Necromican, Part I
Please note the spelling. There’s no “nom” (make your own lolcat joke) and it’s “can”, not “con”. Also, did you ever notice it was “Joo-ib-il-ex” and not “Joo-buh-lex”? This has nothing to do with the Necromican, it’s just a random observation.
Anyway, the Necromican is one of two seriously unofficial Dungeons & Dragons supplements produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises back in 1979, the other being, of course, Booty And The Beasts. (That’s part 1 of, believe it or not, 8. Read all 8 parts. Then get back here. There may be a quiz.) The Necromican is, as you may have guessed, a book of spells, ranging from such simple first level magics as the Spell Of Good Grooming to such puissant (thank you, Gary Gygax, for doing to my vocabulary what McDonalds did to my waistline) thaumaturgies as the 12th level Summoning of the Black Hole. These mighty magics are…
Huh? Yes, 12th level. As I was saying, these spells…
Yes, it was written for “Most Fantasy Role-Playing Games”, and that meant “Dungeons & Dragons”, just as surely as when you hear someone complain about “International Bankers”, what they mean is, “Greedy Jews”.
Yes, the Player’s Handbook only went to ninth level. So what’s your point? The Necromican goes to twelfth level (which makes even the “These go to 11” joke not work, because these go to twelve). Do you think we were bothered by such trivialities? It was pretty easy to extend the spell chart, following the same pattern, to allow for 10th and higher level spells. How do you think we were supposed to deal with things like the Galactic Dragon? With “Magic Missile”?
Gods! Kids these days.
I think I’ll start with a look at the first level or two of spells. As with the Booty and the Beast articles, I won’t be listing each and every item, just calling out a few I think are particularly interesting.
Much as the creator of Dilbert has been accused of undermining the Worker’s Revolution by appearing to mock pointy haired bosses but actually is a tool used by the capitalist pigs to divert the rage of the oppressed (and when the guys in IT rise up to rebel, watch out!), I have recently been informed that my purpose in life is to “destroy” old school gaming and that when I write articles such as this, or the B&TB series, I am “denigrating” this style of play by focusing on the “sophomoric” aspects, or, as I would call them, the totally fracking awesome aspects. So if you read this and you are filled with a sudden desire to pitch your old D&D books out the window and go play, I dunno, “My Life With Master” or something, or maybe decide the most fun you could possibly have would be a three hour long argument over how to apply the rules for grappling with multi-armed creatures with reach in D&D 3.x, then it’s clear I’ve succeeded in my fiendish plot and have twisted your mind against anything that comes in a Little Brown Book. On the other hand, if you respond to these articles with “Dude! Where can I get a copy of this?”, then I’ve failed, and will undoubtedly be ordered to report to my secret Illuminati masters for re-assignment.
Remember: I secretly HATE the Necromican, and Booty and the Beasts, and All The Worlds Monsters (haven’t done that one yet, but it’s on the agenda) and the Ready Ref Sheets (ditto) and all the other stuff I’ve carted around with me from when I was an 8th grader in 1978 until now, and I spend 1-2 hours writing these articles, for no pay (I’ve earned about ten bucks from Google ads in three years. Trust me, this is “for no pay”), just to FOOL you into thinking that these books and systems are things which have tremendously influenced me and helped shape my writing style and vision. I am LYING when I say I am still awed and amazed by the breadth of creativity and passion displayed by Gary Gygax and Dave Hargrave (among others, but those two remain the twin ruling gods in my pantheon). My whole purpose in life is to MOCK their work and DESTROY their legacy.
Just so we’re perfectly clear. I would never wish to be dishonest. Oh, wait… according to my stalker critic, I am innately dishonest, so I guess that doesn’t work, either.
Just read on, and I hope you enjoy the article while I POISON YOUR MIND WITH MY LIES!
This book, my copy of which once belonged to someone named “Gary Epperly”, whom I do not remember ever knowing, is dedicated to “Mali, Rapidograph Pens, Rubber Cement, IBM Selectric II Typewriters, Food, Sleep, Sex, and Rock and Roll”. I think items 2-5 are especially interesting, because it tells you how they made gaming supplements before the was Pagemaker and Laserwriters.
The Forward notes that “this book of spells” is not intended to stand on its own, but supplement existing systems (Dungeons & Dragons), and the levels are based on the author’s own playing experiences and should be changed by individual game masters to fit their own universes. This was around the same time that Gary Gygax was involved in a slow-motion flame war in the letters page of Dragon (imagine a typical RPG.net or ENWorld thread, with each reply separated by a month’s time) over his statement that if your female dwarves didn’t have beards, you were not playing AD&D, but some sort of inferior hybrid mutant game which could only be enjoyed by people of low intelligence and poor breeding (or words to that effect… muhgawd, Gary, not only did your wordsmithing in the DMG inspire and enlighten me, you taught me how to seriously flame the hell out of anyone by beating them to death with your thesaurus and never once sink into language best reserved for “Top Chef” on Bravo). There was a real tug-of-war in those days between TSR’s desire to try to reign in the mad beast they’d unleashed on the world, and the players’ desire to have +12 swords of bloody evisceration that they could use to disembowel Thor. (Or if you were a real munchkin, 1d4 Thors)
Level One Spells
Let’s start at the very beginning. In the beginning, there was nothing, which then exploded.
Spell Of Piercing Gaze
Gives you “flashing dark eyes” for 1-6+Caster Level turns. (Turns back then were 10 minutes; a combat round was 1 minute; and yes this led to a lot of questions about what an “attack” actually represented in game, especially since an archer only expended 1 arrow in that minute so the whole ‘making many attacks but only one has a chance of really hitting’ argument never really worked. Today, of course, we have 6 second combat rounds but no one can explain what a “mark” really is. The more things change…) Anyway, these darkly flashing eyes would allow you to “daunt a lone opponent of low intelligence, or gain the good graces of a desirable wench”. To beat another dead horse, it’s pretty typical that there’s no actual mechanic here, nothing like “+2 to Charisma” or whatever. What’s great about this style of gameplay, where things are described almost entirely in-world and without mechanics, is that it can greatly encourage roleplaying and creative uses of spells. What’s bad about this style of gameplay is that you often don’t know how useful a spell will be because so much relies on subjective interpretation. Whether the good outweighs the bad is entirely a personal matter and relies heavily on the social contract at your table. (And how much the DM let you get away with last week which he sure as hell won’t let you pull off twice. See this great video, specifically the bit starting at 2:36. (Well, watch the whole thing, but that part is what makes my point.))
Vocabulary building FTW! This spell allows you to change your body odor, which is handy when being tracked. If it could be used on other people, it would be handy at GenCon.
Enhanced Olfactory Perception
Do not cast this at Gencon.
Spell Of Good Grooming
Use this just before you talk to that hot chick at GenCon. It affects up to 6 targets, so it’s good for freshening up the party after a sweaty dungeon crawl. There’s actually quite a few “social” spells in the level 1 section, which is kind of interesting, and says a good deal about how the game was evolving, even then. Because, back in those days, it was strongly encouraged that DMs build worlds, not just “encounters”, players suddenly found themselves being frog-marched (more or less) through towns and cities, talking to NPCs, bargaining with kings, and so on, because by GHOD if I am going to write a 40 page timeline for this world and document the three millennia history of this city and have written out, in full, the family tree of the current king, YOU are going to APPRECIATE my world and TALK to the damn king! And if your hair’s a mess, he’ll have the guards kill you. So there. (Players in my current game might note I still do this. Again, nothing ever really changes. I just don’t have vikings living in the windswept desert wastes any more.)
Gives you a firm, commanding, voice and prevents you from stuttering. Combine with “Piercing Gaze”, above, and you’re sure to score with that NPC. (Because let’s face it, if you were a 14 year old D&D player in 1979, there’s really only one kind of “social intercourse” (heh heh heh…) you were interested in in-game.)
Spell Of Gustatory Expansion
This sort of makes it sound like you’ll be able to really get your money’s worth at Golden Corral, but what it actually does is give you super-powerful taste buds, which will let you “tell if what (you are) consuming is poisoned”. There’s a much easier way to tell, though. The DM will say “Roll your save against poison.”
Spell Of The Jeweler’s Judgment
Gives you the ability to accurately figure out what gems are worth. See what we went through because there was no “appraise” skill? (Of course, today, we’re just supposed to tell the players what their stuff is worth, down to the last copper piece. Feh.)
Spell of Variable Fertility
This spell causes the target to be 100% or 0% fertile. You would need to be 4th level before you could memorize Piercing Gaze, Grandiose Oration, and this little baby… to make sure there were, ahem, no little babies. If that’s not a motive to kill 1,429 kobolds (10001 XP to reach 4th level; Kobolds are worth 5 XP + 1 per hit point; average 2 hit points), I don’t know what it.
Personal Energy Attack
This is great. When you pick this spell, you roll to see what sort pew-pew-pew laser you get. Once you do it, never changes, so you could end up with a kick-ass attack or one which, quite literally, does 0 damage per level. You roll D% on a table for each of damage per level (ranging from 0 at the low end to 1-20(!) at the high end), color, and shape (such as beam, cone, etc) Almost any result higher than a “6” on the damage table means you will find this preferable to any other first level attack spell, mostly because it has no upper level limit on damage and because it hits a huge number of targets, even with a lousy roll for “shape”. Since damage scales per level in a way most first level attack spells don’t, when you’re higher level, you will memorize 5 or 6 or more of these and get a lot more bang for your buck than you will with many higher level spells.
Second Level Spells
By the way, someone might wonder what kind of order I’m plucking these spells in. As with Booty and the Beasts, the answer is “the order in which they’re written”. There’s no alphabetical sorting, leading me to suspect the spells were just written as they thought of them instead of written out, tested, and reordered later for publication.
This follows “Vermin Aversion” and “Visual Vividity”, so someone liked lots of attractive alliteration. This is one way-cool spell. It allows you to grow an eye, ear, nose, or mouth on an inanimate object, and give it orders. The example given is to cast a nose on the wall and tell it to sneeze if it smells an orc. You can cast the spell more than once (if you’ve memorized it more than once) on the same object, so you could give something an ear and a mouth and have it repeat a conversation it heard, I guess. In the hands of a clever player, this could be a really, really, useful spell; in the hands of a perverted 14 year old (a redundancy), I suspect one of the first questions asked was “Can I make it a girls mouth?”
Antagonistic Auditory Aversion
Basically, protection from any magical song. This is one of those spells that looks useful but given how few spells a magic-user could memorize, you’d really only use it if you knew in advance you were heading into the Dungeon Of The Harpy-Banshees Who Look TOTALLY Like That Bitch Cheerleader Who Wouldn’t Go Out With Me After I Did Her Math Homework. Or, you know, something like that. Not to cast aspersions on Fantasy Art Enterprises for this; AD&D had “Gaze Reflection” which would stop a basilisk or medusa’s gaze — extremely useful if you knew you’d need it, a waste of a precious spell slot otherwise.
Ool’s Alteration Of Attack Origin
This is another one that sounds really cool but I’m not sure what you’d ever do with it. It changes where your spells come from, so you can shoot a fireball out of your nose instead of out of your hand, or something. Other than some very obvious juvenile uses, I’m not seeing a lot of utility here… if your hands are tied behind your back, shooting a magic missile from your eyes would be really cool, except for the bit where if your hands are tied, you can’t cast a spell. It lasts for 1 turn/level, though, so maybe you cast it if you think you’ll have trouble aiming in the future or if you’ve got some really special trick planned that requires you to shoot a cone of cold from your toes.
Fills target with battle lust, giving him attack bonuses and a 25% chance he’ll go postal on his teammates if he’s still under the effect of the spell when all the kobolds are dead.
Creates, well, a frictionless field. Lasts for 100 minutes. The potential is just about limitless, both for shrewd battle tactics and out-and-out comedy.
Third Level Spells
One of the most important things to do if you’re on a real old-school dungeon crawl is map. DMs were strongly encouraged to try to trick players into wandering into dangerous areas of the dungeon, or teleport them, or otherwise screw with them. The best loot was behind secret doors, and you often found secret doors by studying maps and realizing where there was a big solid space where there should be a room. There was none of this “You get 10 treasure parcels per level” stuff; you could easily walk by a +3 longsword (+4 vs. kangaroos) and never know it and be happy you had a dagger that wasn’t actively rusting. Anyway, this spell gave you perfect mapping skills so you were not fooled by slanting passages, weird angles, or other things the DM did when he was on his 14th dungeon and he was tired of straight lines. (It’s interesting to note that things like this, and some of the 1st level spells discussed, and the “Spell of the Jeweler’s Judgment” and other things I haven’t mentioned from the book have been largely replaced by skills. Spells were one of the only means of “packaging” rules in those days (classes being the other), so if there was something you thought a character should be good at, you either made a class which did it or a spell. This didn’t lead to the “Swiss Army Wizard” in 1st edition days because of how few spells you got and how hard it was to get wands or scrolls, but when 3e came out with its cheap-and-easy magic items, you loaded up on Wands Of Neener Neener Sucks To Be You, Rogue, which, of course, led to the backlash/overkill in 4e which reduced wizards to being walking artillery (slightly mitigated with newer supplements). The pendulum swings…
Memorized at least once until they found out what “mnemonic” meant. Badum-bum! (Yes, the “ha ha we were 14 and horny” routine is not going to go away anytime soon. Blame adderall for locking my mind into a one-joke path.) It lets you remember things ,or, rather, lets your character remember things you’ve forgotten. Very useful, as the spell notes, for finding your way out of the dungeon (see “Competent Cartography”)
One of the first of the truly “fun” damage spells, this sets your enemy on fire, burning both him and everyone else around him. It’s only for a round and is probably less useful than fireball, but, dude… which would you rather do? Play with bat shit and rotten eggs and cast a fireball, or make someone ignite and burn and try to scream but he can’t because when he inhales to scream he sucks fire down into his lungs!!!! Cool>Functional, every single time.
Acid, shmacid! Everyone forgets that high alkalai (high base) chemicals are just as corrosive! I got your “acid immunity” right here, pal!
Arachnid Ambulatory Excursion
It’s, uhm, spider climb. Which is a first level MU spell and was well established when this book came out. So why a third level spell that does the same thing? Got me. The name is much, much, cooler, but I’m not sure that’s worth a 2 level difference. Then again, people will pay real money for an in-game pet in an MMORPG that is mechanically identical in every way to another pet, but is a different color. Maybe it’s a status thing. “Yes, yes, when I was just an apprentice mage, I cast spider climb, but now I cast Arachnid Ambulatory Excursion. Oh, and I don’t own a television and my clothing is made of organic hemp woven by union workers in a carbon-neutral factory.”
That’s All For Now…
Tune in… sometime… for levels 4 to 6.
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I was just reading over the Necromican and B&tB this morning, trying to decide if I wanted to use some stuff from them in my Basic Fantasy RPG campaign. Then I decided to do a google search to see if anyone else had ever heard of these two UTTERLY AWESOME TOMES OF AWESOMENESS!
You, sir, are doing God’s work.
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