This article originally appeared in Pyramid #17
Rules for Using the Mirrors of Mordant in GURPS
by William L. Hahn
"We're not exactly babes in the nursery, my mates and me. This wizard wasn't the first to try and ambush us - though, truth to tell, it seemed like we had almost run over him, on our way through the Whickering Wood. We come round a bend, and there he was; he scowls when he sees us, calls us 'unruly creations,' and goes for his belt. We're not new to that, as I said, but before we could get the bows up, he whips out something about the size of a serving platter. He mutters and rubs the platter, and suddenly there are three jaguars between us and him. And we've seen jaguars before, nothing new there, as I said. Only these cats were green. And bigger than ponies. We took down two, and the third one fled. So, it seemed, did the wizard - and that's surely nothing new to us, we often say. But then we hear a scream, and what do you know if a bit further down the road is the bastard himself, all torn to bits by the thing he summoned, so it looked. And when we picked up his dinner plate, all we saw on the front side was a mirror glass. Now, we've seen magic mirrors before, my gang and me. Only this one didn't show us our own lovely faces . . . more like a bright red meadow with floppy bushes and orange streams that smoked . . . and giant green jaguars, dozens of them, prowling back and forth as far as the eye could see. And you don't see that every day, my mates and me agree."
There are mirrors, and then there are Mirrors - the magical Mirrors of Mordant. These special devices are the creation of Stephen R. Donaldson in his book Mordant's Need and its sequels, and serve as virtually the only source of magic in that fantasy world. For the GM, the Mirrors of Mordant (and their enigmatic Masters) can serve as a vital source of limited power in most fantasy or historical-magic campaigns. Perhaps the party wants to acquire just two tons of gunpowder in a Camelot campaign, part of a surprise birthday party for Mordred. Or the GM may wish to introduce new elements, bizarre creatures, and alien personalities from other worldbooks, without either permanently unbalancing the world or having to lay out a complex explanation. With the Mirrors of Mordant, items of remarkable, yet limited, powers can be made available. Backed by all the depth and color of the Mordant mythos, these magic items will seem believable and consistent, even when the players do not understand all of their principles.
Mirrors and Imaging
In the world of Mordant (and possibly elsewhere), special Mirrors can be fashioned from rare oxides that have powerful magical abilities. Those with the appropriate skills and talents (known generally as Imagers) can manipulate their own glasses, and sometimes those of others, to translate what is seen in the image to where the Imager is and vice versa. Creatures, earth, water, weather, crevices and even atmosphere can be translated through the glass, so long as it is within the range (or focus) of the Mirror.
Alternatively, the Imager can sometimes pass through the glass to reach another world (with a curved Mirror) or another location in his own world (with a flat Mirror). Only the various ranks of Imagers can manipulate the Mirrors in this fashion, and their work is subject to serious limitations and mortal perils.
To become an Imager requires unique aptitude and special training - not every PC will qualify to function as an Imager. The Advantage of Magery and the new skill Translation are prerequisites for any translation; any Mage without training in Translation will be working at a default at first (IQ-6). The new skills of Glassblowing and the new spell Imagery are necessary for any Imager who wishes to form his own Mirrors, though those skills are not necessary to use them. If an Imager (or aspiring PC) wishes to use a Mirror not of his own making, he will need to have at least Magery 2 (which is the equivalent of the level of Adept in the world of Mordant). If a Mirror-user wishes to move safely through a flat Mirror, he must have Magery 3 (the equivalent of Arch-Imager level). The GM can introduce Mirrors into the campaign either as a fabled magic item that perhaps one of the PCs can discover an affinity for, or as a powerful item in the hands of a Mordant Imager NPC.
The Powers of Mordant's Mirrors: What Can They Do?
One common use for these Mirrors is as a permanent passive scrying tool set to a fixed location. Anyone near the Mirror can see through it; from the location scryed, nothing will be seen and the Mirror's activity cannot be detected by any normal method whatsoever. Nor can the scrying normally be blocked, as its magic is based upon otherworldly principles and functions constantly. Of course, the GM may rule that such powerful forces as, say, divine intervention may be an exception. Sound never travels through a Mirror.
Most Mirrors will be mounted into a handy frame, able to pivot both horizontally and vertically. When anyone shifts a Mirror's orientation, the image reflected in the Mirror will shift slightly as well, in a corresponding direction. The degree to which this shift, or focus, changes the image of what is scryed is in the hands of the GM. As a general rule, a focus range of more than 100 hexes is impossible for even the largest Mirrors. Also, the view seen in a Mirror is always in one particular direction, no matter how the Mirror itself is moved. Mirrors can also be focused to move somewhat closer to or farther away from the image; the degree of this change is variable and up to the GM. In very small mirrors (less than one yard square), focus is not a significant factor.
The real power of a Mirror lies in its power of translation, that is, its unique ability to form a gate of sorts between its own location and that of its image. This allows passage in either direction for as long as the translation continues, subject only to the whim of the Imager and constraints such as the size and willingness of the subjects of the translation. Distance to the location is not an obstacle or hindrance of any sort, even if the location is on a faraway world or in an alien dimension. Anyone attempting to translate with a Mirror must be an Imager or have Magery and the Translation Skill. Beings or items can be passed, pulled or thrown through this trans-dimensional aperture in either direction, much as if it were a regular doorway. In the case of very large creatures and objects, passage is still possible, even if the subject is much larger than the aperture of the Mirror, so long as it is either non-sentient, caught unawares or willing to pass through. An Imager can maintain a translation as long as he can concentrate and is in physical contact with the Mirror itself. Thus, if he wishes, the Imager may escape through his own Mirror to its scryed location (but that will break the contact and end the translation, plus the Imager will lose his Mirror!). Finally, adroit Imagers, working alone or in concert, may line up two mirrors facing one another at less than two hexes range, and work a simultaneous translation to send creatures or effects from the location of one image to that of another. Clearly, the range of possibilities here are endless. Both Imagers must succeed in their rolls to effect this.
Finally, some special Mirrors are crafted to function as a means of divination when broken. The Mirror, when formed, must show the person or place about which the information is desired; if it is then broken properly (requiring quiet conditions, concentration, and a successful roll on Translation skill with a -5 penalty), the image will break into 3d6 shards of significant size, each of which will show a new scene or portion of one which has relevance to the person or place asked about. The nature of the scenes, and their clarity, is entirely at the GM's discretion; often, the information given will be cryptic, but not vague.
Curved and Flat Mirrors
The vast majority of all Mordant Mirrors are curved; the plane of the glass is not regular, and this results in an image which is "out of this world" with regards to the characters' campaign. Such Mirrors perform as above and have no unusual dangers. Very talented Imagers, however, can make use of so-called flat Mirrors, whose plane of glass is regular to the naked eye and which give images only of the same world as the characters. These glasses are identical to curved ones with regards to scrying and focus; but any creature who attempts to move through a flat Mirror during translation (or is brought through by some means) will be driven to Madness (similar to the spell in GURPS Magic, Second Edition, p. 67, forms 2 & 4), unless that creature is an Arch-Imager. For one possible form of this madness, see the account of the Adept Havelock in Mordant's Need (keep in mind, he was supposedly a brilliant Imager and royal advisor). Animals so translated generally manifest a killing frenzy. Characters driven mad in this fashion may often retain aspects of rationality, or evince normal reasoning at times, but will for any game purposes become completely undependable.
Finally, a Mirror which is perfectly flat will, in Mordant as elsewhere, show nothing more than the image of whoever looks into it. The result of this action (at least in Mordant, with Mirrors made there) is irrevocable erasure of the mind, producing a vegetative state without exception. Mundane mirrors, of course, do not have this special side effect.
A standard full-length Mirror, a bit less than 5' x 2', framed in dark oak and engraved with bizarre branches and leaves. The image shows a darkened forest of alien lineage, where at any moment it is likely (2 in 6 chance) that 1d6+5 Jawnines are scrabbling and snapping amongst themselves.
A mindless, ferocious predator the size of a small dog, equipped with four clawlike limbs and a mouth that takes up over half its body. Jawnines usually hunt in packs of 6-11.
ST 6, DX 12, IQ 3, HT 13/3-6. Speed 9. Spiny fur is painful to touch but does no appreciable damage; PD 2, DR 0. Weight 20-35 lbs.; size one hex. Attacks by sinking its claws into its target; a successful hit grapples the victim and does 1d-3 cutting damage (it is attached even if no damage is done). On the next round, the creature sinks its fangs in deeply (no penalty for close combat), doing 2d cutting damage. DR of all types applies; chain or plate armor protects completely against the bite for an extra round, but then the Jawnine either penetrates or scrabbles to a weak point. Attacks on a grappling Jawnine are at -4, unless the weapon is a dagger, bare hand, or some other short weapon. A Jawnine is fearless and attacks until the tenderest
Another full-length Mirror of 6' x 3' dimension, framed in rock maple and worked into flames on all sides. Within, a bright orange desert stretches away in all directions under two hot suns. If the Imager translates and tosses a carcass through the Mirror, it is nearly certain that within 10-60 minutes a lone Firecat will approach to within focus range.
A Huge, luminous yellow feline that appears enveloped in licking, white-hot flames.
ST 45, DX 14, IQ 4, HT 15/40-60. Speed 8, in bursts. Hide has PD 2, DR 3 (plus special, below). Weight 650-900 lbs; size two hexes. Attacks by biting and clawing for 2d+1 (plus 1d-1 fire damage), or simply 3d. The Firecat is naturally and continually surrounded by flames when it appears in our worlds, though it is not consumed. This acts as a Shape Fire spell (p. B158), with effects like the Ignite Fire spell (see p. B158) at level 3. The flame flickers low until the cat moves adjacent to anything made of wood or lighter materials, which immediately bursts into flame. Entire houses and solid wooden structures can become blazing infernos after only a few turns of exposure. Anyone standing next to a Firecat will have their clothes set afire, receiving 1d-1 damage per turn until extinguished. Also, creatures adjacent to the cat lose one Fatigue per turn; one per two turns if two hexes away, and one per three turns if three hexes away (the heat can be clearly felt at up to 20 hexes away, but only causes fatigue in the three-hex range). Any weapon or missile hitting the Firecat, if it is susceptible to fire damage, must take 2d damage before harming the creature. If this damage causes more than twice the weapon's hit points (the average arrow or bolt has two), the missile or weapon is incinerated harmlessly.
The Firecat's flame is immune to water (a great deal of steam is created, but no damage). However, for all this, the cat is not immune to fire damage itself. It is simply immune to the effects of its own flame corona. If any substance burns while on the Firecat for more than one turn, the cat will be damaged (paint or glue, for example, will stick to it and produce the desired result). The Firecat is susceptible to all other forms of attack, including magic (even Fireballs!).
This dangerous artifact could be easily overlooked in its black velvet sheath; it is barely larger than an oval skillet, backed in dull bronze and framed in featureless black ceramic as thick as a finger. Within the glass, one can see only a black and empty space at first; looking more closely, one can gradually make out a slate gray crescent curving along the lower third of the glass. Finally, it may become apparent that one is viewing the surface of some small, darkened starless world which is utterly devoid of life or movement. Characters in low TL worlds may not be able to make this observation, however, nor of predicting the effects that a translation would have (unless they have seen it used).
When a translation occurs, the Voidglass opens up a link with the world of the image, actually an airless planetoid. As a result, a strong vacuum-force will draw everything not nailed down to the Mirror unless it weighs more than 100 kg. The force draws in objects over a fan-shaped area which extends three hexes in front of the glass and is three hexes wide at the end. Loose material, books, coins, and even small pieces of furniture will be drawn in from that range, and lighter substances will be affected at even greater ranges. Living (and presumably unwilling) creatures too large to be drawn through, but weighing less than 100 kg will be drawn to the glass, plugging it momentarily. If translation continues, any object large enough to plug the glass (such as a wardrobe or loose door) will receive 1d6 crushing damage per round, until it takes breaking damage (for objects, see p. B125), which will break up or tear the object into pieces small enough to be drawn though. Any being so caught takes similar damage, until it passes a ST-4 roll (the victim can be assisted, at a bonus to the roll), or until the victim reaches HT 0, when it will be drawn through in gruesome fashion (enough said). Anyone willingly crossing the image threshold will be propelled into the airless void above the planet's surface, and will die within seconds unless powerful magics are used to protect or extricate him. For up to an hour after translation, objects drawn through the Mirror will still be visible - sheathed in ice, moving slowly further and further from the image into the background, and gradually settling down toward the planet's surface. Without magical means, nothing drawn through the Mirror can be recovered (it cannot be focused close enough to recover items after just a few turns). While a very dangerous and not apparently useful item, the Voidglass can be employed by an enterprising party in a number of interesting ways, from cleaning up mundane messes to removing harmful gases or even disposing of corpses.
This glass is the shape and size of a kite shield, and is not framed but merely covered in a grey samite sheet. When uncovered, the image within shows some small chamber of a palace or cathedral that seems familiar to the heroes. No one is there at the moment, but if a character continues to watch, shortly a very highly placed and famous person will enter and, closing the door, will proceed to write in a journal or go into private meditations.
This is a flat glass, formed by someone of Adept rank, and clearly useful as a scrying tool for political purposes. Attempting to translate and pass through this glass holds great peril for any non-Adept; the GM must provide some warning to be fair to the characters. The party may be content to simply spy on this lord; if they do, certain clues may become evident to them that he is planning some momentous announcement or declaration in the near future. If the character are somehow made aware of the process for Augury (perhaps notes left by the Mirror's absent maker), they can break it to see signs of an impending assassination plot against this lord. At least a couple of the shards will give more information about the intended announcement, and its effects on the kingdom. Several shards show the lord on a stone floor, bleeding and still; another shows a hooded figure watching through another Mirror, evidently preparing to move through the glass with dagger drawn. And in one of the shards, the characters can see themselves, surrounding the lord with weapons drawn. What this means, or whether the party will play a key role for either side, remains unclear.
The Glass Menagerie
Mirrors can bring a variety of creatures or effects into a campaign, limited only by the GM's imagination and warped desires. A powerful or interesting creature can be used without having to explain its ecology, habitats, or impact on the campaign world. Size of the Mirror is most important, as that affects its portability and focus range. Generally, but not always, the frame's composition or motif can be a clue to a Mirror's use. Some, especially the flat Mirrors, will be not only dangerous but probably illegal in many law-abiding or autocratic countries. The final consideration the GM must ponder is the origin of the Mirror, and its introduction to the campaign. Will the party simply run across one in an ancient hoard, and have to deduce its powers from spells and guesswork? Alternatively, they may see one in use first, in the hands of a mysterious Imager from Mordant, perhaps even a helpful refugee from that land, who will become a regular part of the campaign.
Mirror's Edge: The Limitations of Mordant's Mirrors
Lest anyone start to believe that these devices will quickly unbalance a world, here is a list of limitations which should guarantee against such a result. Remember, the Mirrors are there to help a campaign, not complicate it. Certainly at the start, Imagery should remain firmly under the GM's control.
Mirrors only show a single location, and that location is completely under the GM's control. If the characters finding a Mirror choose to believe that there's nothing useful about an image of sand, or ants, or a distant mountainscape, that's their problem. Even Mirrors that show swarms of dandy mindless predators won't always be helpful. Most creatures need to sleep (some for months!), and roam (perhaps out of focus), and eat things (aside from the Imager's enemies). Some predators may be pursued by enemies of their own. Finally, translated creatures are not controlled ones. Most will have an adverse reaction to being translated, and will attack the first thing in sight. If the Imager stands behind his Mirror as he translates, the creatures will not notice him immediately, and he can defend himself against charging creatures by continuing to translate! But that won't do much to assist him in his plans.
Mirrors all have a built-in limit of focus which can never be exceeded. In cases where it is likely to matter, the GM should take the time to set the exact limits of the Mirror's range; this will usually occur when the image is of a populated or built-up area. Again, there's no reason why such Mirrors have to fall into the characters' clutches in the first place.
Most significant Mirrors are too large to be easily portable. A standard dressing-sized Mirror in a wooden frame would weigh at least 25 lbs. and produce at least Light Encumbrance, regardless of ST, due to its sheer bulk and delicacy.
Finally, magical Mirrors are just as fragile in Mordant as mundane ones in our world. Any successful hit from a foot, hand, rock, or weapon which scores more than one point of damage will fracture a Mirror of any size and make it useless. Any damage over four points will shatter a mirror entirely. Glass shards are extraordinarily sharp and could cause significant damage to a fist, arm or unprotected foot; recommended damage for a character who is breaking a Mirror with his body is 1-3 points per hex of Mirror (no PD allowed, but DR and Toughness apply). This does not apply to breaking a Mirror during an Augury, as the Imager will take the necessary care to avoid injury. These figures apply to most mundane mirrored surfaces as well. In addition, however, any blow or hit causing more than ten points of damage to a Mordant Mirror should splinter it, with effects similar to a grenade (p. B121-122: no concussive force, but fragmentation damage of 1d in a radius of 5 hexes/2 hexes of Mirror, rounding up). Any time a Mirror is destroyed during translation, the effects could be lethal. Any creature in translation will be slain, as if sliced in two by a razor-thin sheet of force; a generous GM may allow PCs caught in translation to roll against their DX minus encumbrance level to end up on only one side of the Mirror! Larger than man-sized creatures may splinter the Mirror if caught, with results as above. And an Imager in the act of translation when his Mirror is destroyed is both physically and mentally Stunned (p. B127), needing to pass both IQ and HT checks before recovering fully. Note that the Shatter spell works very well against even large Mirrors; Shatterproofing one's Mirror is a must for the clumsy (or paranoid) Imager, but it doesn't provide a guarantee. Any way of protecting a Mirror from fracture will make it impossible to touch! Once a Mirror is destroyed, by any means, it's back to the drawing board for the Imager.
Through the Mirror: The Uses of Imagery in a Campaign
The Mirrors of Mordant can be utilized in many ways by the enterprising GM to aspice, provide a realistic twist, or simply bail out the characters in whatever fantasy or historical-magic campaign they are in. Less complicated than Time Travel, more flexible than magic gates, yet the Mirrors are realistic and consistent, because the GM understands the principles behind the art of Imagery. As much, or as little, information can be released to the characters as desired. And the heroes will never look at their reflection the same way again!
Glassblowing (Physical/Hard) additional information:
see GURPSFantasy, p. 114
This skill includes the ability to make plate or blown glasses, including (non-magical) mirrored surfaces through the addition of simple metallic backing sheets. The proper equipment is required. A successful roll with this skill produces competent work; a critical success creates a masterpiece or excellent normal piece. If the roll is failed, the piece has a significant flaw, but may still be usable; on a critical failure, the piece is ruined and worthless (though materials used may be re-usable). The time required to make a glass object varies tremendously with the creation desired. A simple glass, pot or vase (or a small sheet of less than three foot square) can be crafted from prepared materials and laid aside to cool in about an hour: larger items will take much longer, and may involve penalties to skill, and even extra success rolls. A full-length dressing mirror involves one to two full days' work; an additional success roll would have to be made halfway through the project as well as at the end.
Translation (Mental/Hard)Defaults to Magery at IQ-6
Prerequisite: Imagery (or Magery at IQ-6)
This is the ability to utilize a Mirror's magic to open a gate between the Mirror itself and the location it shows. The translator must be in physical contact with the Mirror at all times, and concentrate as if casting a spell. Most Imagers mumble nonsense words and gesture with their free hand while translating, but this is not required (though it may appear to be!). If the translator makes his skill roll, the portal of the Mirror is open; he may look about, nod, adjust focus or even speak carefully while translating, but can take no other action without breaking the contact. Translation, though established mentally, is physically exhausting; lose one point of fatigue for each five minutes of continuous translation (round up). In a pinch, characters with Magery who clearly understand the Mirror's power (perhaps by having seen it in operation) can attempt to translate, at a -6 penalty to their base IQ.
Imagery (VH) Enchantment
This spell enables a glassmith endowed with Magical Aptitude to combine simple glassmaking with the use of special sorcerous oxide compounds to create Mordant-style Mirrors. Both curved and flat Mirrors can be crafted with this spell; the proper equipment is necessary, of course. The time it takes to craft such a magical Mirror varies with the size of the glass and the intended location, if known. The final determination is up to the GM, and the Imager must be prepared to spend as much uninterrupted time crafting as necessary, or lose the work completely (see the rules for Slow and Sure Enchantment, p. B153). Success rolls for any Mirror larger than hand-sized are required at the halfway point and at the end of the creation period. Critical success should produce an extraordinarily-useful device, given the caster's stated intentions, if any. Any sort of failure ruins the Mirror, and any materials used are completely wasted; a critical failure indicates that the Mirror has "backfired" upon destruction (see the table on p. B147); the Mirror may also shatter or splinter. For more on the powers of Mirrors, see above.
Cost: 15 (or 20 in a low-mana area).
Prerequisite: Magery, Glassblowing. Enchant is not required, as the special oxides used are innately magical substances in the world of Mordant. It is assumed that these oxides, and the finished Mirrors, would function in other worlds.
Item: A finely crafted mirror of any size or shape from compact to 10' high or more, usually framed in expensive wood and mounted on pivots for easier focus. A Mirror should be considered "always on" with regards to its scrying ability, but its power to translate is only sparked by the proper Skill roll.
The Tech Level of Glass
The manufacture of small, colored glass objects has been known on earth since the days of ancient Phoenecia and Egypt (TL1). Also, a form of glass bead jewelry, called faience, was available in a variety of shades and markings. It wasn't until the Roman Empire, however, that glass panes (including mirrors) of any size appeared. This was due chiefly to the peace and heightened luxury trade brought about by the Pax Romana, as opposed to any major TL2 advancement. Stained glass as well as clear glass and backed mirrors remained in use throughout the Middle Ages (TL3); but the vast majority of reflecting surfaces were still made of polished metal in the interests of cost and durability. Finally, the Italian cities of the Renaissance began to turn out quality sheets of glass, including mirrors reflective enough to be recognized today. Clearly, certain parts of the process, such as the elimination of impurities and the careful pouring and cooling of large sheets, had been solved by TL4. This seems to correspond to the status of mirrormaking and Imagery in Mordant, otherwise a TL3 world. Since the Renaissance, changes in glassmaking have remained fairly minor, especially as regards mirrors. It cannot be overemphasized that Mordant's magical Mirrors have a unique ingredient in their oxide compounds, which works by physical contact with the Imager's skin. It is highly doubtful that this process, available to relatively primitive societies, would derive any benefit from an attempt to blend it with more advanced technologies such as plexiglass or reflec. If anyone could craft a Mirror with the DR of futuristic armor, one of the device's greatest weaknesses would be overcome.