Occult Philosophy: Maddening Magic

Occult Philosophy | A Sourcebook for Shadow of the Demon Lord RPGAs a fantasy game, albeit a dark and sinister one, magic permeates the world languishing under the Shadow of the Demon Lord. One can find it in the ruins of fallen civilizations, in relics pried from the clutches of unspeakable things, and, of course, in the hands of those people with the talent for apprehending magical energies and shaping them into useful forms. In the main rulebook, three of the four novice paths can access the many traditions of magic and, with Bred for Battle, even warriors can dabble in the arcane arts. Since magic plays such a big part in the game’s cosmology, I always felt that free access to magic would broaden the utility of Shadow’s magic system and the numerous spells it offers. For this reason, magic seemed to me the ideal place to start in my efforts to expand the rules and the setting.

Shadow of the Demon Lord includes thirty traditions, from Arcana to Water and everything in between. Each tradition originally offered a set of eleven spells, which gave us 330 spells, not including the spells the game made particular to certain paths. In the years since the book came out, I have added additional traditions, such as Fey in Terrible Beauty, and Invocation in the Demon Lord’s Companion 2, which brought the total number of traditions in the game up to 41. We have also seen new spells added to existing traditions to broaden the offerings by detailing new areas that express the tradition’s central theme. So when I began work on Occult Philosophy,I had loads of spells already, but there’s always room for more, right?

Number 42

As a Douglas Adams fan, I realized 41 traditions would simply not do. After all, 42 is the answer. Now, some of you are probably wagging a finger at me and saying, “But Rob, what about the Blood tradition?” Well, when I was working on Tombs of the Desolation, I thought I would expand magic by offering a slew of minor traditions to supplement the major traditions presented in the main rulebook. After Tombs came out, however, I realized that I could really just express the themes of what were to be minor traditions within the body of major traditions and that by making a distinction between minor and major, I’d be cluttering up the game. Thus, Occult Philosophy pushes all the Blood spells into the Necromancy tradition. Easy-peasy.

But I still needed another tradition. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the one area underserved in magic was madness and insanity. Having a tradition of magic that ravages the minds by calling forth things from beyond the bounds of reality would be pretty sexy, and so Madness, as a tradition, came into being. Here’s an unedited excerpt from the Madness tradition.

Art by Julio Rochá


With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, some desperate scholars of magic have turned to ancient tomes and use them to commune with strange, alien beings in the hopes of finding some secret knowledge with which they could save their world. From these distant beings, these seekers of occult lore uncovered an entirely new order of magic, one that brings forth impossible, inscrutable energies from across the gulfs of space to serve their commands. Although such magic might be of limited use against demons, it proves itself effective and terrifying against nearly everything else.

The Madness tradition taps into forces beyond mortal reckoning, reaching out into dimensions and realities beyond those known to exist and drawing forth strange energies to spawn horrors that bend and break the mind. Spells from the tradition tax the minds of those who know them and students find the longer they look into the secrets of the tradition, the weaker becomes their grip on reality. All who dabble in this dark art lose their minds and the fearless pioneers who assembled the spells and secrets of the tradition have been sealed away in vaults to protect them from harm and protect others from the unspeakable secrets they reveal.

Each time you learn a spell from the Madness tradition, you must make a Will challenge roll with a number of banes equal to the number of Madness spells you have learned so far. On a failure, you gain 1 Insanity.

Mitigating the Madness

The Madness tradition forces users to peer into dark places and grapple with mind-blasting truths. As a result, most students of Madness wrestle with their sanity, always struggling to cling to whatever shreds they have left until their minds finally buckle and break. However, as users grow more and more accustomed to the horrors of their art, they learn to compartmentalize their weird experiences so they can keep their wits even while gibbering, frothing, and clawing at their bodies. Whenever you roll to end the effects of going mad, you add a bonus to your d6 roll. The bonus equals the rank of the highest rank madness spell you have learned.

Sample Spells

Reveal Unspeakable Truth         Madness Attack 0

Target One creature within short range

You whisper some dark, unsettling truth, causing words of smoke to spill from your mouth and float toward the target where they dissipate. If the target can hear you, make an Intellect attack roll against the target’s Will. If the target has 3 or more Insanity, you make the attack roll with 1 boon. On a success, the target gains 1 Insanity.

If the total of your roll was 0 or less, you instead gain 1 Insanity.

Aid from the Outer Gods                Madness Utility 1

Duration1 minute

You impose 1 bane on attack rolls made against you until the spell ends. In addition, whenever a creature you can see would attack you, you can use a triggered action to gain 1 Insanity and impose 2 additional banes on the attack roll.

Eye of the Outer God                      Madness Utility 3

Requirement You must have at least 1 Insanity to cast this spell.

Duration 1 hour

A bloody eye opens in the center of your forehead and remains open for the duration. The eye lets you see into areas obscured by shadows or darkness as if those areas were lit. As well, your attack rolls ignore banes imposed by cover or obscured terrain.

Furthermore, you can use an action, or a triggered action on your turn, to level your gaze on one creature that can see you and is within medium range. The target cannot avert its gaze. Make an Intellect attack roll against the target’s Will. On a success, the target takes 1d6 damage and gains 1d3 Insanity. On a failure, the eye shows you something you cannot comprehend and you gain 1 Insanity instead.