OSR: Eight Diseases of Wizards

Wizards get sick in unusual ways. Dooms and Mishaps are, arguably, wizard diseases, but they're not the only afflictions unique to spellcasters. Applied magic can cure an illness, but inadvisably applied magic can cause one.

John Martin

1. Tower Madness

Also known as Pre-Traumatic Euphoria, Tower Madness is the combination of agoraphobia, megalomania, and l’appel du vide that strikes a wizard with a tower. From the top of a tower, all problems appear inconsequential. The landscape is painted scenery, the people merely ants. What can a wizard in a tower not do? Anything displeasing in their view rankles like a bloom of mold on a painted wall or a stain on a carpet.

It is not clear whether Tower Madness precedes or follows the creation of a tower. Some wizards obsess over the plans for their towers, raving and capering before a single stone is placed. Some build towers for entirely sensible reasons, only to lose all sense of proportion when they first ascend the stairs.

Most dangerous of all is the wizard who carries a tower in their mind, not as a dream but as a waking vision, a permanent personal hallucination. Such a wizard has all the confidence of a tower-dweller without any of the restrictions.

The city of Endon, and Loxdon College, succeeded by making towers unfashionable. No modern, industrial wizard would potter around some dingy owl-infested stump when they could own a bright and well-lit workshop, employ smocked assistants instead of dribbly homunculi and chimeras, and enjoy all the benefits of urban life. A wizard sensitive to public opinion won't even buy home with a bay window or a turret, lest they be mocked as a one-toothed tower-dwelling hermit.

All that changed when Tom Shambledrake raised the Iron Spike over Endon. Suddenly, the possibility of a modern industrial tower, the fusion of systematized magic and ancient psychosis, flooded through Endon. Young wizards ulcerate for towers of their own. Deans and professors look at the Iron Spike with awe and envy. Architects write vitriolic letters, for wizards are the only people with worse architectural taste than architects. 
Plot Seeds:
  • Arthur Grenouvelle's "Rant Type Index" lists and cross-references common Tower Madness rants. E.g. "44. I Shall Show Them All", "81. Mad They Called Me", "114. They Said It Could Not Be Done". Reading the index, unfortunately, is liable to cause Tower Madness in susceptible wizards.
  • The taller the tower, the more powerful the wizard (or so say wizards with tall towers). Attempts to circumvent the limits of stone include The Tower Asymptotic (which traded compression failure for tension failure), assorted flying towers/cities, and the Perspective Spire of Enrique Lazaro (which only appeared to be remarkably tall).

2. Boggy Pox

A decade ago (a decade! Good lord), Arnold K invented the Boggy Pox. It's worth reminding the world. Boggy Pox, or Drimwick's Final Blunder, infects a wizard's spells, turning them into copies of Drimwick's Final Blunder and slowly turning the wizard in to a Boggie.

Wizards in Endon have a sure-fire Boggy cure. All you need is a kiln, thirty kilograms of salt, and a willingness to accept some permanent skin damage.

Plot Seeds:

3. Hypercephaly

A wizard's brain is a strange organ, altered by training and chance to hold spells and direct the flow of magic. Learning too many spells too quickly, or trying to cram more spells into a mind than tradition and common sense suggest is wise, may result in hypercephaly. In mild cases, it manifests as a bulging forehead, sudden baldness, and a tendency to wear hats indoors. In severe cases, the wizard's body atrophies until it dangles below a bulbous head like the string on a balloon. 

Hypercephalic wizards suffer from poor eyesight (as their altered skulls squish their eyes), constant headaches (sometimes transmitted to nearby people's heads) and shortened lifespans (as the weakened digestive system cannot support the brain). Biomancy can solve a few of these issues, but siphoning nutrients from litres of blood or draining the life force out of orphans may earn a wizard a dark reputation.

In GLOG terms, Hypercephaly gives a wizard an additional spell slot and MD, but reduces their physical stats and HP by half and prevents non-magical healing.

Hypercephaly is not directly contagious, but it can spread through papers, research notes, and cautionary tales. Some wizards suggest Eye Tyrants are Hypercephalic wizards driven mad by the spells required to support their new bodies. They're completely wrong, but it's a comforting thought.

  • Herbert Numps wanted to conceal his swelling spherical head with a shrink spell. This was a bad idea. Herbert's head is the size of a cue ball attached to a doll-like body. He can hover, but he's worried about the local cats.
  • Is that lump on the top of your head incipient hypercephaly, Cavorting Sinus Syndrome, or baldness caused by reading too many books?

4. Demon of the Flesh

A memetic disease. Sensible wizards learn of the Demon and forget about it, but wizards are prone to obsession and contemplation.

The Demon of the Flesh is magic cancer. Don't think about a tumour growing in your head. Don't think of a tumour with teeth and hair, buried in your skull, slowly gestating, destroying your life with its blind biochemical need. Don't think of it feeding on your magic, growing stronger day by day as you grow weaker, older, more fallible. Is that headache the beginning of the end? Are those spots before your eyes a sign the tumor has reached your optic nerve? Wizards imagine things into existence; what have you foolishly called up?

Biomancy struggles with cancer. Some spells can accelerate, steer, or tame a tumour, but few can reverse its progress without spreading or empowering it. Cancers of the mind, especially ones infected with a wizard's thoughts and soaked in ambient magic, may fight back. 

The Demon of the Flesh is not to be confused with Leaping Bone Syndrome, Carcinization (where a wizard suddenly evolves into a crab), or Migrating Glands.

Plot Seeds:

  • When a wizard dies, any memorized spells are engraved on the inside of their skull. Tradition and good taste caution against raiding the skulls of the recently dead, but someone cracked open the skull of this wizard. Careful inspection, possibly much later, might suggest that the skull was opened from the inside.
  • By night, a biomancer stalks the alleys of Endon, navigating by the face growing from the back of their skull. They're vaguely aware of their other half's crimes, but also want a way to peel the two minds apart. Biomancy is about making friends, after all.
Aaron Griffin

5. Prognobsfucation

Predicting the future is a difficult art. Few wizards put their faith in prophecies, but paranoia may lead a wizard to replace the lenses in their eyes with crystals or surround their head with predictive magic. Osman's First Uncertainty Principle ("You may already be in the future.") suggests that sufficiently powerful magic can accurately predict a few seconds of local futures.

The human mind was not meant to see all possibilities at once. Victims of Prognobsfucation cannot tell what is happening from what might happen. Osman's Second Uncertainty Principle ("The future is catching.") means Prognobsfucation can spread from one wizard to another like the common cold.

In mechanical terms, a wizard suffering from Prognobsfucation reduces their Wisdom by 1 for each unpredictable thing they can see. A clock, a boulder, and a bucket of water are predictable. A person, a dog, and a flame are not predictable. If this reduces a wizard's Wisdom below 1, they are paralyzed with confusion. A wizard suffering from Prognobsfucation can also act in surprise rounds.

Curing Prognobsfucation requires extremely strong hallucinogens (in the hope that, when they wear off, one reality will dominate), daily use of a stasis spell, or the rare semi-precious stone conundorum. 

Plot Seeds: 

  • Chlort McDoonigal claimed she could predict the outcome of any dice-based game of chance provided she was bankrolled and at precisely the right level of inebriation. In retrospect, this was a terrible plan. Now you, Chlort, and your friends need to get out of the gambling den alive.
  • Chaos Frogs are attracted to Prognobsfucated wizards like flies to honey, with comparable amounts of licking.

6. Dybuk Syndrome

Spells aren't the only thing that can occupy a spell slot. Wizards are prone to possession. Channelling ghosts and summoning devils are quick and perilous paths to knowledge. Dybuk possession typically occurs when a wizard dies of natural causes without taking the proper precautions. A dead wizard is like an abandoned fighter jet. All a spirit needs to do is climb inside, restart some biology, and take their new home for a test drive. 

A living wizard can still fall victim to a Dybuk, particularly if the wizard has multiple empty spell slots and a weak personality. The result is Dybuk Syndrome, where the wizard and the Dybuk fight for control. An amoral, curious, and sadistic spirit is rarely an improvement over the original wizard.

Dybuks can be identified by a variety of folkloric methods. They rarely blink, are too warm or too cold, have a new personality, etc. In most people, these would be obvious signs, but in a wizard, particularly an aged and powerful wizard, they might be perfectly normal. A clever dybuk can explain their host's apparent death as a temporary malady, an illusion, or a setback overcome by powerful contingency spells.

Plot Seeds:

  • Your professor has gone mad. Loxdon College wants it covered up, quickly, and ideally with the professor's mind intact. Can you identify the root cause, lure the Dybuk into a new host (possibly via fake academic credentials), or bribe the Dybuk to sign your term papers?
  • This Dybuk has claimed legal sanctuary and, somehow, hired a lawyer. They might not win their case but the proceedings could take years.
  • A spirit contacts you, claiming to be the original soul of a possessed wizard. Should you help the wizard get their body back, or is this a Dybuk's trick?
Good Omens

7. Deadly Finger

Most wizards are pleased (secretly or openly) if they accidentally acquire the so-called "Evil Eye". Squinting at someone and wishing them harm, then having that harm take place, requires effort and intent. It's hard to accidentally give someone the evil eye.

But it is tragically easy for a wizard infected with the Deadly Finger to cause unwanted damage. Wizards are trained not to point at things, lest spare thaumic charge slosh out the end of their fingers, but Deadly Finger disease can turn any gesture into a catastrophe. Pushing a button, picking your nose, or trying to find change in a purse can trigger the invisible dart of the Deadly Finger.

In mechanical terms, any action that cannot be completed with a balled fist has a 50% chance to trigger the Deadly Finger, which counts as a crossbow that ignores armour. The Deadly Finger strikes a random reasonable target (i.e. if the wizard takes something out of their pocket, they are the only valid target. If they gesture broadly in a crowded concert hall, someone in the crowd is the target). The Deadly Finger leaves octagonal wounds. Any wizard struck by the Deadly Finger has a 50% chance to be infected.

The simplest cure for the Deadly Finger is amputation, but wizards are sometimes dismayed to discover the ghost of their fingers possess the same undesirable properties, even when shorn of flesh. Remove curse is effective. Warded gloves or tattoos impede both the Deadly Finger and spellcasting. 

Plot Seeds:

  • Decapod Daryl, the Handiest Wizard in the West (side of the river) has deliberately infected himself with Deadly Fingers.
  • Was this wizard killed by their own Deadly Finger or by a rival's? Perhaps their rival was framed. Don't go around pointing fingers.

8. Extensibility 

Also known as Purford's Extrusion, this condition usually results from abuse of Seven League Boots, false teleportation, or spells like mercury's haste. The afflicted wizard leaves a trail of wizard behind them, like a solid afterimage. Wizards who touch the trail have a 10% chance to be infected with Extensibility.

In its initial stages, Extensibility leaves a ~6" trail for less than a second. Attacks against an infected wizard gain +4 to hit.

In its active stage, typically a week after initial infection, Extensibility instead leaves a 10' trail per round of movement at normal speed. One segment vanishes  per round. Every 1d4 days, the trail grows by 1 10' segment. The length of a trail doubles if the wizard sprints and halves if the wizard walks very slowly. The infected wizard cannot save to dodge, and attacks made against them gain +8 to hit. Each 10' segment counts as an additional target for the purposes of area-of-effect spells. As the wizard's soul is diffused over a large area, the wizard gains a +4 bonus against single-target save-based effects.

The trail is solid. A wizard can stop, but cannot walk backwards without running into themselves. It's a game of Snake. Crossing legs while walking may lead to a horrible tangle. The "active" end of the trail doesn't have any unusual mass-based properties (so the wizard can still jump normally), but the rest of the trail is as heavy as a conga line of very intimate wizards. Damage dealt to the trail propagates forward until it strikes the infected wizard. 

Curing Extensibility requires a Vorpal Blade (and a very steady hand) or a Thaumic Clamp, a vacuum pump, and earplugs.  

Plot Seeds:

  • Dringbell the Elder had a magical nap for six months to avoid seeing his relatives. Unfortunately, he contracted Extensibility just before he went to sleep. He is six and a half blocks long and very annoyed. Healing spells and quick footwork have kept lethal damage from catching up with the active end... for now.
  • According to a new paper, a wizard infected with Extensibility could theoretically use a fuse flesh spell to connect to their own trailing end, forming a "soul ouroboros" of "infinite majik potential". Any volunteers?

1 comment:

  1. 8/8. Glad to be part of the recent wave of wizard posts and happy to see it culminate in this beautiful fuckin' list. Nice work, Skerp.