The Skull & Bones rulebook mentions, while disallowing the sorcerer and wizard classes, that “the era when powerful magic was available without dire consequences is long gone.” This makes sense for a lot of swashbuckling, low-fantasy campaigns, since magic-users don't fit with every style of play. For the new story arc in the Come Hell and High Water campaign, however, a cabal of occultists is a key power group. To that end, this article provides guidelines for using wizards and sorcerers in the Skull & Bones setting.
Using the Occult in a Low Fantasy, Quasi-Historical Setting
One of the most appealing elements of a setting like Skull & Bones is the clash of cultures that occurs within it. In the Caribbean alone one finds the Spanish jealously guarding their territory (taken from the Mayans, Aztecs, Caribs, Arawaks and others) against incursions by the Dutch and English and French. There's also the presence of African slaves, bringing their own beliefs and adding to an admixture with the native populations. Combine those backgrounds with the conflict between Catholicism, various Protestant sects and non-Christian traditions such as can be found around the Mediterranean and further eastward, and it makes for a truly varied and intriguing tapestry.
Involving arcane magic and spellcasters in this setting draws from these traditions and builds upon them in interesting ways. Indeed, the history of occult magic in the world is no less colorful. Even during Biblical times there were tales of other traditions, represented by such individuals as Simon Magus, who offered to buy the Holy Spirit from the Apostles, and the enigmatic Witch of Endor. Greek and Roman legends from the same time period tell of powerful arcane practitioners such as Circe and Medea, who worked sometimes for and sometimes against the heroes of the time.
The rise of the “religions of the book”—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—eventually led to a tremendous reduction in the practice of arcane magic. Indeed, it was those faiths that led to men and, even more so, women being labeled as witches, reviled pariahs who were tortured and executed for their beliefs. Even so, the study and use of occult magic endured, practiced by the precursors of enlightened science known as alchemists.
Despite this stigma, occultists were sometimes even able to gain positions of tremendous influence, even in recent times. Take, for example, the curious figure Merlin, who was believed to be a close associate of the semi-mythical King Arthur. Another such person is John Dee, who rose to become a powerful advisor to Queen Elizabeth of England. Not only did he use his magical powers to aid her in protecting the realm, but he was also able to learn tremendous amounts of information from the sea dogs who explored the world and plundered enemy ports and vessels at her command.
In a similar manner, the pursuit of arcane magic provides a strong impetus to seek adventure, given the opportunities to discover new spells and relics. Such exotic and elusive creatures as the island giants and the possess their own traditions—not to mention the hougans and bokor of the Caribbean—from whom eldritch secrets can be learned.
Arcane Spell List
A previous article, “Clerics in the New World,” detailed how a limited list of subtle spells can allow clerics to be used in an effective but not too flashy manner. In the same way, the following list provides an option for arcane casters.
Level 0—Arcane mark, detect magic, read magic, resistance
Level 1—Endure elements, identify, mage armor, magic weapon, protection from chaos/evil/good/law, shield, true strike
Level 2—Bear's endurance, bull's strength, cat's grace, eagle's splendor, false life, fox's cunning, misdirection, obscure object, owl's wisdom, protection from arrows
Level 3—Arcane sight, dispel magic, haste, heroism, keen edge, magic circle against chaos/evil/good/law, protection from energy, rage
Level 4—Bestow curse, detect scrying, dimensional anchor, enervation, lesser globe of invulnerability, locate creature, remove curse
Level 5—Break enchantment, contact other plane, dismissal, dream, lesser planar binding, nightmare, permanency
Level 6—Analyze dweomer, antimagic field, contingency, globe of invulnerability, greater dispel magic, greater heroism, mass bear's endurance, mass bull's strength, mass cat's grace, mass eagle's splendor, mass fox's cunning, mass owl's wisdom
Level 7—Banishment, greater arcane sight, spell turning
Level 8—Antipathy, dimensional lock, discern location, greater planar binding, mind blank, moment of prescience, sympathy
Level 9—Energy drain, foresight
Note that this list should provide a basis from which to develop personal collections of spells. For example, an occultist who visits Hispaniola and interacts with hougans there might learn to cast a spell or two from them, at the GM's discretion. Indeed, such an arrangement can provide both motivation to go adventuring and rewards for doing so. As always, the GM should feel free to add to, or subtract from, the preceding list to fit the desires of the players and the needs of the campaign.
Morgan and Associates, Booksellers
Although it has proven to be an enduring tradition that has persevered in the face of adversity for centuries, the practice of arcane magic is still not well accepted in the world. This is especially true in the larger cities of the world, where the powers that be have enough influence and manpower to enforce a prohibition of such activities. (One need only look at the witch trials in the English colonies for an example of how even suspicion of the practice can lead to ruthless persecution.) For that reason, those who are interested in the occult do well to conceal this endeavor.
It is that need for secrecy that has led a young man named Edgar Morgan to found a business enterprise known as Morgan and Associates, merchants who specialize in finding rare and antique books on all the subjects that one can image. This trade provides the perfect front, allowing them to delve into ancient tomes without attracting unwanted suspicion.
Presented here are stats for Morgan and his pupils, typical examples of those who pursue eldritch power.
Male Wizard 6; CR 6; Size medium; HD 6d4; hp 16; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk +3 (1d4, dagger) or +5 (ranged); SQ Spells; AL LN; SV: Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +8; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 16.
Skills: Appraise + 5, Concentration +9, Decipher Script +12, Knowledge (arcane) +12, Knowledge (geography) +12, Knowledge (history) +12, Spellcraft +15.
Feats: Combat Casting, Leadership, Mental Acumen, Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus (Spellcraft).
Fortunes: Enemy, Magic.
Equipment: Clothing, spellbook, writing materials, pouch of spell components, pouch holding 50 poe, ring of keys.
Spells per Day: 4/3+1/3+1/2+1. Spells Known: (0) Arcane mark, detect magic, read magic, resistance; (1) Endure elements, identify, mage armor, magic weapon, protection from chaos/evil/good/law, shield, true strike; (2) cat's grace, fox's cunning, owl's wisdom, protection from arrows; (3) arcane sight, dispel magic, haste, heroism.
Edgar Morgan is an expert in a relatively small and illicit field; as such, he uses the bookselling business as a cover for his investigations. Even so, he is intrigued by the legends of arcane magic from around the world, and has vowed to seek out and discover the truth behind them.
Female Wizard 4; CR 4; Size medium; HD 4d4; hp 11; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk +2 (1d4, dagger) or +2 (ranged); SQ Spells; AL LN; SV: Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +7; Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 12.
Skills: Appraise + 5, Concentration +7, Decipher Script +10, Knowledge (arcane) +10, Knowledge (geography) +10, Knowledge (history) +10, Spellcraft +13.
Feats: Combat Casting, Mental Acumen, Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus (Spellcraft).
Fortunes: Enemy, Magic.
Equipment: Clothing, spellbook, writing materials, pouch of spell components, pouch holding 20 poe.
Spells per Day: 4/3+1/2+1. Spells Known: (0) arcane mark, detect magic, read magic, resistance; (1) endure elements, identify, mage armor, magic weapon, protection from chaos/evil/good/law, shield, true strike; (2) cat's grace, fox's cunning, owl's wisdom, protection from arrows.
The journeyman has advanced further in his studies than have the other students, and therefore lords it over the apprentices. Although he acts fawningly subservient to Morgan, he in fact watches for opportunities to strike out on his own.
Various Wizard 1; CR 1; Size medium; HD 1d4; hp 4; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 11 (+1 Dex); Atk +0 (1d4, dagger) or +1 (ranged); SQ Spells; AL LN; SV: Fort +0, Ref +1, Will +2; Str 10, Dex 13, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 12.
Skills: Appraise + 5, Concentration +4, Decipher Script +7, Knowledge (arcane) +7, Knowledge (geography) +7, Knowledge (history) +7, Spellcraft +10.
Feats: Combat Casting, Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus (Spellcraft).
Fortunes: Enemy, Magic.
Equipment: Clothing, spellbook, writing materials, pouch of spell components, pouch holding 10 poe.
Spells per Day: 3/1+1. Spells Known: (0) arcane mark, detect magic, read magic, resistance; (1) endure elements, identify, mage armor, magic weapon, shield, true strike.
Although they possess only rudimentary skills, these apprentices all aspire to greatness. As such, they work for Edgar Morgan, running the bookstore and aiding in his research.
New Background: Scholar
While they aren't thought to be as adventurous as people from other backgrounds, those who pursue the scholarly arts are important in their own way. Amongst their ranks they might count navigators, cartographers, researchers and the like. Indeed, there are occasionally buccaneer-naturalists who choose to catalogue the wonders they discover through their explorations.
Free Skill Ranks: Choose 2 ranks in any two Knowledge skills.
Bonuses and Penalties: Scholars tend to be most comfortable around others who share their interests, receiving a +2 bonus to Charisma-based checks made in such company. Among others who value their input, they are at least on neutral terms, but among those who held their efforts in contempt, they suffer a -2 penalty to such checks.
Contacts: Two free contacts with others who are interested in scholarly pursuits
The Book Shoppe
Refer to the appropriate map for the following area descriptions.
1. Front Room
Inside the shop's front door is a desk and chair where the shopkeeper normally waits, ready to do business. He or she is usually one of the apprentice students, as the journeyman and master are busy with more important tasks. In the event that a customer arrives who requires more knowledgeable attention, however, those others are quick to respond. The front door is made from stout wood reinforced with iron bands (DC 25 to open; hardness 10 and 50 hit points).
Beyond that area, flanking the outside walls, are sections dedicated to different subjects. They include religion (2); philosophy (3); literature and drama (4); along with history and geography (5).
6. Reading Area
Potential buyers who want to peruse possible selections can do so at the table and chairs found here.
7. Office and Storage
This room is kept closed and locked (DC 20 to open; hardness 5 and 15 hit points). Located here are the ledgers containing records of all the shop's transactions, along with a cash box that usually holds the equivalent of 200 poe and doubloons. Across from it are stairs leading to the upper level, along with the secret door that provides access to the lower level (DC 25 Search or Spot to notice).
8. Guest Bedroom
A bed, table and chair and wardrobe can be found here, for the use of guests who visit from out of town.
9. Master Bedroom
Morgan's own bedroom, it is outfitted with the same type of furniture—albeit of a more comfortable variety—as what is found in the guest quarters.
The walls of this room are line with shelves, ones that are filled with all manners of texts and tomes, including scrolls, codices, sheafs of papers, pamphlets and even a few engraved tablets. In the middle of it all stands the desk at which Morgan conducts his endless research.
A cooking hearth stands against the outside wall of this room, one that connects via a narrow chimney to the fireplace in the front room. There is also a broad table for preparing food, along with a barrel of water and a basket of wood for fuel. Shelves here hold all kinds of spices and similar items.
This room is filled with dry goods, bottles, jars and the like, holding an impressive variety of foodstuffs.
Spare linens and the like, for the dining room and bedrooms, are stored here, along with dishes, utensils and things of a similar nature.
14. Dining Room
A broad table, surrounded by chairs, occupies the center of this room. Morgan uses it for taking meals with his students, as well as for entertaining important guests.
As mentioned above, access to the building's lower level is provided only through the secret door at the top of the stairs. This broad, open area boasts a pentagram in the floor and provides room for performing more elaborate rituals. Close inspection (DC 20 Search or Spot checks) reveals traces of blood on the packed dirt floor, along with stains from other, less recognizable substances.
The walls here are lined with shelves like in other closets, but they are filled with all manner of obscure occult materials. These could include all manner of spell components, along with, at the GM's discretion, other exotic things.
17. Meeting Room
When the nature of a meeting is just too sensitive to be held where others might eavesdrop on it, such business is conducted here.
18. Secure Storage
The most important items in Morgan's collection are kept here, under lock and key (DC 30 to unlock; hardness 10 and 50 hit points; also protected by an arcane lock spell). These include Morgan's collection of grimoires, a chest holding 2000 poe worth of mix coinage, along with other items at the GM's discretion.
Using Arcane Magic and Spellcasters in a Campaign
As mentioned above, occultists provide many reasons for characters in a Skull & Bones campaign to seek adventure. Just a few of the possibilities include the following options.
- The pursuit of lost relics and ancient lore requires occultists, or those in their employ, to travel to the far ends of the earth. This could lead to remote settlements of exotic cultures, ruins filled with numerous dangers, and the like.
- Those occultists who discover charm-related magic could use it to influence other power individuals, thereby becoming embroiled in all manner of plots.
- In this way, occultists who work for an enemy of the PC's could turn into a subtle, ongoing threat in a campaign.
- Should said occultists discover a truly powerful relic, they might even become a political force with which others need to reckon.
- Such a discovery could lead to divisions in the ranks, with some of the occultists seeking to prevent the item's use while others wish to harness its power.
New Relic: Grimoires
By far some of the most prized items, for those who study arcane magic, are these collections of spells. They can take numerous forms, including scrolls, codices and even tablets. In the same way, grimoires can be written in all manner of languages. Whatever the case, they all contain old and obscure formulae.
For a Skull & Bones campaign that includes arcane spellcasters, these texts can be an ongoing source of treasures. This is because they can each hold different secrets, ones that relate to their source. For example, a scroll in Greek from the enchantress Circle might provide access to a charm person spell, while a tablet with runic writing from Iceland could be a source for heroism. As mentioned above, these can provide the impetus for going on adventures, along with pleasant surprises as part of larger treasure caches.