Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sister Witches and Monastic Wizards

Wizards and Witches

In Centerra, men and women are equally adept at magic. However, attitudes towards women and magic use vary across the continent (most of which is dominated by the Church). These attitudes usually take one or more of the following forms:
  • Danger: Magic is dangerous and women will incompetently endanger themselves and/or others.
  • Immoral: Magic is corrupting and women will all become evil thralls to demons.
  • Burn the witch!
In truth, magic is dangerous and corrupting, and male wizards explode their heads, unleash horrible psychoplasmic plagues, and become skin-cars for demons with alarming frequency. Just the same, these prejudices are enacted against women with both communal shunning (in the east) and state-ordained executions (parts of the west).

A few wizards are aware that women are just as capable as men.

So, men are called wizards, and this is a term of prestige, power, and respect.
And women are called witches, and this is a term of fear and loathing.

A few women take to calling themselves wizards, with varying degrees of success. This usually involves lying about where they were trained. In a few rare cases, women have successfully gotten educations in wizard colleges or monasteries, always by disguising their gender. Wizards hate being tricked and will usually invest a lot of effort into making sure the witch is discredited, exiled, imprisoned, or executed for crimes against magic.

Digression: lots of people suffer under the tyranny of wizard institutions, not just the women who dare pay for an education there (wizarding colleges require shit-fuck-tons of money, wizarding monasteries usually require familial links and/or years of service).

So, wizards have rich traditions with rich, old institutions. Portraits of the last 50 headmasters hang in the halls. That sort of shit. They have libraries with thousands of spells (mostly variations).

Monastic wizard enclaves function pretty much the same way, except that they retreat from the world instead of entangling themselves in it.

And witches struggle to get any sort of tradition going. They have no libraries, small repertoires of spells, and only oral histories.

However, there is a lot of evidence that show that the most powerful spellcasters in the world have been women. Zandara the Magnificent disappeared the city of Bastoc, a feat that has never been replicated or even approached (although her detractors will point out that she studied at the College of the August Star in the middle of her illustrious career). And Ozur the Unscarred dueled every wizard she came across, and never lost a single one (although she was a pretty amoral character, and is pretty directly responsible for a lot of the evil witch stereotypes). And Yalys the Shaper created over a dozen life forms during her life, in a time when that was thought to be impossible. Even now, teams of wizards labor for years to create a single, viable organism.

Because of the way that magical talent is sought after and recognized in boys, girls are more likely to become sorceresses.

Digression: When a person is filled with magical talent but never given the opportunity to exercise it, the magic sometimes overflows, burning out their ability to control what spells they can cast. This is what a sorcerer is. Pure sorcerers can only cast a single spell (determined at random), but they can cast it many times per day. They may eventually learn to cast many variations of that spell, but they will never be able learn the variety of spells that wizards go. For them, it is not a cerebral event, but an organic, gut-churning, orgasmic experience.

Digression, cont.: Wizards don't like sorcerers because they are consistently overpowered by them. (Sorcerers get a bonus to caster level.) The only humanoids with more spellcasting power are the elves (let's not even get started on them). Because of the way sorcerous talents emerge, nearly all sorcerers are young people with mild brain damage, usually manifesting as poor impulse control. They tend to go mad. Some of them kill a lot of people. Very few live very long.

possibly a wizard
Covens and Stuff

Covens are partly social things.  They're a secret community, and if a coven sticks around long enough, they usually end up being based on either (a) family or group of families, or (b) a bunch of women in a singular profession.  Aside from a bunch of old ladies teaching their granddaughters how to turn snakes into rabbits (or curse people), there's also just a bunch of women hanging out, eating food, and shooting the shit.

Digression: For comparison, a big chunk of colleges are just young men experimenting with drugs and alternative sexualities, and a big chunk of wizard monasteries is sweeping floors and fasting.

In the countryside, towns who discover a coven in their midst usually try to disband it using social pressures. Neighborly surveillance, friendly interventions, loss of the meeting place, husbands pleading with their wives “You've got to stop meeting with those. . . witches! What if the paladins found out? I don't want anything to happen to you. I love you.”

Small towns might have more understanding views of witches, though.  Sure, you're surprised when your 17-year old daughter fires off a magic missile, but if she did it to stop the guy who was robbing your shop, bully for her!

Townsfolk are very rarely stupid/cruel enough to do the whole torches and pitchforks thing. If things escalate, they'd rather just go to a city and contact a college or the Church.

Major cities have colleges, and when they find out about about witch covens, this is what usually happens: A bunch of wizards and guards show up at the witch's house during dinnertime. They round them up, see if the witches have developed any spells that they don't already have in their files (they often do), throw the ringleaders in jail, and fine the rest.

Darker colleges will have a heremancer or two among their ranks, and these scary dudes will perform a barancation (drilling holes in the crown of the head, pouring some stuff inside, casting some spells) and burn out a witch's ability to cast spells forever.

Then they do the jail thing.

Monastic wizard enclaves will usually do pretty much the same thing, but minus the city guard and with a few more shaven-headed acolytes.

Witch Hunters (The Third Lantern of the Church of Hesaya, mostly paladins but also other types of specialists) like to catch the witches in the act. Kick down the door. Witches who make a fuss are killed. The other ones are rounded up and put on trial. The worst offenders are burnt at the stake. The others are also burnt at the stake unless their families can pay their fail/fee (most of which goes to the Church), and then the surviving witches go to Angelmar where they can atone for their sins in person, in front of the Godhead. Then they go on probation for the rest of their lives.

Lots of people don't like the witch hunters, because they've killed a lot of people's grandmas, mothers, and sisters. This often extends to paladins, who are often met with distrust. No one likes a cop at the reunion when grandma is smoking weed out back without a license.

Digression: If these paladins sound like assholes to you, remember that their unswerving morales are also their greatest virtue. These are the same guys who charge into fight demons when normal men shit their pants and go mad. These are the paladins who unhesitatingly throw themselves into the jaws of death to protect their part of the world. (Don't fuck with them.) They're probably too uncompromising to make good PCs in most games (but there are other orders of more reasonable paladins if a player still wants to play a holy knight).

Also don't forget that there are plenty of evil witches, plague covens, corrupt colleges, and diabolical wizard towers. Everyone has a right to be evil!  Huzzah!

the snake is also a wizard

Gender and Roleplaying in Centerra

It's no fun to play a woman in a game if the DM uses fantasy prejudices to shit all over you. That sucks.

But I believe that gender issues should not be excluded in a setting, because (a) your group can just choose to ignore them, (b) sexism is interesting, and fantasy sexism potentially much more so, (c) it brings up questions of morality, which can lead to interesting discussions (although your group may prefer black and white morality (“all orcs are evil”) which can be great because it allows your group to go straight to the part with the unambiguous heroism)

So if a player wants to play a witch, it shouldn't be a big deal. Adventurers are already sketchy people who smell like blood and carry too many weapons. No one trusts then anyway. Only after they save the town will they go from “those murderers, thieves, and witches who probably want to steal our gold and bugger our horses” to “those murderers, thieves, and witches who might be sort of okay”.

this is actually probably tokyo.  unrelated to wizards

The terms “college” and “university” are synonymous with schools of wizardry (a university is a collection of colleges), but these huge institutions usually exert their tentacles into all sorts of other worldly affairs, from politics to finance to warfare. So “military college” = “military college of wizardry”. The idea of going to college and learning non-magic stuff is unheard-of.

The wizards of Shar are also experimenting with allowing a few women into their wizarding colleges (which teach non-wizarding topics, too! Like mathematics! How insane!) But everyone knows that Shar is pretty batshit anyway, and is probably going to be overrun by sexual deviants and orcs any day now.

At the edge of the map, on the next continent over, the women of Basharna and Abasinia suffer no such prejudices, and learn magic freely alongside the men. (However, wizardry is very different over there, since it is wedded tightly with religion, and is seen as only a small part of the religious powers of the temples.)

even you are a wizard
Male magic-users outnumber their female counterparts, and they are vastly more visible.

Male Magic-Users
70% Monastic Wizards (learned in a monastic enclave)
20% Hedge Wizards (usually an apprentice to a single teacher, but possibly self-taught)
10% Meltherian Wizards (learned in Meltheria, a magocracy of fashionable, flashy wizard colleges)

Female Magic-Users
70% Hedge Witches (usually an apprentice to a single teacher, but possibly self-taught)
20% Coven Witches (belongs to a secret coven in a city with familial membership)
10% Mystery Cult Witch (product of the gynomantic mystery cults in Abasinia/Basharna)

I actually have no context for this picture and I'm okay with that

Wizard Observances and Schools

Every wizard is part of a school. This is not just a theme of magic that they abide by. It is a philosophy, way of life, and a set of weird rules that wizards must practice if they wish to maintain their spooky powers.

Gamewise, this has three effects:
  1. Spell list. Wizard spells not on their spell list take 2 slots or cost 2 MP.  Level 1 wizard spellbooks contain 1d3 spells from their level 1 list, rolled randomly.
  2. Observances. These are taboos and practices that a wizard must abide by. Failure to follow observances causes loss of powers for days (minor) or months (major).
  3. Unique Power. Every school has at least one of these. They are magic powers, but they are not spells. Every school guards these things jealously.
senior year wizard thesis: look what I can do

Here are two sample monastic orders of wizards to show what I'm talking about.

They used to be one order, called the Order of the Red Hand, then bad shit happened and they split up into two groups: The White Hands and the Black Hands. Now they regard each other as rivals.  

A few crazy fucks are always trying to restore the glory of the Red Hand, but the White Hand and Black Hand always team up to stop them, like clashing cop duos that argue a lot but always get the bad guy in the end.

The Red Hand wasn't "Evil", but the guys trying to restore it always are, because jingoism.

Anyway, the White and Black Hand wizards have their own monastic enclaves and communities and rich traditions that I don't want to rewrite now.  Let's just get to the good part.

elves are intentionally OP in Centerra
Wizards of the White Hand

The Wizards of the White Hand have the ability to cure injuries, wither limbs, and empower the flesh. Their most famous power is the ability to touch a person and then cast a spell on them later on, over great distance.

They wear no uniform, but they traditionally wear a white circle, whether it is a design on their tunic, a white earring, a white belt, or something else. They go shirtless when they can.
They drink alcohol in moderation and take wives, but do not eat meat. They will free slaves, pets, and mounts whenever they can, and do not use these things themselves. They steal, earn, or find, but they never give nor accept gifts. Attempting to give one a gift or do him a favor is the foulest of insults. Nothing is free, they will neither accept nor give hospitality without payment. They have a reputation for being unsympathetic. 

 They answer to no law save their own.
  • Must wear white circle unless matter of life and death.
  • Cannot eat meat.
  • Cannot use slaves, pets, or mounts. (Unless that animal can talk, agree, and be paid.)
  • Cannot give or accept gifts. Hospitality must be reciprocated.
  • Can touch a creature and create a link with them. If the linked creature is the only target of a spell, you may choose spend the link and ignore any range limits of the spell, up to 10 miles per wizard level. You can only have 1 link at at time, and can dispel your old one with a thought.
White Hand Wizards use their link ability to cure allies at a distance, ensure loyalty among their servants, and send messages.

Level 1 Order of the White Hand Spells
  1. Cure Light Wounds
  2. Detect Magic
  3. Endure Elements
  4. Light
  5. Magic Missile
  6. Mighty Thews*
  7. Olfactorial Revelation*
  8. Pain*
  9. Necrography*
  10. Vigor*
  11. Vivigraphy*
  12. White Hand*
Mighty Thews
Touched target treats their Strength bonus as 1 point higher when calculating weapon damage. Lasts 1 hour/level.

Olfactorial Revelation
Caster has an unbelievable sense of smell. Doesn't allow you to identify things you haven't smelled before. Lasts 1 minute/level.

Touched target saves or takes 2d6 psychic damage. Only works on things that feel pain.

Touched corpse is compelled to answer 1 question (like speak with dead). This is the flesh body answering, not the mind. The body will answer honestly, but flesh bodies technically see/hear/experience everything the living body does, but they only remember things that involve food, sex, pain, adrenaline responses, and stuff like that. Usually the corpse will talk using it's normal mouth, but it may also communicate the response in other ways. It's always understandable, although sometimes a bit cryptic.

Touched creature has it's maximum HP increased by 1/level. Lasts 6 hours.

As Necrography, except it works on living bodies. It's pretty funny when you ask a person's body a question and they clench their mouth to avoid answering—sometimes the answer is spelled out as freckles across their forehead. Sometimes they just fart it out.

White Hand
One of the caster's hands becomes as hard and durable as steel. It doesn't become any heavier, so it doesn't do any extra damage if you use it for karate chops or punches. You can't bend it, so it's stuck in the same shape as when you cast it. But you can stick it in fire and it won't burn. You can even use it to parry sword blows (as a shield, +1 to AC). Lasts 1 minute/level.

this guy is too weird looking to be a warrior.  probably a wizard.  or bard, I guess.
Wizards of the Black Hand

The Black Hand has illusions, things that affect the mind, and power over wood. Their most famous ability is the power to see through a wooden likeness of themselves that they carve.

They wear a uniform (a black tunic with triangular shoulderpads) and bathe every day. They carry soap, and if water is not available, they will cover their body in olive oil and scrape the dirt off with a sea shell. They eat meat that was killed humanely, but do not drink alcohol nor take wives. They tolerate slaves, pets, and mounts, and do not use slaves or pets. If they have a horse, they are exceptionally kind to it.

Every Black Hand Wizard considers themselves noble, and this pride is part of the source of their power. They must be addressed respectfully (“sir”, “lord”, “master”). If you fail this small token of respect, they are obligated to destroy you. This is not always due to arrogance on their part, it is simply part of the ordinances that they must observe to practice their magic. Many of them sigh as they explain that you must apologize for your insult, or they will regretfully have to destroy you.  Their humility is (sometimes) sincere.

They answer to no law save their own.
  • Must wear black robe with triangular shoulderpads unless matter of life and death.
  • Must bathe every day.
  • Cannot drink alcohol or have sex.
  • Must deliver vengeance to all you insult you and refuse to apologize.
  • Can carve your likeness into wood. Must look exactly like you. Thereafter, you can close off your other senses and see/hear/feel/smell/taste through your wooden visage as if you were actually inhabiting the wood, up to 10 miles per wizard level. This cannot be dispelled, and you must destroy your old visage if you want to create a new one.
Black Hand Wizards use this to create a “security camera” in their homes. Sometimes they put their faces on a staff and use it to peek around corners. Sometimes they'll carve a whole body one while in prison, send it to a whore house, and then send money for “conjugal visits” at a distance. Sometimes they drop their visage into a swamp, and are sad for the rest of their life because all they can sense through it is darkness and cold water and they can't destroy it to make a new one.

Level 1 Order of the Black Hand Spells
  1. Audible Illusion*
  2. Black Hand*
  3. Charm Person
  4. Detect Magic
  5. Detect Illusion*
  6. Dendrigraphy*
  7. Fog*
  8. Magic Missile
  9. Protection From Evil
  10. Read Magic
  11. Sleep
  12. Woodbend*
Audible Illusion
Creates whatever sounds you want to make. Can be as loud as 4 rowdy dwarves or a couple of lions. Range is 100', duration is Concentration or 1 min/level, whichever is shorter.

Black Hand
One of your arms turns invisible.  You get an illusory arm on the same side that you can control freely, but it can't appear to do anything your arm couldn't normally do (like turn into a cannon).  Small things that you hold in your invisible arm (up to dagger size) are also invisible.  If you cast this twice, you'll have two invisible arms.  Lasts 1 min/level.

Detect Illusion
Allows you to see if something is an illusion. Works on all the senses. If there is something invisible, you can see where it is, but it is just a blurry, undifferentiated blob to your vision, so you probably can't identify it.

Allows you to ask a single question of a tree that you touch. Answer appears in letters on the trunk (permanent until the tree grows new bark). Trees know a good bit about weather and have a great sense of time, but they have a hard time differentiating between animals, except by size. They also gossip among themselves, and may have news from distant parts.

You breath out a bunch of fog. Everything up to 30' out from you is pea soup.

Like warp wood, but must touch object to cast it. A bit of wood bends or unbends, as if warped by wood. Straight doors can be warped and stuck. Warped doors can be straightened and unstuck. Wooden-hafted weapons will get -2 to hit while all bent up.

i bet you think this is a wizard
If I ever do end up running an adventure in Centerra (Land of Flowers, yoblintown), these will be valid choices at character creation.

Monastic wizard schools are so numerous that I figure they're sort of like orbital gods in ASE.  If a player wants to invent one, they can.  My only requirement is that they have to stick a couple of unrelated themes together.  The world is too big for one order of wizards to be THE pyromancers.


  1. This is awesome stuff! Do you have a 'template' or guide for these monastic orders? What about the Wizard Colleges? Covens?

    Truly fascinating stuff, I found myself sad when I reached the end of this post...

  2. Re: Gender issues
    The general baseline assumption is that it's a game, revolving around gameplay. That isn't to say exactly your point - which is that if it's of interest to your group to have something like Catherine or Sexism or Orc Babies become an issue, then by all means, present that moral quandary to your group. You know that it's of interest to your group because you say "Hey, are we interested in this thing" with a talking voice to the actual players and listen to what they say.

    But I kind of think if your game is constructed so you are forced to address those issues (monsterhearts et. al.) then the game writer is a expletive deleted and it isn't what I personally would call a game.

    Secondly, your taboos are remarkably similar to my plans for demonic patrons. I promise I'm not copying you!