A Spell Called Catherine
When a wizard named Mendalus develops a spell that summons an obedient woman named Catherine--exactly like any other summoning spell--it creates chaos in the wizard-metropolis of Meltheria, as many interested parties struggle to understand the nature (and legality) of the Catherine spell, while vast fortunes hang in the balance.
Trovalos Mendalusus is a wizard. Although he is hardly a world-class archmage, he is known within Meltheria as a summoner of no small talent. Mendalusus is also regarded as a glutton and a lecher, with an odd sense of humor and a narrow set of associates. He's not unkind or unpleasant, merely awkward and sometimes self-absorbed.
Just last month, Mendalusus finally capitulated to the demands of his friends, and shared a spell he had recently developed. It is simple enough any wizard past his apprenticeship can cast it. He calls the spell 'Catherine'.
Quite simply, the spell summons a woman of the same name. The spell lasts for several hours. She is young, attractive, blonde, and wears a large blue dress (although she can change into anything provided). In personality, she is quick to laugh and prone to pouting. In all respects, she acts exactly like a real human being. She is especially eager to obey any commands, as long as they are phrased politely.
If the summoned Catherine is confronted with the details of her summoning/nature as a spell construct, she will have a tearful breakdown. Fortunately for the summoned woman, her mind is wired to overlook obvious contradictions or unpleasant facts, like someone who has taught themselves to forget some unpleasant fact.
It is fair to say that Mendalusus did not anticipate his spell would get such a reaction.
Spells to summon beasts have been known for a long time. Even the street magician's trick of pulling a rabbit from a hat is based on the conjuration magic of real wizards. So summoning an animal is no strange thing.
The animals summoned from these spells certainly look, feel, and behave like normal animals in the short time before they vanish. They are not illusions. By most definitions of the word, they are 'real'. . . at least before the spell runs out.
There has been an unofficial consensus among wizards that humans and other 'intelligent' creatures cannot be summoned like rabbit or wolves. By convention, these lines of research have never been pursued.
The City of Meltheria
In Meltheria, the City of Wizards, there has been an explosion of interest in the Catherine spell. Mendalusus and his associates have been kept busy (1) making scrolls to keep up with demand, and (2) preventing counterfeiters from making and selling illicit copies of the same scroll. Money is pouring into Mendalusus' pockets faster than he can count it, and it is pouring back out to hire a small army of lawyers and thugs. It is very expensive to fight counterfeiting.
It is worth noting that magic use is fantastically prevalent in Meltheria. Expect these to be wizard-lawyers, and even among the squads of thugs, there will be one with a magic wand.
The colleges of wizardry are in an uproar. There is a lot of discussion about whether Mendalusus violated some unwritten code of wizardry when he made a spell to summon a human. There are also suggestions that this spell should be banned from the public. Most agree that the Catherine spell opens the door to a whole new branch of wizardry: 'human summoning'. This agreement is always immediately followed up with arguments about which existing college is best equipped to pursue this intriguing line of research. Several of the mage-princes of Meltheria are eager to throw money at anything following this line of research, and at least one college will soon be getting paid a great deal of money to do exactly that. It is even possible that the portly, nondescript Mendalusus will be shoulder-tapped to head the research himself.
The police force of Meltheria has already began issuing announcements and placing posters. These signs show a picture of the summoned Catherine, and warn that she is only a spell effect under the control of a wizard, and should not be treated like a human being. The police do this in response to last week, in which Meltheria saw a flood of pranks that used the Catherine spell, mostly involving seduction, indecency, and petty thievery.
The Hesayan Church
The single most powerful institution in the world, the Church has already spoken out against the Catherine spell. The Patriarch has condemned the spell as sinful, since it will obviously be used for carnal purposes. Why would anyone develop such a spell, if not to illicitly enjoy the pleasures of the flesh?
The Church has even gone so far as to categorize the spell as Necromancy, which makes it illegal in most of the civilized world. They argue that since it imitates the soul of a human being, it cheapens and corrupts the souls of those who cast it.
Inquisitor Vanemacht is the agent that the church has sent to Meltheria to ascertain the truth of the situation. He is a witch hunter, so this is a little out of his normal milieu, but he is an intelligent and driven man, well used to cutting to the heart of matters. He is accompanied by his normal entourage of 4 paladins and 4 assassin-rogues, all of them clever, all of them deadly, and all of them disguised as merchant's guards (and Vanemacht as the merchant, of course).
The Church wields little power in Meltheria, which sits so far away from the power centers of the Church. Still, it is not wise to flaunt one's disobedience, and it is likely that international politics will become strained as a result of Mendalusus' spell. Meltheria's mage-diplomats are already sweating in their embassies, bracing for the coming storm.
Ironically, the Church is joined in its condemnation by the witches. Although the Church has forbidden witchcraft (defined as any woman who casts a spell), this rule is poorly enforced, and hundreds of small, discrete covens exist around the world. Meltheria, despite being the city of mages, is also something of a men's club--only two of the Colleges of Wizardry permit women to join their ranks.
The liberal headmaster of the Autumnal Eye, Alosius Faruk, has already publicly stated his opposition to the Catherine spell. He has invited all who wish to protest 'human conjuring' to stay as his guests while the mage-princes decide the fate of the Catherine spell. He implicitly included witches in his declaration, and his house is currently home to many strange guests from all corners of the globe.
As they have been prevented from a legitimate forum for their arguments, some of the witches (and wizards in protest) have found other ways to voice their disapproval. Mendalusus, the mage-princes, and the college headmasters have all seen letters pour into their houses, sometimes literally (as in the case of Alokk Ward, who was writing a letter in his study when he was suddenly buried by the arrival of several thousand paper birds, each of which containing the same furious letter.) Mage-prince Auroch has been turned into a woman, and has had no luck so far breaking the enchantment. And there are rumors that Mendalusus' penis has been spirited away (or at least rendered impotent), something that would explain his foul mood these days.
Two Wizards and a General
Alosius Faruk (ah-LO-shuss fah-RUKE, rhymes with juke) is fifty-three years old and incredibly tan. He swims in the ocean everyday, and specializes in water magic. He is a tenured professor at Gyrion-Martinet University, and also volunteers his time on the Meltheria Immigration Commission. He is fantastically in love with Brythe, his wife of nearly thirty years (who is not a spellcaster, but owns a trio of small bookstores). They built their large house together, and in many ways it is a culmination of their dreams. He has been a long-time supporter of more ethical wizardry, although this is a very unpopular opinion in Meltheria. So despite being kind and good-humored, Faruk has no circle of friendly colleagues.
Mage-Prince Auroch is twenty-eight years old. He is vain, imperious, and cleverly sympathetic. He possesses a barbed wit and is a fantastically powerful wizard (the most important qualification for mage-prince is spellcasting ability). He is a former child prodigy, and is absolutely furious at being turned into a woman, although the anti-curse committee assures him that they'll be able to find a cure in just a few more days.
General Boskerys Targrail has traveled here from Noth, on the other side of the continent. He was interested in purchasing some magic-enhanced weaponry, but has quickly become obsessed with the idea of a conjurable army. He envisions an armored legion, thousands strong, springing from the dust to crush Noth's enemies. Noth and Meltheria have done lots of business in the past, so they have a good relationship. Still, the General is quite insistent that the trial be handwaved along (Noth justice is usually a matter of noble fiat) so that work can quickly begin on weaponizing human summoning spells.
Mina Trobokken is twenty-four years old and has never left her small village before, where she is a member of a coven composed almost exclusively of tailors and weavers. She is 'too tall', awkward, and naive. She is starry-eyed by all the well-dressed, famous, powerful wizards that must be in the same city as her (and the beautiful parts of Meltheria are extremely beautiful). She knows a lot about tailoring and fabrics. She is accompanied by her mother, another witch, but is prone to wandering off on her own.
Yasbeta Trobokken is forty-nine years old and the headmistress of the Seamstress' Guild in Vemic, further up the Meltherian peninsula. She is eager to show the other witches that provincial witches can be just as dedicated and effective as those from the major cities, or from the major wild covens. As a result, she is snappish, well-dressed, and prone to bias.
Tantigale Redfox is thirty-one years old, and a native of Meltheria. Until last week, she was a rabid misandrist. The sudden complexities of this situation have complicated her once-simple philosophy of 'all men are evil'. Despite his gender, her host Faruk is sympathetic and understanding. And her fellow witches, more interested in pragmatism than dogma, have already chastised her for her emotional outbursts. And so while the other witches discuss the implications of the Catherine spell, Tantigale is a mass of turmoil and tangled emotions--a crisis of identity. She could lash out in nearly any direction.
Crismelda LaGrenth is one hundred and nine years old. She is an ancient, withered, cackling fiend of a woman. Her face can be compared to a goat's, and her bony legs bristle with stiff hair. She also has a terrific sense of humor, loves to tease people, and has a powerful (but somewhat skewed) sense of justice. She is immensely beloved by her fellow witches, and is their unofficial leader (though not spokesman). She's also one of the most powerful spellcasters in all of Meltheria, if the most powerful. She is responsible for conjuring Mendalusus' penis away, turned it into a wooden rooster, and placed it on Faruk's mantlepiece. (She thinks this is hilarious. Faruk has a good sense of humor, right?)
There are also a great deal of other third-parties that are interested in seeing the Catherine spell outlawed. That spell could put a lot of people out of business, especially if similar spells are developed.
Habbakai Ultramontane is the chairman of the Masseuse and Joyworker's Guild. He is tall man with a 4' goatee, who firmly believes that if the Catherine spell (and by extension, human summoning) is legalized, he will go out of business. He has many, many underworld contacts that he can (and will) employ, but his first method of engagement is usually to arrange for a meeting. He's a bit impassioned (he's been under a lot of stress lately) and prone to shouting about 'his girls' being put out on the streets.
Rolando the Sellsword is a rich ex-mercenary, thirty-five years old and retiring with a fat purse of money he's saved up from two decades of honest mercenary work. A few days ago, he arrived in Meltheria, looking for a place to invest his money. Maybe he should open a tavern? He likes taverns. But this Catherine thing has taken his imagination by storm, and in the space of only a few days he has bought, decorated, and gotten the permits for a large building downtown (money is a great lubricator). The grand opening for Rolando's House of Heaven is right around the corner. (He is gambling on more human summoning spells being developed quickly, and has already hired some people to do exactly that).
Last week, a woman was told that she couldn't buy grapefruit because she wasn't a real person. The grapefruit seller pointed to a nearby sign as evidence, and told her that she as a 'spell effect'. The 'spell effect' complained to the guards, who promptly arrested her. She was held in custody while the guards waited for her to disappear. Except she didn't.
The city guards of Meltheria have been trained to be very wary around spells. They were so suspicious, in fact, that the woman was in jail for two days. Only after numerous people came by, testifying that they were her friends and family, was the woman released. Her name is Catherine.
She looks almost exactly like the spell construct. The 'real Catherine' has a few more lines around her eyes, and the 'spell Catherine' has a slightly larger bust, but everything else is largely identical. She even owns a blue dress like the one that 'spell Catherine' is summoned in.
Catherine claims that she worked as a prostitute in one of the poorer sections of Meltheria. She claims that she was hired by Mendalusus--both for her usual talents as well as some minor magical experiments. She claims that she wasn't told what the experiments would entail, and has demanded restitution for her exploitation and unjust imprisonment.
If she is awarded any money, it will be a fortune. Many copies of the scroll have been sold (something that only increased after hearing that it might soon be outlawed), so this is no small sum of money.
She has even announced that she intends to testify against Mendalusus, and with the money from sales of 'her spell', she give back to her family and to the Church. In fact, she has already sworn off prostitution, and has spoken of the evils of that profession. It is rumored that she was aided in this moral decision by a large sum of money from the Church.
Catherine has already received many threats. Wizards have sworn to 'dispel' her. A blue dress was nailed to her door. Once she even came came home to find the corpse of a 'spell Catherine' in her kitchen.
Most intriguing of all, Mendalusus claims that he has never met this woman before in his life. He claims that his spell was entirely of his own devising, and wasn't based on a real woman. He claims that the 'real Catherine' is an illusion created by rival wizards who intend to scam him out of his fortune.
This is not impossible. Wizards have performed far more impressive deceptions in the past. But if the 'real Catherine' is actually a fake, then someone has either (a) rewritten the Catherine spell and maintained it these several weeks, or (b) altered a living woman to exactly resemble her. Not to mention all the people that have come forward claiming to be her friends and family.
Meltheria has already set a court date, to be decided by a certain Judge Jeroboam. The trial will decide the fate of 'human summoning', distribute a vast fortune, and possibly even determine the fate of our immortal souls.
Roll 1d6. (1 - Catherine, 2 - Mendalusus, 3 - The Church (via Inquisitor Vanemacht), 4 - The Witches (via Alosious Faruk), 5 - The Joyworker's Guild (via Habbakai Ultramontane), 6 - Mage-Prince Auroch (via proxy))
wants the party to
Roll 1d6. (1,2 - Protect, 3,4 - Investigate, 5 - Assassinate, 6 - Convince)
Roll 1d6. (1 - Catherine, 2 - Mendalusus, 3 - Inquisitor Vanemacht, 4 - The Witches, 5 - Mage-Prince Auroch, 6 - Judge Jeroboam)
Reroll things that don't make sense. Better yet, give your players two objectives, instead of one.
Example 1: Mage-Prince Auroch wants the party to assassinate Catherine (perhaps in a certain way that either reveals that she is some other woman wrapped in illusion, or if not, make it seem to be).
Example 2: The Joyworker's Guild wants the party to protect Judge Jeroboam (perhaps to prevent Inquisitor Vanemacht from blackmailing him).
Central Locations and Questions Thereof
1. Catherine's Apartment, surrounded by manipulators, mercenaries, and family members. How will she react if she witnesses a part member cast the Catherine spell? Is she really the woman the spell is based off of, or is she part of an elaborate scam?
2. Mendalusus Laboratory, filled with smoke, lawyers, and Catherines serving drinks. How is he handling the pressure? Is he a victim or a villain? Does he have any doubts, or is he commited in his resolutions?
3. The Burning Rabbit, a tavern that Inquisitor Vanemacht has rented out in it's entirety. Does the Inquisitor know about the witches gathering in Faruk's estate? And if he does, will he let his hatred for them outweigh the mission that the church has given him?
4. Alosius Faruk's mansion, filled with witches, fresh-baked bread, and a number of suspiciously intelligent animals. Do the witches really care about the larger issue of human summoning, or are they just here to raise mayhem at the mage-princes' expense? Do they care about Catherine as a person, or just the politics of the situation?
5. The House of Red Paper, the biggest brothel in Meltheria (at nine stories tall), full of worried prostitutes and Habbakai's impassioned speeches. How scrupled in Habbakai? Can a compromise be reached?
6. The Pillar of Light, the 200-story tower where the mage-princes host their guests. The Mage-Prince is arrogant, yes, but does he have a point? What is the worth of progress and the advancement of knowledge? Does the Catherine spell cheapen human lives by making them biddable, temporary, and at-will?
An Ethical Dilemma
This plot is written for players who will enjoy the ethical dilemma it provides. It may raise questions of identity, exploitation, and human worth. And although I love kicking down doors and punching orcs, this can be a powerful change of pace.
But the truth is that it doesn't even matter if your players don't care about the ethics of Catherine spell. No matter how your players decide to get involved, thesituation in Meltheria is delicate enough that they willmake friends and enemies in this city (among the tangle of wizards, witches, demons, lawyers, witch-hunters, and whores).
Best of all, this is a chance for you to give your players a hand in writing the history of the world. The situation is certainly volatile enough that a small group of dedicated people could tip the situation one way or another. It is up to them whether Catherine spells become commonplace in your campaign, or banished to the list of forbidden spells.
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? Responses (17)
Executed really well. I like how you went in depth, thinking about what sort of ramifications such a spell would cause.
Once she even came came home to find the corpse of a 'spell Catherine'
Thanks! Fixed it.
I want this spell lol. *pop* Instant girlfriend.
Interesting. Refreshing. Well done :)
Can't think of anything else to add, just wow.
Really well thought out: lots of meaty information and a nmumber of loose ends and mysteries for expansion. Wonderful!
This is great, let me follow that up with a self indulgent story. I had a similar situation a couple of campaigns ago.One race was summoning humans. So a human could be just minding his or her business and then poof they were summoned to distant land and given instructions by an unknown elf which they felt compelled to obey. The result, in game, was that the priest character (played by a gamer with no meta-sensisabities...bless him) started to by very concerned for the well being of his summoned creatures. It climaxed when during the final battle of the campaign the priest healed the summoned creature and dismissed him-two things that near gave my meta gamers a stroke.
I have also always thought that focus of magic on combat to the lack of domestic magic was a little extreme. In a world like the one you present here, in which magic can be sold and has a wholesale, almost mundane, property I would say that once the flood gate of domestic magic is open society's strategies for dealing with problems would change exponentially. Imagine what the psychiatric community could do with charm magics (depression? ZAP!-gone), and would theater even require actors if you had good illusions and summoning spells. Might all of Mendalusus learn that they are all summoned beings!?!?!
Ah well excellent stuff...
Excellent and enjoyable.
Wow. I really really enjoyed reading this. Excellently written and presented, the NPC capsules are awesome, and the moral conundrum is a barrel of fun. What a great dynamic you set up here!
Then I got to this line by axle...'Might all of Mendalusus learn that they are all summoned beings!?!?!' A whole (brave?) new world presents itself!!!
What a neat concept - it brings forth a good philisophical debate about summoning in general.
I wish that I had this spell in real life.
I dont think theirs anything i can add to this that hasent been said already. Nice work
Brilliant. I love how you have explored the deeper ramifications of this - frankly horrifying - piece of magic, and the responses from various factions of the community. Those explorations make this a first rate sub.
I like this, I like this a lot. This sort of thing feels like it should happen more often in fantasy, where utility spells seem to be lacking and most issues are cut and dry rather then the messy affairs they tend to be in reality.
Because I am a nit-picker, I feel compelled to point out a few problems I see:
1) Terminology - while it certainly varies from person to person and game to game, 'summoning' is usually a trasportation of an already existing creature to your location to serve you (may or may not be willing, depending on spell and system), conjuring is usually creatures made wholesale.
As such, the spell sounds more like conjuring than summoning. (Summoning people is a different bag of worms altogether.)
2) Conjuring a human army is not likely to be a whole lot more economical than conjuring a army of anything else. This may be a flaw in the thinking of General Boskerys Targrail rather than a plothole, however.
3) Conjured (or summoned, usually) creatures tend to disappear once killed, so the 'the corpse of a 'spell Catherine'' should not be possible. Again, the spell could have been modified to compensate, although that makes the attempt even more remarkable.
This sub is fantastic from top to bottom, and not at all where I thought this was going when I first read the title. Every major player is well detailed an the conflict and implications are all fascinating and well thought out.
the only question left to ask is, is Habbakai Ultramontane compensating for something with that 4' goatee?
Wow. It wouldn't fit in my campaign (spells to 'create' people, including a Create Paramour spell, are long known), but this is a superb and detailed scenario well worth exploring. Good on ya.