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Monday, 11 September 2017

The Voodoo that Huhu do

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quickstart. One of the regular pieces of support comes once again from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the Finnish-based publisher best known for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and its scenarios like Death Frost DoomA Red and Pleasant Land, and Bloodmother Skyfortress. Following on from last year’s release for Free RPG Day in 2016, Slügs!, which asked the question, ‘Do you need a cornucopia of Slügs!?’, as well being controversial for it political sliming, Lamentations of the Flame Princess brings us Vaginas Are Magic!

Vaginas Are Magic! is designed to be provocative. It is a gaming supplement and it does material that a Dungeon Master could bring to his gaming table, but it is designed to be provocative. After all, it has the word ‘vaginas’ in the title. It is not designed to be offensive, though there is certainly capacity for some to take offence at its tone and content. For as a book, Vaginas Are Magic!—sometimes known as ‘VAM’, but honestly(!)—is mature in tone and content and two or three pieces of its artwork are of an adult nature. Some might even say pornographic. There is also the fact that what Vaginas Are Magic! is, is a sourcebook of magic and spells that can only be cast by women who can have children. This again is something that some may take offence at. So the question is, is Vaginas Are Magic! offensive? Arguably no, since there should be room in the hobby for what is mature, adult material, as the majority of gamers are adults—and in comparison to some material published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess—this is much more measured, adult gameable content. Now when it comes to the illustrations, then arguably, two or three pieces are strong in nature and probably stronger than is necessary. The rest of the content though, is definitely designed to provoke a reaction, but how much of a reaction will be down to the reader.

So what of the content and the book itself? Essentially, Vaginas Are Magic! presents two things. One is a stripped down magic system for Magic-users, the other is a grimoire. The former does away with spell levels and the need for the Read Magic spell. Instead, a Magic-user has potentially access to any spells and can cast any spell that she knows at whatever Level she wants. So, a Fifth Level Magic-user could cast Magic Missile as a First, Second, Third, Fourth, or Fifth Level Magic-user. A Magic-user has a number of spell slots equal to her Level, but this limit is only for casting memorised spells safely. Once these slots have been exhausted, she can cast as many slots again, but with the chance that she might miscast them and thus have to roll on the Miscast Table each time she casts again. After that, a Magic-user must rest and memorise her spells again. A Magic-user at First Level knows three randomly determined spells and since spells have no Level limit, there is is no limit to how many can be learned. This then presents a very quick and easy magic system that expands a Magic-user’s choice of spells and has the potential to make her very powerful even at First Level. A First Level Magic-user with Cloudkill or Fireball or Teleport, anyone? Of course, there is little to stop a Games Master from adapting these rules to the other spellcasting Classes.

This new magic system is spelt out inside the book’s front cover, leaving the actual book to be devoted to the contents of Vaginas Are Magic! This consists of a primer on magic in the author’s campaign—essentially how dangerous magic is physically, mentally, and socially, and how it should be taken out of the hands of grey-bearded old men—and a grimoire of some twenty spells, from A Blaze in the Northern Sky and Chaosgoat Law to Triumph of Death and Volcanic Slut. These names though, are the song titles of classic black metal tracks which the author has deemed suitable enough to work as the names of interesting spells. In keeping with the magic system presented at the front of the book, each of the actual spells given in Vaginas Are Magic! comes without Level, spell components, range, and so on. 

What each spell does come with though, is a full-page illustration, a description, and a miscast table, and the result for each is a stripped back, self-contained feel. So, for example, A Blaze in the Northern Sky weakens a planet’s inherent defences such that a meteor is able to enter the atmosphere and indeed, blaze a light across the sky. This turns night into day, affecting nocturnal and diurnal creatures alike, and inspiring sheer terror or loyalty out of sheer terror for being to summon this object from the heavens. Should this spell go awry, possible effects include the meteor impacting on the ground, odd radiation, temporary banishment of night as the meteor burns up very slowly, driving the local inhabitants insane, and so on. It is illustrated with an image of a meteor lighting up a landscape as it blazes across the sky. 

What A Blaze in the Northern Sky showcases is the greater ramifications a spell can have on a campaign. This is applied again and again throughout the twenty or so spells, so not one can really be cast without consequences. In other words, there are ‘no fire and forget’ spells a la traditional Dungeons & Dragons in Vaginas Are Magic! 

Some of the spells in Vaginas Are Magic! are not all that interesting or useful. For example, Sepulchral Voice allows the caster to steal and use the voices of those she has killed, whilst Raise the Dead enables her to do that from the walls, floors, and ceiling of wherever the caster is, but the dead do not obey her. Rather they fixate on others around her—which includes other player characters! It has potential as a barrier perhaps, but the danger to others… This does not mean that these spells are wholly useless, but rather that their utility is not wholly immediate and really, it will be down to player ingenuity to get the best use out of them. Other spells though, can have lasting effects—effects with ramifications for a campaign. For example, Chaosgoat Law can be cast to summon the Chaosgoat which settle an argument, a dispute, and so on, the resulting ruling once the cases of either side have been put, being binding—whatever the consequences and whether one side is ‘right’ or not. Into the Crypts of the Rays brings the Magic-user into astral contact with an old master—possibly Gilles de Raiswho will answer one question, but in return ask the caster to become the vessel for his return to the world for he is currently trapped in his old chateau. Is this too strong a price to pay, bearing the essence of the old master and bringing to term, not quite knowing what the caster might have unleashed on the world—once again? On a more mechanical basis, My Journey to the Stars transports the caster into a stellar garden, deconstructs them, and then recreates her anew, but with one attribute physically rolled and assigned the new value. This can be done over and over, but there are diminishing returns…

Physically, Vaginas Are Magic! is a cleanly laid out book in black and white behind a full colour photo cover that has the potential for provocation. Inside, the book is professionally presented, the artwork is good, and the writing good.

So what you have in Vaginas Are Magic! is a magic system and some new spells accompanied by reasons to limit their use and by reasons to provoke a negative reaction. It should be made clear that there is some validity to that reaction, if only for the choice of adult artwork rather than in writing a book for spell-casting women in your favourite retroclone. What you also have though, is some interesting spells and the point that magic is not the sole province of grey bearded old men and that women can be as powerful and have access to potentially as powerful and as interesting spells as those grey bearded old men—if not more so. This may limit its use by some gamers, but that does not negate its point and it does not limit the use of these spells by female player characters. Vaginas Are Magic! may not be quite at home in your campaign, but it may be worth look nevertheless.