Of Morte and other Floating Skulls…

Morte: a Former Skull of Abaddon?

The floating skull as a motif for a talisman, familiar, opponent or companion has become a common enough trope in fantasy – think of the likes of the bawdy Morte in Planescape: Torment, the Skulls of Skullport in the Forgotten Realms setting, the Servo-Skulls of Warhammer 40K and even the now terribly pixellated flaming Lost Souls of the original Doom videogame to name a few examples. None may seem particularly suitable for the Order of Hermes, but as far back as ArM2 Covenants, the necromancer Abaddon ex Tytalus was assisted by a mob of skulls that acted as his eyes, ears and mouthpieces throughout the ruined covenant of Val-Negra and a floating version seems feasible…

Size, Shape & Material Considerations

According to ArM5 p97, a skull is a Medium sized object for an enchantment, providing a x3 multiplier and the natural bone has 3 base points, whereas base metals such as iron, copper and lead have 5 base points. Other “base metals” may include brass, bronze, electrum, pewter or even steel alloys – after all “brazen heads” are common enough in Medieval literature and stories.  This effectively multiplies out to 9 or 15 and therefore sets the requirement for 9 or 15 pawns of Vim vis to open the object to Hermetic Investment and limits the effects able to be placed in the device to 90 and 150 levels respectively. Similar formulae are used for various non-Hermetic enchanting methods.

For a more powerful device, either crafting the skull completely of silver (6 base points) or gold (10 base points) can be used to provide higher capacity for spell like effects eg. 180 or 300 levels at the significantly costly increased Vim vis investment likely to be beyond even the most capable Verditius magus with significant Craft and Magic Theory scores. Wood with 2 base points, provides little capacity at 6 but the different types of wood may have significant material bonuses suitable for various effects.

Skulls. What are they Good for Anyway?

According to the near complete combined Shape & Material bonuses PDF on the Atlas website lovingly maintained by Erik Tyrrell, a human skull has the following Shape bonuses:

  • destroy human body +4
  • destroy human mind +5
  • destroy or control ghosts +5
  • destroy or control ghost of particular skull +10

For a natural skull, human bone gives a +3 bonus to destroy human mind and a +4 bonus to destroy human body, but the same table arranged by bonus is useful for determining the potential benefits of the use of different base materials or additional fixtures (jewelled eyes, gold plating, copper springs, sigil inked parchment etc) for mechanic or thematic purposes. So in keeping consistent with the basic theme from the Shape bonuses above, lead as a base material provides the following potential Material bonuses:

  • hatred +3
  • summon or bind ghosts / spirits +3
  • wards +4

For most formulae, Magic Theory or a similar secondary Ability limits the total bonus possible, although various Verditius and other Mystery Virtues can increase or modify this limit.

So although useful for necromancy, in this context the default or common shape and material bonuses provide little benefit for the “floating talking skull” concept without the incorporation of more bespoke components…

Instilled Effect: Flight 

The first thematic effect is that of flight or floating movement. It’s arguable which of the two Rego Corpus base guidelines from ArM5 page 134 applies if the skull is created as a Magic Thing or can otherwise trigger the effect on itself such as in the case of a Talisman.

  • Level 4: Move a target slowly in any direction you please.
    Move a target slowly straight up, or in one direction over surfaces that
    cannot support it.
  • Level 5: Hold a target’s body motionless.
    Move a target slowly in any direction you please, even if the target is unsupported.

The following effects may be applicable:

The Floating Skull; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Corpus; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The skull can float in the air and move slowly in any direction simply by concentrating. If distracted the skull still remains floating but while floating, it cannot support more than 50 pounds additional weight. ReCo 15 (base 4, +2 Sun, +1 constant, +0 size): Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost)

Technically this effect would also suit floating heads, and animal versions of these above powers for non-human skulls are simple enough using the same base effect although technically need to be designed specifically. According to the Rego Terram guidelines in ArM5, page 155, technically moving a skull of stone is similarly a base level 4 effect, whereas a metal or gemstone skull is a base level 5 effect, resulting in potentially minor changes to the final instilled effect for the latter materials.

The Flying Head; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Corpus; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The metal skull or brazen head can float in the air and move slowly in any direction simply by concentrating. If distracted the skull still remains floating but while floating, it cannot support more than 50 pounds additional weight. ReCo 15 (base 5, +2 Sun): Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost).

A floating skull capable of supporting the weight of a human sized creature however would required a variant or similar effect to “The Woolen Cloud” power of Amiculum, the Awakened Magic Cloak from RoP:M, page 130-132:

The Floating Servant; 0 points, (Qik -6), Corpus; R: Per, D: Conc, T: Ind
For the duration, the skull can float upon the air and move slowly in any direction. While floating, it can support the weight of up to two human beings provided they are able to harness or attach themselves to the skull.
ReAn(Co) 15 (base 5, +1 Conc, +1 size): Lesser Power (15 levels, –2 Might cost)

Design Note: the first effect is based on “Flight of the Hummingbird” from RoP:M, page 38 which appears to assume that the Level 4 guideline is applicable, whereas the stronger example effect derived from Animiculum is based on the Level 5 guideline. The Terram guidelines are similar and accounting for a magnitude of variation, the spells are similar enough in practice due to their zero Might cost, although technically the first effect for bone skulls automatically renews whereas the effect designed for metal skulls must be activated. 

Instilled Effect: Speech

Replicating the effect of a skull speaking is essentially a modification of the Creo Imaginem spell Phantasm of the Talking Head, but with Personal range so base Level 4.

The Chattering Skull; 0 points, (Qik -2), Imaginem; R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
The skull can converse with human speech, although this is an illusion that affects two senses – the component parts or jaw sculpturing do not actually move.
CrIm 5 (base 2, +2 Sun, +1 constant, +1 intelligible speech): Personal Power (5 levels, -1 Might cost, 2 remaining intricacy points)

Design Note: by comparison for a familiar on page 105 of ArM5, giving an animal the ability to form human speech is Muto Animal, with a base level of 5 (a minor change that makes the animal unnatural). 

Optional Instilled Effect: Flaming

The following illusory effect is for show and impressing susceptible mundanes. Unfortunately it also is very clearly magic and may provoke accusations of Infernal patronage if used in front of a crowd of mundanes… as if a floating, talking skull wasn’t cause enough for accusations of devilry come to think of it:

Wreath of False Flames; 0 points, Init (Qik -2), Imaginem (Ignem); R: Per, D: Sun, T: Ind
Cloaks the skull constantly in a mane of fire that dances, illuminates, crackles, and (apparently) warms. It does not burn or protect against cold and is only a cosmetic effect.
CrIm(Ig) 10 (base 3, +2 Sun, constant, +1 for light from Ignem requisite); Personal Power (15 levels, -2 Might cost)

This cosmetic effect could be combined with an instilled effect similar to Fearful Flaming Eyes” (RoP:F, page 48), potentially paralysing the target with fear.

An effect that produced real flames would require a CrIg spell similar to “Coat of Flame” ArM5 page 140based on the level 5 guideline “create a fire doing +5 damage in an unnatural shape, such as in a ring or sheet, or covering an item”, but with R: Per and D: Conc. This effect would technically inflict +5 fire damage to the skull per round so would require an additional warding against fire effect or Major Virtue to protect the skull against the flames, such as Greater Immunity: Fire.

 Mechanica of Heron: the Anima Skull variant

In Chapter Six of Ancient Magic, pages 77-78, details are given of creating simple mechanica capable of simulating any single Creo, Rego, Perdo and Muto effect on Auram, Aquam, Ignem, Mentem or Terram. Their intelligent counterparts are created by awakening their anima, providing a sentient being that can create multiple effects and is capable of learning Abilities, including Languages.

Stylistic aspects aside, a mechanica skull fits the whole mimir / Morte as living library trope well, as invested devices and talismans are not normally capable of learning Abilities. A floating talking skull with considerable (Area), (Organisation) and/or (Realm) Lores makes for a more interesting source of XP at the very least.  It is unclear whether this excludes Supernatural Abilities as these typically require a corresponding Virtue, but creative adaption of the Mystery Initiation mechanics or through other non-Hermetic magic such as Lesser Craft Magic (see Rival Magic, pages 11-12) or similar. Employment of other spell like powers through the use of unique simple mechanica that can “modify” the anima may provide an interesting avenue to explain such development and even provide additional effects through the use of these simpler devices as extensions or carried as tools.

Technically, in the RAW, the anima needs to be a simulacrum of a living creature and not a body part, although there is *no* limitation on the anima being an animal despite the numerous examples given. So a human or fantastical creature form is possible like the famous Turk or a chimerae, but a floating disembodied skull is not unless the Storyguide allows a variant of the base Supernatural Ability through Mystery Initiation. More gruesomely, the simulacrum may be based on a intentionally stunted form or damaged after initial construction, providing a more “servo-skull” like appearance. As a creature of Magic Might, the decapitation of a simulacrum by a necromantically inclined mechanician may not disturb it’s functioning significantly, although may drastically limit its movement without the use of other spell like effects.

As opposed to Invested Devices, the Size and Material (plus either Artes Liberales or Philosophae) determines the anima’s Magic Might, still limits the number and level of effects that can be instilled but rather than determining the number of pawns of vis reflects the construction cost of materials in Mythic Pounds. As vis is not required, making this style of construct is appealing for low vis or predominantly hedge magic dominated Sagas.

By comparison, according to the rules for Magic Things in RoP:M, page 32, a skull designed as a Magic Thing given it has a base Size of -3 can have a maximum Magic Might score of only 10 regardless of material. A Mechanica skull made of bone however can only have a Magic Might of 9, but more elaborate  skulls fashioned from expensive materials  may have much higher starting Might scores.


Movement and speech are not inherent to a skull and must be imbued, although “the effect must be logical and the simulacrum capable of carrying it out”. While a humanoid anima could be imbued to walk but not fly by mechanical means without an additional variation or perhaps an advanced Mystery Virtue – a skull would therefore need an additional power from a different source or the use or even physical grafting of a simple mechanica that provided flight or perhaps spider leg based locomotion.

Speech is similarly unnatural but potentially logical for an unfleshed bone skull, but makes more sense for a finely crafted skull with additional components to provide the basis of the generation of a voice, similar to the classical example of Justinian’s Nightingale. The concept pushes the RAW significantly beyond the original intent of the author I suspect, but discussion with the Storyguide is suggested can determine how to realise this motif within any individual Saga.

Note: the original description of Mechanica of Heron describes it as a Supernatural Ability, but it would likely be classified as a “Difficult Art” using the later guidelines from Hedge Magic: Revised Edition  or Rival Magic and the totals could thus affected by relevant Hermetic Virtues and Magical Foci. Following the second Titanomachy / Ragnarok (see Dies Irae), the Mechanica of Heron Virtue would therefore increase as an Art, although a Mechanician would need to employ Entreat the Magic Powers Virtue similar to a Learned Magician (HMRE,  pages 81/82 and 87/88) or form a pact with a Magical entity such as a Daimon in order to link into the Golden Chain as a non-theurgical Gifted wizard.


The Lonely Tower on the Barthelasse

Lair beneath island
Example Coenobium Sanctum?

I found this image on Pinterest the other day, and although it’s much more “d20” than ArM5 in style it would work quite nicely as a temporary sanctum for a reclusive magus of the Coenobium in Faith and Flame or even one of the lairs of the infamous Drac…

At the time of a starting canonical ArM5 Saga, the so-called “Isle of Barthelasse”, situated in the main stream of the Rhone at the level of the Avignon crossing / Pont St Benezet was most likely composed of a number of shifting swamping islets similar to the small island depicted in the image.

The original concept for the geographical precursor covenant to the Coenobium, “Sub Pontem“, was a collection of reclusive magi living beneath the swampy islands beneath the main bridge and on moored barges served by a rag tag turb of outcast river folk. The laboratory barges and Nicodemus (himself a nod to another famous wizard that was found beneath a bridge) remained in the final draft but some of the more “gypsy” elements were left behind in the transformation to the more urbane Jerbiton covenant.



Beyond the Horizon: Thoughts on Mediterranean Robinsonades

In a recent post over on Games from Folktales, Timothy commented on the concept of “Robinsonades” in terms of their story potential as a starting point for an Ars Magica Saga. Alluding to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a potential source of inspiration, he broadly defines the concept in his first paragraph:

A Robinsonade is a type of story that takes its name from Robinson Crusoe. In the structure of the story a person from a technologically superior area is stranded in an area where they have limited societal support.

Read “magically adept” for “technologically superior” by invoking Clarke’s 3rd Law and he argues that starting a covenant from a shipwrecked group of magi and their surviving grogs is a potential Robinsonade beginning to a Saga. Let’s not get into the whys and hows of a group of magi travelling by ship and managing to get shipwrecked – that’s a whole different post or two – and take a moment to concentrate on the where, at least in terms of the Mediterranean, potentially linking into my Mythic Genoa concepts.

The Areas of the Meditteranean Out of Sight of Land.jpg
Areas Out of Sight of Land (from The Corrupting Sea)

The above image is a photograph from a very useful book about Mediterranean History (The Corrupting Sea, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, Peregrine 2000) that discusses the Meditteranean as a maritime continent or “extended archipelago” of ports and settlements along the coasts linked by a common culture. The map demonstrates those areas “out of sight of land”, the “deeps” of the ocean beyond the horizon which in this instance equates to the line of demarcation between where an individual on a ship at sea can still see land features including mountains and where the observer sees only an unbroken circle of water.

I’d like to explore these so-called featureless “deeps” later, but in his original post Timothy suggests that Sagas set on islands out of sight of a passing ship may make a good example of a Robinsonade. Let’s use then this map as a starting point for discussion.

Note: the image above presumably details what those on board a ship can see – unless an observer is standing on a high peak, their horizon at any coastal point is limited to mere 3 miles. An observer on the deck of a ship can similarly only see human sized objects at sea level 3 miles away, which according to this calculator extends for those in the crow’s nest or the top of the mast of most contemporary ships to about 10 miles at most in clear weather during daylight. This is only the top of the landmark however, the rest of the landmass is hidden behind the horizon. So it’s entirely possible to miss another ship or a beacon fire on the beach unless the smoke rises as a column or you have a lookout positioned up the mast. Also one ship may be able to see another’s mast from miles off while remaining undetected by the other crew at deck level or be completely hidden from castaways gazing out from the where they have waded into the waves…

Height above sea level, for both the observer AND the object is the key.

  • sea level: 3 miles
  • 30 feet: 7 miles
  • 50 feet:  9 miles

If the top of the object and the observer are elevated, then the distance increases.

Historically, particularly in ancient times when oared galleys were the primary means of maritime transport, but also in medieval times of sail, most ships sailed within sight of the coast – within a few miles along the plains and further out to sea for coasts rocky headlands or mountainous coasts. To venture beyond this horizon was a concept that generated significant dread and had associated superstitions. Ships did sometimes cross the wider expanses with the aid of astrological navigation (itself a great topic) but much more rarely, so the borders on the map potentially represent the furthermost limit a ship would readily sail.

Western “Deeps”

Although there’s no scale to the overall map (and technically the line varies by a few miles depending on the height of the observer if they’re at the top of the mast of the ship), it’s interesting to me for several reasons, but in response to Timothy’s post, let’s briefly deal with whether this map helps with the hypothesis that there are islands out of sight of passing ships traversing the common coastal routes of the Mediterranean and leave out those few intrepid ships and crews that cross the wider open expanses for now.

He mentions the Scilly Isles, the Channel Isles and the Hebrides, which are all part of more northern Tribunals, and does not mention the Aegean islands possibly because of the busy sea traffic in the Theban Tribunal. So let’s deal with the two Mediterranean suggestions: the islands off Sicily  (Aeolian, Ustica, Aegadian, Pelagian) and the smaller islands between Spain and the Balearics.

Example #1: the Balearic Islands?

Let’s deal with the Balearics area first.

The initial map indicates that the Balearics, given their mountainous nature, are readily seen by ships sailing eastwards from the port of Valencia and the small islets off the coasts of the three main islands are well within the 10 mile diameter of a passing ship (blue circles on the map below) if not the 3 mile radius of being seen from the coast. So it’s really a question of whether the smaller island of Formentera (highest point 390 feet) south of Ibiza and the islets of the Cabrera Archipelago (highest point 560 feet) south of Majorca  are easily visible.

Both lie within 10 miles of their nearby major islands, so their landward coasts are readily visible from a ship sailing within sight of the main coast and their peaks are easily seen from even further out (24 miles and 29 miles respectively, green circles on the map).

Horizons relevant to the lesser Balearic Islands

It’s unclear whether ships passed to the north or south of the Balearics (Edit: checking another reference, they probably did pass to the south due to the prevailing winds and currents of the western Mediterranean), but assuming they did round the southern coastline, Formontera with it’s overall flatter relief to the west and elevation to the east would be passed frequently. On the other hand, the rocky seaward side of Cabrera might be relatively hidden in the shadow of its highest central elevation from most passing ships hugging the Majorcan coastline to the north and therefore might be a potential Robinsonade style covenant location.

Cabrera Archipelago: a Robinsonade Saga location?

To be continued…

Fennmar: Innsmouth Hinterland

So this is the concept drafting for the “Innsmouth Hinterland” in the Fennmar area on my whiteboard, consisting of a web article “Where is H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth” used to generate the Chaosium Escape from Innsmouth supplement “Lovecraft Country” map below, an annotated map of Innsmouth from DeviantArt and sketchings on a blow up section of the Immoren map from the IKRPG Corebook.


“Lovecraft Country” (annotated)

Having a look at the various maps, Fennmar seems a logical place to situate Innsmouth and it’s “Lovecraft Country” surrounds (see IKRPG2, page 69 for the following excerpt from the Duchy of Southpoint section): “The Fenn Marsh, one of the largest natural wetlands in Cygnar, surrounds this area, and it is a major barrier to land traffic to the port city of Mercir. All attempts to connect Mercir by road or rail have met with mixed and impermanent results, although local nobles insist ingenuity can overcome these travails. Amid this marsh live a large number of gatormen as well as several prominent trollkin kriels. At present, most who need to travel past this desolate region prefer to do so by ship or to cross the northern interior by road through Highgate.

The area is well within Cygnar, but away from the front lines and the ongoing war and it’s steamjacks and other industrial elements – a perfect backwater to place Mythos elements. The industrial port city of Mercir provides a clear correlate with Arkham or perhaps even elements of Boston, with Clocker’s Cove to the north standing in for Newburyport and the Great Cygnaran Observatory reached by steamboat from the south making a serviceable meta-game substitute for Miskatonic University and a potential repository of greater Mythos related lore and adventure hooks in the form of missions from scholars…

Return to Mythic Corsica

campomoro_towerI became aware from the near terminal Berklist recently via the Project Redcap refresh project “30 Pages for November” started by the incoming heir, Walter, of a new Saga set in Mythic Corsica. As I have some material on the area in the Mythic Genoa section of this blog, I contacted the Storyguide, Robert Petrone, offering to link to his Saga from the relevant section of this blog.

While linking his site, “Riacciu Carmenta Covenant“, I noticed some of my Corsican and nearby Sardinian material was not publically published, so I’ve made these available to all:

There are some patchy sections admittedly, but I think making them available in their current format is still justified, even if only for Robert’s sake 😉

I also noticed that there were no actual updates to Project: Redcap for Faith & Flame, so I might go back sometime and link some of the cut-file material from my draft…

Edit: I’ve now updated some of the material on Project: Redcap, linking to some of the cut-file material here and indicating which SubRosa issues contain relevant Provencal material.

Fennmar – Immoren’s Lovecraft Country?

Fennmar: Immoren’s Lovecraft Country?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about inserting Mythos elements in other settings lately and the IKRPG setting of Immoren seems an appropriate candidate – in fact, there’s a section of southern Cygnar, Fennmar Province (detailed in Kingdoms and Gods, pages 71-72) , that has many of the elements of so-called “Lovecraft Country”, including a reasonable fit for the probable location of the legendary town of Innsmouth. The location is marked with a star at the edge of the swamp nestled off the seldom used main road from Clocker’s Cove to Mercir at the edge of the Trollkin and Gatorman controlled swampy peninsular that juts to the east into the expanse of the Gulf of Cygnar.

A Matter of Correlation

There’s a number of reasonable correlates that make this a suitable option both from a thematic and meta-game perspective. By example, the following map is from Chaosium’s Escape from Innsmouth supplement details so-called “Lovecraft Country” based on the are of Cape Ann, Massachusetts:


Rough geographical correlation with the shape of the area helps, with Cape Ann being represented by the swampy peninsular jutting east, although the scale is much smaller on the Immoren map, with Innsmouth-in-Fennmar located about 50 miles south of Clocker’s Cove rather than 8 miles south of the equivalent town, Newburyport in Massachusetts. Equating the large southern city of Mercir with it’s stronghold of the Fraternal Order of Wizardry as the area’s substitute for Boston is easy enough.

The distance makes it just over a day’s travel by carriage or wagon to this version of Innsmouth, suggesting that most travellers must stop overnight at the village of Rowley rather than using it as a staging point before continuing through the marsh towards Mercir or on their way to the unnamed riverboat station that is used to access the Great Cygnaran Observatory to the southwest, itself a useful substitute for Arkham’s Miskatonic University in terms of story hooks involving scholars.  Innsmouth-in-Fennmar then becomes a half forgotten town off the main road, accessible only by those willing to travel into the night and stay an evening in the swamp girded estuary settlement…

Return of the Deep Ones?

I’ve just moved into a new place and unpacked one of my older boxes of books and was delighted to discover a trove of Mythos related source material I’ve collected, specifically Innsmouth and Deep One stories:

Various Anthologies with Deep One source material

The top 3 are the Stephen Jones collated anthologies that include a number of great stories by Neil Gaiman, JohnGlasby, Brian Lumley,  Kim Newman / Jack Yeovil and others. While the first volume was originally published back in 1994 by Del Rey with high hopes, there were apparently issues with continuing as planned and it took almost a decade for the next two planned volumes to appear in 2013 and 2015 respectively (Titan as the publisher). The first collection of the series contains the whole narrative of Lovercraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” from which the titles and concepts are derived, while the later books contain variant discarded drafts of the story and rarities such as Lovecraft’s poem “The Port” and August Derleth’s “Innsmouth Clay” story that builds on some of HP’s abandoned / unfinished writings.

The bottom left two anthologies are the products of Chaosium Books (1998 and 1999) and contain various Innsmouth related stories, arguably of lesser quality, but still containing some potentially useful ideas for Mythos themed scenarios and character concepts.

“Return of the Deep Ones” includes some of Lumley’s other stories as well as the entire novel of the title – behind it is an Encyclopedia of the Cthulu Mythos I must have picked up somewhere in my peripatetic book collecting.

I’ve also collected a number of other Innsmouth related eBooks:

And there are a number of Deep One themed stories in some of my other collections that I’ll have to pull out and look for further details…