Playing With Dolls

by mshrm

For the “Pirates!” game, we’re using Ritual Path Magic, mainly in the form of Hollywood Voodoo. In Hollywood Voodoo, if you’re not raising the dead (or convincing living people that they’re really dead), you’re committing various atrocities against dolls. The way it works in the cartoons is, you make up a little doll, incorporating the hair or fingernail clippings or what-have-you of your victim, and it gives you power over the person it represents.

What kind of power varies. Most often, it’s dealing out damage at a distance. Sometimes it involves controlling the victim’s actions, while leaving them able to talk for comedic effect. Other times, it’s inflicting sickness, or flying the person around the room with telekinesis, or paralyzing them, or making them crave beer. (Yup, beer. The Simpsons, “The Joy of Sect“.)

In the RPM system, rituals are defined by their effects. The important thing isn’t the magic words and the mystic gestures, it’s what happens when the spell goes off. Crippling a person’s leg is one ritual, lighting them on fire is another. Thus, there aren’t any grimoires for the “Voodoo Doll Ritual”, since there isn’t just one.

The business with the doll isn’t the ritual, it’s an example of Traditional Trappings (GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, page 19). A standard ritual can be cast with very little ceremony, nothing more than a word or a gesture (page 14). Anything more elaborate gets a discount in the energy cost, up to -25%.

Even a weak attempt at sympathetic magic should be worth -5%, or a discount of 1 point for every 20 energy in the spell, for “a clear link between the trappings and the spell”. Even simple measures that “embod[y] the spell so well that anyone watching
could probably guess what the spell was designed to do” are worth -10%, or 1 per 10.

Pat together a crude figure out of mud, tell it “Your name is [target’s name]”, and poke it in the chest with a sharp stick. If it’s a heart attack ritual, I’d allow -5%. If it’s a ritual to deliver impaling damage, I’d go for -10%. More expensive dolls built to creepily resemble specific targets could rack up even more discounts.

Extra points for drums and make-up. Obviously.

As for the bit about scrounging up the target’s fingernail clippings, that could be an effort to boost the “bother” and “coolness” values under Traditional Trappings, but it’s more likely to be a way to provide a connection to the target. A caster without the appropriate subset of the Ritual Adept advantage who cannot see or precisely locate their target will suffer a -5 penalty to their rolls without such a connection. Of course, a determined caster could offset this penalty with an expensive grimoire and a potent place of power, as easily as a lock of hair…


Voodoo Doll (Stick ‘Em With A Pin)
Spell Effects: Lesser Destroy Body
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, Internal, Impaling (Selective Effect, +20%)
Greater Effects: 0 (x1)

This spell causes 1d+2 imp to any target within a 10 miles radius who fails to resist. The caster can choose to target a particular hit location.

Typical Casting: Lesser Destroy Body (5) + Range, 20,000 yards (10 miles) (24) + Damage, Internal, Impaling 1d+2 (Selective Effect, +20%) (8) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs (3). 40 energy (40 x 1).


Voodoo Doll (Burn ‘Em Up In The Fire)
Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Body
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, Internal, Burning (Incendiary, +10%)
Greater Effects: 1 (x3)

This spell causes 6d burning damage against any target within a 10 mile radius who fails to resist. The Incendiary enhancement changes the flammability class (see GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns, page 433) of the target, as described in GURPS Power-Ups 4: Enhancements, page 19. This means human targets who take 10 or more points of damage will start to burn.

Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Body (5) + Damage, Internal, Burning 6d (Incendiary, +10%) (20) + Range, 20,000 yards (10 miles) (24) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs (3). 156 energy (52 x 3).