Hermetic Book Curses (Guide and Examples)

I was reminded, today, of the curses often found in Renaissance era magical texts that offer terrible punishments to those who betray the secrets of the text to the unworthy.

After reviewing some of the magic in Covenants, I decided to make a short guide on the use of Watching Wards to create book curses that can be used to alert the covenant of book thieves or to punish those who damage the books within the library. The first section will cover general mechanics for Watching Ward and advantages (and limitations) it has over conventional magical items or spells. The second covers the legality of creating such book curses, and what magi may have to do in order to avoid being accused of a hermetic crime. The final section will be example spells that could be placed into a Watching Ward.

Watching Ward, General Thoughts and Mechanics

The Watching Ward is a Rego Vim spell that suspends spells until a specific trigger occurs. As a Rego Vim spell, its actual target is the spell itself, which offers several limitations. One of those is that the spell must be active upon the target, which limits spells suspended by a Watching Ward to those that affect the warded object. It cannot hold a spell that, say, sets the person who triggers it on fire unless the suspended spell is designed to ignite the entire room or structure the warded object is inside. Secondly, the Watching Ward is a ritual spell. Because it affects ongoing spells, this means the spell has to have a minimum duration long enough to still be active when the ritual is completed. This means most effects placed into a Watching Ward must be, at minimum, of Sun duration.

This limits the number of spells that can be placed into a Watching Ward, and also makes imbuing certain effects very hazardous. There are ways to circumvent this, especially as someone interested in making use of Watching Wards will certainly be capable of using effects like Maintaining the Demanding Spell to artificially extend the duration of other spells. This, however, can cause other problems- a spell maintained by such an effect will be of concentration duration, and will end soon after the Watching Ward is finally triggered. The use of Muto Vim magic to extend the duration of a lower level spell would be much more efficient, but requires a bit more specialization.

The use of Rego Vim extension spells is far more useful for the Intellego magic invested into a Watching Ward, as those spells remain active for the entire duration of the Watching Ward effect (and once the effect triggers, they are no longer needed anyway).

Because a suspended spell will be active for the entire duration of your Watching Ward ritual (and the common form of the ritual is a touch spell) it may be wise for a Magus to prepare some form of defense against whatever spell they are casting the Ward upon. Alternatively, they may use a Rego Vim effect to temporarily suspend the duration of the spell in order to cast their Watching Ward ritual safely. Because they choose which spells to affect, they can simply allow the Rego Vim suspension spell to end after their ritual concludes.

As rituals, Watching Wards consume vis. Because they end once triggered, this means that if someone does try to steal or damage a book warded by these spells, the covenant will have to undergo the process of recasting their book curses each time. For those who regularly suffer such things and have the spare time, a magical item (or direct enchantments upon the book) can fulfill many of the same roles as a Watching Ward. However, if those who damage or steal books are comparatively uncommon, Watching Wards offer a significant benefit to saving time- unlike an item, they do not divert an seasons of time from study or other pursuits. Once a collection of desired spells are learned to set up book curses, the magi need not reinvest more seasons of time whenever the library expands. Additionally, they do not need to worry about the potential difficulties of selling or giving away a book enchanted with dangerous effects that trigger if removed from a defined area.

Hermetic Legality

Most book curses described below use Intellego magic to discern if a book is being damaged or removed from a defined area. Even those that do not will sometimes create dangerous magical effects that could potentially harm other Hermetic Magi.

This is, usually, a crime. However, there is very clear legal precedent for protecting oneself from other Magi who violate the law. Forfeit Immunity (as described in HoH:TL, pg 45) means that a Magus committing a crime forfeits their defense against immediate retaliation. Because books on magical knowledge (Arts, Magic Theory, Concentration, Finesse, etc) are a clear part of a Magus's (or covenant's) magical power, attempts to destroy or steal them are obvious violations of the Code. This means that there is a clear legal defense to using book curses (Watching Wards, Enchanted Items, etc) to apply immediate negative effects to those of violate it. The use of Intellego magic is, however, somewhat more ambiguous.

The best way to create an effective legal defense is to insure that it is very clear that magical protections exist. Having a clear warning placed over the entrance to a library or written in the first few pages of a protected book mean that those Magi who proceed are tacitly consenting to those magical effects as a condition of using your covenant's library or books.

Having all effects commonly used in book curses clearly available for inspection, or possibly having a Quaesitor observe while the protective spells are cast, offer further evidence that the magic used is purely designed to protect the property of the Magus.

However, owing to the limitations of Watching Wards such that effects that harm the violator of a rule are going to be either potentially inaccurate or indiscriminate Room or Structure target effects, it may behoove the Magus casting them to design effects intended to raise the alarm or protect the book from damage or theft- rather than those intended to immediately punish the one who triggers them.

Example Effects and Spells

General Spells

Enchantment of Watchful Tomes
Rego Vim 40
Range: Touch, Duration: Special, Target: Group

This is a variant of the Watching Ward spell that affects up to ten different targets at once. The casting Magus may suspend up to 30 levels of spells currently active on each target. Each Watching Ward has the same triggering condition. As a powerful magical effect, this spell inflicts a point of Warping on each affected target.

More powerful versions of this spell exist, allowing for additional levels of spells to be suspended or additional numbers of targets to be affected.

(General, +1 Touch, +2 Group)

Silencing the Clamorous Curses
Rego Vim 30
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Group

This spell causes up to ten other spells to have their effects suspended for the spell's duration. The subject of the spell must be something the Magus is able to physically touch. This spell can affect spells of up to level 15.

(General, +1 Touch, +2 Group)

Intellego Spells

Determination of the Tome's Integrity
Intellego Animal (Herbam) 15
Range: Touch, Duration: Concentration, Target: Individual

This spell determines the physical state of a book, including any damage or alteration of its inks. It determines if the book has been damaged or if it is currently being moved. This spell is traditionally extended through the use of a Sun duration version of Maintaining the Demanding Spell for casting into a Watching Ward.

When suspended with a Watching Ward, the ward may be made to trigger based on the information this spell provides- the typical trigger is "If the book is damaged or removed from this room."

(Base 4, +1 Touch, +1 Concentration, +1 Requisite)

Alarm Spells

Wailing Tome
Creo Imaginem 10
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual, +2 Size

This spell causes the affected object to radiate the sound of a hundred wailing men and women, which typically alerts those within a few hundred paces that something bad is happening. This spell is often suspended with Rego Vim magic when cast in order to avoid agitating other Magi or covenfolk while the Watching Ward ritual is performed.

Sign of Hermes's Votary
Creo Imaginem 15
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Structure

This spell causes sparkling, beautiful lights to dance through an entire building, or a very large and complex library.

(Base 1, +1 Touch, +2 Sun, +3 Structure)

Spells to Stop Further Use

Abjuration Against Further Perusal
Muto Animal 5
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual

When cast upon a book, this spell causes the pages to adhere together into a single leathery mass. It becomes impossible to turn the pages in a book or, if it was closed, to even open it without destroying the book in the process.

(Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 Sun)

Befuddle the Unworthy Reader
Muto Imaginem 4
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual

When cast upon a book, this spell causes the text within to become illegible nonsense for the duration of the spell.

(Base 1, +1 Touch, +2 Sun)

Sealing the Valued Tome
Rego Animal 4
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual

When cast upon a book, this spell causes the book to slam closed and remain unopenable until the duration of the spell elapses. A Strength check against an ease factor of 6 can open the book, but the same check must be made every two minutes to keep the book open.

(Base 1, +1 Touch, +2 Sun)

Leaden Words to Gift a Thief
Muto Animal (Terram) 20
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual

When cast upon a book, this spell transforms the entire book into solid lead. This spell must be cast with an Herbam requisite to avoid potentially damaging the inks of the book, but otherwise preserves it from harm.

(Base 5, +1 Touch, +2 Sun, +0 Requisite)

Spells to Harm the Reader

Poisoned Pages
Creo Aquam 30
Range: Touch, Duration: Sun, Target: Individual

This spell drenches a book in a terrible and clear poison. Those who touch the book must make a Stamina check against an Ease Factor of 6 or suffer a Light Wound. This check against exposure occurs each time the book is consulted and every half hour or so that is spent reading it. This poison never harms the book itself, which acts as if completely dry. As a temporary Creo spell, this effect must penetrate the Magic Resistance of anyone who would be exposed to the poison.

Versions of this spell exist that are of Diameter duration, which can be extended through the use of Muto Vim magic to be suspended with a Watching Ward. Weaker versions of this spell can be cast without penetration to deter wholly mundane book thieves.

(Base 5, +1 Touch, +2 Sun, +1 Unnatural Liquid, +1 Poison Ease Factor)

Fatal Register
Muto (Rego) Animal 20

This spell is described in Covenants (Pg 100). Versions of this spell cast as part of a Watching Ward lack the Intellego Requisite, but are instead Touch range. This leaves the level of the spell unaltered. As a harmful magical effect, the serpent generated must penetrate the magic resistance of anyone in order to strike them.

Versions of this spell that transform the book's register into other kinds of dangerous animals exist, as well as those that change the entire book into some small flying animal and compel the created animal to escape to a predetermined location when the spell is cast. These variants have the same level.

Stench of Twenty Corpses or Wreaths of Foul Smoke

Versions of these spells (Corebook, 125) exist at Touch range, lowering their level to 5. These generate noxious or poisonous fumes that are released when the Watching Ward is triggered. Books warded in this way are often placed in an isolated room in which only a single Magus is allowed to read, in order to prevent legal conflicts should a thief or book destroyer trigger the suspended curse and accidentally harm innocent Hermetic bystanders.

This spell rarely damages the books they are cast upon, due to the relatively short duration that the books are subject to it. More dangerous Aurum spells that create electricity or other effects are possible, but require the books are protected from damage in some way.