Spell School: Darkness

Hello everybody,

I wanted to try my hand at something different so we are starting a new segment I am calling “Spell School”. Here, we will discuss in detail a specific spell for the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition system, outlining what it does and how best to use it while adventuring. There are several spells that for various reasons I feel go under-utilized so I want to put a spotlight on them beyond some two sentence blurb on a community forum. With introductions out of the way, let’s get started.

Darkness is a second level evocation spell available to Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards, Druids of the swamp circle of the land, and any Tiefling or Drow Elf. Being so widely available, most adventurers are likely to either have access to it, or see an enemy use it from time to time. The spell creates a large orb of “magical darkness” fifteen feet in radius (6 squares across) radiating from a point anywhere the caster can see within sixty feet. “Magical darkness” is different from mundane darkness in that it is kind of the next step down the illumination ladder. A creature with darkvision cannot see in magical darkness, the exception being devils, we’ll get to them later. In addition, mundane sources of light cannot pierce magical darkness, they are effectively turned off. The end result is a total blackout for everyone in the sphere.

advanced darkness.jpg

Darkness does not stop there, oh no. Darkness is not content with merely blinding everyone, it quashes out spells as well as hopes and dreams. Any second level or lower spell that produces light is instantly dispelled if their light comes in contact with the globe of all consuming void, and considering Darkness sticks around for up to ten minutes, that is a lot of potential dispelling for a measly second level spell slot. Now you might be thinking to yourself okay, that means light and the dancing lights spells go out. Those are just cantrips, that is no major loss, right? You know what other spells produce light and are second level or below? Faerie Fire, Moonbeam, Flaming Sphere, Continual Flame, and Flame Blade all produce varying degrees of light, just to name a few. I relish the thought of someone trying to explain to me how their sword literally made of fire does not produce any light.

So, the lights go out, and now nobody can see. What exactly is the benefit to that? Characters in darkness are treated as having the blinded condition, meaning they have disadvantage with attacks as they cannot see their opponent. Should they be able to locate a target to even attack, either through careful listening or flailing about madly, a target similarly in darkness would count as “unaware” and thus the attacker would gain advantage. Advantage and disadvantage in any amount cancel out, so the end result is just a straight attack. This might not seem like much, but it basically equalizes the whole field. Enemies who might have advantage, say an enemy in darkness that has dark vision and your torch just went out, are now losing that benefit, which is fantastic if you were going to be on the receiving end of their longsword. In addition, characters in the darkness will be free to move about without provoking attacks of opportunity. Even if you are not in the darkness itself, a bubble of darkness can block line of sight, preventing enemy casters or archers from attacking you easily. Now if only there were ways to see in this mess, then we would really be in good shape…


At this point some of you may be thinking to yourselves, isn’t this just what fog cloud does in a smaller area? Why should I use darkness, a second level spell, when fog cloud is a first level spell with a much larger area? Well hypothetical reader, I am glad you asked. Darkness has several major advantages over fog cloud, to the extent that with a little preparation it can frankly be overpowered for its paltry second level cost. First, darkness has a limited degree of mobility that fog cloud simply does not have. When you are placing darkness, you have the ability to attack it to an object that is either currently unattended or being carried by you. If that object is moved, the massive globe of screw you goes with it. This combined with the slightly smaller area allows for darkness to be used with a higher degree of finesse, putting the globe exactly where it is needed and getting the most out of that whopping 10 minute duration. Second, darkness can be covered up, kind of like a reverse candle. You put a basket or bowl or something over the source of the darkness and poof, the sphere of blackness is gone until it gets uncovered. There is a possibility you can get multiple encounters of use out of one casting. Thirdly, the dispelling we have already covered in some detail now. Lastly, sufficiently strong magical light, such as from a spell third level or higher actually illuminates through the darkness. This synergizes terrifically well with a heightened casting of Fairy Fire or Continual Flame, as now you have created a scenario where your allies can see and your enemies cannot. This is impossible to do with spells like fog cloud or hunger of hadar and will make almost any fight comically one-sided.

We cannot discuss Darkness without bringing up its antithesis, the Daylight spell. Daylight will dispel magical darkness of third level or lower, much like Darkness will quash weaker light spells.This means a basic Daylight will counter and dispel a basic Darkness. Heightening either Darkness or Daylight does NOT increase this effect. Daylight will only remove third and lower, Darkness only second and lower, at any level. So what happens if you put a 9th level Daylight inside a 4th level Darkness, as a completely ridiculous example? Well, the area where daylight and darkness overlap is illuminated, and the area where the do not, the darkness persists, just like any other source of magical light inside a Darkness spell.

A spell as nuanced and intricate as this is bound to have many ways to exploit it, particularly by people who naturally know this spell such as Tieflings and Drow, so let’s discuss some excellent strategies for using the Darkness spell to its full potential.

  • Warlocks make out like a bandit with the darkness spell. The imp from the Pact of the Chain, being a devil, is capable of seeing in magical darkness and the Warlock can spend its action to share senses with its familiar, or channel touch spells through its familiar on essentially blinded foes.

  • The warlock also has an invocation called “Devil Sight” which both grants them darkvision and allows them to see in magical darkness. While this makes for a truly tremendous effect and gives a lot of mileage from the Darkness spell, please try to remember your allies likely lack this ability. There are ways to work around this however.

  • The bat familiar from the find familiar spell, while not as impressive as the imp, can be obtained by a pact of the tome warlock or a wizard. It has blindsense and can be used similarly to the imp by sharing senses.

  • The Shadow Magic Sorcerer gains the ability at third level to spend two sorcerery points to cast the darkness spell, and if cast this way, they can also see in it.

  • two casters working together (due to concentration, it will have to be two casters) can light a group of enemies with a heightened third level fairy fire then blind them with a darkness spell. You can see them, they can’t see you.

  • Continual Flame can be prepared ahead of time, heightened to third level or higher. This is probably the best way you can provide your allies the means of seeing in the Darkness spell. I like putting it in a bullseye lantern to limit the area illuminated to a cone.

  • The spell Tiny Servant from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything produces an animated construct from an object. This construct has blindsense out sixty feet, the spell does not require concentration, and you can cast darkness on the object before animating it. This can be a very effective pairing, especially if you heighten Tiny Servant to make a small swarm of the critters.

  • Several summoning spells can call on creatures able to see in darkness. Infernal Calling makes devils which you may not have heard can see in magical darkness, giant spiders have blind sense out to ten feet and can be summoned with conjure animals, and Earth Elementals have tremorsense out sixty feet and can be summoned with Conjure Elemental.

  • You can cover the source of darkness with an object to allow for normal sight, then ready an action to uncover the darkness and release all consuming night after your allies have finished attacking if your turns are clumped together in the initiative order.

  • Casting darkness to be stationary so you can step out of it, attack, and step back in is a very viable tactic for a combat between two primarily ranged groups.



Exotic Languages in Dungeons and Dragons

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have probably heard of Dungeons and Dragons, so I won’t go into too many details describing the system or various settings. One prominent feature of all the game’s many settings is the presence of various planes and the alien denizens therein. Many of these creatures have their own languages which players can learn either through their background, or as the game progresses. Languages, even in reality, can sound very different and distinctive, but how much more so when the person speaking lacks something even resembling human biology? I noticed that as a dungeon master, my tools for painting the scene in regards to the sound and texture of some of the more otherworldly languages in Dungeons and Dragons were a little lacking. The Player’s Handbook gives us a few scripts of some common languages and a brief description of their origins and the impression they give, but this wasn’t quite enough. I decided to sit down and try to imagine my way through what it must be like to speak with a sapient creature made entirely from water, or the tricks devils may have come up with to accurately catalogue the vast intricacies of infernal contracts. How exactly does one write down a trade agreement in the plane of elemental fire, where everything is literally made of fire? Why do demons, devils, and aberrations, which can almost universally communicate telepathically, even have a spoken language? How does one preserve records in Limbo, the plane of elemental chaos, when materials are constantly changing in form and shape? This was the rabbit hole I found myself sliding down, and I admit that I am rather proud of the end result, but I would like to not that it is in no way canonical. I hope, however, that you can find inspiration as I did. I also tried to present it in a manner as setting neutral (though definitely still D&D) as I could, and in character to boot. If you are perhaps looking to add a little color to flavor the loot haul your players get for defeating the Conjurer Felithron and taking his stuff, maybe he has this book sitting around? Please remember to share your feedback on our forums or discord, I am eager to see how you put these ideas to use.

Google Docs Link

Immortal Languages

Language, both written and verbal, are a means of transferring information reliably from one person to the another. A spoken language will evolve naturally to deliver as much information as it can reliably in a brief time. Written language was an adaptation among mortals to allow for the preservation of knowledge. The wheel is a wide and diverse place however, and while the languages of the planes all seek a similar utility of their languages and communication, the results are shockingly alien at times. One can see the subtle influences the words and writings of immortal beings had on mortal kind.

Primordial: the elemental tongue

The language of the elemental planes is the song of creation itself, a string of notes shared between the four prime alchemical elements of earth, water, fire and air. Primordial is the language shared by lordly genie, fierce elementals, and mischievous mephits alike, and has distinct dialects on each plane, despite ultimately being a shared language. Like many of the immortal languages, its speech is somewhat mundane, but can have seemingly magical effects to one who has taken it upon themselves to master its nuances.

Primordial is a language of vibration, the rhythm of energy moving through flowing air, solid stone, crashing water, and crackling flame. Spoken primordial thus sounds much like complex humming. Earth elementals might apply pressure to create a vibration in a node of quartz, while a mephit of magma might speak through the crackling of a flame. A great alchemist once said that of the elemental beings, mortals shared most with the denizens of the plane of air. In speech this is certainly the case, as a mortal can learn to speak primordial through humming and careful throat manipulation, moving air as a Djinn chanter might.

Primordial speakers have learned to record information in this tongue by binding it to their native element. In the plane of water, one might find a small pocket of water that vibrates with a fine pattern, or a crystal tuned to a careful series of frequencies on the plane of earth.

This recording method is convenient on the elemental planes, as their respective elements are everlasting there. One need not worry, for example, of the flames holding a trade contract between Efreeti lords extinguishing on the plane of fire itself. These techniques are difficult for a mortal to replicate, but not impossible for a truly dedicated scholar. A mortal that has set themselves to master this “recorded” primordial must through careful study attune themselves to one of the prime elements. Once this decision is made, it causes an imprinting on the soul and cannot be changed.

Auran is the most common choice, as due to common biological composition, mortals are naturally inclined to communicate with strategically manipulated air. A message recorded in Auran might be a sort of buzzing or ringing sound that can be carefully pitched outward and linger in the air. To an untrained observer, this could be mistaken as an insect, or as ventriloquism. A master of the Auran language might even be able to store such a message in a bottle to be heard at another time.

Terran is a significant reason for the common association with crystals and the arcane arts. A mortal or immortal attuned to the element of earth can record a message of vibrations in a crystal of quartz. This method, while less common among non-native speakers than Auran, is perhaps the second most employed by mortal primordial speakers.

Aquan attuned mortals might record a message as a ripple in a bowl or bottle of water. This is viewed as crude by native speakers, and more magically inclined speakers might instead choose to animate the water when elegance is required.

Ignan is the most difficult for mortals to master, not due to any complexity of the dialect, but for the fleeting nature of fire on the material plane. A well-fueled flame or even a magical ever-burning flame is essential for this form of recording outside of the plane of fire. This does not deter devout cults and those seeking to curry favor with Efreeti lords from taking such steps however.

While these techniques can be mastered by a mortal, even without the use of magic, the elemental lords deemed it fit to create a set of written symbols that correlate with essential vibrations of the primordial language, coinciding with the earliest appearances of writing among mortals on the material plane. This allows one to in essence “write” primordial, and many contracts with Genie lords are duplicated in this script. This is however seen as the most crass and base utilization of the primordial language, and one familiar with the courts of the elemental planes will know to turn down an offer for such recordings as it is often offered an insult to the intelligence of an outsider.

Sylvan: the words of fair folk

The fey is a realm of chaotic possibly, steeped in both natural beauty and cold shadow, and the language of the land reflects this. Sylvan is one of the more difficult languages one can seek to master, as it is more than a mere sum of its parts. The fey tongue employs words, implied meaning, posture, facial expression, gestures of the spirit (read through the pupils, according to most fey), and an ever-shifting rule set for courtly decorum to convey meaning. To the unenlightened this lends the fey a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for capriciousness. You could be forgiven for stabbing a fairy one day, and the next be hunted mercilessly for not bowing after using a word three different times in the same conversation.

While sylvan does have a written alphabet, which is employed in the elven language, attempts to record sylvan in written form lose a great deal of meaning in the translation. Some of the greatest recorded works in sylvan are documents in multiple parts, often triplicate or in some multiple of three, and associated with something that changes in a gradual pace. For example, in the poem “L’orindel Arelon” one is instructed to read the first section if it is spring, the second section in summer, or the last section if it is winter, and one reads from the front or the back of the codex “Mastelion” depending on whether short or long hair is currently the courtly fashion. Mortal masters of the language suggest that with enough practice one gets a feel for the subtleties of the language, but it is not an exact science.

Celestial: an angelic chorus

The celestial plane is a place of absolute goodness and order. It has heavily influenced the mortal definition of beauty, and by extension wealth, and the language reflects this, but in many ways celestial has also been influenced by mortality. Much formal language among mortals, particularly among mankind, uses borrowed words and expressions from celestial. Scholars agree that this is a lingering tradition from ancient nobility offering oaths in celestial. The reason for this is partly one of practicality however, it is difficult to deceive in celestial. Any attempt to mislead with the goodly tongue causes a physical pain, typically on the tongue itself. It takes someone very practiced or very determined to tell a blatant falsehood in celestial without wincing. The words of celestial as a language share a repetitive structure that, when combined with proper inflection, sound much akin to a song or poem. A group of angels is referred to as a chorus because of this.

Angels saw little need for writing before mortality embraced the practice of preserving information. They are immortal, and do not attempt to deceive each other, so the preservation of knowledge for future generations was not a driving force in the cultural development of the heavens. As such, celestial is typically recorded using the common alphabet. This was decided by the angels so that mortals could best understand their meaning. Interestingly enough, angels were not fully satisfied with the common alphabet, and their writings often heavily incorporate pictures in the text and margin. It is from this occurrence that the practice of illuminated manuscripts was founded, and where the process gets its name.

Abyssal: proclamations of violence

Perhaps the direct inverse of celestial, abyssal, the language of demons, is a harsh language that shares an interesting relationship with mortality. A sentence in abyssal consists of growls and clicks that seem almost a twisted mockery of common. The language is exactly that, a lingering vestige of the demon’s origin through the coalescence of material wickedness in the Abyss, and strictly utilized to spread suffering to mortals. Demons have no need for language, as all demons capable of rational thought can communicate with telepathy, so when a language did emerge it was driven by a need to inspire terror in mortal kind.

Demons never bothered creating a written language, as such things are a rarity by their very nature. The written form of abyssal was created by mortals seeking to make binding agreements with demonic forces, and is intentionally convoluted to make such dark knowledge easy to keep hidden. Written abyssal is a series of overlapping glyphs, first read from right to left with one set of glyphs, then bottom to top with the other.

Infernal: a mouth full of lies

The language of the hells is a continual exercise in oddities from the perspective of linguistic evolution. Scholars agree that infernal originated as a written language well before it was ever spoken. Devils are capable of communication by thought, but needed a system for record keeping and contract preservation. The result is a notably efficient language with clear meaning in definition, but leaving plenty of room for the interpretation of intent. Infernal has a written alphabet, and while it can be written on parchment, it is frequently engraved in metal as a series of minute slashes and notches. Interviews with several imps suggest this is both for a record that can survive the heat of the hells, and is difficult to alter or falsify. It is common practice for devils to record contracts into the links of chains, and it is actually from this practice that the phrase “loophole” is derived.

Spoken infernal is a surprisingly pleasant language, though not as rhythmically flowing as celestial. It has been adapted, according to an official statement from the embassy of the third layer of hell, entirely for the purpose of facilitating prosperous interaction with mortality, An interesting note on spoken infernal, perhaps as a subtle slight against the angelic host, is the mild euphoric sensation a mortal receives when speaking intentional deceptions in infernal.

Deep Speech: the color from outer space

Aberrations are entities from distant realms, and particularly alien to mortal kind. Their shared language, known colloquially as deep speech but having no true name of its own, is more akin to projected thought than traditional speech. The language itself is almost never spoken audibly by aberrations, and is largely found in the collected writings of madmen and profane tomes. Proper pronunciation of deep speech is impossible with typical mortal biology, though can be most accurately recreated by species bearing gills. Any mortal speaking the deep speech will thus be speaking with a distinct “mortal accent” without some form of augmentation or assistance. Deep speech is strangely devoid of descriptive adjectives, leaving much to the imagination of the observer, though psychic impressions often embedded in text fill in the missing details. This process is typically considered heavily detrimental to the psyche.

Many aberrations seem to forego the use of deep speech, preferring instead to communicate with telepathy and to preserve information through embedded psychic impressions. This has led to much speculation among scholarly circles about the true purpose of the deep speech. Mortals speaking or hearing deep speech often report seeing motes of strange colors creep at the edge of vision, and those few proficient in the deep speech will occasionally embed psychic messages in written text, though this may not always be intentional. Reading deep speech is an assault on the senses, as recorded stimuli and feelings assert themselves on the mind of the reader, forcing them to experience the world as the writer did.

Modron: machine language

Modrons are a mechanical race from the plane of mechanus with a unique method of communication that varies in complexity as the need demands. There is still much scholarly debate over the details of the modron language. We do know they have no written language, instead dedicating monodrones, the lowest caste of the modron, to record and later recite a specific record as needed, which they will do with perfect clarity.

Attempts to communicate with modron in their own language has been successful, though only through magical assistance. The modron language is incredibly simple, but each rank of their rigid caste system adds a layer of complexity to communicate more information as needed. It is theorized that a mortal might be able to communicate at a quadrone to nonaton level of complexity without assistance through magic, though no endeavors have been successful to date.

Spoken modron heavily employs a hard K sound in the words for add, subtract, if, then, and equate. Since these words appear frequently in modron conversation, and the language is spoken with a blurring rapidity, a sentence in modron will seem like a long whirr punctuated with a series of clicks. The grammatical structure of the modron language seems mathematical, using frequent value comparisons and conditional statements.

Slaadi: chaotic croaking

The language of limbo, the plane of elemental chaos, is possibly the least understood language in the cosmos, though that is perhaps intentional. Slaad, the natives of limbo, have no need for language, being able to communicate by thought as many extraplanar beings do. Many scholars theorize that the slaadi language is merely a vestige left over from the former lives of slaad, having once been mortals, but the end result is too twisted and random to be comprehended by any but the most chaotic of beings. Spoken slaadi sounds like an unholy mixture of gurgling, frog-like croaking, and shrieking.

Slaadi also has a written form. This is surprising, as the preservation of any knowledge should be theoretically impossible on the plane of elemental chaos. Afterall, any paper or recording material would simply change to another material at some point. Written slaadi is thus recorded on the only unchanging material in limbo, slaad themselves. Written slaadi was developed by the caste of green slaad to create lengthy tattoo records of their deeds, but was quickly adapted for spell casting and perhaps more sinister purposes by the gray and death slaad castes. The language seems largely pictographic, but remains as chaotic in nature as the language’s spoken form, as the inks used to create the tattoos constantly shift. Attempts to comprehend the writing without magical assistance have been fruitless, yet the fact that such divination yields success confirms that it is indeed writing and not mere artistry. Rumors exist of folios of chaotic knowledge bound in red and blue vellum, but such reports have never been substantiated.



An Announcement

Hello everyone. My name is Ma1function, and if you are reading this, hopefully you are scrolling back in what will might be a large collection of posts to come. As it stands currently, It has been over two years since I last updated this blog, which is supposed to be about roleplay and the various subjects related. However, my last post was about Pokemon Go, which has basically nothing to do with the subject, I even admitted as much in the article. This is completely unacceptable, especially considering I continue to write relentlessly about my favorite subject. I have simply been neglecting to share it. If by some miracle you are reading this close to the time it was written, I thank you for your patience and know that there will be content to come…just maybe not every two weeks as I originally intended. I hope you guys like pen and paper roleplaying games, because you are going to hear all about them.




Ma1function's Magical Mechanisms: Minor Items and Trinkets

I have always had a soft spot for unusual and whimsical items in roleplay, and since I have been on a Dungeons and Dragons kick recently, I thought I would try my hand at a few unusual items that can give some flavor to a magical setting. With that being said, these are designed with the newest  (5th) edition of Dungeons and Dragons in mind, but should be fairly easy to adapt. 

Tome of Ritual- this heavy codex details the process of casting a single, predetermined spell of first to third level as a ritual in terms so simple anyone can use it. The text seems to shift over time, perhaps in accordance with an unwritten law of the cosmos, making duplication or memorization of the text impossible. Using the tome requires an additional ten minutes added to the typical 10 minute ritual casting time. 

Self-cleaning Mess Kit- This mess kit is a finely crafted implement that can service most dining needs, complete with utensils and a case that becomes a cooking skillet, plate, and bowl. In addition, by speaking a simple command word, the entire kit cleans itself of any residue, stains, or grime, leaving a perfectly polished kit that is slightly warm to the touch. 

Defective Self-cleaning Mess Kit- Perhaps flawed during creation or damaged by some form of arcane backfire, this Self-cleaning Mess Kit tends to activate on its own accord. It is always clean, not even allowing food to touch its surface. 

Bag of Everlasting Glass- This unassuming terrycloth bag secretes a silvery gel from its interior at a spoken command, which magically repairs damaged glass as per the mending cantrip. Simply touching the exterior of the bag to a glass surface will instantly polish and clean it as per the prestidigitation cantrip.

Defective Bag of Everlasting Glass- Something has affected the magic that permeates this item. Three times per day, when commanded, the bag fills itself with large, sharp shards of glass. These can be used however one might employ random fragments of glass, but it does find occasional use as effective but irretrievable caltrops. 

Vial of Endless Ink- This inkwell simply never runs out of ink. As an added benefit, overturning the vial will spill none of the contents.  

Defective Vial of Endless Ink- This flawed creation erupts with a three gallon burst of ink the first time it is opened each day, ensuring a terrific mess. 

Friendship Bracelets- Focusing on this item with an action allows for communication with the wearer of the matching band as per the message cantrip, but with a range of one mile. 

Defective Friendship Bracelets- Sometimes known as the  "Bracelets of Teenage Friendship", the second one to don one of these matching bands is subject to the effects of the friendship cantrip ( dc12 ) cast from the wearer of the first band. All effects are included, even the subsequent hostility when the duration expires. 

Tea of Diffused Language- Consuming this tea allows the user to speak one additional language for ten hours. The language gained is chosen at the creation of the tea. 

Defective Tea of Diffused Language- Consuming this tea limits the user to speaking with only the language chosen at during the creation of the tea for ten hours. If the language was previously unknown by the user before drinking the tea, roll a d6 each time they speak. On a six, the speaker proposes marriage or courtship instead of the intended meaning. On a five, the speaker delivers the best possible conveyance of their intended message, with advantage on any associated ability check. On a four, the words are spoken as intended. On a three, the words uttered are complete gibberish. On a two, the speaker instead delivers insult to his audience, with disadvantage on any associated ability check. On a one, the speaker threatens violence to their audience. The speaker themselves have no knowledge of the results of their speech beyond their intended message and any response it garners.

Silken Rope of Mighty Lifting- Pulling a weight with this 50 foot length of rope treats the weight as one quarter of the true weight. Cutting the rope destroys the magic that permeates it.  

Defective Silken Rope of Mighty Lifting- Attempts to use this rope make it adhere to a nearby surface as if suspended by an invisible block and tackle.  It also functions as such.  


Terrific Trinkets  

I am also enamored with the trinket each.character recieves at creation in the fifth edition system, so I thought I might add a few of my own. The player's handbook describes trinkets as basic objects with a touch of mystery, and some seem to have very practical uses. 

1: A jet-black shell from a crustacean you can't recognize. Putting it to yourear produces not the sound of the ocean, but dark and difficult to discern whispers.  

2: A faded toy soldier of wood with a complex brass interior mechanism. When saluted, it salutes in return and turns to face in a direction with unusual consistency. 

3: A gaunt, withered hand that can be lit on the fingertips as a strange, everlasting candle. Though no wick is present, the flames smell faintly of brimstone.  

4: A silver key to a library that burned centuries ago  

5: A worn leather journal dated four years in the future 

6: A brass gyroscope that makes one full rotation every five seconds exactly. It never stops spinning.  

7: The gavel of a judge who wrongfully convicted someone close to you. 

8: Patents of nobility for an ancestor who never existed, according to official records. 

9: A contract with a lesser demonic entity, written in blood on vellum touched by scents of sulfur. The document is unsigned. 

10: A holly berry wreath blessed by an ancient druid and given to your family 

11: A shield inscribed with the lorica of a long-forgotten saint

12: Handwraps embroidered with the final words of the wisest monks of a great monastery

13: A primordial flower, preserved in amber

14: The capstone of a distant pyramid, polished smooth by the millennia

15: A locket given to you by a ghost that has long haunted the cemetery of your home town

16: A faded plaque that reads "Up then down, what's left is right. Those who enter die tonight"

17: The massive tooth of an ancient beast, carved with the tribal markings of your earliest ancestors. 

18: The cold and bloodied ritual dagger your master attempted to slay you with.

19: A golden arrow fletched with feathers from the wings of an angel

20: The hunting horn of a powerful fey entity. Its clarion call resounds through dense foliage and stirs the primal instinct to hunt within your heart.

Be sure to leave your thoughts and comments on the blog forum thread here. Do you have any ideas for new discussion topics, or perhaps some homebrew items of your own? If you do, I would love to read about them. 



Reader Requests: Character Progression

Spork2k wrote: 

"Do you evolve your characters through RP, or just have that character's personality static through the experiences?"

I will preface this discussion with the statement that in roleplay, I put the narrative as priority, which is not a universal stance. When I create a character, I have a sort of idea in mind for what purpose I want them to serve in conveying an enjoyable story, because ultimately that is what roleplay boils down to, storytelling. I like to refer to these character concepts as "archetypes", and more people follow this methodology than one might realize. Often, you will hear a player describing their characters by the context of characters in other works or settings, "My character, Uncle Iroh, is heavily influenced by Obi Wan Kenobi and tales of ancient sword masters", so on and so forth. What is actually happening here is a description of an archetype, in our provided example particularly we are discussing "the wizard", which I analyzed to death in an earlier post. 

With this concept of character archetypes in mind, our question today is a matter of static and dynamic characters. My answer would be that I use both for different reasons, all according to the role I believe my character is playing in the narrative, and it is not constant. A character can be dynamic in one story and static in another, we see this in any medium with recurring characters, but it is especially common in television and comic books. 

What are static and dynamic characters? A key element to any story is conflict, this can be physical, mental, spiritual, or any other variety, but you can't create a compelling story without it. Static versus dynamic describes the character's relationship between the conflict and the self. Simply put, the conflict changes a dynamic character on some philosophical or personal level, while a static character remains unchanged. This does not mean they come out completely unscathed or unphased, simply that the conflict does not alter their view of the world, or perhaps they die and are not given an opportunity to change. Some archetypes lend themselves to static behavior while others lend themselves to dynamic contemplation. The trick is in identifying what you are trying to demonstrate with the character. 

Static behavior is often used to display stoicism, solid and unphased mentality. Does the conflict actually affect your character?  Are they in the conflict to change the world, or is this just a job to them? Perhaps they are jaded, they have seen it all before, or they at least think they have. Perhaps they consider the problem trivial compared to other matters in their life. Dynamic characters typically see themselves in the conflict somehow, it's close to home, it's personal. Perhaps they have a presupposition that is challenged by the conflict or an unexpected ally. Someone close to them could be harmed, or perhaps something gives them hope where before there was none. In a long term character, you are typically going to play both of these roles at different times. Remember that every single little thing doesn't have to change your character. Sometimes things simply don't matter, or they weren't personal.

My advice to the curious is simply this. Do not ask "will this character change at all", but rather ask "will today's conflict change the character". Do not worry if the answer is "no", you do not want every interaction changing your character like some philosophically amorphous blob. If you put enough though into defining the character's motives, it will be an enjoyable exercise and I think you will find it rewarding. 

This is Ma1function, signing off until next time, don't forget to leave any comments or questions on the forums at



The Cake

This cake is a real wonder
So velvety and red
But there's something hidden under
That gets inside my head

What all did I put in it
I can't seem to recall
I know there was some chocolate
But maybe that's not all

This monstrous cake is haunting me
Each time I close my eyes
I know that it is gluten free
But is it free of lye

Perhaps it is not poisonous
It could be razor blades
Or something more insidious
That's in this thing I made

What gives a cake a toothy maw
Or makes it snarl at night
It's hard to describe what I saw
In that birthday delight

It's filthy horrid canine jaws
Chew at my sanity
I cannot eat this cake because
The cake is eating me...



As an unrelated note, I have observed that people are having a difficult time commenting here, so I made a new thread on the forums for feedback and sharing ideas of what I can cover here.

This is Ma1function, signing off until next time...



Reader Requests: Interest in the Mundane

TheGr8Whoopdini Wrote:

"I'd like to see something about making mundanity entertaining and interesting. How in the world do you make a simple villager a compelling character in a world full of physics-busting elf-dorfs and time god avatars walking the earth when the occasion arises?"

I absolutely love this question, because it is quite the dilemma and I would dare to say that more often than not, it is handled incorrectly. Let's start by breaking this question apart into some manageable discussion pieces. First, why should we consider a mundane character? Second, How can we make a mundane character interesting? Finally, how do we contribute to stories and roleplay as a mundane character?

I would like to lead our analysis with the definition of the word "Mundane".

Merriam-Webster Wrote:

Mundane- 1.  of, relating to, or characteristic of the world
                 2. characterized by the practical, transitory, and ordinary

A mundane character is simply an example of the average citizen of the setting. They are characterized by the traits of their peers and ultimately lead a practical and ordinary existence. This may sound terribly dull to most and makes an excellent segway into our first discussion question. Why should we consider a mundane character? 

Mundane characters, when executed properly, are perhaps one of the most valuable additions to a roleplay community and serve to fulfill several archetypes of storytelling. Everyday, ordinary citizens are the cornerstone of immersion in any setting. I believe Syndrome said it best with "When everyone's super, no one will be". A mundane character serves to draw a line in the sand and serve as a comparison to the more fantastic heroes and obstacles that may start flying. That "Time God Avatar" becomes much more awesome when it is compared to the 5'8 butcher that doesn't reach its ankle. You are a mirror to those around you, and the effects on perception can be quite drastic. Mundane characters also serve to fill holes in roleplay. The hero has to eat, and he probably didn't learn to cook while he was meditating for 14 hours a day at the monastery. This is where the cooperative aspects of roleplay really begin to shine, by allowing your mundane character to supplement the dynamic around them. Mundane characters also serve as a powerful motivator, having thoughts and feelings of their own, but needing assistance to function outside their realm of familiarity. Relationships between mundane and fantastic characters can serve as the fulcrum that moves entire stories, because every once in awhile a hero needs someone to save, to worry about, and bait our narrative hooks. 

"You know what I love about this job? The excitement..." -Moe (The Shadow)

"You know what I love about this job? The excitement..." -Moe (The Shadow)

How do we make the everyman an interesting character, both to play and to interact with? The trick is to make them realistic, relatable, and reliable. Mundane characters are ultimately creatures of practicality, we all are, and it is this nature that will define the character. First, you will want to choose what the character does. This can be anything from a hobby to a trade, but despite how much we may not want to admit it, most people are defined to some degree by what they do for a living. After you have chosen a task or profession, research it to death. You will want the fine details to really give some depth to your character. They have a limited scope of experience, so you will want to flesh this out to drive home the idea "This is my thing, this is what I have dedicated my time to being really good at". Next, you will want to give them a personality. I like to start by giving the character a trait that is common to their race or profession, and one that sets them apart from it. You don't want to make the character so unique they become fantastic in their own right, just enough to make them memorable. This will make the character relatable as you slowly flesh out their personality through gameplay, while also creating a solid foundation to build from. Lastly, you will want to make your character look the part. Laborers have solid shoulders and calloused hands, fishermen smell like fish constantly, and the mortician probably dresses in clothing he snagged off the deceased. Appeal to the senses and let other players try to pick up on your character's background with deduction, this will help create a more memorable first impression. Remember that your character is still a person with feelings and ambitions all their own, be sure to reflect these and pursue them and you will be on your way to playing an entertaining yet average joe. 

Now, lastly, how do these characters contribute to a story? A mundane character can fill numerous archetypes, from the character in distress to the instigator of the ever-popular angry mob. Your character will serve as the voice of public opinion, an indicator of what those other faceless npcs might be thinking, and giving this voice some weight through relatability. They also serve to fill and color the time in between more fantastic adventures by simply practicing their craft or sharing the local gossip. If they are truly unfortunate, they may even be brought on some wild adventure to serve as a stark contrast to the dangers the characters face. The purpose of the mundane character is to contrast the fantastic and put in perspective that which may be faced to the point of feeling commonplace. When the mundane character is faced with gods and demons they react with realism, fight or flight, and the scarring afterwards. To answer the question, a mundane character is most compelling when they are portrayed realistically. The contrast sells the story.

This is Ma1function, signing off until next time.






Roleplaying: The Wizard

Hello dear readers, 

Last week we talked about the character archetype of the wizard. Now, perhaps you were like me and you read the article, thinking all the while, "this sounds like a great roleplay character", but then you reached the end and were disappointed to learn that wizards are not the main protagonist. Well do not fret dear reader, for the wizard is still a perfectly valid concept for roleplaying! You see, roleplayers suffer from a bit of influence left over from the gaming industry, namely the idea that we are the main protagonist. Faceless, silent protagonists with endless lines of enemies to mow down do an excellent job of allowing us to insert ourselves into the role of the main character, however this is independent from more collaborative roleplaying. It is true that each person is the hero of their own story, but in a collaborative situation characters will almost inevitably fall into a specific role for the story being created. I am willing to say that players willing to share the limelight for a moment are what makes collaborative roleplaying possible. That being said, wizards are a very dramatic character and will definitely garner attention all on their own, so let's talk about playing one.

A wizard character is first and foremost a guide, be it in navigation, teaching his art, or as a moral compass. You can not teach someone if you do not know anything and have no one to teach. To make a wizard you must have both a subject and audience in mind, but if you plan to play them regularly covering your bases is better.  For the sake of examples, we will examine my character Sees in Shadow, who was designed specifically with this role in mind. Sees in Shadow is a morally rigid member of the Mage's Guild with a mastery of the healing arts. He enjoys teaching, has taken several apprentices over the years, and has even written a few books. This character obviously has teaching in mind, which can be a very rewarding experience to roleplay, but it extends deeper than simply teaching people how to heal. Sees in Shadow has an unyielding set of principles, magic is a gift and life is sacred. He is a morality check in a violent setting, and is more than willing to point out that killing the bandit makes you no better than they are. What is so important about this? Morality is something that can be taught to characters that already know magic, allowing Sees in Shadow to serve as a guide to people who are already familiar with his mysterious power. Because of this, the character is able to serve as a guide in a wide variety of places, some of which would not have been available if he was morally loose.

The next trait of the Wizard is his higher power, his magic. This can take a variety of forms, but it needs to ultimately have an observable effect, require discipline, and be at least somewhat uncommon. Thankfully for Sees in Shadow, healing is not a common pursuit in the war torn Tamriel. He does not hesitate to point out the powerful impact that even a single healer can have on a community, but at the cost of a very strict meditation regime that consumes a good portion of his day.  Evenamong magic users, his reverence for his gifts and understanding of their importance sets him aside from many who also study magic. It is this burden, this magnitude, that elevates his magic from simply being an alternative to a crossbow on the battlefield. That is the essence you are trying to capture. The force binds the universe together and the wand chooses the wizard, Harry.

The final trait of the Wizard is what I like to call an "elevated mentality". They have a goal on a cosmic scale, a sense for the order of things, and don't care about the petty things that might seem insurmountable to other characters. Sees in Shadow wants to see the evil influences of the Daedra and the wicked worm cult purged from the lands. He believes the empire is corrupted beyond salvation and needs to be removed. He also sees a land ravaged by war and disease that he has the power to resist. Standing between him and his goals is a war of three alliances and a strict neutrality policy by the Mage's Guild. This matters little to Sees in Shadow, wars come and go, and alliance is a term for paperwork. That village in enemy territory that battles with a plague could spread if it is not contained. This type of mindset can be difficult to capture, as it requires a good deal of forward thinking and understanding of the full setting, but it is essential to the Wizard archetype. It should be noted that this does not make the wizard infallible, everyone makes mistakes, and the wizard's mistakes are costly indeed. 

When designing your wizard, be mindful of your flaws. It is tempting to make a character who is perfect, and on a surface level a well designed wizard might seem to be, but everyone has shortcomings. Gandalf admitted that he would be corrupted by the one ring's call to power, Dumbledore was overconfident when pursuing the horcruxes, Obi-Wan didn't see his student's fall until it was too late. The wizard's goals are cosmic in nature, so too are his shortcomings. Elements like pride, hibris, and even naivete are good candidates for the flaws of one who knows more than most around him. To complete our example, besides a streak of pride a mile wide, Sees in Shadow is a racist. He simply refuses to tolerate imperials, whom he blames for his mentor's death and the more recent Plane Meld. His opinion is not an unpopular one, the empire was the cause, but his pride and refusal to allow the same tolerance he gives others keeps him from truly representing the ideals he claims to uphold.

I hope you have enjoyed our discussion, this is Ma1function signing off, until next time... 




Character Concepts: The Wizard

Hello again dear readers,

Today, let's take a moment to examine one of fantasy's oldest archetypes, the wizard. Wizardly characters have appeared in just about any setting you can think of, from Starwars' Old Ben Kenobi to Lord of the Rings' Gandalf the Grey. The Wizard is an integral feature of many compelling stories, mastering mysterious forces and serving as a patient guide to the protagonist.

What exactly makes a character a Wizard? The first, and most obvious trait, is the mastery of a mystical power. Frequently, this power is magic, but not always. This mystical power can be a martial arts technique, a mental discipline, a religion, or even a sufficiently advanced technology. A favorite recent example is Hank Pym in the Ant-Man movie. The ant manipulation technology in the film was not just activated by the flip of a switch, it required discipline, training, and a calm mind. It is these traits that separate the higher power from some other martial discipline or science. The powers the Wizard controls must, in the setting, be mostly unknown, require training to master, and produce evident results. The protagonist does not need to take on faith that the wizard's god, magic, or secret technique is powerful. It is obvious to any who see it in action. 

The next trait of the Wizard is his relationship with our protagonist.  A character that fits this archetype will not only teach the protagonist, but guide them. The Wizard is not an advocate of hands off instructon, instead choosing to accompany and guide the protagonist through his journey, possibly disappearing at inconvenient times for reasons that only they understand. It is not uncommon for the wizard character to die tragically in these times they choose to act alone, as seen with Merlin, Gandalf the Grey, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the list goes on. This happens to create tension in the story, as the only character who seems to have a full idea of the situation is suddenly taken, leaving the audience in suspense. 

This leads to the final trait of the Wizard, motivation by a higher knowledge to act in the mundane. The Wizard does not care for the laws of man beyond what he considers important on a cosmic scale, typically where greed has created a corruption of the natural order. Dumbledore didn't care about ministry politics beyond what applied to stopping Lord Voldimort, Obi-Wan is unperturbed by random imperial searches and haggling in wretched hives of scum and villainy, and Hank Pym doesn't care about a criminal record. All that matters is the mission and the big picture, and that is what sets the wizard apart from the others who wield the higher power. The Wizard is different from normal society because of the higher calling, and different from his peers because they are not afraid to step into the mundane, work with the protagonist, and solve the problem that needs solving.

This character concept serves as both a medium for protagonist character growth and a means of adding mystery to the setting. This being said, wizards are not the protagonist, if the audience knows everything the wizard knows, it eliminates the dramatic element of not understanding the full scenario. If Frodo knew everything Gandalf did, would the story have happened the same way? What if Luke had known the truth of Darth Vader? Some knowledge is best left for the right moment, and that is why we have wizards. 

This is Ma1function signing off, until next time...


Halloween 2015


Halloween 2015

Hello dear readers,

I have decided to, in the spirit of all hallows eve, forego the usual rambling blog post in lieu of a story I wrote for the Witches festival in the Elder Scrolls Online. For those who do not know, the witches festival coincides with the summoning day of the daedric prince Mephala, lady of secrets, spiders, sex, and murder. On the witches festival, the 13th of the October equivalent Frostfall,  all manner of evil spirit, monster, and mage roam the lands in what is almost a paranoid magicalarms race to survive the evening. Mortals tend to dress in costumes to confuse and scare evil spirits. This story is intended to be a cautionary tale for the evening, to be told around the campfire and frighten the hatchlings. If you enjoy it, the story was heavily inspired by "The Outsider" by H. P. Lovecraft, and I recommend you check it out! 


A Cautionary Tale of the Witches Festival 

I am dissatisfied with my place

dark and grotesque halls of stone

vines grow in tangled weaves

And I find myself alone

I know not where I am from
But these dark halls winding ‘round
no lineage to claim except
the bones upon the ground

and in this decaying castle
with no servants to meet my need
I wandered through the dark
to find a way I might be freed

I see now in the distance
a place where the ceiling breaks
my starved form can just fit
I will see what path it takes

I must have found a tower
it ascends impossibly high
with not a stair to be seen
and filled bats that perch and fly

I am determined to see the light
at least one time before I die
so I dig my nails into the stone
and give this climb a try

As I make my way skywards
my fingers bleed against the rock
the tower seems to go forever
up block by moldy block

Surely I am so far now
above the castle floor
the tower grows dark as I go up
and I can see no more

But do I feel above me now
some sort of metal grate
no light shines from outside
but perhaps the night is late

my arms are too weak to move the bar
but as I push with my back
this heavy grate moves suddenly
and gives way with a crack

and as I climb above the bars
It is not the sky I see
but another floor of dusty stone
With a gate ahead of me

And as I walk through the gate
A light finally meets my eye
A waxing gibbous moon above
And the serpent dots the sky

And across the foggy moors
That roll murky in my sight
The windows of a distant manor
Shine a beacon in the night

So through the mire I trek
To find this distant keep
Some food to sate my hunger pain
And perhaps a place to sleep

As I approach the window
To see what lies behind
A scene unfolds before me
As wonder fills my mind

A grand ballroom I behold
Decked in shades of gold and red
The courtesans dance merrily
And the tables are well spread

I can wait no longer here
My hunger gnaws at me
I stumble my way to the door
Then knock excitedly

As the door is opened
I am greeted by alarm
The doorman runs in panic
As though something meant him harm

I decide to venture inward
Driven by starving pain
I care not for the coat check
But only the food to gain

Yet as I reach the banquet
the dancers stop to stare
A savage silence surrounds
Until a scream splits the air

The masses mob in terror
And outward try to flee
So I search the room to spy
What horrors there could be

My searching has found nothing
I stand in an empty room
The revelry traded for
the silence of a tomb

I make my way to the feast
The aroma strong and sweet
But there is only ash in my mouth
No matter what I eat

It was then that a mirror
Silver and set against the wall
Managed just to catch my eye
From within the dining hall

I creep over to see it
And gaze upon myself
But what I find before me
Is neither man nor elf

And in this depraved moment
My anger starts to grow
A wicked weed of hatred
Nurtured by what I know

It has been a century since
I learned the truth of me
Of the foul things inside the dark
And the night we are set free

And now by invocation
I call upon the names
Of Namira and her rot
Of Dagon and his flames

Of Peryite his sickness
Of Clavicus his greed
And by the name of Molag Bal
All manner of cruel deed

I call upon Mephala
And the secret silken weave
To trap the living flesh so

I eat well this witches eve!





About Ma1function: The Ghost in the Machine

Ma1function: the man, the myth, the legend, the spreadsheet given human form...

Outside our beloved games and adventures of escapism, I am just a humble mechanical engineer from the wonderful city of Huntsville, Alabama. My hobbies include math, spreadsheets, collecting vintage calculators, arranging my pocket protectors, and terribly sarcastic humor... Okay, Jokes aside, I do like math, as well as gaming, costuming, hiking, and tinkering. I was also a huge fan of the Green Arrow before he got an amazing TV show. I enjoy characters that prefer wit and cunning to brute force, as that is a value I respect in my own life. I use the name Ma1function from one of my characters in City of Heroes...okay City of Villains, you got me. He was a seriously sarcastic and sadistic artificial intelligence with a reactor that made a bit too much juice.  Aside from this character, some of my favorite creations to date have been:

1) Doran Featherfell (Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, custom campaign)-  This character is probably the epitome of what I value in a character. Cunning, opportunistic, and with a soft spot for his teammates, Doran was a kenku, a crow-humanoid, with considerable illusion and enchantment ability. He enjoyed playing pranks on friend and foe alike, and gave our party's desert elf a unshakeable phobia of cephalopods.

A typical kenku, courtesy of Wizards of the Coast 

A typical kenku, courtesy of Wizards of the Coast 

2) Mike Berringer (New World of Darkness, Manitou Springs Pre Written)- Yeah, this one is a pre-written character. I had a great DM for this game and really had a chance to make this character my own. Allow me to introduce to you Mike Berringer, opinionated teenage activist. He runs a somewhat known libertarian political blog and has recently moved to the city of Manitou Springs, Colorado to create a government that even Ron Swanson would be proud of. Oh, and by the way, he is a werewolf and the Iron Masters did a terrible job of teaching him about all of this supernatural stuff. 

3) Gimble Gammergow (Dungeons and Dragons 5, Forgotten Realms)- This traveling story writer would introduce himself as "Gimble Gammergow, whimsical wanderer and novice gnome novelist". He is on an eternal quest to find great stories and put them to page, often being motivated only by "what would make a real page turner". Despite the fact that as of this writing he has the highest kill count in the party with that nasty little crossbow of his, he never actually includes himself in his own writings, instead attributing all of his heroic achievements to his allies, who will never fail to find themselves caricatured and aggrandized on the page.

4) Sees-in-Shadow (Elder Scrolls Online, Ebonheart pact, North America)- Nis-Ixir, or Sees in Shadow in the common tongue, is an elderly Argonian and a proud scholar in the Mage's Guild. He loves his work as a lecturer and healer, and has a tribe that he cares for deeply. The only problem is, he's dead, and has been for about four years. After an ambush at the research site of Nen-Ria, Sees in Shadow succumbed to Noxiphilic Sanguivoria (Vampirism) and is now having to adjust to an existence of self-loathing as he weighs a guilty conscience against a fear of an eternity of torment at the hands of Molag-Bal. 

5) Count Nicolai Belmonte (City of Heroes, Virtue)- One of the few characters I had that was not a robot, Count Belmonte was a 16th century French aristocrat who just so happened to be immortal due to a demon, Naragesh, who shared his body. As a tribute to the DC comics character Etrigan, Nicolai could give Naragesh control temporarily through the use of a rhyme, as part of an agreement to cooperate they had reached over the centuries, and he had it out for the sorcerers of the circle of thorns.