covenant dark

For a while now, I’ve noodled on designs for an RPG about powerful mages that combine forces for mutual benefit. This is inspired by Ars Magica, not to emulate its system or political game, but to explore the idea of a covenant (as an oath, a place, and magical protection) and troupe play, where games usually involve a mage sending out minions so they can stay home to further their magical studies.

I wrote an Undying hack that revolved around controlling sources of magical energy to power your magic and the internal power struggles of a Covenant at its prime.

I then developed an interesting hack of 14 days that used a calendar of seasons to focus on how a mage must juggle their responsibilities toward to their Covenant, solving crises that threaten to overwhelm the region where the Covenant is located, and the work they need to do to advance their magical power and experiments.

But what I have today is a hack of Cthulhu Dark. This aims to capture the danger and wonder of magic while using the protection of a Covenant to extend the durability of a Cthulhu Dark character beyond a single session.

covenant dark

This obviously leans heavily on the brilliant Graham Walmsley’s Cthulhu Dark and Nick Wedig’s crazy hack of it, So Now You’re A Time Traveller. It’s loosely inspired by Ars Magica.

your magician

Choose a name and an office within the Covenant. Your office should relate to an element or a school of magic. Describe them.

Take some six-sided dice: black for your Human die and Magician die, a brighter colour for your three Hubris dice and one more for the Covenant die, bigger in size if you have it.

magic is hubris

A magician reaches beyond their human grasp. This hubris takes many forms, but at its core, it is about curiosity, audacity and hunger.

Magicians start as Adepts with one Insight die to represent their curiosity, one Paradox die to represent their audacity, and one Taboo die to represent their hunger. As they gain experience, they can gain extra dice (Great and Arch) for each kind of hubris to represent their growing power and its terrible cost.

Adept magic is most akin to the work of human artisans, champions and experts; it relies on much of the same skills and abilities, refined and honed beyond comprehension. You are the best that people can ever hope to be.

Great magic is beyond what one human can achieve: in power, scale, and sheer daring. You reach beyond the limits of your human shell into a realm of greater being.

Arch-magic is stranger and more formidable. It is deeper, without precedent, and foolhardy to use. All the schools and elements of magic can be yours to control; if you will pay the price.

If Adept magic is a searing brand, Great magic is a burning forge, and Arch-magic is a volcano.

the covenant

The Covenant is a community of magicians that have agreed to work together for mutual protection and benefit. They are adepts, great magicians and arch-magicians.

The Covenant is an oath that each magician has made: a pledge of loyalty, support, and dedication to the furtherance of each other.

The Covenant is a magic spell. It is a ritual that protects the magicians from the worst of the world and other-worldly forces.

the covenant saves

If a magician’s Insight or other hubris ever reaches 6, they are undone. Or would be undone, except the Covenant magic triggers and saves them. Roll the Covenant die and return that hubris score to 5.

Your Covenant score starts at 1 and is shared by all magicians. Whenever you roll higher than your Covenant score, increase the Covenant score by 1 for all magicians. When the Covenant score reaches 6, it too distressed and collapses, never able to offer any protection again. The community, the oath, the magic must be rebuilt anew. Until then, should any magician’s Insight, Paradox or Corruption reach 6, they are undone.

strengthen the covenant

You can decrease the Covenant score by working on it to support and strengthen it. This requires supplies, people, artifacts, knowledge, and defences. This takes time and preparation. Gather resources proportionate to the Covenant score and use them up. Each time you do, roll the Covenant die. If you roll lower than the Covenant score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

insight

Your Insight shows how far you can see into the horror behind reality. It starts at 1.

When you see something disturbing, roll a hubris die for your Insight (Insight roll).

On an Insight roll, if you roll higher than your Insight, add 1 to your Insight and describe a revelation you now have. Add that revelation to your Dread, something you know about the nature of reality.

investigating

When you investigate something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Dread revelation and it’s not crossed-out  (Dread die)
  • If you will risk your mind by using magic to succeed:
    • One Insight die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Insight dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Insight dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If an Insight die rolls higher than any other die, make an Insight roll. If you only roll Insight dice, then an Insight Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make an Insight Roll immediately afterwards.

The highest die shows how much information you get. On a 1, you get the bare minimum: if you need information to proceed, you get it, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent investigator would discover. On a 5, you discover all that, plus something more. On a 6, you discover all of that, plus, in some way, you glimpse beyond human knowledge. This means you must make an Insight roll.

If an Insight die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Insight roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily discover information others struggle to obtain. You see through a person’s lies and artifice, understand their motives, and glimpse obscurities and secrets.

Once you have enough power and experience, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you discover things through incredible means. The range and breadth of your grasp are beyond the capabilities of one human. When focused, your understanding is detailed and in-depth. Using Arch-magic, you can track the untrackable, uncover the most intimate knowledge, and get practical knowledge of things far beyond the ken of most in this world.

doing other things

When you do something other than investigating, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Insight dice. Insight magic only works for investigations. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.

failing

If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

You may reroll as often as you want. But you must have one hubris die in the reroll. For a reroll with an Insight die, you have a sudden moment of clarity about previous dark revelations. Ask a question about what is happening and expect a brief disturbing answer. Add that revelation to your Dread.

suppressing knowledge

You can decrease your Insight scores by suppressing knowledge of what you have discovered. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off a revelation from your Dread and then remove all traces of it in the world. If you do, then roll an Insight die. If you roll lower than your Insight score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Dread revelation, you cannot be entirely deceived. When you would be deceived but aren’t, make an Insight roll as you see the truth through the lies.

the covenant saves

If your Insight reaches 6, you understand the full horror behind reality and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and recovers you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Insight score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of insight

When you have at least 6 Dread revelations and all are crossed-off, you have become a Great Magician of Insight and may use Great-level Insight magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Insight, have at least 12 Dread revelations and all are crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Insight and may use Arch-Insight magic.

paradox

Your Paradox shows how far you break the rules of reality. It starts at 1.

When you dare something impossible, roll a hubris die for your Paradox (Paradox roll).

On a Paradox roll, if you roll higher than your Paradox, add 1 to your Paradox and describe something you must do. Add that action to your Future-past, something that you must have done in the future.

contest

When you contest something, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Future-past action and it’s not crossed-out  (Future-past die)
  • If you will risk your future to succeed:
    • One Paradox die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Paradox dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Paradox dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If a Paradox die rolls higher than any other die, make a Paradox roll. If a Paradox die rolls higher than any other die, make a Paradox roll. If you only roll Paradox dice, then a Paradox Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make a Paradox roll immediately afterwards.

Then your highest die shows how well you do. On a 1, you do the bare minimum: if you need to do something to proceed, you do it, but that’s all. On a 4, you do everything a competent specialist would achieve. On a 5, you achieve all that, plus something more. On a 6, you achieve all of that, plus, in some way, you reach beyond human possibility. This means you must make a Paradox roll.

If a Paradox die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Paradox roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily overcome challenges others struggle with. You verge on the superhuman: instantly master a skill, withstand fire, tackle a horse, leap shocking distances, slip away unnoticed.

With enough experience and audacity, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you perform the superhuman, beyond the human limits. You outpace anyone, traverse any surface, disappear from plain sight. When focused, you can form matter to use as you will and project across distances. Using Arch-magic, you can travel far, command storms, survive the heart of a maelstrom.

doing other things

When you do something other than contesting something, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Paradox dice. Paradox magic only works for contests. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.

failing

If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

You may reroll as often as you want. But you must have one hubris die in the reroll. For a reroll with a Paradox die, your future-self masters a power or leaves an item or warning nearby to find. Look for it and it will be there. Add that action to your Future-past.

acting in the past

You can decrease your Paradox scores by doing what you need to have already done. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off an action from your Future-past and do what you’ve done. Roll a Paradox die. If you roll lower than your Paradox score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Future-past action, you cannot die. When you would die but don’t, make a Paradox roll as you must have done more in the future.

the covenant saves

If your Paradox reaches 6, you are entrapped in an impossible knot of cause and effect and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and rescues you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Paradox score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of paradox

When you have at least 6 Future-past actions and all are crossed-off, you have become an Great Magician of Paradox and may use Great-level Paradox magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Paradox, have at least 12 Future-past actions and they are all crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Paradox and may use Arch-Paradox magic.

corruption

Your Corruption shows how far you have lost your humanity. It starts at 1.

When you commit to something heartless, only considering others as means to an end, roll a hubris die for your Corruption (Corruption roll).

On a Corruption roll, if you roll higher than your Corruption, add 1 to your Corruption and describe something you now hunger for. Add that hunger to your Taboo, something you must indulge.

influence

When you influence someone, roll:

  • One die if what you’re doing is within human capabilities (Human die)
  • One die if you have at least one relevant Taboo hunger and it’s not crossed-out  (Taboo die)
  • If you will risk your humanity to succeed:
    • One Corruption die if you use Adept magic.
    • Two Corruption dice if you use Great magic. Don’t roll your Human die.
    • Three Corruption dice if you use Arch-magic. Don’t roll any other dice.

If a Corruption die rolls higher than any other die, make a Corruption roll. If you only roll Corruption dice, then a Corruption Die will automatically be the highest die, so you will make a Corruption roll immediately afterwards.

Then your highest die shows how much influence you have. On a 1, you influence the bare minimum: if you need to someone to do something to proceed, they do, but that’s all. On a 4, you get everything a competent negotiator would secure. On a 5, you secure all that, plus something more. On a 6, you secure all of that, plus, in some way, you reach beyond human grasp. This means you must make a Corruption Roll.

If a Corruption die rolls a 6 and is higher than any other die, still only make one Corruption roll.

Using magic will strengthen these results depending on the power of the magic you used. Using Adept magic, you easily have the influence that others struggle to achieve. You can confront a person and charm, bamboozle, command, or convince them to do things that are not their best interests, at least for a little while.

Once you have enough power and experience, you may use Great and even Arch-magic. Using Great magic, you can influence more folks to do things they never would or thought they could. When focused, you can even influence someone from a distance, they need merely hearing your name and see the effect of your actions. Using Arch-magic, you can influence a whole people in ways no one person should, reaching deep within their hearts, spurring them to shift their fundamental beliefs, dreams or desires.

doing other things

When you do something other than influencing, roll dice as above, except you cannot use Corruption dice. Corruption magic only works for influence. Again, your highest die shows how well you do.

failing

If anyone thinks your failure interesting, each may describe how you might fail and roll a die. If any failure die rolls higher than your roll, you fail in the way they describe.

trying again

For a reroll with a Corruption die, someone nearby gets through to you and your hunger for more burns hot. Add that hunger to your Taboo.

indulging taboo

You can decrease your Corruption score by indulging a taboo to excess. This takes time and preparation and perfect execution. Cross-off a hunger from your Taboo and satisfy it so completely it never returns. Roll a Corruption die. If you roll lower than your Corruption score, reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1.

While you have a Taboo hunger, your Will cannot be dominated. When your Will would be dominated but isn’t, make a Corruption roll as your dark hunger prevails.

the Covenant saves

If your Corruption reaches 6, you lose the last flicker of your humanity and leave everyday life behind. Or you would unless the Covenant protection magic triggers and revives you. If it does, roll the Covenant die and return your Corruption score to 5.

becoming a great and arch-magician of corruption

When you have at least 6 Taboo hungers and all are crossed-off, you have become an Great Magician of Corruption and may use Great-level Corruption magic. If you are already a Great Magician of Corruption, have at least 12 Taboo hungers and all are crossed-off, then you have become an Arch-Magician of Corruption and may use Arch-Corruption magic.

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