Sunday, January 19, 2014

Textual Corruptions and Ritual Disasters

In any culture where books are copied by hand, textual corruptions abound. Where translation is involved, the problems are exacerbated. As anyone who does scholarly work with texts knows, even the best translations are problematic, and translations are not usually the best. While elsewhere this presents only intellectual difficulties, in books of summoning the perils are spiritual and physical. 

When making notes on the history of a magical manuscript, I like to include a percentage chance that a given editions will contain textual corruptions. For example, later editions of The Book of Six Circles are riddled with errors and have a whopping 75% chance of suffering from textual corruptions. Here's my technique for handling this. It involves several steps, but should take no more than 5 minutes of preparation in total. 

The Problematic Rituals table I present below should also be used to determine the results of trying to perform a ritual under adverse conditions, for example, when one does not possess the minimum required level to do so, or when the ritual is somehow tampered with, or interrupted.

Step 1: Is the Text Corrupt? 

Roll d100. If you get a number equal to or lower than the percentage chance for the relevant edition, the text is corrupted. Proceed to Step 2. (If you have not prepared anything in advance, you may assume as a rule of thumb that there is a 25% that a manuscript your players stumble upon contains corruptions.)

Step 2: How Many Rituals are Affected? 

Roll 1d4. This is the number of rituals suffering from a serious textual problem. Proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Which Rituals? 

Assign each ritual in the manuscript to a single playing card. Shuffle these cards into a pile and draw the number of cards you rolled in Step 2. These are the corrupted rituals. Proceed to Step 4.

Step 4: Corrupted How? 

For each corrupted ritual, roll d20 on the Problematic Rituals chart below. That's what happens if the corrupted ritual is performed.

Step 5: Does the PC Notice? 

When the wizard begins studying the book, there is a chance that he will detect the corruptions. The DM should roll a d20. The target number is 20 minus (the wizard's intelligence bonus + 1/2 his level rounding up + bonuses for research). The research bonus can only be applied if the PC is has access to a library with related manuscripts: +2 for consulting other texts of summoning, +5 for consulting another edition of the very same text. If the number rolled is equal or higher than the target, the PC recognizes that the text is fishy. Depending on how much he beats the roll by, he may be able to identify what rituals in particular are effected. If he beats the target by 1-2 he definitively locates one such error. If he beats it by 3-4 he locates two such errors. If he beats it by 5 or more, he locates all of them. 

Problematic Rituals (d20)

1-4    UselessWhen the conjurer goes through with the ritual, nothing happens. He feels like a fool.

5-8    More Difficult: The ritual functions, but helpful details have been omitted, irrelevant steps have been inserted, etc. The conjurer's saving throw suffers -2 in addition to other modifiers.

9-11   Much More Difficult: The ritual functions but contains drastic errors. The conjurer's saving throw suffers a -4 in addition to other modifiers.

12-14  Doomed to Failure: An essential step has been corrupted. The ritual functions but is automatically an obvious failure

15-17  That's Not What I Expected: The ritual works, but it summons something different hailing from the same region as the intended entity. The conjurer will have no idea how to bind or deal with this entity, and so his soul and body will be mortal danger. I provide some suggestions for such summoned creatures below. 

18       You Will Never Be the Same: Instead of summoning, the ritual briefly bends reality out of joint. During this time the conjurer's mind opens to visions from the plurality of worlds, and even beyond space and time. As a result, he is forever changed. Roll d4: (1) During his wanderings, the conjurer has become the carrier of a contagion that opens ones mind to the hateful alien intelligences that lurk in the interstices between worlds. The contagion is spread through the sharing of thoughts and emotions. The plague will follow him wherever he breaks bread or engages in earnest conversation. (2) During his sojourn among the many worlds, a terrible wisdom overwhelms his mind. As a result of this dark enlightenment, a baleful golden eye blossoms in his forehead. When the conjurer wishes to draw on this wisdom, he may open this eye. When the eye is revealed, everyone within 100' must save vs. death, including the conjurer. If he survives, he will receive the answer he seeks. (3) The mystical energies surge through the conjurer's body, perverting its natural purposes, leaving no cell or organ untouched. Roll once on  this transmutation table, or three times on this classic chart. (4) The conjurer is forever marked by what he has seen. Other wizards can see the abominations that press in on him, incessantly whispering in his ear, and recognize him for a dangerous, demon touched, fool. His manner becomes distracted, and his ideas increasingly strange. 

19     Opens the Way: As the ritual is completed, the fabric of reality rends. Blood runs from the conjurer's ears, and a searing light blinds his eyes. When his senses return, he can see (from one side only), what looks like a tear in reality, through which an alien landscape can be seen. This is a permanent two way gate to the place from which the conjuror was trying to summon a creature. At some point, entities will begin coming through. The players can also use it to travel in the opposite direction. This result should be a campaign changer, unless the conjurer can find a way to seal the rift he has opened.

20       Total Disaster: Nothing is summoned, but performing the ritual makes something truly terrible happens. Roll 1d4: (1) The conjurer becomes ground zero for some kind of radioactive, mutagenic, blight on reality. The end result is a sort of forbidden zone in which the rules of reality are bent and travel is toxic. The conjurer remains at the heart of the zone, as a bloated living manifestation of its corruption and disorientation. (His character is removed from play.) I would use this as inspiration for fleshing it out. (2) Raw magical forces flow, unchecked, through the space of the ritual. The conjurer must attempt to contain them or be destroyed. He must make a save vs. magic at -5. If he makes it, he is able to suppress the energies, containing them within his own form. He must now release the eldritch energies once per day as a kaleidoscopic bolt of shimmering energy, as per the lightning bolt spell, or explode. If he fails the save, his body is turned inside out and his organs are scattered about. These now function as unstable reservoirs of pure magical power. They may be harnessed for summoning and various other purposes alchemical purposes. (3) Roll once on +Logan Knight's That Which Should Not Be chart. (4) As the ritual is completed, a seemingly infinite series of doorways open, staggered and overlapping, as in a futurist painting. Before they close, d12 entities come through (you may simply use 1 of each creature from That's Note What I Expected below). They promptly engage in a cosmic battle royale, with one another and the conjurer.

That's Not What I Expected

Here are some suggested entities from the regions dealt with in the Book of Six Circles. Alternatively, the DM may use one of the "Special Forms" from the LOTFP Summon spell contained in the Grindhouse Edition, which can be downloaded here free. If the DM is feeling cruel, he could even generate a table using one of the "lesser" demons from the end of the Book of Ebon Bindings.  

From The Moon


Slaver Squid 6 HD AC2 Move: 12' Attk: Tentacle/Tentacle/Tentacle d10/d10/d10 or inflict pain. Slaver Squids are cephalopods whose skin is colored like the starry night's sky. They have a mind that cuts like razors. Every other round, everyone in 100' must save vs. magic or take 3d6 damage and suffer paralysis for d4 rounds from the waves of agony that roll from them. Once per day they can also eject an inky darkness as per the spell. They work tirelessly to build an army of slaves from the many worlds, using them to erect a pearly ziggurat as a great memorial to their dead god. The Slaver Squid will try to enslave the PC and anyone else present and take them to the Ziggurat. [P.S. If you ever need lunar inspiration, see this fantastic series from Worlds of Ix. these encounter tables from Aons & Auguries are good too.]

From The Sightless Labyrinth


Still Prelate HD7 AC2 Move: 12' Attk: By spell. Once per day: Darkness (x2), Cause Fear, Silence 15' Radius, Hold Person, Blindness (x2), Dispel Magic, Insect Plague, and Monster Summoning II (summons 1d6 Compass Worms). Still Prelates are gaunt figures. In the place of a face, a dense manuscript is set, supported by an elaborate iron cage drilled into their skull. They are silent and malicious figures, who revel in pain and suffering. When they cast spells, their manuscript flips open to the relevant page, and the runes inscribed thereupon glow green. They are able to command Compass Worms and other creatures from the Sightless Labyrinth. If summoned, they will attempt to take the conjurer back to their home, or, failing that, maim and disfigure him. Nothing is known about these strange figures. Perhaps they are spiritual leaders of the religion that prevails in the non-euclidean corridors of the Sightless Labyrinth; perhaps they are manifestations of the maze's hatred for life; or perhaps they are what remains of those who were banished there from the earth in earlier times, when men still knew how to open the ways to many worlds. Should they be slain, the manuscript may be extracted from their head. It contains the spells listed above, plus the ritual that binds Compass Worms. However, to consult this text, one risks madness. (I would use the rules on reading grimoires from Realms of Crawling Chaos.) 

From a Black Pyramid Turning in Space 

David Trampier

Cerebral Malice HD6 AC4 Mv 18' Attk: Claw/Claw + Special 1d8+3/1d8+3. These creatures are great hunters, able to follow the psychic signature of an individual who has passed through any terrain up to one week. Their hunger is great, and they receive their sustenance by absorbing the brain matter and psyches of intelligent creatures. When they do so, for d6 hours take on the voice and mannerisms of the one consumed. They otherwise not known to speak. Their method of attack is most disconcerting. In addition to their vicious claws, they are able to dominate the minds of men. Once per round, they may attempt to seize control of a victim who must save vs. magic at -2. If dominated, the individual will follow their every command. They can control up to four victims at once.

From the Unbidden Shores

Vothak HD8 AC1 Mv20' Attack: Claw/Claw/Claw/Claw/Bite d8/d8/d8/d8/d12 + Swallow whole. These pale, leathery horror hail from the lush white bowers of the Dangling Jungle. The offspring of Martian nightmares, they are well suited to their inverted home. Their sucker covered feat allow them to climb any surface, and they are comfortable in any orientation. They move with a brutal speed, and attack with four razor sharp claws. Most terrible of all is the bite of their massive maw, filled with needle like teeth. If a Vothak hits with a bite attack by 4 more than needed, he may swallow whole a creature of man sized or smaller. The harsh stomach acids of this fiend will do 3d12 damage per round, automatically. From within the stomach, one may only attack with medium sized weapons (longswords and smaller), but one need not roll to hit.

An Example

While adventuring in the Shattered Isles, Rackvim the Whisperer recovers a late edition of the Book of the Six Circles. The DM wishes to determine whether the manuscript has textual corruptions. For Step 1, he consults his notes and sees that such editions are usually riddled with errors, and have a 75% chance of containing textual corruptions. He rolls under this with a 55. He proceeds to Step 2, rolling a d4 for the number of rituals affected, and gets 3. The book contains six rituals, and so for Step 3 he shuffles an Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of diamonds into a pile. From this pile he draws an Ace, 4 and 6 corresponding to the rituals of the First, Fourth and Sixth Circles. These are the affected rituals. For Step 4, the DM rolls a d20 once for each ritual affected to see what kind of corruptions they have, rolling a 15, 6 and a 1. Consulting the table, he sees that the First Circle is Not What You Expected, the Third Circle is More Difficult (-2) to perform, and the Sixth Circle is Useless. The DM now rolls to see if Rackvim notices that anything is wrong. Rackvim is a smart cookie with an intelligence modifier of +2. He is also a fifth level wizard. Luckily, he also possesses a decent library with some other lesser texts on summoning. His target number for detecting the corruptions is: 20-(2 for int+3 for level+2 for related texts)=13. He rolls a lucky 16! Having succeeded by 3, he is able to identify 2 of the corruptions. The DM dices randomly to see which ones and rolls the Fourth and the Sixth Circles. The DM tells the player that once Rackvim digs into the manuscript, the text seems fishy to him in spots. In particular, Rackvim is pretty sure there are textual corruptions of some kind in the Rituals of the Fourth and Sixth Circles. The DM indicates to the player that there may or may not be further problems in other spots, Rackvim's not sure. The player is keen to perform the Ritual of the First Circle to bind Lunar Spawn and decides to proceed despite the uncertainty. Looking at the suggestions for That's Not What I Expected above, the DM chuckles: Rackvim will be in for a nasty surprise when he performs the ritual and ends up summoning a Slaver Squid! 


  1. I am now terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

    Good stuff! You've really brought a wide range of horrible sources together into one awful SAN blasting morass

    1. Always happy to terrify you Noah.