Death Comes To Wyverley: Charter and Free Magic

This is part of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a playset for Beyond the Wall inspired by Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom series. This should be considered a fan work.


Alignment and Magic

The traditional Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment system has a specific meaning in the Old Kingdom. The Charter is what may be considered Order in the magical world, and Free Magic is its opposite and may be considered Chaotic or Wild. Here are some spot suggestions for Alignment:

  • Alignment only indicates magical metaphysics, not actual behavior outside magic. No-one is Lawful, Chaotic, Good or Evil; they just tend towards the Charter or Free Magic.
  • For purposes of alignment-specific magic in other texts, read “Law” as Charter and “Chaos” as Free Magic.
  • Most characters will be Neutral, even if they use Charter Magic or a bit of Free Magic.
  • Characters who are dedicated to the Charter will be Charter Aligned. This includes the Abhorsen, despite her ability to perform acts of necromancy.
  • Likewise characters who are really into Free Magic will be Free Magic aligned. This includes Free Magic creatures or elementals that are bound with Charter Spells (like the Cat).
  • Both Free Magic creatures and the Dead are Free Magic aligned.
  • Ongoing use or influence of Charter or Free Magic could shift Alignment away from Neutral to one of the extremes. The GM should just watch how the PCs behave around charter magic.

Inspiration for this approach comes from Lamentations of the Flame Princess where Law and Chaos are intrinsically tied to human civilisation (and religion), and magic respectively.

Non-mages and Magic

In the Old Kingdom several characters who aren’t mages can cast charter magic. Wyverley College has whole classes of Charter Magic, although as in any subject some students will simply get a grade and others will go on to excel and use it in later life.

Assume that all Old Kingdom characters are aware of magic and will know a Charter Mark or two. However, none of this will be useful stuff — it’s all just a bit of colour for the game. With an hour’s practice, any one of the characters might make the charter marks for light for example, but only a mage character will be able to cast cantrips and spells in a useful timeframe during an adventure. For non-mages interacting with charter marks is like interacting with a kettle or a light switch.

Magic Spells

The standard format of Beyond the Wall magic (i.e. cantrips, spells and rituals) should work fine for this game. Of course the casting of magic on school grounds should be strictly regulated, but then… teenagers will be teenagers.

Beyond the Wall includes considerations for unintended consequences of miscast Cantrips and Rituals. See the Miscast table for some ideas about what might happen.

There is one new and important ritual, the Diamond of Protection.

Miscast Magic

Here are some options for miscasting magic. Roll a d20:

  • 1-3: the effects are reflected back on the caster
  • 4-6: the effects are redirected to a different target
  • 7-9: the effects of the spell are the opposite of what is intended
  • 10-11: the spell works as normal, but causes 1 HP damage (hunger, weakness, other injury)
  • 12-13: the spell works as normal, but causes material damage to an item in the caster or other party member’s possession
  • 14-15: the spell works as normal, but causes a change in the caster’s mental or emotional state. How this is played out should be agreed between GM and player, but could include alignment shifts, a sudden strong emotion, confusion, negative perception of another PC, etc.
  • 16-19: the spell works as normal, but the casting attracts the Lesser Dead or some weak Free Magic thing which immediately pursues them and will encounter the party in (d8^2) minutes
  • 20: the spell works as normal, but the casting attracts the attention of something powerful and intelligent from Death, which takes a personal interest in the caster.

New Ritual: the Diamond of Protection

Diamonds of Protection appear throughout the series, used to guard the Abhorsen’s body while she walks in Death, and in general against the Dead and other creatures when making camp etc. This is an alternative to the various Circles of Protection and other rituals in the rulebook.

Level: 1
Range: Near
Duration: Permanent (until marks destroyed)
Save: no

The charter mage inscribes North, East, West and South charter marks. Inscribing each mark takes about 10-15 minutes. Several mages working together can inscribe different marks to speed up the process. To inscribe the mark the mage spends 5 minutes and at the end rolls a check against their Intelligence. If they succeed, note the margin by which they succeeded. For every 3 points of margin, add 1 to the strength of the mark. If they fail, they may spend another 5 minutes making the mark.

The strength of each mark is equal to the level of the mage that cast it, plus the margin bonus. When something Dead tries to penetrate the Mark, its Hit Dice will be burned away and the strength of the mark will be similarly reduced. If the Dead thing’s hit dice reach zero first it is destroyed, but if the mark is reduced to zero first, the Dead thing has penetrated.

Free Magic creatures or Greater Dead may also be affected, but they don’t lose their hit dice. Instead, they may need to make a saving throw against Spells to walk over the mark (GM’s discretion as to whether this is allowed and what penalties apply). Overwhelming the mark like this reduces its strength to zero.

Many of the Dead are of low intelligence and won’t be able to tell the relative strength of the marks — the GM should determine which compass point they attack in this case. Also the Dead need to be sufficiently motivated to penetrate the diamond in the first place, because it hurts us, precious.

If a mark goes down to zero it may be recast, assuming time permits. If the mage fails their roll the mark is replaced but with no margin bonus, and the mark’s strength is subtracted from one or more of the other marks. If the mage rolls a critical failure, all four marks will go out.

At higher levels this ritual may be combined with similar effects from other ritual, such as the Circle of Protection and the Witch’s Watchman (with GM approval of course).