Tuesday, November 22, 2016

[LotFP] Cunning Folk, WIP

The setting document on "A Field in Lorraine" keeps on growing and growing -- one day I will put up the extended version. I keep adding stuff that I find as I go, so right now it's a bit chaotic, but with some editing it can be turned into a supplement that others can use as well.

I like Clerics in fantasy games, but in a 17th century weird horror fantasy they seem a bit out of place. "Divine spells", as described, are too "clean". The modus operandi, so to speak, of Catholic exorcists, Jewish cabbalists (as I see, they are best described as a mix of Magic-Users and Clerics), Protestant witch hunters are very different.

And then there are the Cunning Folk, the practitioners of all sorts of witchery and popular magic. This term, although it originates from English culture, can be used as an "umbrella term" for the entire phenomenon (see the entry on Cunning folk & the literature listing in Wikipedia for starters).

cunning folk, wise men and women

devins-guérisseurs, leveurs de sorts
Hexenmeister, Kräuthexen

toverdokters, duivelbanners

kloge folk

klok gumma (“wise old woman”), klok gubbe (“wise old man”)

curandeiros, benzedeiros, mulheres de virtude (“woman of virtue”)

Cunning Folk are definitely something I want to include in my Early Modern Weird Europe. That's why I included in the first version of "A Field in Lorraine" various ideas and folk magic spells. But now I think this can be made into a class.

Instead of working from a set spell list, the Cunning Folk would rely on two types of manipulations:

  1. "Folk magic", encompassing everything from folk medicine recipes to love charms and various practices to help out "around the house". These "spells" are part of an extensive and very convoluted oral tradition. Christian prayer and pre-Christian beliefs are intermingled. Although they are considered to be tried and trusted, there is only a limited chance that any given superstition or cantrip really has a magical effect.

    I included a list of such spells in the first version of "A Field in Lorraine".

    A great variety of spells can be culled from "Long Lost Friend" (or "Long-Hidden Friend", "Der Lange Verborgene Freund"), a collection of pow-wow spells compiled in the 1820s by the Pennsylvania Dutch healer John George Hohman (see the text here). These practices are clearly based on tradition brought along from Europe; mixed with Christian prayer. Includes three folk variants of Hold Person, "Immobilize a Thief": "How to cause male or female thieves to stand still, without being able to move backward or forward?"
    A great read.

    But there is also...
  2. Magic done with the help of a Familiar.
    Now this is a very different can of worms. A Familiar spirit is low-tier supernatural entity, a small demon, which assists the practitioner. 
These two types can overlap, and the assistance of a Familiar greatly increases the chance of a traditional folk spell to take effect.

An image of a witch and her familiar spirits taken from a publication that dealt with the witch trials of Elizabeth Stile, Mother Dutten, Mother Devell and Mother Margaret in Windsor, 1579.

There is an eerie passage (Q. 4) in "The Discovery of Witches" by Matthew Hopkins from 1647, in which the familiars of a witch are described. They materialize in vaguely animal forms:
"1. Holt, who came in like a white kitling. 
2. Jarmara, who came in like a fat Spaniel without any legs at all, she said she kept him fat, for she clapt her hand on her belly and said he suckt good blood from her body. 
3. Vinegar Tom, who was like a long-legg'd Greyhound, with an head like an Oxe, with a long taile and broad eyes, who when this discoverer spoke to, and bade him goe to the place provided for him and his Angels, immediately transformed himselfe into the shape of a child of foure yeeres old without a head, and gave halfe a dozen turnes about the house, and vanished at the doore. 
4. Sack and Sugar, like a black Rabbet.
5. Newes, like a Polcat."

I hope I will be able to find time to turn this into something.

Ideally, there should be a nice random table for Familiars (maybe taking ideas from the LotFP Summon spell?); some rules that govern the "working relationship" of the Cunning Folk and their Familiars; and ideas for the GM about "Familiars gone bad".

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