Over on the Dungeon World Discord, Razorkiss asked this interesting question:
Imagine you're trying to model scary Mythos tomes in DungeonWorld. Y'know, we're talking about The Necronomicon here. You want to create a custom move that represents the dangers of reading it, the dangers of gaining knowledge at the expense of sanity. I feel like the first instinct would be that this is a +WIS move, because, y'know, the Will save and all of its attendant baggage. But... is that the way you'd really want to go? It's basically saying, "Y'know, Wizard, you'd think you'd be the person who would be all over this custom move, but it turns out your buddies the Ranger, Druid, and Cleric are better-suited for this job..."
Queue discussion about whether it'd be an INT roll or CHA roll or whatever.
And my first instinct was to treat it the way I treat major arcana in Stonetop.
(discussion after the break)
In Stonetop, there are (to date) 18 "major arcana". They're potent magical items (or close enough) that the PCs can unlock over time. The details vary a lot from arcanum to arcanum, but the general structure is:
- The arcanum provides a potentially useful move right away.
- There's a path towards unlocking more and more of the arcanum's power. Often (but not always), that path involves using the initial move.
- Unlocking the arcanum's mysteries gives you a potent new move (or moves), but using those moves runs the risk of accumulating Consequences.
- Consequences are a limited list of Bad Things that the player picks from. There's usually 6-8 of them, and some are passing problems, others are mixed-blessings, and others are really bad. The player sees what the options are, and at first the options aren't that bad. But, about the time that they're really getting used to what this thing can really do, the "not that bad" options dry up and they're left looking at really unpleasant stuff.
But here's a very different sort of major arcana, the Blood-Quenched Sword:
Point being: it's a flexible structure, and a great way to reflect the slow (or not-so-slow) corruption that potent magical items can inflict on a PC. So if you're looking for a way to model "the dangers of gaining knowledge at the expense of sanity," this seems like a great fit.
The Nhing Codex
Going back to Razorkiss's initial question, I'm picturing a "basic" power that involves that reading through the book and getting flashes of insight and deeper understanding. That seems like an INT check to me, not WIS. Meanwhile, the growing insight itself should start messing with the character right away. And it seems like, in the literature that spawns these types of books, there's always a risk of unleashing terrible, uncontrolled power.
So, here's our starting set of moves:
The Nhing Codex
When you spend hours and hours pouring through the cryptic text and perusing the unsettling engravings, roll +INT. On a 10+, both. On a 7-9, pick 1:
- Ask the GM a question about the Things that Dwell in Outer Darkness, or the Priest-Kings of Ancient Nhing, and get an honest answer.
- Gain 1 Gnosis.
On a 6-, mark XP and tell the GM one of the following:
- The name/title of the Thing that you've accidentally called into the world (e.g. Dyakon Many-Winged, Iiliaphaz Whose Tongue is Fire, Zzykiliost the Thief of Warmth)
- The shape or visage of the Thing that has started peering at you out of the shadows, and why it terrifies you so
- The nature of the curse that you've unwittingly unleashed on someone else (the GM decides on who)
Gnosis: O O O O
When you hold any Gnosis and you Make Camp, roll +Gnosis. On a a 12+, pick 1, but also gain great insight--lose all your Gnosis and learn a Nhing Codex Spell of your choice. On a 10-11, pick 2. On a 7-9, pick 1. On a 6-, don't mark XP; your dreams are merely disquieting.
- You get little sleep, and what you manage is not restful; regain no HP.
- You dreams are insightful yet disturbing; ask the GM a question about the Things that Dwell in Outer Darkness or the inhabitants of Priest-Kings of Ancient Nhing, but mark a debility.
- You do... strange things... in your sleep. The GM will say what.
When you cast a spell learned from the Nhing Codex, roll +INT. On a 10+, the spell works as described. On a 7-9, the spell works, but choose 1 from the list below. On a 6-, mark a consequence in addition to whatever the GM says.
- You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot (ask the GM how)
- Something shifts in your mind; take a -1 penalty (cumulative) to cast a codex spell. When you would gain Gnosis, you can instead remove this penalty.
So we've got a general move that can prompt a GM info dump and/or get you closer to unlocking some spells, while also making you less likely to have a pleasant sleep. Oh, and you can accidentally unleash evil on the world.
In order to make this something people actually want to use, we need to make the spells that it provides pretty darn powerful. And the Consequences should be all about the corruption (mental and physical) that comes from trucking with these powers.
Mysteries of the Nhing Codex
NHING CODEX SPELLS
[ ] Twist the Senses: Name someone and hold 3 Sway over them. Spend 1 Sway to twist their senses, making them perceive something that is not true.
[ ] Grasping Darkness: Start chanting and point at a place of shadows; a mass of inky black tentacles (15 HP, 2 armor) bursts forth. They deal d8+1 damage (reach, area, grabby, forceful) to anything they can grasp, but they last only as long as you keep chanting.
[ ] Baleful Utterance: Speak a foul word. One object in your presence shatters, and the ears of all who hear the word bleed (1d4 damage, ignores armor, temporarily deafened).
[ ] Vox Umbra: Grasp the voice of someone who is speaking with an inky tendril. The tendril slithers down their throat. While this spell persists, they cannot speak of their own accord, and instead say whatever you wish, black bile pouring from their mouth as they do so. The spell ends if you cast another spell.
[ ] Night Falls: Snap your fingers. All light sources in near range are snuffed out.
[ ] Pour Forth: Name someone. They spend the next few minutes vomiting vile black fluid, incapable of doing much more than staggering about or crawling.
[ ] Flow Through Me: The Outer Darkness twists your body in a useful, impossible way (describe it). You lose 1d6 hit points, and the effect ends as soon as you roll a miss.
[ ] Darksome Servant: Call up a lesser being of the Outer Darkness. Name one ability that you wish it to possess, and one task you wish it to perform. The GM will tell you want it wants. Pay its cost and it will perform you task. Refuse, and it runs free.
[ ] Dismissal: Name a thing of the Outer Darkness in your presence. It is banished back from whence it came.
[ ] No Hiding from the Darkness: Look into someone's eyes and ask them a question. They must answer you, wholly and truthfully. They will forever after suffer from nightmares.
[ ] Night Puppet: A black tendril of your power crawls from your mouth and into a dead thing, animating it. Spend 1 to 10 HP; your puppet has as many HP as you spend.
[ ] Your drive/alignment becomes "Upset another with your compulsive behaviors."
[ ] Henceforth, anyone who Makes Camp in your presence suffers from disturbing dreams. Ask them to tell you about them.
[ ] Your eyes become inky orbs of darkness; you can see in even absolute darkness, but nearly blinded by full daylight.
[ ] One of your limbs becomes... wrong. Tell us how.
[ ] Your blood is black and foul-smelling; you are immune to poisons, but heal only half the usual amount of HP.
[ ] When you look into someone's eyes, you can ask their player/the GM "What fills you with fear or disgust?" and get an honest answer.[ ] [ ] [ ] One of the Priest-Kings of Ancient Nhing demands a task of you. Until you complete it, you have disadvantage to cast a codex spell.
[ ] You hear the whispers of the Outer Dark. When they compel you to act, mark XP if you do as bidden. If you resist, roll +WIS; on a 10+, your will is your own; on a 7-9, it takes time or aid from a friend to shake off the compulsion; on a 6-, do as they wish or do something drastic, right now, to drown out the whispers.