Thursday, January 17, 2013

Spell Profiles: The Coffee from Hell

As any fan of my work will no doubt have memorized every detail of these posts I don't need to remind you gentle readers about my fascinating article on those wizards of the Weird West: Hucksters.  However if you do need a refresher you can always go HERE.  You will recall that I expressed my enjoyment and admiration for the system and approved of the Wilder Magic Designation Type III that it used.  The thrill of knowing that any attempt to cast even the simplest of spells could result in the loss of life, limb, or the eternal soul was matched only by the thrill of being lynched when successful due to the irrational fears of the good folks of the town you just saved from some demonic coyote-rabbit.
The game designers realized that there was a niche that could be filled and where there is a niche there is a dollar to be made.  To the end of filling that niche (and the coffers) they published Hucksters and Hexes, a book full to bursting with new information for the Huckster players.  Among the improvements were a set of minor hexes called "tricks".

Tricks are very minor hexes (spells) that do not require much power to cast and provide correspondingly minor results.  The virtue of the trick is that sometimes a Huckster doesn't need to set the whole town ablaze, he just needs to light a fuse; in the absence of matches he shouldn't have to blow his fool head off to do it.  In game terms the Huckster slips his conscious mind off to the Hunting Grounds, grabs a scrawny little Mantiou and just whips its ass for a smidgen of power.  Even if he fails he just gets a little winded.  Not so bad, really.
Well in all fairness there was a small chance he might still get backlash, but only if he drew the black joker (1 in 54 chance or 1.852%); that's much better than the usual by far.
Tricks were what fantasy gaming calls "cantrips" and there were plenty of them.  Most of the effects were useful, if limited, but players being the clever and crafty lot they are would always find a way to use them in expanded ways.
The trick that always stuck in my head as the prime example is my focus today.

As described in Hucksters and Hexes, coffin varnish is a slang term for bad coffee and that is what the hex makes-sort of.
Cast on a cup or glass of some beverage (anything, as long as it is potable) Coffin Varnish changes the liquid from its former state into something resembling a hot, coffee-like beverage that would curl a dead man's toes.  A thoroughly unpleasant taste experience, the brew had practical uses.
1. It will keep a cowpoke awake.  The in-game benefit was a large bonus to vigor rolls to stay awake.  This is useful if you need to be up for a stake-out or have guard duty or are trying to pull one of those all night poker games.
2. It instantly and irrevocably sobers up drunk people.  The experience leaves the poor soul with a hangover for 1-6 hours, but he is sober.
The coffin varnish must be drunk within 10 minutes of casting to work lest it lose its power and it automatically fails if cast on a magical or alchemical concoction.

That's not a bad little spell.  Coffee is one of those particularly Western genre things like bacon, beans, rot-gut whisky and stampedes.  Thus a spell for making a piping hot cup of nasty coffee is all part of the flavor of the game (puns are free here at the Pumpkin).  You might be thinking, "Hey, that's pretty basic, but I bet it can be of more use than what you've listed."  I'm proud of you.  You have the makings of a true gamer (as opposed to that breed of modern gamer raised in a video dependent world who can't think outside of the script of the game rules).

What could you do with a cup or glass of piping hot, coffee-like hellbrew?
You could throw it in the face of some cuss who is getting on your nerves or holding a gun on you.  That's a likely scenario in both fiction and gaming.
"Okay, you've got me dead to rights, Clem.  I could see when you came in holding that piece that we weren't going to part on friendly terms.  At least let me be neighborly and offer you a cup o' mud." Splash!  +4 to your next attack roll and you have initiative.
That same scenario could go more subtly if you liked.  Just because the rules don't mention any penalties for drinking the blamed stuff is no reason for the enterprising Huckster player to not argue with his GM for an ad hoc roll or penalty.
"Yeah, Tom, I'm going to pick up this cup of regular coffee, cast Coffin Varnish on it and offer it to Clem."
"Sure, Dave, he takes it and takes a drink."
"He should totally be gagging right now; that stuff tastes like the Devil's diarrhea.  Do I get a free attack?"
"I don't know..."
"Come on, man, it tastes like hell.  He's expecting normal coffee, that's got to be worth a negative at least."

You might be one of those players who enjoys the social aspects of gaming more than the dice rolling.  Perhaps you are a wizard with a mean sense of humor and enjoy playing obnoxious pranks (no, that never happens in gaming).  How great a prank is the old cup o' Coffin Varnish played on those closest to you?  Or just pulled at the local chop house on people you don't even know.  One of the odd things about the trick is that it has a range of 1 yard.  3 FEET.  You can literally do this to a person at the other table without their knowledge.  The potential, while not limitless, is staggering in the right hands.

Of course you could pull that black joker and blow your damned head off trying it, but suffering for one's art is all part of the game, right?
"Evenin', Sheriff"
"Evenin', Clem.  Looks a damned bloody mess in here.  Body without a head; just about takes the cookie.  We know what happened?"
"Luke seen it all, Sheriff.  He said this here fella from outta town was sittin' here mumbling something about his coffee then his damn fool head just blowed up and sprayed all over the walls."
"Damn shame, Clem.  Must have been some strong coffee.  Let's go get some beans."

That's a hell of a way to go, blowing your head off for a joke, but man your group will tell that story for a long, long time.

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