Priests and Mystics

The gods and the Divine are mysterious forces whose influence is present everywhere in the world, but whose own presence remains always hidden from the perception of ordinary mortals. To bring together the worlds of mortals and the Divine is the role of priests and mystics. The two are widely seen as more or less the same thing by most common people, but their backgrounds and abilities are vastly different.

Priests, and their acolyte assistants, are servants of the gods who maintain their temple, teach their followers, and perform the many rites to communicate between the gods and their worshippers. Priests do not have any magical abilities or special powers that make them different from other people. They perform rituals to plead the gods of their cult for guidance and help and protection for their villages and towns. The gods will react to these pleas in whatever way they deem appropriate, or they may not, and they do not speak their will to their priests directly. Sometimes priests receive visions that they attribute to their gods, but these are always vague and require a great deal of interpretation.

Many temples are build on special holy sites that have unique divine powers of their own and are revered by the local cults as miracles send from specific gods, which are typically the chief god or even only god worshipped in the temple. Some are in possession of holy relics that possess similar powers. To manifest the powers of a holy spring, sacred tree, or divine relic usually requires a simple and short rite, which typically is known only by a small number of priests. Performing these rites is like using a magic item, but require no special abilities other than knowledge of the rite.

In contrast to that, mystics are rare and special holy men and women who have reached a form of enlightenment that has revealed to them a deep comprehension of the Divine Source and its presence and working within all things. This understanding and awareness allows them to practice a rare form of magic that draws directly on the Divine itself and grants powers that have always been impossible to achieve for even the most powerful sorcerers. Most mystics have been devout worshippers of various gods before their enlightenment, and remain faithful to the teachings and valuesf their cults. However, they have a much deeper awareness that all the gods are still only different reflections of a much greater divine truth, and the distinctions between specific gods are typically much less important to them than to the priests of the many different temples. Many mystics regard the gods and their myth as powerful symbols and examples for living in harmony with the Divine that unites all things, and so large numbers of them continue to wear the robes and symbols of their cults and spread their teachings. But mystics are typically seen as somewhat removed from the temples by priests and sometimes even outright heretical, so they rarely have close associations with major powerful temples of the greater cities. They are however typically held in high regard by common people, especially in more remote areas where people are used to numerous small temples practicing somewhat different rites in every village with no central authorities on religious matters. Mystics are much more rare than priests and many people never are wittness to their miracle powers in their whole life.

I am typically not a fan of cleric type characters, but I had briefly been thinking about what something with a similar role to psionic powers could look like in my setting. With the other supernatural stuff going on already, the simple cleric framework seems like a pretty fitting match with just the right presentation and integration into the gameworld. The idea for priests controlling the miraculous powers of holy sites is directly from the D&D Companion Rules, which introduced them as alternative sources for divine magic for elf and dwarf villages under a rules system where only human characters have access to different classes, like clerics. I always thought that was a really cool idea since I first saw it, and much more interesting for worldbuilding than having a spellcasting cleric as priest for every village chapple. By customizing the specific spells that a holy site can produce to match the god that is seen as the creator of the site, making visits to a temple for services becomes a lot more interesting. Instead of every service being available in every generic temple, customized spells mean that players have to consider whose god’s temple in the area might be most likely to be able to help them. This makes different gods actually relevant to how things could play out during the game.

Deities & Demons

Couldn’t help myself with the title.

Starting a wilderness and stronghold building campaign setting with supernatural cosmic beings is a bit backwards, but that was one of the first things that popped into my mind and it kept running with it until it quickly turned into something that I think is really solid and might even be final already.

The big inspirations I am drawing from are the ALMSIVI Tribunal and daedra from Morrowind and sorcerer kings from Dark Sun, the Deathless of Aernal and the Inspired of Sarlona from Eberron. Also the demons and soul arts from Demon’s Souls and the Pagans from Thief. Several works that have been mentioned here before plenty of times, but ideas from Demon’s Souls and Eberron in particular are taking things in a quite different direction.

A Concept of Spirit

Both mortal beings and demons are understood to have three different components that make up their existence. A body, a life force, and a mind. As an analogy, the body is like a lamp, the life force is like oil, and the mind is like a flame. Any kind of self is in the flame of the mind. If the body runs out of life force, the flame is extinguished and the individual ceases to exist. However, the life energy of a living creature can be stolen and consumed, either in part or completely.

Many demons feed on the life force of other beings, and consuming the life force of demons is a great source of power to sorcerers. But by adding demonic life force to their own, sorcerers become more demonic in nature itself, even though the change might be outwardly invisible. When draining the spirit from other beings, it is only the life force that is being consumed. If all of a being’s life force is taken, the mind is simply extinguished.

In the analogy of the lamp, ghosts can be regarded as a kind of smoke. There is a direct link to the flame and the nature of the flame affects the appearance of the smoke that lingers, but the original mind already has gone from existence. Ghosts are kke echos instead of a voice.


The natural environment that surrounds mortals and in which they live is both a manifestation and the origin of a universal, supreme divine force. The Divine is in everything and off everything that makes up the natural world and the creatures in it. While the Divine is far beyond mortal understanding and perception, it manifests itself in various aspects known as the gods. These gods are understood to be separate from each other, but also parts of a greater whole that even they can not comprehend in their own limited experience. Mortal cults highly anthropomorphize the gods, appearing humanoid in iconography and behaving like people in myths, to contrast them from the alien strangeness of demons. But ultimately the gods are more like formless forces acting within the ultimate Divine. Individual gods don’t hold domain over specific aspects of the natural world or mortal life, but each of them is believed to have a greater control over certain aspects than others. There is no single god of storms, but there are many gods that are worshiped because of they are believed to have the power to protect people from storms. As a result there is no standardized pantheon shared across all cultures, and the religions practiced in no two temples are exactly the same.


Everything that comes from or exists outside of the natural environment and the powers of the gods is regarded as demons or demonic. Unlike the gods, all demons are physical beings, bound to a single body they can not be separated from, though often not tied to a single specific shape. As a general thing, larger and more alien demons tend to have greater supernatural powers, but their looks can be deceiving. More powerfhk demons have the ability to communicate with their minds across vast distances and even control the minds of lesser beings. But since their minds are a creation of the life force bound within their physical bodies, true demonic possession is impossible. The closest thing to that is sorcerers consuming too much life energy from demons and adding it to their own until they effectively become indistinguishable from demons themselves. But their minds are still the original flame, only know burning a different kind of fuel.

The category of demons includes many kinds of beings that would considered as spirits or fey in other contexts, but they also include incomprehensible, reality-warping leviathans from realms never seen by mortal eyes.


In a number of city states, the traditional worship of the gods has fallen back in importance behind the cults of living god-kings. These powerful monarchs claim that they are physical incrnations or avatars of gods and that they possess great divine powers to repell invading armies and force demons to their will. Though in practice the abilities they display are little difference from those of extremely powerful ancient sorcerers.

Cultural Traditions

Priests perform great rituals and sacrifices to request aid from the gods for protection and prosperity, to which the gods will respond through action in whatever way consider appropriate. The priests themselves possess no magical powers.

Typically, demons are seen as very dangerous, hostile to mortals, and never to be trusted. However, the druidic cults of many barbarian tribes see things as much more complex, with some demons being useful protectors and teachers of magic, and even caring for the people who honor and serve them in their own strange ways. But even druids agree that all demons are extremely dangerous to deal with.

Most sorcerers keep their magical powers secret and instead appear in public as nobles, merchants, alchemists, or scholars. Only the most powerful of them make no efforts to appear as regular people, as they have little to fear from regular people or worry about being bothered by local lords.


Intuitation is a neurological alteration produced in people with a certain mental aptitude through long mental training, combined with various psychoactive drugs. The brains of trained intuitators have an increased capacity for accurate memory, and also the ability to rely on subconscious processing for the analysis of information than normal people. Intuitation grants people a hightened awareness of their surroundings and perception of possible threats, an increased intuitive grasp of complex situations and concepts, an improved ability to find connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information, and a highly increased sense of empathy. Skilled intuitators have abilities that border on precognition, but they are still limited to the information and data available to them, and their ability to see and understand connections and pattern is not infallible.

A significant problem with intuitation is that much of the processing of information is happening subconsciously and intuitators are often incapable of explaining their reasoning behind their conclusions or even understanding them themselves. Intuitation is rarely able to provide proof for any insights an intuitator might have, but it is still extremely valuable in directing investigations or to provide warnings for possible attacks or traps. Intuitators can only work with information that is available to them and can be mislead by deliberately falsified or manipulated data. Often predicted possibilities simply don’t come to pass, and sometimes even the best intuitators simply make mistakes. All intuitators have a significantly increased risk of developing paranoia, delusions, and other disorders because they regularly have thoughts entering their minds that don’t appear to be their own, or have extremely strong intuitive convinctions about things that can not be proven and they can’t explain even to themselves. Typically, gaining access to more information about a subject can help developing a conscious understanding of the previously purely subconscious connections, but in the lines of work in which intuitators are commonly employed mysteries regularly remain completely unsolved. In most organizations, intuitators are employed only in strictly advisory roles and are very limited in their authority to make important decisions. And many officials, administrators, and officers have a strong distrust of the reliability of inituitators.

Some intuitators practice their minds primarily in negotiation and interrogation and become extraordinarily capable in detecting deceptions and ommisions, as well as very carefully chosing their words and behavior to create the best positive response from people they talk to. In these situations, having all the facts exactly right is often not completely criticial to achieving success, and it is more about constantly reading the reactions of other people throughout the course of an ongoing conversation. This allows intuitators to subtly dig for specific pieces of information that they need to get a more complete picture and increase the certainty of their suspicions. While such intuitators are much less at risk of developing paranoia, they do have a strong tendency to become highly manipulative of all people around them, even if they don’t mean to, which can lead to just as dificult problems.

Revised Magic for Planet Kaendor

One of the constant patterns in my many years of fantasy worldbuilding is my regular realization of “Make it smaller!”

Every time I come back to a setting idea to give it another revision, one of the main things I want to change is to scale it down significantly. I started some 15 years ago wanting to make a planet with a dozen outer planes, and ever since then my plans have gotten smaller and smaller as I realized much of what I had in mind would be completely irrelevant to the actual campaigns I am running. My last version was down to a small continent, but now I am scaling it further down to the size of just one of the larger European countries. That’s still huge, especially when dealing with a setting that is mostly wildeness. Dark Sun doesn’t need to be much larger than that.

In addition to just shrinking the map, I am also once again throwing out a lot of clutter that really isn’t needed to run adventures. Fewer cultures, fewer cities, fewer classes of supernatural beings, and fewer magical traditions. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon again, and I mentioned Dark Sun. I think I want to do something more strange and insidious with magic. An unsettling and eldritch force that defies nature instead of being a manifestation of the spiritual aspect of the natural world.

While I am not a fan of alignment as a character trait, to put it mildly, I think the concept of the interplay of Chaos and Order is a quite interesting one that has some things going for it. And I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I think it would be really cool to make all magic a manifestation of Chaos.

In the new theory of magic, the natural world is magically neutral. The supernatural exist explicitly outside of nature. But the gods exist. Maybe. And the supernatural is a manifestation of the gods direct interactions and interventions in the world. The gods guide history, steer fate, and regulate the environment through supernatural phenomenons. This too is part of the natural order.

But there are creatures of Chaos who do not belong into the natural world, or are partly physical and partly of the realm of Chaos. These demons too have the ability to interact with the world in supernatural ways, and they can teach mortals how to use the essence of Chaos themselves. To use magic is to defy the will of the gods and to interfere with their plans. Nothing good can come from that and it will only lead to missery and disaster. Sorcerers believe such a view is highly overdramatic. The plans of the gods, if they even exist, don’t really regulate nature in any meaningful way and there is no divine order that their spells could disrupt. Of course, magic is incredibly powerful and can be used very destructively, but its not any more inherently evil or unnatural than fire.

In addition to the magic of sorcerers and demons, there are also the arts to counter magic, but these are not considered magic in themselves. Many priests have the power to block or dispel magic and to banish demons, which break the unnatural influence of magic and restore the divine order. Though sorcerers can learn these powers as well.

Alchemy is not considered to be magic. It is simply a combination of ingredients that are part of the natural world that produce extraordinary effects. But most alchemists are under regular suspicion of dabbling in sorcery as well to enhance the potions they make.

In some cases sorcerers manage to convince people that they are an avatar of a god, which makes the spells they cast the devine powers by which the gods interact with the world, and as such not magic.

Quick and Dirty Slow Casting Magic System for LotFP

A simple and completely untested variant system for casting spells in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It should also work with other OSR games, but LotFP allows mages to wear armor and use weapons, which makes a severe toning down of spellcasting much less disruptive for players.

Spells work pretty much the same way under this system except that you don’t need to prepare spells in advance and all casting times are at least 1 minute (10 rounds) long. You still need to have spell slots available which are used up for the day when a spell is cast. The effect is that spellcasters become much more flexible in picking their spells when the situation comes up but at the same time lose the ability to quickly intervene with spells in the middle of a fight. All magic requires at least a bit of time to prepare during which the spellcaster can easily be interrupted by any hostile creatures or violent environment conditions.

Many spells need to be cast from hiding, either in cover or in plain sight, to be of any use. I think that I would rule that it’s sufficient for a spellcaster to stand or sit and do nothing and quietly recite the magical incantations at low volume. It would be easy to spot by people who are standing close enough to the caster to hear the magic words or who are keeping an eye on him. Loud background noise or some kind of distraction would be necessary to cast a spell unnoticed while in a crowd. The changes also make a good number of spells effectively useless. The following spells I’d remove from the game. (Fireball and lightning bolt are already not part of the LotFP rules.)

Cleric Spells

  • Command
  • Heat Metal
  • Protection from Evil
  • Protection from Evil, 10′ Radius
  • Remove Fear
  • Sanctuary
  • Silence

Magic-User Spells

  • Army of One
  • Chaos
  • Confusion
  • Death Spell
  • Faithful Hound (if the duration is indeed correct)
  • Feather Fall
  • Globe of Invulnerability (Greater and Lesser)
  • Grasping Hand
  • Haste
  • Hold Person/Monster
  • Interposing Hand
  • Lucubration
  • Magic Missile
  • Magic Sword
  • Maze
  • Mirror Image
  • Mnemonic Enhancer
  • Power Word Kill
  • Power Word Stun
  • Prismatic Spray
  • Ray of Enfeeblement
  • Spell Turning
  • Witchlamp Aura

Modified Spells

  • Charm Person/Monster: The target makes a saving throw at the start of the casting of the spell. If it fails it will simply listen to the casters words and not take any action unless the casting is interrupted by an outside source. The caster of the spell does not look like he is casting a spell on the target but has to keep talking for the entire casting time and observers might notice something strange going on with the target.
  • Enthrall: The crowd starts listening to the caster immediately but can only be persuaded to do something after at least a minute of talking to them has passed.
  • Polymorph Others: The target of the spell slowly begins to change during the casting time but reverts to its original form if the spell is interrupted in any way.
  • Sacrifice: The caster has to be in contact for the entire casting time of the spell, usually making it necessary to restrain the target.
  • Suggestion: The target makes a saving throw at the start of the casting of the spell. If it fails it will simply listen to the casters words and not take any action unless the casting is interrupted by an outside source. The caster of the spell does not look like he is casting a spell on the target but has to keep talking for the entire casting time and observers might notice something strange going on with the target.

A hazy idea for a new OSR magic system

Work hours have been a bit chaotic this month, with frequent evening hours and weekend workdays, so I have not really spend much of the long hours of tinkering with ideas that usually lead to me writing things. But all the overtime hours will get me a lot of shorter workdays after Christmas and there’s not really much to do in a gardening store in January anyway. There’s a lot of ideas floating in my mind that I want to pursue further on lazy afternoons and loudly proclaim my conclusions.

Right now I am occupying my free periods during the day with thinking about adapting my new idea for a magic system to an OSR rules system. Which actually turned out a bit more tricky than I thought.

The main concept is that all characters have an amount of spellpower that is calculated by adding the modifier from Wisdom to the number of levels in the mage class. A 4th level mage with a Wisdom of 16 would have a spellpower of 6 (4+2). Any time a spell is cast or a ritual performed, there is a chance for a missfire based on the character’s current spellpower score. At the end of the casting the spellpower score is reduced by a certain number. Dabblers in magic have a high chance of misfires when performing rituals (which does not require any specific character class) but so do even experienced mages who have already cast several spells that day. I like the concept but don’t have any good idea for how to calculate the chance of failure and how to make a die roll to check for a missfire.

I also think about having three categories of magic. Spells, which take one round to cas; incantations, which take 1 minute to cast; and rituals, which take 1 hour to cast. Only characters of the mage class can learn spells and incantations of limited numbers, but rituals are open to anyone who gets his hands on the instructions. However, I found that I have really very few ideas for traditional spells that would fit with my image of how magic performs in action.

One interesting oddity I noticed a few days ago is that all the effects I wanted my old magic system to do no longer fit with the new system. And a good number of things I deliberately chose to exclude seem highly appropriate for the new system. (Except teleportation, which is still out.) My old approach was highly inspired by Star Wars and Avatar, which spells being extensions of the body and mind. Now I feel much stronger drawn to witchcraft and sorcery that focus on dealing with external supernatural beings. Having just read Hellboy again (a review is one of the things I want to write) probably had a huge impact on that change of mind.