We have a curse! Thousands of years ago, the wand was “created.” Now for me, I had to figure out what was going on and how it affected everyone. By this time (during the course of developing this setting history) the first D&D group had started. Characters were created, backstories were proposed, and the first session was run.
Sometimes, players can come up with great ideas. Sometimes not. Ultimately, I wanted to work each player backstory into the game as some sort of hook, reference, or mini-quest. Not always the easiest thing to do.
In the mean time, I needed to figure out how each of the witches was cursed. This meant tracking the wand through history to the current day. In order to accomplish this, I had to break a bit of logic: time. For the witch backstories to work effectively, I needed to stretch the timelines out over the span of centuries. This meant two things: the witches have somehow figured out how to survive more than a normal lifetime, and I needed to account for their whereabouts and activities for that span of time.
I’d already assigned various songs to each witch from the Steeleye Span lexicon. Now I needed to take those songs and interpret them into motivations and curses. The nice thing about folk ballads is they tell a story. Normally, the story involves something that happened in Earth history, but between the aging obscurity and a bit of selective editing on my part, I can make it work in my setting effectively.
I don’t want to detail each witch’s backstory. Maybe I’ll do it in the future, because each witch could easily become its own article. Yes – I’ve done enough story-work that I could pull it off. To summarize, however, I threaded the movement of the magic wand through several centuries to the current day, where it passed from one character to another, finally ending up in the possession of Allison, who, chronologically, is the youngest of the twelve witches.
The way the wand “curses” is that if it is in proximity to a person and somehow the wand moves, everyone within an undetermined range is affected. Sometimes several people are hit with the same (or very similar) curse, while for others, the curse is very specific. Some curses have cascading ramifications that affect an entire civilization, where others seem so minor as to be meaningless. There are even cases where to some, the curse may seem like a benefit, but still a terrible blow to the victim only because of what it represents. Let’s review the curses for the twelve witches. This list is presented in the order they were cursed.
Cithara: While in the mortal realm, there can be no peace. If there is peace, Cithara will do what it takes to cause war. The origin of this curse is because Cithara had two sons. One a great leader in the mortal realm, and the other, the child of a demon, became a great leader in hell. She wanted her sons to be peaceful with each other, but was denied this great desire by the Curse.
Regina: No descendant of Regina can ever rule the elves. As long as she lives, no pure-blood elves can ever be born. For her, the queen of the high elves, this is by far the most broad-reaching of the curses. This forced a rule in the campaign that no player-character can be a full-blood elf.
Aurore: Technically, Aurore is not a witch, but I list her here. I originally had her listed as a thirteenth witch, but subsequent development indicated that she couldn’t be. She is Regina’s only child, who was born just before Regina was cursed. Not only does she have her mother’s curse, where she cannot have children who are full-blood elves, her children cannot ever have magic. Aurore’s greatest desire was that her children would be casters and, therefor, be an equal with her mother. In addition, Aurore is driven to bear children – another aspect of the curse.
Syreni: She was a fisherman’s wife. During the course of the wand’s history, the wand was “lost at sea” for about 130 years. Her husband, while out fishing, recovered the wand (along with another artifact which I’ll talk about in another article) and brought them home. Syreni, a student of history, knew immediately what her husband had found and instructed him to return the wand, and the other artifact to the sea and throw them overboard. While at sea, the ship was hit by a great storm (Let Her Go Down). Syreni’s curse was that she would be denied the ability to rescue her husband in a way that would be the most meaningful. The day after her husband died at sea, Syreni’s body became part mermaid and she gained the power of magic. Had she gained these abilities two days before, she would have been able to rescue her husband. As it is, her continued life, with her newfound abilities (and limitations) is a constant reminder that if someone she loves is in peril, she cannot save them. This makes her line from the song, The Heir of Linne, more meaningful. “But pay me when the seas run dry.”
Colubra: Here’s the bit of retcon I had to do. It was Colubra’s portrayal in King Henry that led me to create this whole idea. However, Colubra broke her curse. Did this mean that the Great Curse could be broken? I didn’t want that, because if she could figure out how to break it, it would make sense that the other witches could do so as well. In that, I lose the whole thing. So to fix it, I made it so Colubra was made to believe she was cursed, but was somehow immune. Here’s how I did it: First, Colubra is Tiefling (part demon, part human). Tieflings didn’t exist as a race until long after the wand was created, which, I decided, grants them immunity to the wand’s effects. Colubra was cursed, however, by Allison (not the wand), and this curse allowed for a way to break it, which she did.
Vigila: Her song, Lady Diamond, talks of a lord’s daughter who wanted nothing more than to live her life with the one she loved, a kitchen boy named William. After his death, she went crazy. Rather than the quiet, private life she wanted, now she wanted to change society so that men and women could choose their mates and not be forced into unions just for political expediency. Enter the wand: Her curse is that she cannot rule in the material realm. However, due to other events, she is the current ruler of hell.
Isabel: Isabel defeated the Elf Knight who had been selectively killing off princesses for close to a decade. Syreni took her under her wing and taught Isabel how to defend herself, and with the help of Regina, fashioned a powerful, focused charm that would put an elf to sleep. Born and raised in a military family, and with magical (paladin) powers, she was a natural leader. In her role as the chief defender of the Wizard’s College, she had to develop a plan to defend the college, its students and its teachers. Unfortunately, by this time she had been cursed – unknowingly. Her battle plans failed miserably leading to the total destruction of that which she was sworn to defend. She and the other witches barely escaped with their lives, but everything else was left to ruin. Her curse continues to manifest in that she can’t make a good tactical plan.
Navita: She is a wild-magic halfling sorcerer who wants nothing more than to do good works with her magic. Normally, wild magic says that every time a spell is cast there’s a 5% chance of a wild-magic side effect. In Navita’s case the chance is 100%.
Procella: She was betrayed by her lover. Her curse is that she can trust no one. Ever.
Ventusa: The only cleric among the witches, she wanted to live a pure, clean life, serving her (non-existent) god. After being seduced as described in The Ups and Downs, she now has an insatiable desire for carnality.
Pedora: Another jilted lover, she wanted nothing more than for him to suffer and die. Instead, her lover lived a long, fruitful, successful life. All the while flaunting it. Pedora’s curse is that she has no ability to strike out in anger or vengeance, regardless how she really feels.
Propheta: She has to be the most difficult NPC to run. Ever. That’s not her curse, but it sure seems like it. Propheta is the twelfth witch described in the song, “understand all.” She is gifted with sight and prophecy, so powerful that, in her mind, she sees every possible outcome and knows the most likely ones. She wants to guide and direct people so that things work out for the best. Unfortunately, her greatest desire is denied in that she can’t communicate except in the form of riddles, puzzles, and vague references. She even knows how to destroy the wand: “A paradox of desire.”
Allison: And finally, the “youngest” witch in the twelve. She’s actually 264 years old in the current setting year. Cithara is the oldest at 1799 years. Allison wants to be loved. However, her curse causes her to destroy anyone who would ever love her, including her own son. One of the adventuring parties finally put her son’s ghost to rest in a mini-side-quest. While in possession of the wand, Allison has tried to destroy it multiple times in multiple ways, which had the side effect of corrupting her soul to the point where she is likely the blackest, darkest person in existence. If anyone figures out what Propheta’s solution means, they have to get past Allison first.
That’s it for now. I think the next post will talk about the other artifact mentioned in Syreni’s backstory, because this has become a major focus for both adventuring parties.