A brief discussion of Magick in the post-apocalyptic setting of Yellow Dawn – The Age of Hastur
I’ve been reading some books lately, about magick and magicians. It led me to pull out my copy of the primary rulebook for Yellow Dawn and review the magick system I put in there. Magick, the occult and the more insidious, mind warping rites of the Cthulhu Mythos, form an integral but often very subtle part to some of my novels – so this has to wash into the RPG setting too. The result of this ad hoc review was a renewed confidence in what’s been written there.
“What is evident, is that somebody or something, before Time became irrevocably fused into the human psyche, created a boundary, a protective membrane if you like. I call it the Quantisphere. Within this membrane lie all the rules of the phsycial and spirit world; from nuclear attraction and gravity to angels and demons, poltergeists, ghosts and even vampires. It is the fundamental manipulation of energy fields that are known to exist that allow the magi, or the recently awakened Road Mages, to induce flames from their fingertips or bring a freezing blizzard to materialise in the heart of summer. Outside this membrane. Beyond the Quantisphere. No such rules apply. And the energies encountered there are as toxic to the human mind as the stinking fumes of Hell; they are as deadly as the bone crushing weight at the bottom of the deepest oceans. To plunge beyond the Quantisphere is to fall forever into the abyss, and you only have one breath.”
– Professor Amanda Hrabe, Munich Institute of Nano Molecular Biophysics.
PLAYING WITH THE FUNDAMENTAL FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE
Learning magick can be utterly fatal. Many adepts suffer anxiety issues, horrible physical injuries (energy burns to hands and face, crippling nerve damage, loss of high cognitive functions, etc). Studying magick is comparable to trying to wield the fundamental forces, including nuclear forces, with your bare hands and thin layer of protection that is mentally projected in place. Make a mistake and terrible consequences can follow.
For this reason, learning within the confines of a school, where there is some protection against the worst of consequences, can be an adepts best option for learning.
SCHOOLS OF ELEMENTAL MAGICK
There are 6 schools listed in the Yellow Dawn Primary Rulebook, version 2.5.1 on page 69
- Prism of Eternal Light (Right Hand Denomination)
- Peradons Staff (Right Hand Denomination)
- Dues Regina (Left Hand Denomination)
- Cleft of Shadows (Left Hand Denomination)
- Purple Dawn (Non-Denomination / Mythos)
- Circle of Solomon (Non-Denomination / Mythos)
There are countless more, but these are the most respected.
Such schools are concealed from public view by ancient enchantments and illusion spells. People do not just walk up to them. The schools will have recruiters in major population centres looking for people with talent. Any character who has already been to a particular school can always find it again. Recruiters will either approach somebody directly, or a set of unusual circumstances will unfold that lead the potential student to the recruitment “office” where they are given instructions of how to get to the school – again, possibly involving another riddle.
In rare circumstances, an adept who appears within a few dozen miles of a school, will receive an Invitation. See the free scenario “School of Elemental Knocks” for details about this.
The main schools have existed for centuries, if not millennia. This is reflected in the layers of architectural styles, any modern structures are either entirely standalone or have been built on the skeletons of more historic-looking structures, which in turn were built on the crumbling remains of stone temples.
Some schools may be utterly alien or even naturalistic in their core structure. GMs may consider this more appropriate to the flavour they want to weave in.
The school is protected by arcane charms and old enchantments that stretch back to the earliest days. There is an “area of effect” that stretches out beyond the physical structures of the main and ancillary buildings; illusion magick, that means anybody walking through the area is not aware of, does not see, the school. Sometimes, some schools, there are minor adjustments to climate or the ratio of the passage of time (compared out “outside” world), within this area of effect. However, these are minor indeed because to have anything significant would require far too much magick to POWer. These minor effects are POWered by drip-feed process, magickal energy absorbed from the area and the people in it (with negligible impact).
A raft of other charms and enchantments will exist within the school. Many of these are more serious, designed to alert certain senior members to bad magic being used, to prevent dangerous effects from spreading too far, and to stop students killing themselves or everyone else.
DANGER! DANGER! Learning within a school still carries great risks. Page 69 and 70 of the Yellow Dawn Primary Rulebook contain details of time spent studying, the risks and rewards for each period.
LOOK – NO HANDS
It is a common mistake to believe you need a wand or to have hands to point and gesticulate when casting occult operations. It can help, especially if a particular school of magick has taught its adepts and students that way. Yet it is a very human-centric form of magic and assumes that all humans are blessed with full functioning limbs. The truth is that some of the most powerful magicians in history have been born without limbs or lost them during an early phase of life.
The mind is the machine of magick. The body it finds itself within shapes the way magick is performed but does not limit it.
If the mind is the machine the Will, or POW, is the fuel.
The only way to render a magic users defenseless is to knock them out or kill them; or have an enchantment strong enough to contain them.
Any serious magick users will develop a focus. A physical object that can store magickal energy and provide a bonus to performing operations.
SKILL ISN’T EVERYTHING
Your character can have a phenomenal knowledge of the techniques and nuances required to employ magical operations, but there are two additional requirements which mean that the majority of erudite folk on the street (or private library) are not casting burning orbs of flame from their fingertips. Occult operations that manipulate the primal forces require the magic user to have something called Chanderic Sense. Most people have this as an innate aspect of their psyche but for the majority of us it lies dormant. It needs to be awakened.
Following the event known as Yellow Dawn there was an up-swell in such awakenings. Most people who experienced it turned their back on the strange unfamiliar feelings and weird new abilities, out of fear, anxiety and because of the added intensity of trying to survive in the nightmarish aftermath of Day Zero.
So to use Occult Operations, a character must have Chanderic Sense. This isn’t a hero bonus. Consult page 313 of YD Primary Rulebook to read about awakening it.
To use the Astral Plane, a character must have the Astral Seed. This is a Hero Bonus.
To summon and interact with demons, a character doesn’t need anything but skill and a strong nerve. Dealing with demons is an insanely dangerous way of short-cutting to significant power.
To use Mythos magick, a character doesn’t need any special abilities other than knowledge and a strong COOL. Not only are Mythos entities entirely alien and unpredictable, many of them radiate energies that are dangerous and corrupting. The majority of people who get involved with Mythos magick become insane.
Another requirement for any magician is Will; something called POW in game rules. Even after you get all the fiddly pieces of technique, mental imagery (or physical sounds and activity) and experience to line up into a working operation, it requires your POW to actually make it happen.
Magicians have wasted centuries trying to work out the why and how. Rather than focusing on the fact some of us just can and do.
Magic is as mysterious as the constant of the speed of light or the influence of gravity across dimensions. It is a fact of Nature. An aspect of reality that just is.
Get used to it.
TIME AT A SCHOOL
Every school is different. Some have very small classes of students grouped by personal temperament, or by ability, or by the field of magick they are studying. The big schools will facilitate a wide range of different fields. These groups of students can exist throughout the lifespan of their time at the school – regardless of how many times they leave and come back; or they can be temporary arrangements. It is really down to the GM and how he/she feels the school is best organised. One option is to have a magickal construct known as a Host, sort of a floating illusion with memory, that can meet and greet individual students and co-ordinate their learning… plus a Host could represent the mascot of a particular grouping of students, especially if the groupings are like University Fraternities.
“Why magick works, nobody knows. It just does. Like scientists who study the gravitational force and its ability to transcend time and space within a multiverse version of reality, sorcerers study and manipulate forces that have been pre-coded into the fabric of the Universe – and what lies beyond.”
– Danail Natale Jansink, 88th Magi of the Order of the Crimson Seal.
There have always been Road Mages amongst us, they were just called something different. Since Yellow Dawn most survivor settlements in the wilderness have had adventurers and traders pass through with stories of Road Mages. Some settlements have even experienced them first hand: some are positive, some are negative, but most encounters are simply mysterious and enigmatic. The very art of learning Magick drums into every student the absolute need for focus, emotional indifference, and pure concentration – otherwise terrible mistakes can occur. This is why the most powerful magic users, even those who are dedicated to dark forces and darker deeds, do not appear as flamboyant megalomaniacs. Magick becomes more subtle the higher you go. Road Mages are typically students of such schools as listed above – they go out into the world, roaming the wilderness and lonely places to practice their art; the need to study never finishes. Some defy the need for emotional and psychological balance and set themselves up in remote areas as a Force to be reckoned with.
WHEN MAGIC GOES WRONG
There two main areas where magic can go wrong.
(1) you fail your skill check, creating not just a chance of failure but a chance the operation is miscast, generating other unintended consequences.
(2) you attempt to use offensive magic against another person – who has their own magical abilities to defend and reflect the operation back at you!
When a magic user fails a skill check, the GM should establish how much they failed by. If it was by 20 percentiles or less, then there is no risk of further consequences. If the fail was by 21 percentiles or more, then the GM should roll 1d100: if they roll beneath the value failed-by, then something bad has happened. An unforeseen consequence, an unexpected result. This can be humorous, bizarre, dangerous and even tragic – although characters should be given a chance to make LUCK rolls against anything that might kill them outright. Examples include the emergence of an entity, including a demon or possibly a Mythos servitor, attracted by the burning of magickal energy like a shark smelling blood from the depths of a vast and alien ocean; or merely a twist to the original intended outcome – this should always be the GMs call.
Page 314. Anybody with an occult skill of 40% or more can reflexively defend against an offensive spell cast against them – anything that DIRECTLY affects their health, sanity or mobility. Simply spend a number of magic points equal to the cost of the operation being cast, and then make an opposed Occult skill check and succeed by more than the caster’s value they succeeded-by (for that particular operation).
This is when you can see two magick users locked in a grueling exchange of opposing energies, jaws clenched, fingers flexed and rigid like claws, pulses and whips of sometimes violent energies crackling the air.
If the defender wins, then the spell is stopped dead in it’s tracks, and if it was a critical success (defense) then the GM may decide that the spell’s effects are blasted back onto the caster. If the defender fails, then the spell goes through with full effects – it is at this point you check for POW vs POW (if required).
Page 339. Anybody with a Mythos skill of 20% or more may reflexively defend against any operation that DIRECTLY affects their health, sanity or mobility. Simply make an opposed Mythos skill check and spend the required Magic Points. However, you can only do this against Mythos operations that you have learned. You cannot use this instinctive defence against unknown Mythos operations.
BOOKS, COLLECTIONS and ARTIFACTS
The best way to accumulate knowledge is to find, borrow, beg or steal books that contain it, either from the homes of collectors left abandoned in Dead Zones (mostly picked clean by survivors who have funded expensive missions to raid these lost treasure troves) or visit collections that have sprung up in the wake of Yellow Dawn. Artifacts are another way to gain and wield significant powers. Any serious magician will seek these items out and go to great lengths to guard them jealously: one of the most common uses for summoning and binding a demon is to force it to protect an area or an object. Page 293 covers books and scrolls in Yellow Dawn, plus finding them (collections, libraries and Dead Zones) and learn ing the knowledge inside them. Page 346 details Occult and Mythos relics.
LOCATIONS WITH POSITIVE, NEGATIVE OR MYTHOS INFLUENCE
Page 292 covers finding locations that can give a magick user help with certain operations and activities. From enchanted clearings in woodland to commune with positive spirits, to the most disturbing of cemeteries for necromantic rites, through to places that conjure an atmosphere of inexplicable unease… where the Mythos leans up against the boundary of our reality.
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