Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Quality of A Ritual

We all tend to like rituals, but when it comes to actually describing them in games we tend to choose one of two options:

-Verrrrry specific rituals that basically only end up getting used once for a specific effect, or
-Abstracted ideas about rituals like "Requires 800gp worth of materials" that are generally useful but lack flavor.

For Demon City, we tried to get a little deeper into how the systems of ritual worked. Here's Zedeck Siew with Corpse Oil rituals...

(a riff off Nam Man Prai, which is from the Thai phram (shamanic) folk tradition)

The act itself is relatively simple: chanting scripture, you hold a candle under the chin of a recently dead person. The air is rancid. Yellow, fatty fluid seeps from the crisping flesh.

Corpse oil has many uses. One chin yields a jam-jar-ful. Potency depends on provenance. If a corpse is:

- Beloved.
- A young woman.
- A virgin, until death.
- Your blood relation.
- Killed in grisly violence.
- Killed by your own hand.
- Properly buried and mourned.

Then each of the above conditions increases the quality and potency of the oil. In game terms each confers a “point” of Intensity.


Mixing in consecrated philtres, speaking the proper spells, a necromancer may prepare corpse oil in several ways.

As an ointment, on contact with skin, it can confer the following effects (In order of quality of oil required)

Requires only corpse oil—the quality is irrelevant
- Wheezing fatigue.
- An inability to recognise faces.
- Bad breath that spoils food.
- The ability to talk to gravestones.

Requires an oil of Intensity 2.
- Wracking back pains.
- An inability to use stairs.
- A musk that attracts vermin.
- The ability to command birds.

Requires an oil of Intensity 3.
- Night terrors.
- An inability to feel pain.
- An odour that repulses women.
- The ability to query reflections.

Requires an oil of Intensity 4.
- Miscarriage.
- A strong sexual attraction to you.
- A bright glow visible to evil entities.
- The ability to dictate card games.

Requires an oil of Intensity 5.
- Liver failure.
- Susceptibility to your suggestions.
- A touch that burns holy persons.
- Invincibility, when holding breath.

As a grease, ritually applied to a single building’s foundations, it lends the structure special virtues:

Requires only corpse oil—the quality is irrelevant
- Unnaturally stuffy.
- Deals made here cannot lose you money.

Requires oil of Intensity 3
- Gives restless sleep.
- Residents are inclined to obey you.

Requires oil of Intensity 5.
- Sounds do not carry.
- Doors are always open for you.

Requires oil of Intensity 6.
- Traps disquiet spirits.
- Irresistibly draws the eye.

Requires oil of Intensity 7
- Confuses your enemies.
- Cannot be demolished.

As a fetish, a jar wrapped in yellow talisman paper, it fetters the ghost of the person from which it came. This spirit:

Requires an oil of Intensity 3:
- Cramps or twists muscle, with a touch.
- Manifests a corporeal, unspoiled body.
- Speaks with the voice of anyone living.
- Roams beyond the sight of its fetish jar.

Requires an oil of Intensity 6
- Exudes steamy, flesh-eating ectoplasm.
- May possess any male-identified person.
- Captures the souls of un-weaned babies.
- Banishes other ghosts with its presence.
- Steals air from the lungs of living things.
- Does not remember anything of its past.

Each preparation comes with a unique command mantra. Those who speak this formula are masters who the corpse oil cannot harm, and must obey.


Without its command mantra, corpse oil effects can only be lifted by ritual healing (Heal the Flesh ritual, etc). Effective treatment depends on who’s treating. If an exorcist is:

- A priest or religious ascetic.
- From a different religious tradition.
- Celibate.
- Vegetarian.
- Of non-human lineage.
- Related to a royal family.
- Master of their own corpse-oil ghost.

Each of the above conditions improve the quality and strength of the exorcism. You may disrupt one corpse-oil effect per condition met.

If the exorcism’s total number of conditions exceeds the corpse oil’s total quality, the substance is destroyed. If not, the corpse oil’s effects return after C10 (that is pick a card 1-10) days.
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Jared D said...

Not only do I love this system, but it's also easy to port to other games! Nothing about it needs any conversion help for Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies or something. Are there lots of rituals like this in the book?

Zak Sabbath said...


Not fully detailed There are tools to build your own but since a ritual is, inDemon City, usually something the bad guy does and there's only 1-2 per adventure, it seemed better to explain how to custom-build them than to waste book space detailing tons of "powers" the PCs would rarely use