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Sunday, 5 September 2010

The ends justify the means

Following on from Kieran's comment about Capellar and Templar magic last week, I dredged up this passage from my old novel The Sorcerer's Isle in which the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne - er, I mean Sir Rupert d'Armitage - gets advice from the Templar's in-house mage.

Tancred is pretty much what a player-character sorcerer would look like in our own Legend campaigns. The distinct absence of DW fireworks is made up for by the much greater versatility inherent in an improvised magic system. (Improvised by the player, that is, not the character.) If you make your Sorcery skill roll, you remember a spell to do the job. It's more usually this kind of thing - divination, potions, charms - than zap effects. When the latter do occur, they can be spectacular. One player was flung hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye to land naked on the eastern shore of Ellesland. But it was a faerie king did that. In "real" Legend I only once saw a mortal wizard wave his hands and knock a half-dozen soldiers down with a magic blast - and he was in the Selentine army.

I seem to recall that Tancred was based on a real-life luminary of the role-playing world, but I shall leave that little bit of hommage shrouded in the mists of time. And although I'm talking about player-character wizards here, I ought to reiterate that those are very few and far between in Legend. "A Christian wizard! A thing as rare as roosters' eggs." Well, quite. That's said later in the novel by none other than Morgan le Fay. What's she doing in 13th century Outremer? It's a long story...

* * *

"Brother Rupert! The magician is here to see you."

Rupert of Armitage stood at a window of the Templars' preceptory, hands resting between the bars, looking out into the velvet dusk. The clouds were distant wisps of amber in a midnight blue sky, and the heady scent of jasmine hung in the evening air. It was an idyllic scene, a moment of rare respite from the turmoil of a crusading life, but Rupert was too preoccupied to savour it. A moment passed before he noticed the servant's arrival.

"Show him in," he said, turning away from window. He suddenly shivered and, pulling his white cape around him, called sharply after the servant: "And light the torches. It's almost dark in here."

His eyes were focused on the gothic arch of the doorway, where now a figure took shape in the light of the servant's candle. Like Rupert, he wore white robes emblazoned with a scarlet cross - but the inside of his cloak was deepest black, and embroidered in silver with tiny alchemical runes that were revealed only when he moved.

"Tancred," said Rupert, acknowledging the magician's arrival with a nod, "it has been two days now. I hope that by your arts you've gleaned something useful in this time."

Tancred came forward, fondling the crucifix around his neck with slim delicate fingers. He was a slight man, with a scholarly mien, and unlike the others of the Order he wore no armour or weaponry. Nor did he have the usual Templar's expression of unyielding zeal. With his thinning thatch of carroty hair and limpid eyes, he looked more like a clerk. Certainly no-one who did not know of his reputation would have guessed him to be the greatest Christian sorcerer in the Holy Land.

"Useful?" he said to Rupert. "I believe so. Firstly, Emeritus' room was redolent of strong sorcery. I am sure a fay had been there shortly before us."

Rupert failed to surpress a supercilious smile. "I rather gathered that sorcery had been at work, brother. We were duped by phantasms, after all; such things do not occur naturally. That's why I sought your advice."

"You were right to do so." Tancred nodded emphatically. "You'll recall that the door was broken in - needlessly, in fact, since it had not been bolted. Well, on a splinter of wood I found this scrap of cloth."

"Really?" said Rupert, sarcastically adopting an interested tone as he scrutinized the torn cloth that Tancred was holding. "And what does this tell you?"

Tancred stared at him, making no attempt to disguise his own contempt. "It was worn by one of those you seek," he said huffily. "When this cloth is fixed within my divining pendulum, I can determine where its owner is now. The direction of the pendulum's swing shows his heading, you see, while its frequency — "

Rupert waved a hand to interrupt. "If true, that's excellent news. I'll fetch some of the brethren, and we'll go to apprehend the fellow."

"It won't be as easy as that," Tancred replied. "Your quarry has already left the city. From my observations, I'd say they set out yesterday morning - the day after Emeritus' death."

"How many are there?" said Rupert, scowling. "And where are they heading?"

Tancred shrugged. "The exact numbers, I cannot say. The cloak that had been draped over the corpse would not respond to my divination — further evidence that our enemies have powerful sorcery. The pendulum only tells me the whereabouts of the cloth's former wearer. As to where he and his companions are going — south, I'd say, to Araby."

"Whoever they are, they must not be allowed to reach the Grail first! Go and pack your magical accoutrements; we shall need you to counter the enemy's sorcery."

As Tancred left the room, Rupert beckoned to the servant: "Send the others to me. And order the horses saddled. We ride out tonight."


  1. Stiring stuff. This is exactly the type of feel I try to create in my own DW games. If someone does rework Dragon Warriors in the future this kind of approach to sorcery (Magic akin to Simone DeBelleme's in Robin of Sherwood) would make a great start.

  2. Robin of Sherwood - now you're talking, Kieran :-)

  3. This sounds like the kind of magic system that would work for sorcerers on Majipoor, since the workings of magic are always left vague in those stories. (Of course, Majipoor sorcerers can be a lot more powerful...)