A Quick Review – The Magus (#RPG #Magus)

During the height of the pandemic, I got into experimenting with solo RPGs. I figured that, since I couldn’t get together with friends, there was no reason to not experiment with story-telling. One of the systems I’ve tried recently is an indie RPG called the Magus, which I grabbed off of itch.io for a very reasonable price, if you find yourself interested. Much like my previous solo RPG journey while playing The Adventurer, it is a journaling RPG, where the experiences of your protagonist is recorded and read through their eyes. However, there is more crunch to The Magus, using dice to determine your fate in loose terms that help guide your narration.

In the grand scheme of things (and because I’m a fan of rolling dice), I found that I preferred the dice rolling mechanic to the card drawing system of The Adventurer, but I chalk that up to personal preference. Ultimately, I found the experience both challenging and quite enjoyable. I will post my end result at the bottom of this post, in case you are interested in reading what came from it.

The Game

The premise of the game is that you are a wizard that has struck out on their own, either of their own volition or forced out by those fearful of your power. Spanning seven events, you will shape their life and the results of their studies, for better or worse. You make friendships (or merely useful acquaintances) and learn spells… but there is a cost to power and you must decide whether the risk is worth the potential reward. The dice determine your success, failure and even the nature of the spell you learn, but ultimately it is your role as the chronicler to decide how those outcomes actually manifest.

One of the things I liked about The Magus is the moral dilemma that you are placed under with each choice you make. The choices you make initially, seem simple, but as the depth of power you seek grows deeper and darker, the choices you make carry more weight and the ability to harness those gifts gets more difficult.

Mechanics

As I mentioned above, The Magus uses a full suite of dice to help you navigate the game. A d6 and d4 help you to determine what random people your wizard encounters or what knowledge they stumble upon, while d8s, d10s, d12s and d20s all potentially play a roll in how fate fortunes your lone wizard. Roll the dice and see what you find, how you fare and learn the nature of the powers you hope to wield. Armed with these shards of knowledge, you write a journal based on those outcomes, detailing their reactions, their emotions and how the world around them views their actions.

The Magus is around 50 pages in a downloadable PDF (though the author is testing the waters for a hard copy, should there be enough interest), though the content of the pages are not jammed with text, but is rather artistically laid out to maintain its theme.

The Book

The book is laid out in a landscape format, chock full of art to help convey the theme. The rules are laid out well in the front half of the book, while the back half are the different scenarios you might encounter. So, while 50 pages may sound like a lot for a journaling RPG, less than half of the book are actual rules. The majority of the book are actually random results tables to help you flesh out the story.

Characters

Your character is the main character for the game. Whether they are good or evil remains to be seen. Ultimately, all the characters are your characters, but the one you chronicle for will be your protagonist, with other introduced via random prompt. Not much is known from the start, aside from some random prompts as to why you’re alone and why you are seeking power. The rest is what you make of it.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed writing my short story using The Magus as a guide. I spread the writing out over three days, but you could write it all in one sitting, or pace yourself and do one entry per day (as you might do if you were actually journaling). I barely scratched the surface on the different variations you could get using the different prompts in the book. In addition, there is now an expansion called Through the Looking Glass, which gives you alternative prompts for each entry in the back of the original book.

If you enjoy guided writing and developing characters, I do highly recommend acquiring The Magus. It’s an inexpensive indie game that can help you explore the darker side of seeking power. On one playthrough, you could play a misunderstood mage, hoping to prove people wrong about him and on a subsequent adventure, an unapologetic dark wizard, aiming to bend the world to his whim.

If this interests you, check out The Magus and build your own world… so long as it lasts. My first mage’s journey is available below.

The Chronicles of the Magus Azalin

Day 1

To any who should read this, my name is Azalin.  I am the fourth son of Osim, a humble merchant who always did his best to look out for his family.  I was always the smallest child; picked on and tormented by my elder siblings and peers.  It was to escape this torment that pushed me onto my path for power.

I was in the midst of another beating at the hands of my schoolmates, when I cried out for what friends I had to help me.  Why it happened, I will never be sure, but this time my cries for help were heard by something else.  In a burst of power, those beating me and anyone standing close by to observe, were blown backwards as I hovered just off the ground.  Something inside of me had awoken.  The look of fear on those who had been mercilessly laughing before was invigorating.  However, I knew that once word traveled that I had awoken as a Magus, the authorities would be along promptly to see me in chains.  Such was the fear of magic that the standing regent would see all who possessed magic put to death.

So, despite this new unlocked potency within me and wanting to exact revenge for years of punishment, I opted to flee.  I returned home to grab a few bare essentials and left for the nearby riverboat.  I couldn’t care about the implications for my siblings, but I wouldn’t bring disgrace on my parents.  So, I boarded the ship, sailed out to the sea and moved down the coast, beyond the reach of the regent’s witch hunters.  With my paltry few possessions, I pawned them to make rent for a small hovel above the local apothecary’s shop.  It was here I would begin my studies.

Day 4

It took some time to track down any readings about magic, what with it being outlawed.  Eventually, I caught wind of a spell whispered about in the night markets that sprung up around town, called Twilight.  The rumour was that the spell could enable you to move about quickly at night and be almost invisible, even just standing in another person’s shadow in the day.  I decided to give it a try.

I went out to the market the next day, after a night of intense study.  I was pretty sure I had it rehearsed to perfection.  I strode through the market square, as people bustled about their busy day.  As I loitered among the crowd, I stood in front of a market stall and stepped a foot in the shadow of a woman studying produce opposite me.  I said the words “Encompass all, as per a shadow in Twilight” so that they would be carried off on the breeze.  I looked around and no one acted as if they’d heard me and I waved to get the attention of the stall owner.  He didn’t act as if he’d seen me, so grabbed a loaf of bread and started walking off, prepared to run if needed.

Nobody reacted.  It had worked!

I had much more to learn, but my first true spell was under my belt and I now had an easy way to keep myself fed while I worked.  Things were definitely looking up!

Day 7

A strange occurrence today… I met a man with a strange talent.  He seemed to be able to pierce my illusions.  I was making my rounds in the market, taking what I needed under the veil of shadow.  I had just finished collecting what I needed, when he stopped me.  I had attempted to duck under his reach, when he adjusted for my movements.  He could see me!

Thankfully, he hadn’t seen me steal the merchandise I was carrying; he merely wanted to pay me for the rum I was carrying.  He explained that he was a sailor that was down on his luck and merely wanted to drown his sorrows.  Despite my not inquiring further, he explained that he had professed his love to a woman in a distant city, who had been a longtime friend.  She rejected him outright and with a tone of incredulousness.  So, he came here to run away from his rejection.  I identified with him in that regard.

While listening to his tale, my spell had slipped from my mind and the local guard moved in and demanded I accompany them.  It would seem that standing at the edge of the square with an armload of stolen goods is a fair way to garner attention.  Before I could answer the charges, this man I had only just met squared off with the guards and told them that I was no thief, but a friend of his.  When the guards persisted, he punched the Captain square in the jaw!  We took that moment of disbelief by the guards to flee down an alley and once we rounded a corner, I pulled the man beside me, whispered my words and motioned for him to be still and silent.

The guards ran past us, despite being no further than an arm’s length away at one point.  Once we were in the clear, I thanked the man for his help.  He introduced himself as Edmond Barrows and we exchanged pleasantries.  I told him that I was a scholar of history (not a complete lie) and was furthering my studies here.  It turns out he was staying not too far from me.  I may be down one bottle of rum, but I strangely made a friend today, it would seem. 

Day 8

Last night, I tried to focus on my studies, but my mind kept drifting back to Edmond.  Why would someone stick up for another in the face of violence, when they don’t even know them?  It was something so outside my own experiences growing up, it didn’t seem likely that anyone was ever truly that altruistic.  Perhaps he saw me as an easy mark and a way to get cheap (or free) food and drink.  No matter his reasoning, Edmond has something I don’t:  brawn.  Having a big man that is willing to stick up for me is the opposite of what I’m used to, but in this strange city, I welcome the companionship.

Day 10

While it is contrary to my reasoning for being here, I have spent the past couple of days familiarizing myself with other parts of the city with Edmond. I haven’t strayed far from home much in the time I’ve been here and there is so much more to this city than I even knew!  There are larger markets, a commercial district, public baths and even a library!  While I don’t expect to find tomes of magic just resting on a shelf, it will factor into my research nicely. 

Edmond’s spirits have been on the rise with each day away from the woman that scorned him.  In the first days we spoke, he talked about little else other than his ‘fair lady’, but as time passed he sobered up for longer and longer periods.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that he was an educated man as well!  He had studied at a foreign university, learning language and commerce.  He could have been rich as a merchant, but instead chose to pursue a career as a sailor.

I told Edmond about the power coursing through my veins.  He knew already, of course after our incident with the guards a few days ago, but I talked about my past, my awakening and the risks I take by pursuing this course.  Edmond was sympathetic to my family’s rejection over something I had no choice in.  Both of us had been shunned by those who should love us most and with that came some understanding about each other.

For the first time, possibly in my life, I have someone I can trust.  It is a strange thing, having someone to confide in.  Perhaps I do have a place in this world after all.

Day 17

I don’t know what to make of today’s events.  I had been spending a considerable amount of time at the library, reading up on ancient empires and the magics they used to control their territory.  It would seem that the actions of this empire is the main reason cited for why magic remains banned to this day.  They used their magic in some horrible ways.  

Over the past couple of days, people have been giving me wary looks.  Edmond has noticed it too.  While Edmond might have been the only one to pierce my illusion, my appearing out of thin air didn’t go unnoticed by those in the market that day.  To compound the issue, my choice in reading material has also attracted some unwanted attention.  This morning, I went out to run errands without Edmond, which turned out to be a terrible idea.

I was in the shopping district and was purchasing some fresh herbs… I’ve been relying on Twilight less, but had I been using it, I might have avoided all of this.  A crowd of people gathered around me, threatening to run me out of town.  Several were carrying weapons of opportunity and others still ran off to get the guards, whom I had been trying to avoid. 

I asked them to step aside and let me pass, but they refused.  As they closed in around me, I was reminded of my youth… and these bullies wouldn’t be chased off by a parent or schoolmarm.  While I can definitely say it was not my best moment, I want to be honest; I panicked.

Something I had read in one of the many books I had been reading popped into my mind.  Since I wasn’t thinking rationally, I latched onto it and used it.  Unlike Twilight, which was a spell of subtlety, this spell poured out of me like a torrent of summer rain.  “Unleash the wrath from beyond, for I am your key” is what I said.

The sensation I felt from those words was almost indescribable.  I felt this hard kernel of white hot heat in my chest, only for that energy to burst outward.  The energy felt hot and wet, almost like blood and everyone around me was thrown back.  Weapons shattered, shop stalls were bowled over like reeds in a sharp wind and people were tossed like rag dolls.  When I saw my opening, I ran.  With the destruction I caused in my panic, no one would follow me.  As I ran, I could swear I heard … laughter?  It was hard to tell, as I simply ran back to my shelter and wasn’t paying full attention.

Once I got back to the relative safety of my room, I went over my books to try and figure out what exactly I had done.  In my reading, I learned that I had improvised some text from one of the ancient empire sources I had been reading.  Perhaps historians had got it wrong and I accidentally corrected it… whatever the case, the spell had been called “Blast of Demons”.  The power had been terrifying and yet exhilarating.  I had knocked away a group of angry men like they were no more a nuisance than a swarm of gnats.

Earlier this evening, Edmond came home and he asked me about what had happened at the bazaar.  I told him that I didn’t know.  I don’t know if he believed me.  When I asked him why, he told me that several townspeople were mauled and those that weren’t didn’t seem to remember anything.  My surprise was genuine when he told me that.  I knew nothing about maulings or why no one would remember a spell like that.

It was later still, long after sundown when the missing pieces fell into place.  I swore I could hear voices in my apartment, but there was nowhere a person could hide in the tiny hovel I called home.  I turned down my lantern to a mere flicker and I could see three silhouettes in the corner of my eye.  They were humanoid, but certainly not human.  One had long, sharp claws and grinned maniacally.  Another was hunched over, like its upper body weighed too much and had giant club-like hands.  The third was female… I think.  She was sultry and curvy and gave off the most enticing presence.  If you ignored the spikes, horns and maw of shark teeth, she might be beautiful.

I was frozen in place and didn’t dare move.  I closed my eyes and whispered a small prayer.  When I opened my eyes again, the figures were gone.  I felt that paralyzing fear relax only to smell a fragrance that was a mix of roses and viscera and I heard a lusty voice in my ear.

“You have released us and we thank you.  We will keep you safe from those who would do you harm…for now.  You are the key.  But know that a key that never unlocks the door serves no purpose.  Serve a purpose, and you will be safe.”

Even now, as I write this down, my blood pumps like ice in my veins remembering her words.  In my desperation to save myself, I may have released something terrible into the world.  I desperately need sleep, so I can correct this… but I feel as though I might never sleep again.

Day 18

I’ve been researching steadily, trying to find out how to send the creatures I unleashed back to wherever they came from.  I have had no success.  It would definitely help if I knew where that was, but I wasn’t entirely focused when I cast it.  If there were any early indications, I certainly missed them.

In the moments I have been able to pull away from my studies, I have been spending time with Edmond.  His down-to-Earth view on the world is refreshing and it reminds me that there is more to life than study.  He has been working to get the locals to not fear me so much and I appreciate his efforts.  Especially since they seem to be working.

In talking with some of the other villagers here, they have mentioned an increase in deaths of late.  Horrific maulings in the dead of night, or livestock torn apart and their entrails devoured.  I have a sinking feeling that I know the cause, but I dare not mention what I’ve seen.  I continue to see those demonic forms in the corner of my vision, looming menacingly close to me.  They likely know what I’m trying to do, but I hope not.  If they understood, I doubt they would let me finish…but I have to try.

Day 23

A strange occurrence happened today.  I met someone.  She is strong, resourceful and wily.  Her name is Arabella and she is…was… a monster hunter.  She would travel the wild areas beyond the city gates and slay fearsome creatures, bringing them back as curiosities or charging a fair wage to rid a village of a troublesome threat.  Her stories are wild and so outlandish, I wonder if they are more legend than fact.

When I asked her why she stopped, she told me that the last creature she faced (a massive, spiked bear, if her story is to be believed) dealt her a nasty blow.  She now no longer recognizes faces.  A strange affliction to be sure, but seeing how others around interacted with her, she definitely treats others like strangers until she hears their voice.  She had approached me because for a moment she thought she had had a flicker of recognition.  I was sorry to tell her that she was mistaken, but after we spoke for a time we found ourselves speaking freely.

Despite hunting the most terrible creatures, she is an optimist.  She dreams of a better role for the Empire and driving the monsters away from settlements so that her role is no longer required.  When she lost her ability to recognize people, she realized that hunting a monster only to not remember who offered the reward was a fruitless position, so she has opted to become a bodyguard instead.  Keeping her charge close can deflect a lot of that confusion.

As I heard her stories and the things she has done, it made me think of my current situation.  Could she slay creatures visible only out of the corner of your eye?  I didn’t want her to think me insane, so I haven’t mentioned the creatures I see to her yet.  But if I can cultivate a friendship with her, perhaps she could be part of the solution.  Having a fetching woman along with me would certainly give me a reason to get out of my home more…

Day 25

After spending a nice meal with Arabella, I was returning to my home when I was approached by an old crone.  I had barely noticed her when she gripped my arm with more strength than I would have thought possible for a woman of her age.

She spoke to me in harsh whispers, muttering about seeing what lies beyond death and that I was the only person who might comprehend her knowledge.  The depth of insanity I saw behind her eyes reminded me of the creatures I was being haunted by.  I pulled my arm away, told her I wasn’t interested and hurried away.  Those eyes tracked me all the way up the road until I rounded the first corner.

It was unsettling and it made me wonder… am I right in pursuing this knowledge?

Day 32

What have I done?  I was on a breakthrough in my magical research.  A way to send these baleful demons back from where they came.  I read tomes and scrolls of ancient knowledge in a drive to find the key and I had found it.  If I was the key to the door, then surely I could use that to push them back through the way they came in.

I slaved over that formula for days and even slept at my desk a few times.  Edmond pleaded for me to get out every once in a while and I promised him I would, but I was so close to a breakthrough in my research… I had to complete it.

Then, this morning I awoke, face down on my desk and when I looked over my notes in my sleep-deprived state, I had finished the formula.  It should have worked.  The method was flawless.  This would free me from my torment.

I brought the materials I would need in the early dawn’s light and walked to the ocean’s edge.  Standing knee deep in chillingly cold water, I spoke the incantation.  As the last words passed my lips, the ocean felt like it would freeze around my legs and before I could catch my breath, I was swept underwater.  The water itself seemed to be dragging me out into the middle of the ocean.  It was dark and mind-numbingly cold.  In my panic as I was dragged down, it had failed to register that despite being at crushing depths, I was still breathing.

Almost as fast as I had been dragged under, the pulling stopped and I was floating in the cold darkness of the ocean.  Two great eyes opened in the deep and stared at me.  Stared through me.

“You…” it spoke to me.  “You do not comprehend.  Why do you search when you fail to understand?”

I wanted to speak, but feared that I would be swallowed up by the ocean.

“You seek to control power you are not prepared to access.  With my guidance, the power of the universe could be at your command.  You seek to prove yourself?  Allow me to show you…”

I couldn’t answer.  I needed to get to the surface, but this force held me down.  I wanted to flee from those eyes.  Instead that voice laughed at me and I was dragged further down into the darkness.  In my panic, I screamed…

I awoke in my bed, bathed in sweat.  It had seemed so real…could it have only been a dream?  As I swung my legs out of my bed, I found my legs plunging ankle deep in icy water.  I was on the upper floor… How could there be water here?

I ran out into the hallway that ran outside my residence to find water flowing down the hall.  I was not the only one investigating all of this water.  It had flowed out onto the street in massive quantities.  Everyone had likely suspected it to originate from my room, but it was flowing out from a room down the hall.  It was very soon that I realized the water was from Edmond’s room.

The city guard that had kicked in the door suggested I not peer inside, but I had to.  The room was soaked and the smell of the sea dominated the space.  Edmond was laying in bed, bloated up like a balloon.  Water ruptured from his body in several places and poured out of him in volumes impossible for a body to contain.  I fell to my knees and sat numb in the frigid water as the guards escorted me back to my home.

My best friend was dead.  It had to be because of that vision last night, right?  What else could cause that?  I ran to my desk to check my formula that I had devised the spell from.  I could now see that some of the handwriting was different.  It was my handwriting, but shaking as if being controlled.

The spell I had created was supposed to be “Return to the Infinite Void” and with a few changed elements, the newly translated spell was “Impossible Ocean of Altered Sorrow”.  I didn’t fully comprehend what the spell had done, but I had definitely disturbed something terrible.  Edmond had paid the price for my dabbling.  Even though I just woke up, I’m still exhausted.  I will rest and then destroy my research.  I now understand why magic was banned.  The risks are too great.

Day 33

For the first time in a very long time, last night I got drunk.  Arabella was there and she consoled me on the death of my friend.  The guards took Edmond’s body to the beach, so the seemingly infinite amount of seawater erupting from his body would return to the sea, rather than flooding the town square.  I wanted him to have a proper burial, but that doesn’t appear to be an option.

I want to tell Arabella about all of it, but I don’t know how she would take it.  Would my scholarly pursuits be an affront to everything she believes?  Would I be a monster in her eyes?  I couldn’t risk it.  

Something is changing in the world after that voice in the dark spoke to me.  Monsters of all sorts were starting to emerge across the land and traditional weapons were proving to be vastly ineffective.  The Empire had lifted the outright ban on magic, in order to discover ways of defeating these new beasts.

So, having reflected on events, I can’t abandon my research.  Especially since I may have been the one to begin all of this.  I have to keep up the fight.  I have to find a way to stop this, once and for all.

Day 42

What a strange experience.  We had been working on a new spell.  One that would correct everything.  The spell would be taxing and would have to be considerably more powerful than anything we’d tried before if we were going to try to correct this.

After vigorous and tireless research, we thought we had it.  In order to see the spell done before these creatures truly took over the world, we had to act.  We even went without sleep.  We simply had to complete the task at hand.

We completed it.  The spell has no direct translation to the human tongue… the closest translation was something like “Alternate Corruption of True Creation”.  What a spell!  Being able to reshape the very fabric of creation!  We could locate the abominations roaming the world and simply erase them from existence.  We finally had a way to win back this world.  It is only a matter of time.

Day 60

It has been a tireless effort, but we have the opportunity to rest.  We taught the mages of this world our methods of fighting the blight facing this world and together we have been working to correct the growing danger.

With our work done, we can now settle into a life of comfort.  Our only regret is that we couldn’t fully eradicate the creature Azalin.  We are forced to coexist in this single body amidst his cries of torment, which grow increasingly tiresome.

He was the key and with some careful revisions to his work, we threw the door open wide.  The plague on this world known as humanity will be wiped out, or at the very least, driven to the most remote sections of the land.  To think our liberation would come at the hands of a small human with petty revenge in his heart.  Thanks to his short-sightedness, we are here.

We are free.

~ by 1nsomniac on May 15, 2022.

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