The Interpreter: Alternative Illusionist
The world is in the eye of the beholder
I have a document that outlines Aia’s setting themes. High-level and low-level stuff; things the world touches on, repeating beats in its history and its underlying physics.
The low-level things are titled “dinosaurs” or “magical biology”. I wanted giant lizards, and I wanted biology not driven by modern science but by elemental ingredients. Blood is blood, not hemoglobin and gas.
The high-level themes outline important fundamental concepts. Things like “pre-apocalypse”. Aia as a setting is designed to have shatterpoints. I never liked the idea medieval stasis. When a GM picks up the book, they will be given ways for the world to change in both gradual and abrupt fashion, and those ways will mostly involve the world spiraling into chaos. Divine war spun out of control, the return of the living jungle, proliferation of a new magical industry once suppressed by a dead god.
The theme that’s relevant here is about faith.
Clap Your Hands if You Believe
gods are born from the fires of the mind - why aren't nightmares, too?
would the world shake if you believed it did?
can gods have faith in themselves?
It’s not an original idea that your mind makes reality. I think there’s a TV Tropes page over it, in fact. But it’s one that’s stuck with me for a while. Fool enough people into thinking that illusion is real, and it starts acting like it is. The lines can be blurred between truth and fiction.
The youkai does not exist until you believe it does, and once it exists, it must keep you thinking about itself, lest it vanish. Gods need prayer badly. But maybe a youkai can think about itself, or a god believe in itself. Does that supplant the need for the “more real” human belief?
Are humans more real than a god is?
Starting Equipment: Iridescent robes (1#), grimoire (a prism and lens, 1#).
It is a tight-kept secret that faith makes reality. People understand that faith makes gods. But the world? Hasn’t it always been there?
Perception can rewrite truth. Aia’s history is a nightmare of tangled loose ends and faded myth. Schools of the Interpreter are sponsored by some empires for their intellectual ability – providing studies of history and language in exchange for protection and funding – but they are also kept for their power in persuasion, manipulation, and propaganda. Other empires persecute them ruthlessly, working to expel them as affronts to their rule. Others still have fallen entirely under Interpreter reign, and became cult-states governed by puppet kings loyal to their sorcerer viziers. For a time, at least, until the inquisitors came knocking.
An Interpreter doesn’t just specialize in spoken illusion. Light, color, sound, and visual perception are also in their ballpark. They play with perspective and subjective experience to achieve their goals. Interpreters interpret the world for others, in order to benefit themselves.
Perk & Drawback
Perk: All of your spells can be cast essentially silently, without apparent speech. Only fellow magicians can recognize your hand motions and lip movements as being magical in nature.
Drawback: If you are unable to see, hear, or speak, you cannot cast spells. If you are permanently rendered deaf, mute, or blind, you are permanently unable to cast spells.
You can change the apparent color of any small object you’re touching. It lasts for a few minutes at most.
You can distort and twist your voice like a trained voice actor.
You can create bubble-like prisms and concave or convex lenses stretched between your fingers.
SD only return on 1 or 2 for the next 24 hours.
You suffer 1d6 damage.
Random non-lethal mutation for 1d6 rounds, and then make a Will save. If you fail your save, it becomes permanent.
You glow like the sun for 1d6 rounds, blinding everyone nearby.
Become blind, deaf, and mute for 1d6 rounds.
You become incorporeal for 1d6 rounds, during which you cannot cast spells or otherwise affect the corporeal world.
For a day, you are unable to see or hear any living creature.
Your ability to alter the world is failing. People see through you. Forevermore, all those bar yourself who observe your magic must fail a Perception check in order for your spells to work. Otherwise, they fizzle immediately. You also go slightly loopy over this.
You become the only one genuinely convinced by your magic. None of your spells have a real impact upon the world, but you are convinced that they do, and should, and will rationalize away any evidence to the contrary. A knight who apparently survived your fireball? They must be immune to fire. This is a sad kind of madness, and generally ends up being lethal sooner or later.
This doom may be avoided by turning a truly grand illusion or lie into truth, such as by convincing an entire realm that they are descended from mermaids until they start manifesting mermaid traits, or by bringing a new god that remembers prehistory it wasn’t around for into existence.
1. Lensing Warp » R: 120’ T: self D: N/A
Caster teleports to the target location. This spell requires line of sight, but it can be warped by mirrors, reflections, etc. Binoculars double the spell’s range.
2. Suggestion » R: earshot T: [Sum] HD creatures D: [Sum] hours
Target(s) are charmed to follow a course of action or idea proposed by the caster. The suggestion may not be longer than a sentence or two, and it must be phrased in such a way to make the idea sound reasonable to the listener(s). The victim will only realize that a spell was cast if they succeed on their save, or if the spell’s duration terminates and the action was outlandish or unusual enough to justify concern.
3. Illusion » R: 60’ T: [Dice]×5’ diameter D: [Sum] minutes
You create an image of whatever you want. It can move as you desire, but it cannot create sound or smell. Illusions can only add to an environment, not subtract. At 1 SD, you can create a normal ~6’ tall humanoid. Illusions are “solid” if desired, but they pop when whacked. A Perception save is granted if someone has a reason to be suspicious.
4. Perception Share » R: 60’ T: [Dice] creatures D: [Sum] rounds
Target creatures have their sense of sight, sound, and smell replaced with the caster’s. If an Intelligence save is passed, the spell is negated; if all targets are willing, the effect lasts for [Dice]×10 minutes instead. The link has unlimited range, but all targets must be within the spell’s range when the spell is cast.
5. New Vision » R: touch T: single D: [Dice]×10 minutes
Target sees in infrared or ultraviolet vision. Infrared vision can see warm shapes as blobs of light at a range of 60’ in the dark; ultraviolet vision can see patterns on flowers and the outlines of magic.
6. Cipher » R: LoS T: text D: N/A
Encrypts or decrypts language or text. The spell TN should be stored alongside the encrypted text. If you are decrypting magically encrypted text, your [Sum] must exceed the spell TN created during the encryption. Non-magical texts are automatically decrypted. If your [Sum] exceeds 10, you may interpret the function of a magical item as if you had successfully studied it.
7. Confusion » R: 30’ T: creature D: [Sum] rounds S: INT
Target creature becomes unable to coordinate themselves. They suffer disadvantage on all applicable rolls, and cannot communicate or act on complex plans. “Run and smash thing” is workable; anything beyond that is not. Complex tasks like spellcasting are impossible. An Intelligence save negates the spell’s effects. Alternatively, an orb of confusion may be produced, which hovers in place and applies the effects of the spell within a 15’ radius.
8. Ventriloquism » R: audible range T: N/A D: N/A
You may project your voice and audibly warp it to sound as you wish it to. At 1+ SD, it’s your ordinary voice, cast to a point in your line of sight. At 2+ SD, it can sound like anything, at any relatively safe volume.
9. Pain to Wounds » R: 60’ T: creature D: [Sum] rounds
Pain often feels worse than the wound that caused it. This spell amplifies pain to drain HP. If the target can feel pain, they take [Dice] extra psychic damage every time they take damage.
10. Substitute » R: 60’ T: object D: N/A
Fake objects have a [Dice]-in-4 chance of functioning if the end user believes it to be a true functional object. A wooden pickaxe strikes like metal; a sugar pill becomes medicine. The spell flat-out doesn’t function if the target (or their player) is aware you possess the Substitute spell and its function.
11. Invisibility » R: 30’ T: [Dice] D: [Dice]×10 minutes
Target creatures become invisible. Your shadow remains visible. Casting magic or taking damage will break the illusion. At 2+ SD, your shadow is concealed. At 3+ SD, noise is muffled. At 4+ SD, you can cast while invisible.
12. Mirroreye » R: [Dice]×100’ radius T: reflective surface D: concentration
Allows the caster to gaze into a reflective surface and view another such surface anywhere within the range of the spell. The caster is made aware of potential surfaces in the rough area around their target. The image is only as clear as the surface is reflective and still. Visible black spots appear on the reflective surface to match the number of eyes looking through it. At 2+ SD, the caster can also hear through the surface, and at 3+ SD, they can also speak through it.
I personally believe suggestion/charm/illusion magic to be by far and away the most dangerous kind of magic, and not necessarily because of what a low-level player might get into. It’s outlined in the text above - the real danger of an illusionist is what they can do when near a seat of political power. There is nothing more dangerous than controlling what the man on the throne hears and sees.
Some games have very powerful charms that can essentially enslave the target for long durations, or even permanently. These should logically result in the creation of magical slave-empires as the de facto political force on any world where they’re present. If there is little or no cost or limit for a magician to secure permanently loyal thralls, you should expect that every throne is held directly or indirectly by a form of sorcerer.
As a result, I am very hesitant to include this kind of magic in my games and the Interpreter, with its limited Suggestion, is about as far as I’m willing to go with it within Aia. I find the limitations on Illusion - inspired by Skerples’ spell of the same name1 - to be just about right.
More generally, I find it a good exercise to imagine the most practical use that a tyrannical dictatorship could get out of a spell. Stretch its limitations, consider what resources such a state might theoretically exercise. If you don’t like where it’s going, figure out what’s wrong with your magical paradigm and make your tweaks as you need to. The main thing keeping an Interpreter from being a threat to the world is that Spellcasting Dice are untrustworthy, and that magicians tend to blow themselves up by virtue of how spellcasting works.