Magical Mondays: Secret Societies   Leave a comment

Welcome to Magical Mondays!  We’ve got a smallish entry for you this week due to the madness that was the Spooky Month last October and all of the writing that I need to do here at the start of November, but it’s a topic that I’d like to come back to and flesh out in more detail at some point: let’s talk Secret Societies.

Secret Societies in the sense that I mean them aren’t necessarily secret, though that helps.  Rather, the activities of the societies are secret, and work toward goals with activities that might fall outside the scope of standard groups and organizations in your campaign world.  They may have even developed certain magical tricks or abilities that others don’t understand.

Basically, a “secret society” in this sense fills a lot of the same roles as an evil cult, but in this case isn’t necessarily dedicated to dark forces (or evil, though many secret societies will be evil.)  In this sense, most evil cults in gaming or fantasy literature are secret societies, but not all secret societies are cults.  I’ve got a few organizations here to demonstrate how you can make these groups, and what mysterious magic they may bring to your game’s story.

League of the Endless Serpent
Background: The League of the Endless Serpent believes that snakes can grant secrets related to the forces of Time and Life.  Their founder was mortally wounded in a clash with a great dragon, a wingless serpent creature with a deadly venom.  Something about the venom’s mixture with other alchemical substances that their founder applied in a desperate attempt to stave off death gave strangely beneficial results.  Rumors say that he lived for three centuries after that fight, though with a wound that would never heal and bled until he died of a very gradual old age.
Magic Application: This organization might know secrets about medicine, poison, and time itself.  Imagine being able to move twice as fast as a secondary result of a poison that saps your health.  Imagine becoming ludicrously strong, but at the expense of a poisonous effect that slows you to a crawl.  Imagine a poison that kills quickly and without mercy… but if you extract the blood of someone killed with that poison, you can drink it and gain another year for your life.  All this and more can come from their expertise.
Story Application: As allies, the benefits are obvious.  They’d know more about any poison than anyone else, and could likely determine the precise nature of a time-related magical effect.  As enemies, they become more dangerous… They can freeze time, sap strength, and conjure snakes that fall from the skies.  What if everyone in a city died because they made time itself poisonous one afternoon?  Definitely not a bunch to mess with.

Hivewatchers
Background: The Hivewatchers are a more public organization, known as the mages who tend to the bee hives that produce the honey that provides much of the wealth of a city.  Few know of their darker work, though; the side affect of their affinity for dealing with bees is that they, well… have an affinity with bees.  Swarms of bees serve them, and they can learn many secrets from such creatures…
Magic Application: In addition to making the best gosh-darn honey you’ve ever tasted, the Hivewatchers also learn secrets related to flight and, surprisingly, maps.  The minds of bees are ordered, if whimsical, and they understand location far better than humans.  This society’s secrets pertain to finding that which was lost, recovering missed steps, and even teleportation.  …Oh, and of course, controlling clouds of dangerous insects is never a bad thing.
Story Application: The Hivewatchers would make an excellent group that has a dark secret.  With a public face of “honeymakers”, they could have a bouncy and refreshing outlook on life that masks the fact that they’re the ones pulling all the political and economical strings in the background.  How many rulers of their city of died from an allergic reaction to a bee’s sting, despite never having such an allergy before? How many merchants refusing to pay tariffs on their wares start taking their business elsewhere… only to die from thousands of stings from some desolate mountain pass?  As allies, the Hivewatchers might have more to offer a story: just as bees tell each other how to find things with a dance, so might the Hivewatchers know how to divine the location of certain otherwise unfindable things through a dance.  They might be able to teach party members how to locate a very specific object with a very specific set of dance steps, even if the object is otherwise hidden from scrying.  But can your party pull off the DC 35 Perform (Dance) check required to make use of this supernatural ability?

Protectors of the Cairn
Background: The Protectors of the Cairn are some of the last people around the city of New Brefton, a town that was ruined decades ago when an explosion filled the town with an unholy mist that transformed anyone who breathed it into a zombie.  There are still valuables in New Brefton, and rumors of people trapped inside the city who’ve managed to find pockets of pure air, but can’t leave for all the zombies.  The Protectors of the Cairn have developed methods of entering and leaving the city without drawing the attention of the zombies, and while avoiding the dangerous mist altogether.
Magic Application: These guys are about defense.  They’re not secretive because they don’t want people to know about their work, they’re secretive because they’re worried that the mist was caused by a vampire, mummy, or other creature that disapproves of their work.  As such, they’re experts at masking things from sight, and keeping creatures of the night at bay.  Their magic would involve abjurations, counter-divinations, and in a weird way magic of the city… no one knows this town like they do.
Story Application: They’ll almost certainly be allies of the players.  A player might be given a special kind of holy water that, when drunk, can offer temporary immunity to the loathsome gas.  A player might also need to go into the city, and be able to find a Protector of the Cairn who wields a rod that generates a halo of light, keeping all shambling undead from approaching (or even noticing) those under it’s light.  More mysteriously, they may know magical shortcuts, paths that shouldn’t be.  If you’ve ever read Neverwhere, imagine that kind of path.  Hatches in sewers that open onto fire escapes in the sides of tall buildings, or a rooftop for a building that doesn’t exist, somehow allowing people to run from a building on one side of town to another.  No one knows the city like they do.  No one.

Societies like this have a number of story applications, and I encourage you to think outside the box when generating your own.  Find something fun, play with it a bit, and see what you get.  That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays.  See you next time!

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