Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Book of Six Circles

Original editions of the Book of Six Circles are bound in black leather. The cover is adorned with simple concentric circles in gold leaf, but is otherwise unmarked. The lettering within is elegant and distinctive, but not overwrought. The text is composed in a mix of ancient Ghinorian and Archival Script, the queer written symbolism of the Archivists. Original editions also contain invisible runes, crucial to the rituals of each circle, in the margins of the text. These appear only in the light cast by a candle fashioned from corpse tallow. Such editions are not protected by wards, unless these were added at a later date. Most original editions are incomplete owing to the ravages of time, although a few complete editions do exist. Later editions tend to be showier affairs, with illuminations and flourishes abounding. In these editions, Archival Script has been replaced by Ghinorian, and the invisible runes in the margin appear as a normal part of the body of the text. Such later editions often contain textual corruptions and dubious emendations (75%), as well as fierce magical wards (50%).

The Book of the Six Circles was compiled at the dawn of the age of the Sorcerer Lords by Virdalon, Master of Effulgent Prisms. Some of the rituals (certainly the Second and Sixth Circles, perhaps others) are drawn from ancient sources, now lost, that predate the First War of the Archivists. Virdalon seems to have been a scribe, a member of the order descended from the human servitors of the Archivists. Some elements (the Third Circle) are likely drawn from the potent and alien magic found in Archival sources. Finally, Virdalon no doubt had access to contemporary works, reflecting the innovations that were beginning to blossom during his time. The result of his compilation of these diverse sources is an arresting and unsettling medley. At the zenith of the Sorcerer Lords, the Book of The Six Circles was widely circulated. Owing to its popularity, it weathered the fall of the Sorcerer Lords. Although rare, a number of copies have passed into the libraries of the conjurers and demonologists of the present day. Presumably, others lie still undiscovered in the moldering tombs and rotting libraries of the Sorcerer Lords scattered among the Shattered IslesWhat follows is a brief description of the rituals contained in a complete, original edition of this book. (For  my general approach to summoning, of which this is an example, see here.)

The First Circle:
Lunar Spawn
Gary Chalk
To the human eye, Lunar Spawn appear as billowing, incandescent clouds, coalescing momentarily into membranous wings and cerebral appendages. To the ear, the beating of their wings is the cracking of frozen panes of glass, their cry the chiming of bells. They bring with them the cold of empty voids, and the desolation of crystalline spires, rising without life or purpose from blasted lunar expanses into a perpetually black sky. They care little about the ways of man, although they are drawn like moths to the warmth of our life force and the integrity of our psyches. Unfortunately, the brush of their wings and the touch of their dangling appendages are deadly to the human psyche. It is largely owing to this that their service is valued. They also serve as potents guides should a conjurer know one of the hidden paths to the moon. 

Of all the entities discussed in the Book of the Six Circles, Lunar Spawn are the least difficult to bind. By the light of a waxing gibbous moon, the conjurer must paint an intricate circle of runes, using a blue pigment mixed with crushed chrysophate and tourmaline (200gp). He must prepare in advance a large, flawless fire opal (500gp). The evocator must cast a light spell on the eye of the fire opal. This will cause a strange pulsating light to shine forth from within the stone. He must then intone the Song of the Opening of Voids (contained in the text). The conjurer should be prepared, for when the void opens inside the circle, the temperature will drop in a single instant by 50 degrees or more. The lunar landscape will then be visible, as though glimpsed through a distorted mirror. His spirit will be drawn towards the void, but he must instead hold himself firmly to the things of this world and raise the pulsating fire opal up to the rift. The light shining from its eye will draw down Lunar Spawn. Once they have passed through the rift into the circle, they will become disoriented and frightened. It is then that the syllables of shackling must be repeated in rapid succession. As the syllables are intoned, they will become calm. When the syllables are finished, the Spawn will return through the rift, and henceforth be bound to the will of the conjurer as long as he holds the fire opal on his person. 

Mechanics: The minimum level for performing this level is 5. To perform the ritual, the player must make a saving throw vs. magic with his eyes shut. Given the ease of the ritual, the summoner receives +4 to this roll. This bonus can be increased by a further +2 if he has deciphered the Lunar Epiphany contained the third Puzzle Scroll. He may further increase the chance of success if he employs rare and exquisite crystals in the composition of the pigment with which the circle is painted (+1 for each 100 additional gp, up to +4). If, however, he has ever been to the moon, the temptations for his spirit to enter the rift will be overwhelming, and he will suffer a -4 on his save, effectively canceling the bonus for the ease of the ritual.

Success: If the saving throw succeeds, the sorcerer will henceforth be able to summon 2d4 Lunar Spawn by casting Monster Summoning I while holding the fire opal. HD1+1 AC6 Mv15" Att: Painful Touch 1d6 + a -1 on all rolls for 24 hours. These penalties are cumulative.  [Note that if Lunar Spawn are summoned on the moon, the spell has no duration. The Lunar Spawn will serve the conjurer until his departure or their death.]

Obvious failure: If the conjurer fails by 5 or more, then his spirit has been drawn through the rift and lost to wander the icy wastes of the moon forever. What is left behind is a mindless husk.

Subtle failure: If the conjurer has failed by 4 or less, the Lunar Spawn have been bound and the ritual seems to be a success. However, a crystal structure has begun to grow in the summoner’s brain, feeding on his vitality and life force. For each level gained, subtract 1 point from his constitution. At 0 con the summoner dies and becomes a crystal moon lich. The process is irreversible, and once underway, the summoner cannot increase his constitution through any means. The process does, however, come with some boons. At the 3rd penalty small crystal knobs protrude from the sorcerer’s skull and he may now use tenser’s floating disk once per day. At the 5th penalty these knobs have become small horns and he may cast levitation once per day. At the 7th penalty, they appear as the crystalline horns of a stag. The summoner can then draw on the psychic energy they store to create a wall of force. At the 10th penalty the horns have fused together into an enormous twisted crown, towering like a papal hat over his perpetually bent head. The summoner may now employ them to cast power word stun once per day. At 15th level, the weighty crystalline boughs sprouting from the summoner’s head must be supported by artificial means. He may now cast power word kill once per day. May it serve him well in his final days!

The Second Circle:
Compass Worms

Compass Worms are five feet in length. Their otherwise featureless head ends in a maw ringed by sharp teeth. They are filled with a hatred of sapient life and an uncontrollable lust for blood. They have an unerring sense of direction, and potent alien senses that allow the worm to “see” in darkness, and detect invisible or hidden creatures. Compass Worms dwell in a place the Book of Six Circles refers to as “The Sightless Labyrinth”.  Although the text is vague, it seems to be a place of claustrophobic darkness, in which cramped and twisting passages are laid out in a non-euclidean geometry. Various sources indicate that The Jade Litany contained a lengthy discussion of the Sightless Labyrinth and its queer denizens, along with the other black hells it notoriously treats, but it is now lost. Compass Worms are valued for their frightful force as guardians, and also by all those sorcerers who have reason to tread in twisting labyrinths or the dark places beneath the earth. 

To summon the Compass Worms, the conjurer must prepare in advance an ornate kris knife (500gp), and have a ready source of fire. He must then trace an intricate labyrinth in powdered blood and rust within a circle of runes. He then chants formulae that cause the labyrinth to lift from within the circle, unfolding before his eye in numerous dimensions. Using the kris knife, he must then spill the steaming life’s blood of a sapient being into a copper bowl, and place this bowl at the edge of the labyrinth. The worms will be drawn out of the labyrinth by the smell of fresh blood. As they approach, the sorcerer must heat the kris knife in the fire until it glows red. Once the first worms have emerged, the decisive moment in the ritual comes. The sorcerer must then move quickly to burn the first worm to approach the bowl with the red hot kris knife while intoning the words of command. If all goes well, the worms will then prostrate themselves before him and await permission to drink from the bowl. Once the sorcerer has given permission, and they have drunk, their will is bound to him forevermore. Should things go awry, the sorcerer is advised to protect himself against the rage of the worms by swiftly making the Mark of Vesh. This mark can only be learned in the Hall of Ivory Arches accessible through the third evocation from Evocations of the Doomed City.

Mechanics: The minimum level to perform this ritual is 7. The conjurer must roll a save vs. magic with his eyes shut to bind the worms. This save is at +0 initially. The conjurer may improve his chances by appealing to the hateful hunger of the worms by providing additional sacrificial victims. These must be intelligent creatures, bound defenseless near the bowl of blood. The summoner receives +1 for every two HD of bound sacrifice, up to a bonus of +4. Were The Jade Litany ever to be found, the summoner would receive +4 to his save by consulting the sections within on the Sightless Labyrinth.

Success: If the saving throw succeeds, the sorcerer will forevermore be able to summon 1d6 Compass Worms using Monster Summoning II. HD3+1 AC6 MV12" Att: Bite 2d4+1 Special: As soon as any of the worms tastes blood (does damage), they all enter a wild, thrashing frenzy, receiving an additional attack per round. They can see even in magical darkness, and detect invisible and ethereal creatures. They cannot be surprised.

Obvious Failure: If the conjurer fails his saving throw by 5 or more, 3d6 worms burst from the labyrinth in a blood frenzy. They attempt to slaughter all intelligent beings in the area. Should the conqueror make the Mark of Vesh and advance fearlessly towards them, the worms will cower in fear and be driven back into the labyrinth.

Subtle Failure: If the conjurer fails his saving throw by 4 or less, everything seems to have gone well, but the summoner has only a weak hold on the worms. With each summoning, there is a cumulative 1% chance that the worms will turn on the caster. When this result is rolled, treat it is as an obvious failure above. Once this has happened, it will happen every time the caster attempts to summon a Compass Worm.

The Third Circle:
Quiet Ones
A very obvious failure
(Russ Nicholson)
The Quiet Ones appear on our plane as long tangles of segmented legs and joints, ending in wicked hooks. They enter our reality by unfolding their twisted limbs and pulling themselves rapidly from the mouth of the summoner. Their name is doubly earned. For they move, strike and die utterly without sound. But their hooks are also covered in potent venom that is at once excruciating and simultaneously renders the victim silent as though subject to a silence spell. Their psychology is strange. At times, Quiet Ones seem to delight in rending flesh, although at other times they are stubbornly impassive, and move into battle only with goading. Owing to their superficial similarity to the Tessellated Carvers of the Archivists, some have speculated that Quiet Ones are one of their servitor races. What silent realm of agony they hail from is not known. They are favored by all those who seek to kill their enemies in silence, and are often mastered by those searching for a potent weapon to employ in a duel against other sorcerers. 

The ritual is exhausting and difficult. The evocator’s own body is to serve as the gateway and anchor for the Quiet Ones to enter and remain in this world. He must thus undergo rigorous preparations for the ritual, fasting for a full week, and clearing his mind through long meditations focusing on the bleak image of a black pyramid turning in space before a dying red star. The day of the ritual he must evacuate himself of all wastes, enter purifying bathes, and shave all the hair from his body. This last is important, since his skin is to serve as the medium on which the third circle is to be inscribed. These alien and intricate runes must be tattooed or burned into his flesh precisely by a master of the relevant craft. This is time consuming and painful. When the runes have been inscribed, the conjurer must begin the ritual immediately. He must repeat the magical formulae in a queer sing-song. As his body and mind open to the Quiet Ones, the moment of peril comes. For the process of becoming their gateway is unpleasant and wrenching, and they will attempt to overwhelm and colonize his mind and body. If he allows this to occur, it will spell his certain doom. If all goes well, the evocator will force the Quiet Ones from his mind and expel them from his body orally. Once they have been expelled, they will be bound to his service, much to their chagrin.        

Mechanics: The minimum level for successfully performing this ritual is 9. To perform the ritual, the player must make a saving throw vs. magic with his eyes shut. The base saving throw is -4, owing to the difficulty of the ritual. However, there are additional preparations that may tip the scales in the conjuror’s favor. If he studies the art of meditation for 1 month under an Agent of the Black Lotus, or a a high level monk, then he will receive a +2 bonus for the ritual. Should he have laid eyes upon the Lost City of the Archivists, and seen the runes inscribed on the obsidian gates that lie within, he will find himself with an intuitive grasp of the ritual that negates its difficulty (+4). (The book itself only vaguely indicates that this last is true.)

Success: The conjurer may now vomit forth 1d4 Quiet Ones with a Monster Summoning III spell. HD4+1 AC5 Mv15" Att: Claw/Claw/Claw 1d6 + save vs. poison or take 1d6 additional damage and be rendered silent for 1-4 turns. Special: owing to their unnerving silence, they are at +2 to surprise.

Obvious Failure: If the conjurer fails by 5 or more, his mind and body have been overwhelmed by the Quiet Ones. He must immediately make a save versus death -4. If he fails, Quiet Ones indeed arrive through his body—but not his mouth. He dies as their limbs burst from his torso and head. If he passes the save, they have only colonized his mind. His personality is now suppressed, and they will feign normalcy and proceed to use his person to commit foul acts of murder and savagery, especially against companions and loved ones. It is possible to expel his colonizers with an exorcism, provided someone with the requisite knowledge and fortitude can be found.

Subtle Failure: If the conjurer fails by 4 or less, the Quiet Ones appeared to have been successfully bound. In reality, they have acquired a slender hold on the conjuror’s mind and body, and are biding their time. Every time Quiet Ones are summoned, this hold grows stronger. Their goal is to turn the conjuror’s body into an open gateway for their kind. The 5th time they are summoned, and every time thereafter, the DM should roll a secret saving throw vs. magic for the conjurer. When he fails, the conjurer will vomit the Quiet Ones up—but will not stop. The second round, it will be as if the spell is cast again. On the second round, and every round thereafter, the caster gets a new saving throw vs. magic at a cumulative -2. Another failure indicates that more are arriving on the following round. If the cumulative penalty eventually makes it impossible to succeed at the saving throw, the caster has become an open portal and they will stream out for a full 24 hours, when the caster will expire from the strain. Quiet Ones who arrive in this manner are not under the conjuror’s control. They will seek to destroy all present, including the conjuror’s allies. If the conjurer should recover, they will attempt to destroy him as well. Should the conjurer survive, and be foolhardy enough to summon the Quiet Ones again, the result will be an obvious failure.

The Other Circles
may be found here:

The Sixth Circle

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