November 30, 2021 at 11:08 pm #3395
I have been following the development of Codex for awhile now, including plenty of posts in the old forum.
This is a version of a classical old spell of AD&D 1st Ed. which I think would fit well in the Codex. It’s the Rope Trick spell, the old fakir inspired, second level Magic User spell, where the spell-caster casts a spell that causes a rope to climb up, the magician climbs up the rope and disappears. In the Codex version, I have divided the spell into two parts, the preparation – a ritual to semi-enchant the rope and make it adequate for the spell – and the casting of the spell at any time the magician desires using the rope as material component. I have added some danger and risk to the spell, which individual DMs may change. The cost of materials is not specified, since I don’t use either a Medieval Europe setting or the same monetary system. The mix of sulphur, silver dust and powdered gemstone should be expensive, but not prohibitive. I have equated the spell – with its invisibility, spying, hiding parts – to Mercury/Hermes, but any DM could change this to something he thinks more effective or adequate for his campaign.
Level: Magus 2
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 minute (preparation: 1 hour ritual)
Duration: 1 turn + 1 turn/level
Saving Throw: No
Spell Resistance: No
Source: Semi-historical, and AD&D 1st Edition
Some say this spell was first brought to the West by Moorish travelers who witnessed it in distant India, performed by the fakirs there. Be that as it may, it has been adapted and changed to suit western spell-casters, and though not common, it is a spell that is well-known, if only by hearsay.
To be able to use this spell, the magician must first prepare a rope to be used as a material component: he must acquire a good quality rope, 15’ to 30’, and prepare it with a special ritual that requires one hour. The magician should draw a magic circle, inscribe it with the names of three spirits, and place the rope in it, in a spiral pattern, coiling itself from the center to the edge. The magician must have with him a Talisman of Mercury, and must fumigate the circle with incense and mirrh, and he must sprinkle the rope with a mix of sulphur powder, silver dust and powdered ground amethyst, lapis-lazuli or sapphire (a blue stone), worth some. The ritual must be held in the hour of Mercury, and completed with a successful spell roll. The magician has also the option of preparing the rope to be usable only by himself; he needs to write a sigil representing himself in the circle, and the DC of the spell increases by +3. Success means the rope is prepared for later spellcasting, and the magician can carry it with him for the purpose of casting the spell. If the magician knws the name a seal of some air spirit and correctly inscribes it in the circle, he gains a +2 to the spell-casting roll.
In all cases, the magician knows the spell is successful because it will acquire a faint sheen as if glistening, become lighter, and can be compressed into a ball that can be put inside a small sack, easily carried in a backpack, etc… A Critical Success means the rope becomes even more compressible: it can be pressed into a small, less than 6’’ ball of rope, and placed in a pouch, for instance. Critical Failure destroys all the components in the ritual and tears a hole in the hair in front of the magician, allowing an air elemental to appear and attack the mage for 1d6 rounds, before vanishing.
Once the ritual has been completed and the rope prepared, whenever the magician has the rope with him, he may cast the spell (if memorized). To cast the spell – a 1 minute casting – the magician must trace a circle on the ground, and place the rope inside it. The circle must be clearly visible, traced with a dagger or wand or stick or whatever on the soil or earth, or traced with charcoal or chalk, ink, or some powder if the ground is too hard for tracing it with a hard object. He must sprinkle the circle with some silver dust as he completes the spell (amethyst or sapphire dust adds +2 to the spell-casting roll). If the magician has completed the preparation ritual in such a way that he is the only one capable of using the rope, he is also the only one capable of deciding who can enter the safe space the spell creates, by touching individuals on the forehead and uttering a magic word from the ritual.
Upon finishing the incantation, one end of the rope rises into the air until the whole is hanging perpendicular, as if affixed at the upper end, and the rope becomes stiff and easy to climb. The upper end is, in fact, fastened in an extra-dimensional space, and the spell caster and up to five others can climb up the rope and disappear into this place of safety where no creature can find them. An athletic individual can climb the rope in a round, whereas less athletic people may require 2 or 3 rounds to climb up (GMs may require a STR or DEX test to see how fast the characters can climb the rope). Characters not designated as being allowed to enter the extra-dimensional space (in those cases where the caster has created the version of the spell where only he can use the rope for a casting) will be unable to climb to the top, and in fact may feel a strong jolt when reaching the top, requiring them to make a save (DEX) or be thrown down to the ground for 1d8-1 damage. Magicians of level 8 or higher can add 1 additional individual to the total that can fit into the safe space, with another extra individual for every fourth additional level (an 8th person at level, 12, etc…).
The rope cannot be taken into the extra-dimensional space if six persons have climbed it (or seven at level 8, eight at level 12, etc…), but for fewer than six people it can be pulled up, at which time the circle traced on the ground disappears. Otherwise, the rope simply hangs in air, and will stay there unless removed by some creature. The persons in the extra-dimensional space must climb down the rope prior to the expiration of the spell duration, or else they are dropped from the height to which they originally climbed when the effect of the spell wears out, taking damage as usual. The rope can be climbed down by only one person at a time per round. Note that the rope trick spell allows climbers to reach a normal higher place if they do not climb all the way to the rope’s upper end, which is in an extra-dimensional space. Characters on the inside can look out, but what they see will be somewhat distorted as if through a thick glass, except at the center of the floor of the magical space (where characters climbed through), which will be clear and allow a good view outside. A character could lie down on the ground, pressing his head into the floor and looking down to see what was going on below.
Individuals outside the extra-dimensional space have some possibilities to detect it. Detect Magic and similar spells will detect the shape of the circle on the ground, and there is a chance of seeing a very slight, shimmering, thread of light moving up from the circle. There is also a 10% chance of seeing the shape of the extra-dimensional space, +5% per level of the magician detecting. Spells and effects that Detect Invisibility have a 5% per level of their caster to detect the shape of the extra-dimensional space, and seeing the forms of the characters inside it. The extra-dimensional space is vulnerable to a Dispel Magic spell or effect. Perhaps if a magician outside knows the spell or has heard of it, he may be allowed a INT roll to think of it and understand that someone could be hiding above him.
Finally, if the caster does not open the door on the ground of the extra-dimensional space before the spell ends, and does not allow the rope to come dangling down again (with individuals taking approximately one round each to come down), there is a slight chance of a more dramatic event than simply being dropped from on high. There is a 1D6% chance that the extra-dimensional space to simply cut off from the normal world, and the individuals will be stuck in the strange space outside the real world. Every 1D6 hours there is a cumulative +1D6% chance that the space simply opens up and drops the individuals inside it on the ground. In the meantime, they will be stuck there, with some low level light, but no water or food whatsoever. If the characters are stuck in the safe space for more than a day, a tunnel-like space will open in one of the walls, leading to the Ethereal plane, and characters might move out of the safe place. If, on any % roll a result of 99-100 is rolled, the walls of the safe place will disappears over the course of a few minutes, as if in a mix of shadow and smoke, leaving the characters trapped in the Ethereal plane, inside a small circular depression with some remains of the walls around them (which might serve as temporary concealment). We leave it to the GM to determine who are the inhabitants there, and what the chances are that they will find the tunnel if the characters refuse to traverse it…
Note also that after a couple of hours inside the safe place, characters may lose some sense of time. Visibility will slowly become less and less, and light will diminish, although there will remain always some low-level light. Unless characters have magical or mechanical means to determine how many hours have passed, it may be difficult to ascertain how much time has passed inside it.
On a Critical Failure when casting the spell, the rope is destroyed, and all within 10’ of the circle the magician was tracing have to save (DC 15) or be dazed for 1d4 rounds due to the wind that suddenly appears, and the dust and objects it tears from the ground and sweeps around. A Critical Success means the spell will last 2 turns per level of the caster (and the caster will know it) and there is no chance of the characters being stuck in the extra-dimensional space at the end of the spell duration.December 1, 2021 at 5:42 pm #3399
Hi Jose, and welcome! I think I remember you from the old forum.
I love this spell, this is brilliant. Rope Trick was always one of my favorite DnD spells from the old days, despite rarely being used. It is exactly the type of spell that fits with Codex Superno. I like how you wrote it just like the Superno style as well.
Like the best spells in that book, this one has ‘adventure hook’ written all over it. I can see this dovetailing into any number of scenarios.
Thanks for posting this. If you have time, I’d love to hear something about what kind of gaming you do or what kind of campaign you run.December 1, 2021 at 7:35 pm #3400
Thanks for your reply. I haven’t actually played for a while, since about 2013, but at that time I did adapt a lot of Codex Martialis to our game. We played a mix of AD&D 1st Ed. (with some 2nd Ed added) and Chivalry & Sorcery 2nd Ed. Essentially, character creation and abilities from AD&D, combat a mix of AD&D and C&S, magic as C&S (with lots of house rules) but mostly AD&D spell lists. We always played a Greyhawk campaign, regardless of how many times we changed or adapted rules, LOL. Not the high-fantasy high-magic usual campaign, but a more low-magic one.
I have been slowly rewriting all the rules we used and trying to compile them into a coherent whole set of rules. It’s a hobby project, and takes some time, and I have been mostly trying to decide on formats of spells, and to “fix and define” the final rules for spell-casting etc… I have arrived at a set of rules that are largely inspired by Code Superno, Lion & Dragon and some C&S 2nd ed.
I think Codex Superno is a superb book, one of the more interesting supplements having come out these last 2-3 years. For what it sets out to do, it is pretty much perfect. Congrats.December 1, 2021 at 8:03 pm #3401
Thanks, it’s so nice to hear that. I do think it’s a good book. I wish it didn’t take so long to write (about 9 months) but I am fairly proud of how it came out. It’s very nice to hear some feedback because we rarely hear anything from our readers, but that book has done pretty well sales wise so I guess some people must like it!
I am planning, at some point, to do sequel called “Codex Superno: Grimm Tidings” which will be based largely on Jacob Grimm’s magisterial “Deutsche Mythologie” which covers Central European localized myths, legends and quasi-pagan folk practices going back to the medieval period. It was kind of the basis for the famous fairy tales the Grimm Brothers later created. It’s got a lot of good content for low magic type campaigns.
I’m not sure when I’ll be starting that though as it’s likely to take a long time just like the first one did, and I have a few other things in the queue before that.
Can you tell me a bit about Chivalry and Sorcery and Lion and Dragon? What do you like about their magic systems?December 5, 2021 at 6:01 pm #3445
Lion & Dragon is an OSR system with a simple Old D&D derived game system in termos of character creation, combat and so on. It is set in a version of Medieval Europe (Dark Albion) in the early 15h century, probably with more magic/supernatural than your baltic campaign, but still relatively lower magic. Most of the magic in the game uses a D20 roll vs. a DC target, just like yours, for casting successful magic. Except that there are virtually NO spells in the game, essentially it mostly all revolves around the mage summoning demons, spirits, angels and whatnot to carry out magic and tasks for him. What “spells” actually exist are like many of those in Codex Superno, involved rituals where the mage must complete a couple of things, a ritual, some other something, and wait for the effects, mostly indirect, to take place. There is no memorizing spells, no Vancian system. Mages have access to a certain number of “magical lores” and as they progress in lever they will occasionally gain additional lores, each of those allowing him to perform certain types os magical operations: Astrological Lore, Summoning Demons, Alchemy, Healing, Banishing, etc…
The rules system is quite simple, and since I am more of a simulationist at heart, not really my cup of tea, but the type of magic is interesting, and worth taking a look into. Also, the author (RPGPundit) publishes regular short PDFs for use with the game, which he calls “Authentic Medieval…” and some of these are quite nice, as they focus on adapting grimoires and magic books from the middle ages to the game, allowing characters to learn different new magic skills (generally at the cost of a long study time).December 5, 2021 at 6:17 pm #3446
As for Chivalry & Sorcery (and specifically, the 2nd Ed. with the D20 combat system)… well, it’s what made our group decide to adapt lots of its rules to AD&D play. The combat system is actually pretty good, if you resolve and clarify a couple of minor issues. When I first played it, I was surprised to find that it was very smooth going and a lot of fun. It generated plenty of fun results through the interplay of Attacks and Active Defenses, and Criticals an Bashes. For quite a while we played AD&D (character creation and classes, magic system, etc…) with C&S combat rules. Later we started tinkering with the magic system, and adapted some of the C&S rules to the AD&D spells.
In C&S combat characters have a certain number of Blows (actions) they can use, for either attacks (some attacks require the use of 2 Blows) or Active Defenses (Weapon Parry, Shield Parry and Dodge). Defenses come in the form of penalties to the attack. So a certain Parry might apply a -5 to the attackers roll, for example. A successful defense would be if the attack failed because of the Parry (in this case by a margin of 5). A Critical Defense would occur when an attacker rolls a Fumble (a natural 1 in terms of D&D) against a given defense. The interplay of Attacks vs Defenses generate various “events”. A successful Weapon Parry might mean that a weapon breaking roll is required, or might allow the defender to spend one Blow to attempt a disarm; a critical weapon parry would give the defender a Free Blow (attack of opportunity in D&D terms) to attempt a disarm or any other special skills he might have. A successful Shield Parry allows the defender to attempt a Bash by spending a Blow, and a critical gives a Free Blow for that Bash, or for some other Shield Skill. A Dodge allows the defender to spend a Blow and Disengage from range, while a Critical Dodge gives the Defender a Free Blow to either disengage or to counterstrike, etc…
So a lot of tactical events occur which are more fun than the usual monotonous rythm of ad&AD&D1 combat, without making combat a lot more complicated. Each weapon has both a Critical range and a Bash range, and if the roll is within the range, and succeeds by a minimum margin of success, then a Crit allows the attacher to roll extra dmg, typically under the form of one extra die of damage, and a Bash allows the attacker to roll 2d6 on the Bash table, which will generate results such as knocking the opponent back, or to his knees, stunning him or causing him to lose a Blow, etc… taking into account the relative sizes of weapons and combatants, and whether they have armor nos under the form of minus or pluses to the roll.
One of the things I enjoy in this system is that it doesn’t really add a lot more die rolls to the usual combat sequence resolution, only if special results occur. Obviously, our system is quite different than the original C&S2 since it is adapted to AD&D1, more streamlined (the original rules are quite confusing and badly organized) and some ideas of Codex Martialis were added to the rules (the various weapon attack modifiers, combat ranges, etc…).
And I’ll write about C&S magic later, gotta go!December 9, 2021 at 6:34 pm #3504
Interesting Jose, it sounds like C&S2 gives you a lot more options in combat without forcing a lot of extra complexity or slowing the action down. To be honest it’s very similar to the philosophy of Codex, we also try to save the extra die rolls for special circumstances. And the inclusion of active defense and spending more or less resources on an attack are all similar.
There are so many RPG systems out there it’s hard to keep track of them all but I’m a little surprised I hadn’t heard of Chivalry and Sorcery before. Always more to learn…
I see that it’s been around almost as long as DnD
From the wiki it kind of reminds me of Harn, though perhaps with less focus on the actual world. Is Lion and Dragon a bit more focused on the world-building part?December 27, 2021 at 7:36 pm #3543
Sorry for taking so long to answer, but work and holidays got in the way! 🙂
Re. your questions:
C&S was always very light on detailing an actual world, they did have an “official” campaign published but was quite undetailed. Newer versions also have a campaign, but it’s quite generic. The older versions (1st and 2nd ed.) assumed you would be playing in a version of medieval Europe and that was that. A default period of 12th-13th century seemed to be the preferred one, but not too much so.
Lions & Dragon assumes a version of the 15th century Great Britain, with some fantasy elements thrown in, it’s not the Catholic Church but a kind of “Church of the Sun” a monotheistic religion similar in many aspects to the Church etc… I know they have a sourcebook on this fantasy Europe, but never read it, and probably won’t, I bought it (and many of the short supplements) for ideas on more “authentic but fun” magic rules.
I started playing D&D in late 81, and I think I played my first session of C&S in 85!December 27, 2021 at 8:00 pm #3544
For example, let me compare one Codex spell (Philosopher’s Cottage) with a very similar spell in L&D, it can give you an idea of the differences. You are probably familiar with the book Ars Notoria (or Ars Nova), one of the books contained in the Lemegeton. It teaches a system of mnemonics and visualizations, inspired possibly by Memory Palaces, with prayers to spirits etc… to develop eidetic memory and so on. In L&D, if a magician gains a copy of the book, he may study it for a lot o months (can’te remember, 12 or so), after which he can attempt a ritual, which, if successful, will transport him to an extra-planar room where time passes more slowly than on the real world (1:2) and where healing also is at double rate. This is similar to the Cottage, but less powerful in the sense that the time available in the extra-planar room is less than in the Cottage, and also, the magician must bring his own stuff to the room (with lots of limitations). But… from then on, the magician gains the ability to cast the spell (no longer a long casting one, just 10 minutes casting) on any door, and when he goes through, he enters the room; he can come out through ANY door that he has ever passed through (providing a very good means of traveling). This is quite powerful (I’d probably reduce it to “come out through any door he has ever cast the spell on”, so the mage has to slowly buid a list of doors through which he can pass). This “spell” is fully learned, there are no slots or memorization to do. If the mage fails at his DC roll, he can retry some time later, etc…
More, once the mage has learned this, he can continue studying the book, and after a few more months, he can try to learn a new method: he can cast a trap spell on any door he wishes, and seal it with a password. Anyone who goes through the door without saying it will think they are entering the room beyond it, but they suddenly trapped in an extra planar “oubliette”, a cell from which they cannot exit unless they have means of traveling through planes etc… This is quite a powerful ability.
In L&D almost all magic is like this: the mage learns a specific magic skill which he can then use at will (there are of course other limitations, risks, material components etc…), some skills can be learned as he goes up in level, other skills can be gained from studying books and so on.
The core ability of most mages is to summon a demon, and then compel him to perform services. Demons are then listed with the things they might be able to do for mage, stuff like “can reveal a secret from any one person, can discover a hidden object provided the mage can name it specifically, can cause a person to fall sick, can raise a storm at sea until the next sunrise” etc… But there are no “spells” per se as in the D&D game (or the Codex). It’s an interesting system, and one I might combine with the more classical D&D/Codex one.December 27, 2021 at 9:36 pm #3546
Very interesting. I love that nuance on the spell where you can trap people in a cell as they pass through a door, that’s quite chilling! Very evocative. The summoning of demons to do various specific tasks is very characteristic of 17th Century magic ala Lemegeton etc. as I’m sure you know.
The spells in Superno are more based on certain of the 15th Century and earlier grimoires, in fact some of them are actually direct (though modified) copies of a few such spells, which typically involve complex rituals the first time but can be used with less elaborate setup subsequently (though not necessarily at will). There is of course a heavy emphasis on talismans and charms, which probably peaked in the 16th Century I guess but certainly goes back to antiquity.
I wanted to use the (to me) rather engaging elements of the earlier anonymous / clandestine type grimoires, some of which are just now being translated and published for the first time, rather than the better known to the esoteric tradition in the 17th-19th Centuries. I didn’t focus too much on the Goetic demon summoning partly because the earlier manuals focused a bit less on it, and partly because I don’t want to encourage or contribute to young people plunging into that kind of thing.
Not against studying it but as you know there is a long tradition of the abuse and misuse of these traditions, frauds and charlatans and scam artists, and overall a fairly dark ethical atmosphere to it all. It can be approached in a much more nuanced way but I feel that ‘path’ has a lot of pitfalls, so to speak.
There is also something almost Vancian in the mnemonic traditions of Lull, Bruno etc. which is close enough for comfort, so I felt I could rationalize not departing too far. I like to let the people who buy my books keep a lot of different options so they can use them in different ways. If you want to stick to something more like traditional DnD, you can, if you prefer to go more realistic or go off in one of the many directions available in traditional mythology you can do that too.
I’d like to do a series of these books focusing on traditions from specific regions. Are you from Spain? I ran into a lot of fascinating esoteric material and mythology from Cantabria in particular, but the Iberian peninsula is very rich in such traditions all over.December 27, 2021 at 10:26 pm #3547
I understand your concerns about demonology, though I would say that by the 15th century it was already well established in European grimoires. And I agree that maintaining a connection to the official Vancian structure of the game is a good idea.
I am from Portugal, actually. Crazily, many medieval-born grimoires slash magic books are still sold in general use here, like the Book of St. Cyprian, which I think everybody outside the big cities knows. LOL.December 28, 2021 at 5:07 am #3548
That’s very interesting. I am from and live in New Orleans in Louisiana where there are still people who practice Voodoo and other similar practices. There is a range from tourist version /completely fake to half serious to deadly serious people. Far more of the former than the latter.
Most practitioners don’t realize that some of what they are into is from the Old World so to speak, like the Gris Gris contains diagrams from the Picatrix.
I have a HEMA buddy in Portugal, up north in Lisbon. He’s also a fan of some of my Codex writing though he’s only read one of the history books. I’m not sure if he plays RPGs but I know he does war games. We have talked about doing another history book about the early Portuguese adventures in the Pacific Rim in the early 16th Century. That would be a big project though.December 28, 2021 at 5:28 am #3549
I can tell you are well read on the subject. So take this with grain of salt, just my $.02.
Re: demonology, yes I agree it was certainly around, but the 15th Century and earlier manuals deal with quite a range of entities and forces, some don’t deal with spirits at all, just natural forces. Some deal with Classical deities or spirits. Most of the rest focused on Celestial spirits including both angels and somewhat unaligned ones, the Deccans and so forth. In a particularly interesting passage on one of the spells in the CLM 849 mentions how to address certain intermediate spirits specifically. My point is that the focus on some of those spells in the earlier manual are on the elaborate ritual, some focus on demons or devils, others on faerie or angels or these other in between spirits.
The later grimoires, 17th 18thC, seem to focus much more on the Goetic spirits almost exclusively. Some of the later practitioners seem to have thought of them as stand-ins or archetypes representing various forces, some of them took them more literally. But as I’m sure you know, the later books give you the diagram, the names to use and maybe a prayer, and a list of purported abilities of the spirit in question, and sometimes the rest (i.e. what you can actually get them to do, in detail) is left to the imagination.
To me the Goetic manuals are both a little less scary and a little more transgressive than some of the earlier books. As in, the 13th-15thC ones make the spirits sound much scarier (even the angels are apparently dangerous), but take more pains not to cross certain lines (or anyway, they don’t blatantly get into the highly transgressive potentials as much). If it’s ‘fan fiction’ some of these are very well done and do give you a bit of a chill. Anyway I thought these earlier manuals, particularly the 15thC ones had RPG written all over them, I wish I could get hold of some more translations of them. There is an English and a Dutch one in the pipeline so to speak but I don’t know the people working them so no way to know when they will be released.
January 2, 2022 at 7:11 pm #3553
- This reply was modified 6 months ago by Hans Hellinger.
Regarding the demonology and Goetic manuals, it is clear to me that by the early 15th century most of what is the standard later contraptions of seals, diagrams, etc… was in place, so I think it is perfectly adequate. Note that I think also that since these manuals were more “transgressive” and possibly the ones concerned with non-demonic spirits (like spirits of the hours, directions, zodiac, angels et. al.) were more acceptable to the church in general, we may have a distorted view of the actual prevalence of these practices. For example, it is possible to do some statistics and compare, for example indexes of various medieval libraries, and note how many books included were (or might be) concerned with spirit/theurgic magic, and compare to the number of actual known surviving manuals and then extrapolate the number of nigromantic/demonological manuals by comparing the know surviving ones and multiplying by the ratio. I have a doctorate thesis on ars notoria by a french specialist that does just that, and posits that demonological treatises were probably as numerous as theurgic ones, they probably were just more the victims of book burnings and so on.
This is L’Ars notoria au Moyen Âge et à l’époque moderne. Étude d’une tradition de magie théurgique (XIIe-XVIIe siècle), by Julien VÉRONÈSE, 2004 – if you read french I can send the PDF to you if you wish. Also, I recommend Religion, Science, and the Transformations of Magic: Manuscripts of Magic 1300-1600, by Frank Klaassen, and I can’t resist quoting it (it took me a while to remember where this was, LOL): “The third section demonstrates that there is a higher level of continuity between medieval and sixteenth-century magic than has been previously recognized. But the continuity should not be traced to scholastic image magic, which practically vanishes from the collections of practising occultists. Rather, medieval ritual magic deserves our attention as it forms the overwhelming bulk of the magical texts in Sixteenth-century co11ections. (…) In all these senses practicing sixteenth-ceahiry occultists may be seen as extensions of the medieval ritual magic tradition…” (this is also available as a free PDF)
So I don’t think it would be out of order to have demonology et. al. as a part of 15th century “real” magic. If I have one criticism of Codex Superno, it is exactly that, that it seems to have this glaring missing part of the book, though I perfectly understand your points about not going in great depths about it.
In any case, each campaign is different and should be adapted by the GM. For me, the attraction of a more “realistic” system of magic, one that would be both more low-fantasy, as it were, and more complicated, flavorful, not as systematized, always had a lot to do with Elizabethan magic, John Dee, even the more modern Golden Dawn et. al. magic systems. I just think they are super cool. And since I don’t play a European campaign (I play in my own version of Greyhawk), I feel completely free to adapt, steal, change, add anything I want! 🙂January 3, 2022 at 4:28 am #3554
First of all – I agree! You absolutely SHOULD use any magic you want to use in your campaign. You should use anything you like, that is the first rule of TTRPG to me.
Second, John Dee is certainly an interesting character (did you see the news about his Aztec mirror?) although also in some ways a tragic one. I would also say that Golden Dawn / OTO etc. have been very sloppy with his version of the tradition. I would also say that as interesting a figure as Dee is there are quite a few more interesting characters in Continental Europe during the same period, particularly in Italy.
If I was going to pick a single figure to center my portrayal of Renaissance Magic though it would probably Cornelius Agrippa, as well as various others around and linked to him directly or indirectly (including Dr. Faustus).
I don’t think I left a big hole where black magic or demonology would be, there are demons in the book and some pretty nasty black magic spells. I just included a lot of other things around it. All the ‘gray area’ magic which seemed to be so common – I find that pretty interesting. If anything, I believe the more ostensibly ‘benign’ traditions such as the Cunning Man / Cunning Woman phenomenon doesn’t get it’s due in most RPGs or genre fiction. I think the whole gray area, not quite purely good but not quite truly evil either, is a big part of the whole medieval mentality, if you catch my meaning.
Regarding what kind of books were available in medieval bookshelves and so on, I think there is ongoing study on that subject! I know that of the six anonymous 15th Century necromantic grimoires that have been discovered in Europe (that I’m aware of) in the last 50 years or so only two have been partially published and so far as I know none of them have been released in a full English translation. Apparently there is a Russian translation of the CLM 849 now (since 2019) but I don’t have the skill to read Russian sadly.
This book is about this exact subject. It seeks to determine what kind of grimoires were on people’s bookshelves (and in libraries) and if, and to what extent goetic magic was being taught at Charles University in Prague and Jagiellonian University in Krakow. It’s a very interesting exploration (and well worth a read IMO) but he doesn’t have a definitive answer to that question.
He does however note for example that while the first three volumes of the Picatrix show up in many library catalogues in the 15th Century, the fourth volume is somewhat rarer (perhaps kept in a back room). And this is in the far more tolerant medieval period, compared to the later times when such things could get you burned. Overall though I think the jury is still out on this question. I would love to learn more.
I have Klassen’s 2015 book though I don’t have his more recent book on Elizabethan magic, as well as several works by Richard Kieckhefer, Francis Yates, and most of the main primary sources, including Agrippa, Picatrix, Book of Honorius etc..
I agree there is not such a huge difference between 15th and 16th Century magic but I think there is certainly a change by the time you get to the 17th and 18th Centuries. Wouldn’t you agree? 16th Century is a time of transition and there are many threads of esoteric philosophy woven through it. You have the mnemonic traditions of Raymond Lull being revived by Bruno, and attempt to consolidate alchemy, medicine and image magic by Paracelsus, various traditions of christian kaballah such as pursued by people like Ficino and so many of the neo-Platonists, and the gradually the rise of the Ars Notoria which would become so prevalent in later periods.
I am not really an expert on this subject, I have learned a little through the fencing manuals and reading about their context for years, and I kind of took a crash course on it all when I was writing Superno. But I get the impression there is still a lot to learn particularly from the medieval traditions (which I would say continue for a while into the 16th Century).
Superno was an attempt to show the width and breadth of the phenomenon of magic in the medieval period. I believe I did include a fairly reasonable sampling (plus some made up stuff for the amusement of the gamers). My critique of the 17th-18th Century and later traditions which focus so much on the Ars Goetia is not necessarily that it’s so naughty, as that it less interesting to me from a gaming perspective (or say, genre fiction). You certainly have some pretty chilling rituals in the CLM 849 and the Rawlings Necromantic Manuscript and several of the spells within do explicitly invoke demonic spirits, but they are complex and interesting rituals to me. It’s not purely about just summoning the right demon, abjuring them and then asking for favors.
That said, I think there is room to do a few more books in the Superno tradition, maybe one day I’ll dive into that direction, or maybe a bit more in the middle eastern direction. Did you ever see our little joke about the dreaded Jinn AL Barquan?
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