The Social Implications of Magic: Evil Channeling Lists

Copyright R Dan Henry © 2008

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"Now there is an adventure idea, the Green Tongue curses were to create customers for the new restaurant and the Evil spellcaster is just an ordinary greedy entrepreneur."

This is the eighth in a series of articles consisting of notes on each of the spell lists in the RMSS version of Spell Law. While it occasionally considers various other ideas concerning the spells, the primary focus is on the commercial or societal use of spells in order to see how they might influence the shape of a culture that employs them.

The "Evil" lists present something of a challenge to a review of the world-building implications of the spell lists. Even in a high magic world, they may be very rare or they may simply only be learned by miscreants and outcasts so that they would never be used for social purposes. There are also different ways of treating Evil lists and those ways have different implications. Still, I am addressing the lists themselves and my assumption will be that the lists are available for the benefit of the social order, even if that may only be the case in "evil" societies.

Curses

Detect Curse is available elsewhere, but it certainly has obvious utility, if only to check that a previously applied curse is still in operation.

Nightvision Curse is an odd one. It has a plus side and an admittedly greater-under-usual-circumstances down side. It is possible this would be used as a form of Nightvision spell, in spite of the disadvantages, if no other were available.

Ulcer Curse could be part of a weight loss program. Okay, it would be a harsh weight loss program. It would not be as harsh as Sauron's special Weight Loss Rings ("You'll feel light as a wraith."), though. Green Tongue could also be used this way.

Curse of Dake might be useful for ensuring prisoners cannot run away without using physical restraints. At a walk, guards will be able to catch you easily. It could be used to interfere with sporting events.

Excommunication (True) might be used for actual excommunication. It is also a means to control dangerous Channeling spellcasters for various reasons. Power Leech is also useful for restraining the activities of magical prisoners and is not limited to Channelers. Curse of Furd, Friendslayer and Clotting Curse are good candidates to discourage fighter-types from resisting.

Learning of Mins might reveal a spy.

Curse of Shar Bu could be used on harem guards (instead of, or in addition to, making them eunuchs). It could also be used as part of a eugenics program.

Beauty of Arraer could be used on the Dark Lord's cloistered concubine. It could also be used to provide "rescuers" for some captured individual. E.g., unable to free herself from the Order of Knights Who Arrest Evil Spell-Users, the Evil Channeler curses herself with the Beauty of Arraer and makes sure she is seen in hopes of being carried off to somewhere more escapable.

Clotting Curse might make an interesting addition to gladiatorial games. The Ugliness of Orn could be used to help ensure a fight, should some participants be reluctant—and to help identify a "bad guy" for the crowd to cheer against. Running Death could be used on a victim of a hunt to ensure a good chase or it could be used to produce a deadly track meet. Friendslayer might also be an interesting curse to add to the Games.

Curse of Penth could be a job requirement for various seers, especially if they are used for criminal investigations. Likewise, it is far more useful for interrogations than almost any other tool. Given that it leaves only the option of not answering, it makes torture a profitable approach for difficult subjects.

Rewoundingcould be used on "practice subjects" at an evil medical school (although a lack of injured individuals on which to practice healing seems unlikely). Perhaps such a curse would be placed on the Dark Lord's jester. This is an especially nasty curse for those who have previously been brought back from deadly hurt. If this were being used to torment a captive, there might be wagering on what the next wound will be.

Dark Thoughts is an excellent recruitment or prisoner management tool, but only truly mighty evil lords will have access to this spell.

Of course, curses could be bestowed as punishments for various crimes, possibly with an aim to a more humane and appropriate punishment or with an eye to rehabilitation. Curse of Dake would be good for purse-snatchers or any kind of grab-and-run type thievery. Cannibalism or illicit consumption of foods (hunting restricted game, violation of religious dietary laws) could be punished with Ulcer Curse or Green Tongue. Sea Curse could punish piracy or be used on captured enemy naval personnel. Learning of Mins might punish gossip, spying, or smuggling. Curse of Shar Bu might punish adultery, whoremongering, child molestation, etc. Excommunication or Power Leech would punish crimes of spell-casting.

Curses could also be used as a means of religious penance. Curse of Shar Bu would likely be very helpful to a clergy pledged to celibacy.

On the other side, the presence of curses means developing anti-curse magic is important in proportion to the commonness of curses. If a particular curse comes into common use in an area, non-magical precautions might be taken (the Beauty/Ugliness curses might prompt a fad for full-face masks, Green Tongue lead to opening of a specialty restaurant, etc.) Now there is an adventure idea, the Green Tongue curses were to create customers for the new restaurant and the Evil spellcaster is just an ordinary greedy entrepreneur.

Dark Channels

This list provides a variety of offensive powers to the caster. Dark Stunning, Dark Sleep, and Dark Blinding offer non-lethal attacks suitable for stopping an attacker or attempting a live capture. This makes them suitable for slavers, law enforcement, etc. Black Channels and Absolution spells provide crippling or deadly force. The lethal effects tend towards the spectacular, gruesome,and simply horrific. The use, or even mere threat, of such spells may cow opponents into negotiation or subdue the rebellious. They are effective as force, but far more effective if the element of fear is also exploited.

Plain Absolution with its limited time span could be used as a death penalty alternative in some cases, as a warning of what may come. It might also be an extreme path to religious revelation. Dark Absolution goes beyond the death penalty and would likely be reserved for the most odious criminals.

The various Channels spells just allow some shifting around of spell casting. They do not appear to have any social aspects as such.

Channel Opening has been discussed on the Communal Ways list.

Unholy Gate is the "bad guy's" Holy Bridge and the same comments apply as were made concerning the Channels list. This is not the Evil form of the Gate spell and would be better named as Unholy Bridge.

Finally, it should be noted that Black Channels explicitly vary by culture. Here is an excellent chance to distinguish cultures in matching their Black Channeling traditions to their values (a culture that values beauty may have a horribly disfiguring Black Channel, one that values dialog might have a Black Channel that seals the mouth) or incidents from their history/mythology.

Dark Lore

Contrary to the notes, "Blessing" is not actually defined in Section 7.1.3, but it is pretty safe to say it is the opposite of a curse, a spell with a beneficial ongoing effect on a person or thing.

Many spells here are the same as or similar to the Closed Channeling list Lore, as Dark Lore is almost a mirror image of Lore. I will not repeat my comments on the duplicated material, but I will say that pinning down "Good" for Detect Good may result in even more variation between worlds than defining "Evil". In any case, the duplications are normally unimportant from the world-builder's perspective, as a Closed list will be much more widespread than an Evil list, unless one is looking at a very abnormal world.

Those who want a more subjective morality may choose to make Lore and Dark Lore true mirror images, with opposed religious groups each taking Lore and seeing the other's list as Dark Lore.

Detections Holy could ensure evil forces thoroughly desecrate religious sites when they overrun them.

Dreams exist on several other lists. If they are kept properly vague and symbolic, the chief world-building point will be in establishing symbolic variations for unusual races and cultures.

This list (and Lore) would be very useful in archaeology in the analysis of religious relics.

Disease

Some of these spells could be used as legitimate punishments and be applied by criminal justice systems. Others seem suitable only to harass enemies or engage in pure sadism.

This list does give a set of game effects for diseases as a starting point for defining diseases in your world. It is not a very accurate starting point, but it is something to use if you do not want to do much research. If you consider these basically equivalent to the natural diseases in your world, this list might have some value as a teaching tool in a medical school.

Allergies could be used as a roundabout sort of detection spell in some cases, but this would be rare. This idea provides scenario-building rather than world-building material.

The Carrier, Plague, and Rabies spells might have some utility as disease warfare, although it is not clear they would have an advantage over the traditional methods and are sufficiently high-level that more useful spells are likely available.

The ability of Evil casters to generate disease is much less, given normal assumptions, than the ability of the various healer types to treat, undo, or prevent it. It is also considerably less than nature's assaults. However, the existence of this list means there is some basis for witch hunts when disease strikes and therefore even fairly well-educated communities may start hunting down the "evil cultists" behind the illnesses, whether there is really any magic in them or not.

If lycanthropy is a disease in your world, you might want to add it to this list (perhaps in the empty 18th level slot).

Necromancy

The most obvious and important quality of this list is that it allows for the deliberate, artificial creation of undead, thereby allowing for far larger numbers than would appear naturally (which might be none at all in some worlds, but quite a few in others) and for a greater variety of undead types.

The obvious uses of this list are terrorizing and killing one's enemies (or just people in general), guarding one's evil stronghold, and similar uses of force.

Less obvious uses include a necromantic nation with an economy based on slave labor by the dead or, even better, slave labor by the living, then continued slave labor after death. There is no need to kill them as long as they keep working. Either way, this is likely to be a very horrible country. Perhaps it would be a lichocracy.

In addition to Spell Mastery, creating a particular undead type may require a special corpse. This could lead to burnings, drownings, and various other gruesome methods of execution to produce the needed materials.

Undead or animated dead could be used for unusual gladiatorial bouts or in other forms of entertainment, for a morbid or comic effect, including the most disturbing sex shows ever.

The ability to control or master undead can be used defensively to protect against such creatures.

The variety of undead is limited only by resources and imagination. They can include small animal and bird undead, undead mounts or draft animals, even undead plants. Of course, I would require ever more difficult Spell Mastery maneuvers as the creations got more exotic.

Undead could be used to perform certain tasks too dangerous to risk a living servant on, either because they are immune/resistant to the danger or just because they are expendable.

The presence of the undead threat increases the social importance of those individuals, Clerics and Paladins, best suited to deal with it. Undead-rich regions are the most likely places for military theocracies.

Finally, undead might have ceremonial purposes in some cultures/religions. A fallen hero is carried to his grave by the animated bodies of his fallen comrades. The Sacred Fire may continue to be attended by the original Maidens of the Flame, centuries after their deaths. Non-constitution-draining undead might serve at certain feasts.

Obviously the risks and drawbacks involved in Necromancy depend on how undead are treated in the game world, their level of hostility to living things in particular, but certainly more can be done than simply setting up horror clichés and using Creatures & Monsters listings as two-dimensional foes.

Wounding

Useful for torture, surprise attacks, and, in a pinch, combat, this list does not really have much in the way of world-building implications. There are many ways to put a hurt on someone already, including the good old-fashioned pointed stick. However, it does provide for a ready means of tormenting someone, as torture or punishment. A dark religion might use these as penance measures a little stricter than requiring reciting Hail Marys. These spells could also be used to torment a sacrifice before the final blow (or possibly as a substitute for ritual execution). Drain Soul can be used as a terrible form of ritual sacrifice.