Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Naugomancy (Wreckcraft)

 I’m very excited for the upcoming Halloween Special episode of Into the Megadungeon, “Literally From Hell”, where I interview Miranda Elkins about her long running Nightwick Abbey campaign. To tide you over, here is a Halloween season installment of Missives Beyond the Veil of Sleep, presenting you with original never before seen dreamlands material, including a very black magic indeed, naugomancy a sort of naval necromancy. This material is intended to be background for 2 of the factions found on level 1 of the Catacombs of the North Wind, the Starlings and the Society of the Rusted Anchor, but it also gives you a further glimpse into some of the history of Zyan, the setting detailed in my zine Through Ultan’s Door.

Kai Nielsen

The Three Magics of the Sky Singers

The Sky Singers, ancestors of the Zyanese, were nomadic sailors of the Endless Azure Sea. They certainly practiced the sorcerous arts common to mortal Wishery, imported from the heavens below through pillage and exchange. The powers of the magicians at court in latter day Zyan mostly derive from these sources, as do the antique arts through which Zyanese shades were bound to service. But three magics were the invention of the Sky Singers, native to their peripatetic flying fleet.

High Song

The officers of all the vessels, and the crews of the great flagships, practiced the magic of high song. The endless canticle of the mizzen watch kept the ship aloft by resonating with the lyric stones distributed throughout the vessel. By altering their pitch and volume they could raise and lower a ship or tilt it fore or aft as needs might be for dainty maneuvers.

But this was only the beginning of the enchantments they could weave by clothing in sonic flesh the mystical runes of High Song, which were, according to their self-congratulatory lore, key to the secret harmonics of inmost reality. Through such song they could shatter missiles sent against their ships or weave harmonies of protection anathema to the spirits of the air; the aching clarions of the most powerful of the sky singers beckoned thunder, rumbling like percussion, and bolts, cracking like a sudden movement of violins, to sear the flesh of their enemies. 

High Song lives on through the houses that descend from the officers of the fleet. It is the source of the magic of the Guides, who are taught fragments of this ancient art through secret initiation into their hero cults. The historical memory of High Song lives on as well in the opera of Zyan, which vies with gamesmything and candymaking for the title of queen of the arts. The passion for musical theater in the higher families, the elevation of the honorifics attached to voice, the pomp and circumstance of the costumes, the elaborate names of the different movements and singing roles—all this is shaped by the patrimony of High Song.

Low Song

The Low Song belonged to the folk ways of the crew and those too young or old to serve. The magic of its song pervaded their ditties, lullabies, hymns, and folk dances. To say it was taught, although true, is misleading; for so much was it woven into the course of ordinary life that a child of the Sky Singers learned it as one learns to speak, without being able to say when, as light dawns slowly over the whole at daybreak. Through Low Song they tied knots and mended broken lines from afar through this humble song they removed the pangs of a hangover and brought warmth to stiff fingers in the chill winds of a crow’s nest. With it, they blessed a newly married couple and bestowed sea legs on a toddler with her first drunken steps.

Low Song lives on in the traditions of hedge magic, midwifery, and lay divination passed down among the lower families. The whistling magic of the Starlings, one of the many gangs of Zyan, is a debased form of Low Song. (More on the Starlings another time.) Low Song lives on as well in a thousand humble practices, in superstitious songs to banish fear when whistling winds creak in the eves, in the sing-song lilt of the accents of Volish Hill, and in the more popular bawdy musical forms of Turnabout and Gutter.

Naugomancy (Wreckcraft)

Unlike such voluable public enchantments, naugomancy—or wreckcraft as it was more commonly known—was practiced in silent secrecy. Once exposed, its practitioners were sentenced castaways under Zyanese maritime law, the scruples of which, it must be admitted, were set aside when practitioners were of use or the scions of officers. The naugomancer’s art was hated by all living ships, which could smell the stink of it about them. Those who escaped the long arm of maritime law often met their end by vigilante justice through freakish accidents at sea, tumbling to their death as the ship suddenly listed while they peered over a rail, or decapitated by a snapped cable in a high wind that conveniently coiled about their necks.

If we might spy them about their art, we might notice the naugomancer furtively slip from the fleet in a catamaran, under cover of the constant coming and going of fishermen, lovers seeking privacy, and scrouts. Once far enough off, we would see the little vessel turn toward discretely towards a grave of ships, vessels tossed by the stormy currents of the Endless Azure Sea or gleefully led by the spirits of the air to their final ruin. Disembarking, we would see the naugomancer flitting about, picking from among the wrecks. Their gaze alighting on a particularly splendid vessel, torn and cracked, they might laugh with delight, the breath quickening as the light of their lantern falls upon the visage of the figurehead of this once noble vessel. Quick to work he goes, with a saw and ropes in hand, breaking free the figurehead, wrapping it in burlap sack and hauling it back with great effort to his ship. Back to the fleet he goes. Watch under cover of night as he moves figurehead to somewhere dark and out of the way, a stinking bilge most likely. There he begins the work of wreckcraft in earnest.

To understand what happens next, you must know that in noble ships like that from which the figurehead was taken, the spark of life is implanted by the art of its shipwright, slumbering until kindled one day into true soul by remarkable events shared with its crew. When wrecked, the crew broken and destroyed, the spark of life departs and the ship dies. But this is only a prelude.

Waist deep in the bilgewater, watch as our naugomancer first binds the figurehead with symbolic shackles, perhaps tethering it to a single rusted anchor. Then, lit by floating candles, air thick with incense, the members of his cabal enter one by one. Hear their chanting as our naugomancer awakens the ship’s spirit from its final slumber with words of power, ensouling by force the masthead with a wretched half-life.

Waking to this dolorous condition, the ship is confused and weakened. Watch as he applies merciless torments, setting the masthead with a crown of metal thorns, or draping it in boring worms, or setting it ablaze and extinguishing it again and again, until blood runs like red tears down the figurehead's face. Hear the laughter of the cultists as they mock it in its suffering. It is then that the naugomancer comes close, whispering in its ears offers of sweet succor if only it will serve. If he knows enough about its history, he may provide further inducements—temptations—tailored shrewdly to its unique desires, to settle an old score, or return a lost treasure, or the like. When the vessel, broken and corrupted, consents at last to serve, the ordeal is ended and the bond is formed. Henceforth, we may see our naugomancer manifest spectral emanations of the dead ship. Witness him as he works his strange borrowed miracles through wreckcraft!

Spectral Emanations of the Ship

The ritual bond with a dead ship is intimate and the naugomancer can have only one such bond at a time. To bind a new ship, they must release the old one. How many emanations they master depends on the majesty of the bound vessel. This majesty does not always strictly correlate with size, although certainly the most potent ships of the Sky Singers were the flagships. 

Nobility I: 1 Minor Emanation

Nobility II: 2 Minor Emanations

Nobility III: 2 Minor Emanations, 1 Major Emanations

Nobility IV: 3 Minor Emanations, 2 Major Emanations

Nobility V: 3 Minor Emanations, 2 Major Emanations, 1 Majestic Emanations

Nobility VI: 4 Minor Emanations, 3 Major Emanations, 2 Majestic Emanations

Nobility VII : All Minor, Major, and Majestic Emanations, 1 Unique Emanation

Minor Emanations

Creaking Ward

Once per day the naugomancer may imbue up to 50’ square feet with the auditory effects of the bound ship’s creaking decks. Anyone stepping on this area of floor sets off a loud spectral creaking that alerts anyone within earshot of their presence. This effect lasts until the naugomancer dispels it.

Swinging Boom

Once per day, the naugomancer may summon a ghostly swinging boom. It extends 15’ from a point up to 120’ away and swings in a circular motion. Anyone in the path must save vs. wands or suffer 2d6 damage and be knocked prone.

Spectral Crew

Once per day, the naugomancer may manifest indistinct spectral sights and sounds of the crew in its operation to up to 2d6 bewitched individuals within 120’. The murmuring of the crew, distant shanties, indistinct lights or moving figures, the creaking of ropes, the feeling of a chill sea wind. These appear always at the edge of their perception and may function as a willow the wisp to draw them in a direction he controls, or perhaps to deter them from a course by striking fear into their hearts.  

Bitter End

Once per day, the naugomancer may choose a target within 120. They save vs. magic or are tethered with a spectral rope attached to a ghostly bollard on any surface within 5’ of the individual. This rope does not restrict their action but keeps stuck to one 5’ square. It lasts until the naugomancer moves out of range or breaks the enchantment.

Major Emanations

Possess Figurehead

Once per week, the naugomancer can cause the bound ship to inhabit another figurehead. This figurehead will serve the naugomancer for up to 12 turns, following all spoken commands. Possessed Figurehead AC 7 [12], HD Nobility Level, Att 2 fists

(2d6), THAC0 15 [+4], MV 90’ (30’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (4), ML 12 Special: Takes double damage from fire.

Spectral Rigging

Once per day, the naugomancer can summon spectral rigging from the vessel that can be used to bind individuals within an area, as an entangle spell. Alternately, it can be used a climbing surface that allows one to climb upwards 60’ or swing up to 60’ feet.


Once per day, the naugomancer may summon a ghostly ship’s prow that moves ahead 60’ in a straight line beginning from the naugomancer. Anyone in the path must save vs. breathweapon or suffer 3d6 damage. Those within 20’ of either side of the line the prow passes through must save vs. breath weapon or be shoved by a showckwave of air as though pushed perpendicular to the line traveled by the prow by a gust of wind spell.


Once per week, the naugomancer may speak with the ship about its history. Treat this as a non-magical research downtime action that can reveal anything that had to do with the ship, including all events its undergone, places its visited, details about the crew on the ship, and so on. (Note to the GM: be generous—if it could reasonably be imagined as something the ship might remember, the research is legitimate.)

Majestic Emanations

Summon Figurehead

One per week, the naugomancer may summon the figurehead of the bond wreck to serve him for up to 12 turns. The figurehead will follow all spoken orders. If the figurehead is destroyed the bond with the ship is broken. Summoned Figurehead AC 5 [14], HD Nobility Level x 2, Att 2 fists (3d6), THAC0 12 [+7], MV 90’ (30’), SV D10 W11 P12 B13 S14 (4), ML 12. Special: Takes double damage from fire.

Velical Point

Once per day for a number of rounds equal to the bound ship’s nobility, the naugomancer may gain control over the ship’s velical point, the imaginary center of buoyancy of the vessel, placing it on the tip of their finger. The velical point is attached to a 60’ circle at a range of up to 120’. By moving the velical point the naugomancer causes everything on the surface of the floor within the area to react as though the floor beneath it is pitching. Each round he may cause everything on the surface to slide in any direction on the floor, perhaps pinning or crushing people if there are heavy enough objects or slamming them against walls, save vs. breath weapon or take 3d6 damage. He may also gyrate the whole area wildly, causing everyone effected to save vs. breath weapon or lose the next round of action to dizziness and vomiting.


Once per day, the naugamancer may deploy a spectral version of the bound wreck’s main weapon. Treat as a single volley of cannon fire striking foes in a 60’ square up to 240’ away for 6d6 save vs. breath weapons for ½ damage.  

Secrets of the Sea

Once per week, the naugamancer may control the bound wreck’s spirit as it roams the Endless Azure Sea. Treat this as a non-magical research roll about any desired location in the Endless Azure Sea. If the naugamancer simply wishes to follow the spirit wherever it goes, then the GM may provide a hook or possible adventure location in the Endless Azure Sea to the player.

Unique Emanations

Unique emanations are special to the vessel that is bound. Those vessels of the highest nobility were artifacts of tremendous power, with remarkable abilities. Unique emanations give the naugamancer control of a spectral version of the main power of the bound vessel. Generally this power will be usable once per week, and should be significantly stronger than majestic emanations.


  1. There are some very cool ideas here! :)

  2. The esoteric ritual of binding the figurehead is wonderful. Coaxing the spirit with the destruction of a rival or another chance at a lost treasure opens all sorts of possibilities. Keep an ear out at the local tavern, that sea shanty may provide a secret to summoning back the lost ship...