Runequest Thursday #128 - Creating Magical Sites!

Clint Staples

An ancient battlefield, still reeking of death and destruction after a thousand years. A well of mystic potential, sought by generations of sages and mages. You don’t need a dungeon –magical locations are a cool way to motivate your heroes to adventure. Here is a way to build them for Runequest, though the process is essentially system neutral, so you can just insert whatever rules you use.


A Name has Power

You will probably want a name for your magical site. After all, unless you don’t want your heroes to go there, you want a name that the players will seize on as the epitome of COOL! In your setting.

If you have one from the start, that’s great, and it can help you with the following steps. If not, one will probably occur to you as you go through the process. Failing that, you can take some of your key nouns for the site, its description, and its themes, and plug them into an online thesaurus. This can help you to think of the same concepts in other words that might spur a good name.


A Reason to Be

Every magical site need a raison d’etre. This is pretty much the first thing you want to decide about your magical place because it will help you figure out the other things on this list. In the first example above, we know what the Reason is – An Ancient Battlefield. The reason for The Well is not obvious from the description. But you, as GM, should know what it is, even, and maybe especially, when your players don’t.

So let’s find a reason for the existence of The Mystic Well:

Taking our cue from the text – The Mystic Well has been sought by generations of thinkers, philosophers and magicians. The Battlefield was the site of an ancient, and almost certainly, powerful conflict, so The Well might be the birth site of the god of inspiration, or the site of the first magical creation in the world, or, borrowing from Norse Mythology – the well from which the God of Wisdom used to drink. Perhaps it is actually a portal through which thoughts, energy, even magical power and spellcraft, can pass from one dimension to this one.

For our present purposes, let’s go with: A portal through which thoughts, energy and magical power can pass into this world.


A Source of Power

This is usually tied to the first point. The power of The Battlefield could be from the titanic energies released so long ago, energies that still course and leap over the seared dunes. As easily, they could be the result of the tremendous death, pain and suffering unleashed there.

The power of The Well could be the tears of a wise and sorrowful goddess, or the collected runoff waters from the River Styx, replete with the secrets and power lost to the dead as they are carried in its bosom.

For The Battlefield, let’s use Titanic Energies, instead of Death and Suffering. For The Well, based on our previous decision, we can go with the waters of the River Styx.


Thematic Resonance

The answers you choose in the above steps help to identify the theme or themes for your magical site. A battlefield made magical because of the death and disease unleashed is likely to have a different “feel” than one created by the striving of titanic elemental beings. Similarly, a Stygian Well is going to resonate quite differently from one created because it was the site of the Primal Enchantment.

The Titanic Battlefield themes could be any or all of these: Dawn Age, Eldritch Energies, Elemental Powers, Enemies of the Gods, Extra-dimensional, Timelessness, The Unknown, Fates Worse Than Death.

The Stygian well themes could include: Knowledge of the Dead, Prophecy, Secrets of the Afterlife, Magic, Mysteries of Existence. 

Got any you would like to add? Post them in the comments.


Myths and Legends

Here is where you come up with the Hooks to catch your players’ fancy in game. After all, if you have a great location and no one ever hears about it or goes there, what is the point. All of the above categories can be useful in coming up with legends and tales to draw interest, as can a catchy name, of course.

I liked Stygian Well, which I came up with earlier, so that is what I decide to call this site. I have not come up with a name yet, for the Ancient Battlefield, but I have some ideas churning around (which I can write down for future consideration). For now, I will stick with Ancient Battlefield.

In the interest of focus, let’s concentrate on legends for the Battlefield (I will leave you to come up with some legends for the Stygian Well on your own, which you should definitely post in the Comments).

A battle involving the titans, or at least titanic energies, suggests something that involves gods, demons, possibly a rebellion, or a first conflict between them. We could borrow from Judeo-Christian myth with the battle between God and the rebellious “fallen”, or falling, angels. Or we could take the word “titan” literally, and use Greek Myth as inspiration, in which the titans fought against the younger gods (Zeus and his family) coming to supplant them, heralding the dawn of a new age. I like the Dawn theme here, so I will keep that, even incorporate it into the name of the site. Henceforth, Ancient Battlefield is known as The War of Primal Dawn.

I can expand on the Dawn theme, adding some legendary aspects like how it can be accessed, or what, and who, might be found there.

Perhaps the Battlefield is not a physical place, but a metaphysical one, only accessible at dawn each day. A legend about an ancient battlefield that appears only in the suns first rays sounds catchy. And suggests a way for the heroes to interact with it – They need to be there at dawn, ready to move in, or through, or whatever. Other themes occur, riffing off Dawn: Fire, Sun, Solar, and their opposites. Or maybe all the elements are represented. Could this have been the war that separated the elements – creating the Four Spheres of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, out of the swirling miasmic Void.

What kind of creatures could have been left behind? For a traditional battlefield, we think of ghouls and ghosts and zombies. This one could have those too, but a titanic battlefield of primordial elemental beings might have sand ghouls that sift the earth for the blood of fallen titans; or the elemental shades of dead primordial beings, who make war on the corporeal husks of their eternal foes. These creatures could be the subject of some of the myths, or monsters that plague the region in which The War of Primal Dawn manifests, or both. For example: Fire Giants appear in the Haunted Hills each morning to make war on the rising sun; or, Sand Ghouls roam the wastes of Panovar, but they can be placated with blood and magical power.


Powers and Power Level

I got a little ahead of myself there, and started coming up with specifics like creatures, which are like a “Power” for a magical site. Different sites will have different powers, and not all will have creatures, but inhabitants of some kind, whether intimately connected to the site like the Sand Ghouls, or just normal folks or brigands living in in the region of Stygian Well, should be fairly common.

Other powers come out of the themes. Here we jump into Runequest Mode, but you can extrapolate your own powers for your system of choice.

The War of Primal Dawn could have Powers like:

  • Energy, or magic, or weapons, that have not been seen since the War – waiting for those brave, or foolhardy, enough to claim them. Runequest Mode: This might be new battle or rune spells that have been forgotten since the First Dawn. Unknown titanic Weapons like the Nightblade, or the Sun Glaive, are possible. The blood of the titans, or of other potent combatants could be of interest to others besides the Sand Ghouls, perhaps as a potent source of magical power.
  • Conferring new understanding, in the form of increased stats, a new skill, or a skill bonus. Runequest Mode: An obvious stat to bump is POWer, but INTelligence is also possible, as are any of the other stats depending on the details of how they are affected. New Skills: Dawn Age History, Dawn Age Magic, Elementalism. Skill Bonuses: +1d4x5% bonuses to History, Theurgy, Sorcery, Enlightenment, and other specific skills are all possible.
  • Boosting certain thematically appropriate abilities or magic in the area. Runequest Mode: Within the effect of The War of Primal Dawn, Elemental Magic could last twice as long, be permanent, attract like-elemental creatures, even spontaneously become a creature of that element.
  • Creatures of the Dawn Age or before, as allies, informants, or new opposition.
  • The Size of the site, or its effects, need not be large just because the site is powerful, or small if it is not. Base the Size on the themes and effects. The size of even a small  battle is likely to exceed that of most wells, for example. 

Powers don’t have to be so powerful, either. The energy that created the magical site might have waned over time, such that now it is far less than it once was. Or the power may never have been tremendous to begin with, but is still extremely interesting. The well might have been created by the self-sacrifice of a priestess to heal an ally, rather than the actions of gods or titans.

Whatever the reason for their current power level, less powerful sites can be great for groups of less accomplished adventurers, allowing you to tailor the experience to the level of their ability, along with the rewards. It can also allow them to return, possibly to tap previously unexplored, or unexplorable, portions of the site. You can use this as foreshadowing, showing them something that you want then to return to when they have become the heroes of the land, are ready for Heroquesting, etc.

Runequest Mode: And since you have a magical site, legends, themes, and powers for it, you are ready to use it in your Heroquesting.