Saturday, July 31, 2021

Magic, Madness, & Sadness Part VI - A Handy Guide To Non-Existence

 


Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him… When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Be not afraid, Zechariah…- Luke 1:13


        No one wants to die. Wizards have come up with myriad means to avoid this fate. Illusionists pull themselves into one of their own dreams; Evokers tie their souls permanently to the land; Enchanters steal the bodies of others; Transmuters warp themselves into horrifying monsters; Diviners remove themselves from destiny itself. Conjurers forge a different path.


        Conjurers (otherwise known as Summoners or Binders) are along with Enchanters and Necromancers, practitioners of what are known collectively as the Dark Arts. On the surface they do not appear as amoral as your typical mind-bender or soul-thief, but the powers of a Binder are just as readily corrupted. While materializing walls, weapons, housing and other objects is undoubtedly valuable, people are understandably wary of someone who can just as easily bring Fiends into reality. Many Summoners attempt to fight against this stereotype by aggressively policing their own who bind demons or devils, or submitting to terrible oaths. These efforts do little to burnish their reputation. Whatever their protestations to the contrary, everyone knows in a moment of weakness any Binder could call upon the forces of darkness for aid. This temptation shadows them all. After all, so many of their number have mortgaged their souls (or those of others) away for power. How could anyone ever trust them?



        Summoners share a wildly different perspective on immortality than other magi. Unlike most of the others, powerful Conjurers have actually seen or been to the various afterlives awaiting mortals. Most find themselves unimpressed. The afterlife is crowded, and dominated by forces and beings far older and more potent than humanity. Riven by ideological concerns and endless moralizing, the afterlife resembles the life they left behind far too closely for comfort. Finding they would lose their memories (and magical abilities) upon death is the final straw for these rare few. Unwilling to brook service to some fell being, or an eternity grinding away at another rat race, these powerful Binders begin to search beyond the boundaries of reality for a solution. In their quest to grasp beyond the end of the universe, they become what are known as Unmade or Seekers.



In the end, you are exactly—what you are.

Put on a wig with a million curls,

put the highest heeled boots upon your feet,

yet you remain in the end just what you are.” - Mephistopheles, Christopher Marlowe


        The summoning of dark beings beyond the ken of mortals has a long history within the realm of Sword & Sorcery fiction. From robed cultists attempting to summon their distant gods, to witches who trade their souls away to things with unutterable names. The trope of bargaining one’s soul away for power is even represented in the English language as the term Faustian Bargain. While D&D is practically overflowing with examples of summoned creatures, most of them are ultimately inspired by the tale of Dr. Faustus.


        In many ways the idea of the archetypal conjurer is derived from the tale of Faust. Based on the real life alchemist Johann Georg Faust, the tale spread throughout Europe during the 16th century in the form of folk legend and chapbooks. By the late 16th century the tale had been adapted into a play by Christopher Marlowe called The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. The play was scandalous in it’s day, the shock of devils being portrayed on stage being said to have driven some audience members insane.


        The plot itself is relatively simple. Faustus is a learned and arrogant man living in Wittenberg. Sensing he has mastered all subjects he is interested in, Faustus bids his servant to summon a pair of magicians to his home. They declare Faustus could be a talented magician himself if he so wished, so he attempts to summon a devil. Crafting a magic circle and speaking an incantation, he manages to attract the attentions of a demon by the name of Mephistopheles. Initially pleased his bindings worked, Faustus is disabused of this notion by the devil, who claims he targeted him because of how imperiled his soul is in the eyes of God; Mephistopheles cannot be bound, as his soul already belongs to Lucifer. After some instruction on the history of hell, he is offered a bargain by the demon; Faustus will be given 24 years of life, and during which he will be able to command Mephistopheles as he will. In return, Faustus must give up his eternal soul to Lucifer. The contract of service and sale is written in Faustus’ own blood. The good doctor signs, and the terms of service begin.



        Faustus becomes renowned for his abilities, able to perform seemingly miraculous feats. Unfortunately he does very little with them, amusing himself with what amount to mean-spirited jokes and pointless attempts to impress his peers and social betters. The time flows by for the doctor, and when his 24 years are nearly up, he begins to understand how much of his time and power he has wasted. Despairing, Faustus appears to his fellow scholars and gives an emotional speech about how foolish he has been, and how he has given up his eternal soul for no reason. He tries to repent and renege on his deal, but at the 11th hour the demons and devils of hell, led by Mephistopheles, rise from the depths and drag the screaming Faustus down to Hell.


        While the story of Doctor Faustus could obviously apply to a foolish Conjurer, or really any Warlock at all, the influence of this tale upon D&D really cannot be understated. It is all there—the magic circle, the creepy behavior of the summoned creature, the failed binding resulting in the summoner being dragged to hell—all of it underpins how conjurers are not only portrayed in D&D, but really within fiction in general. However, a seasoned conjurer would find the story of Dr. Faustus that of an inexperienced Summoner with a distinct lack of vision. To them, Faustus could have gotten the better of Mephistopheles, had he been wiser.





Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat…” - Rocky & Bullwinkle


        With the talent to bend eldritch beings and reality itself to their whims, the fear of death and sublimation drives prospective seekers forward. Their explorations start at the material plane, move to the Inner Planes of the elements, and to the Outer Planes of morality. There they find nothing but an eternal, ensnaring status quo. Searching ever further and wider, they delve into the forbidden lore of the Shadow plane, or the Far Realms. Even there, they find chains waiting for them.


        Seemingly bereft of options, many would-be Seekers simply stop there, and in despair they choose to bind themselves to some spirit. Others press on. They find that there is Nothing beyond the boundaries of the planes and existence itself. No mere void, but the place from whence existence was formed; every concept, natural law or physical object had their origin in this non-place outside of time or space. This Nothing, is made up of the cast-off shells of existence, every thought or notion that did not make its way into reality. Irrational numerical systems, colors and sensations which have no analogue, all of these things and innumerable others are in this non-existence. The Seekers have found their home at last. Now they must survive it.


        Non-existence is difficult, to say the least. Trying to directly transport oneself directly there seems unwise to even the most reckless Summoner. After all, even the most welcoming of the planes require preparation beyond what most mortals can manage; the Nothing would logically require even more. Putting together the clues left behind by those who have achieved the pinnacle before them, they enact a ritual termed The Summoning of the Self. Meditating long upon their memories and goals, the Binder crafts a series of four objects known as Fetters, which represent differing aspects of their core being: the Wand, symbolizing their will and ego; the Coin, which is the symbol of their own body, and actions taken during the Summoner’s life; the Cup, which is the representation of their emotional and spiritual connections to reality, and finally the Sword, which symbolizes the Binder’s opposition to certain ideas, and their own ideals in turn. Despite the names, these objects are not usually what their literal names suggest, but rather things which evoke those feelings within the Seeker. Each of these objects is then in turn placed upon a summoning circle in which the Conjurer writes their true name. Enacting their final spell within reality, to all observers the Binder seems to wink out of existence entirely. The memories that others had of them disappear as well, leaving only scattered evidence of their passing.



        There, in the place that was not, the Seeker either adapts to their new environment and masters it, or they discorporate entirely. If their fetters hold, and their desire to persist are great enough, the Seeker pulls a slew of the unused concepts from the Nothing into their presence, and shapes them into their Invisible Palace. From there, the Conjurer truly joins the ranks of the Unmade.


        Making court around their Palace, the Unmade wrests the Nothing in the shapes they wish, and summons what companions and servants from their former home as they will. Many legends of the Fair Folk supposedly kidnapping travelers and children have their seed in the actions of an Unmade bolstering the size of their Palace’s ranks. In their impossible world, they are like the Gods of their former existences. For all their power, they are limited to affecting reality through the auspices of their Fetters or by summoning or dismissing other beings from their Palace’s grounds. With limited knowledge of what is happening in reality, as well as servants who tend to go mad or be rendered incomprehensible by the nature of their home, the Unmade is significantly more limited in what they can accomplish than before. Glimpsed chiefly through the actions of servants or eerie circumstance, they are reduced to distant meddlers and observers.



Game Information


        Existing outside the boundaries of time and space, Unmade are unable to die through either violence or age. They cannot truly be slain, as that concept longer has any bearing on their current existence. However, the Unmade must still possess their fetters, and destroying them can have devastating effects upon them, even to the point of leaving them in tatters for centuries until they can reform.


        Unmade may still cast spells, provided they have either a rational idea of what they are attempting to do. Recalling the old rules upon which magic function is difficult for someone who need no longer follow them, and as such successfully casting a conventional spell requires a Wisdom check, or a Magic save, as appropriate to the system.


        Most Unmade rely upon their Fetters to serve their eldritch needs within their Invisible Palace. Fetters, having been summoned outside of reality, cannot affect it any longer. Beings who are unwilling to be affected by a Fetter are entitled to a save.


Fetter

Possible Effects

Coin

Affecting the bodies of others, or their own. Making clones or living beings.

Cup

Controlling the emotions of others or themselves.

Sword

Controlling the actions of others.

Wand

Fashioning new objects or places.


        The forms which Invisible Palaces can take are as varies as the imaginations of the Unmade who made them. While they can refashion them at will, below is a list of some possible Palaces.


d8

Palace Appearance

1

Places important to the Unmade, haphazardly strung together.

2

A massive castle sculpted from some impossible material like quicksilver or glass.

3

An endless and natural-seeming grotto sculpted of bone, blood and obsidian.

4

Some cosmic object such as a moon, or strange and alien planet.

5

A famous historical place derived from the Binder’s home plane.

6

The site of the Summoner’s apotheosis, modified for their uses.

7

A seemingly normal house, with skewed physics and impossibly turned rooms

8

The vision of what the Summoner had expected heaven or hell to look like.

        Well folks, that is yet another entry in this series in the tank. I only have two schools left to go over: Abjuration and Necromancy. As always, I would love comments or follows. Thanks for reading!


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2 comments:

  1. This is quite interesting.
    In a way Fetters are shaped, it reminds me Rakshas from Exalted, only completely the other way around, and well-done.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you--for both the praise, and for catching the inspirations! The main influences on this idea were indeed the Raksha from Exalted, along with a healthy dose of Archmages from Mage: The Awakening.

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