Sunday, June 6, 2021

Magic, Madness, and Sadness Part II - The Self-Imagined Self

 

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream,

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.” - Row Your Boat, Eliphalet Oram Lyte.



    There are many paths to immortality through the ways of magic. The dark apotheosis Liches undergo is the most well known, but the other schools of the arcane provide alternate means. Magicians stand apart from others in the world. With the means at their disposal to (eventually) bend reality to their whims, they often find that the needs and desires of those who surround them seem bridled by comparison. With the capability to nurture dreams and ambitions beyond the ken of others, they eventually can become something other than mortal.



    Illusionists are considered by sages to be the most creative breed of mage. Pulling the raw power of magic into the form of phantasmal visions, smells, and sounds, Illusionists act as the host of numerous attacks on the senses of others. Using their own ability to conceive of the impossible, the lies of the Illusionist can eventually become nearly indistinguishable from material existence. There is a limit to these fantasies. Reality resists the intrusion of mortal will upon it’s fabric, and eventually saps the power away from all but the most simple or mighty of their spells. Faced with the corrosive influence of corporeality upon their works, Illusionists of sufficient potency retreat into a place where they have perfect control: their imaginations. Painstakingly constructing a realm within their own mind, the Illusionist pulls themselves into it, and drifts off into a permanent sleep.

    Unlike my article on the Beholder, there is to my knowledge no monstrous analogue within D&D for us to build off of. There is a contemporary character in fiction however, Prismo! As an aside, Adventure Time’s concept of Magic, Madness, and Sadness is a major influence for this series of articles. Needless to say, major Adventure Time spoilers follow.



    For those not in the know, Prismo is a Wish Master residing in a strange, cube-like void at the center of the multiverse. A gregarious sort, Prismo is bound to grant any being that manages to make it to his realm a single wish—though they are done with an, “ironic twist,” according to him. Prismo himself is the product of an old man’s dreams. When his sleeping form is awoken and then slain by the Lich, Prismo is slain as well. Even if Old Man Prismo had not been slain, but merely awakened, Wish Master Prismo would have been disabled for a thousand years.


    Unless the tone of your campaign is of a god-slaying bent, Prismo or cosmic-level beings like him are rightfully beyond your players. However, the Dreamer provides a fairly rough approximation of something akin to a Wish Master on a level that PCs may be able to contend with.


Once there was a thoughtful maiden

...who broke her mirror, and dropped the pieces on the ground.

She thought to repair it, but was arrested by the sight of the shards

...which showed so many visions of her face.

She put the pieces back together at all the wrong angles

...and delighted at the image of herself. - Scroll of the Monk, Exalted 2nd Edition.


    Sleepers or Dreamers become a figment of their own imagination through means of a process known as the Ritual of Slumber. They linger corporeally as sleeping forms somewhere, secreted away behind veils of magical deceptions, never to awaken again. The Sleeper can affect their old reality through the medium beings they have conjured up, but these things are not the person they once existed as. These thought-forms, called Dreamings, are reflections of the Sleeper’s desires or needs, and often have strange appearances and bizarre personalities. While potent, Dreamings are limited to mental or illusory effects. Sleepers give up their ability to use magic to make truly real changes once they begin their slumber.

    Sleepers make for formidable, if unpredictable, allies and foes. Able to beguile nearly anyone, and having the ability to exist within multiple locations at once in the form of their Dreamings, Sleepers can ensorcell entire communities, or bewitch entire regions with perfectly crafted illusions. Unfortunately, Dreamers inevitably go mad. Their isolation, coupled with their godlike power within their own dream, causes them to rapidly descend into solipsism or to fracture into multiple personalities. While able to be treated with in their dreamscapes by powerful Enchanters or creatures like Hags or Baku, these visits from outsiders are just brief interludes to their endless self-reflections.



    Dreamings are similarly affected by the growing madness of their creators. While the self-aware figments of a Sleeper’s mind may start off as being patterned after creatures or individuals that they knew in life, Dreamings devolve similarly into things that simply should not be. Impossible configurations of eyes and wheels, eerily beautiful humanoids crafted of molten opal and amber, multi-faceted voids which scream commands in languages which have not been spoken aloud in thousands of years, all of these and more have been observed by sages.


Game Information

    Sleepers can still cast spells, and generally do so as an Illusionist of 17th level or above. They never require material, verbal or somatic components to cast their spells, but otherwise follow all other standard rules for Magic-Users. Almost all Sleepers can be defeated by simply waking them up, or murdering their slumbering form. If awoken, a Sleeper must perform the Ritual of Slumber once more to return to their dreaming state.


    Dreamscapes respond to their creators whims without the need for casting spells, and any effects which are conceivably within the realm of Illusion spells can be performed by the Sleeper at will. Dreamscapes tend to shift over time as the Sleeper explores new avenues of themselves, or gains new experiences by conversing with their Dreamings or others. Dreamscapes collapse if a Sleeper is killed or awoken.


    Dreamings have the same mental statistics as their creators, but can conceivably use any creature as the basis of their forms, and thus physical statistics. Dreamings have the same capabilities as their creators at spellcasting. While Dreamings can be slain, the Sleeper can simply imagine more to replace them. Creating a new Dreaming takes a Sleeper a number of hours equal to the desired hit die of the being. Once created, Dreamings are independent beings with their own desires, views and memories. A Dreaming can always enter their creator’s Dreamscape by slumbering, and may enter the realm bodily or as their dreaming self. Sleepers may always communicate telepathically with their creations and vice versa. Sleepers may also use a Dreaming’s senses as their own. If the Sleeper which created a Dreaming is killed or awoken, the Dreaming immediately winks out of existence.



Roll on the tables below to develop Sleepers, Dreamscapes, and Dreamings:


d8

What is the Sleeper’s personality?

How have they gone mad?

What do they want?

1

Flighty, jocular, and unable to focus.

They cannot tell the difference between their own thoughts, and those of others.

To be able to dominate the dreams of others.

2

Obsessed with a single facet of existence or behavior.

The Sleeper has come to believe that their dream is the true reality, and that their former existence was a dream.

To replace reality with their own.

3

Stilted, almost robotic.

Their mind has fractured into multiple, competing personalities.

Escape. They cannot stand it here any longer.

4

Possessed of wild, completely unpredictable mood swings.

Unable to take delight in anything, the Sleeper has slipped into a listless ennui.

Residents. They want others to join them permanently.

5

Overly friendly, to the point of driving others away.

Lacking the ability to understand the emotions of others, the Sleeper inquires about simple or otherwise obvious social cues.

Enlightenment.

6

Deliberate and thoughtful to the point of absurdity. Decisions may take days, conversations hours.

Though understanding that other beings exist, the Sleeper has forgotten that they have their own wills. They will be shocked when they’re not obeyed without question.

Encyclopedic knowledge on a particular topic or facet of the cosmos.

7

Kind, earnest, and childlike

Overcome with guilt or regret, the Sleeper tortures themselves with endless ruminations on their past.

To amuse and indulge themselves to their heart’s content.

8

Almost completely without personality. An uncaring neutrality.

Without consequences to their actions in the Dreamscape, the Sleeper has come to believe that any mistakes they make in reality can likewise be undone.

Solitude. A removal from the stresses and needs of others.



d8

What is their Dreamscape like?

1

Focused around some particular emotional resonance such as fury, happiness, or contentment.

2

Made to reflect some location(s) that were important to the Sleeper in their old life.

3

A featureless void which shapes itself into whatever terrain or creatures that the Sleeper needs at the moment.

4

A fanciful or otherwise beautiful constructed place such as a mansion or city.

5

Some impossible locale such as a castle in the clouds, a ship floating through the stars, or a nondescript home on the moon.

6

A place of wild beauty such as a sunny vale, or idyllic rolling hills.

7

Some terrible place of torture or oppression such as a dungeon, battlefield, or refugee camp.

8

Roll twice on this table, ignoring this result if it comes up again. Combine the two results.



d8

What is the Dreaming’s personality?

What do they look like?

What are they doing?

1

Playful and needlessly deceptive.

A monstrous creature such as a dragon, hippogryph, or manticore.

Trying to escape their creator’s influence.

2

Seductive and vampish.

An individual from the Dreamer’s life, but idealized to unsettling perfection.

Harming or helping random people for fun.

3

Violent, with a caustic sense of humor

A floating wound in reality such as a source less flame, yawning void into nowhere, or mind-bending blur of impossible colors.

Meddling in social or political relationships.

4

Even-tempered, possessed of a twisted sort of kindness.

A talking, and ambulatory version of an inanimate object like a rock, umbrella or sword.

Seeking artifacts, books, or other objects of magical power.

5

Endlessly inquisitive.

An otherwise normal talking animal.

Lying and misleading people for no reason.

6

Built for a singular purpose, thinking of nothing else.

A shapeshifter that can only mirror the movements of whomever they’re speaking to or interacting with directly.

Interfering with some rival or enemy of the Sleeper.

7

Overbearing and maternal.

A dwelling, structure, or some other building that can interact as if it were alive.

Engaging in debauchery, trying to fulfill whatever desire for diversion their creator may have.

8

Secretive, with a love of one-sided gossip.

A humanoid shape formed of some material such as glass, metal, or otherwise some other inorganic matter.

Whatever they want.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Magic, Madness, and Sadness Part I - All Eyes on the Beholder

"As you once did for the vacuous Rom, grant us eyes, grant us eyes. Plant eyes on our brains, to cleanse our beastly idiocy." - Micolash


    Beholders, along with Illithid, Slaadi and Displacer Beasts, are among the most iconic of D&D’s non-licensable monsters. They have been featured on multiple covers of the core rulebooks, including 5th edition’s Monster Manual. They also come off as disjointed and out of place in many settings. Like many monsters, Beholder’s particular origins usually boil down to one of two sources; they’re from another plane, or they’re just sort of there. 


    This is not to say that these explanations are insufficient, but rather there could be a greater attempt to integrate Beholders more deeply with the setting around them. Their shallow place is a shame, because Beholders are bad-ass. Here’s their B/X stats:

FREQUENCY: Very rare

NO. APPEARING: 1

ARMOR CLASS: 0/2/7

MOVE: 3”

HIT DICE: 45-75 hit points

% IN LAIR: 80%

TREASURE TYPE: I, S, T

NO. OF ATTACKS: 1

DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8

SPECIAL ATTACKS: Magic

SPECIAL DEFENSES: Anti-magic ray

MAGIC RESISTANCE: Special

INTELLIGENCE: Exceptional

ALIGNMENT: Lawful evil

SIZE: L (4’-6’ dia.)

The creature’s eyestalks and eyes are also protected, although less well (thus the armor classes of 2 and 7 respectively). Because of its particular nature the beholder is able to withstand the loss of its eyestalks, these members are not computed as part of its hit point damage potential, and lost eyestalks will eventually grow back (1 week per lost member). The body of the monster can withstand two-thirds of its total damage potential, while the great central eye can withstand one-third this total, i.e. a beholder with 45 hit points can withstand 30 hit points of damage to its body before being killed; the eleventh eye can withstand 15 points before ceasing to function. Eyestalks take from 8 to 12 hit points each before being lost. The body of a beholder represents 75% of potential hit area, the central eye and the eyestalks 10% each, and the 10 small eyes 5%.

The various eyes of a beholder each have a different function:

Charm person

Disintegrate

Charm monster

Fear

Sleep

Slow

Telekinesis (2,500 GP wt.)

Cause Serious Wounds

Flesh-to-Stone

Death

Anti-Magic Cone (Central Eye)


    Let’s be real for a moment. Beholders are simply bizarre looking. They are large, hairless, levitating cyclops heads with snake-like tendrils on their scalps ending in eyes. On top of this, all of those eyes are magic. If one takes a step back from the fact that they have become normalized, it really sets in how oddball they are. Unlike many monsters, Beholders do not have any literary or mythological origins to ground them, and while they have an entire book dedicated to them in the form of I, Tyrant and a chapter in Lords Of Madness, those do little to actually connect them to the average campaign setting. 

     I don't dislike Beholders, but I wish they were more a part of the world around them. So in the vein of my previous articles on Werewolves and Doppelgangers, we’re going to look at a piece of related media for some inspiration. In this case we’re going to look towards the game Bloodborne.


    For anyone out of the loop, Bloodborne is a game by FromSoftware, and is a spiritual successor to the Dark Souls series. The main character is an outsider to the accursed city of Yharnam, searching for a miraculous cure to a mysterious disease that they are suffering from. After an ill-advised blood transfusion at a local clinic, the PC is ushered into a tale of Lycanthropy and Lovecraftian madness—infected with a supernatural, body-warping disease by the tainted blood coursing through their veins. With a few exceptions, almost every enemy in Bloodborne was once human. From the grossly distended limbs of the villagers turning into werewolves, to the massive Cleric Beast and Vicar Amelia, all of these monsters were once just like the player. By tying the source of enemies to what were once humans, the warping effects of the otherworldly Great Ones becomes all the more terrible to us.


    To bring this back to D&D, we can fight against the game’s general tendency to grasp for planar, or explanations that are otherwise taken as a given. Instead of creatures which have been created wholesale, Beholders are beings which have created themselves. They are the self-directed products of a magical arms race.


Remain wary of the frailty of men. Their wills are weak, minds young.” - Vicar Amelia


    Beholders are neither creatures from the Far Realm, nor the spawn of some "Great Mother", but rather men and women desiring power beyond their grasp. Many magic-users desire immortality. There is so much to learn, and a lifetime is simply too short to do so. 

    Not every magus is well-versed in the dark arts of Necromancy. For Transmuters, there is always the temptation to replace the weak flesh that they were born with, to improve it with enchantments that stretch their form past the boundaries of what can be achieved by a mere humanoid. Discarding the unneeded parts of themselves like so much dross, the magician grows distant from their natural form, winnowing their bodies into both a weapon, and a vessel to last them through eternity. The limbs are generally the first to be altered or removed. They are largely unnecessary to a being that can float or fly, and there is little that they can achieve that magic cannot. Changes are made without regards to societal norms or aesthetics. Favored spells are folded into the design of the increasingly utilitarian form of the magic-user, most easily in the form of eyes that exude spells at a mere glance.


    Sorcerers are arrogant by their very natures, and they often underestimate the effect that these sweeping changes will have upon their minds. Growing ever more distant from the humanoid experience, their minds begin to break under the strain of the inescapable unfamiliarity engendered by their unique bodies. As they lose their grip on sanity, their original motivations for seeking immortality in the first place begins to fade. All that is left is the naked pursuit of power, and the triumph of utility over aesthetics in their own bodies. These beings are known as Beholders, due to the fact that their eyes generally become the source of many of their abilities.

    While each Beholder is a unique being, sages speculate that there is some template, or set of common spells that are drawn in their creation, but it could also simply be that abilities such as permanent levitation and an anti-magic care are just too good to pass up. To see what form the Beholder takes, roll on the table below.


1d8

My Gods, What Have You Done to Yourself?”

1-2

The magus is now chiefly a massive floating head with tentacle-like eye stalks along their scalp. Their old features are still visible in a grotesque parody of their appearance. Their body may dangle uselessly below them, but many simply sever it entirely when it proves unneeded.

3-4

Much of the mage’s original form remains, but it is now too perfect or otherwise eerily symmetrical. They’ve also enhanced their bodies by adding additional eyes on their hands, backs of their heads, torsos, and legs.

5-6

Instead of trusting in the vagaries of flesh, the wizard has reduced their body into a mere remnant, housing it within some extremely durable enchanted object. Floating polyhedrals covered in eyes, animate statues with baleful gazes, the possibilities for an inventive mage are endless.

7-8

Like some frankensteinian rummage sale, the Beholder assembled itself from the parts of other creatures; dragon’s wings, medusa snakes, basilisk eyes. The magic-user stitched these stolen pieces to themselves and become something of awful power.


    Beholders are quite mad. Their forms are far beyond what most mortal minds are meant to handle, and the pain of their self-experimentation often claims the rest. Much like the Beholders themselves, while they are unique, there are also patterns in the types of madness that they exhibit.


1d10

That Isn’t True! You’ve Lost Your Mind!”

1-2

Those who were part of the Beholder’s old life are viewed with suspicion. They could be seen as potential weaknesses for them emotionally, or even loose ends that need ‘tying up.’

3-4

Having worked so hard for their new form, they see it as the height of perfection. Any insults to their appearance or abilities will be met with potentially deadly response to prove their supremacy.

5-6

Paranoid and solitary, the Beholder can no longer stand the sight of others. Perhaps they regret their condition, or they could believe that real or imagined enemies are pursuing them.

7-8

As if to prove their own choice to themselves, the magus will seek out the greatest threats or personal challenges that they can. This could mean slaying dangerous monsters, or even dominating entire communities.

9-10

Seeing itself as the example to which all others can aspire to, the Beholder reacts in one of two ways—it either attempts to completely obscure the method by which it achieved apotheosis, or it attempts to evangelize the path to any who will listen.


    To determine what powers the eyes of the Beholder possess, roll on the table below 10 times, ignoring any duplicate results. Every Beholder otherwise possesses the ability to levitate, as well as an Anti-Magic cone centered on one of their (generally many) eyes.


1d30

No! What is that Eye Doing?!”

1

Fear

2

Charm Person

3

Charm Monster

4

Slow

5

Flesh-to-Stone

6

Sleep

7

Telekinesis

8

Death

9

Cause Serious Wounds

10

Disintegrate

11

Confusion

12

Hallucinatory Terrain

13

Protection From Normal Weapons

14

Wall of Force

15

Animate Dead

16

Move Earth

17

Hold Monster/Person

18

Web

19

Haste

20

True Seeing

21

Forbiddance

22

Feeblemind

23

Geas

24

Globe of Invulnerability, Major

25

Grasping Hand

26

Magic Sword

27

Reverse Gravity

28

Insect Plague

29

Teleport

30

Major Creation


    So, this is the first in a multi-part series detailing various means by which Magic-Users attain immortality. I'm planning to do a take similar to this for each school of magic, but we'll see how that goes. As always, thanks for reading!