Runequest Thursday #22: Thalassomancers, a Cabal for 'A New Sorcery'!

Clint Staples
The Cabal of Thalassomaners is written for use with A New Sorcery, my version of sorcery for Runequest. One of the ways that sorcerers protect themselves and gain in knowledge and power is through the formation of a cabal, ideally composed of like-minded individuals. Several are known currently to exist. For example, the Order of the Silver Moon seeks prophecy on the cryptic references of the coming "White" or "Silver" Moon that is supposed to thwart the power of the Red Moon of the Lunars, while the Vermis Custodes seek to preserve the wisdom of the long-gone Empire of the Wyrms' Friends. Another such cabal is that of the Thalassomancers, who gain power though their relationship with the sea, and their dedication to the Water rune.
 
Origin of the Cabal
It is said that the first thalassomancers were Waertagi sorcerers, but it is perhaps more likely that they were actually God Learner exiles who stole or perverted the Waertagi racial affinity for the sea. Most current thalassomancers are from maritime cultures, and spend much of their time at sea or near to it.
 
The Three Vows
Membership is simple, but restrictive. Prospective members must give up the casting of any elemental magic other than that associated with water. They must further take up no permanent abode on earth. If they stay too long upon it, they become more and more restless as their Magic Points [temporary POWer] drains away at a rate of 1 per day [to a minimum of 1]. Only on or in the sea are they truly comfortable. Finally thalassomancers must protect the sea, and its creatures, from those who would threaten them. How strenuously this is done varies. Some thalassomancers see it as their duty to sink boats and fishermen wherever they find them. Others only act if they feel there is excess exploitation of the sea or its bounty.
 
Membership is withheld from sorcerers who have mastered one of the other elemental runes. Such individuals have altered themselves in a fundamental way that cannot be undone, a way that conflicts with the thalassomancers understanding of the water rune. The exception is the Darkness rune, because water is the child of darkness. A thalassomancer may become master of both these runes.
 
Relations with Others
The vow to protect the sea puts them at odds with some. Certainly fishermen, sailors and the like are careful in their dealings with thalassomancers. Because of Runic affinity, thalassomancers get along well with Sea cults like Magasta worshippers and even fresh water cults like River Horse, or Zola Fel. It is not uncommon for thalassomancers to be lay members or initiates of such a cult. Creatures of the sea are normally neutral or friendly to thalassomancers, though hunger has been known to override this sentiment on occasion. Only a foolish thalassomancer would rely on the good will of a hungry shark or giant squid, for example.
 
Finally, more approachable thalassomancers are often consulted, even paid, for their counsel on upcoming weather at sea.
 
Beyond the Three Vows, Thalassomancers do not adhere to a strict doctrine. Nor do they insist on living together as a group or working toward group goals. This has the benefit of allowing individuals a great deal of freedom to pursue their own goals. On the other hand, the decentralized nature of the cabal means it can be difficult to find instruction or aid, and the political power of the cabal is limited to whatever the local thalassomancer can wield. 
 
Becoming a Thalassomancer
To become a thalassomancer, one must be a sorcerer with the Sorcery Skill at 60% or higher. Beyond this, the prospective member need only adopt the cabal’s vows, swearing by the water rune itself. Few approach the cabal frivolously, for once the vows are taken any non-water elemental spell knowledge flows like water from the mind of the new member.
 
Benefits of Thalassomancy
In the place of the spell knowledge lost, the new thalassomancer gains knowledge of the same ranks [both in the number of ranks and the levels of spells] from any of the cabal special spells, described below under Cabal Special Spells.
Example: Chaka Sea-Strider was once Chaka Hammerhand. when he became a Thalassomancer, Chaka gave up his Hammerhand 4, as well as Conjure/ Dismiss Gnome 3, and Conjure/ Dismiss - Sylph 2. He was able to replace those spells with knowledge of three Cabal Special Spells, one at level 4, one at level 3, and one at level 2.
 
Perhaps most significantly, a thalassomancer gains a runic association [a lesser form of Rune Mastery]:
 
Runic Association – Water
A runic association is similar to Rune Master, but connotes an understanding rather than complete control. Where mastery brands the rune on the soul of an individual, a runic association merely creates a sympathetic connection between the soul and the rune in question.
Given the above, it is perhaps not surprising that a runic association bestows a limited set of the same abilities as mastery. Thalassomancers gain the following abilities regarding the water rune.
  • A bonus of +1 to the Manipulation Limit of that sorcerer when manipulating water spells.
  • A bonus of +10% to Sorcery checks regarding water, including minor manifestations associated with it.
If a thalassomancer later masters the water rune, he does not gain these bonuses again. Simply add the other abilities for mastery to these.
Thalassomancers are able to predict the weather in their location, on or near the sea or a large body of water, on a successful Sorcery Check. For each full 20% by which the check succeeds, they can foresee another day into the future, or can glean more information about what they have seen. Those sea mages who are less hostile to sailors, often make some of their living foretelling local sea conditions or the fates of voyages.
 
Example: Chaka Sea-Strider has a Sorcery skill of 74%. He attempts to foresee the weather for the Southern Seas near his home in the Corflu delta. He rolls 31. So the GM tells him that for the first day the seas will be calm and good for sailing or fishing. Since Chaka rolled more than 40 under his 74% Skill, he asks what the second day holds. The GM tells him that on the second day, bad weather will roll in from the coast of Pamaltela. Because Chaka did not roll 14 or less, the GM does not share that the storm from the south is magical in nature, and will be quite severe. 
 
Thalassomancers may learn the skills Swim and Sea Lore at 50% of the normal cost, if they can convince another Sea Mage to instruct them, which may take some doing.
 
Thalassomancer Special Spells
Other than the restriction about other elemental spells, Thalassomancers are free to pursue whatever magicks they wish, so long as they do not break the three vows. They may also learn the following spell at half price, up to Rank 3. Further ranks may be learned at the regular price.
 
Conjure/ Dismiss Elemental – Undine – as the spell in 'A New Sorcery'. . No spells of other elementals may be known.
 
Thalassomancers also have a number of special spells. These are not restricted only to the ranks of the sea mages, but few will be persuaded to teach them without significant ’encouragement’.
 
Swim with the Fishes [Water, Man] Range – 10 yards POW check – Yes
Cost to Learn – 500L
Magnitude – Variable
Time to Cast - 1 Action
Duration – 10 Rounds
 
This spell may be cast the beneficial way, or be reversed as a curse. 
 
In the beneficial version, each magnitude allows one willing target to swim alongside and within a school of nearby fish, chosen by the caster, for the duration of the spell or until the caster decides to end the spell [for example, when the school of fish moves in an undesirable direction, etc.] While so swimming, the recipients of the spell can breathe water and school along, maintaining the same speed as the school. They are not affected by any but the most extreme pressures, so they can go to significant depths without trouble. However, if the spell duration ends, the spell’s recipients leave the school, or the school breaks up, the recipients lose all benefits of the spell immediately. Therefore, being at the surface of the water when that happens is good planning. Using this method, someone can travel approximately 10 miles per hour through a body of water, more or less in the direction they hope to go. If the recipients of the spell must fight, the spell allows them to act with the same freedom of movement a fish would enjoy.
 
In the curse version, the sorcerer may target a single individual who is in the water. On a successful POW. Vs. POW roll, the target immediately begins to sink, as though weighted down. Swim checks are at -10% per magnitude of the spell. A successful Swim check allows the target to resist sinking for that turn. A failed swim check means the target sinks 3 yards per rank spend on Magnitude that turn, until they hit bottom. When the duration of the spell is over, the target is no longer affected, but may still be in danger, possibly far below the surface.
 
Dehydrate Gorp [Water] Range – 10 Yard POW Check – Yes 
Cost to Learn – 500L
Magnitude - Variable
Time to Cast - 1 Action
Duration – Instant
 
Gorps are a considered a plague of chaos and a corruption of the element of water. Thus many thalassomancers are happy to learn this spell so that they can destroy these abominations with relative ease. On a successful POW vs. POW check, each rank of the spell devoted to damage does 1d10 damage to a gorp. If the creature could normally regenerate this damage, it cannot. A useful but unexpected benefit of this spell is that it does 1d8 per rank damage to Dragon Snails, water elementals, and other creatures partaking of the water rune in a fundamental way, and does 1d4 damage per rank to any other creature that is composed, at least in part, of water.
 
Dilute Potion [Water] Range – Touch POW check – No
Cost to Learn – 500L
Magnitude - Variable
Time to Cast - 1 Action
Duration – Instant
 
With a touch a potion or other magical elixir may be reduced in potency, as the water rapidly sheds the magic bound into it. Compare the magnitude of the spell against the level of the potion on the Resistance Table. On a success, the potion becomes nothing more than its component parts, the magic permanently gone. Each level of magnitude devoted to range can increase range from touch. Other levels of magnitude can affect multiple potions.
 
Rays of Rays [Water, Beast] Range – 30 Yards POW check – No
Cost to Learn – 1000L
Magnitude - Variable
Time to Cast - 1 Action
Duration – 1 Round
 
Ancient pacts between Magasta, Lord of the Seas, and the various Beast Lords who dwell in his kingdom, allow crafty spell-casters to exploit those synergies. Such it is with Ray of Rays. This spell conjures one beam of water per rank of Magnitude, each conveying a stingray to its target. Each stingray attacks immediately, with a chance to hit equal to the Sorcery skill of the caster, less the Defense of the target [targets may also Dodge if they have a Combat Action remaining, but must dodge each ray’s attack separately]. If the attack hits, roll location normally. The Attack inflicts 1d6 damage, can impale, and, if it causes at least a single point of damage, injects a painful poison [Potency 8+ Spell Magnitude or suffer, -1d3 DEX, -1d3 CON]].
 
Upon completing its attack, the ray falls to the ground adjacent to its target and will continue to attack once per turn for the duration of the spell. On land, rays have a Move of 1 yard per turn. In water, they can swim at a speed of 8, and will follow their target for as long as the spell lasts. Rays may be attacked normally. They have no hit locations, 2 Armor Points, and 8 Hit Points. Scoring a special against one allows the tail to be removed with a single strike, effectively removing the ray as a threat. Alive or dead, a ray caused the area it is in to be difficult terrain.
 
Any rays still alive at the end of the duration of the spell return magically to their watery abode.
 
Whip of Jellyfish [Water, Beast] Range – 10 yards POW check – No
Cost to Learn – 500L
Magnitude - Variable
Time to Cast - 1 Action
Duration – 10 Rounds
 
Like Rays of Rays, Whip of Jellyfish, is the result of sorcerers exploiting the ancient fealty of the certain Beast Lords to Magasta, Lord of the Seas. Sorcerers believe that the reason for the use of comparatively primitive creatures, is that the associated Beast Lords are not of sufficient intellect to notice the use of their subjects. Historically-minded mages point to the ill-fated attempt by Zeiringian the Fin to codify the spell ‘Storm of Sharks’, as evidence of what can occur if the Beast Lord objects, as Carcarax Shark Lord did on that occasion.
 
Whip of Jellyfish summons a whip composed of a man-o-war jellyfish. The caster [who is rendered immune to jellyfish stings for the duration of the spell] wields it by wrapping the body of the man-o-war jellyfish around his hand and arm, and flailing with the feeding tentacles.
 
The wielder may attack once per turn [for a cost of 1 Combat Action] using his Sorcery skill to hit, minus the Defense of his target. The attack may be parried but will merely enwrap the parrying object and location as on a hit. On a hit, a tentacle enwraps the location and breaks away from the whip and stings continually, automatic attacking for 1d4 damage per rank of Magnitude each round [Armor protects against this damage]. While the tentacle remains attached, the target loses 1 Combat Action per turn due to distraction and the location being Entangled. An entangled location cannot be used to attack. Multiple tentacles can affect the same individual, causing it to become further and further hampered, though a hit location can only be entangled once, regardless of the number of tentacles upon it [further attacks that strike that location have no effect]. If the Combat Actions of an Entangled target reach Zero, they are helplessly bound.
 
Those hampered by tentacles may attack the tentacle with damaging magic or normal fire, or with weapons. Weapon will do half rolled damage to the tentacle, but become trapped unless the attack was a Special Hit [and the maneuver chosen is to free the weapon]. Tentacles have 2 Hit Points per Rank of the spell, and no armor. Entangled targets may also drop prone or similar and attempt a DEX x3 check to remove entanglement from a single location at a time. This requires 1 Combat Action.
 
The Whip has sufficient tentacles to continue to function normally for the duration of the spell. Although Duration of the spell may be manipulated as normal, Range is set at 10 yards. The tentacles of the man-o-war cannot maintain their strength at any greater ranges. At the end of the spells duration, the whip and any lost tentacles disappear. While the Whip of Jellyfish is manifest, the caster can cast other spells only with difficulty. Any other spell-casting done during the duration of the whip is at -20% to the Sorcery Skill.
 
Storm Summoning
It is widely believed that thalassomancers can call up sea-storms. This belief is held because of the ‘Closing of the Seas’ a situation that made the Great Southern Ocean impassable for centuries due to incredible storms, and has only recently been resolved. Storm Mastery may be possible for thalassomancers, but is the subject of another article. I may also add new spells to the repertoie of the thalassomancer over time.
 
NOTE: Thanks go to Will Thrasher for the the inspiration for several of the above spells, which are Runequestifications of his Pathfinder versions of Dehydrate Ooze, DIlute Potion, Ray Ray, and Whip of Jellyfish