science crushing the pagan gods where the orthodox religions had left off). It also conveys the sense of risk to users of Magick, a risk that is currently being written into the new version of the YD rulebook.
I hope you enjoy. If you see anything that makes you wrinkle your face with dislike, let me know. This is still a work in progress and very much in draft.
Schools of Elemental Magick
For thousands of years the knowledge and study of Magick was limited to a handful of people. This is not stage-show magic, but the true Magick behind the energy that binds and flows through Nature.
This restriction was for good reason, because working with the fabric of the Quantisphere, tapping into the structures that define human reality and shaping the primal energies of the cosmos, can be extraordinarily damaging to mind, body and spirit. The Magick-user is making themselves a lightening rod. A conductor for god-like forces. And this can have a profound effect on the complex and often fragile psychology of humans; with their competing sirens of the Ego, Morality, Fear, Anxiety and Lust; even excessive compassion… desires based on the principles of ‘goodness’ can be twisted and distorted.
This is one reason why people turn to the so-called dark arts of demonology; engaging with the sentient things that inhabit the outermost realms of the Quantisphere – angelic forms and their negative counterparts, demons – and getting them to perform these dangerous magickal operations on their behalf. For a price, of course. Making demonology infinitely more dangerous than taking the time, effort and pain to master the craft of wielding Magick yourself; but at first, demology is seductive because it comes across as comparatively easy.
Then there are the ceremonies of the Mythos. Terrifying for their genuine simplicity – the highly-compressed, potent power of a few blood-daubed symbols or a string of polyglot sounds – capable of tearing holes in the Quantisphere, drawing through monstrous entities from the Outer Chaos.
Yellow Dawn triggered a renaissance in the field of Magick. It has led to a new class of individual – the Road Mage. A person who travels the wilderness – connecting with the forces he or she is learning to master, and bend to their Will. There are also those who commune with demons or attempt to command the sanity-shredding energies of the Mythos.
Some survivors experienced a subtle shift in their perceptions, as if a new filter had been introduced – or perhaps an old one (industrialisation) removed. They began suffering vivid, shocking dreams foretelling future events; others began drifting away from their bodies when they tried to sleep, with auto-astral projection; and many had deep intuitive feelings about people, places or situations that proved remarkably accurate. Most closed down this new awareness through lack of understanding and fear. Some embraced it and became known as ‘sensitives’.
These people felt compelled by some deep yearning; they formed ‘schools of knowledge’, shared experiences and practices, developed their skills, became masters. It was as if the elements and natural spirits of Earth whispered to them, guiding them. How to quicken the repair of damaged flesh. How to improve the yield and taste of crops. How to bring water to the surface of a dry river bed or hold water in containment, through the power of thought alone.
And there was another group of sensitives who heard entirely different and darker voices; the cunning mutterings of demonic entities and dangerous elementals, fanning the flames of less positive urges and desires. These people learned they could kill with a touch. Create sparks from a hostile thought and savour the fury of a fire running through them; even cause that burning energy to leap from their fingers to cause mayhem and damage.
Between them they inherited the ancestral knowledge of all the shaman, wizards, witches and warlocks that had ever walked the Earth before them. The knowledge contained ‘Within the Spheres’. The conjurer’s ability to fold space and time around any object or person to cause them to vanish – and later reappear. The necromancer’s ability to sift through the echoes of thought in dead flesh, or to breathe new life or undeath into what was once utterly corpulent. The sorcerer’s charm and guile and knowledge of the demonic entities that exist within the uppermost layers of the spheres; and the danger therein of what those sorcerers may bring into this world, through underestimating the unbridled cravings such entities have to posses flesh.
And those that delved far enough, touched the boundary of the spheres with their astral fingers, felt the thrum of alien energies coursing beyond the bubble of human reality, and sensed the immense yet subtle power of the membrane that protects us from what lies beyond.
The Quantisphere is that boundary, that membrane. Beyond which exists a place not meant for humankind:
The cosmic horrors of what many writers throughout history have tried to warn us about in their insane scribbling – or fantastic fiction. A pantheon of trans-dimensional beings and utterly alien concepts so powerful the few humans who have ever guessed at their existence, have instinctively considered them to be Gods. The Mythos.
Now, a decade after Yellow Dawn these schools have become well-established and spread across the globe – accepting the sensitives who come to them and turning a few in Road Mages.
For people in Living Cities, the tales of energy crackling from peoples’ hands, or causing rain to fall in a desert, or commanding animals are usually treated with scepticism and amusement, a remnant of the city-life mentality sneering at the superstitions of country-folk. However, every Living City now has a collection of strange rooms in crumbling buildings acting as recruitment centres for the Schools based out in the Wilderness. And in Living Cities or their surrounding Rural Support Zones there is always the young or ‘touched’ who feel a call to leave the safety of the area and explore a new world beyond – a world where Magick exists and is wielded with knowledge and skill, for good, or for bad.
The 6 Global Schools
What is not widely known, except to those within the fraternities, brotherhoods, cabals and lodges, is that amongst the numerous independent Schools there are six which have become global enterprises, with shared ‘Discipline Centres’ springing up across the planet. Discipline Centres are where students live and learn their craft, gaining skills in different magick-operations and increasing their power.
Belonging to one of the main six schools allows a travelling Magi (road mage) to use the resources of their particular Schools’ Discipline Centres when they come across them; this can be for food & accommodation, or for prolonged periods of further learning. Each of the six global Schools has separate ideals, philosophies, practices and insignia, but like all Schools of Elemental Magick, including the small independents, they fall into one of three categories: Right-hand, Left-Hand and Non-Denomination.
Right-Hand Denomination: these Schools practice healing, communing with animals and manifesting the positive aspects of Nature for the good of others. The two global Schools under this denomination are:
(1) Prism of Eternal Light
(2) Peradons Staff
Left-Hand Denomination: these Schools practice Demonology, necromancy, manipulating weaker minds and manifesting the negative aspects of Nature for personal – selfish gain. The two global Schools under this denomination are:
(1) Dues Regina
(2) Cleft of Shadows
Non-Denomination: these Schools study Magick generally, as a phenomenon, as a science, as something to be understood with no moral framework for how Magick should be used. Some high ranking None Denomination adepts will attempt to study and learn the Mythos. The two global Schools under this denomination are:
(1) Purple Dawn
(2) Circle of Solomon
Joining a School
Anybody can join a School of Elemental Magick, simply by walking in and expressing your desire to start learning; but you’ve got to find one first.
Finding a School: Every Living City has at least one ‘recruitment’ centre for each of the main six schools, plus advertisements for numerous independent schools which all exist somewhere in the Wilderness.
There are places where all the Schools can be found in one settlement – such as Glastonbury in the South West of England.
In the deep Wilderness, every settlement has a 1% chance of having a school near it. What kind of School is determined by rolling 1d100.
01-10: Prism of Eternal Light (RH)
11-20: Peradons Staff (RH)
21-40: Independent Right-Hand Denomination
41-50: Dues Regina (LH)
51-60: Cleft of Shadows (LH)
61-80: Independent Left-Hand Denomination
81-85: Purple Dawn (ND)
86-90: Circle of Solomon (ND)
91-00: Independent Non-Denomination
Cost: simple. You hand over all your belongings. All your money, and you swear a blood-oath that you have not tried to hide or conceal your true wealth. The School uses magick to detect if you’re lying. Being caught lying results in you being turned away; all your belongings are returned; you’ll never be able to return to this School again, and if one of the 6 global Schools, your astral identity is black-marked by them, forever, meaning you will never be able to return to that School anywhere in the world. Rule data: the school has a default 80% chance to know if a character is lying
Training: you start immediately. At the Discipline Centre, the School provides you with simple robes, usually bearing some subtle insignia, provide you with a bed, and basic meals. To actually have any chance of progress, you must dedicate at least 3 months to each block of learning.
Leaving: a student can leave any time they wish; if they have been there at least 3 months then they are given a bag of basic clothes; food rations for 3 days and 216 copper pieces.
Mythos: the schools are all acutely aware of the Mythos and how this cosmic horror presses in against the fragile yet resilient boundaries of human reality. They keep such knowledge under lock and key and guard it feverishly. Whether or not a particular school will open up its libraries to a non-adept (character) who comes to them seeking help in fighting a Mythos incursion, is up to the GM. Likewise, the skill, ability and willingness of teachers to become involved will vary from place to place – and is down to the GM to specify.
Learning is never easy
When a adept locks themselves away in a school to study, it is not a prosaic period of peace and quiet. The adept is engaging with the challenges of working under incredible strain – wielding energies that are by the very definition, super-natural. They adept must also cope with the frustration of the failures that precede every increase in knowledge. Their cool and nerve is tested as they confront fear (making a mistake can result in pain, injury or worse) and the all-consuming desires of the Ego. When you’re wielding god-like powers it can be difficult not to believe you are god-like. Moments of failure remind us of the true weakness of our human state, and this can result in uncontrolled rages or the utter collapse of confidence and destruction of the personality.
Insanity, self-harm, physical and psychological abuse, violent assault and even murder are all common risks when attending a school of elemental magick.
This is what the schools attempt to manage: to guide the adept through the turbulent waters of failure during learning; and to constrain the dizzying thrills of success. There is nothing more dangerous than a sorcerer, road mage or adept who is not in control, particularly one who is insane.
The rule data section below quantifies these risks.
Every 3 months spent at school
Allows an adept to develop existing abilities in Occult operations and find new operations, but there is also the risks associated with learning. It is likely to leave them significantly depleted of POW.
Picking up New Operations: being in a School gives the adept access to libraries and to the accumulated knowledge of teachers, masters and other adepts. The six global schools are able to share across numerous Discipline Centres, broadening the level of available knowledge far beyond what an independent school can provide.
If an adept wants to pick up new Occult operations (spells), they can select up to any 3 operations for the three month period, depending on availability.
Availability of new occult operations. Every one of the global schools has an 80% chance of being able to make available any Occult operation an adept wants to learn. An independent school only has a 20% chance per Occult operation – this is because they only have small libraries and resources.
Right-Hand & Left-Hand Adepts: spending 3 months within a School provides the following benefits: 3d6+12 experience points to spend on Occult skill & Occult Operations; 3d6 experience points to spend on anything they like. If they can roll over their POW on 1d100, then they also gain +3d3 POW.
Non-Denomination Adepts: spending 3 months within a School provides the following benefits: 3d6 experience points to spend on Occult skill & Occult Operations; 3d6 experience points to spend on anything they like. If they can roll over their POW on 1d100, they gain +1d6 POW.
Risks for all: every 1 week spent at a school regardless of denomination, regardless of it being an independent, will carry risks to the student. These are as follows:
- Lose 1 POW unless you can roll beneath your current POW on 1d100. This is to fuel the Magic Points required for experimenting with the operations you’re learning.
- Lose 1 COOL point unless you can succeed in an Anxiety check; this is from the strain and emotional exertion required from each adept.
- Make a general Occult skill check or suffer a minor physical injury, such as mild burns (from energy blowback), weakness of limbs (from strained nervous system), bruising to throat and thorax (from excessive use of shouting commands, caught up in the ecstasy of power). However, if a ‘00’ is ever rolled then there’s a more serious injury. Roll 1d20 to see what it is:
01-10 Permanent nerve damage caused by uncontrolled surges of power. -1 DEX.
11-19 Energy burns to hands and face, causing minor ‘melting’ of skin and features: -1 APP
20 Muscle seizes and permanent state of spasm, resulting in a limping gait, a curious way of limbs hanging at the wrong angle, and a facial features ‘at rest’ with a grimace like expression. [-1 APP, -1 DEX, -1 STR]
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