Friday, August 13, 2010

Open Friday: Superstitions

This being Friday the 13th, I thought I'd ask about superstitions and taboos in your campaign settings. Do you have them and, if so, do they have any consequences for being flouted?

In my old AD&D games, I took seriously the implications of the Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide about attracting the attention of demons and devils by speaking their names aloud and so the players quickly learned never to refer to them by name (which is why I was intrigued by this old urban legend). In other games, such my old Traveller campaign, ignoring a taboo resulted in negative reactions among the locals (such as dressing in a "mourning color" on one planet).

Did anyone else ever do stuff like this in their campaigns?


  1. Yup. In the last campaign I ran, I cleaned up allot of potty mouth at the table by naming the demigod of buggery and debauchery a certain four letter "f" word. Speaking his name at the table was considered to be in character and a 4% chance (CUMULATIVE) of summoning the vile deity or his minions ...

    Of course someone had to put it to the test and was assaulted by a shadow which transformed his character into the opposite sex. Of course, he didn't realize he (or she from then on) was with child ...



  2. In my Carcosa games Dinosaurs and other large lizards have been considered a bad omen. For some reason every time the party confronts one the dice gods seek vengeance on them. We've decided that the characters are paralyzed by their ancestral memory of the horrors of the Snake Men. The taboo doesn't have any real game mechanics behind it, but it's held as truth none the less.

  3. My game world Midrea is fairly free of superstitions as luck is testable and quantifiable using the abundant magic.

    There is a lot of misinformation though, some of it relating to the various boojums of the world.

  4. Similar to John's comment, my DM back in high-school would make a divine intervention roll if our characters spoke the name of any of the "forbidden gods". The rule would drive the player clerics crazy as they tried to role-played their banishment research. I disagreed with the logic but some of the outcomes were horrifyingly entertaining.

  5. Not quite superstition, but it used to be common for everyone to consult the auguries and gain a blessing from the appropriate temple before undertaking any major undertaking. In one instance, a major battle was delayed for about a month (with both armies encamped opposite each other) because neither side was able to get a positive omen from the auguries.

    Similarly my Celtic-equivalents would have geasa, which usually indicated prophecies of where they would meet their end. So a sensible Ranii warrior would do his utmost to ensure that he did not break one of his geasa. [I had a table for how silly the geasa was; generally the sillier the geasa the worse the penalty for breaking it.]

    In both cases it was effectively a morale penalty or bonus more than an actual magical penalty. Going into battle without conducting an augury might result in a minor penalty (say -2), but a bad augury could net a -5 or even -10 penalty.

    There were a large number of old-wives tales superstitions which had a basis in truth (for example turning one's clothes inside out to see through a faerie glamour, but that was more in the nature of the faerie respecting the superstition than any magical effect). However most of the common superstitions of today that had a religious bent were missing. For example 13 was considered an excellent omen, and a pure black cat was considered lucky. Walking under ladders was still dangerous, for much the same reason the superstition exists in our world.

  6. First time reader here and I would like to tell James I like what he's doing here...keep up the good work. As far as superstitions go I only have one, as a player or DM, don't touch (esp roll) my dice! As a player you might get a knuckle busted. As a DM you will probably see a lighting bolt from the heavens. Jinx your own dice!

  7. Once upon a time as a wee lad I was in a campaign run by a very tough DM. Tough enough that I showed up to each session with two or three back up PCs ready to go. I was running Razzak Grizzlyguts, a chaotic evil xvart witch doctor, when things really started to go pear-shaped in an encounter. So my dude started chanting "Demogorgon, Orcus, Demogorgon, Orcus", hoping for some aid from the Abyss. I didn't know if the DM enforced those rules or not when I started, but I figured whatever happened couldn't be worse than the doom he already had in mind.

    Turns out Demogorgon heard me. He sent a Retriever up to the Prime Material Plane to sort the situation out. The rest of the party and all our foes were obliterated, but I managed to survive by throwing myself into a nearby fast-flowing river. I remember I had to make a roll of some sort to avoid drowning and I made the save.

    Man, the other players were pissed.

  8. In my 8th grade gifted class, the teacher ran us through a decidedly old school, homebrew dungeon once a week. One of the players had his character do stupid crap on a regular basis because he liked the chaos. The teacher was a very forgiving referee.

    This made for a pretty bad combination at times, as when the player's character jumped around yelling "ORCUS" at the top of his lungs. The referee, of course, took the Monster Manual literally and rolled percentile dice until 01-05 came up. Orcus showed up.

    Equally predictably, she also didn't want to kill the character, so she had Orcus give the character horns and hooves as a "curse."

    To complete the pyramid of predictability, the player thought this was the most awesome thing ever.

    (This campaign was still a LOT of fun. Total Monty Haul vibe, but the dungeon was very creatively built and the teacher was great at roleplaying and descriptions. Wish I knew how to get in touch with her.)

  9. Ditto about the demons/devils. My middle school DM was VERY by the book AD&D and enforced this rule. We summoned servants of a demon lord twice. One was a hell hound type creature, the other was a D&D version of Mister Mxyzpltk.

  10. I ran a few Paranoia games in the past and a common (and cruel) unspoken rule is that the players had to state what their -characters- where saying.

    So basically, if a player just spoke without mentioning it was their character... it counted in game.

    A lot of treasonous troubleshooters were subject to summary execution. The players quickly caught on.

    The Computer is your friend.

  11. I like hell hounds. A lot. Whenever the PC's start out worshipping a deity, I take note of it. When they miss a ritual, or completely brush off their faith, the deity takes vengeance. "Hell hounds" and other various forms of evil attacky rawr things seem to straigthen them up, if they don't die in the process. I take this threefold against paladins in my game.

  12. Hastur was the only name we made risky in our old games.

    Although my DM taught me the hard way that using an illusion to masquerade as Orcus was a Bad Idea (tm). After that, whenever we encountered undead, they almost always picked my character as their primary target.

  13. "evil attacky rawr things"

    I must find a way to use this phrase at work.

  14. I really should write down my campaign-world superstitions. There's been a couple that have been fun, but they've mostly been reactions to things that in-game gods would be annoyed at anyways, like being cursed for defiling an evil god's altar by kicking it and chipping it with maces and (eventually) filling it with "waste."

    After that, the evil god (Tharzidun, as it were), had his eye out on them.

  15. When playing in Greyhawk we always rolled when someone spoke the name of a demon. We often played in the Shield Lands or Bandit Kingdoms. Luckily for the populace and players, there was a well known ward again speaking Iuz' name: spit loudly on the floor whenever you say his name and he will ignore you. This ritual then became common whenever anyone referred to Iuz with any of his names.

    The floors of lordly manors and keeps throughout Furyondy are covered in slime. :)

  16. What I will do when I DM is if the players put belief into some superstition or another or are told a local one in game then go out of their way to break it then I will make it real if it seems appropriate.

    Also the 6th Roll for initiative show has a cool story that starts at around 14 minutes that may be relative and in the least is quite interesting.

  17. I actually did a whole list of minor superstitions and customs for my own Greyhawk campaign, back in March:

  18. Oh yeah. In Dark tower (JG) its explicitly possible to attract the attention of the S-dude because you are in or next to his freakin temple. (I still hesitate to mention it, how sad). Generally one attracts his minions but he can show, too. It got so bad (a bunch of 17-19 year olds with poor impulse control, pleeeeeze)we had to make a code word - and we chose (randomly) "Fred MacMurray" from "My Three Sons". What made the DM choke was that a key element of the dungeon was The S-dudes....three.....sons....wandering around intriguing. We had no idea.
    Dammit, its a game. Sssssset. There. Aieee

  19. @Esper...Thats the way I learned to play many many (did I say many) years ago. It does make for a good game and forces PCs to account for their words and intensifies role play.

  20. My group gained a superstition about sitting to the immediate right of the DM (me). Such players often suffered a calamity, by the roll of the dice alone. Apart from that, my wife never let anyone else touch her dice, because it would 'jinx' them.

  21. when I was young we had the idea that you should never change dice mid-stream, because if they've had a run of bad luck and you switch you'll miss the "counter-balancing" good luck that just has to come.

    Gambler's fallacy. But it was funny.

  22. I will have them now! Even open mike nite is great at Grognardia :)

  23. First time reader/poster here. Love teh blog.

    Anyway, usually I do homemade settings, and do a short write up of each culture to give players so they know, very generally, what their characters know. I try to always include a short list of superstitions/taboos for each, but they don't always make sense and so I drop them as often as I keep them. Though I usually keep the good ol' "don't speak the demon's name" rule.


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