Day Three of Cards Against the Multiverse and it has become Casters Against Humility!

At the time of this post, Cards Against the Multiverse has become Casters Against Humility! I decided to rename it heeding concerns from some helpful individuals, and also gave the cards a bit of a redesign. The backs now blend better with the original game, while the faces make the expansion more distinct so that there are fewer legal concerns. Take a look:

Answers on the Storm Scale


Play Black for Answers

Set Symbol

Backers also now have access to the original PDF (update 2) so they can see the cards!

Keep sharing around the internet and in real life, this only happens if we hit $7000!

Kickstarter Link

[D&D, Tome] Character Backgrounds

A few years back, a couple of the more prominent posters on the gaming forum I post on wrote up a rather extensive series of fixes for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, collectively called The Tomes, aimed at bringing non-casters up to the power level of spellcasters (because the reverse is even more work). Lately there’s been a bit of a resurgence of focus on working on the Tomes, collating things into a single pdf, adding more material in a less sporadic method, and so on.

One thing they introduced in the Tomes to beef characters up a bit, and encourage those characters to be organic and more fleshed out was Backgrounds, which were sort of like mini-feats you got for doing the bare minimum work in writing a backstory for your character. They also helped you figure out what your character’s backstory was by giving you a prompt when you knew you wanted a specific one. A thread came up about creating some more, because there’s only 10 or so backgrounds in the original Tome material, and I’ve written up a few, so I figured I’d move those over here for more exposure.

Living Weapon Snkt
You, for some reason, whether hyper specific psionic meditation, experimental meddling with your aura or genetics when you were a child, possession by a violent spirit, or some other thing, can create weapons attached to your body at will.
Effect: As a move action, you may produce a weapon from your body which mimics the stats of any one Simple or Martial weapon (or a pair of light weapons), which may be composed of bone, chitin, horn, psionic/spiritual/arcane energy or whatever material–however, whatever material it is made of, it behaves exactly like a standard version of the weapon it mimics. Form and material are chosen at character creation and cannot later be changed except through magic. However, people who don’t have metal claws hidden up their arm find your augmentation horrifying. While this does give you Intimidate as a Class Skill, it also makes NPC initial attitudes start one step worse. Also whatever gave you these weapons was probably pretty traumatic, and you may occasionally run into parts of your past which want to kill you, fill you with rage, or are complete mysteries to you.

Artificial “I am fully functional, and anatomically correct.”
You were made by another person. But, like, not through the usual means- through special magical artifice means. You’re a robot person, is what I’m saying.
Effect: You have the Construct type (See below). The DC to repair you is 10+one half your HD+your highest stat. You are confused by living creatures and their emotions and habits, and probably spend a lot of time trying to understand them. Charisma based skills meant to affect you suffer a -2 penalty, but charisma based skills you use to affect others do as well, as you and the living things around you aren’t speaking quite the same language. The exception to this Intimidate–being an emotionally distant, pain-resistant arcane construct with glowing eyes just makes you better at that, and as such, Intimidate is always a class skill for you and you gain a +2 bonus to it.

  • Low Light Vision
  • Dark Vision 60′
  • Poor Healing: Daily healing rate is 0, can be healed through magical means
  • Mindless: Immune to [Mind Affecting] effects, cannot be detected with detect thoughts.
  • Never Alive: Cannot be raised or resurrected, immune to energy drain.
  • Repairable: Becomes inert, not staggered, at 0 and below hit points, does not die at -10. Can be repaired with a Craft check taking 1 hour of work per point it was below 1 hp.
  • Nonbiological: Does not eat or breath, does not age. A construct is not affected by any effect that allows a Fort save unless that effect affects objects or is a (Harmless) effect. For example, a clockwork horror is not going to catch red fever or become nauseated by a stinking cloud. But it is not outside the realm of possibility for an eidolon to be afflicted with a totally magical disease that functions off of Willpower saves.

Gladiator “I’M CRUSHICUS!”
Before adventuring, you were the star of a gladiatorial arena. You may have started a mere slave, but through crushing the skulls of other mere slaves and winning the hearts of the crowd, you gradually earned your freedom, a reputation, and experience in crushing skulls. Or maybe you just escaped.
Effect: You may tell stories of your time in the gladiatorial arena to wow new people and make them like you, or to make your existing fans willing to help you out. People who have heard of your time in the arena have their initial attitude improved by one step, people who haven’t heard about you can be subjected to stories for ten minutes over drinks and likewise have their attitude improved by one step. As showmanship is important in the arena, Perform is always a class skill for you, but your first style must be something usable in the arena (this is somewhat broad, singing is fine, pipe organ not so much). Finally, you should probably fight in the arenas at least once a month to keep your reputation up. If you are an escaped slave, your former owner probably has men looking for you.

Magical Girl “In the name of Lolth, I will punish you!”
In the name of some vaguely defined concept or personified object, you punish evil doers. Or kill good doers. Or spank the naughty. Whatever. You are a magical warrior who makes speeches and shit, and that comes with some very specific implied powers. Or, you may or may not actually be a prepubescent and/or female. Whatever.
Effect: You have some manner of magical patron who will offer advice and might be the source of particularly plot important magical items that get used once and then forgotten. You also have the magical girl power of transformation–pick one outfit which may be armour and one weapon (or pair of light weapons) these start as masterwork items, and can be hidden in a dimensional pocket which will not hold anything else. You also have a small token of some sort, possibly disguised as a makeup compact or other mundane item, which allows you to summon these items once per encounter as a Full Round action where in you twirl and pose and are enshrouded in light. During this round, no one can attack you, and at the end the outfit is equipped and you may be holding your weapon readied, if you wish. If your outfit or weapon are damaged they will be fully repaired the next time you call them. Your special outfit and weapon have the Linked quality and can be further enchanted by sacrificing items to them as if you had the Ancestral Weapon feat from BoED. You’re probably ambushed by things with tentacles a lot when you’re not wearing your armour and trying to have a normal life, and you feel this weird compulsion to never tell anyone who isn’t part of your adventuring group about being a magical warrior, regardless of how much simpler it would be, and your propensity for making friendship speeches in battle makes Perform (oratory) always a class skill for you which you can use like Diplomacy for attitude improvement.

Medic “No one wanted to be relegated to healing duty and the cleric has better shit to do.”
Look, I get it, no one wants to spend major character resources on restoring hp for people. But people need to be healed if you’re going to get that infant-sized ruby at the bottom of the dungeon, so you scribbled down a bit in your background about being an army medic.
Effect: First, Kn. Nature, Heal and Survival are always class skills for you, and you have a +2 bonus to Heal. Second, you can perform a twenty minute ritual which restores X hp to each member of your part (three people plus one per point of Wisdom mod) where X is half their max hp. This ritual may be performed at will, but each time it is used without at least an hour passing since it’s last use, it takes twice as long as the last time it was used (1st time: 20 min, 2nd time: 40 min, 3rd time: 1hr 20 min, etc). This ritual requires special herbs which cost 1/4th the amount you would heal your party, or can be scrounged from most wilderness areas with twenty minutes and a successful Kn. Nature or Survival check. You can gather these ahead of time if you wish, but they lose potency 3 days after being picked. You probably also keep a pile of bandages which can be applied to injured people and allow them to heal 1hp per five minutes for a number of hours equal to your Wisdom mod.

Cook “And in the morning, I’m making waffles!”
Look, not everyone has special noble birth or great destinies or sob stories about growing up in the gutter. You grew up in a surviving merchant or inn owning family, and you learned to cook in between mucking out stables, cleaning shit and putting up with idiot customers. And you found you really enjoyed it.
Effect: What does being a cook get you? Well, people forget that cooking is actually pretty physical work. Your familiarity with knives and cleavers translates over into daggers, handaxes and throwing axes pretty well, and in fact you are proficient in them. In addition, lugging around bags of potatoes and flour has conditioned you for carrying shit and your carrying capacity is calculated as if your strength were two points higher. You have a repertoire of recipes and cooking techniques which you can put into use to keep your party’s morale up–anytime you take an hour to cook a meal while your party camps, everyone who eats can activate an Guidance, Resistance or Virtue effect with your character level as the caster level once in the ensuing 24 hours. If you have leftovers, people can eat them to gain another use after using their first (use Survival to determine how many servings you can make, or figure each serving costs 10 gp). Finally, you effectively have max ranks in Craft (Cooking) as if it were a class skill for you, if that ever actually matters.

Animal Magnetism “He followed me home, can I keep him!?”
Animals just inherently like you for some reason. While other people get mauled by wolves when they wander into the woods, you get a bunch of wolves sniffing at your backpack and begging for handouts while you’re trying to eat lunch.
…maybe they like you because you always share and word got around.
Effect: Creatures of the Animal type always have an attitude at least one point more in favour of you, and no worse than indifferent unless you attack them. If you’re in danger, there is a 10% chance that an animal appropriate to the environment will show up to help you. This chance is increased by 5% for every 5% your hp is below maximum, and decreased 10% for every time an animal has come to your rescue in the last 24 hours. The animal’s CR cannot exceed yours, nor be lower than yours minus 3. If you want a specific animal, roll charisma vs DC 20. Finally, you have a +4 bonus on Handle Animal and Ride checks when made to affect Animals. On the other hand, animals will wander up to you in the wilderness and want attention and handouts, and Mister Cavern is encouraged to have this happen when you’re trying to sneak, especially if you rolled poorly.

Crocodile Charmer “Look at this beauty. If she bites you, the cleric won’t even have time to cast a healing spell. …I’m gonna touch her!”
You have a way with reptiles and similar creatures. Maybe you got dumped in a pit of them when you were a kid, maybe you grew up in a crazy religious sect that uses snakes to test it’s piety. Maybe you just like them.
Effect: You begin play with three doses of antitoxin and a pet tiny viper that has 2 int and already knows a full array of tricks. You also gain +4 to handle animal and diplomacy checks made against Scaled Ones. Scaled Ones Animals and Magical Beasts have an initial attitude one point in your favour (no worse than Indifferent), and will not attack you unless you attack them first.

Sea Monkey “Warblgarbl.”
You come from the sea. You have fins and gills and probably a bluer skin tone than normal, and people think you want their land-women. They’re not necessarily wrong.
Effect: You’re an otherwise normal specimen of your race, you just happen to be an obscure sub type which lives in water. You can swim at your land speed and either have the Hold Breath ability or can breath underwater, if you select the latter, you cannot breath air, but you do have a bulky collar-like piece of equipment that allows you to adventure on land for up to 16 hours at a time before you need to rest in water and let it recharge. This collar is a very simple magic item and just needs to be immersed in water for eight hours, which you can do while you sleep since you’re usually going to be sleeping in water too.

Giant Frog “Ribbit.”
The primal chaos of limbo flows in your veins. And sometimes outside you veins. And sometimes through other parts of you. Look, it’s all very complicated hipster math, alright?
Effect: In times of great need, you can call upon the power of giant frog to giant frog your giant frog giant frogs. When you are at or below 1/4 your total hit points, the power of chaos activates within you, and you roll on the following chart-

d20 Effect 1d8 Spell School
1-8 Cantrip 1 Abjuration
9-17 Level 1 spell 2 Conjuration
18-19 Level 2 spell 3 Divination
20 Level 3 spell 4 Enchantment
Roll d12 Caster Level 5 Evocation
1 Character Level-2 6 Illusion
2-3 Character Level-1 7 Necromancy
4-9 Character Level 8 Transmutation
10-11 Character Level+1
12 Character Level+2
Cantrips wrote:
  • Abjuration– Resistance
  • Conjuration– Acid Splash*
  • Divination– Prestidigitation (yes, I know it’s Uni.)
  • Enchantment– Daze*
  • Evocation– Ray of Frost*
  • Illusion– Ghost Sounds
  • Necromancy– Touch of Fatigue*
  • Transmutation– Mage Hand
1st Level wrote:
  • Abjuration– Roll 1d6; 1: Prot.Good, 2: Prot.Evil, 3: Prot.Chaos, 4: Prot.Law, 5-6: Shield
  • Conjuration– Summon Chaos Bullfrog (Anarchic Dire Rat)
  • Divination– True Strike
  • Enchantment– Sleep**
  • Evocation– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Burning Hands, 3-4: Magic Missile*, 5-6: Shocking Grasp
  • Illusion– Roll 1d4; 1-3: Colour Spray, 4: Minor Image
  • Necromancy– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Cause Fear, 3-4: Chill Touch, 5-6: Ray of Enfeeblement
  • Transmutation– Roll 1d6: 1: Animate Rope, 2: Enlarge Person, 3: Expeditious Retreat, 4: Jump, 5: Magic Weapon, 6: Reduce Person*
2nd Level wrote:
  • Abjuration– Roll 1d4; 1-2: Protection from Arrows, 3-4: Resist Energy
  • Conjuration– Summon Toad Swarm (Rat swarm)
  • Divination– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Detect Thoughts, 3-4: Locate Object, 5-6: See Invisibility
  • Enchantment– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Daze Monster*, 3-4: Hideous Laughter*, 5-6: Touch of Idiocy
  • Evocation– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Darkness (centered on you), 3: Flaming Sphere (moves a random direction each round, d10, stays put on a 1 or 10), 4: Gust of Wind, 5: Scorching Ray*, 6: Shatter* (weapon or armour)
  • Illusion– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Blur, 3-4: Invisibility, 5-6: Mirror Image
  • Necromancy– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Blindness/Deafness, 3-4: False Life, 5-6: Scare
  • Transmutation– Roll 1d8; 1: Bear’s Endurance, 2: Bull’s Strength, 3: Cat’s Grace, 4: Eagle’s Splendor, 5: Fox’s Cunning, 6: Levitate, 7: Owl’s Wisdom, 8: Spider Climb
3rd Level wrote:
  • Abjuration– Roll 1d6; 1: Dispel Magic*, 2: Magic Circle v. Chaos, 3: Magic Circle v. Evil, 4: MCvGood, 5: MCvLaw, 6: Protection from Energy
  • Conjuration– Summon Dire Toad (as SMIII, Dire Toad is MM2)
  • Divination– Cure Serious Wounds (yes, I know it’s Conj.)
  • Enchantment– Roll 1d4; 1: Deep Slumber**, 2: Heroism***, 3: Hold Person*, 4: Rage
  • Evocation– Roll 1d4; 1-2: Fireball, 3-4: Lightning Bolt
  • Illusion– Roll 1d4; 1-2: Displacement, 3-4: Major Image
  • Necromancy– Roll 1d6; 1-2: Animate Dead (random corpse in range, destroyed at end of encounter), 3-4: Bestow Curse*, 5-6: Vampiric Touch
  • Transmutation– Roll 1d6; 1: Blink, 2: Fly, 3: Gaseous Form, 4: Haste, 5: Keen Edge, 6:Slow*

*affects a random enemy in range
**Randomly determine center of effect
***affects a random ally
If not otherwise noted, you are the target of non-touch spells. Touch spells can be held until you can touch a target.

Note- Giant Frog and Mister Cavern are Denisms. Giant Frog refers to the fact that in D&D, chaos shows the least diversity of form with the Slaad all being giant rugose things. Mister Cavern refers to an 80s Russian D&D clone where Dungeon Master was translated as Mister Cavern.


Valren fell into a chair in the dim tavern, and rifled through their bag, pulling out parchment and a quill. They hardly looked up as a server approached, “Mead, please.” Valren sighed as they scribbled. A potion of Altered Visage would cost 5 silvers, but only last about ten minutes. If they bought a more expensive one, they could be disguised for an hour’s time, but the potion would cost 30 silvers.

“Sorry boy, the temple of Hestic only accepts women as students.”

A temple course was easily within that duration, but they’d also need to keep up appearances throughout the day. If Valren was lucky, they could get a three hour potion, but it would cost nearly 100 silvers, and they’d need eight of them a day. If Valren learned how to brew the potions the materials would only cost half that, but 50 silvers a day is still a lot of money.

And a temple to a goddess of magic is not a place to expect to be lacking in magical detection.

Valren stabbed the quill into the table in frustration as the server returned with a mug of mead for them.

“Here you are, sir. 2 coppers.”

“Not a sir.” Valren muttered as they fished two coppers from a robe pocket.

“‘Scuse me?” the server asked confused.

Valren looked up. They knew their stubble was already growing back in, that their frame was too gawky, their chin too square. They peered into the server’s eyes. “Never mind,” they said, pushing the small coins into her hand.

“Let me know if you need anything else!” she said chipperly, turning to leave.

“Wait- do you have any pie today? Blueberry?”

“Yeah, would you like a slice?”

“I could use one, yeah,” Valren said, turning back to their quill sticking out of the scarred table. Valren grumbled again, and plucked the quill from the table, slipping it behind their ear, the pen’s long feather mimicking the long green point of their ear. They rubbed their face, reaching blindly into their bag to produce a soft leather bound bundle of crumpled and stained pages. In a move practiced to hind brain functions, they set the book on the table face down and opened to the piece of cardstock they were using as a bookmark.

The book was scribbled with a dark ochre ink–fortunately people don’t think about the colour blood turns when it’s dead and dry–and the pages smelled sickly sweet if you got too close–fortunately the only people who knew what that smell was had horror stories from the war where they were the monsters, so they didn’t pry. Valren scanned the pages to find where they’d left off last and started scribbling notes down in mirrorscript goblese.

Their native script of goblese would probably have been safe enough in most cities, but Golan had a not inconsiderable goblin population. Mirrorscript was about the least they could do to keep some secrecy.

Fortunately they’d invested in Secret Ink and and a lens of Magic Detection. When the server set down the plate of pie, even if she could read goblese written backwards, it would look like nothing more than incredibly tedious notes from the market approval board meetings.

“Are you a wizardry student?” she asked.

Valren looked up, “I wish,” they scowled, “No, there’s precisely one place to gain magical training in this town, and it only takes people it deems to be women. Valren speared a bite of pie with their fork and shoveled it into their mouth.

The server looked around and sat down. Valren hadn’t paid much attention to her at first, but noticed now she was a half-elf, a species surely only marginally more popular around town than goblin. “And of course only a fairly narrow scope of magic,” she said.

Valren cocked a painted on eyebrow. “You want to study too?”

The light boned, oak-toned half elf nodded, “But the sisters don’t take too kindly to the use of cast off husks.” She slipped the rough-bound tome from the goblin’s hand and turned it over to look at the front, “Binding?”

Valren’s golden eyes widened slightly, just an instant, “Well, when no one wants to teach you healing or fire magic and you find a book full of summoning sigils and incantations… you take what you can get.”

The two appraised each other–the server noted Valren’s awkward frame and crafted femininity, Valren noted the stud of bone next to her eye that they’d previously taken for a piercing.

“Viola,” the half-elf said, offering a hand.

“Valren,” the transgendered goblin said, taking the thing hand and shaking gently. “Magic detection?” they asked tapping the side of their eye socket analogous to the half-elf’s bone stud.

“Less conspicuous than goggles, greenie,” she taunted lightly.

“Lots of goblins wear goggles,” they replied. “Light makes us tetchy.

Minds Turning Like Graves

It was a young shepherd who first told us, before we heard a thing.

He came running flat out into town, “the, the nec-” he gasped for breath as he stood doubled over in front of the town elder. He put his hand on the boy’s hot shoulder, told him to take a moment. Standing up straighter, he tried again, “The necromancers,” he wheezed, “they- they’re coming and…” he sucked in another breath, “Well. you have to see it.”

We heard it first. The sound of wind whistling through bones clattering slightly, a slow march step and the creak of wheels. A large white banner rose over the hill, poles clutched in shining white hands of skeletons marching before wagon with white pennants streaming from short poles on it’s corners. A group dressed in blacks and reds sat in the driving seat of the wagon, and on the walls of it’s bed, but no one held the reigns. A skeletal horse team drew it, and seemed to need no direction. It slowed of it’s own accord as it approached town, but stopped just outside the gates.

One of the spellcasters hopped down from the wagon, and straightened his robe.

All of them wore fine plush robes, so clean they shined, without wrinkle or blemish. They seemed to want to make an impression on us.

“Hail,” the necromancer said, “may we speak with the elder? We have an offer to make.”

There were murmurs through the crowd that had gathered, and a wave of fearful anger swept through it, until it dissipated as the elder stood from his seat on the wall of the town well and held a hand up to calm his people.

“I am the elder,” he said, “you may call me Jerrick.”

“Hail, Jerrick, I am Vesner. May my companions- sorry, living companions, come into your town? The skeletons will stay out here.”

“Who will control them if you come in?” Elder Jerrick asked, more inquisitive than accusatory or fearful.

“They have orders to remain here and do nothing. Doing nothing is their default state, it takes a command for them to act.”

Elder Jerrick nodded, and motioned for the watch to let them in. “Do you take tea?” he asked the necromancer who’d identified himself as Vesner.

“Yes, please,” the necromancer said with unexpected graciousness.

Elder Jerrick whispered a request for tea to his daughter who disappeared into the Elder’s house at the center of the market. “Well, it’s quite a lovely day, shall we speak out here?” Elder Jerrick asked Vesner, motioning to a shaded clearing surrounded by fruit trees.

Vesner and his companions looked around, “so long as your people don’t mind, with pleasure.”

The group sat and talked over tea as Elder Jerrick’s daughter emerged with a tray and kettle. The spellcasters explained their plan, including the provenance of the skeletons they’d brought–some were prisoners who’d been executed, others who’d had no family at death and accepted a lavish religious funeral in exchange for donation of their body, but, surprisingly, many of them were apparently entirely magically created.

We didn’t know magic could do that.

At the end of hours of talk, Elder Jerrick, who’d listened politely and quietly, only asking for clarification when it was needed nodded. “I cannot speak for my people on this. I understand that you are making this offer in good faith, and that your methods are quite apart from what we would assume. But at the end of the day, it is for them to decide whether they will accept.”

“Will you accept a skeleton, or small group of them, as town property?” Vesner asked. “They can be of great value.”

Elder Jerrick considered, and finally spoke, “let me think on that. Let us see what the people say. You have my permission to present your offer to them, though…” Elder Jerrick looked to the amassed horde outside the gate, “perhaps for space reasons, staying outside the town for that would be best.”

Vesner laughed. “Certainly, certainly. Thank you, Elder Jerrick.”

The older man nodded and shook their hands–he would later tell me those hands were quite cold–as they stood.

Vesner and his companions returned to their wagon and took a chest from beside the staves. As they opened it and pulled a table from it’s depths–far too large to have fit the chest’s apparent size–an attractive female necromancer started gathering the townspeople.

She was slight of form, but with a healthy softness. Her robes clung delicately to her body, and her hair was a bright red–in another context, it would be the colour of blood, but here, with such a cheerful smile, it called more to mind roses.

Maybe it was the rose that adorned it.

“Alright, we’re all friends here, gather around,” she said, motioning people to draw closer. “Does anyone have any particular magical training or talent?” she asked before beginning.

“I’m an adept,” Elder Jerrick offered, “I can manage a few blessings and tricks, but nothing on the order of a wizard. I’ve explained a few magical phenomena to my people now and again, though.”

“Great, just needed to know what the knowledge level was, wanted to make sure we didn’t accidentally talk down to you guys.” She flashed a brilliant, perfect smile. Those teeth were more otherworldly than any skeletal horde, just for their whiteness and evenness. A few in the crowd were audibly jealous.

“So, as you probably gathered,” Vesner said, taking the center, “we’re from the college which opened up a few days travel back–though with our horses, it’s one day’s travel. Horses that don’t need sleep are handy like that,” he stage muttered, to the appreciative murmurs of the farmers and couriers in the crowd. “We know that a tower full of necromancers is viewed slightly less favourably than an devastation beetle infestation popping up in most places, so we thought about what we could do to build some bridges with our neighbours.”

“What we came up with is offering some of the benefits of necromancy to folks, free of charge, just to take some of the mystery out of it,” the female necromancer said, “Hi, I’m Aleys.”

Another necromancer, a man of obvious ork lineage, with shoulders the size of Vesner’s twice over, and standing easily two feet taller, with a cloth over one eye, came up holding a staff and a torch-sized rod in one hand. His voice was a deep whisper, like far off rockfalls in caves. “You may call me Graf. What we decided to do was offer each household here a skeleton. We sent a runner up for some basic supplies who also did a quick count and a bit of reconnaissance,” tilted his head in theatric contrition, “Sorry about that.”

At Graf’s beckon, a skeleton emerged from the horde and walked over, clattering slightly as it walked. “One of the common misconceptions about undead,” he began, “is that the soul of the person is trapped inside. While it is true about some undead, usually sapient undead such as vampires, mindless undead, such as these skeletons, are magically animate automatons. Necromancers have used magic to converse with the dead in the afterlife, who had no knowledge of the use of their corpses in necromancy, so we can say with quite a bit of confidence that this skeleton is the shell that was used by a person in life, and nothing more.”

“Another misconception is that the undead hunger for the flesh of the living,” Aleys said. “Again, this is true for some, vampires and ghouls notably, but this skeleton hungers for nothing.” She crouched down and produced a rabbit from the chest and dramatically held it in front of the skeleton, which made no move.

“Much like an axe can be used to commit murder, a mindless skeleton can be used to destroy life.” Vesner said. “Kill the rabbit.” he commanded the skeleton passively and without interest. As the skeleton reached for the animal in Aleys’ arms, Vesner suddenly said “Stop!” causing it to halt in mid grab. “And just like an axe, it only carries the intent of the person who uses it. Hold the rabbit.” Vesner commanded, and Aleys placed the rabbit in the skeleton’s cradling arms.

The crowd’s breath held as the rabbit shifted in the arms of the skeleton, and it did nothing to the animal, even as the rabbit began to brux on the skeleton’s rib.

Vesner held the staff in his hand up, “This staff allows anyone holding it to use the spell Command Undead at will, as well as Inflict Light Wounds to repair the skeleton of any damage which it might suffer. Undead are fueled by antilife– the energy which heals a mortal harms an undead, and the energy which harms a mortal heals the undead. Would anyone like to try controlling the skeleton?”

The crowd muttered among themselves before the blacksmith, Richt, stepped forward. Vesner handed him the staff, “Remember, the skeleton will follow your command verbatim, exactly as you say.”

“How do I use the staff?” Richt asked.

“Just give a command to the skeleton with the intent to command it, the staff does the rest.”

Richt looked at the skeleton and pointed the staff at it, “Dr-put the rabbit down,” he said, with a steadiness that belied the anxiety inside him.

The skeleton bent at the pelvis, and gently placed the rabbit on the grass, and stood up as Aleys moved to pick the rabbit up and place it back into the chest.

Richt considered, and looked to Vesner, “May I?” The necromancer nodded. “Follow,” the muscle-bound man in a leather apron said, as he walked to his forge. “Can I demonstrate an action for it to perform later?” he asked.

“Certainly. We’ve ‘taught’ them to harvest pumpkins. Tell it to watch your actions, and then say ‘that is making a sword,’ or whatever you want to show them.”

Richt nodded, “Watch me,” he said to the skeleton before leaning the staff against the counter of his open air shop and picked up a bellows. He carefully stoked the fire inside, blowing air in, and telling it conditions under which to give it air or turn coals over, with Vesner’s aid. “That is stoking the forge.” Richt said. “Stoke the forge.”

The skeleton took up the bellows, peered into the forge, and gave it two short bursts of air, set the bellows down, and picked up an iron to turn the embers over. Richt stood back in awe.

“In your line of work you will need to exercise care if you take a skeleton. They could reach into a baker’s oven and be little the worse for wear, and in general, they will have no problem with radiant heat, but your forge is hot enough to cremate bone, so they will need safety equipment much like your own.”

“Can they make weapons?” Richt asked.

“Skilled labour is best left to sapient creatures, but with a detailed enough process of conditional orders, it is possible for them to produce basic weapons. Artisanry will still be the purview of yourself and other sapient smiths.”

“And they can work all day?”

“No rest needed. This skeleton can stoke a fire or make basic metal ware all through the night and into the day. The only limit will be how well you can sleep through the pounding.”

Richt considered. “What if I wanted two skeletons?”

Vesner’s smile spread across his face, a look of genuine satisfaction, “Well, the typical human requires five silvers worth of obsidian to animate. There is also the cost of the, er, material, which is dependent upon a number of things. But a simple skeleton such as this one we could create for a cost of 10 silvers, and would sell for 20.”

Richt nodded.

The boom of an explosion thundered across the town. Everyone spun in the direction of the mill and ran flat out to it.

“ALEYS, GRAF! BRING TEN!” Vesner shouted as he followed the crowd.

No one in town will forget the sound of eleven skeletons in an all out run. The clatter was deafening, and the scrape of bone on stone as they neared was like nails on a chalkboard.

“SKELETONS! ENTER THE MILL, PICK UP A WORKER, AND BRING THEM OUT, KEEP THEM SAFE FROM THE FLAMES.” Vesner commanded as Aleys chanted a short invocation and touched his shoulder with a hand that shimmered red, blue and green, a radiant cascade slowly enveloping him as he strode into the flames with the skeletons. Flames licked at his robe and feet, but were rebuffed by a thin force.

The remaining horde of skeletons were brought up to aid the bucket chain, forming two pairs of rows of their own, handing up an endless stream of buckets along two rows then down the other.

“HOLD THAT FRAME!” Vesner shouted inside as timbers cracked.

Eventually, nine skeletons carried out nine men, burned, coughing, but alive. Vesner and the tenth did not emerge until the flames had been doused, the last skeleton carrying a prone form in it’s arms.

My father.

“He was at the center of the fire,” Vesner said as the skeleton laid him on the ground between us. In the moment, with it’s blackened bones, I hated the thing, blaming it for his death, as if it were an avatar of the grave that killed with a touch, rather than the unwavering tool that tried to save him. Vesner indicated the burns over his body, “he likely died instantly, probably painlessly. I’m sorry.”

I looked at the necromancer. Then from him, to my father, to the skeleton.

“Yes.” Vesner said reading my open mind, “I could raise him. I have no skill with the gods, but his body can be animated. If you wished, if he wished, I could animate him as a skeleton, then use another spell to return his mind to him. Speech with the dead is a simple matter, we can speak to him privately, later.”

I nodded.

The town was still hesitant about using the skeletons. In the end, the necromancers let every household take a staff as they’d be useful in defending the town from rogue undead, bandits and monsters, and as a sort of receipt to claim an undead at a latter point if the household changed its mind. About a third of my neighbours took skeletons, and the town was gifted ten in trust. Richt commissioned several skeletons with more trainable minds.

My father wasn’t sure how he felt about becoming an undead. He wanted to think about it. But he also didn’t want to leave us without his income and protection. I still don’t fully understand, but Vesner created some psuedo-duplicate of my father’s spirit to place in the skeleton, and a small pebble that could speak to him in the afterlife. Vesner cautioned that though my father was a good man, he only had so long to make his decision, before his spirit was subsumed into the divine.

Wexford University of Wightcraft

Discussions on the gaming forum I  frequent have me thinking about the Magic School genre. Personally, I like the idea of magic instruction being handled by higher, rather than primary or secondary education, since this allows for magic folk who are competent in the mundane world.

I don’t want to explain everything, but I figured it’d be good to explain that much.

“School full of fucking magicians, and they’ve got me on a fucking plane,” I grumble softly as I stand in line for security, shifting the weight of my body and my bag from one supporting leg to the other. As I neared the tables, I started working my feet out of my loosely tied canvas shoes before stopping as the speakers above squawked-

“Holders of maroon and chartreuse checkered tickets, please see the security attendant designated by the same coloured badge, for a special process.” I looked around, pushing my foot back into my shoe, and held the red and green patterning of my ticket up to be seen by a guard who’d met my eyes. It was subtle, but his uniform was older in style than those worn by the other attendants, and not just 80s shoulder pads style. The pants were plain and simply made, black with a stripe of red and green banded ribbon up the sides, the shirt more of a pale blue tunic, not tucked in, with a slightly darker vest, more of a doublet, over it. On the upper chest of his vest, there was an embroidered patch of a shield, an orange band across the top, the rest maroon, save for a smaller red shield centered upon it with a stripe of pale blue down it’s center. He nodded as he saw my ticket’s checkered edge and waved me over.

“Are you, er, with the university?” I asked, recognizing the colours of his badge from the letter that had arrived a few months ago, unbidden, and deeply confusing,

“I am,” he replied, “please, follow me. I just want to see if there are any others…. ah, yes.” He gestured again to people in line, and I was shortly joined by four more people. Nervous, unsure. Only one seemed perfectly at ease. He had the confidence that often came to the conventionally attractive. I looked him over as he strode up, greeting the guard with a distant warmth. He was tall, his build solid, muscled, but not overly bulky. His hair and teeth impeccable, and his clothes quite expensive.

The other four of us traded a sidelong glance as we all knew this was some trustfund pissant. His manner with the security attendant was that of a man accustomed to dealing with servants, underlings and hired hands, which must be dealt with in a magnanimous, but firm manner, to keep them in a good a mood even as you reminded them of their relative station.

“Yes, hello, Mr. Cascara,” the guard said, practically forgetting the rest of us, “I was told I would be he- serving you today.”

“Mm, yes. I do hope this bit about procedure is for the, er, mundies’ benefit?”

“Oh, don’t worry, sir,” the attendant said, ushering us through a door, “it’s perfectly quick process, nothing like the ordeal they must go through. Wouldn’t want the wrong sort to get through and be a danger to the new year of students.”

The four of us not obviously brought up by someone made of more wood pulp than an actual tree rolled our eyes as one, and, to my amusement, so do the attendant as Mr. Cascara stepped past him.

“So, I take it you have a good idea what this is all about, Cascara?” I said.

He turned, his face knit in something between offense and incomprehension that someone addressed him in a room clearly containing only a single peer.

“Mr. Cascara, please,” he smiled fakely, “Yes, my family has been in the University for generations. We’ve contemplated moving to England so that we may start our instruction much earlier, but so many of the family inv-”

“Right, so you know what’s going on. Good on you,” I said, cutting his recitation of the family wiki article short and silently enjoying the look on his face as he suddenly wasn’t allowed to finish gloating. “I’m sure your family thinks it’s hot shit, but the mark of a good breeding in this instance would be making your knowledge available to the people who clearly don’t have generations of immersion in this world, not making sure the school employee knows what you think his place is.”

Cascara scowled. “So you’ve chosen to make enemies before the term has begun,” he said. “Well, it’s certainly a novel concept. I didn’t particularly expect you lot to know your wands from your asses, but this is a surprise.”

“Wait, wands? We get wands?” said one of the others, a slim young woman in glasses behind me.

“The letter mentioned something about them,” I said before turning back to Cascara. “Fuck sake, stop this bullshit peerage routine. We all can trace our lines back to fabled magicians, that’s how this works. Just because your family is so carefully arranged that most of the members are of the illuminatable percent doesn’t mean you’re better.”

“Yes, it does,” Cascara said, “Tell me, have you received tutoring in spells? Dueling? Metabiology?”

“Formal? No, but I’d lay wager that much of mythology was based on what comes from the Other Realm, so there is a certain amount of autodidactism going for me.”

“IF you needed a bezoar, where would you look?” Cascara asked, the question mark replaced with gloating.

“Stomach of a goat. Failing that, a cat’s stomach or the stomach of a nervous preteen young woman with poor habits. A bezoar is an accumulation of hair and undigested food particles commonly found in goats, but more commonly heard of these days in ‘bizarre surgery’ listacles online, and standing to reason possibly discoverable in cats, which are believed to cure poison.”

Cascara was slightly taken aback. “Luck. What is the procedure for homunculus creation?”

“Combine the master’s blood or scum with clay and a few various herbs in a mason jar, shake to combine, and bring to around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the optimal temperature of compost, and maintain that for 40 days, after which time the now transparent humanoid form should be kept at 104 degrees Fahrenheit and fed blood daily for 40 weeks. Of course this is my own surmising of the accuracy of medieval texts. It’s entirely possible that it does in fact require specifically semen, specifically horse manure, etc, but I’m going out on a limb that such things are medieval reference, not absolute necessities.”

Cascara was silent a long while as I smirked. “What,” he said with a smug self-satisfaction, “is the purpose of the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“While the Philosopher’s Stone’s most known capability is facilitating the transformation of base metals, such as lead, into higher metals, such as silver or gold, its purpose was the transmutation of the human form, purifying the base flesh into a higher form, potentially one which is immortal, certainly one which is rejuvenated. Of course, I am self-taught from what is considered mythology, so I cannot know what the true purpose is, but that is what the mythology posits, and I’ve been right so far, so I feel fairly confident in saying that the true purpose of the philosopher’s stone is to rejuvenate the alchemist and grant them immortality.” I see from the corner of my eye the amused smiles of my fellow lost wights–magically gifted peoples whose families forgot their lineage. Cascara clearly wants to find some way to prove his superiority over me.

No one’s under any delusions that his likely-magically-augmented physique is somehow anything but superior to my all-natural flaws-and-all body bricolaged to an approximation of my satisfaction with transition hormones. But this has nothing to do with physiological giftedness. This is all about the wealthy lording around over the lower class. Gee, look at that, magic’s no cure for human bullshit.

The attendant cleared his throat, “There is a plane to catch, ladies and gentlemen.”

I looked to the attendant and shouldered my bag again, “yeah,” I said, looking back to Cascara, “I’m sure the plane won’t mind us continuing our measuring.” I turned and followed the attendant through the door, “Not sure how much the inches matter when it’s clear I’m still unrolling measure tape and Cascara here’s already tucking his away making apologies and saying this never happens to him.”

The Demon of Innocence

As a disclaimer, this story deals with the theme of priests who molest children. It does not graphically describe the act, but does allude to such, and so people who are sensitive to or triggered by the subject may wish to avoid reading this.

I am more than aware that only a very, very small minority of priests molest children. Less than 1%, in fact. It is, however, a truth that adults do exist who abuse their authority over children to abuse them. I am not accusing priests as a whole of this abuse of power, this is a fictional piece about a specific fictional priest, not an indictment of men of faith in general, even if I have little but contempt for that faith.

I hovered over the foul wretch of a man, raven-feathered wings idly flapping. It was only now he got a good look at me, and I pushed my power through the fine mesh of mundanity that usually shrouded it, allowing him a true glimpse of what I was.

“You’ve-” the man quailed before me, mouth suddenly dry and voice hoarse, “you’ve burned out your soul!”

I dismissed my wings and dropped the last foot to the floor, a spectral tail lashing behind me restlessly in my aura, like that of a cat which was biding it’s time as a child flicked it with a feather toy. “Just a short time ago, I’d have scoffed at the idea of a soul.” I padded closer to him, “I’m still not sure I believe in the precise concept you refer to, but obviously some immaterial power exists beyond the spheres material.”

The man was on the verge of quivering in his cassock, hands rising to his mouth as he sunk to his knees. “H-how could you do… this,” he gestured weakly, “to your immortal soul, my boy?” His face was a twisted painting of sorrow and pity.

I sneered. “I am not ‘your boy’,” I snarled, and turned as I heard a tiny gasp behind me. A child–the child whose pain, dimly sensed from across space and time as he called out for salvation from the torment pressed into him by this loathsome abomination in holy clothing, brought me here–cowered behind the jam of the door. My visage unknit, softening as I knelt, playing the knight of justice arrived to rescue the innocent, the spectral imagery of my power resolving for a moment into polished black armour. “Child, do not fear. I am his punishment. I am the answer to your pleas, you will not be harmed-” I turned to look at the man before me, “ever again.”

“How could you turn from the Creator like this?” the man continued, seemingly completely oblivious to his victim’s gaze. “How could you turn your soul to ash for a pittance from the Deceiver?”

“How? Because I’m better than that sorry excuse for omnipotence,” I said, my lips curling in disgust, “and the ‘Deceiver,’ as you call him, actually answered my pleas when your… ‘Creator’,” I spat the words like bile from my throat, “showed no interest.”

The wretch, the… thing who dared to call himself a holy man before me, rose from his knees, suddenly incensed, righteous indignation moving across his face like a wild fire through a dry field, “How dare you. HOW DARE YOU! NO WASTREL WHO PROFFERS HIS SOUL TO THE PITS CAN PRETEND TO EVEN ONE IOTA OF HIS GREATNESS. YOU ARE LESS THAN A GRAIN OF SAND AND GOD IS AS THE UNIVERSE!” The man fumed before me, nearly reaching for my throat.

I readmitted my wings into this plane of matter in an unfurling explosion of force, my hands shooting out to grasp his robe, the man tried to stumble back but my hot fists and sharp claws held fast to the thick fabric, not yet tearing or burning through it, though holes slowly hissed through as the white cloth blackened and smoldered in my grip. “Do you know the key difference between your pauper churl of a god and I? When I hear the cries of a child coerced by a man they trusted, rendered a helpless piece of meat to his disgusting appetites… I respond.” My wings wrapped around us, shielding the sight of the violence I was preparing to unleash from the innocent eyes of the boy behind me. “I dare, because I intervene.”

The pitiful dross-heap’s eyes were wide, “I- I never t-touched that boy… You are being deceived by the Serpent of the Garden! I am a simple priest! Please, do not fall for the lies of the pit!” he pleaded with me.

“No lie could pierce the space of mortals as his cry did.” I… wasn’t actually entirely certain of that. Conceivably a lie believed by enough people, with enough faith behind it, could in fact do so, and the power of the Patriarch does evince something to that effect. “But, shall we examine your mind? I can do that, you know. It’s a simple matter for my power to creep across the folds of your brain, reading the memories stored within as if they were brail on a page. Will those memories save you? Prove you did not harm this child? Or will they proffer a testimony that only condemns your pitiful…” my lips curled of their own accord, and spat “soul.”

His vestments finally succumbing to my grasp of hellfire, the man tore free from me, the chest of his robe in tatters. He backed away, pushing through the tips of my wings, and I slowly followed, wings still curled, blocking him from running to either side, until he backed into the door of the confessional. His panic was wrought across his face as he fumbled with the door behind him, pushing it open and falling through, closing the door behind him.

I had no care for the door, and plunged sharp claws through the edge, pulling it open and breaking latch and jam. I stepped into the small space, towering over the man who knelt in fervent prayer for his life.

I pulled the door close behind me, and smiled in the darkness.

“…Father protect me from the demon that Satan has sent…” he muttered beneath me.

“Hello, father! Have you come to confess your sins?” I said with avuncular warmth. I reached down and pressed my hand against his forehead, gripping his skull and prying into his memory.

The man’s fervent faith put up an almost impressive fight as I searched. The first things I saw were memories of his time in seminary, of helping parishioners, and I almost thought that perhaps I’d assaulted the wrong man. But pushing deeper, I found the memories he didn’t want discovered. I was disgusted by the sensation he remembered, the visceral memory that tried to creep up my arm and sit in my own mind, to claim my own nerves and make me feel the same sense. When I found the visual memories, I nearly retched. I tore my hand away from him, the memories welling in the forefront of his mind as if a hose had been torn free of a spout.

The man’s plaintive whimpers for protection were suddenly turned into pleas for forgiveness in awareness of his crimes. “…b-bless me f-father for I have s-sinned…” he moaned as he was paralyzed with fear and only the hind brain functioned, spitting out rote memorizations.

“How long has it been since your last confession?” I intoned, my mocking avuncularness replaced with reviling contempt.

“O-one w-week” he muttered.

“May the darkness like unto that of the pit where the abominable dwell push you to make a full confession of your sins.”

“I-I have… I…” the pitiful heap of dross could not summon the words to confess. He quivered and moaned beneath me.

“You have abused your position of authority, you have preyed upon your flock, you have betrayed the trust of small children and violated their innocence with your diseased needs born of repression.”

It was almost imperceptible in his frightful shaking, but he nodded in admission.

“I do not absolve you of your sins. Mistakes can be mended, but crimes such as these require punishment. There is no known rehabilitation for one such as you, to my mind, thus you must be rendered unable to commit them in future.” I grasped his head between my hands, “Do you accept your earthly punishment, and any punishment which may be assigned to your incorporeal form?”

The man of false-righteousness seemed to finally break the surface of the memory of his sins, treading the thick, black water of the psyche, and looked up to me. One eye spoke fire and wrath, of fierce denial of his actions, of a refusal to accept my punishment of him. The other accepted all culpability, that it had grievously and heinously acted in violating assault of the innocent. The light of his eyes warred a moment as his brow furrowed in mental exertion, before at last he gazed up again in contrition. I withdrew all dams and barriers which held my might from pouring through my hands, and the infernal force of my Hellish power slammed into his skull from each side, with an effect like unto the hot shockwave of an atomic bomb.

His body slumped to the ground, no longer supported by my grip on skull and blood seeped from the remains of his head, dribbling down his robes, writing his sins on the white fabric.

I turned and left, pushing the door closed behind me, muttering an incantation to seal it to innocents such as the child outside. The child who now stood before me.

I knelt once again, one knee to the ground as a defending crusader before his charge in a painting. My power blazed around me, perceived by this small victim as solid black fire encasing my form as armour. He placed his hands on either side of my face, removing my helm in his sight. “A-am I safe?” he asked, tears coalescing in his eyes.

I lifted one hand to his cheek. The hand that radiated destruction into the skull of my quarry now emanating soothing calm. “You are.” I said. “He has been punished, and cannot harm you ever again.”

“Thank you,” the boy quietly said. His innocence was damaged, tarnished, but not gone. I hoped that it would recover.

“You are welcome, but no thanks is needed, to protect a child is the duty of any who would call themselves powerful or just.” My other hand came to cradle his face, “are there others who acted with him in harming you?”

The boys eyes threatened to flood again as he nodded.

“Do you have family that can protect you?”

Tears broke the levee of his eyes and streamed down his face as he shook his head in my tender grasp.

“I will make sure you are protected. Will you come with me?” I would never let another adult force this child ever again, and I was not about to do so myself.

He nodded, and I picked him up as I stood. Unseen behind me as we winked away from the sanctuary of that temple of false-righteousness pages fluttered to the ground to be found by administrators in the morning when they searched for the former orphan.