Friday, June 7, 2013

A Spell Called Catherine

Mendalusus

Trovalos Mendalusus is a wizard.  Although he is hardly a world-class archmage, he is known within Meltheria as a summoner of no small talent.  Mendalusus is also regarded as a glutton and a lecher, with an odd sense of humor and a narrow set of associates.  He's not unkind or unpleasant, merely awkward and sometimes self-absorbed.

Just last month, Mendalusus finally capitulated to the demands of his friends, and shared a spell he had recently developed.  It is simple enough any wizard past his apprenticeship can cast it.  He calls the spell "Catherine".

catherine.jpg

Quite simply, the spell summons a woman of the same name.  The spell lasts for several hours.  She is young, attractive, blonde, and wears a large blue dress (although she can change into anything provided).  In personality, she is quick to laugh and prone to pouting.  In all respects, she acts exactly like a real human being.  She is especially eager to obey any commands, as long as they are phrased politely.

It is fair to say that Mendalusus did not anticipate his spell would get such a reaction.

Summoning

Spells to summon beasts have been known for a long time.  Even the street magician's trick of pulling a rabbit from a hat is based on the conjuration magic of real wizards. So summoning an animal is no strange thing.

The animals summoned from these spells certainly look, feel, and behave like normal animals in the short time before they vanish.  They are not illusions.  By most definitions of the word, they are "real". . . at least before the spell runs out.

There has been an unofficial consensus among wizards that humans and other "intelligent" creatures cannot be summoned like rabbit or wolves.  By convention, these lines of research have never been pursued.

The City of Meltheria

In Meltheria, the City of Wizards, there has been an explosion of interest in the Catherine spell.  Mendalusus and his associates have been kept busy (1) making scrolls to keep up with demand, and (2) preventing counterfeiters from making and selling illicit copies of the same scroll.  Money is pouring into Mendalusus' pockets faster than he can count it, and it is pouring back out to hire a small army of lawyers and thugs.  It is very expensive to fight counterfeiting.

The colleges of wizardry are in an uproar.  There is a lot of discussion about whether Mendalusus violated some unwritten code of wizardry when he made a spell to summon a human.  There are also suggestions that this spell should be banned from the public.  Most agree that the Catherine spell opens the door to a whole new branch of wizardry: "human summoning".  This agreement is always immediately followed up with arguments about which existing college is best equipped to pursue this intriguing line of research.  Several of the mage-princes of Meltheria are eager to throw money at anything following this line of research, and at least one college will soon be getting paid a great deal of money to do exactly that.  It is even possible that the portly, nondescript Mendalusus will be shoulder-tapped to head the research himself.

The police force of Meltheria has already began issuing announcements and placing posters.  These signs show a picture of the summoned Catherine, and warn that she is only a spell effect under the control of a wizard, and should not be treated like a human being.  The police do this in response to last week, in which Meltheria saw a flood of pranks that used the Catherine spell, mostly involving seduction, indecency, and petty thievery.

The Hesayan Church

The single most powerful institution in the world, the Church has already spoken out against the Catherine spell.  The Patriarch has condemned the spell as sinful, since it will obviously be used for carnal purposes.  Why would anyone develop such a spell, if not to illicitly enjoy the pleasures of the flesh?

The Church has even gone so far as to categorize the spell as Necromancy, which makes it illegal in most of the civilized world.  They argue that since it imitates the soul of a human being, it cheapens and corrupts the souls of those who cast it.

The Church wields little power in Meltheria, which sits so far away from the power centers of the Church.  Still, it is not wise to flaunt one's disobedience, and it is likely that international politics will become strained as a result of Mendalusus' spell.  Meltheria's mage-diplomats are already sweating in their embassies, bracing for the coming storm.

The Witches

Ironically, the Church is joined in its condemnation by the witches.  Although the Church has forbidden witchcraft (defined as any woman who casts a spell), this rule is poorly enforced, and hundreds of small, discrete covens exist around the world.  Meltheria, despite being the city of mages, is also something of a men's club--only two of the Colleges of Wizardry permit women to join their ranks.

The liberal headmaster of the Autumnal Eye, Alosius Faruk, has already publicly stated his opposition to the Catherine spell. He has invited all who wish to protest "human conjuring" to stay as his guests while the mage-princes decide the fate of the Catherine spell. He implicitly included witches in his declaration, and his house is currently home to many strange guests from all corners of the globe.

As they have been prevented from a legitimate forum for their arguments, some of the witches (and wizards in protest) have found other ways to voice their disapproval.  Mendalusus, the mage-princes, and the college headmasters have all seen letters pour into their houses, sometimes literally (as in the case of Alokk Ward, who was writing a letter in his study when he was suddenly buried by the arrival of several thousand paper birds, each of which containing the same furious letter.)  Mage-prince Auroch has been turned into a woman, and has had no luck so far breaking the enchantment.  And there are rumors that Mendalusus' penis has been spirited away (or at least rendered impotent), something that would explain his foul mood these days.

The Brothels

There are also a great deal of other third-parties that are interested in seeing the Catherine spell outlawed.  That spell could put a lot of people out of business, especially if similar spells are developed.

Catherine

Last week, a woman was told that she couldn't buy grapefruit because she wasn't a real person.  The grapefruit seller pointed to a nearby sign as evidence, and told her that she as a "spell effect".  The "spell effect" complained to the guards, who promptly arrested her.  She was held in custody while the guards waited for her to disappear.  Except she didn't.

The city guards of Meltheria have been trained to be very wary around spells.  They were so suspicious, in fact, that the woman was in jail for two days.  Only after numerous people came by, testifying that they were her friends and family, was the woman released.  Her name is Catherine.

She looks almost exactly like the spell construct.  The "real Catherine" has a few more lines around her eyes, and the "spell Catherine" has a slightly larger bust, but everything else is largely identical.  She even owns a blue dress like the one that "spell Catherine" is summoned in.

Catherine claims that she worked as a prostitute in one of the poorer sections of Meltheria.  She claims that she was hired by Mendalusus--both for her usual talents as well as some minor magical experiments.  She claims that she wasn't told what the experiments would entail, and has demanded restitution for her exploitation and unjust imprisonment.

If she is awarded any money, it will be a fortune.  Many copies of the scroll have been sold (something that only increased after hearing that it might soon be outlawed), so this is no small sum of money.

She has even announced that she intends to testify against Mendalusus, and with the money from sales of "her spell", she give back to her family and to the Church.  In fact, she has already sworn off prostitution, and has spoken of the evils of that profession.  It is rumored that she was aided in this moral decision by a large sum of money from the Church.

Catherine has already received many threats.  Wizards have sworn to "dispel" her.  A blue dress was nailed to her door.  Once she even came came home to find the corpse of a "spell Catherine" in her kitchen.

Most intriguing of all, Mendalusus claims that he has never met this woman before in his life.  He claims that his spell was entirely of his own devising, and wasn't based on a real woman.  He claims that the "real Catherine" is an illusion created by rival wizards who intend to scam him out of his fortune.

This is not impossible.  Wizards have performed far more impressive deceptions in the past.  But if the "real Catherine" is actually a fake, then someone has either (a) rewritten the Catherine spell and maintained it these several weeks, or (b) altered a living woman to exactly resemble her.  Not to mention all the people that have come forward claiming to be her friends and family.

Meltheria has already set a court date.  The trial will decide the fate of "human summoning", distribute a vast fortune, and possibly even determine the fate of our immortal souls.

An Ethical Dilemma

At the heart of this is an ethical question.  If you decide to run this in your campaign, or something similar, don't let your players off the hook.  No matter how you insert this into your game, I strongly recommend creating a situation where your PCs pick a side.  The situation in Meltheria is certainly delicate enough that a small group of dedicated people could tip the decision either way, and your players will enjoy seeing that--yes--they can cause permanent and significant changes to your campaign setting.  Either way, they are guaranteed to emerge from this scenario with some new enemies.  And hopefully with some new friends, as well.



Hi, Reddit!

I'm under no illusions that this is a watertight plot. I sort of just made stuff up while meditating on a theme. I DO think there are a couple of gameable ideas here, though. Steal the concepts your gaming group might like, and discard the rest. Jeet kun do, motherfucker.

At the very least, your level 3 wizard can have fun exploiting the hell out of the Catherine spell.

Contrived: Yeah, a little. 

Forced: Shouldn't be. If your players don't give a fuck about defining sentience and personhood, don't try to make them. If they want to kick down doors and smash faces, let them. 

The Catherines: They probably don't have memories, but I think it would take most people a while to realize that.  (How long would it take you to realize that you don't remember high school any more?)  I imagine that they'd be pretty upset (horrified) if you challenged them with their status as non-people facing imminent non-existence.  Or maybe not.  If Cthulhu made fun of you because you had no memories older than a few dozen solar cycles and will be dead in a few more, you might not care. 

IP Law + Wizards: Actually, I think that sounds like all sorts of fun. With lots of rules and lots of magical ways to sidestep the enforcement, you'd probably get into some really sketchy business before the court date. Demons, mind control, polymorphed witnesses, perfect forgeries, etc. "The prosecution moves to strike the testimony from the record, since it has been proven that the witness has not been polymorphed, but is, in fact, a common rat, just like the supposed "translator".

D&D + Pathfinder: Both great systems, but don't assume that they're in play here. 

And having one of the PCs replace Catherine is a GREAT idea. 

19 comments:

  1. this is tremendous. I'm curious what else is going to fall out of our discussion.
    ...really enjoying the blog in general, too. Thank you.

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  2. Seems that you could even precipitate the taking of sides by having the "real Catherine" and the wizard Mendalusus attempt to hire them to prove their side of the story true.

    I feel bad taking this to use in my own games, solely because I think you'd have been better served to write the novel that could have come from this story. Novella, maybe, but certainly bigger than just a short story lives in this plot.

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    1. Hey, thank you! I sort of just piled ideas on top of each other, but I'm happy someone liked the narrative that bloomed atop that heap.

      I should try to do that in my other posts.

      Delete
  3. Random rules check: Summoning spells physically nring the creature or object from some other place, they don't create them out of whole cloth.

    I'm not sure if that simplifies the ethical implications of this concept or makes it much, much worse. (Are these actually versions of Catherine from alternate dimensions? If so, does the Catherine of this dimension actually deserve any recompense for their labors of her other-dimensional "siblings"? They're effectively immortal while here and if they're actually returned to the same place *and* time as the one that they left, are they actually being exploited? What if people start disappearing from *this* dimension and it's determined that it's a result of people summoning them?)

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    1. I think this should be the crux of the problem.

      The mage informs the rest of the party of how summoning spells actually work and then the mystery could focus on the truth behind the spell with the trial and other things as a background.

      It could be an evil being gathering information for an invasion, or one persons punishment of being trapped inside all of those bodies at the same time and slowly dying with each summon.

      I think this is a great, original story plot.

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  4. Questions are more fun than answers.

    Also, if they are being summoned from alternate universes, there should be a 0.1% chance that she has a octopus for a head or something.

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  5. Well the obvious trouble with the dilemma is summons exist by magic and maintained by the same magic. A suitably powerful dispel magic or any anti-magic field would return the fake Catherine to wherever summons go. An anti-magic field could also be used to proved the nature of the "true" Catherine. Also typically summons who have been "killed" immediately vanish.

    Though the moral dilemma is still interesting, depending on what game system is being run, there may be no way to eliminate the Catherine spell entirely. In truth there is no way that I have ever encountered in any system in which the spell is actually a summon. I would have to be alteration, since summons can get you a specific kind of thing they cannot summon specific individuals until the very highest levels of power, and even then it's extremely involved and typically only works on powerful outsiders.

    I think the best twist for this game would be dealing with what seems to be a violation of some of the basic tenants of magic.

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    1. "A suitably powerful dispel magic or any anti-magic field would return the fake Catherine to wherever summons go."

      But would it? WOULD IT? I think that's the question to me. What's *actually* going on? I mean, is she actually fake?

      Delete
    2. It seems like you can make a decision about the metaphysics of your campaign.

      You could make summoning spells work like creature spells in Magic: the Gathering - you're actually taking a "copy" of some creature that exists at some time and space with the specified parameters. If this is true, then Catherine could be an exact copy of the "real" Catherine from some point in her past.

      There are many other possible explanations, and questing adventurers can seek to answer them or leave it ambiguous.

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  6. I really like the idea of my players feeling guilty for making a spell effect cry. Or hugging a spell effect to make her feel better.

    On a different play-through: the players discover that the Catherines have been laying eggs. Lots of them.

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  7. I discovered this blog just a few minutes ago and this is the second thing I read here.... YOU ARE AWESOME!
    This idea really flashes me and I will definitely use it the next time I get to master a group!
    Also I wanted to add thought about the summoning part. Usually I´d go with the Magic explanation. A copy from a specific space-time with exact stats from that particular moment.
    But I also like the concept of summoning from the Shadowrun universe. There, if you summon a ghost, it has its own knowledge and will (despite beeing controlled by the summoner) but the ghost itself is not a soul of a dead person but the spiritual expression of certain elements! That means in the moment you summon ghost of men (which is possible by the way) a set of stats from a certain surrounding is beeing gathered and pressed into form. Okay considering that catherine is always the same in every spell duration this could mean, that she it beeing gathered from exactly the same sources of energy and even exactly the same portions of it.
    have you tried this story with a group yet?

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  8. First, I want to say that I think that this is an excellent post. Thematic adventure hooks such as these, especially when dealing with an issue, rather than a fight, are worth their weight in gold. Bravo to you!

    I also suspect that how summoning spells work will be of paramount importance here. I've long since house ruled that it's implausible that a first-level spell could find a creature (even an animal), unerringly bring it to you, infallibly bind it to obedience, shut off any summoning-based powers it has, and return it to its place of origin when over (including undoing/restoring all damage taken while summoned), is implausible. Far better, I think, if it's just a sort of quasi-living construct (perhaps with some sort of "low-level" spirit inside it).

    That said, there's going to need to be some sort of framework for the legalities of spellcasting and spell research laid down, or things will go off the rails quickly. Some players are likely going to want to dig into this, and an unprepared GM might find him- or herself having to ad lib a framework of laws, which can be difficult. At the risk of sound self-aggrandizing, I've written a framework for laws regarding spellcasting, but they're mostly focused on criminal law, not civil law (which is what this post is about).

    Having said all of that, I hope to read about a lot of people using this in their game, and how it went.

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  9. Jack Vance did this in one of the Rialto books. A wizard had a cabinet that would summon famous women from the past. Worth a look!

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    1. Yeah, but they had memories and boyfriends that they were still in love with. Although I always like watching Rialto get shot down.

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  10. This is marvelous. It would be tricky to run, I think, but very worth it if you've got a GM with the skill to keep everything straight, and players with the inclination towards more nuanced gameplay.

    Well done, sir!

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  11. It's a shame that D&D has such a cut-and-dry questions-answered cosmology that dilemmas like this don't work in the default setting.

    That reddit thread depresses me. Magic works exactly like this, the outer planes work exactly like that, therefor we can easily discover the answer by using X, Y, Z. There is no debate, no confusion, no regional differences in how the summon spell works.

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  12. This is a BEAUTIFUL premise for a theatrical LARP. Would totally flesh it out and run it. Great set up for an interesting little event.

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