Saturday, 17 October 2015

101 Uses of a Hanged Man

The gibbet was a metal cage in which dead criminals were displayed pour encourager les autres. They were pretty popular in England in the 16th and 17th century and were still used as late as 1832. The usual procedure was to hang the criminal first and then put the corpse in the pretty closely fitting cage, but on occasion people were gibbeted alive and just left to hang and die of thirst and starvation.

This practise is a boon to sorcerers and witches; there a lot of useful magic in a hanged man.

Magic Item Lore in 17th Century England

There are no end of sources for recipes for magical potions and charms from old Greek and sources like Pythagoras, Empedocles and Apollonius of Tyana, recycled by way of medieval and modern writers and through word of mouth among the witches. The trouble is no two sources agree on all the details involved in their manufacture.

For any given item there are 2-12 key phases of creation; more for more potent items, fewer for the less potent. The GM should determine the true method for each phase; prepare at least two options and roll d10 On a 1-3 the first option is correct, on 5-6 the second option is and on a 7-10 the step is in fact of no importance and reduce the potency of the final magic item by -1/# of steps; a magic item that has no risk or difficulty in its creation has no power to affect reality. Thus a mandrake root has six steps to create; each step that turns out to be bogus reduces final potency by 1/6. Always round down at the end of the process.

For each step invent a bad result for getting the stage wrong. This may be anything from a loss of potency in the final item through to risk of death or localised or even global natural disaster.

Now roll for the magic user researching the issue; for each 4d6 days working on the matter at 20sp a day in experiments, bribing demented witches with parsnip wine, cutting pages from library books with a razor blade, pulling scrabble letters out of a peasant's hat etc. the GM should secretly roll 1d10 for ONE of the steps in the process adding the PCs Wis bonus;

4 or under – They have a definite answer! (And it is wrong!);

5 They have both answers and cannot make up their minds which is right, they will have to guess

6 They are sure the step is irrelevant, or at least no one has mentioned it being important in their research

7+ They definitely know the right answer!

The PC will not know how many steps will need to be worked on, at least not at first. After the first period of research tell them a variable number of steps equal to (the true number -1d6) to (the true number +1d6), after the second +/-1d5 etc.

Part 1: The Mandrake

You can buy these on Etsy.

When a man is hung as his neck snaps all kinds of autonomic nervous responses are triggered, including ejaculation. On the spot where the semen hits the ground a mandrake root will grow, taking 1d20+1 days to reach maturity.

Digging up a mandrake is no easy task and no two sources agree precisely what the proper procedure is and some modern herbalists say that digging up a mandrake is no more hazardous than pulling up a parsnip.

Step 1

A. To ensure your Mandrake is ready look for green leaves and a round bud on a stalk like a thistle; OR

B. Listen carefully at the ground at sunset to hear the mandrake say it's prayers to the Devil. 

If you get it wrong the potency of the mandrake is reduced by 1/6

Step 2

A. You must start at sunset OR

B. you must start at midnight.

If he gets it wrong the digger must save vs magic or any following saves and other rolls made during the rest of the procedure will be at -2, any devils summoned will have +1d8 HP and and extra +1 Cbt bonus, potency of the mandrake will be reduced by 1/6.

Step 3

A. You must work slowly, not finishing the unearthing until sunrise; OR

B. You must work quickly to avoid notice by the devils below, unearthing the thing in five minutes or less.

Getting this wrong will result in an attack by a minor earth demon, a giant worm with a grinning face and covered in sticky mucus (AC 8, HP 4d8, Cbt +4, Damage 1d3 constriction plus wrestling; Str bonus for wrestling +1d3). These creatures will do an automatic 1d3 per round constriction unless defeated in wrestling, and if they beat their target they will drag it 1d3 feet into the ground. Six feet under and you begin to suffocate. Have one devil per four levels of PCs involved. And the final potency of the mandrake will be reduced by 1/6.

Step 4

A. You must either scratch three circles around the mandrake with a double edged sword that has never drawn blood; OR

B. You must sprinkle the ground with the urine of a nun.

Get this wrong and you will be attacked by devils as at stage 4 above, and the potency of the mandrake will be reduced by 1/6. 

Step 5

A. The root will emit an ear splitting scream when pulled up which will kill all who hear it. This may be avoided by plugging one's ears with wax; OR

B. One must tie the root to a dog's tail and run away tossing a piece of meat behind you to make the dog leap and pull the root free – you will hopefully be out of earshot but the dog will die.

Hearing the scream requires a save vs Paralyze. All hearers will be deafened for 1d3 hours and any local residents or watchmen will be alerted whether they save or not.

Amount save failed by:

1 Deafness for 1d6 days

2 As above plus permanent tinnitus; -2 to any listen rolls, partially deaf.

3 Permanent deafness.

4 Scream reverberates in the skull, lose d3 Int and d3 Wis

5 Eardrums burst, 2d4 damage, reverberation as above, permanent deafness.

6 Eardrums burst and lose consciousness for 1d3 hours, plus reverberation and deafness.

7 Stroke plus all of above effects. Lose d6 Dex and save vs death again or lose another d6 Int and d6 Wis.

8+ Death.

If this step is not deemed important the Mandrake will be utterly silent as it is unearthed and will have its potency reduced by 2/6.

Step 6

The Devil is particularly keen on this root, he made it himself with a little bit of the clay left over from God's fashioning of Adam. Once you have unearthed it you must:

A. Pray to the Archangel Michael to protect you from the Devil's ire; OR

B: You must pray to the Devil himself for forgiveness.

If you get it wrong make a save vs Magic or the Devil curses you; you will acquire the mark of the devil somewhere upon your person, you will lose a level per year, lose 1 stat point at random a week to various chronic illnesses and have -2 on all saves. You will be unable to enter a church and if you try there will be a peal of thunder and the church tower will be struck by lightning. Animals will be scared of you, your horse will throw you, there shall be rains of blood and/or toads on your birthday, you will never win at cards or dice and your mother will forget you exist.

Praying to the Archangel Michael after the curse has been laid is possible; this is effectively a Remove Curse spell and will get you another save vs magic, but at -4 on the dice, and the Cleric casting the spell for you must save vs magic him/herself or be similarly cursed.

It may be possible to get a suitably corrupt priest or daring magician to summon the Devil so you can apologise and make a deal for the lifting of the curse.

Using Remove Curse will give another save, but at -4, and the cleric who cast it must save vs magic or come under the same curse as above.

Getting this last stage wrong will reduce the potency of the Mandrake to zero until the Archangel Michael gets the Devil off your back or you mollify the Devil with an apology or deal.

What does Mandrake actually do?

What doesn't it do! It's great stuff! It is used in love potions, flying potions, it can be used as a general good luck charm, it can ward off magic and evil spirits and even make you immune to weapons. Few witches and sorcerers will know all of the functions a mandrake can perform, but most will know at least one of them and can research the others as if they were a spell of the level noted below.

Roll 1d6 for the potency, add 1 per three magic-user levels, make any deductions as noted above.

A single mandrake may perform only one of the functions below at a time. Trying to get a Mandrake to change uses requires a save vs Magic by the owner, otherwise it dies.

Lucky Charm, Level 1

Gives 1d6 plus its potency in points to be used as the cleric Bless spell. These may be enhanced by regularly bathing it in milk or wine, feeding it black pudding, goose liver pate or possibly sweet biscuits (there's a bit of uncertainty about this) and dressing it in red silk or white satin. It may also prefer to be worn round the neck, or it may like to reside in a rosewood box at home. Getting this formula right will add it's potency worth of blessing points per month, with a 1 in 6 chance of the mandrake just getting fed up with you and stopping working or running away in the middle of the night. Do not overtax your mandrake; if it is ever reduced to zero points it's potency dies and it will never work again.

Warding off Evil Spirits and Magic, Level 2

Gives a bonus to all saves vs Spells and to other saves if the effect is being caused by an otherworldly or undead entity. The bonus is +1 for potency 1-3, +2 for 4-5 or +3 for 6 or above. Each failed save reduces the potency by 1, and when potency equals 1 the mandrake will run away unless kept prisoner in some way. This useage requires the mandrake to worn round the neck, and for small mustard seeds to be planted in cuts in its skin so that it grows a bushy green beard. An intelligent demon or undead entity may target it; it has an AC of 4 more than it's user and has 1 HP per level of potency, damage reducing it's effectiveness.

Love Potion, Level 1

Requires knowledge of Charm Person, and potion making expenses are reduced to 25sp a day. The love potions made from slices of mandrake are not in fact any better than ones made from other ingredients. One potion may be made per potency of the root, which has a disconcerting habit of screaming while the alchemist cuts or grates off the necessary quantity.

Flying Ointment, Level 3

Requires knowledge of the spell Fly and reduces the cost of making such potions to 10sp a day, an absolute bargain. One fly ointment can be made per root and it will last 1 turn per potency of the root +/- 1d3 turns, a minimum of 1 turn. The user will not know the duration beforehand and can be surprised when it suddenly fizzles out. The greasy ointment is applied to rectal or vaginal mucosa, traditionally with a broom-handle. Taking it orally will result in a save vs Poison at +4, with a fail leading to death, and a success to 1d6 hours tripping your nuts off thinking you are flying.

An Interesting Smoke, level 1

Drying the root and grinding it into powder, a piteous process involving much wailing from the expiring mandrake, and then mixing it with tobacco will result in interesting visions as the users spirit leaves his body and wanders the real or numinous worlds. The dosage has to be just right though – too little and all the user gets is nauseous, too much and the heart rate soars and he suffers a heart attack or stroke. Save vs poison at +2 plus the Int bonus of the druggist who prepared the mix three times. 

One fail results in nasuea and 6+3d6 hours illness, two fails result in brain damage with the loss of 1d6 Int and 1d6 Dex, three fails in heart attack and death. If the person has used Mandrake in this way before they get +2 to the save as they build up a tolerance. One dose may be prepared per potency of the Mandrake, and will last 1d6 hours of useful visions and 2d6 further hours of stoned lassitude.

In any case roll 1d20 on this table and add 1 per previous trip:

1 Soul wanders round the room, cannot stray more than 10' from body

2 Soul can travel 20' and can float upwards and go through walls

3 Soul can wander half a mile or so and can see into tiny areas like other people's pockets, can read things on the pages of closed books etc.

4 Soul wanders and is sucked in by a passing dog, rat or other animal. User spend next few hours living the life of a dog/rat etc and may be confused if they are a man who dreams he is a dog, or a dog dreaming he is a man and absent mindedly piss up a wall in public or chase a cat while thinking about it.

5 Soul inhabits a random inanimate object. Usually very, very boring.

6 Soul inhabits another random human being. No access to their secret thoughts but can follow their stream of consciousness and see through their eyes. Save vs Poison if you actually see them later or pass out with fright. If they are a magic user they will be aware of being spied on in this way.

7 Random human being who is ware of the presence of the users soul. Will accuse them of witchcraft if met later or if known to them.

8 Inhabits a random animal but has conscious control over that animal. If the animal dies, so does he.

9 Random inanimate object, but has four dimensional vision of that object from its first creation to its ultimate destruction.

10 Visions of peculiar intensity, witness an event from the past that has left a presence in the now. May be utterly inexplicable and uninterpretable. Gain 1d100XP or lose 1d100XP.

11 Roll again, but also meet another wandering soul, possibly from another time, another dimension or from outer space. No meaningful communication, but a lingering sense of paranoia. THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM.

12 Spirit wanders up to 10 miles, but can gain control of wandering and can consciously occupy another being if they fail a save vs magic, though not control them.

13 Inhabit a person's dreams and communicate with them through a dream. Will accuse you of witchcraft when they awake.

14 Spirit really wanders. Travels into Solar System, sees planets, asteroids, meets consciousnesses thereon though memories are vague. Inhabitants of Moon very hostile, save vs Magic or be captured by them and forced to fight peculiar disembodied battle with disembodied spirit-robot psi-cyborgs to escape.

15 Spirit wanders among the abstract forces of the universe in a state of synaesthesia, tasting gravity, hearing photons flit by and watching the enigmatic pneuma of Ain Soth Aur drift through the veils of Daath and trickle down through the higher Sephiroth to drip from Yesod into the porous back of their own skull which is of course Malkuth. +2d100XP if a magic user, -4d100XP if a cleric, utterly bamboozled if a fighter or specialist. Refuse to touch the bloody stuff again unless save vs Magic.

16 Accidentally attract the attention of a demon. Roll on the LotFP Summon tables for a being of your level +1d6-1d6 in HD, arrives at your physical location in reality, will eat you.

17 Attract attention of an otherworldy being who will try and occupy your body and do weird things while inhabiting it while your soul drifts about watching helplessly from nearby.

18 You wake up on Tekumel inhabiting the body of someone who has just had a terrible trip at a Dlamelish Temple orgy. Just what was that dull, cold and rainy plane you were hallucinating again? England? Boring!

19 You don't want to go back. Re-roll for nature of experience, but stay comatose for days, when you awake you lose 1d3 CON permanently and must save vs Magic or get the urge to do it all again, losing 1 WIS per day you are prevented from doing so unless somehow cured of the addiction.

20+ May choose to have a hallucination one has had before, or roll for a new one.

Immunity to Weapons, Level 5

The Mandrake root is dressed in clothes as close to the users as possible, fragments of his fingernails, hair and blood are put into a small cut in its side and it is kept in a rosewood box and fed on the blood of your enemies.

While you have the mandrake it has 1d6+1HP per point of potency. Any damage taken is taken off the mandrake, wherever it may be, and will not affect the user until all these HP are gone. The mandrake can be healed with all the usual cure spells, or fed blood of defeated enemies to heal 1d6HP, but will not heal naturally. If it is reduced to zero HP it is dead.
The mandrake can be removed from its box and attacked and any damage done to it is taken off the owner first. Don't lose it.

Buying Mandrake Root

You can get mandrake 'under the counter' at most country fairs at prices ranging from a shilling up to ten pounds. Of course 99.9% of these roots are funny shaped parsnips and turnips that some con man has carved a face into and dressed up, or possibly given a mustard seed beard or hair. But the vendors can be a useful source of genuine mandrake root lore.

Psst... Wanna score?