I am creating some Imaginem effects I could use your opinions on. The idea behind them is to gaslight a victim and slowly drive them insane. I’d like to get your opinions on the concept, if the stats I use for the spells are proper (and could be accomplished at current level), and in particular if the long-term effects of this spell (as well as recovery) make sense.
One note: I don’t have access to Art & Academe, which I suspect would have much useful information for exactly what I’m doing. I gave it a pass a while ago when I saw that one of the authors ranked it as “the book I wish I hadn’t written.” Not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s too encompassing. I think he referred to it as the book of “No, Tim, you can’t do that.” As in, it covers so much, that many miscellaneous innovations for rules or situations fall under the purview of “A&A tells you how you must do it” or “A&A says you can’t do it.” I went to look for it on Amazon recently but saw it’s about $500. I guess it’s out of print.
Regardless, the spells.
An important note: These are all Imaginem effects, without using Mentem as the Form or even as a requisite. A few reasons behind this:
Mentem is too easy to accomplish this. Rego or Perdo Mentem, boom, target is insane. I’m trying to stretch a concept rather than a quick, direct, smack. Feel free to assume that the inventor has Deficient Mentem, is addicted to complexity, is a sadist, etc.
A Mentem spell is an ongoing effect and can be both detected, and easily dispelled, as such. These spells are intended to manipulate the environment, which doesn’t have to penetrate, and can’t be dispelled since it’s an ‘organic’ insanity. Plus, they are harder to detect or localize.
Someone suddenly going insane is noticeable and suspicious. “Gee, the Baron LeCornu started acting completely out of character last week. Wasn’t that right around the time that suscpicious fellow showed up?”
As the effect is only indirect, the effects can last longer. The target won’t recover automatically when the duration ends.
From the perspective of players, gaslighting and illusions are much more insettling than a snap of the fingers driving someone insane.
Each of these spells is designed with R: Touch, D: Moon, and T: Room. The idea is that the magus can cast the spell when visiting a location and then be away when the effects take place. It’s relatively high-level, but do-able for an Imaginem specialist. Casters with an even bigger grudge my chose to take something from the room—a pebble, a coin, etc, and fix it as an Arcane Connection. The spell can then be re-invented with R: Arcane and D: Sun, adding a net of only +2 magnitutdes. This lets the magus torture the target indefinitely, as long as he remembers to cast the spell at sunrise and sunset.
I will describe the spells, provide my own design notes comments and areas I have questions on, then repeat the process for the consequences of the spells.
Maddening Echoes (MuIm 25):
This spell causes sounds in the target room to seem just a bit off. Sometimes, dropping a coin to the floor sounds like a loud stone has hit the ground. Other times, a whisper seems to echo. In still others, knocking over a glass onto a stone floor will sound as though it landed on a thick carpet, even as it shatters. The caster does not have full control over exact effects, nor does it apply to every sound within the room. It applies with just enough frequency and inconsistency to worry at the target, but not in any repeatable method that can be cataloged or easily detected.
(Base 1, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +3 Room, +1 inconsistent changes)
Shifting Voices (ReIm 35):
Sounds in a room will occasionally seem to come from a different location. A knock on the door will sometimes sound like a banging from the wall. A person speaking seems to sound like a voice outside the window. Snapping one’s fingers near the ear sounds like a person outside the door trying to attract your attention. The caster does not have full control over exact effects, nor does it apply to every sound within the room. It applies with just enough frequency and inconsistency to worry at the target, but not in any repeatable method that can be catalogued or easily detected.
(Base 3, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +3 Room, +1 inconsistent changes)
Fading Hues (MuIm 25):
Anything in the room may change its color ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly. A dark blue blanket may appear violet for an hour. A mug of good stout beer may appear pale like a lager. The target’s wife’s eyes appear a slightly different color. The caster does not have full control over exact effects, nor does it apply to every object within the room. It applies with just enough frequency and inconsistency to worry at the target, but not in any repeatable method that can be catalogued or easily detected.
(Base 1, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +3 Room, +1 inconsistent changes)
Phantom Whispers: (CrIM 30)
Every so often, anyone in the room hears a sound that doesn’t have a source. A knock on the door, a laugh, raindrops hitting the window, the sound of a throat clearing, a dog barking far away. The caster does not have full control over exact effects, nor does it apply often. It occurs with just enough frequency and inconsistency to worry at the target, but not in any repeatable method that can be catalogued or easily detected.
(Base 1, +1 Touch, +3 Moon, +3 Room, +1 inconsistent sounds, +1 Complexity)
Other effects, not fleshed out for brevity’s sake:
A ReIm effect to delay sounds after the action that precipitated them occur. In effect, the action does not generate audible species until some time later. Clapping one’s hands may result in the sound of a handclap a second after the palms touch each other. A sneeze may be totally silent when it happens, but the sound of a sneeze is heard one hour later. Due to the Hermetic limit of time, sounds can only occur after the triggering action, not before—the sound of a sneeze will not be heard a before the sneeze happens.
A MuIg effect to subtly alter the light intensity over time. The sun at the window may dim to no more illumination than moonlight. A lit candle may, over the course of an hour, slowly grow to illuminate the room as brightly as a torch. I skipped this one because I wanted to focus on Imaginem, but I think it’s arguably the creepiest of all.
Momentary Duration ReMe effects to induce odd emotions or states for just a moment, leaving the target bewieldered. A split second of intense sadness, or momentary weariness, or a feeling of having gorged oneself on a large meal that passes just a moment. Avoiding this because I’m trying to avoid Mentem. I list it here though, to show that slight, repeated effects over time, can have a more permanent effect than a simple ReMe: “Youre insane now” spell.
ReTe and/or ReHe effects to sometimes shift an object a half-inch in position or to turn it five degrees or so.
Those are a lot to unpack. I’ve added requisites for changing images where appropriate, and figured that a +1 magnitude is appropriate for a slightly randomized effect in terms of how often, how severe, and what type of effects occur. Do you think that a +1 magnitude is too low? (Or, for that matter, do you think this type of fire-and-forget effect is impossible without at least a Minor Breathrough?) The precedent I used for this type of slightly randomized effects is from Hermetic Projects, the Tower of Babel. There is a Rego effect in a stone gargoyle that makes it shift in position somewhat randomly—looks back and forth, stretches, shakes its head, swats at a fly, etc.
Note, I didn’t add a +1 magnitude for the complexity of the image itself. This seems ironic, but each effect is surprisingly simple. By nature, it is meant as only a slight, barely perceptible change. The additional magnitudes are for the changing and randomness only.
I think I could have bundled some together as a MuIm spells with a ReIm requisiste (or vice versa), but I wanted to keep the spells separate as proof of concept and for easier evaluation.
Effects of these spells:
Being under one or more of these spells will slowly drive a target mad. This is a normal response to stimuli, not technically a directly, magically induced effect. As such, it does not need to penetrate and the target is not under any magical effect. He will gain no Warping Points (although the room itself might, if it goes on long enough).
There are two major checks that a victim needs to be made when suffering the effects of this spell—one to gauge the effects it has upon him as his sanity erodes, and one to notice what exactly is wrong.
For each week the victim is under the effects, he must make a Stamina stress roll. Apply the following modifiers:
Each spell of this type the target is undergoing: -1 penalty. (Meaning, if multiple spells are cast, penalize the roll, rather than checking for going mad for noise variance and color changes separately).
The victim is in the room on an infrequent basis: +1 bonus. This can be if the target visits the room often for a short amount of time, or infrequently spends a large chunk of time in the room. Examples include a banquet hall in a castle, the kitchen (if the victim isn’t a cook), the privy, or a church (if the victim isn’t a priest).
The victim spends a good deal of time in the room: -1 penalty. Examples include a study or office, a baron’s throne room (for the baron), a library (if a dedicated scholar), or a prison cell (if the victim is a prisoner).
The victim sleeps in the room: -2 penalty.
The victim has rolled highly enough on his Perception + Awareness check (see below): +3.
These are all cumulative.
No check is necessary if the target spends less than a couple hours each week in the affected room. They may feel some subliminal disquiet, but not enough to affect them in any large way.
Compare the results to the following table:
Botch: The target must roll every day instead of every week. Additonally, the following penalties accrue.
Add +2 to a relevant personality trait such as Paranoid, fearful, irritable, etc. (If they previously had none, they gain one at +1).The target loses two Long-Term Fatigue levels.
If the target had a minor personality flaw such as Simple-minded, Short Attention Span, or Reclusive, it is instead temporarily replaced with a Major Flaw such as Wrathful, Low-Self Esteem, Depressed, Difficult Underlings, etc.
0-3: The target loses one Long-Term Fatigue level. They gain +1 to a personality trait as described above. They temporarily gain a minor personality flaw, such as Simple-Minded, Depressed, or Short Attention Span. No more than one minor flaw will be gained in this way. This is not part of the target’s Essential Nature and can be removed over time or through healing magics.
4-6: The target loses one Long-Term Fatigue level and gains +1 to a personality trait as described above.
7-9: The target gains +1 to a personality trait as described above.
10-12: No change.
13+: The target loses one point from a personality trait related to insanity, as described above. They also regain a long-term fatigue level.
The above assume the targets continue to spend time in the affected Room. Effects continue to apply even if the target spends some time outside, as it has damaged the target’s mind. Once the effect expires (or the victim no longer spends any time at all in the Room), they have a chance to permanently recover from the effects the spell has had on their mind. Continue to roll every week, but ignore any results below a 10. This is, in effect, a recovery roll now. Stop rolling once all long-term Fatigue levels have been regained and all traits related to insanity caused by the room have disappeared; this indicates the target has fully recovered.
Note that the above effects assume the character continues to use the room. However, the victim is able to make a Perception + Awareness roll each week to see if they can notice the source of their woes. They gain a +1 bonus for each spell besides the first that they are subjected to at the same time. A character who rolls highly enough and has control over their own movements will presumably refuse to enter the room again. Note, however, that if not the master of their own domain, they might not have a choice. A squire may not be believed and ordered to remain in his quarters without complaining, a prisoner has little say in their location, a noblewoman might be told she is hysterical and be prescribed bed rest, a child’s parents may tell him he’s just afraid of the dark, etc.
The results of a Perception + Awarness stress die should be compared to the following chart:
Botch: Roll only once per month instead of once per week. Anyone trying to convince the victim that their room is haunted or otherwise not right suffers a -1 penalty.
0-3: The victim has no particular idea anything is wrong. They suffer the effects of the stamina rolls they make, but is likely to blame a lack of sleep, nervousness, assume others are acting strangely, etc.
4-6: The victim consciously feels the effects of the long-term fatigue levels lost and possibly realizes they are more irritable or worried than usual, but has no idea why.
7-9: The victim feels uneasy in the room. Something is off, but he has no idea what.
10-12: The victim is aware he feels worse when spending time in the room. He knows something strange is happening out of the corner of his eye. He is likely to dismiss the effects of the spells cast on the room as his own imagination, but they do register on some subconscious level. If someone else points the effects out to him (such as someone else who spends time in the room), he will readily believe her.
13+ The victim actively notices the changes. He is able to correlate the subconscious changes in lighting with a candle, he pays attention when a smashed bowl sounds more like a muted thud, etc. Gain +3 on all future Stamina rolls to resist these effects. No further Perception rolls are necessary.
If a victim rolls a 13 or higher, they now believe the room is cursed or haunted. If they have the option to avoid the room, they will likely do so. However, as stated above, that may not be an option—It may be their private study, they may be imprisoned, they might have difficulty convincing anyone else of their problem, etc. Should the target attempt to communicate their experiences to someone else, any rolls to persuade suffer a penalty equal to twice the Personality Traits they have accumulated related to insanity.
Design notes: I… might have gone overboard with the complexity of the Stamina and Perception rolls, though they seemed to flow normally at the time. Do these seem reasonable? Again, this is supposed to be subconscious, something that registers at a subliminal level. It’s designed to take slow effect over time. If someone has a suggestion for streamlining the rolls (or feels the effects are too powerful), I will be quite attentive.
Side note: I laughed out loud when I came up with ‘Difficult Underlings’ as a possible flaw this can generate, but I’m proud of that one.
Interested in people’s thoughts—do you like the idea? Also, if you have suggestions on mechanics and tweakings—needs to be higher level, needs to be easier or harder to resists, impossible under hermetic magic, etc. The critical point they rely on to be effective is the randomness. Dropping a penny doesn’t always sound different—maybe one time out of 30, and not in any repeatable way. The central idea is that this is possible under current Hermetic Theory by adding a magnitude. I’d particularly like feedback on if you agree.
Many thanks, sodales! I appreciate your time for reading this wall o’ text .