2021/03/19

OSR: Magical Industrial Revolution - Loxdon College Pt. 3: Testing Magic

 

Sean Andrew Murray

Training in Magic

Loxdon College is like a coral reef of magic. Spells flit from brain to brain. Magical education is a perilous and poorly understood affair. Loxdon College works on the principle of magical osmosis, where knowledge (stored in books and lecturers) will gradually seep into students. After approximately four years of passing classes, students are expected to have a competent grasp of their field, even if no explicit magical education has taken place.

In a highly magical environment, cantrips naturally stick to a wizard's soul. They're like barnacles. Proper spells, stored in the brain and cast with considerably more magical energy, require effort and training. Since most spells can only be cast once per day, supervised practice demands a special type of safe, rapidly reusable, low-effort spells. A few "Returning Spells" have been developed, used by Halls and Academies to assist their charges, Clubs to improve their members, or (rarely) by lecturers with an interest in practical tutorials.

Returning Spells are difficult to breed. Some offspring require too much magical energy; some fail to return quickly. They are valuable but not coveted. Use one openly and wizards will assume you've stolen it from a school of some sort; it's like covering your house with chalkboards.
 

1d6 Returning Spells

Returning Spells can be cast any number of times per day, with a 5 minute gap between casts. They still occupy a spell slot. Each cast over a wizard's Impact Factor Level inflicts 1 nonlethal damage and the spell's Side Effect.
 
1. Feeble Hand
Minor telekinesis for 10 minutes. 50' range. Used to practice spell control at a distance. In skill hands, can roll an apple, lift a coin, or turn a page. In unskilled hands, can squish and apple, lose a coin, and slap ineffectually at a book.
Side Effect: earwax dribbles for 30 minutes. A slow trickle of warm hairy wax.
 
2. Elemental Selector

Create a fist-sized puff of the chosen element. Used to practice modal spell selection and precise targeting. In skilled hands, creates a neat heap of stones, a temporary puff of fire, or a hovering teardrop of water. In unskilled hands, sprays the room with sand, sets the caster's hair on fire, and creates a fine mist.
Side Effect: limb numbness for 5 minutes. All tingly. Limb is mostly useless.
 
3. Chest Scrying
Look inside an object within 30'. Generates a small amount of light. Used to practice scrying. In skilled hands, provides a view inside a locked chest, revealing the edifying motto written by the tutor. In unskilled hands, provides a distressing view of the caster's own brain or internal organs, the inside of a stone, or the outside of the College.
Side Effect: vertigo and wobbliness for 10 minutes. Move at 1/4 speed.
 
4. Minor Teleport
An apple-sized object within 10' is teleported up to 30'. Used to practice teleportation magic (always tricky). In skilled hands, the target arrives neatly and without wobbling. In unskilled hands, the target cooks, freezes, is flung across the room, or remains in place while one of the caster's hands makes the journey.

Side Effect: Wizard Vision glimpses for 10 minutes. Startling for the untrained.
 
5. Floating Saucer
A plate-sized disc of force appears within 10'. Used to practice force-generating spells. In skilled hands, the saucer should be level, slightly concave (to hold water), fully transparent, and able to resist a light blow with a hammer. Tutors love this one; it makes evaluation easy. In unskilled hands, spikes of force, cloudy grey blobs, warped lines, bottles, or bubbles.
Side Effect: Wizard Thumbs. They stick straight up for 10 minutes. Other fingers can be moved, but they limit hand rotation.

6. Dye Hair
The caster's hair colour changes for 3 hours. Used to practice minor alteration. In skilled hands, can select the colour (based on a colour sample provided by the tutor). In unskilled hands, produces shocking tones, patterns, or sudden hair loss. Can also dye skin or eyes. 
Side Effect: Wizard Frizz. Hair sticks straight out in all directions for 1 hour. If hair was already doing this, it becomes wavy and tangled.

Quentin Regnes

The Apprentice Test

In the their first Season at Loxdon College, on the first Saturday in the month of Malbrogia, students are called for the Apprentice Test. The tradition predates the College, tracing its roots to the ancient relationship between a solitary master wizard and their prospective apprentice. By ancient tradition, no lecturer explains the nature of the Apprentice Test. New students are informed by senior students, with varying degrees of exaggeration, misinformation, and theatricality.

At eight in the morning, as the last peals of the Bell Obdurate fade, the Proctor Senior stands before the gates of the Second Gathering Hall and calls students by name. The order is theoretically alphabetical, but late enrollments and accidents tend to shuffle the list. Students proceed, one by one, into the hall, from the east.

The hall is almost completely empty. Tables and stools are cleared away, and it is lit only by sunlight. The eight Judges of Puissance sit on two rows of comfortable chairs on the north and south walls. On the east wall, the old benches rest, with eight scorched silhouettes still visib
le; a gentle reminder not to get too ambitious. In the centre of the hall, between the Judges and clearly illuminated, is an unlit candle on an iron stand.

The Judges of Puissance are, in theory, anonymous members of the faculty. They were identical black linen robes and black silk masks. In practice, the distinctive silver hair of Prof. Revelston, the long foul-smelling pipe of Prof. Glass, and Prof. Turnspit's booming demands for "more beer and pastries" makes the identity of the panel less secret than the ritual's framers may have wished. Still, it is an eerie sight, calculated to unnerve young and uncertain students.

The Apprentice Test is simple. In the ancient formula read by one of the Judges, the "Apprentice to Majik" must "light yon taper by majik" without touching it. If the student succeeds, they are treated a few polite claps and ushered from the room by exasperated servants. The next student is called, and the ritual repeats.

Students are allowed to use any magical method to light the candle. The Judges of Puissance, under their black robes, are festooned with rings and amulets of protection. They are also (especially the day progresses) mildly tipsy. 
All eight Judges must be in unanimous agreement. Some students maintain that, by ancient tradition, two Judges must be asleep, two must be arguing, two must be playing chess, and two must be paying attention.   

A student who passes the Apprentice Test is allowed to call themselves a wizard and wear a pointy hat. Hat fashions vary by Hall, but every student relishes the day they can join the ranks of student-wizards... and fears the price of failure.

A student who fails the Apprentice Test is expelled. No exceptions and no refunds. If, after months of study, a student can't light a candle under optimal conditions, they're not cut out to study wizardry, and should take up another profession.

One final recourse exists. In a shadowed corner of the hall, the Idol of Krog sits, surrounded by a circle of salt. It is wheeled out of storage once each year, only for this ritual, and returned hastily to its crypt before the sun sets. The idol is a grey stone head, chipped not carved, with indistinct but menacing features.

Any student who fails the test can touch the Idol of Krog and cry "Again, or death!". They can make one more attempt to light the candle. If they fail a second time, they die. The method of death, and its horrible details, have been explained with grisly delight and wild variation by generations of students. The ritual has not been invoked in decades; even the most ambitious student, faced with the prospect of a truly hideous death, might reconsider their commitment to this particular college and field of study.

Some insightful students speculate that the Idol is mere theater; anyone willing to wager their life to join Loxdon College must be a worthy student. This isn't true, but it's a nice thought.

Igor Krstic

1d10 Methods of Lighting a Candle

 
1. A Flame-Conjuring Cantrip
The solid, sensible, reliable answer, available to most wizards who apply themselves.
 
2. A Flame-Conjuring Spell
Flame spurt
, sizzling bolt, etc. Memorizing and casting a full-scale fireball is beyond most first-year students, to the relief of the Judges.
 
3. An Illusionary Flame
Though the candle is not technically lit, if the illusion is reasonably convincing the Judges tend to allow it. Adding some false lighting effects might be wise.
 
4. Thaumic Charge
The soul is approximately the same shape as the body. By deliberately controlling thaumic flow, a wizard can create a charge differential across their hands, often igniting a candle (and their sleeves) without casting a spell.
Powerful wizards sometimes create thaumic differentials by accident. This method requires a certain degree of confidence; if your soul is timid or disturbed, you'll just stand their with your palms out like some sort of gibbering idiot.
  

5. Telekinesis
Lighting a match or strip of paper and levitating it towards the candle is perfectly acceptable.
 
6. A
Scroll
Casting a spell from a scroll is technically allowed, but is seen as an admission of incompetence or arrogance, and sticks to a student's reputation like glue. Tremulous students might enter the Test with a backup scroll, just in case.
 
7. Mind-Altering Effects
While casting charm-type spells in Endon is illegal, Loxdon College is allowed a certain degree of leeway, provided the spells are used for wholesome academic purposes. Charming a servant or fellow student to light the candle is perfectly legal. As far as student lore goes, no one has been foolish enough to try to charm all eight Judges.
 
8. Summoning
Raise a minor elemental or familiar spirit and have it light the candle. The Rule of Curwen states that anyone who raises a "thingge called or summoned" on campus must also "unsummone it", and the Judges will (as a matter of course) expect the summoned entity to obediently vanish at the caster's command. Fail to banish it, and you fail the test.

9. A Magic Item

Using a magic item or bound enchantment is not allowed, unless the student can show they crafted the item unaided. It's a line few students are willing to risk; the Judges have to evaluate a lot of students and tend to tire of long-winded explanations from a "mere initiate". Reading a scroll requires some talent (or at least knowing which side has the magic on it). Pressing the button on Philogloster's Marvelous Cigar Igniter does not.

10. Bluff
Potswilder Scubb, the famously absent-minded theoretical magician, arrived two hours late to her Apprentice Test. She wandered into the room, drew her spellbook, recited a simple conjure water spell, declared "candle extinguished", and left before anyone could inform her of the actual task. One legendary wizard (variously named by student storytellers, who never bother with minor details like names or dates or truthfulness) cast a mighty lightning bolt, vaporizing both the candle and candle-stick, and was passed on merit.
 

Cheating

The Apprentice Test starts at eight  in the morning and usually wraps up by early afternoon. Any student called by name who does not appear at the Second Hall by eight in the evening is counted as "missing when called", and cannot attempt the test until the next year. They are not expelled, but they are gently pitied or mocked by the student body. Missing two Tests results in expulsion.

It's considered bad form to ambush a rival, put them in a sack, and leave them in a disused cupboard for the duration of the Apprentice Test. It still happens, but someone usually comes along to let them out in time. Timid or insufficiently talented students are taunted by candles left on their pillows or slipped into their pockets, or by "gifts" of matchboxes. The Apprentice Test is as much a test of willpower and concentration as it is one of magical talent.

Actively sabotaging a rival by counter-enchanting the candle during the Test is technically allowed, but it's so difficult to pull off that it's best left to wild student tales or vague threats.

Very wealthy students can also bypass the test entirely (though studying magic without being able to cast a simple cantrip is unlikely to end well). The Faculty are all too busy, too rich, or too abstracted to deal with mere pecuniary matters, but the Proctor Senior is a graduate student, and therefore invariably broke. For a sizable bribe (at least 10gp), they will announce a student's name, then sneak them through side-passages and crypts and out the other side of the Second Hall, without the Judges inside ever noticing.

Any student with the means to bribe all eight Judges with magical items or ancient lore is probably capable of lighting a candle by magic.

After the Test


Students get drunk, set things on fire (including each other), hold bonfires on campus, and generally make merry. It's known as Cogfallow Night, though no one knows why. The newly inaugurated wizards sing traditional wizarding songs while holding up and waving their lit thumbs.

9 comments:

  1. Skerples this is awesome. It reminds me of the Name of the Wind saga but in better. Keep this coming, these could be a collection of short stories more than a setting.



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    1. Heh, part of that is the obvious callbacks to the "Choose Your Own Story" style of young person books, perfected (and in some ways fossilized) by Rowling. Would /you/ pick an owl, a cat, or a rat? What would /your/ wand be made of? What house would /you/ be sorted into, etc, etc, etc. It's addictive and highly successful brain-candy for young people.

      I really try to avoid the novel-style stuff in game materials. This stuff is mostly notes for me to refer to later while running a game set in Loxdon College. The players will be the ones making the choices you (consciously or not) are making while reading.

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  2. I deleted the post you commented on because it was kind of a placeholder but the adventure's now been published, damnation unclear. Feel free to trash this comment, just wanted to let you know

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    1. I saw! Very nice.
      (For the context of others: https://grandcommodore.blogspot.com/2021/03/artpunk-adventure-silicasilk.html)

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  3. Ha! Rule of Curwen. Great reference.

    ReplyDelete