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|5th Edition Rules|
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- 1 FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE
- 2 Toxic Magic
- 3 Shadow Magic
- 4 Blood Magic
- 5 Insect Magic
There are several magical books that law enforcement tries to keep out of public hands. These are similar to guides on how to get away with murder or how to make a dirty bomb, but for questionable magical activity. Legal actions vary for those caught with one of these tomes, but consequences can involve the magician’s license to practice magic being revoked or being added to a security watch list. They aren’t exactly instructional guides on how to do blood magic. Instead they’re like a gateway drug that gives the magician a little taste of the dark stuff.
The Compendium Maleficarum is a handbook on necromancy and other dark rituals. The Maleficarum was originally published in Italy in 1608, and a magician named Lopiccolo partially revised the tome in 2041, applying modern black-magic terminology and techniques in his translation. Lopiccolo did not complete his revision, unfortunately; he died horrifically while attempting to revise the ritual on page 251 of the tome.
DE PRAESTIGIIS DAEMONIUM
This is a handbook on witchcraft—the bad kind. Originally published in 1563, it was first translated from Latin to English in 1928, and no one revised it for the Sixth World until 2028. De Praestigiis Daemonium discusses curses, potions, and avoiding being drowned or burned at the stake.
First bound in the twelfth century, Mortuus Malum collects Roman accounts from Gallic, Celtic, and other tribal rituals as the Roman legions conquered Europe from 60–33 BC. These rituals didn’t involve your garden-variety free spirits: they were meant for calling down demons to disembowel the Roman army. Demons didn’t actually attack the Romans during their conquest of Europe; however, like many mystical items, scholars believe there’s a grain of truth to Mortuus Malum’s rituals.
99 BOTTLED DEMONS ON THE WALL
Published circa 2058, this modern neo-anarchist book covers using alchemy and ritual sorcery for terrorist activities. A similar book is The Neo-Anarchist’s Guide to Street Magic from 2065, which offers tips and tricks for using sorcery and conjuring for crime and profit.
The imprudence and carelessness of today’s corporations continues to cost the natural world around us. Undeniably, magic is linked very strongly to the natural world, and when the natural world—through technological impropriety—is damaged, magic is damaged along with it. While most magicians find this change vile, there are those who embrace it and find strength in it. Toxic mages have learned to harness the twisted magic in the polluted places of the world. They seek to spread that corruption, or even strike back at those who would cure it. Be most cautious of encountering them in wasteland areas. Their ability to draw magical sustenance from the area, while your magic may well be limited, puts them at an extreme advantage.
When magic first returned to the Sixth World, it was readily apparent that it was tied to nature and the natural world. Wherever nature was allowed to thrive, untouched by man, magic was more potent, thriving in tandem. Conversely, wherever nature was plowed, bulldozed, and overridden by the machinations of man, magic waned and fizzled. What no one anticipated was what would happen to magic when nature was not removed and replaced, but instead tainted into something foul. While the fires of industry churned on, fueling the insatiable appetites of consumers, the byproducts of those factories were dumped in forgotten places, away from prying eyes. In these places, where unnatural chemicals seeped and fouled like a sickness, nature turned into a dark and twisted parody of itself. So too did the magic that pooled there.
Mana flows from the metaplanes and other unknown sources into the physical world. As it collides with the emotions and circumstances of the physical world, it acquires something like a taste or flavor of the people and past events in particular locations. When it eventually crashes into the shores of astral space, it has absorbed the essence or character of the location where it co-exists. Thus, in a place where careless dumping has turned nature from inviting and life-giving to cruel and harsh, so too will the magic—and especially spirits—of that place be spiteful, twisted forms of what they once were. This is toxic magic.
The Twisted Way
In areas where pollution has corrupted nature, mana is also corrupted. Just as a mundane would find the polluted physical space sickly and detestable, the Awakened find corrupted astral space abhorrent. Simply being in the area is often too much for most Awakened, but should they try to use the mana there, they find it saturated with a sick and bitter taste. Most Awakened, metahuman and otherwise, avoid areas of toxic magic. There are a few magicians, however, that embrace, or perhaps have been driven mad by, the mutated magic of the area. Instead of being revolted by the toxic magic, they revel in it.
Those magicians who follow the toxic path almost always live a solitary life. To become a toxic magician is to give up everything, leaving behind family, friends, and even their mentor spirit (if they had one). In their new life the toxic magician follows an agenda of hatred, destruction, and revenge. Cut off from the rest of society, their lifestyle, habits, and motivations grow more and more alien, diverging from the world they were once a part of.
When a magician becomes toxic, they abandon their previous view of magic and the world for a completely new one; in this way they take on a completely new tradition, following all the basic rules (see Traditions, p. 279, SR5). However, the views vary widely from one toxic to another, and the degree to which an individual’s outlook changes is entirely dependent on their own flavor of insanity. A magician following a Toxic Tradition may select which five toxic spirits they are able to summon, as well as which Mental Attribute they use for Drain (in addition to Willpower).
Some toxic magicians are driven by a deep desire for revenge. They are the emotional aspects of the land personified. They feel angry and deeply hurt by what has been done to the land (and themselves), and in some cases seek to vent this anger on those whom they perceive as responsible. They are often over-broad in how they define their opponents. In the eyes of the toxic, nearly anyone can be seen as linked to, or responsible for, the poisoning of the land: by creating pollutants, aiding those who create them, working or associating with polluters, purchasing products that cause pollution, those who knowingly do not act to prevent pollution, and even those that know nothing about it (ignorance is no excuse). Any person may be declared guilty at the whim of the avenger, in order to further their insatiable desire to exact some punishment on the world that created them, and the polluted land. Given what they, and the land, have become, toxic mages driven by revenge will often loathe themselves just as much as those they deem responsible. This self-loathing, however, only drives them to perform further acts of violence and depravity.
Poisoners are toxic magicians who view what they have found as a new source of power. These insane individuals believe that they have discovered a new elemental power in the world, and only they have the skill and talent to wield it. Unlike avengers, who are bitter, self-loathing, and out for revenge, poisoners fully embrace and enjoy what they have become. These individuals are often arrogant in the extreme, espousing and believing that they are the heralds or avatars of the very power, the essence, of pollution itself. As mankind continues to grow and industry expands, they believe that the inevitable end of all nature is to be consumed by the byproducts of industry, that all the world will be taken over by the detritus of society. With this belief they carry out an agenda that seeks to spread toxic areas, intensify those that exist, and stop those who would seek to clean the land. They are selfish and power-hungry individuals, driven to further their agenda through any means necessary. While sometimes completely mad and erratic, many poisoners possess a devious genius and a malicious cunning. They are capable of taking the long view, believing that their victory is inevitable, and may bide their time, or slowly build their power, until everything is right for their strike.
Turning to the toxic path is not exclusive to magicians, though they are the most likely to do so. Adepts can also turn to, or be corrupted into, the path of the toxic. They are driven by the same kinds of motivations as magicians, but draw and manifest their toxic powers in ways more in keeping with their abilities. Due to their magical abilities being so closely tied to their physical bodies, toxic adepts are universally loathsome in appearance. Drawing the raw essence of the polluted magic into their bodies, the physical form of the toxic adept warps and mutates to match the nature of the corrupted mana flowing through them.
Some toxic adepts will become covered in boils, warts, and sores as their skin takes on a sick and diseased look. Others seep puss, bile, or filthy chemicals from their very pores. Drawing the toxic magic may give some a greatly enhanced physique, with their bones and muscles swollen and distended to enormous proportions, pulsing with malicious power. Others gain a sickly and emaciated appearance, mirroring the sick and shriveled aspects of the poisoned land. Their skin is pallid and drawn; their eyes sunken and discolored. Yet this appearance belies the fact that they still possess the same supernatural quickness and strength as they did before (if not more).
Toxic adepts have the same motivations and goals as toxic magicians, but they often favor more direct and aggressive means that suit their abilities. As a result, they are equally dangerous or frightening to encounter. Toxic adepts follow all the normal rules for adepts, with access to the additional powers and abilities for toxic adepts (see Twisted Arts, p. 87).
Toxic Mentor Spirits
While no sane magician has encountered a toxic mentor spirit, many of those who have turned to the toxic path claim they are guided and taught by a patron spirit. Like all aspects of toxic magic, the thoughts and motivations of a toxic Awakened embody the worst and darkest possibilities of mankind. The thought of a powerful metaplanar force that embodies the purest form of these motivations is truly chilling.
Toxic mentor spirits follow all the same rules for standard mentor spirits (p. 320, SR5). A toxic magician or toxic adept may, but is not required to, follow a mentor spirit.
Although brought to the notice of the wider world by the mages of Aztlan, the ability and practice of drawing magical power from violent actions is not exclusive to their traditions. Many others have their own forms, and unfortunately the knowledge and practice of this method of power continues to draw followers. Not just followers who seek short-term gain, but those who make it their life’s work to perfect the techniques involved in this barbaric ritual. Blood mages and adepts require the mana energy “burst” of a violent sacrifice in order to draw their additional power, so preventing this activity will critically weaken them. Beware a foe that has drawn on this wellspring of power, though; they can wield a level of magical potency that you will not see anywhere else.
Blood magic is a catch-all term used to refer to any form of practicing magic where power is drawn from harm done to living beings. Blood magic is most well known in traditions of Aztec magic, but they are far from the only practitioners. A magician from any tradition of magic may become a blood mage if they engage in the practice of drawing power from pain. Being an inherently violent act, blood magic is illegal is nearly all nations, with the notable exception of Aztlan, where the practice is as much religious as it is magical.
In game terms, a magician is considered a blood mage if they have turned their studies to the learning of a select few metamagic techniques and rituals. Generally, a magician is considered a blood mage once they have learned the metamagic technique of Sacrifice.
The Path Of Blood
The reasons and motivations of a magician turning to the study of blood magic are as varied as the individuals who practice them. No one, save the truly mad, who practices blood magic can be blind to the inherently harmful nature of its practice, so the motivations for beginning to practice it must be strong enough to override any moral objections the individual may have. They may have experienced some trauma (mental or physical) that pushes them to make compromises for the sake of abilities. The individual may have been reared in a social setting where the practice is considered normal, and the acts honored rather than abhorrent. More commonly, though, individuals are lured in with the promise of power. Since blood magic can never be learned through self-study, a magician is always drawn onto the path of blood through a third party: a beguiling spirit or powerful individual or group. Through the temptations and promises offered, the magician is taught the forbidden arts and experiences the power they can harness as a result. Once they have tapped into the wellspring of raw mana produced by blood magic, few can ever turn away. They become addicted, or hopelessly dependent on it, driving them to further levels of debauchery until they are unrecognizable as the person they once were.
Gamemasters should be cautious about allowing player characters to learn blood magic techniques and should be very clear on the costs—social, moral, and in game terms—about choosing this path. The use of blood magic will show up in their aura, which has a strongly negative effect on any who assense them (excepting other blood mages).
Magicians following the path of Blood are classically power-hungry and will often use foci to enhance their abilities. They can use any of the foci available to any other magician, and one additional type exclusive to blood magicians: the athame.
Athame is the name given to a new kind of focus used exclusively by blood mages. Named after an object that traditionally takes the form of a dagger or small knife, the first athames did in fact take this traditional form. Aztec blood mages were among the first to be seen using them, in the form of sharpened daggers made from obsidian. Lately, blood mages of other traditions have been making athames in forms more keeping with their own traditions, such as the razor-edged flint axes of the Native American blood shamans or a sickle used by some blood mages in India. A magician must know the metamagic of Sacrifice in order to bond an athame.
Athames have a unique function as a focus—they can store the magical power generated by a Blood Rite ritual (see p. 125) to be used at a later time. Blood Magic Points stored in an athame can be used with a Free Action at the time a spell is cast for any of the uses listed for Blood Magic Points in the Sacrifice metamagic (see p. 90). The number of Blood Magic Points that can be stored in the athame is limited to its Force.
The magical energy generated from a Blood ritual is tied to the spike in emotions that coexist with the violent act. As time passes and the emotional imprint of the event fades, so too does the magical energy associated with it. As such, half the amount of current, unused Blood Magic Points stored in an athame are lost after the following time intervals from the initial Blood Rite ritual: 1 week, 1 month, and 3 months.
Points (see Sacrifice, p. 90), and expend Blood Magic Points generated in place of drams of reagents (see Give the Offering, p. 296, SR5) on a one-for-one basis.If a group of magicians all know the Sacrifice metamagic, they can perform the Blood Rite ritual to collectively generate and store power in their athames (see p. 90), distributing Blood Magic Points around their foci as they see fit.
A magician who knows the Sacrifice metamagic may summon blood spirits. Summoning a blood spirit follows all the normal rules for summoning except that the magician must use the Sacrifice metamagic as part of the summoning. The amount of Blood Magic Points generated sets the maximum Force of blood spirit that can be summoned. All other rules for summoning and commanding spirits apply normally. Blood spirits can be bound in the same manner as other spirits, if the magician is brave enough.
Possibly the most bizarre of all those who operate in the dark are the ones who choose to collude with the extraplanar entities called insect spirits. Anyone need simply search for Universal Brotherhood or Chicago Containment Zone on the Matrix to see the kind of destruction this brings. Despite this, there are still those that for any of the reasons I previously mentioned—and others, including a deep and twisted curiosity—choose to practice this form of magic and ultimately do the bidding of these alien entities. Insect spirits require a metahuman host in order to remain anchored on our plane, and the process of inhabiting the metahuman vessel takes many hours. Thus, the insect shaman will find a secure location to form the “hive,” where victims are taken for implantation of the insect spirits. Hives must be found and destroyed at all costs, though beware, as the shaman and any spirits summoned thus far will defend it with fanatical abandon.
Ever since magic returned to the Sixth World, metahumanity has encountered different kinds of spirits from the “Deep” (or Outer) metaplanes. To the average citizen, these creatures are mostly unknown. The most notable exception to this has been insect spirits. These creatures still present a significant threat to the world at large, and any mention of an insect hive has the danger of causing immediate panic.
Summoning Insect Spirits
Insect spirits cannot enter into the world without the aid (at least initially) of a metahuman magician. These magicians act as the insect’s terrestrial agents, finding the host bodies that the insect spirits need. For even with the aid of a metahuman agent, insect spirits have difficultly staying manifest in our world without some sort of anchor. Indeed, without some sort of body to invest, an insect spirit summoned would last on the material plane for mere hours, getting weaker by the minute, before being forced to return to its home metaplane. For this reason, metahuman bodies serve as sheaths for the insect spirits. When summoned into these bodies, they undergo a slow metamorphosis into something new, taking a brand-new form. Some continue to appear metahuman, others become a metahuman-sized insect, and many others a bizarre amalgamation between the two. Regardless of the final form, the person that serves as the host for such a process is utterly destroyed in the entirely unpleasant ordeal.
Summoning insect spirits follows all the normal rules for summoning a spirit, but such spirits quickly fade due to Evanescence. The shaman prepares a host body for the spirit, according to the usual rules for preparing a vessel for Inhabitation (p. 195). The host vessels are prepared by putting them in some kind of cocoon constructed by the Queen or Mother spirit (if present) or by the shaman or one of his spirit allies. Placing the spirit in the host immediately halts the effects of Evanescence.
A shaman can affect the results of the Inhabitation roll by adding their Binding skill to either dice pool. If the Queen/Mother is present, it may add its Force to the spirit or the vessel’s dice pool (as desired).
The metahuman agents who carry out the gruesome task of finding human vessels and preparing them for insect inhabitation are insect shamans. Why any person that has a scrap of sanity would do such a thing is not known. Many have theorized why some magic practitioners begin to follow the insect way, but no insect shaman has survived with their mind intact enough to tell a coherent tale. Some may be mad, others driven by promises or dreams of power, and some (tragically enough) may simply be seeking a place of belonging that they have never found among their own species. Whatever the reasons or events that led up to it, at some point in the life of an insect shaman, they make contact with a frightening entity best described as an insect mentor spirit.
Once contact is made, the magician leaves behind whatever tradition or framework of magic they previously practiced and embraces this completely alien form of magic. An insect mentor is always of a particular type of insect (see below), and from that moment on the shaman only summons spirits of that sort. There is no known case of a shaman ever changing their patron insect.
Guided by a new set of goals and instructions, the shaman works to summon spirits of their patron insect. This involves finding a secure location where hosts can be brought and put through the delicate process of inhabitation. The summoned insects will protect and obey the shaman as they work together to enlarge and protect the hive that is being built. Shamans following the mentor of a hive insect will also be obsessively driven to work on summoning a Queen spirit.
Queen And Mother Spirits
The ultimate goal of every insect shaman is to summon a Queen or Mother spirit. They see this as the physical avatar of the mentor spirit that has been guiding them. Summoning a Queen or Mother uses a specialized ritual taught exclusively to insect shamans for the express purpose of summoning the Queen/Mother. First the shaman must create a spirit formula in the same manner as for an ally (p. 200). The ritual must be done in a magical lodge with a Force equal to or greater than the desired force of the spirit. The shaman must also know the metamagic of Invocation. Next, an already present (and highly honored) nymph spirit is selected to be transformed into the Queen/Mother. This process follows all the normal rules for Summoning (p. 300, SR5), and when completed, the nymph completely transforms into a Queen or Mother spirit of her type. A Queen/Mother will always be a larger-than-humansized version of the insect she represents, often four to six meters long. Once the summoning is complete, the Queen/Mother automatically becomes a free spirit (p. 202).
Once the Queen/Mother emerges, she immediately becomes the focal point of power and control for the nest (or hive). Depending on the motivations and degree of devotion the shaman has for the patron mentor spirit, they may vie for control of the hive with the new Queen/Mother spirit. This usually results in the expulsion or death of the insect shaman, but if the Queen/Mother sees mutual benefit, she can enter into a spirit pact (p. 205) with the shaman. A shaman can only ever summon a single Queen or Mother spirit.
All Queen/Mother spirits have the Astral Gateway power (p. 194) and thus no longer need the shaman to summon new insect spirits from their home plane; they can do this themselves. If the Queen/Mother spirit is ever disrupted, she returns to her home metaplane and must be brought back using the exact same process as the initial summoning. If the Queen/Mother spirit is ever destroyed, the insect shaman immediately loses their magical abilities; their Magic attribute is set to zero and cannot be increased with Karma or through other means. Additionally the shaman becomes a mental and emotional wreck. Any true-form spirits that are part of the hive are also destroyed, while any flesh or hybrid forms lose all cohesive intelligence and wander aimlessly or act randomly.
Hive Insect Spirits
Hive insects are highly social creatures, working together as a group to build a collective society. Although all insect spirit types are noticeably different in appearance and abilities, all hive insect spirits exhibit similar tendencies in how they gather, organize, and construct their hive. Even the hives themselves have similarities in structure and form. The chief aim of all hive insect spirits is to prepare for and summon a Queen of their kind. Hive insect spirits have a highly ordered society, and the Queen forms the fundamental pillar of that society. Prior to the arrival of the Queen, the entire hive society works toward preparing and protecting the hive for the arrival of the Queen. Once the Queen has arrived, all members of the hive selflessly carry out her will.
Queens are utterly merciless in their dominance of all aspects of the hive and suffer no rivals to their totalitarian control. To this end, mature nymphs may sometimes be destroyed if they are perceived to be rivals, and even the shaman that previously summoned the Queen may be exiled or killed if the Queen believes he or she no longer fulfills her needs.