Symvasi: The Magic of Pacts

Knacks: Ice (Pagus), Knowledge (Gnósi), Passion (Páthos), Sea (Thálassa), Tempest (Thyella)

Apprentice: Minor Favors
Adept: Major Favors
Master: Divided Attention

The Sorcerous art of Symvasi (literally “Covenant”), is a recent but very powerful magical tradition culled from obscure arcane texts dating back to the earliest days of the Numan Empire. A practitioner of Symvasi is called a magus (plural: magi), one who forges a powerful and binding contract with an otherworldly creature known as a daemon. The purported goal of the magus is to learn his daemon’s full name so he can destroy it; the daemon’s goal is to corrupt the magus and obtain its freedom so it may wreak havoc across Théah.

Symvasi operates in a strict and rigid structure of partnerships and alliances, governed by a group known only as the Adelfótiti: the Circle. All known magi are members of the Circle (whether they want to be or not), and thus, are governed by their rules. Nevertheless, renegades do exist, practicing their Sorcery in secret or even in open defiance of the dictates of the Circle. These individuals (and all who defy the Circle’s governance) are hunted down by an Exagnistís (Purifier): an agent of the Circle specifically empowered to hunt down and eliminate rogue magi.

Each magus has a personal daemon, who sees and hears everything the magus does (and sometimes even what the magus does not). Daemons have perfect awareness of their magis’ surroundings, although a daemon cannot read its magi’s thoughts and does not experience his emotions.

Every daemon has a multi-layered goal involving increasing its own presence in Théah, leading its magus further down the path of corruption, or if all else fails, seeing its contract voided, earning its freedom and permitting it strike a new contract with someone who is more malleable and easier for the daemon to use and abuse. Every Pact a daemon makes is in pursuit of some goal: if not one of these, then to repay a favor to (or instigate a fight with) another daemon. Every promise a daemon extracts from its magus is to further some agenda.

A “proper” magus regards his contract with his daemon as a burden. They are not partners, they are jailers. The relationship between daemon and magus is one of mutual destruction, and both parties know it. But life doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and both are also trying to accomplish other goals. A heroic magus wants to keep his daemon in check and make sure it doesn’t cause havoc, destruction, or suffering. However, there is no denying the power of a daemon, and there are times when it becomes necessary to literally make a Pact with the devil you know to oppose the one you don’t.

Magi tend to speak directly and clearly, with no prevarication. They avoid poetic or flowery language because they believe those things muddy whatever discussion is at hand. What matters is the word as written, which they call Akrivís Alítheia, or “Exact Truth.” Exact Truth encompasses the letter of the law: the precise, direct, and clearly stated meaning. Magi do not imply; they dictate precisely what they mean, what they will trade, and what they expect.

And they learned this from daemons.

A daemon is a clever creature, but each is honest in its own way. It abides by the terms of its agreement and its contracts as they are explicitly stated. However, a daemon is also wicked and cruel. It has its own desires, goals, and agendas. The power it wields is considerable, but it is also its only currency, and a daemon guards it jealously. A daemon always follows through on its promises, but only in the strictest and most literal sense. It often twists a Favor into something the magus did not want.

Symvasi does not have a direct effect on a magus’ appearance; however, it does have a deleterious effect on his psyche. Nightmares plague his sleep, and phantasms just at the corners of his vision haunt him when he is awake. In time, the magus becomes haggard, irritable, and increasingly paranoid. The more time spent dealing with an entity of unfettered evil, the worse these effects will become, until the magus is jumping at shadows and lying awake at night, insisting that the wind is whispering to him.

Apprentice Degree
An Apprentice magus may select one of the five Domains and strike a Pact with a daemon from that Domain. For every Rank the magus has in the Knack corresponding to that Domain, he may select one of the five Minor Favors listed below as part of his abiding Pact with the daemon. The magus only needs to ask for such a Favor (and spend an Action Die if the request is made during combat). The Pact he makes with the daemon includes these Favors and the daemon cannot refuse them. However, even Minor Favors carry a price, and the daemon may choose not to perform another Favor until that price has been paid. These prices are usually small, but galling. Some examples:

Raise a toast in the daemon’s name.

Say thank you to the daemon after it performs a task…and mean it.

Make eye contact, smile, and give the daemon a friendly handshake.

If the magus needs to request a Minor Favor he has not selected as part of his overall Pact, he must spend a Drama Die (and an Action, if it occurs in combat) to make the request. The prices for these favors are more onerous, and may involve repaying a daemon’s debts to another daemon. Some examples:

The next time you are in Numa, find a one-armed man named Marcus. Buy him a comfortable pair of shoes.

In Kirk, there is a beggar that the children call Sad Antony. Make sure that he sleeps in luxury for at least one night.

In Dionna, go to the largest bank in the financial quarter. Gain access to safe deposit box thirteen. Take the letter that you find inside and deliver it to a woman named Oksana.

Finally, though the magus cannot request Favors from other daemons, his personal daemon may choose to teach him small charms to use against them, or to protect himself from harm at their hands. When someone attempts to use a Favor directly against the magus, that person (or daemon) must succeed at a Resolve + Knack roll against a TN equal to five plus five times the magus’ rack in the relevant Knack. For example, a magus with a Rank of 2 in the Tempest Knack forces a Resolve + Tempest roll against a TN of 15 should anyone try to affect him with a Favor from the Tempest Knack.

That said, it is rare for a magus to have a Rank in more than one Domain Knack, and even more rare for a magus to be more than Half-Blooded, but anything can happen.

Adept Degree
An Adept magus has secured the right to petition his daemon for Major Favors. A magus does not select a Major Favor when he reaches this Mastery Level. A daemon can always deliver a Major Favor from its domain, but it is costly. The daemon knows that to ask for such a thing, the magus must be desperate, and desperate men will make poor decisions, agreeing to do things they would never otherwise do.

The typical cost for a Major Favor is something like this:

Go to Carleon. Find Captain Horatio Oakes of the Sea Dogs. Make certain that he loses his commission.

In Dionna, there is a priest named Father Vitale. He has a good reputation and is beloved by the people. See to it that they run him out of town in shame, or that they kill him. I do not care which.

In Eisen, there are two brothers named Alphonse and Dietrich Weber. Convince one of them to betray the other in order to secure the whole of their father’s inheritance. I do not care which.

Asking for a Major Favor and completing the corresponding task always results in the magus gaining a Villain Die, even when it seems like it wouldn’t. The long-term consequences of such changes to the world reach farther than a mortal can understand, and using such power innately changes the magus. This is in addition to any Villain Dice that the Favor earns itself (e.g., commanding your daemon to destroy a city), or that the act demanded in return might earn (killing a king’s first-born son because a daemon told you to definitely results in a Villain Die, as well as a massive loss in Reputation if you are caught).

If a magus doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, he cannot invoke any more Favors (Major or Minor) until he does so. If the task the daemon demands becomes impossible to complete, the daemon can offer a new one, but this will certainly be even more difficult and morally compromising than the first.

Master Degree
A magus who reaches this Mastery Level has refined the Pact with his daemon so precisely that he may also make a second Pact with another daemon from a different domain than the first. The nature of both Pacts is so exacting that the magus never needs to worry about one coming into conflict with the other; he has fine-tuned them so well that any possible conflict of interest may be assumed to have been dealt with ahead of time.

The second Pact works identically to the first: the magus select a number of Minor Favors equal to his Rank in the appropriate Knack (which should be a 5, allowing the magus to select all the Minor Favors offered by the second daemon), and request Major Favors, paying the same sort of price for each.

Sorcerous Knacks

Ice (Pagus). Ice daemons have visible mist rising from their frost-rimed skin. They can freeze water with a touch, perhaps even with a look. They can turn a man into a frozen statue and then shatter it with a fingertip, or cut down an opponent with impossibly sharp claws of ice.

Minor Favors:
(1) Cause a character or object the magus touches to be encased in a thin layer of ice. While encased, the character or object cannot be harmed or destroyed directly.

(2) Reform or reshape ice into a shape of your choosing, with precise and exact detail. The object appears exactly as you require it; for example, you could form a key made of ice to unlock a specific door, even if you’ve never seen the key that opens it.

(3) Cause still or slowly flowing water to freeze over solidly enough to be walked upon in an area of approximately 100 square feet.

(4) Create a hand-held object, such as a sword, made of solid ice. The object functions as a normal item of its type for one Scene, then it melts harmlessly away.

(5) Cause a block of ice to shatter with a simple touch. If something is encased in the ice you shatter, you can choose to free it harmlessly or have it shatter, as well.

Major Favors:
(1) Plunge a region into sudden and violent winter, causing plant life to die from the extreme cold, lakes and streams to freeze over, and torrential snowfall in an area approximately half a mile in every direction from its center.

(2) Cause an avalanche, and all of the destruction that would entail. Such an avalanche is large enough to completely destroy a moderately-sized mountain village.

Knowledge (Gnósi). Daemons from the Knowledge Domain often appear similar to a typical Théan, perhaps huddling within a voluminous cloak or wearing a mask to hide its face. They can call upon the sum total of all knowledge of men or other creatures. They also govern the connection between the mind and the body, and can cause a clean break between the two, turning a mortal’s physical body into a prison from which his mind cannot escape.

Minor Favors:
(1) Answer a single, factual question with a yes or no. The question must concern only events that have already transpired; no matter how much it might insist otherwise, a daemon cannot predict the future with any more accuracy than its magus.

(2) Find the precise location of any object you wish, with exact accuracy.

(3) Uncover some scrap of knowledge, even if it is otherwise lost: anything from an ancient alchemical formula to a map that would guide you to a hidden nautical retreat.

(4) Wipe a specific memory from a single person’s mind. You could cause a man to forget he ever spoke to you, or cause your enemy to forget your face. This often has grave effects on the victim’s psyche, especially if the forgotten memory comes under scrutiny.

(5) Restore an addled mind to full function. Sadly, the effect persists only for one Scene, and the individual returns to his previous level of mental acuity afterward.

Major Favors:
(1) Sever a creature’s mind from its body; the creature remains alive, but can no longer speak or move.

(2) Alter a specific memory in a large number of people. You could cause everyone who has caught sight of you within the last twenty-four hours to completely forget your presence. They remember everything else, but there is effectively a void where you would be.

Passion (Páthos). Daemons from the Passion Domain know the nature of the Théan heart. Their appearance is likely to depend on the tastes of their magi, seeking a form that will entice and tempt the magi while twisting their desire in some way (e.g., a beautiful woman, perfect in every way except for her blood red skin; or an Adonis-like man with hair made of angry, snapping vipers).

Minor Favors:
(1) Learn the answer to a single question regarding the emotional connection between any two people, simply by looking at them. The Game Master must answer this question honestly, but typically in five or fewer words.

(2) Manipulate the fires of passion in another creature, heightening its emotional state and putting it into a “fight or flight” mode, or forcing it to become calm, almost docile.

(3) Learn a person’s single greatest fear, or the one thing he loves or desires more than anything else.

(4) Discover whether another person is lying to you. This pertains only to what the person believes to be true, rather than the actual truth. If someone tells you that your father is dead, you only know whether or not he honestly believes it to be true.

(5) Push another person to give in to his baser instincts, even if he otherwise wouldn’t.

Major Favors:
(1) Cause a person to fall madly in love with someone. The key word here is “madly.” The target becomes obsessed with the object his infatuation, and will do literally anything to be with him or her.

(2) Cause every creature within five hundred feet of you to fly into a mad frenzy, attacking anyone and anything around them. Those affected are impossible to “talk down,” and must be dealt with physically.

Sea (Thálassa). While the form of a daemon from the Sea Domain might vary (sometimes a creature with black scales covered with barnacles and draped in seaweed, others a creature whose body is a rough facsimile of a man’s, but made entirely of water)., their power is undeniable. They can drown a man as he sits atop a mountain, call a tidal wave to level an entire port city, or command monstrous creatures of the deep.

Minor Favors:
(1) Know the exact location of any ship within ten nautical miles of your current location.

(2) Calm raging waters to make them navigable or swimmable, or cause calm waters to rage and froth.

(3) Gain the ability to survive in water as if it were air for one Scene. You still swim normally, but you gain the ability to breathe water and see underwater just as well as you can on land.

(4) Cause the level of an existing body of water to rise or fall up to five feet. It takes one minute for each foot change in water level.

(5) Remove any toxins, pollutants, or other harmful substances from a container of water up to five gallons in volume. The water becomes perfectly pure, clean, and clear. This won’t turn seawater into fresh water.

Major Favors:
(1) Create a tidal wave of nearly apocalyptic proportions, capable of wiping out an entire coastal city.

(2) Summon a leviathan, kraken, or similar monster from the deep to drag an entire ship below the waves. The creature doesn’t follow other instructions, but it will not directly attack the one who summoned it unless provoked.

Tempest (Thyella). A daemon from the Tempest domain can be as unpredictable as the wind itself. They drift effortlessly through the air with perfect control. They can create a tornado as easily as a mortal can draw a breath, or summon a bolt of lightning with a snap of their fingers.

Minor Favors:
(1) Create a steady wind that blows in a direction of your choice for one Scene.

(2) Calm an existing storm, turning a torrential downpour into a gentle rain, or empower an existing storm, turning a gentle rain into a torrential downpour.

(3) Gain the ability to create lightning or a crash of thunder for one Scene, to use as a distraction or a tool of intimidation. You can cause lighting to strike or a clap of thunder by spending a Drama Die. You cannot direct the lightning to target someone.

(4) Summon a powerful updraft of wind, allowing you to leap a distance of height that would otherwise be impossible, or to cushion a fall that would have been fatal.

(5) Throw a bolt of lightning to knock back a creature (or creatures, if they are part of a Brute Squad) up to ten feet directly away from you. If the creature strikes something solid (such as a wall), it takes 3k3 Flesh Wounds in damage from the impact. Regardless, it falls to the ground afterward, stunned, and must spend an Action Die to regain its feet.

Major Favors:
(1) Gather a storm, such as a hurricane or tornado, from calm weather. Such a storm ravages an area roughly one mile in every direction from its center.

(2) Call a lightning bolt down to strike a creature of your choice, killing it instantly.

Game Master’s Secrets
As a Sorcery, Symvasi has very few mechanics associated with it. This is intentional: Symvasi is largely a story-driven (and story-driving) Sorcery, with abstract mechanical effects which can be determined by the Game Master as needed (e.g., causing a body of water to rage or calm moves the weather conditions to the top or bottom row of the Weather Table, respectively).

Symvasi has no direct effect on the Barrier as a whole. The daemons who empower the Sorcery are a cabal of lesser Bargainers who discovered an “escape route” from beyond the Barrier and guard it jealously. This escape route is called the “Seventh Pact.” Typically, a daemon can only manifest on Terra for a moment or two (just long enough for a magus to look it in the eye or shake its hand), and only if the magus is completely alone. The Seventh Pact provides the exception.

Once a daemon has been contacted (via complex, shamanistic rituals passed down from one magus to another, through the Circle) and a Pact has been made, the daemon begins its slow, insidious process of corrupting the magus. From a mechanical perspective, this occurs by means of reputation loss (due to blasphemous or wicked acts committed in repayment for a Favor) and the accumulation of Villain Dice.

From a story perspective, this occurs once the Seventh Pact has been completed (i.e., the Favor has been performed and services have been rendered in repayment). The Seventh Pact refers to the granting of all five Minor Favors and both Major Favors by a single daemon from a single Domain, with services rendered in exchange. Once this has happened, the daemon is freed from beyond the Barrier and takes permanent, physical form in Théah: specifically, the magus’ form. The daemon becomes an identical physical copy of the magus, with all his Traits, Skills, Knacks, and Advantages (but no Backgrounds or Arcana), plus full access to its own powers (all seven Favors previously performed for the magus, which it can now perform at will).

While the daemon is in the world as a physical entity, it is free to act however it wishes, but it can also be destroyed, just like any other physical entity. If it is killed while in corporeal form, its spirit returns to beyond the Barrier, and it must begin the entire process of corrupting a magus all over again. However, if it is killed by someone who speaks its True Name moments before inflicting the death blow, it is permanently destroyed, its spirit completely obliterated.

Once a daemon has been unleashed on Terra, the magus loses any powers he had once gained from his Pact (i.e., he may no longer obtain Favors from that daemon). However, in addition to learning the True Name of the daemon as part of his Pact (one syllable or piece of the Name per Favor granted), a magus gains the following powers with respect to his former daemon:

(1) He may spend a Drama Die to learn the current location of his former daemon, how far away it is, and in what direction.

(2) When interacting with the daemon, he gains a number of Unkept Dice equal to his Resolve on all rolls that affect the daemon directly (e.g., Attack Rolls, Reputation Actions, Active Defenses, but not Damage Rolls).

(3) He ignores the effects of being Crippled or Knocked out when acting directly against the daemon. Thus, if in a direct confrontation with the daemon, all of a magus’ dice always explode, ad he does not need to spend a Drama Die to remain conscious after suffering Dramatic Wounds equal to twice his Resolve.

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