Runequest Thursday #7 - A New Sorcery, Part the Fifth

Clint Staples

Welcome to the seventh installment of Runequest Thursday at


Of late we have been working through 'A New Sorcery' a sorcery system I developed for my ongoing River of Cradles based game, which Has-Recently-Been-Christened 'The Brightwater Saga' after the name of the settlement the PCs are building. Last time we finished up with the basic System and the spells themselves. So if you have collected all four parts, you now have a complete basic system for 'A New Sorcery'. If you haven't read, or copied, 'A New Sorcery' you can get to it, and all of the other RQ material I have penned for this site at the Runequest Index.


Today, as promised, I am going to give you some info on Sorcery Cabals. The idea of groups of mages gathering out of mutual interests and protection is nothing new. And in a world so heavily influenced by the cults worshipping various deities, it makes sense for sorcerers, who were raised in the same society whether they partake of cult life or not, to think in similar terms. Essentially cabals are groups of like-mined sorcerers, gathered together, whether physically or metaphysically, out of shared interest or style. They tend to be secretive, because sorcerers tend to be secretive as individuals, and because they are viewed as outsiders by the cults that dominate society. They generally have a magical focus, in terms of Runes, or style, often have membership restrictions and dues, and usually offer benefits to members. Here are four cabals that I devised for my campaign. Although they are somewhat specific to the game and to Runequest, it would be pretty easy to adapt them to another game or system.


What I am not giving you is complete write-ups for each cabal. Why? Well, I haven't got them. I want to see how they appear, are perceived, and interacted with in my game, before I hammer out all the details. For example, is the Circle of Skulls going to be a major source of necromantic antagonists, as could easily occur given its nature? Could be. But maybe the Circle intersects Brightwater in a different way, or not at all.


So I present to you four basic descriptions, like long elevator pitches, with a special thing or two that each one does - a special skill, or spell or ritual, to give you a better feel for them as organizations. What each of us does with them is up to us.



The Order of the Silver Moon – [Runes: Man, Magic, Mastery] A splinter group of the older, now defunct, Stygian Order [which iincluded in its teachings the Rune: Darkness]. The OSM is composed of sorcerers who wish to foretell. Members are taught Augury at half price, but they are sworn to keep a log of all of their prophecy, which they must share at annual meetings during the Sacred Time where dues are collected and talk of rebellion is common. Several of the upper echelons have seen the same vision – of a silver moon that will overtake the Red Moon of the Lunars. Many sorcerers who are particularly anti-lunar join the OSM.


New Cabal Spell:


Augury            [Rune - Magic]             Range – touch             POW check - No

Cost to Learn – 500L

Magnitude – Variable

Time to cast - 10 Rounds

Duration – 10 Rounds, special – see Magnitude

Through a variety of methods, a sorcerer may divine some clue as to future events. The sorcerer spends ten rounds inspecting entrails, watching the flights of birds, or reading runestones, tea leaves, divination sticks, etc. and framing a yes/ no question in his mind, which the player repeats to the GM. The GM then makes a check against the Sorcery skill of the character. On a success, the GM will bestow a portent on the caster as interpreted through the augury method.

The first level covers only events that could occur in the immediate future [the next 10 Rounds]. Multiple levels may be used to ask additional questions, one per level, or to extend the duration of the period to be Augured.

If the caster wishes, he may chose to specialize in a single augury method, gaining a +10% with that method, but taking a -10% with all others. Casters who specialize may also use their Sorcery to ritually prepare items pertinent to their chosen method, adding 5% per item, up to their Manipulation Limit. Prepared items must be bought or made, and maintained, which costs 10L, and 1 Temporary POW, per week per item.



Sangor’s rival in the Order of the Silver Moon, Alagard, has bee tasked with finding, and rescuing the errant sorcerer from his recent foray into the troll ruin. Alagard, wishing to know more before he sets out, performs a number of auguries, using his favorite method. He places his ritually prepared rowan wood and Olibanum into the brazier he crafted for the purpose, lights the flame with a careful application of the fire spell, so as not to corrupt the items with his touch or unclean fire. Then he casts Augury 4 successfully, choosing to ask 2 questions and to extend the time augered by 2 levels [from 10 rounds to 1 hour on the duration track]. Now he may begin asking questions of the Aether [GM], who will secretly roll Alagard’s Sorcery skill, modified by +15% for his prepared items, and 10% for his specialization in Fire-Scrying.

            Alagard has thought carefully about his questions and first asks ‘Is Sangor in danger?’ Immediately, the flames flare up, releasing a great gout of black smoke along with a sulphurus stench. Alagard interprets this as a ‘yes’ response. Since Alagard knows that Sangor intended to venture into the ruins south of town, his second question is more precise, ‘Is Sangor underground?’ Another gout of flame and smoke.

            Alagard puts out the ritual flame, grabs his gear and rushes out, reasonably secure in the knowledge that Sangor will be in trouble and underground within the next hour.



Vermis Custodes – [Runes: Dragon, Man, Magic, Mastery] The Vermis Custodes have preserved some of the teachings of the Empire of the Wyrms’ Friends, but adapted it from religious mysticism to sorcery. Begun before the end of the EWF, the VC teach the Auld Wyrmish language, Martial Dance, and Draconic Sorcery [magic that temporarily allows the Dancer access to the Dragon Self]. Ultimately, the members of the VC are interested, to a greater or lesser extent, on draconic transformation/ apotheosis.


New Cabal Skill:


Martial Dance – [Base chance 0% + Defense Bonus] This skill emphasizes rhythm, meter and timing in combat, incorporating the circular forms and savage magical and physical attacks of dragons as their model. In addition to its visual interest, this skill confers a number of benefits, depending on the level of expertise. In combat, the skill may be used once per melee round as part of a Move, its effect chosen after the roll is made.

0-25%       The Dancer may Whirl and spin in melee, adding +2 Reach/ Initiative to her attacks for the round.

26-50%     The Dancer may spend a Combat Action to add the degree of his Martial Dance success to his Defense total for the       Melee Round.

51-75%     The Dancer may increase the level of a single Draconic Sorcery spell that she casts by 1.

76-00%     The Dancer may increase the damage of her attacks by 1 per Draconic Sorcery spell she currently has in effect.

100%+           ?


New Cabal Spell:


Draconic Ascent [Dragon]                         Range – self                POW Check – No

Cost to Learn – 1000 Lunars

Magnitude - Variable

Duration – 10 Rounds

This draconic spell causes the caster to grow draconic scales and wings and grants the power of flight [if you are using Hit Locations, the Wings take up the uppermost number for each arm or foreleg]. Each level increases the caster’s Armour Points to increase by 1 and grants her a flight speed by 5. If the caster is capable of flight naturally, this increases her natural flight speed and does not grow any additional wings. Level 1 grants Move 5 flight, and further levels increase it by 5. A caster with naturally tough skin will gain only half of the AP provided by this spell [round down]. Additional levels can be used to increase the duration as normal on the duration track.



Skyrnir, a gryphon, has recently joined the Vermis Custodes. As an incentive to recruit this powerful new ally, the cabal offered him free instruction in 3 levels of Draconic Ascent, a spell that is almost unknown outside of the VC. Under the effects of the spell, for 10 Rounds, Skyrnir can fly at the impressive speed of 27 [ Fly speed 12, +15 for level 3], and his Armour Points go from 4 to 5 as his feathers and fur take on a shimmering scaly look. When he learns Draconic Ascent 4, his AP will go up by 2 [half rounded down because he has natural AP]. Of course, he may choose to take a lesser enhancement for a longer period by devoting levels to duration.



The Dread Chalice – [Runes: Man, Magic, Water] The Dread Chalice’s teachings are focused on the manipulation of minds, often through fear and intimidation. However, the name of the cult comes from exercises practiced to develop the magical potential of members [Personal POW]. They offer a discount to members wishing to learn mind-affecting spells [such as Control] as well as techniques to increase the Maximum potential POW of members.


New Cabal Spell:

Power Pool [Water]                         Range – Touch                        POW Check – No

Cost to Learn – 500L

Magnitude – Variable

Time to cast – 10 Rounds

Duration – 4 Hours

You can cast and store temporary POW in a ritually prepared pool of water. You spend a couple of minutes in a ritual of your devising, then expend your POW into the pool. You can expend up to 5 POW per point of Magnitude you possess. Each 5 POW you store in the pool adds 1d6 to the size of the Pool. At another time, within the duration of the spell, you, or another that aided in the ritual, may withdraw D6s of POW equal to their level in Power Pool. This POW will restore lost Temporary POW, or may be used for spellcasting. Once withdrawn from the Power Pool, it must be used within 1 MR per Level possessed in this spell or be lost. This spell is of great use for ritual magic or other purposes for which a great deal of POWer must be accessed. It is also popular with sorcerer cabals, or those who have apprentices, since one may cast into the Power Pool and another can withdraw. It is said that the Dread Chalice has refined the spell such that multiple casters can expend POW into a common Power Pool, using the highest level of the spell available.



Sivastri has Power Pool 3, learned from her master. Called to aid him in a great working, she ritually prepares a bowl of water before casting her spell, throwing 10 POW into the bowl, and extending the duration to 8 hours. After resting for a few hours, her POW has returned to full, and she can use it and the 10-point Power Pool to aid her master.



The Circle of Skulls – [Runes: Undeath, Man, Beast, Mastery] A necromantic cult of power-hungry sorcerers who plumb the secrets of the dead and beyond. Despised in nearly every land, Circle initiates are secretive and, rightly, paranoid. But there is no denying the power of cult members. Initiates must swear potent oaths never to speak of the Circle to non-member, but are taught Necromancy in exchange for service to a tutor.


New Cabal Ritual:

Oathbound – This necromantic ritual is undertaken by every member of the Circle of Skulls. It promises dire consequences to anyone who breaks their bond by speaking of the Circle to non-members. The ritual requires that the initiate sacrifice 1d3 Permanent POW, which creates a soul-tether between the initiate and one of the cult wraiths, powerful and terrible spirits that enforce the strictures of the Circle. The tether will instantly summon the associated wraith if the initiate breaks his bond.


New Cabal Spell:


Undead Swarm [Undeath]                      Range – 10 Yards           POW Check – No

Cost to Learn – 1000L

Magnitude – Variable

Time to cast – 2 Actions

Duration – 10 Rounds

You imbue the husks of nearby vermin [rats, bats, insects, etc] with a semblance of life, creating minor undead that act as a swarm of creatures under the caster’s control. You must have access to sufficient raw materials for your spell to take effect, as determined by the GM. An undead swarm has 1d10 HP and SIZ per level, can move at a rate of 6, either flying or scuttling as appropriate to the type of creature if which it is composed. It has a defense of 10% per level of the spell, and can only be damaged by attacks that can affect an area, a salamander’s or sylph’s attacks. If a target is currently engulfed by the swarm, such attacks may also affect the them. An Undead Swarm ignores control spells other than those which affect undead.

The swarm attacks HP vs. POW against a single opponent. If it succeeds, the target is distracted by the crawling and biting, which do 1d3 point to 1d3 locations that round [ignoring armor], and cause the target to lose its next Action.




While exploring a crypt in search of new necromantic lore, Helgar notices that the floor is littered with the husks of hundreds of tomb beetles. He casts his Undead Swarm 4, raising 2d10 HP and SIZ worth of undead beetles to do his bidding, extending the spell for 1 hour. The skittering horde follows him as he delves deeper into the passages below the crypt.


Next time: Runes, Rune Mastery, and Sorcery! I have touched on this, but here I will give you details on How Sorcery and Runes intersect, as well as some ideas on Rune Mastery for sorcerers, and at least a few Heroic abilities associated with them both.