Sunday, June 27, 2021

Magic, Madness, & Sadness Part III - Dealing with Fate


"The ritual of plucking out an eye to gain future sight is but a curse that enables the living to see their own deaths." - Cyclopean Mummy, Magic: The Gathering

    No one wants to die. While mages have come up with various means of immortality, such as Lichdom, or becoming a Dreamer or Beholder, there are many to paths to that end.

    Diviners face an intriguing conundrum compared to other schools. Unlike most spellcasters, those wise in clairvoyance have a high chance of knowing the time and fashion of their own deaths. The grim knowledge of one’s ending risks sending the Seer into either a deep depression, or ecstatic recklessness. Mentors often caution their students against looking far into their future, but these warnings often fall on deaf ears. The temptation to know is simply too great, and those who pursue Divination are often obsessed with glimpsing hidden truths.

    While many Seers simply regret or exult in the knowledge of their future, some cannot countenance the doom waiting to befall them. They bend their lives around avoiding their destined end. Searching desperately for a solution, any solution, some of these Diviners stumble upon a terrible answer: they strip themselves away from fate itself. This act of hubris is accomplished by means of a ritual known as Smashing the Loom. The effect of this is dramatic, to say the least. Without a destiny to steer the course of their lives, they become what are known as Fateless or Thread Cutters.

    Avoiding their deaths is only the beginning. Thread Cutters are immune to nearly all attempts to locate them with magic, obscured even from the senses of the Gods. The memory of their appearances and actions slide from the minds of others, disappearing from written records just as readily. These abilities are mere tricks, for a Fateless can pluck the threads of fate surrounding them, weaving destinies, reassigning them, and snarling the loom of the Moirai as they will. All of these benefits come at terrible costs, the Fateless must cover every scrap of their flesh, lest the viewer see the walking wound in destiny they have become; they are forgotten by everyone who ever knew them, and their old name and accomplishments are wiped clean. In their darkest moments, Seers who know of Thread Cutters sometimes wonder how different these beings are than the Fates themselves.

"The vision of time is broad, but when you pass through it,

time becomes a narrow door." - Muad’Dib, Dune

    Much like Dreamers, Thread Cutters have few, if any, analogues within D&D itself. In keeping with the previous articles in this series, I am drawing on some pieces of other media to sort of… paper over those gaps in the Monster Manual. However, Dreamers have some fairly clear roots within fiction and various real-life legends. Fate in fiction and myth is generally portrayed as an inescapable force. Attempts to forestall or change it end in disastrous failure, or the twisted culmination of whatever prophecy is at stake. So we’re going to look at Dune.

    A seminal work of sci-fi, and a time capsule of both Frank Herbert’s views, and the Human Potential Movement of the ‘60s, Dune is the best selling science-fiction novel of all time and the most prominent works in the New Wave literary movement. As such, I’ll spare everyone the overview, and go into the specific details. Spoilers for the entire series follow.

    The Golden Path is a central concept to Dune, the idea being introduced about halfway into the first novel with Paul’s visions, then named explicitly by him at the end of the book. It essentially boils down to the movers-and-shakers of the series, Paul and Leto II, following a specific path to ‘save’ humanity from some far-off threat which will end in our extinction. To this end, countless billions must suffer and die. While initially portrayed as heroic, it becomes increasingly clear we only see it as righteous due to seeing it through their eyes. Paul is unable to countenance what sacrifices the Path would truly take, so he blinds himself and retreats into the deep desert. By contrast, Leto II cloaks himself in the tyranny of destiny, justifying every one of his oppressive and awful acts by hewing to the Path in all things. Even his own death.

    Prescience, genetic memories, and visions of far-off places are used constantly within Dune, driving major plot points through their subversion, by psychic expertise or technical means. Most characters in the series are captive to these visions, with even the strongest only able to tilt Fate in the direction they wish. These powerful few become the drivers and authors of destiny through their ability to witness it, even as they become trapped within the webs they have created.

"The fire that consumes me

shall cleanse the ring from the curse!

You, in the water, wash it away

and keep pure the gleaming gold

that was disastrously stolen from you." - Brünhilde, Götterdämmerung

    Removed from the threat of their appointed death, Thread Cutters act as bizarre wild-cards within the lands they inhabit. Occluded from memory without the benefit of spells, they can essentially act with impunity on a personal level. Many consequences can be dealt with simply by leaving the area or framing someone else. Temples, treasuries and sanctums can be looted almost at will, with the victims often being unable to remember who even stole from them. Insulated from most repercussions, most Fateless quickly lose any objective basis for their own morality. Right and wrong becomes whatever serves them at the moment. Combined with their ability to monitor whomever they so choose, they can essentially justify whatever they need to, simply ignoring impertinent information, or choosing not to investigate anything contrary to their preconceived notions.

    As walking holes within the loom, Fateless should not exist in the most fundamental way. They are untethered from the world around them, violations to the proper order of things. Looking directly upon the exposed face of one of a Thread Cutter invites disaster. Canny Fateless use this to their advantage, but it only serves to reinforce their alienation in the long term. Cowled in deep hoods or wrapped cloth, Thread Cutters interact with the world as anonymous figures, or indirectly through the means of their spells. The most feared ability of the Fateless takes advantage of their state of being outside of destiny. Using their mastery of divining magic, the Thread Cutter may craft prophecies to trap their enemies, or bolster their allies. While these prophecies can be unraveled, the victim must know they have been trapped by fate in the first place.

    Those who make enemies of a Thread Cutter have to deal with an enemy who can appear and disappear at will, cheat death repeatedly, and find out nearly any fact not actively shielded from their gaze. Their allies must deal with a friend who appears at random, assists in impossible ways, and then can only be hazily recalled by anyone once they leave.

Game Information

    Fateless are completely immune to all divination spells and effects for revealing the location, intentions, or thought processes of another being. Additionally, any spell guaranteeing a certain outcome or penalty, such as Geas, True Strike or Bestow Curse, has no effect on them. The propensity for others to be unable to recall a Thread Cutter is known as Occultation. The effect of this ability is weaker the longer a Fateless interacts with or is observed by someone. Fateless have no control over any of these abilities, they are inherent parts of their condition. The memories of a Thread Cutter fades by one step per week, e.g., ‘A few days’ becomes ‘A few hours’ after a week.

Time in Proximity

Details Recalled

A few minutes

Almost nothing, perhaps not even their presence.

A few hours

Some scattered particulars such as their height or the color of their clothing.

A few days

Their general shape, the sound of their footsteps.

A few weeks

The color of their eyes, their smell, or the different emotional tells in their voice.

A few months

Fine details such as their gait, or things like what sort of hobbies they enjoy.

    Occultation extends beyond memories and into any details documenting the presence of a Thread Cutter. Paintings, statues, journals, or any other conceivable means of compiling evidence of their existence eventually fades, is ruined, or becomes indecipherable. These effects extend to any documentation the Fateless attempts as well.

Elapsed Time


A few days

Some words or details of them are marred, but otherwise can be easily referenced.

A few weeks

A single major detail such as their height, or descriptions of their voice are lost, but otherwise there’s enough to identify them.

A few months

The name they used (if any), or a few details of their appearance in the case of a representative piece.

A few years

Not a trace.

    Glimpsing the truth of what lurks under the robes, cloak or bandages of a Thread Cutter has different effects depending on the individual, but they are always terrible. A character is entitled to a save to try and shield their view from the Fateless’ face.


What’s Under the Hood?



My God, It’s full of stars!”

Staring into the expansive cosmic vistas that lurk under the hood, viewers can do nothing but stare agape for 2d6 rounds.


The abyss gazes also.”

Witnesses can do nothing but flee from the terror of seeing perfect darkness. All viewers must make a moral save, or flee for 2d6 rounds.


Be not afraid.

Far from fear or dread, the visage of the Thread Cutter is one of angelic glory. Witnesses must save vs Magic, or be blinded for 2d6 rounds.

    Fateless can craft destinies for others or themselves using an extended ritual, and a great deal of research into sympathetic correspondences necessary for the desired effects. Destiny-crafting generally takes at least a day, with an additional day per HD/Level of the targeted creature. Below is a list of possible effects that a Thread Cutter could create using this ability, but it is by no means exhaustive. In all cases, the death of the Thread Cutter who crafted the destiny always results in it failing.




Means of Escape


The bones of one of the target’s ancestor, plated in gold; the victim’s true name.

The target dies within 5d6 days.

A symbolic death ritual; swearing a life-oath to another


A relic of a crusader; fresh blood from a battlefield.

Advantage on all attacks for the duration of the next combat.



Incense from the temple of a love god; tears from a succubi.

Advantage on all rolls during the next high-stakes social situation.



A symbol of a failure from the target’s life; a condemnation from their loved one.

Disadvantage on all attacks in the next combat, or the next high-stakes social situation.

Swallowing a number of GP equal to the Fateless’ HD; Hunting down and murdering an animal that represents bad luck.


A noble’s signet ring; a hair from a genie.

The target gains (100 x the Caster’s HD) in GP over the course of the next 2d6 days. This does not provide XP.



The paw of a lion; the breath of a hero.

Immunity from all morale or fear checks for the next 2d6 days.



Ground moonsilver; a childhood toy or keepsake.

The target begins to suffer from delusions, paranoia, or some other form of debilitating insanity within 5d6 days.

A kiss from a saint; a chunk of gibbering mouther, boiled into a tea.

    Thanks so much for reading! I would really appreciate either a follow, or if you're feeling up for it, your support on Patreon!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Magic, Madness, & 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:


What is the Sleeper’s personality?

How have they gone mad?

What do they want?


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.


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.


Stilted, almost robotic.

Their mind has fractured into multiple, competing personalities.

Escape. They cannot stand it here any longer.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


What is their Dreamscape like?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


What is the Dreaming’s personality?

What do they look like?

What are they doing?


Playful and needlessly deceptive.

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

Trying to escape their creator’s influence.


Seductive and vampish.

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

Harming or helping random people for fun.


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.


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.


Endlessly inquisitive.

An otherwise normal talking animal.

Lying and misleading people for no reason.


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.


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.


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.