First, a story
After picking Anthrax's brain about a few subjects, Seara--a sybil and mermaid affionado--murmurs to her companions (but in full earshot of Anthrax), "Well, now all that's left to do is break in."
"Break in," Mistress Anthrax muses. "Break in to what?"
Of course, Seara meant break into the Skeleton Castle where the Mausoleum of Kings is holding Princess Sun's memory. But instead of confessing that, she thinks quick and says, "Break in...to dance!" She does a tiny two step.
And seven lightning bolts blast out of Seara's chest.
The common room explodes. The cauldron is crumpled as if by a giant's hand, tables and benches are blown backwards and turned to kindling. Those wearing metal armor bear the brunt of the blast, being electrified and scored with burns. This includes the cadre of eight mummified vikings who were drinking in the corner of the tavern, discussing their death wounds and generally agreeing they were all pretty honorable.
Seara is a sorcerer. This is why nobody likes sorcerers.
This was the scene that basically ended my session this week, and it was a lot of fun for me. I like to give my PCs plenty of rope and when they hang themselves, I tap my little paws wickedly.
What was going on here was a system I provide to sorcerers in His Majesty the Worm called "pacts." When you break a pact, you suffer maleficence.
Pacts are magical oaths and taboos a sorcerer invokes during a Camp phase. When you make a Pact, you choose to observe one or more pacts from the following list. Charge one spell that you know for each pact made in this way. Each spell may be charged only once. You may cast a charged spell as if you had prepared it that day (in OSR parlance). If you break the pact, draw on the maleficence table (see below).
Devour the Living: You may only eat creatures that are yet living when they pass your lips: maggots, shrimp, mice, infants. If you did not bring these creatures (which are hard to carry and keep), you can spend a Camp action to test fate with Cups and see if you can find any of them in the Underworld. If you fail, you are treated as starving. If you succeed, you find enough rats to keep yourself fed comfortably.
Forego Armor: You may not wear armor or helm or wield a shield of any kind, regardless of its construction. Alchemical armor, like an ironweed ghillie suit, must also be forwent.
Forego Skins: You may not wear the skins or furs of a beast, or anything derived from them (such as leather). You may wear woven garments of linen or cotton.
Forego Weapons: You may not touch, handle, manipulate, or wield weapons of any kind—not even a rolling pin used as a club. Any weapons you own must be bound in cloths and lashed to your pack. Wands, bizarrely, do not count as weapons.
Forego Wood: You may not wield, touch, or carry anything made of felled wood. You may not carry a torch, shield, or club. You cannot enjoy the benefits of a fire if that wood was bought with coin in the City (for that wood was certainly felled)—instead, you must sit outside of the fire’s light and heat. Wands, since they're made of willing archwood, do not count towards this prohibition.
Gluttony: You must eat more than your share. You must eat double your normal portion (two rations instead of one) whenever you consume rations or this pact is broken.
Hide Your Face: You must hide your face behind a mask at all times. Sorcerers might choose masks of porcelain, cloth, wood, bone, or more exotic materials. Wearing a mask incurs disfavor on all social draws, and the GM will accommodate your social encounters accordingly.
Self Mortification: You must purchase and wear a hairshirt under your normal clothing. This causes you to be Stressed. If you take off the hairshirt and heal this Stressed condition, you violate this pact.
Self Mutilate: When you make this pact, you cut runes into yourself. This causes you to take a Wound. If you ever heal this Wound, you violate this pact.
Silence: If you must speak, you must speak in a whisper. People must be very close to you and it must be very quiet to hear your words.
Verity: You must not tell a knowing lie. (This is what Seara had charged. This is the pact she broke.)
Maleficence is what I'm calling magical mishaps. They are pretty common features of a lot of rules. If you want my favorite set (that I didn't write), check out Wonder and Wickedness. Seriously, it's the best supplement ever for OSR magic stuff.
There are four maleficence tables for the four schools of magic: Weald (druid shit), Welkin (cleric shit), Weird (illusionist shit), and Wastes (necromancer shit).
Draw from the minor arcana.
Maleficence of Wastes
I. A number of imps appear equal to the value of the top card in the minor arcana’s discard pile. The suit of that card will tell you what the imps want.
Swords: They desire meat. Flesh. Blood.
Pentacles: They want to get the shiniest thing. Then they want to throw it into a deep pit.
Cups: They want something to keep as a pet. (Woe on whatever they decide to “adopt.”)
Wands: They crave the blood of sorcerers.
II. The sorcerer vomits a pregnant rat, which falls to the ground and explodes as a surfeit of baby rats spill bloodily from her belly. Disease oozes from the undulating mass.
III. The putrid stink of a mass grave fills the area. If the adventurers stay in the area, they all become Stressed due to the smell.
IV. Demonic flies begin buzzing. If the adventurers stay in the area, all perishable items will soon be consumed as the hell flies swarm into their packs, leaving behind demonic maggots.
V. A chill, green fog rises. All exposed metal items the guild carries will suffer two Notches as the strange fog rusts and corrupts it.
VI. Wounds stop closing. Until the minor arcana are reshuffled with the appearance of the Fool, the guild cannot heal any Wounded Talents or the Injured condition.
VII. The sorcerer begins to uncontrollably weep blood. It’s hard to see anything through bloody tears (disfavor in combat or any vision based activities) and, of course, it ruins your robes. This condition persists until the minor arcana are reshuffled with the appearance of the Fool.
VIII. An invisible mark appears on the forehead of the sorcerer. Until this mark is somehow cleansed, the sorcerer is the primary target of all undead creature. They wish to talk to him, to touch him, to kiss him, to hurt him, to make him understand…
IX. The sorcerer’s shadow departs to perform some mischief. It will return once it’s gotten into some sort of trouble. Until then, the sorcerer lacks a shadow.
X. The sorcerer immediately begins vomiting up a parasitic twin in chunks: little hands, eyes, hair, teeth. They can do nothing until the whole thing is out. If in combat, this gives you the Surprised effect, obliging them to only draw one card per round. This effect lasts until the sorcerer draws a face card (page or better) as their Initiative card. Out of combat, this effect lasts a watch.
Page. The sorcerer’s pupils become golden, like a wolf’s. This change is permanent.
Knight. The sorcerer grows black, goat-like horns. These are permanent, but can be sawed off without any pain. Just the stumps will remain.
Queen. The sorcerer’s reflection (in mirrors and other reflective surfaces) begins to rapidly decompose. Eventually, he’ll only see his bleached white skull when he looks into a mirror. This effect is permanent.
King. The hex the sorcerer is in is blighted. Plants wither and die. Mothers yield only stillbirths. If this hex was near a place of civilization, there will be consequences.
Maleficence of the Weald
I. A hairless ape crawls into reality. It disembowels itself and presents its intestines to the sorcerer with an ingratiating smile. It then proceeds to die, smiling all the while.
II. Shrieker mushrooms quickly bloom around the sorcerer. Any movement through the area raises a mighty ruckus that might provoke a wandering monster draw on the watch table.
III. The weather goes from bad to worse. Cool nights become freezing cold. Warm days become blistering. Rains become hurricanes.
If the sorcerer is currently in the Underworld, or some other underground area, the weather manifests physically around them—the caverns fill with torrential rains, blizzards, or simooms.
IV. Grasping, thorny vines sprout and fill the sorcerer’s zone, Rooting everybody therein. Everybody must take the time to untangle themselves (a Recover action during a Challenge) or may ignore the Root effect and take a Wound as the thorns tear at their skin.
V. Any potions carried by the sorcerer explode. They, and their bottles, are destroyed. This causes anything written down adjacent to them on the sorcerer’s character sheet to be ruined.
VI. All wooden objects (wands, doors, chests, staffs, torches, bows, etc.) within three zones of the sorcerer warp and twist, as bent by a giant’s hands. All wooden objects in this area are Destroyed. Traps on doors or chests go off and effect whatever’s nearest them, as applicable.
VII. Lightning arcs out of the sorcerer’s body and Wounds everybody wearing steel armor within three zones, friend or foe.
VIII. Every animal on the watch table is drawn towards the sorcerer. The next watch is an automatic encounter with every animal in the area.
IX. The sorcerer’s clothes and gear catch on fire. They immediately take a Wound.
The sorcerer must put themselves out or they will continue to burn (e.g., by rolling on the ground, by being covered in a heavy cloak, by jumping into the moat, etc.). For the most part, this effort should be automatically successful. The GM should arbitrate how effective the method used works on the sorcerer’s pack. Rolling on the ground might smash delicate items (clayware pipes or glass bottles). Submersion in water might destroy rations or scrolls. And, of course, if left unchecked, the pack and its contents will burn if not extinguished.
X. An earthquake shakes the area within one mile of the sorcerer. Structures not built to last are destroyed.
Page. The sorcerer begins to bud with thick, meaty fungus that grows like an insipid cancer on their skin. Those who dare can try to eat the fungus. It has the taste and texture of human flesh. It is delicious and causes all those who eat of it become addicted to cannibalism. This effect is permanent until the disease can be cured.
Knight. The sorcerer’s legs turn backwards and grow fur, reminiscent of a goat’s. This effect is permanent.
Queen. The sorcerer is inflicted with Curse: Lycanthropy. When the moon shines, the sorcerer undergoes a change: it is messy, uncontrolled, and violent. However, time doesn’t flow normally in the Underworld and the GM needs not track a lunar calendar. If the top card in the discard pile is a face card (page, knight, queen, or king) during the Camp phase, the moon shines and the consequences of the lycanthropy will be dealt with in step 3 of the Camp phase. This effect is permanent unless a cure is discovered (which can be the source of an entire Quest).
King. The Witchmother looks into the meaning of her haruspexian divination and smiles. She’s been waiting for this sign.
The sorcerer and their entire Guild are now subjects of the Wild Hunt, as per the arcane pronouncements of the semi-divine fey queen, the Witchmother. A withered gnome politely informs them that they now have a one-day head start before an army of wood elves does their very best to try and kill them. Good luck.
Maleficence of the Weird
I. A hekatephage manifests and begins following the sorcerer. A hekatephage is invisible and intangible (but may be seen through second sight). A hekatephage devours magic. While the hekatephage is manifested, no spells may be concentrated on in the proximity of the caster; their durations immediately end as the hekatephage eats them. This even ends spells with no set durations (like malediction).
A hekatephage does not go away on its own. The sorcerer must find some way to banish or defeat it.
II. Nightmarish idols of Jungian manifestations are rapidly built by invisible hands out of any available material near the sorcerer: floorboards, stones, leaves, fallen branches, mushrooms, snow, etc.
III. Everybody in the sorcerer’s zone (including the sorcerer) must immediately make a test of Wands. All those who fail suffer the Knockout effect and fall asleep. They may be awoken by a sharp slap (or worse damage).
IV. Everybody in the sorcerer’s zone (including the sorcerer) immediately suffers the Invoke effect. Determine the emotion Invoked by looking at the top card of the discard pile:
I-II: Anger, III-IV: Distaste, V-VI: Sadness, VII-VIII: Joy, IX-X: Surprise, Page-Knight: Trust, Queen-King: Fear
The emotion is centered around whatever those effected first see.
V. A mouth appears on the back of the sorcerer’s skull. It babbles in Tylwyth. The GM immediately delivers a rumor to anybody who can understand its talk.
VI. The sorcerer’s skin, organs, and muscles become invisible. Until the minor arcana reshuffle via the Fool, the sorcerer appears to be an animate skeleton with an interwoven system of nerves and veins. It’s creepy as fuck. You illicit horrified reactions by default.
VII. The sorcerer begins weeping gooey, saline-tasting tears. They also weep out several small oozes that crawl away to eat and get big.
VIII. The sorcerer becomes a living illusion. An illusion is nothing but a hologram—you do not produce smell, sensation, or sound (thus, no casting spells). You cannot interact with the plane of Flesh, but you can see and be seen. However, anything illusory is real to you. An illusory sword can cut you. An illusory dragon can eat you.
This condition persists until the minor deck is reshuffled with the appearance of the Fool.
IX. The sorcerer is no longer able to speak except in rhyme. Everything they say in character must be in the form of rhyming couplets.
This effect lasts until after the next Camp action.
X. During the next Camp action, the sorcerer’s worst nightmare manifests in the realm of Flesh physically during stage 4 of Camp. The GM and the sorcerer’s player should talk before-hand about what this is.
Page. The sorcerer grows a third eye in the center of their forehead. Whenever they use Dwimmercraft to employ second sight, this eye opens. Otherwise, you can keep it closed and it is all but unnoticeable. This effect is permanent.
Knight. The sorcerer’s coloring pales. Their hair, skin, and irises become milky white. This effect is permanent.
Queen. The sorcerer permanently gains a mental scar (page XX).
King. The sorcerer is permanently under the Silence effect. However, anything the sorcerer speaks manifests as illusions of text that hover over their head for a few moments; this is somewhat reminiscent of speech balloons. Luckily, this effect allows the sorcerer’s to cast spells.
Maleficence of the Welkin
I. An angelic chant manifests around the sorcerer. The music is beautiful, but somewhat loud. Stealth is impossible for the sorcerer while it continues. The chanting will subside the next time the deck is shuffled.
II. The players that sit to the left and the right of the sorcerer have all of their Wounds Healed. The sorcerer suffers the same amount of Wounds. (If this kills the sorcerer, they are countered as a martyr of the Mythric faith, for whatever that’s worth.)
III. Painful boils rise on the sorcerer’s skin, a side effect from undiluted celestial radiation. The sorcerer is Stressed and takes a Wound.
IV. All rations in the sorcerer’s hex become strangely tainted: water turns to blood and dried meat becomes pulsing, half-living flesh. Only rations made purely from vegan sources are unaffected.
V. Divine locusts swarm; these locusts are golden in color, with hard metallic shells and faces reminiscent of human faces. The locusts destroy all foliage and plant life in the sorcerer’s hex.
VI. The sorcerer manifests the piteous wounds of Mythras. The sorcerer gains the Staggered condition, which cannot be healed until they enter a Mythraeum (a church in the Cult). While Staggered, the sorcerer suffers disfavor on all physical tests of fate from the pain and cannot concentrate on spells.
VII. Greed is a vile sin. Precious coins and gems on the sorcerer’s person instantly and permanently become scarabs.
VIII. All weapons (except those explicitly made of iron) being carried in the sorcerer’s zone are permanently transformed into tools of a similar size or shape. For example, a sword might be transformed into ploughshares, or a spear into a pruning hook.
IX. The sorcerer’s brow is permanently lit with a halo. Everybody is suitably impressed, except for spirits. A spirit (of any of the Far Realms) has an automatic negative reaction to the sorcerer and, in combat, will target them above all others.
X. Upon their return to the City, any guild members who are parents are informed that their firstborn child has died. It is reported that the sorcerer’s name is written in runes across their deceased child’s forehead.
Page. A ghostly hand manifests nearby and begins scribing a prophecy in Vetus on a nearby surface. The prophecy foretells of some doom that will befall the sorcerer and their companions unless a very specific, and unlikely, set of requirements are fulfilled.
Knight. A golem is born from the living earth (even as Mythras was). It looks almost exactly like the sorcerer, except that it’s made of stone. Its only mission is to kill and replace the sorcerer.
Queen. Like Maiden Wisdom, you become supernaturally pregnant.
You become eight months pregnant, regardless of whether or not you have the normal equipment for this state. For as long as this is true, you suffer from the Stun effect during a Challenge.
If you carry it to term, you give birth to a semi-divine child. If you lack a birth canal, you give birth via vomiting.
King. A discharge-brown star appears in the sky. At the end of the third night, a tremendous meteor will destroy a random district of the City, and generally make the City uninhabitable for weeks and weeks.