Magic, in many games systems is a pretty tame affair: You have a spell, a spell focus to avoid tedious bookkeeping with material components, and a pretty precise description of the effect. Magic is not only science, it is mass production.
That is reasonable, of course, because a game needs rules to make sure there is a common understanding of what is going to happen and what isn’t. Rules are what elevate a game from the chaotic “Cowboys & Indians” that ends in “You ded!” “No, am not! You ded!” to the splendid hobby we all enjoy.
Still, sometimes things get lost through Law and Order. In this case, the raw danger of magic. DnD 5e has it all defined, down to exact range and duration, to make magic manageable; and it also has magic options for every class I can think of. At the same time, settings often mention that commoners in small villages fear magic. Why would any no-name NPC fear something that is so commonplace, and so clearly defined? It would be like fear of cars.
A game system that manages to keep the danger element in magic is Lamentations of the Flame Princess. For one, ALL magic users must be Chaotic in Alignment, because magic in and of itself is Chaos made real. Chaotic is not “Evil”, it is the cosmic alignment that claims that ultimately, all we do is meaningless and everything is malleable, that there is no single truth in the universe. Opposing that is the Cleric, who must be Lawful, no matter which religion. Why? Because Religion, every religion, must by definition claim that there is some truth out there, something to believe in, something to have faith in. That can be something nice or something ugly, but it is some axiom to build on.
(This is the beauty of the 3-way-alignment of Original and Basic Dungeons & Dragons: It follows Elric’s ideas that there is order, neutrality, or chaos, but any of those can be nice or evil, as a personal character choice completely independent of Alignment.)
So Law and Chaos are strong Ideological Conviction versus deep “Black Pill” or “My-Truth”-people.
And this anti-faith, the belief that there is no “Real”, no hard Facts, is the basis to link up to the Maelstrom of Nothingness that birthes Magicks, and Demons.
Summon Forth the Demon
Enter the Summon Spell, a mightily powerful spell, potentially game- and world-breaking … and Level 1.
So any first level mage with 3 HP can, in theory, end the world with one messed-up spell.
Because to summon a demon is where magic is raw and cruel and where it is sensible to fear magic, and magic users.
For example, human sacrifices help a great deal to make the spell more powerful and more useful. If you really want to succeed, you better have a couple of helpless victims at hand to channel your magical powers with. Even then, it all comes down to a handful of rolls with the fickle dice.
It is a very complex process, but worth the detail, because so, so much can go sideways, and you need to know what exactly you are up against. This is, once again, a dangerous undertaking, and sensible players will likely never attempt it. Which is great for the atmosphere: “I know a spell, but I shall never cast it, except maybe as a last resort in the most dire of circumstances.”
Example of a Summon Spell
Let us say we are said Level 1 magic user and want to call forth a manageable demon of 2 Hit Dice to aid some crazy plan of ours, like to break out some obnoxious iron door that refuses to open.
We are nice and friendly as a person, so we do not sacrifice any innocents to aid our casting – we trust in our abilities!
First off, we make a save versus Magic.
Our target number is 14 or higher.
We roll, and get a 12. So no. already failed.
The effect is that we do not simply attract standard physical demons — we may also invite pure energy or a giant flood of Noah-like proportions. (Try to cast this spell while close to sea level, preferably below, if you care for others.)
But we are lucky. We roll an 8, a physical representation of a demon, as intended. A d3 tells us that what what answers our call into the nether realm is a Fungus Demon, a quick fellow with double the move distance a human would cover.
Let us see if our new friend is a normal Fungus Demon or if he has some special abilities. A couple of d6 dice rolls (base number 5, then a 4, a 2, a 1, before we finally roll above the base number and it ends.) decide that he has three special appendages: Neon Claws. (Not a big sneaker, our Fungus Demon.)
And something more: Prehensile Antennae. (Probably to hold a victim while he goes to town with his claws.)
And to top it off: Flaming Eyes!
That’s it. Three special extras physical appendages, that is a rather unusual amount for a 2 HD demon, but it can happen, as we just saw.
Next we check for powers.
We roll a 3 on a d6, for the base number.
The next roll is a 2. So our guy gets a special power.
Then a 5. So end of the line: One special power.
A d100 tells us that the power is “Phasing”. Our Fungus Demon with Claws, Antennae and flaming Eyes can walk through solid walls. Remember: This beast is summoned forth by a mere beginner.
And now this beginner must find out if he can control this guest to our dimension, and for how long.
The Domination roll requires two d20, one for the caster, modified for level, sacrifices, etc, (here: +1) and one for the demon, modified by HD and number of powers (here, +3).
The caster rolls 6+1=7.
The demon rolls 10+3=13.
So no… we do NOT have control. As the fungus demon crawls out of the rift we opened in our reality, it is free to act as it pleases — and demons please to wrack our plane of existence and maim or kill every living thing they find here, starting with the closest one, most likely the caster of the spell, for 1d10 x margin of success rounds. That could be a lot of time to do a lot of shit for someone with Move 60 and the ability to walk through walls to claw people.
However, in our case, though, the margin of success is 6 — exactly 5 plus the caster’s level. So the demon gains more self-control. A d6 tells us what it wants to do with so much self-control.
Oh… it loses all control, even over itself. It explodes, and rips our reality asunder inside a radius of 120 feet.
No brutal rampage for our demon — it is out of the picture. Lucky, huh? No neon claws will tear apart this magic user.
However that is still a bad outcome. “All human or human-like creatures within 120′ are randomly switched into new bodies, with the levels and class abilities of the new body. All bodies must change, even if a random roll puts a character back in their original body.” In essence, Charisma, Intelligence and Wisdom stay. But Constitution, Dexterity, Strength, Class, Level, and Hit points are those of the new body (or rolled anew if the same body is occupied). Plus, all within this rather large area of effect are now Chaotic in Alignment, having witnessed that nothing is secure and the universe is governed by fickle randomness! Clerics lose their cleric spells.
Fear of Magic
Now it makes sense to fear magic users.
We see now why it makes a lot of sense that wizards should live in remote towers, far away from population centers — or why it makes sense to quickly stab any little magic user who opens his spell book and proclaims that he will now summon a small, harmless 2 HD demon to make it break down that obnoxious iron door.
No time for rolling an avalanche of dice and pour over tables like some crazy magic user?
Say no more: I was made aware of an automatic summoning tool, free on the internet.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess:
Free Artless Version: on drivethru
Full Version with Art: also on drivethru, although they are afraid that looking at these pictures will break your soul, so it is shielded from view until you log in and swear that you are legal of age and sound of mind, so help you the gods.