The Seven Deadly Magics
by David Morgan-Mar
At many times throughout human history, the practice of magic was considered evil. Profane. Sinful.
If magic is a sin, maybe sins are magic.
This is why the church rails against sin. It has nothing to do with your eternal soul. It's all about maintaining control, keeping the populace in the dark, suppressing the rediscovery and use of magic. Unfortunately for the church, there are always sinners, and thus always people who are able to use these powerful supernatural forces.
In fact, most people will experience the strange thrill of unexpected mystical power while in the throes of a particularly sinful experience or emotion. Perhaps fortunately, few ever understand what has happened, or make the connection between their own behavior and the events around them. Of those who do comprehend what has happened, many are repulsed by the moral implications and become cleaner-living, more pious people. Anyone who has been living an irreligious or amoral life and suddenly "finds" religion -- embracing the teachings of a church, becoming an active evangelist, and crusading against the sins we are committing -- has probably done so because he has glimpsed the true horror of the human condition and what will befall us if we descend into the depths of sin.
But some people see the truth and embrace it. These are the Sinners. They are the scum of the Earth. The dregs of society. The lowest of the low, the people who commit crimes against human nature and society for the sheer enjoyment they get out of it. The people everyone else would least want to hold any form of power. But this is exactly what gives them their power.
There are seven distinct types of magic -- each controlled by one of the Deadly Sins. Most Sinners are only aware of one Sin -- the first they stumbled across and gained an understanding of. Once they have this power, they usually don't need any other, so they don't find them.
Using the Sins in Games
Because the power of the Sins is derived from emotional states, personal convictions, or the equivalent of GURPS mental disadvantages, they can be difficult to quantify in game terms, either intrinsically or without being game-mechanically abusive. The crucial aspect is that the sin must be committed for its own sake, not for the power it brings. You can't just decide to be angry; you either are or you aren't. The sins cannot be controlled like that. The powers only manifest when a Sinner is sinning for his own personal depravity, and not consciously trying to make use of the power.
(In In Nomine terms, this would include a mortal spending all his Essence unconsciously, while in pursuit of sin. This also implies that any mundane can use these abilities, while those who can spend Essence consciously cannot! However, if an appropriate Demon Prince who is not deliberately shielding his power is nearby, the GM may rule that any Sin, committed with "pure" intentions or not, will gain these benefits -- and that the Word-leakage will inspire Sinning in the first place . . .)
Using Sins as powers available to PCs thus relies heavily on GM judgment of when they will manifest. In effect, they are a GM tool, not something the players have access to. In many games, the PCs are heroic types anyway, and should shun the use of such ethically dubious powers and possibly even be working actively against those who abuse them.
The Sins are better used to characterize NPCs. Villains can be given uncanny amounts of influence and supernatural abilities through their sins. This can work in a secret magic setting, where the PCs are initially unaware that supernatural powers exist, or in a slightly more open campaign where some people know of the Sins and work to suppress them and defeat those who use them. These sorts of settings can fit the various moods of genres ranging from Victorian horror, through film noir, to cliffhanging 1930s adventure. They can also work in mystical modern day settings, from the gritty Shadow War of GURPS Voodoo, to TV-inspired settings like The X-Files, Buffy, and Charmed.
Special GURPS Fourth Edition note: Unless indicated, all GURPS game mechanics apply to Third Edition and Fourth Edition. Differences between editions are noted where necessary.
But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.
-- Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Wrath is the easiest of the magical sins. In the heat of anger, people often perform feats of strength or skill they would have no chance of doing in a calmer frame of mind. Wrath is the magic of increasing one's own physical abilities.
The best athletes are usually the temperamental ones. They discovered early in their careers that getting mad when they started to lose meant they didn't lose so often. Bad line call? Throw a tantrum. Your opponent won't stand a chance.
But most wrath Sinners are members of the seamy underside of society, where emotions don't need to be controlled and anger flows freely. Petty hoods who learn how to tap their wrath quickly move up the criminal hierarchy, becoming mobsters and gang leaders. Once ensconced in a position of power and influence, the Sinner needs to tap his powers only rarely, to keep in line any subordinates or opponents who displease him. Don't aggravate the capo.
But some Sinners don't stop there. Their anger runs deeper and has more targets. The unstoppable psycho killer is no mere figment of horror movie imagination. These people harbor a deep hatred of humanity; their wrath bubbles to the surface easily and grants them access to strength and stamina beyond mortal ken.
The first level of wrath is equivalent to a minor altercation or a typical reaction to an annoying event. Examples include a shouting argument, minor road rage incident, giving someone the finger, or aggravation resulting in physical abuse of inanimate objects. Wrath of this intensity grants the angry individual a minor increase in either strength, stamina, or physical skill, as appropriate to the person's immediate goals and actions. For example, a tennis player throwing a tantrum would improve his tennis skill, a programmer trying to throw his computer across the room would gain strength, while a shopkeeper chasing a thief would benefit from stamina. In GURPS, this is a single point bonus to ST, HT, or a physical skill. (In Fourth Edition, this may instead take the form of a more specialized increase, such as to Lifting ST or Fatigue Points.)
The second level of wrath involves unrestrained desire to commit harm on another person. Everything from throwing a punch to spraying bullets counts, but only if done in the heat of anger -- a cold- blooded murder is worthless. This grants either a major increase to strength, stamina, or physical skill, or minor increases to all at once. In GURPS this is a single increase of 1d.
The third level of wrath involves unrelenting hatred and anger at multiple targets accompanied by extremely violent actions. This grants the Sinner major bonuses to strength, stamina, and all physical skills. In GURPS this should also include one or more levels of the Hard to Kill advantage.
They were once men -- great kings of men. Then Sauron the deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question.
-- Aragorn, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Greed is all about possession of whatever society values. If you collect and horde enough riches, you become powerful. Everyone knows it. The "rich and powerful" is one group with both these qualities, not two separate groups.
Greed is the power to mold society. It is influence on a mass scale. If you are greedy enough, you can control trends and dictate widespread patterns of behavior. The rich get richer. Well of course they do. Greed gives them the power to manipulate society to their whims. And what do they want most? More wealth.
Greed Sinners are often captains of industry. Accumulated wealth gives them the resources to set up businesses. The magic of greed makes them successful. Who decides what new fashions or music trends or new gadgets will be popular this year? Not the consumers. At the top of each successful corporate tree sits a Sinner, exerting his will on the world and making the public want more of his product.
Have you ever wondered why an inferior product can so totally dominate a market sector, despite the existence of superior alternatives? Notice those alternatives are often the products of less successful companies, or even non-profit organizations. In other words, there is no greed behind them -- they are powerless in the face of what really dictates our buying patterns.
The first level of greed is typically encountered in events such as finding a wallet and not turning it in, kids stealing cash from their parents, or minor tax evasion. This empowers the greedy person to plant a short term suggestion in the spending habits of people within direct communication range. This is a minor suggestion effect, which can only make people do things they might be inclined to do anyway, and which can be overcome with willpower. About the only people who benefit from this power are beggars, who sometimes have a lucky day in which they find some cash and then have people behave much more generously to them. In GURPS terms, this is a weaker form of the spell Mass Suggestion (p. M68), with suggestions going against safety or beliefs resisted automatically.
The second level of greed corresponds to theft of significant quantities of cash or valuables or major tax evasion. When planning or perpetrating the act, the Sinner may plant a longer term, stronger suggestion in people about what to do with their wealth. This can be communicated by long-distance targeted appeals such as phone calls, letters, or -- more and more importantly -- e-mails. This explains how Internet scammers can actually find people gullible enough to fleece. In GURPS, this is a full-blown Mass Suggestion with a duration of a day.
The third level of greed involves major breaches of trade law, safety regulations, or intellectual property rights with the goal of securing vast profits. This allows the Sinner to force an imperative on all people by any sort of proxy communication, including media advertising and word of mouth, as long as it involves spending their own money. In GURPS, this is a Lesser Geas (p. M68) with the restriction that it can only dictate monetary outlays.
Lust is to the other passions what the nervous fluid is to life; it supports them all, lends strength to them all . . . ambition, cruelty, avarice, revenge, are all founded on lust.
-- Marquis de Sade
Lust is the desire of sensual pleasure. Sexual satisfaction, visual arts, sublime music, exquisite perfumes. The lustful wants to fill his senses with hedonistic experiences, deriving his own personal enjoyment at the expense of all else. If he goes far enough, he will find his senses sharpened to make the most of pleasure obtained. At its greatest expression, the lustful gains access to extraordinary sensations.
Lust at the first level is characterized by the transient pleasure most people get from events intense in sensory input. The act of sex, listening intently to music, savoring a fine wine -- all these things act to magically enhance the sense involved with the experience. The tingling of the skin a lover feels is greater sensitivity to touch. Concentrating on enjoying music makes it easy to pick out instruments and nuances of the sound texture. Really appreciating a good wine stimulates the nose and palate more than knocking back a glass of house red. This is a minor increase in only the senses directly involved with the experience. In GURPS, this is a level of Acute Vision, Hearing, Taste and Smell, or an analogous improvement in touch. (Fourth Edition has an Acute Touch advantage as a type of Acute Sense.)
Second level lust occurs when the Sinner's every action is calculated to increase his own sensual pleasure. He may take a job and work well to finance pleasurable activities, but may not engage in purely intellectual pursuits or any act primarily designed to make anyone else happy. The ultimate motivation for everything must be hedonistic. At this level, the Sinner experiences all senses heightened to a moderate degree. In GURPS Third Edition, this is 3 levels of Alertness; in Fourth Edition, it is 3 levels of Perception.
Third level lust is achieved only by those who do everything for sheer pleasure, without planning, reasoning, or thinking about the consequences. When any options are present, they will always take the one that most appeals to their current desires. They have no compunctions against doing anything, either for moral, ethical, or legal reasons. Such people would not last long in society, but for the powers gained: vastly increased abilities in the normal senses, plus access to magical extrasensory perceptions such as clairvoyance and x-ray vision. In GURPS, this can be treated as a combination of Microscopic and Telescopic Vision, Parabolic Hearing, Discriminatory Smell and Taste, Sensitive Touch, and possibly additional senses such as Spectrum Vision (Hyperspectral Vision in Fourth Edition), Penetrating Vision, Sonar Vision (Scanning Sense), Subsonic Hearing, Ultrahearing, Faz Sense (Vibration Sense), Magnetic Sense (Detect Magnetic Fields), Enhanced Time Sense, and Sense of Perception (which has no Fourth Edition equivalent, but has components of Clairsentience).
Sloth is of all the passions the most powerful.
-- Samuel Beckett
The slothful don't want to do anything. They would much rather other people do things for them. In an extreme state, the lazy person will find that other people will start doing things for him.
The power of sloth is the power of suggestion. "Can you grab me a beer on the way past the fridge?" is just the beginning. Most people exercise this power on a casual basis, without even knowing it. People aren't carrying out your whims because they are being polite or helpful -- they're at least partially under your control. But most lazy people eventually do get up and do some things for themselves. If only you never got up, your power would grow . . .
First level sloth is the sort of laziness most people go through now and then: not getting up to answer the door, couldn't be bothered cooking dinner. This grants the slothful person the power to suggest an action to one person. The suggestion must be communicated by normal means, most often verbally, and can be resisted by willpower. It can involve any action that achieves something the Sinner could do for himself, if only he were not too lazy. "Hi, can you deliver a pizza to . . ." Of course they can. In GURPS, this is a Suggestion (p. M68).
Sloth of the second level involves inordinate laziness, often to the point of neglecting physical fitness and personal hygiene. A Sinner at this level neglects work duties and cannot hold down a job, unless he uses his power. That power is the ability to make a single person follow any direct orders, so long as they are not physically harmful. In GURPS, this is Loyalty (p. M68).
The ultimate slothful Sinner doesn't do anything that he can comfortably have someone else do for him. The entirety of every day is spent in sedentary leisure pursuits, without interruption for any work or household chores. This grants the Sinner ultimate power over a single person, as directed. In GURPS, this is Charm (p. M68).
We only dislike the glutton when he becomes a gourmet -- that is, we only dislike him when he not only wants the best for himself, but knows what is best for other people.
-- G. K. Chesterton
Gluttony is overindulgence, not just of food, but of anything. Collectors and hoarders are gluttons in their own way. They consume things, usually the best selection from what is available. A glutton wants it all, he wants the best, and he wants it now.
Gluttony seems a self-destructive and scorn-worthy lifestyle. Strangely, however, conspicuous gluttons are often admired and even worshipped, and can have health and longevity in the public eye far beyond what one might expect if oneself were to behave in that way. Rock stars and the most outrageous Hollywood celebrities are classic gluttons.
At the first level, a glutton feels a desire to have more of something he already possesses, either in quantity or quality. This gives the Sinner the ability to discern quality like an experienced connoisseur, or to detect additional resources that will satisfy the craving. This allows the dining glutton to make the choicest selections from the all-you-can-eat buffet, or the collector to find the objet d'art he wants amidst the dusty recesses of an antique store. In GURPS terms, this is equivalent to a variant Measurement (p. M54) spell to determine value or quality, or a variant Seek spell targeted at the desired object.
Second level gluttony is the compulsion to always have more of a particular item. Chain smokers, diners who never stop snacking between (large) meals, collectors who buy every new release and comb eBay daily for out of print items for their collection. These people gain the power to keep doing what they do. The chain smoker strangely never succumbs to lung disease; the eater may be overweight, but is robustly healthy; the collector always seems to have just enough credit left to purchase his acquisition, and an empty niche at home to stuff it into. These are varied effects that must be put into game mechanics on a case-by-case basis (and are cumulative with the first level effects).
At the highest level, a glutton is obsessed with his object of desire to the exclusion of all else. Nothing matters more than the next hit of consumable or collectible. Anyone who acquires so much on a whim must be powerful, influential, and worthy of respect -- and so they are. People meeting the glutton are struck by his aura of conspicuous consumption and obvious high social standing. He attracts fans and gains positive reactions from the masses. In GURPS, this can be represented by levels of Status or Reputation, in addition to the effects of the first two levels of gluttony.
Riots? But Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. Why would my people feel anything but pride and contentment?
-- King Louis XIV, The Man in the Iron Mask
Pride is all about feeling superior to other people. If you pull it off with enough confidence and chutzpah, it will be true. This is the magic of pride.
We've all seen them. Those utterly self-confident people who look as though they belong anywhere. They bluff their way through the toughest situations with bravado and derring-do and, infuriatingly, it always seems to work for them. They never get their comeuppance. Of course not. They don't believe they deserve it.
This is the guy in the sleek convertible sports car, with a girl on each arm, dodging through the traffic faster than anyone. You want to punch his face in, but he flicks a smile at you and you let him into your lane. Then you fume at yourself, "What the heck was I thinking?" Whatever he wanted you to think.
The ultimate proud Sinner is convinced he is the greatest. All others are but lowly worms worthy of nothing but contempt. This is megalomania. Yes, this is how Hitler rose to power.
The lowest level of pride is that small smug feeling of being the best that comes to many people when they achieve something noteworthy. It appears at graduations, weddings, births, and other such events. The proud person becomes more charming and charismatic -- a subtle effect, but one that can be noticed. Even photos of the happy people turn out looking more attractive than normal. In GURPS, this corresponds to one temporary level of the Charisma advantage, or possibly Appearance.
Pride of the second level is the sort displayed by particularly conceited individuals who attend cool parties, disregard others' right of way on the road, and generally believe themselves to be the cream of society and the bee's knees. To many people, this serves to make them appear just how they see themselves. Such people are somehow charming, attractive, and persuasive, and can talk themselves into or out of most tricky situations with confidence. In GURPS terms, this is 3 levels of Charisma and +3 to Fast Talk skill.
Third level pride means the Sinner is totally self-centered and truly believes himself to be the coolest, most suave, sophisticated, and capable person in existence. In GURPS this grants 5 levels of Charisma, 1d-3 of Appearance, Voice, and +5 to Fast Talk skill.
It seems that envy is my sin.
-- John Doe, Seven
Envy is the most insidious sin. It eats the envious away from the inside, as they covet whatever they cannot have and resent those who have it. This negative energy projects outward and destroys lives around the Sinner.
Those in the company of envious people start to find their own fortunes fading. The envier gloats at each misfortune and this just seems to make things worse. Eventually it reaches a point where the envied person has fallen so low that he is not worth envying. Then he can slowly claw his way back -- until envy strikes again.
The first level is a brief burst of concentrated envy directed at a particular person. This is not the vague low-level envy of rich or powerful celebrities that many people feel sometimes -- it needs to be aimed at a specific individual physically present. Examples include the envy of seeing a friend's hot new car, or a co-worker's vacation photos. This projects mild bad luck on to the subject of the envy for an hour. In GURPS terms, this is a -1 penalty on all attribute checks, skill rolls, and reaction rolls made during the hour.
Second level envy is sustained and heartfelt. Every time the Sinner thinks of the person in question, he is riddled with envy, of his wealth, house, job, spouse, kids, car, everything. This produces ongoing bad luck until a major incident of some sort occurs -- the subject loses his job, or his spouse dies for example. In GURPS, this is essentially a Curse (p. M63) with a modified ending condition.
Envy of the third level is all-consuming. The Sinner can think of almost nothing but how much he wishes to be like the subject of his envy. In GURPS, this level of envy is an Obsession with becoming like the subject, and produces the effect of a 3-point Curse that never ends until the envy stops.
The School of Tobaccomancy -- Another look at Pride magic.
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(Thanks to Devin Ganger for the initial idea that led to this article, and Beth McCoy for advice on In Nomine effects.)
Article publication date: August 27, 2004
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