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v60e

Mankind is not alone. Spirits are all around us, and ancient civilizations were quite aware of them, as evident from their mythologies. In fact, some people, magicians or priests, could call on these spirits or channel their power, and the heirs of their magical traditions can still do so today. Magicians have enemies who deal with horrific spirits better left alone and those who think that all magic should be left alone. Magic is difficult in the face of skepticism, but there are places where visitors leave their skepticism behind, and one of those places is the Las Vegas Strip.

This campaign setting is a fictionalized version of the real world that posits working magic, related to religious cosmologies. In seeking inspiration from real-world religion and mythology, it intends no disrespect to any, and the conflicts imagined here are for the purpose of a fictional plot, not to impute motives to any real person.

Chapter 1: Campaign Concepts[]

This Magic Vegas campaign setting uses the path magic system from GURPS Thaumatology, slightly modified per the Game Mechanics section below. Magical rituals, also called spells, are time-consuming and difficult, with expensive ingredients, but they can have lasting effects in far-away places. Alchemy saves a magical effect in the form of an elixir for use later, and a Fetish can sustain magic indefinitely. Player characters are magicians, meaning that they can perform magic by ritual means, but they work with assorted spirits, non-player characters who have inherent supernatural abilities. Any path of magic is as difficult to master as an engineering discipline, and a tradition encompasses multiple paths, but no single tradition encompasses all that magic has to offer.

Rituals either interact with spirits or channel the laws of a parallel world, locally superseding the familiar laws of nature, or else they reinforce nature against such interference. The most powerful spirits are called gods, and the most powerful gods are actually worlds unto themselves. Magicians can travel to these worlds, most of which are hellish, and even the idyllic have flaws. Breaking the laws of nature is risky, and likewise dealing with spirits powerful enough to affect physical reality risks angering them, and furthermore, using magic warps the mind of the magician with marks of power. That’s why some perfectly reasonable people oppose the use of magic, and some of them are other magicians who had a change of heart when they experienced the dangers firsthand. God of Earth (as we know it) is the source of Countermagic. Those magicians who practice Countermagic but repudiate channeling are known as Monotheists, a slightly different sense of the term than in theological context.

Because of a natural defense, Skepticism, many people doubt magic even exists. If a Skeptic is even subconsciously aware of magic or immanent magic, for instance because he witnesses the ritual or some unfolding effect, or even if he’s been told a ritual is happening in the next room, he instinctively shuts it down. Most magicians can’t reliably use magic in the face of a single Skeptic, let alone a crowd. So while some enemies of magic fight fire with fire, all that’s really necessary is to expose it for all to see. Paradoxically, too flagrant a display, such as witch burning, promotes Belief, and Belief suppresses Skepticism. Few non-magicians Believe in magic generally; at best they’ve learned to suppress their Skepticism in the context of a single ritual tradition. In the presence of Believers, a magician of the same tradition can perform magic unimpaired, enabling those Believers to reap the benefits of magical blessings (but leaving them vulnerable to magical curses).

Skepticism requires awareness, and that’s the key to defeating it. A subtle effect like good luck can fly under the radar, and intoxicants or distractions can simply shut down the radar. A rational-sounding explanation (or stirring oration) can convince a Skeptic to expect what he’s about to see, and a stage show can convince him that what he sees isn’t what it appears to be. All of these are constantly in play on the Vegas Strip, drunk and distracted tourists who expect to see unusual things.

Ritual trappings include idols, blood sacrifice, and vices such as games of chance, intoxicants, and temple prostitution. Laws and social norms that target these things also make magic more difficult, so magicians of all traditions have a common interest in changing the law and culture as well as promoting Belief. That’s why Las Vegas hosts a Council with delegates from many traditions to coordinate their efforts in this regard.

Some traditions (or factions thereof) hold themselves aloof from the Council, preferring the status quo, or holding that the only legitimate reason to learn magic is to oppose other magicians. Furthermore, some traditions have come to be dominated by Monotheists, and every tradition has given rise to its own Rationalist faction (like Platonism within the Classical tradition), seeking to save any useful moral philosophy while discarding magic entirely. On the other extreme, most traditions have access to worlds so alien, so far deviant from nature, that they are incompatible with sanity. Officially, traditions which embrace Horrors aren’t welcome on the Council, but even those which decry Horror have members who succumb to the temptation of power over time and space, for immortality of the flesh is impossible without it.

Worlds and Gods[]

God exists, and by existing, defines the world and its laws of nature. He may not do much else, but He provides stability, and for that magnificent good, many spirits support Him – you might call them angels. However, there are other beings of the same order as God who define the laws of worlds that might have been. These generate channeling paths: Things that are impossible in one world are perfectly normal under alternate worldlaw. To add to the confusion, some powerful spirits are also known as “gods” to men who can’t tell the difference, but actually, the difference between path-gods and patron gods is one of scale, for the supernatural abilities of a spirit are also the product of alternate worldlaw constrained to the spirit itself.

Every world defined by a god is accessible by its channeling path (albeit at sufficiently great difficulty that some magicians aren’t aware). Points in one correspond to points in each of the others, if not always in linear fashion, so while traveling to the Otherworld and back isn’t tantamount to teleportation, it might serve as a shortcut (fairy trod). Since the laws governing chemical and physical processes differ, manufacturing processes may be possible that would never work in the real world. To use a scientific skill like Chemistry or Engineering in an Otherworld, if it is not specialized for that world, roll against the lower of that skill or an Expert skill for that world, or for this purpose, Weird Science can stand in for all such Expert skills.

In a world defined by a path-god, all the magical effects of that god’s path are in effect at all times for all occupants (except the gate rituals). Some bizarre worlds are perfectly safe because they have their own equilibrium, for instance with oppressive temperature countered by resistance to heat and cold. To escape these effects, channel the worldlaw of a more amenable world. Where everyone levitates, suppressing that worldlaw is a deadly curse, what might be seen as a Ritual of Falling, but local Skepticism may prevent it just as Skepticism in a conventional world prevents flight without visible means of support.

The main setting for Magic Vegas is the “real” world, but that’s not a good term for magicians, who know the reality of Otherworlds. Norse myths refer to the “real” world as Midgard, so that will do for a game term even if other traditions have their own names (like Mide for Druidry or Bhuloka for Hindiusm).

The Life Magical[]

Everything has a cost. Entering the world of magic brings power but paints a target on your back. Every magician is part of a secret struggle between the traditions, Rationalists and Monotheists versus channelers versus Horrors. The weaker magicians within a tradition give way to the stronger, while the best of each tradition square off with the best on the other side. Magic is a route to power, but not a shortcut. Any tradition is as hard to master as the whole conventional academy; think its core Ritual Magic skill as analogous to Mathematics, ancillary skills like Symbol-Drawing analogous to basic sciences like Physics, with multiple magical Paths analogous to Engineering specialties. To master even one branch of Engineering, you have to study several difficult subjects first; the difference is that magic is a little bit harder to learn, a lot harder to use, and mind-altering, but learning is still the easy part. To attain the pinnacle of power involves dangerous initiation and engaging rivals who wish to do far worse than debunk your pet theory!

Legacies are the children of elite magicians, steeped in magic from their earliest days, attended by spirits and Believers. That makes it far easier to cultivate belief. In popular traditions, they may have a temple education; otherwise they’ll learn on a magical world (like Atlantis), tutored by famous sages (like Chiron the centaur) with the benefit of magic like Vigil and a carefully-ordered curriculum: Any path whose Mark is loyalty or honor will come first, and any path whose Mark is laziness, or otherwise distracting, will come last. By their teen years, these kids will be proficient full-service magicians, and if their traditions make use of ritual sex, intoxication, or blood sacrifice, the teen will be encouraged to participate (with due reverence). Some legacy magicians are cloistered throughout their lives, but most attend a conventional high school or college, even if they have already mastered its curriculum, for the purpose of socialization and to acquaint them with Skepticism.

Chosen ones may not have magic in their blood, but for whatever reason, a patron spirit of some tradition has taken an interest in them and come to their aid. If legacies are the aristocracy among magicians, then the Chosen are royalty, and once identified, they get the same kind of training but with more guards and sycophants.

Recruits usually come from among the Believers. Leaders of the tradition identify their extraordinary aptitude (high intelligence and strong will combined with open-mindedness) and give them the same deal that legacies get, except that they start older. If their parents can’t handle the truth, the recruit can’t start training until early adulthood. With talent and a long healthy life assured by magic, he may yet rise to the highest ranks in spite of a late start, and taunts from magically advanced pipsqueaks provide a little extra motivation. Still, he’ll probably train initially as a specialist focused on one path for which he has the greatest enthusiasm. Within a community, a master of one path may be more helpful than a jack of the lot, so specialization at least to some degree is the norm. Training is also different for recruits in that being more mature when they start, they can assist with rituals as acolytes.

Dabblers are usually “legacies” in the sense that they come from a family of magicians, just not powerful magicians who network with the leading lights. They learn a little magic at home while attending a conventional school, facing ridicule and Skepticism. They may not learn all of the paths, and they rarely have a complete grimoire of any path they do know. Furthermore, they probably don’t have the fine ritual tools, sacred spaces, and technological aids that would make their magic much more effective even without more skill. When they graduate high school and choose between telling fortunes and a conventional career like selling real estate, the conventional career looks more lucrative and reliable, especially with the benefit of a little personal magic to make them better at it.

Self-initiated magicians obviously lack the benefits of proper training but have the natural aptitude and good luck to make use of whatever opportunities they find. They may deduce real magic through a conventional education in the classics or theology, make an archæological discovery, or stumble across a magician’s notebook. The Tarot effectively is such a notebook, and a high proportion of the self-initiated learned that way. Given their late start and less than ideal circumstances, they rarely amount to more than dabblers, and other magicians of their tradition are inclined to ignore them, unless they start networking with others like themselves or passing on what they know to younger students, in which case they may be invited into the fold (or eliminated as a threat). Very rarely, a fresh take on ancient lore leads to a new discovery.

Post initiation, the life of a dabbler doesn’t differ much from the life of a non-magician. If he does magic for a living, he doesn’t earn a very good one, and he uses a charlatan’s tricks more than real rituals. If he works a conventional job, his magic gets rusty, but he manages the occasional blessing of health and fortune for his family. For a recruit or legacy magician, the story is different. Without working too hard, he makes a good living performing rituals for a select audience of in-the-know tycoons, gangsters, and government agents. In popular traditions, magicians operate openly as clergy, comfortably between the extremes of wealth and poverty, though higher ranks with attendant privileges are open to the ambitious. With the benefits of magic to make life easier without a higher salary, many priests eschew the stress of leading a nation of Believers, especially if they prefer magic to paperwork, so the best magicians in a priesthood are rarely its administrative heads.

Demographics[]

Magic isn’t secret, far from it! Billions believe, and millions claim to be magicians themselves. Of course many are charlatans, and of the rest, the vast majority have the bare minimum of aptitude and training with unremarkable intellect and willpower. Hence esoteric healing from a typical witch is comparable to 19th-century medicine, far better than nothing, especially in a remote community, but inferior to a modern hospital. Her blessings of luck bear less profit than the interest on a certificate of deposit, and a single Skeptic (or wrong kind of Believer) cripples her magic. Considered in conjunction with risks of using magic with low skill, she has every reason to resort to the charlatan’s tricks and save real magic for grave need or trusted clients who have become Believers. If mediocre magic doesn’t earn enough, she’ll need a day job that diverts attention from her calling, and she probably won’t be proficient with many paths. That said, there’s a threshold of success with magic beyond which more success gets easier, when mastery of multiple paths produce a synergy, but there are only a few thousand magicians worldwide who’ve reached that point, and they need not advertise.

Climbing the Ladder[]

Seemingly, there’s plenty of space between “dabbler” and “elite” magician, but a dabbler faces a hard slog at first, and then there’s that point where everything gets easier – like magic. It may not represent much increase in skill (or Magery), but rather a point with enough resources secured to stack on ritual bonuses. What does a dabbler look like in game terms? At the low end, average intelligence, average Wealth, and a score of 8 or so in relevant skills. With no means or justification to spend big on tools, the dabbler painstakingly assembles the equivalent of a portable ritual kit, penalized for low quality. He manages to consecrate his garage, for no penalty (but no bonus), and his day job leaves him only so much free time, no bonus for extra care. Working on a willing, present subject, he gets some bonuses for contagion, sympathy, and a Name, and for a paying customer he can manage a small sacrifice. His skill in Symbol-Drawing yields no net bonus, and with no Fetish, he takes a penalty for any meaningful duration. He’s probably never heard of computer-aided ritual design. Details on modifiers appear in the game-mechanics section below, but what it all means is that even a dabbler has a success rate of 90% for the easiest rituals, not bad if the subject’s a Believer, but in the face of a single Skeptic, that drops to 25%, and few rituals are so easy.

Just like any other business, magic requires capital. With knowledge of where to shop and thousands of dollars to spend on better tools, including Fetishes to sustain his rituals, he maxes out his bonuses and eliminates all penalties but Skepticism, yielding a 98% success rate for the easiest rituals even with a few Skeptics present, with no greater skill! It’s that point when he’s willing to commit, to take out the loan he can’t pay back (in other words, to sacrifice) when he starts to get results. If that experience starts a positive feedback loop inspiring deeper Belief (more Magery) and diligent practice (a couple skill levels), he’s elite.

With professional skill level (12) and maximum bonuses, his services sell for $500 per ritual. Assuming on average a ritual per weekday once he builds up his clientele, and 50% overhead, he’s clearing 5 grand per month, a Comfortable income. He can repay his loan after all, but he has new problems like explaining where the money comes from. Other professional magicians on his level may resent the competition, but then there aren’t many on his level. Leaders of his tradition want to know which faction he supports, while his old dabbler buddies, maybe even family, envy his success. Rationalists and Monotheists want to shut down his dangerous activities, and since his output leads to critical failure on a monthly basis, they have a point. The likeliest disaster is drawing the attention of a malicious spirit, and if he fights off that spirit, he’s become a combatant in a secret war.

Recognizing Magicians[]

Magicians have no inherent ability to recognize each other, or Believers for that matter (because Illuminated is a Supernatural Advantage, and Magery is the only such in the setting for human characters). However, Magery provides them with the ability to sense magic items, Fetishes, which powerful magicians typically carry in abundance, though dabblers may have none. They can likewise sense spirits but not necessarily discern their nature, if a Nymph for instance appears human, or if the spirit isn’t physically manifest. See the True Face will identify a spirit, and Aura Reading will identify a magician or Believer, but these rituals must specify a subject to be investigated; no magician is powerful enough to sustain the Multiple Target penalty to see the aura or true face of everyone he meets. The ritual Veil opposes divinatory channeling rituals, but it doesn’t work against Countermagic (like Aura Reading or See the True Face), Blindfighting, or Magery’s basic ability to detect spirits and magic items. (Don’t worry if these references don’t make sense yet, for game mechanics not found in GURPS Thaumatology appear below, and Appendix IV lists all rituals with thumbnail descriptions.)

What Magicians Do[]

This section concerns mainly commercial activities, but the dabbler with a day job will tend to attempt the same services for himself or for friends in the know. The laws of supply and demand apply to magic as to any other field, with the caveat that customers won’t demand what they don’t know about or believe in, so while there are few truly proficient magicians, there’s a small market for their services, and it can become saturated. Of course there’s quite a large market of people desperate enough to try something as unbelievable as magic, but desperate people usually can’t afford much, so their Skepticism overcomes the abilities of magicians in their price range.

The mainstream staples are healing, exorcism (and the reverse), luck, divination, blackmail curses, and protection from same. Healing often takes the form of Esoteric Medicine which can escape Skepticism at an effect level below TL8 non-magical care, and the vast majority of practitioners are on par with TL5 or 6. For the poor and uninsured, that’s far better than no care at all. A ritual of Succor is harder and so miraculous that it does provoke Skepticism, whereas Soothe isn’t much better than over-the-counter painkillers. The practitioner of Esoteric Medicine will also be capable of some impressive tricks with the Path of Heroes, and even if that’s the only path he knows, he may be able to manage an Exorcism (with the skill) to treat a disease caused by an evil spirit. At the high end, rituals of Succor, Regeneration, and even Halt Aging are available to wealthy Believers, usually in the form of elixirs. Magicians are reluctant to sell Fetishes that Halt Aging indefinitely, because then the client will have no further need of their services, but they can make good money with a Fetish of Succor available for rent while an injury heals.

Most spirits active on Earth are those summoned to serve magicians, but they can have independent existence and cause trouble for normal people (and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a troublesome spirit were the agent of a malign magician). People who suspect that their house is haunted or that their teenager is possessed hire an exorcist. That can be a mere Believer with the Exorcism skill, but the best are magicians who’ve mastered the Path of Allies. Cases of “evil” spirits are rare, and while Exorcism skill treats the immediate symptom, it can’t determine the root cause of why the spirit is causing trouble in the first place. A summoner can actually negotiate with the spirit, find out why it’s been trying so hard to get attention. Maybe the ghost doesn’t know it’s dead, or does know and wants to bring its killer to justice, after which it will be happy to rest. Or maybe there’s no spirit at all, and the teen is just rebellious. Hopefully that’s the case, because a typical magician can only handle spirits of modest power; anyone with a bigger problem needs a big budget, too, and the best summoners have cooperative spirits as Allies to help them deal with enemy spirits beyond their ability to Summon and Bind.

A séance is the opposite of an exorcism but handled with the same magical path. The usual purpose is psychological, to help the living deal with unresolved issues with a departed loved one, but sometimes the purpose is divination, to acquire information that a ghost took to the grave, and sometimes it’s merely for impressive display. Usually, skill sufficient to Summon or Channel the weakest ghost is sufficient, and usually Bind isn’t necessary, so a specialist in grief counseling can get by with modest skill in the Path of Allies. Skepticism doesn’t prevent the summoning, but it can prevent the ghost from manifesting. With Extra Effort, the ghost may overcome the penalty, so the best summoners come prepared to Empower the ghost.

Luck magic – or “blessings” in a religious context – usually take the form of Chaperon, Fertility, Journeyman’s Blessing, Windfall, or Love Charms (or just Lust). Skepticism is a problem before and after, for even if the magic works, the client may doubt the cause of its subtle effects and see no need to return to the magician who helped him. Different paths provide Journeyman’s Blessing in different fields, so a general practitioner will go to Windfall, which has certain limitations. Those already wealthy benefit more from the former than the latter. Related magic includes anything to help someone prosper, usually in a financial or professional way, like Perfect Appearance. Only the best magicians can deliver movie-star looks, and they’ll charge a bundle to rent the Fetish, because this is an effect which has to last. The client’s own Skepticism is an issue because he witnesses the change happen, but looking great doesn’t generally provoke Skepticism among the populous. In order to avoid Skepticism from the client’s acquaintances, a good magician improves appearance gradually over multiple treatments.

Most traditions have several rituals that yield information, divided between multiple paths, and of course they can use the Path of Allies to contact knowledgeable spirits or useful spies. Therefore this particular service has the widest income spread, from the typical low-end “psychic” who only needs a path with Vision of Luck (and Fortune-Telling skill to sell it), to a true expert in the field with numerous magical sources of information and mundane skills with which to make sense of it. He’s not so much a spellslinging gumshoe as a small intelligence agency unto himself, his prices limited by the size of the market fit to appreciate his services and accept his methods. In the mid range, a private eye could make good use of a path with Read Thoughts (or Read Memories) and Gift of Tongues.

Criminals who make money by extortion risk jail, but a magician can make good on a threat without leaving any evidence admissible in a court of law. Curses range in strength from warning shot to grisly example, with Malaise a good middle ground, non-lethal yet strongly motivating. Blackmail is the most obvious use, but a well-timed accident could force a business to cede market advantage with no explanation but bad luck. At the level of industrial or political sabotage, magicians who specialize in curses need to be able to affect large areas or groups, but the stakes are high enough to justify compensation for such impressive skill. One way to deal with curses is to hire a magician of like ability to go on the offensive, and the other is to hire a specialist in Countermagic for protection. Public figures are hard to affect because of the way Skeptics follow their careers and because magicians with a stake in their careers provide Countermagic unasked.

There are other ways to make money with magic, and magicians who specialize in the manufacture of Fetishes do a booming trade, almost exclusively with other magicians; Fetishes are essentially the capital equipment of the industry. A summoner who can’t find enough haunted houses to cleanse can make a good living filling a house of ill repute with Nymphs. Personal enhancements like Grace and Infravision tend to come in the form of elixirs, and while the enhancements don’t necessarily provoke Skepticism from onlookers, the sensation is definitely magical to the subject, so that limits the market for elixirs to Believers. Some magic works best in the context of a mundane career, especially in the course of managing Skepticism, for instance illusions are great for a special effects artist. Magicians tend to be wary of placing mind control magic (Suggestion) in the hands of a client, because it can backfire if the client figures he’ll get a magician for a slave, especially if he’s already bartered with another magician for means to take down a Curse Sanctum.

These commercial activities can lead to conflict between magicians in a saturated market, but usually the conflicts occur when magicians take sides, for instance when one factor hires a magician for divination or curses and another factor hires a different magician for protection from same. Conflicts rarely occur over troves of magical artifacts, because every tradition can make Fetishes, and they rarely occur over lost lore, because a forgotten path probably won’t offer unique capabilities even if it offers a unique combination. Places of power are likelier prizes, but these will be contested by different factions of the same tradition, as no other tradition values the place. However, plenty of personal conflict exists between big egos. Unless Esoteric Medicine is his thing, a specialist in the Path of Heroes is a little different from other magicians, because he’s basically a ninja, so he tends to work security within the magical community itself, for those occasions when nasty conflicts do occur.

How Magicians Get Around[]

In the modern world, the best transport options for magicians are the same as for everybody else. Sure, they can fly on brooms and carpets, but not if they’ll be seen. They can turn into an eagle perhaps, which might beat cars when the roads are congested or don’t take a direct path, but then they’ll have the same issue with witnesses when they return to human form. By enhancing his driving skill, a magician can safely exceed the speed limit, but that has legal consequences. Perhaps the best option for a magician in a hurry is modern aircraft, protected against curses from enemies who would sabotage a plane while he’s vulnerable.

All that said, magicians have an alternative to travel, telepresence. Astral projection alone is fine for meeting other magicians, and when physical interaction is called for, a magician can cause an illusion (or creation) to appear on scene under his control. If he makes the illusion in his own image, he can seemingly pull off the trick of being in two places at once.

Alien Imports[]

The way in which magicians do travel that would blow the mind of a Skeptic is when they pass through magic portals, but Gates are fragile in the face of Skepticism. If a Gate is weak (low margin of success), as most are, then escorting a single Skeptic could collapse it. If he’s brought through unconscious, the gate won’t collapse as he passes, but once he wakes, he may realize he’s in an impossible place. Skepticism isn’t retro-active, so it won’t return him home, but as the Gate is an on-going effect of which he’s just become aware, he’ll collapse it at that time, trapping himself and his host. Suppose that security is high with all would-be travelers subject to Aura Reading. Even then, word could get out that certain people pass through a false door and disappear, or that certain valuable goods come from an alien world. Listeners are likely to direct their Skepticism at the rumor itself, but if one were to investigate and witness the gate in operation, he’d collapse it, and an unprepared magician thus trapped would need years of practice to master the ritual of opening a gate to get back home.

For groups of magicians with ready access to Otherworlds, wealth can be easy to come by, but explaining provenance is a challenge. Do a good enough job of convincing the tax man that your gold nuggets come from an alien world, and his Skepticism will collapse your Gate. Fail to convince him, and he’ll suspect ill-gotten gains. There are ways to deal with this problem, but they have their own logistical complexity, like buying a played-out mine, locating the Gate there, claiming to have found a new vein, and faking it well enough to fool a safety inspector from every relevant regulatory agency. One Gate isn’t enough for safe and reliable operation, and the Gates require absolute security best achieved by making sure that all staff are Believers, which itself is a challenge especially when the Believer base isn’t diverse enough to satisfy equal-opportunity labor law. While it’s doable, the net result may not exceed the profit from a real mine.

Governments and Magic[]

Governments are comprised of people, and some people are aware of magic and how it can threaten a state (or the constituency thereof). That means every government has some mechanism to respond to magic threats, even if it’s unofficial. Where a state religion exists, even de facto, then that role falls to the church. For example, the king of England is the official head of the Anglican Church, and while the United Kingdom may not actually have a Ministry of Magic, the church has Monotheist magicians among the clergy who protect the state from threats of which bureaucrats are largely unaware. Shinto serves a similar role in Japan, even if it is no longer official, as Judaism serves in Israel and Islam serves in majority-Muslim countries.

Where the head of state is determined by democratic process without so much as a ceremonial holdover, it is quite possible for a non-Believer to hold the top spots, and that’s certainly what Rationals prefer. France is one such, but Catholicism has been the dominant religion for a millennium even if atheism is just as prevalent in modern times. Of course, a religion is more than one thing, and a number of Catholics who accept moral guidance from the church have no Belief in the supernatural, so it’s fair to estimate that Rationals are ascendant over Monotheists in this country, yet if there were some supernatural threat that Skepticism alone could not handle, the Catholic church would be called on to handle it. Sure, the communication channels are unofficial and a bit rusty, and debates and apologies would delay mobilization, but there’s really no other contender. But for denomination, the situation is similar for other European nation-states.

The United States of America is a special case. Freemasons were involved in the founding because they saw the colonies’ struggle for liberty in terms of channeling versus Monotheism, but their influence has since waned, and there is no “official magic” of the union, though some member states have a clear default (the Mormon church in Utah). However, the US has a lot of magicians who like to play politics from behind the scenes, donating to campaigns and cultivating Believer contacts in the bureaucracy; they largely work through minions and eschew official positions because their lifestyles would be scandal magnets. The premise of the television show X-Files is that an FBI agent gets assigned the “weird” cases potentially involving a supernatural element, with hints that certain folks above his pay-grade already know what’s going on. If there were any such agent, that’s just what he’d find, so if there were some supernatural threat to the state, plenty of magicians with a stake in the status quo would be in the know, potentially able to deal with it if they could work together.

Suppose one of these political manipulators made some junior politician his Spirit Slave and then backed his career all the way to the White House. Then he gave his Manchurian candidate a Suggestion to deliver a speech reversing US foreign policy, declaring Canada an existential threat and closing the border. With a million Skeptics listening, the new president would stutter, clear his throat, and continue with something like, “What I meant was, terrorists could use our northern border to enter the country, and my administration will work closely with Canadian authorities to develop more effective protocols.” On the other hand, a more subtle approach involving Lust, a perfectly mundane camera, and good old-fashioned blackmail is more likely to bring about a magician’s preferred policy. Countries with a state religion, even one dominated by Monotheists, have magicians to counter such a scoundrel, and even in the US, while there may be no magicians with official authority, there are plenty of stakeholders and patriots with means to act against him in ways that leave only spectral evidence, inadmissible in court.

Monotheists[]

The major monotheistic religions in the world, counting various sects and off-shoots, have billions of adherents, though a high fraction won’t qualify as Believers, and very few are magicians. Of those, most are Monotheists in the magic sense, repudiating all channeling except Countermagic. Given comparable study focused on a single path, they won’t be able to use magic for comfort, but they’ll be better at stopping magic than other magicians are at starting it, and that’s their mission. They have a good reason: screw-ups with channeling impose conditions and unleash creatures which are inimical to human life! That’s why there’s such a difference in philosophy between the two types: Monotheists generally see God as a protector and see themselves as something like ambassadors from God to men, while other magicians see themselves as ambassadors from men to the fickle gods, enjoying privileges because of the risks they accept. The temptation Monotheists face, the reason Rationalists condemn them, is that they can use other magic too (if only by default from Ritual Magic skill).

The sensibility of a Monotheist, in the magic sense, doesn’t arise in a vacuum; it’s a reaction to the dangers of magic, exhibited by magicians who repudiate channeling paths by choice. That leaves only the paths that all traditions have in common, so in that sense, Monotheist traditions are game mechanically identical, and they can collaborate on Countermagic and summoning rituals. However, the channeling tradition from which a Monotheist tradition derives does matter, for even if a Monotheist has no operational experience with channeling, Ritual Magic skill encompasses the theory and provides a default. For the most capable, that default is 14, not too shabby, hence the temptation. Furthermore, every Ritual Magic specialty carries a Mark of Power, at risk of worsening whenever a priest beseeches the angels, and a Mark such as hubris can amplify that temptation, which is why Rationalists (below) argue that the Monotheist approach of using magic to fight magic is ultimately self-defeating, and Monotheists argue among themselves which of the universal paths are fit to further their righteous mission.

Hence, Mono-theists are by no means mono-lithic, and even in a monotheistic church, there are factions drawn to channeling because it seems so useful, and clearly not as bad as Horrors, which is why you might well find a magician of the Classical tradition in the ranks of Catholic clergy, using the power of channeling carefully and prayerfully but using it nonetheless, disguised with Catholic Religious Ritual. Among the actual Monotheist magicians, there’s some division on how to handle channelers, whether to exterminate them, persuade them to set aside their wicked ways, or bring them into the fold under strict supervision. There’s even division over whether entreating angels or compelling devils is acceptable. Countermagic alone can’t manage miracles, but walking on water, multiplying the loaves and fish, or restoring sight are all possible with the right spirits. These divisions exist within a church, or the same order of a church, so there’s no massive army of witch hunters. Churches provide formal training to select members, but widely available scripture (and Religious Ritual skill) lead to occasional self-initiation outside the official magic squad, which the new magicians decline to join if they see their role as serving the flock instead of policing pagans. Groups of witch hunters small enough to forge uniform purpose within their own ranks have to play politics to get resources from a larger church hierarchy, one whose higher posts may not even be occupied by true Believers.

Abrahamic traditions derive from the Babylonian tradition below, but they can be flexible. Suppose one spread throughout the Mediterranean and convinced some Roman magicians to repudiate Channeling too. Now there are magicians in the fold whose magic comes from a different tradition, but the only paths they use are the ones they share with Babylonian, so they integrate well enough with the old guard. New recruits from the Roman Empire speak Latin or Hellenistic Greek, so this version of Monotheism is easier for them to learn, and eventually, the majority of magicians in the Roman Catholic Monotheist tradition use the Classical Greco-Roman specialty of Ritual Magic, and this phenomenon repeats as the geographical reach of the movement spreads. As a side effect, the new local converts can make use of the mature sacred space of their forebears, so for instance Irish Catholics benefit from Druidic holy sites and Coptic Christians benefit from the pyramids of Egypt should they conduct rituals there, but that’s unlikely to be approved by a Muslim government, for different Monotheist sects don’t always get long.

Outside Abrahamic traditions, Sikh magicians are the largest body of Monotheists. They’re familiar with Hindu ritual, and they favor the Path of Heroes almost as much as Countermagic. Far older, Parsi Zoroastrianism favors the Path of Allies and also derives ultimately from Hinduism too, albeit the Vedic version. Hermeticism has some traction among disciples of monotheistic religions who aren’t actually Monotheists in the sense that pertains to magicians, with Freemasonry in particular recruiting Christians, although the Emerald Tablet and much of Hermetic alchemy appeared first in Arabic among Muslims.

A channeler never knows what to expect from Monotheists. They may try to kill him or hire him or just tell him about God. Proselytizing has been effective, and factions within channeling traditions are sympathetic. Those channelers who rely most heavily on dangerous ritual elements, like ritual sex with varied partners or intoxication for the benefit of Mystic’s Stupor, have the most to lose, for though magic protects them from disease and dissolution, a witch hunter need only counter the protection and let nature take its course.

Rationalists[]

Most professional debunkers don’t believe magic exists but hope to be convinced otherwise. They’re hard to distinguish from a Rationalist who knows it exists and actively suppresses it by drawing the attention of Skeptics. The Rationalist himself is a Believer, meaning that his natural defense is compromised, so his best bet is to stay behind the scenes and work through agents who don’t share his terrible truth. Rationalists may cooperate with Monotheists in pursuit of a common goal, but they know that even limited use of magic is a danger to the world, that Monotheists are hypocrites who have no argument except expedience, ultimately the same argument that all other magicians use.

Political Spectrum[]

Whether Republican or Democrat, Capitalist or Communist, the political question that most concerns magicians is that of what magic is acceptable under which circumstances.

Red: If you could do magic, should you? The ultra-conservative Rationalist position is that all magic is bad, that you shouldn’t even use magic to fight magic, that it’s best to avoid Belief, let alone initiation. This isn’t just a slippery slope argument, for initiation brings an alien influence to the psyche (Marks of Power), and even Belief compromises natural defense.

Orange: Monotheists will use magic, but only to fight other magic. The most conservative (red-orange) Monotheist position forbids all but countermagic, but the more common position accepts any non-channeling path, i.e., working with allied spirits (angels) and the “natural” magic of chi. The least conservative (yellow-orange) position is theoretically okay with exploring the sourceworlds of channeling paths in order to learn of threats they pose.

Yellow: The basic idea here is to never say never. These are folks who learn magic against possible need while hoping the need never manifests. The less conservative (yellow-green) will freely use paths that have blessings but no curses, like the Hermetic Path of Isis.

Green: Magic-using religious leaders accept social responsibility, perhaps an extra share of it. Magic should be used for the greater good, not personal aggrandizement, though the magician may rise in social standing like anyone else who serves his community. If rituals benefit from vices like intoxication, they should be used only in a ritual context. In an ideal world, a moderate magician would treat magic like other things that are useful but dangerous, such as explosives or pharmaceuticals, with safety regulations and licensure. The more liberal (blue-green) are fine with using magic for comfort so long as it comes at nobody else’s expense, and if they find licensure cumbersome, they still favor justice upon those who use magic for ill.

Blue: Might makes right. Magicians can do what they want as long as they can get away with it. Don’t want to be a mind-controlled sex slave? Get a Curse Sanctum; if you don’t have access to one, then that’s your fault – learn magic yourself or find a hired wand to protect you. Magicians respect other magicians, because other magicians also have might. Why engage an equal when there are easier pickings? The only thing magicians shouldn’t do is channel a Horror, for they that do then go nuts and have to be put down. That said, the ones who are already somewhat crazy (indigo) can imagine scenarios in which Horrors are justified.

Purple: The new black. You can only get true teleportion, true invisibility, and true life extension from a Horror; these are just too good to pass up..

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