[Sept 4, 2015: Part Two of this article is available here.]
A few weeks ago, the PDF of Rites & Relics, the Witch Hunter sorcery companion, finally debuted on DriveThruRPG. I snapped it up almost immediately. I won’t say my players have exhausted the possibilities of the sorcery presented in the core book, but with a Jesuit priest witch hunter and a full blown Hermetic Magi joining the group, I like to have options available. Besides, it meant I could swap out a chunk of my Converted Talents from Blessed and Damned for official conversions, which is always nice.
Now among the Talents in Rites & Relics are conversions of Devil’s Numbers and Devil’s Arithmetic. These talents offer Witch Hunter’s vision of Supernatural Numerology, which I think is damn cool. In theory, anyway. I haven’t made these available in my game for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t fit anyone’s current concept, so I’d rather spend my energies doing other things. But mainly, they don’t…really…do…anything.
Devil’s Numbers is nice enough. Make a Scholarship roll to gain additional dice to a subsequent Mysticism roll. I’m not sure that’s worthy of being a Greater Talent, but the benefit is clear as day. The follow-up “advanced” Talent? Well…here’s the descriptive text.
As you continue your dark path, you have uncovered new and forbidden insights that man was simply not meant to know. By now, your understanding of numbers and the Invisible World has reached such a level to where you may now design mathematical glyphs and patterns. These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them.
Your strange symbols must be made with precision and care, because the angles and curves of the shapes you create must be absolutely precise in order to function. To create your patterns, it takes at least an hour and a Scholarship (Science) check.
Those able to witness your symbols must make a Resolve (Courage) check with a difficulty equal to the result of your Scholarship roll. Those who fail their roll suffer a -2d penalty to all Interaction and Professional skill rolls until they leave the presence of your symbols due to their inability to concentrate on anything else but your garish glyphs. Keep in mind that publicly displaying your symbols would be a sure sign that you are a witch in most circles. Forcing someone to stare at your symbols is most certainly a form of torture.
Ok, can you spot the benefit in there? If so, please spell it out to me, because I can’t. In fact, other than make other people uneasy around you, it’s almost entirely a RP-centric Talent. Which would be much cooler if it didn’t cost you 75 experience for the privilege to inflict a penalty on the rest of the group and your allies. It’s as though something got cut out or forgotten in the editing process. This text is almost word for word from the original version in Blessed and Damned, so this Talent has been in the wild for a long time. So if “design[ing] mathematical glyphs and patterns. These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them” does something more than the obvious, please let me know.
Ok, I suppose you could break into a grand Sherlock Holmes style soliloquy in front of the big bad and all his minions, explaining to him how you’ve foiled his desperate, diabolical plan and then leave all witnesses at a disadvantage while they fret over their failing geometry grade, but that tactic is easily foiled with a pistol-full of “shut the hell up!” Definitely not worth the points there. Not to mention that, as written, its pretty clear everyone BUT YOU is at the same disadvantage. Maybe even the other characters with this Talent (“Crap, how did I miss that?! That’s going to keep me up for a week!”).
So yeah, just not feeling it.
But I love the concept! And it isn’t as though I haven’t missed the forest for the trees before. Perhaps there is some masterful benefit hidden in there that breaks the game wide open and turns Witch Hunter into an irreverent lost episode of NUMB3RS. I just don’t see it. I’ve put the word out, though, so hopefully all will be revealed soon.
In the meantime, I’ve been rolling the concept around in my head for a few days now. How can I turn these lemons into lemonade? How much sugar do I need? Will it go well with vodka?
It all boils down to this: “To create your patterns, it takes at least an hour and a Scholarship (Science) check.” Devil’s Arithmetic means you’ve gone beyond using these symbols, equations and formulations to predict things and moved into the realm of manipulating the data to serve your own ends.
“These assembled shapes provoke feelings of fear, paranoia, and madness in those who witness them.” What you are doing is clearly wrong on a very fundamental level. You are playing with God’s Creation in ways that were never intended and flirting with damnation at every turn, enough so that the merely showing your work is enough to weird out even the bad guys.
Surely there MUST be something cool we can do with that, right?
I think there is.
Tune in tomorrow when I turn a bunch of meandering scribbles and brainstorming into something suitably cool. In the meantime, if you know the secret of Devil’s Arithmetic, or just been justly inspired on your own account, please leave a comment!