5th Edition Sahir (Niall Christie)

Sands of Time (Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, reproduced with permission)

According to the Qur’an, sihr (magic) was taught to mankind by two fallen angels named Harut and Marut, to tempt them away from the straight path of Islam. Those they taught then passed on their knowledge to following generations. In some cases, the knowledge was corrupted under the influence of Greek and Latin texts, becoming the magic practiced by raqis (middle eastern mage-alchemists) and other natural magicians.

In other cases, much was forgotten, leaving only the few snippets known to the ‘arrafs (middle eastern folk wizards) and other cunning folk. However, throughout the Muslim world, there is a tradition of magi who claim to practice the magic in its pure form. These magi are the sahirs (m. sing. sahir, f. sing. sahira). Blood and Sand, pages 64-66

The recent publication of Realms of Power: The Infernal has presented rules mechanics that can be easily adapted to update the sahirs from Blood and Sand: The Levant Tribunal to Ars Magica Fifth Edition. It is this objective that I have sought to achieve in this article.

In doing so, I have attempted to fulfill a number of requirements:

  1. The rules should retain the flavour of the original sahir rules from Blood and Sand, while not necessarily being required to be a carbon copy thereof. One concrete example of this is that the planetary summoning aspect of the sahirs has been pared down and abstracted into a lab activity. The version of the sahirs presented here is actually much closer to how I envisaged them being than the final version that made it into Blood and Sand.
  2. They should in general abide by the requirements of canonical Ars Magica, so that players will feel comfortable using them in their own sagas.
  3. They should wherever possible make effective use of existing rules in order to avoid simply adding more rules and hence creating further unnecessary complications. Realms of Power: The Infernal and The Mysteries Revised Edition provide rules that can be easily adapted to achieve this.
  4. Finally, they should allow players enough flexibility in developing their characters to make them interesting and distinctive.

Sahirs in ArM5 are high-powered non-Hermetic wizards and as such would be best played as an alternative to Hermetic magi. Sahirs are affiliated with both the Magic and Faerie realms, the realms to which most of the jinn, the creatures that they most frequently summon, are also affiliated.

Required Virtues

All sahirs must take the free Social Status Virtue Sahir (or Sahira, if female). This specifies their social status and also enables the character to take Arcane and Academic Abilities. They may not start the game with Abilities clearly associated with the Order of Hermes, such as Code of Hermes.

All sahirs have the Gift, which has broadly the same effect that it has for Hermetic magi (ArM5, page 36), though in the case of sahirs it grants the ability to use sihr rather than Hermetic magic. Theoretically a sahir could later learn Hermetic magic or other Supernatural Abilities, but given the penalties imposed by prior knowledge of Supernatural Abilities (ArM5, page 166) this would be almost impossible without Mystery Initiation. As a result of their training, all sahirs receive the Minor General Virtue Arcane Lore for free; experience gained from this Virtue may be spent on Arcane Abilities, True Names and Sahir Arts (see below).

Sahirs may take up to 10 points of Flaws and an equal number of points of Virtues. In choosing Virtues and Flaws, they follow the guidelines for Hermetic magi (ArM5, page 37). Storyguides should exercise appropriate flexibility with regard to Hermetic Virtues and Flaws, allowing the player to choose Hermetic Virtues and Flaws that will affect their magic but prohibiting anything that is too clearly linked to Hermetic magic or the Order of Hermes. A sahir whose magic is attuned to the lunar cycle, for example, might be affected by the Cyclic Magic Minor Hermetic Virtue and/or Flaw, but a sahir may not normally have the Hermetic Minor Virtue Hermetic Prestige.

Sahirs must take the Minor Supernatural Virtues Second Sight and Magic Sensitivity, which enable them to perceive and interact with the entities that they summon. These Virtues must be balanced with Flaws as normal. As a final note, many sahirs found outside Muslim lands have the Outsider Major Social Status Flaw.

Abilities and Arts

A sahir’s apprenticeship is not as formalised as that of a Hermetic magus, and there is no set period of time for apprenticeship or examination that completes it; instead, a prospective sahir can only seek out what teachers they can and depend on their abilities to make them accepted as an equal by others. As a result, the range of Abilities possessed by sahirs tends to be quite broad, although some Abilities are particularly prominent (see below). In addition, all sahirs have two Arts, called Sahir Summoning and Sahir Commanding, which they use to summon and control spirits.

In terms of calculating experience points for Abilities and Arts, a sahir should be generated in the same way as a regular companion or grog character (ArM5, page 31), although as a result of their free Arcane Lore Virtue they will have an additional 50 points to spend on Arcane Abilities, True Names, Sahir Summoning and Sahir Commanding.

Sahirs should begin play with the following minimum Ability and Art scores. These account for 105 of the character’s experience points (remember that the sahir receives scores of 1 in Second Sight and Magic Sensitivity for free when they buy the appropriate Virtues).

  • Area Lore 1
  • Artes Liberales 2
  • Bargain 1
  • Faerie Lore 2
  • Magic Lore 2
  • Magic Sensitivity 1
  • Penetration 1
  • Second Sight 3
  • Sahir Commanding 4
  • Sahir Summoning 4

Sihr

Sahirs engage in a number of distinct magical practices, as follows:

Name Hunting

Like Infernalists, sahirs need access to large numbers of Arcane Connections to the creatures that they intend to summon. As a result, they have become adept at gleaning arcane texts for the True Names of such creatures. This is reflected in the fact that they may apply the rules on learning True Names (RoP: I, pages 34-35) to the Faerie and Magic realms as well as the Infernal. In addition, they may also learn the True Names of the planets in a similar way. The names of planets, however, are learned as regular Abilities, although they still count as Arcane Connections to the planets in question for the purpose of summoning. When a sahir learns Artes Liberales from a text that includes the True Name of a planet, the sahir may choose to apply the experience gained to an Ability, “True Name of X,” where X is the name of a planet, instead of to the regular Artes Liberales Ability. The Specialty of such an Ability is one of the areas of influence listed under the appropriate planet’s sphere of influence (see TMRE, page 57). Planetary True Name Abilities may only be increased by studying texts on Artes Liberales that specifically contain such True Names. The use of planetary True Names is explained below.

Note: Some players and storyguides may be uncomfortable with this sahir practice, since it is by no means clear that the ArM5 canon permits learning True Names of non-Infernal creatures in this way. In such a case it may be dispensed with, and the sahir will simply have to find another way to learn the True Names of or gain Arcane Connections to the entities that they wish to summon.

As an aside, it is not clear what realm the planets draw their power from. The sahirs are affiliated to both the Magic and Faerie realms, but sahirs whose ability to manipulate planetary spirits has been corrupted into False Powers due to Sahir Corruption (see below and RoP: I, pages 88-89) have not reported any deterioration in their powers when they have used them as Infernal powers. Perhaps the planets belong to all realms, or perhaps this is a flaw in the sahir theory of magic that remains unexplained.

Sahir Planetary Magic

In addition to summoning spirits of the world, as implied above sahirs also summon the spirits of the planets in order to incorporate their influences into their magic. In game terms, this is represented by them being able to make use of the benefits of Planetary Magic (TMRE, pages 30-31) when creating Periapts (see below).

Sahir Periapts

Sahirs may create Periapts in the same way as Hermetic magi (TMRE, page 48), except that they may only create Periapts that have powers falling under the spheres of influence of planets of which they know True Names. The sahir’s Lab Total is calculated using Intelligence + Sahir Summoning + appropriate Planetary True Name + Aura Modifier. Any bonuses derived from Laboratory Horoscopes are added in to this total. In addition, the sahir may also make use of Shape and Material bonuses in the same way as do Hermetic magi to increase their Lab Total still further (see ArM5, page 99); in this case, the Shape and Material bonuses are limited by the sahir’s Artes Liberales (Astronomy). Note that all of these bonuses stack, enabling sahirs to achieve quite impressive Lab Totals.

Example: Wardat al-Quds (see below) wants to create a Periapt that will enable her to seal wounds suffered by her bodyguard so that they can be treated properly later. The storyguide rules that this is equivalent to the Hermetic spell Bind Wound (CrCo 10, ArM5, page 129), which has a level of less than five times Warda’s (“Warda” is the short form of her name in Arabic) Artes Liberales (Astronomy) of effectively 3 (see the restriction on TMRE, page 48), and that this falls under the sphere of influence of the Sun (“health,” TMRE, page 57), which is a planet of which Warda knows the True Name.

Warda decides that she would like to create a Periapt with as many charges as possible, so she uses Sahir Planetary Magic to create a Laboratory Horoscope to discover the best time to create the Periapt. She decides to aim for an Astrological Modifier of +3 to her Lab Total. Warda rolls a stress die, rolling a 7, to which is added her Intelligence (+1), her Artes Liberales (including the Specialty for Astronomy, 3), giving her a total of 11, which is higher than the Ease Factor of 9 (three times the desired bonus). Warda may add 3 to her Lab Total when she creates the Periapt.

At the start of the next season, Warda creates a Periapt Horoscope (TMRE, page 48). She rolls a stress die (rolling a 6), to which she adds her Intelligence (+1) and her Artes Liberales (specialty in Astronomy, so effectively 3), for a total of 10. This exceeds the Ease Factor of 9, so the Horoscope is successfully cast, giving Warda a single-use Lab Text for this Periapt.

Warda’s Lab Total is 1 (Intelligence) +9 (Sahir Summoning) +3 (True Name of the Sun, including her speciality) +4 (the local aura). She also has an additional bonus of +3 for the Astrological Modifier that she gained earlier. She decides to make the Periapt from a set of bandages, which would give her a further +4 to her Lab Total (ArM5, page 110) were it not for the fact that her Artes Liberales (Astronomy) is only 3, limiting her to a +3 bonus. Thus her final Lab Total is 23. Since she effectively has a Lab Text for this activity, she successfully creates a Periapt with five charges (ArM5, page 102). Warda stows the bandages away carefully in a belt pouch for future use.

Sahir Summoning

And He created Jinns from fire free of smoke
Qur’an 55: 15.

Sahirs may summon incorporeal creatures using their Sahir Summoning Art. This functions in the same way as does the Goetic Art Summoning (RoP: I, pages 114-15). However, the sahir version of this Art is not Infernal in nature (see below).

The creatures most commonly summoned by sahirs are the jinn, spirits of smokeless flame that are most commonly found in the Middle East. However, one thing that remains unclear is whether all the jinn have incorporeal forms, enabling them all to be summoned, or if only some do, in which case there are many jinn who are immune to summoning. Should the latter be the case, a goal for a sahir who wishes to push the boundaries of their Arts might be to develop a version of Summoning that will also summon corporeal as well as incorporeal creatures.

Sahirs may seek to strengthen the power of their summoning through the use of sacrifices, much in the way that infernalists use sacrifices in their nefarious practices (RoP: I, page 95). Exactly what any given spirit will welcome as a sacrifice and what bonus such a sacrifice will grant to the sahir’s summoning total is ultimately up to the storyguide, but it will be discovered by the sahir when they learn the spirit’s True Name. The chart on RoP: I, page 95 may be used to calculate bonuses for summoning Infernal creatures, though sahirs who make frequent use of such sacrifices may well damn their souls in the process. Sacrifices to creatures of other realms do not normally involve the same gruesome rituals but also generally provide less power. Some examples of such sacrifices might be as follows:

  • A minor faerie spirit appreciates the gift of a bowl of milk (+1)
  • A magical spirit welcomes a gift of vis (+2)
  • A powerful jinni is pleased to accept the gift of a (minimum level 20) magical item (+5 – maximum bonus possible)

No more than one sacrifice may be used in each summoning attempt, but the bonus from a sacrifice stacks with the Penetration bonus for knowing the spirit’s True Name, making it very useful for inexperienced summoners. Sacrifices may not be used when creating Periapts.

Example: Warda wishes to summon al-Jahiz, a Faerie jinni with a Might of 20. She prepares carefully. She knows that al-Jahiz is an art-lover, hording beautiful objects (+2), so she spends a significant amount of gold securing a beautiful statuette of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. She then prepares a circle and begins the summoning.

Warda’s summoning total is 5 (her roll on a stress die) +3 (Presence) +9 (Sahir Summoning) +5 (her score in Faerie Lore, including her Specialty) +4 (the local aura) +15 (her Penetration, including her Specialty, multiplied by 5 for knowing al-Jahiz’s True Name) +2 (for the sacrifice), for a total of 43, which is over double al-Jahiz’s Might. Soon al-Jahiz appears in the circle looking grumpy, though he brightens a bit when he sees the gift that is waiting for him.

Sahir Commanding and Entrapment

In addition to summoning spirits, sahirs may command them using their Sahir Commanding Art. This Art may be used to command Faerie and Magical (but not Infernal or Divine) spirits. Sahir Commanding functions in the same way as the Goetic Art Commanding (RoP: I, pages 117-19) but again is not Infernal in nature (see below).

In addition to commanding a spirit, the sahir may also attempt to entrap it in an object. The process for achieving this is similar to Goetic Binding (RoP: I, page 117); the sahir should roll a stress die + Intelligence + Sahir Commanding + (Realm) Lore + aura + (Penetration x Penetration Multiplier), aiming to exceed the spirit’s Might score (or twice its Might score if it is not in a summoning circle). See RoP: I page 117 for further details on the process.

Sahir entrapment is not as powerful as its Infernal equivalent. Once the spirit in question is entrapped, the major benefits for the sahir are that the spirit may not leave them until the object within which the spirit is trapped is destroyed, and commands issued to the spirit that would normally require periodic renewal (such as “Protect Me”) do not need to be renewed, while commands that would bring about the release of the spirit (such as “Advise Me”) do not result in the spirit’s release. Spirits may only be entrapped in inanimate objects. Sahirs, especially those who have used trapped spirits to patch near-fatal wounds in the past, guard such items closely.

Note that these are the only advantages to be gained from entrapping a spirit in an item. Unlike Goetic sorcerers who bind spirits into items, sahirs gain neither the ability to harness the spirit’s Might for Magic Resistance through simply touching the item nor the ability to enchant supernatural effects into the item.

Example: Returning to Warda and al-Jahiz; Warda has more plans for al-Jahiz and attempts to entrap him in her copper bracelet. She rolls a stress die, rolling a 3, to which she adds her Intelligence (+1), her score in Sahir Commanding (9), her Faerie Lore (5, including her Specialty), the local aura (+4) and her Penetration total of 15. This gives her a total score of 37. This easily exceeds al-Jahiz’s Might of 20, so he is handily trapped in the bracelet.

Note that entrapping a spirit into an item does not mean that the sahir can automatically command the spirit to perform tasks. The sahir must still roll for the success of each command (RoP: I, pages 117-18), aiming to exceed the spirit’s Might in each case. However, successfully-issued commands can potentially last indefinitely; for example, the “Protect Me” command will last as long as the entrapping item remains intact (though the sahir would of course gain Warping points over time). Legends do tell of more powerful sahirs in the past who created entrapments that allowed anyone who held such an item to control the spirit trapped within it effortlessly, but the wisdom and items of such sahirs remain unknown to their more modern counterparts, though some sahirs do devote themselves to uncovering such things.

Neither [Harut nor Marut] taught anyone without saying: “We are only for trial; so do not blaspheme.” They learned from them the means to sow discord between man and wife. But they could not thus harm anyone except by Allah’s permission.
Qur’an, 2: 102

While RoP: I, page 115 specifies that Goetic Arts are always perceived by the Divine as being unholy, the sahir versions of these Arts are not, since their magical arts were taught to humans by Harut and Marut in order to test their piety and ultimately remain, like Hermetic magic, subordinate to God’s power. However, the Sahir versions of these Goetic Arts are on the whole less powerful than their Infernal counterparts, leading some sahirs to succumb to the temptation to learn the more powerful Infernal versions, damning their souls in the process.

Sahirs and Warping

Like Hermetic magi, sahirs wield at times immense energies in their manipulation of magic, and like Hermetic magi they run the risk of losing control of said energies. However, given that Harut and Marut taught sihr to humans as a temptation, the consequences for sahirs of losing control of their magic are potentially much more sinister than those that afflict Hermetic magi. In minor cases, the raging magics take their toll on the sahir’s mind or body, but in major instances the loss of control can lead to attempts by the Infernal to influence the unfortunate sahir, subtly leading them further down the path to damnation.

When a sahir receives two or more Warping points from a single source, they must add them to their current total then roll to retain control of the forces that afflict them. The sahir rolls Stamina + Concentration + Confidence Score + stress die vs. Warping Score + number of Warping Points gained + character’s Magic Sensitivity + local aura + stress die (no botch). If the roll succeeds, there is no further effect. If the roll fails, the sahir’s mind and body are pounded by the raging energies, and the sahir suffers from Sahir Corruption.

Sahir Corruption

Unlike Hermetic magi, sahirs are not removed from the world when they lose control of their magic, and the ensuing effects last only a few seconds (incapacitating the sahir for a combat round). However, the magic takes its toll on their minds and bodies, and in serious cases it draws the attention of the Infernal realm. The sahir’s player should roll a stress die on the chart below, adding the character’s Stamina to the total:

Roll

Effect

Botch

Gain a Minor (10 Warping Points or less) or Major (more than 10 Warping Points) Tainted Flaw (RoP: I, pages 87-90) or Flaw reflecting Infernal influence or interest (such as Plagued by Demon or Tainted with Evil)

0 or less

Gain a Minor (10 Warping Points or less) or Major (more than 10 Warping Points) Flaw that is appropriate to damage to the mind or body (such as Enfeebled or Delusion)

1

Gain 5 Aging Points in any Characteristic

2

Gain 3 Aging Points in any Characteristic

3

Gain 1 Aging Point in any Characteristic

4

Take an Incapacitating Wound

5

Take a Heavy Wound

6

Lost Knowledge: Lose two experience points for every Warping Point gained in a Sahir Art or Arcane Ability

7

Take a Medium Wound

8

Subtle Personality Change: Increase the value of one sinful personality trait away from 0, to a maximum of +/-5 (thus Wrathful +2 becomes Wrathful +3, or Generous -2 becomes Generous -3)

9-10

Take a Light Wound

11-12

Lose 5 Fatigue levels

13-14

Lose 4 Fatigue levels

15-16

Lose 3 Fatigue levels

17-18

Lose 2 Fatigue Levels

19+

Lose a Fatigue level

Example: In a magical struggle with a demon, Warda gains three Warping Points. Energies assail her, wreathing her in stinking smoke and magical flames as she struggles to control them. Warda rolls a 2 on a stress die, to which she adds her Stamina (0), her Concentration (3), and her Confidence Score (1), for a total of 6. The storyguide rolls a 5 on a stress die, which is added to Warda’s Warping Score (0), the number of Warping points gained (3), her Magic Sensitivity (2) and the local aura (+3), for a total of 13. Warda has lost control and must roll for the effects of Sahir Corruption. Warda rolls an 8 on a stress die, to which she adds her Stamina (0), which gives her a final total of 8. The demon influences Warda’s mind to make her personality shift slightly, and in particular it makes her more obsessively reclusive and intolerant of those who disturb her. Her Reclusive Personality Trait increases from +3 to +4. After a few seconds Warda recovers, but her covenant-mates may notice her seeming even less sociable and more intolerant in the future than she was in the past.

Sample Sahira – Wardat al-Quds

Characteristics: Int +1, Per 0, Str 0, Sta 0, Pre +3, Com +3, Dex -2, Qik -2
Size: 0
Age: 33 (33)
Decrepitude: 0
Warping Score: 0 (0)
Confidence Score: 1 (3)
Virtues and Flaws: The Gift; Sahira; Death Prophecy (Time and Place of al-Abyad’s choosing), Entrancement; Arcane Lore (free), Cyclic Magic (Full Moon), Magic Sensitivity, Premonitions, Second Sight; Driven (Defeat al-Abyad), Plagued by Faerie (jinni, al-Abyad); Cyclic Magic (Dark Moon), No Sense of Direction, Reclusive, Visions
Personality Traits: Brave +1, Determined +2, Reclusive +3
Reputations: None
Combat:
Fist Init -2 Atl 0 Dfn 0 Dam 0
Soak: 0 (Stamina)
Fatigue Levels: OK, 0, -1, -3, -5, Unconscious
Wound Penalties: -1 (1-5), -3 (6-10), -5 (11-15), Incapacitated (16-20), Dead (21+)
Abilities*:Arabic 5 (Holy Land), Artes Liberales 2 (Astronomy), Athletics 1 (Running), Awareness 2 (Alertness), Bargain 2 (Jinn), Brawl 1 (Fist), Charm 2 (Ulterior Motive), Concentration 3 (Long Periods), Entrancement 2 (The Curious), Folk Ken 2 (Peasants), Faerie Lore 4 (2) (Jinn), Guile 2 (Lying to Authority), Holy Land Lore 2 (Deserts), Infernal Lore 2 (1) (Demons), Leadership 2 (Intimidation), Magic Lore 4 (2) (Spirits), Magic Sensitivity 2 (Jinn Lairs), Penetration 2 (Summoning), Premonitions 2 (Jinn Lairs), Second Sight 3 (Jinn), Stealth 2 (Sneak), Survival 2 (Desert), True Name of ‘Aziza (“Dear One,” Magical Ghost, Might 15), True Name of al-Jahiz (“the One with Bulging Eyes,” Faerie jinni, Might 20), True Name of al-Manqa’i (“The Bog-Dweller,” demon, Might 15), True Name of Mars (Violence) 2, True Name of Sharif (“Noble,” Faerie jinni, Might 30), True Name of the Sun (Health) 2, True Name of Yusuf (“Joseph,” Magical Ghost, Might 20)
Arts: Sahir Commanding 9, Sahir Summoning 9
Equipment: Robes, Milaya (All-Covering Cloak), a Copper Bracelet
Encumbrance: 0 (0)

*Scores in Infernal Lore, Faerie Lore and Magic Lore include additional points gained from learning True Names.

Acknowledgment

Many thanks to Angus MacDonald, John Padavic and Lachlan Hayes, who critiqued earlier drafts of this article and offered many helpful suggestions.

Copyright © Niall Christie 2007

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