It’s been a few years, and a good bit of play, since I posted the Occult skill here. Anon asked about it today, and I figured I might as well go root out my hardcopy notes and post the revisions here.
I’ve loosened the day-to-day bookkeeping restrictions in favor of a more intuitive system, and added a bit more gambling to the mix. The additional rules for bonuses are encouraging my players to do weird stupid shit, like carrying around live chickens for sacrificial purposes and cranking themselves on Red Lotus in inappropriate places, and it also allows me to throw in more evidence and clues when the PCs are dealing with cultists/EHPs/witches and diabolists. Those folks can also be a serious, time-sensitive threat to the party without needing to have a level 9 Magic-User running around. It’s also a lot more dangerous than using a regular skill, but still useful enough to tempt players. Finally, the Grimoire rules place a sharp limitation on ritual spellcasting while adding a new and desirable form of treasure to the DM’s options.
As a starting skill
Non-Mages have 0 starting points in this skill, including Elves and/or Changelings, if used. Savages may exchange their Stealth and Bushcraft skills for Occultism and Physic at the GM’s option, to represent a Witch Doctor. Violating their taboos, however, will have more severe consequences. Non-Mage characters (Including Clerics) may forgo their starting skill for Occult, but must provide the GM with a backstory reason. Specialists may buy points in Occultism as normal.
Mages start at an Occult skill of 3/6, which advances as Dwarven Architecture skill.
1) All characters with Occult skill can attempt to use a magic device like a wand or scroll (if they can read it) with the Occult skill, but it backfires on a 6. This does not require Specialists’ Tools (Occult).
2) If they possess a set of Specialist’s Tools (Occult), Specialists and Mages may roll the skill in an attempt to “identify” magic items. This will use up 100sp worth of reagents and require an hour’s worth of uninterrupted work. A successful roll reveals one property of the item; failure gets you a plausible, possibly dangerous lie. Rolling a 6 will always fail, and may set off the item, burn charges, damage it, etc.
3) Finally, all Occultists may use the skill for ritual casting. You must have a grimoire in-hand (not just your spellbook), and the spell’s casting time is increased to the next highest bracket (Instant -> full-round -> Turn -> Hour -> Day ->Week). Spell Interruption occurs normally during rituals. Note that ritual casting is impossible to perform silently, but does not usually necessitate an extra Wandering Monster check unless the players are being particularly loud, smelly, and/or annoying (spraying blood all over the dungeon, burning pungent drugs and incenses, etc.)
Non-Mages will normally have an effective Caster Level of 1 and may only use Level 1 spells, but see below.
Restrictions, penalties, and bonuses:
1) Doing any of the following things before performing the ritual gives you a +1 to your skill check, or increases the effective Caster Level by 1 (so simply getting access to Level 2 spells would require a Specialist to use at least three of the below options):
• Using exotic drugs, intoxicants, or ingredients to put you in a properly Chaotic frame of mind
• Double the casting time to perform even more impressive rituals, draw magic circles, meditate, etc.
• Wear and utilize suitably silly/impressive/expensive costumes and implements. As a rule of thumb, this should require at least 100sp/spell level and several rounds to don. Savages might use body paint in intricate patterns using rare earths, while an urban merchant cultist could wear a hideously bespangled robe and hat with a ritual (and otherwise useless..) dagger covered in the usual spikes and skulls.
• A blood sacrifice (should be appropriate). A Houdoun might do the old chicken-spin and dump some brandy out for his loa, while the merchant would be more inclined toward Commoners or coal-black lambs. At the DM’s option, higher-HD sacrifices may be worth a larger bonus. This is not, however, a given.
• Sacrifice the caster’s own life-force as below. Note that this is the only modifier that may be taken more than once.
2) AFTER the roll is made, if the Occultist fails their roll, they may elect to power the spell with their own life-force. Non-Mages (including Specialists and Elves) must burn 1d6 HP per point of failure; Mages and Clerics only pay 1 HP per.
Finally, any HP the character can’t afford to burn can be replaced by ageing a year. Elves who spend excessive HP will fall into a coma for 1d12 hours per HP, and cannot be roused. Note that a roll of 6 is always a failure, regardless of the preparations the character has made, but may be cancelled by spending HP/life-force as above.
3) Each successful use of the Occultism skill reduces your effective Skill level by 1 until the character spends a day resting and recovering from the experience. The maximum level is still 6. Once the effective Skill level reaches 0, the skill cannot be used safely. Players who insist on trying will automatically age 1d10 years and/or take similar damage at the DM’s option, but may roll at an effective Skill of 1. Persistently pushing their limits runs the risk of insanity or attracting the attention of unsavory things from the Outer Dark. Other possible penalties include temporary or permanent blindness, deafness, or the whithering of bodily extremities and organs; these may be cured by Remove Curse or similar magics.
Grimoires are powerful tools which can carry a certain amount of magical load for their owner. Many will have a “helpful” spirit bound within; all are suffused with plasmic power. Creating a Grimoire is an exhausting process, and one that Magi do not essay lightly – especially since a Grimoire allows one outside their tightly-guarded Circles of Power to seize the reins of Reality. Still, Magi are lazy creatures. Just as a strong-man still calls upon the ox to drag his cart from town to town, the Magus often uses a Grimoire to free his attention and Will that he might bend them towards more urgent prospects. Some, too, seek to empower their servants but control their knowledge and subsume those servant’s ambitions by barring the Greater circles of power from them. Some whispers even claim that certain great grimoires were wrought by the hands of the Demon to lead lesser men astray upon the paths of the Mage.
Not all are books – or not, at least, as one might think. The Secret Priests of Akh-Hor-Metheph made intricate carvings upon the surface of their blue-stained idols to bind the plasms within and offer the rituals to call them forth, while the Serpent-men of haunted Valusia cunningly knotted the tanned flesh of specially-tattoed slaves with ancient plasmic threads, great quipus which they held as they silently shuffled the intricate dances described within.
Grimoires are quite valuable; simply preparing one often costs several golden Crowns, let alone the value of the spell within. There are many fakes in circulation, but the tell-tale taint of the Plasmic pressure within is only rarely forged. Persons caught by the Church or State with a Grimoire – real or fraudulent – are usually treated as witches and heretics. Which is to say, the wealthy are allowed to buy silence and the poor are tortured to recantation or simply burnt. Fortunately, it can be difficult for an Inquisitor to recognize the significance of less-obvious tomes hidden among others in a library; unfortunately, the same can be said for looters despoiling a Mage’s sanctum..
Clerical Grimoires exist, but are considerably rarer. These are generally not tolerated outside the blessed confines of the Church and Her agents, but some foolish thieves have dared their souls to make use of the mysteries within. Possessing a Clerical tome of the “wrong” religion can also rapidly earn a PC unwanted attention from the Church, though the State is generally disinterested in the purported source of miracles, so long as they serve its interests.
Scribing a Grimoire has the same basic time and cost requirements as researching a new Spell (use the time requirements for a spell on the Spell Lists if the creator has a spell scroll, spellbook, or knows the spell in question; otherwise, treat it as researching a new spell). Once found, the user must attempt to puzzle out the contents of the Grimoire. This process is also treated as researching a new spell, but only takes half the time if the user understands the language in which it was written. Common languages include Greek, Hebrew, Latin, High Arabic, ancient Persian, and Sanskrit. If the language is not related to one they already possess, impose a -1 to the character’s Languages roll. More ancient tomes, or unusual forms of Grimoire, may take additional time, or impose much more severe Languages penalties. If the Occultist has access to Read Magic or Bookspeak, the process takes also half the time. Once the research is complete, the Occultist may use the Grimoire to cast spells as outlined above.
Finally, a Magic-user may transcribe a spell from a Grimoire into his own spell-book as though he had access to a scroll. This does not destroy the Grimoire.
A Grimoire is considered a single Item for encumbrance purposes per spell encoded within.
If using Treasure Tables, Grimoires can take the place of treasure maps or higher-level scrolls, or be added to their own category. A Monastery, other powerful Church-controlled sites, or a Magic-user’s Seclusium has a 25% chance of containing 1d3 spell’s worth of Grimoires somewhere on the grounds. These usually detail spells which are rarely-used or not time-sensitive, such as Summoning spells for named entities or divination and augury. Grimoires are always treated as a Black Market item in civilized areas, and have a base value of at least 5gp (or 250sp) in a Silver Standard system.
10% of Grimoires will be Clerical tomes. Chaotic characters cannot make use of Clerical tomes, and the Lawful may not access Magic-user spells. Neutral character may use either. They require the same process of decoding and encoding as a Magic-user’s spell, but enacted by a Cleric of appropriate level.