Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Fourth Circle

[This is the second post describing the rituals contained in the Book of Six Circles. For an introduction to the book and the first three rituals click here. For my manifesto concerning summoning here.]

The Fourth Circle:
Threnody Crows
Illustration by Kora

Although it is found on no map, there is a land that borders all the waking worlds. It goes by diverse names: The Half-Remembered Kingdoms, Juxtaposition, The Unbidden Shores, Wishery, and countless others in tongues no man has ever heard. Within its perplexing and shifting geography, there are some places more than others where nightmares roost. The sand strewn isles of the Sea of Palimpsests is such a place. It is here that one may find the Threnody Crows that the Fourth Circle binds.

Threnody Crows are beautiful in the wrong way, with pearly white eyes, feathers black as midnight velvet, and the head of a crow. They wear rotting finery, and carry ornate instruments, usually stringed. They are great singers, for they have as many mouths as hopes they have betrayed, and their every note is thus a harmony. They are themselves formidable sorcerers, weaving great illusions through their dark threnodies that maze the minds of men and give substance to our nightmares. They are wise but fickle, and could never be bound, except that they rejoice in the novel sights of the waking worlds, and in sewing destruction and misery.

To perform the ritual of the Fourth Circle, the conjurer must inscribe the circle with the quill of a peacock strangled in his sleep. Within the circle he must place an assistant or bound captive, and induce in him a magical slumber. He must then light blue lotus incense and intone the proper evocations. When the smells and sounds enter the dreams of the slumberer, the Threnody Crow will hear the invitation. He will climb up through the slumberer and step into the circle. In a multitude of voices, he will first insist that he will serve only if freed from its confines. The conjurer must on no account agree to this, but he must have a counter proposal ready. Threnody Crows care nothing for wealth, power, or bound sacrifices. Instead, they wish to taste the wonders and vivid experiences of the waking world. The conjurer must thus present him with a truly wondrous gift from the waking world. The object need not have any value, although truly wondrous things usually do. If he is satisfied, he will accept service. But even then conjurer must be careful not to overuse him, or summon him for dull and boring tasks. 

Mechanics: The minimum required level to perform this ritual is 13. To perform the ritual, the player of the conjurer must roll a saving throw against magic with his eyes shut. The base modifier for the save is -2. Before making the roll, the DM should appraise the wonder of the gift on offer and adjust the saving throw accordingly. If it is utterly insufficient (e.g. a magical sword that glows in the dark) then the saving throw is automatically an obvious failure. If it is only somewhat wondrous (e.g. a jar of pink salt distilled from the tears of pixies), he should apply a penalty from -1 to -4. If it is superlatively amazing (e.g. an actual city shrunk to fit in a hollowed pearl), then he may apply a bonus from +1 to +4 as he sees fit.

Success: The conjurer may now summon one Threnody Crow with Monster Summoning IV. Threnody Crow HD6 AC5 Move:12” Attack: by spell. The Threnody Crow may cast at will: Invisibility, Darkness, Charm Person, Suggestion, Sleep, Improved Phantasmal Force, Confusion, and Fear. Once per day he may cast: Phantasmal Killer, Hallucinatory Terrain, Mass Suggestion, Mass Confusion. Note that the Threnody Crow who is bound is a particular individual. Should he be slain in combat, the ritual of the Fifth Circle must be performed again. Note also that he may only be safely summoned once per week. Should he summon the Crow more frequently, he risks (25%) angering the Threnody Crow. And woe to him should he summon the Crow within the borders of its native lands! 

Obvious Failure: If the player fails the saving throw by 5 or more, the Threnody Crow refuses the gift, and attempts to lure the conjurer within the circle. For example, he might express his contempt for the offering, and create the illusion that he is climbing back through the slumberer in disgust. Remaining invisible within the circle, he will then wait for the conjurer to enter to waken his assistant. Or he might reject the gift with disgust and use hallucinatory terrain to convince the conjurer that he has already transported him from the waking world to Juxtaposition as punishment, and then lure him into the circle with further illusions. Failing such ploys, he will simply use Mass Suggestion and demand the conjurer enter the circle, against which the conjurer must save at -2. If he succeeds, he will immediately whisk the conjurer away to the Half Remembered Kingdoms, depositing him in one of its slumbering hells. Roll d4 for location deposited: (1) The Dangling Forest: in an inverted white forest hanging from the underside of a jutting plateau, alien nightmares dreamt by the denizens of the Red Planet stalk their prey, (2) Isles on the Sea of Palimpsests: just below the surface of these haunted islands, there is another far more dreadful place that bleeds through, (3) In the labyrinthine back alleys of Zyan, the City of Porcelain Abattoirs, (4) The Canyons of Lost Souls: a series of seemingly endless connected grey slot canyons, with beetling smooth sides, and a dim and dreary light; there one should roll on this chart, for a start.

Subtle failure: After being offered the gift, the Threnody Crow seems dissatisfied and demands something dear to the conjurer in addition. If the player can't come up with something plausible quickly, the Crow will insist on an eye, or the thumb of his good hand. If the player refuses, the result will be an obvious failure as above. If he consents, the Crow will be bound as usual. However, within a month, the conjurer will have a disturbing and vivid nightmare. He will dream that he finds himself in a opulent but dilapidated hall. He stands within a magical circle composed of undulating wasps. From beneath a cowled hood, a multitude of voices chant a nightmarish incantation: "I bind you thrice. By the dim light of the Midnight Sun, I bind you. By the Black Mirror that shows no reflection, I bind you. By what you hold dear, willingly given, I bind you." The hooded figure will then pull slowly back the cowl and the laughter of a chorus of voices will echo in the hall as he raises the conjurer's additional gift. The conjurer will wake up in a cold sweat. Hereafter, he is bound to the service of the Threnody Crow in like manner. From time to time (say, every fourth session, perhaps in the middle of an adventure) he will find himself summoned to the Unbidden Shores and forced to serve the Crow as though summoned by a 13th level wizard. Should he try to extricate himself by summoning the Crow and trying to kill him, or intentionally put him in harm's way, the Crow will retaliate in kind. On no account will the Crow release him from service voluntarily. (This will provide the opportunity for the DM to insert delicious vignettes from the dream world into the game at his pleasure. It will also present serious challenges for resource management as the wizard suddenly vanishes and is returned 10 minutes later, drained of spells, seriously injured, etc.)

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