Saturday, February 18, 2012

Magic of the Kabala #1

A few years ago I was making my bread translating medieval tomes of Jewish mysticism into English. Many of the books I translated felt like excellent fantasy material. Below are some of these translations. Stuff written in italics is direct translation, everything else is my... update.

Translate?! I can barely read it!

The Awesome Power of the Explicit Name
Throughout their long history, the Jewish people had often been confronted with various threats, ranging from murderous pogroms and persecutions to supernatural assaults by evil spirits and antediluvian demons. Always the minority, and far from warlike, the Jews have developed a system of charms based on exploiting the immense power hidden in the explicit name of God (YHVH), also known as “The Great and Terrible Name.”
The charms presented below are mostly taken from the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Mordecai Zacuto of Venice (1625-1697), a poet and philosopher who also dabbled in kabalistic mysticism in his old age.
Because kabala is a tricky art at best, every charm has a chance to fail even if performed properly and with the best of intentions; whenever attempting to use a kabala charm, make a Wisdom knowledge check against the chram’s DC. Failure indicates the charm fizzled harmlessly, while a critical fumble bestows a curse (as if cast by a 20th level cleric) on the kabalist or inflicts him with some other kind of misfortune (chosen by the DM). In most cases, the kabalist will not know whether the charms worked or fizzled until it is too late. Where applicable, all charms have a save DC of 15 plus the kabalist’s Wisdom modifier.
The author does not recommend trying these charms in real life… just in case.

The Seven Virtues
The Seven Virtues are a collection of powerful charms given to Adam and Eve after they sinned before the LORD and were exiled from the Garden of Eden. The Holy, blessed be He, realizing that the fragile couple won’t survive in the harsh primordial environment into which they were cast, naked and unarmed, has created the Seven Virtues to insure the survival of humanity.
Upon finishing this wonderful tome, a massive book with sheets of crimson gold, letters of precious stones and covers of lustrous sapphire, He passed it to his most trusted servants, Raziel and Galizor, who delivered it to Adam and told him, “from these virtues you will know all that is destined to happen and will be able to accomplish whatever you want. But,” and the great angels’ features suddenly turned severe and terrible, “be wary, for it is consuming fire to abuse them; perform every virtue as ordained and you will succeed with great purity!”
The original tome given to the First Man was lost eons ago, but lesser versions of these charms are practiced by students of the mystic art of kabala to this very day. However, even the greatest scholars rarely choose to attempt these for fear of the consuming flame of God. Even these lesser virtues are extremely powerful and must be treated with caution and purity. Any of the following is considered impure and will result in the automatic failure of the charm and inflict a curse or some other kind of divine retribution on the kabalist;

• Touching a dead humanoid
• Eating tame food
• Straying from Lawful alignment
• Practicing any form of arcane magic or psionics
• Worshipping any beings save God
• Breaking or failing to perform a commandment (there are 613 of them!)

A right proper charm. Now all we have to do is skin a deer...

1. The Virtue of Kings (DC 13)
If you wish to go before a king or a ruler and have him do as you desire and to give you everything you want, take a miter on which a baby was born, and write on it these ten names and put it in your sash, and go with it before the king, the lord, or the government and he will undoubtedly give you your desire.

The Virtue of Kings grants a 2d4 temporary enhancement bonus to Charisma, adding the usual benefits to Charisma-based skill checks and other uses of the Charisma modifier. This bonus applies only to NPCs who are wealthier or more experienced than the kabalist and only if the request is just and sincere or works for the common good. So while asking for a bag of gold to help the community would work, suggesting the baron executed the kabalist’s rival would not (and probably cost the villain his own life).

2. The Virtue of Flying (DC 11)
For the Jumping of the Path, that is, to walk the path of a year in a single day or to cover the passage of a month in one hour, write these ten names on deerskin parchment and take a cane of four cubits, as the measure of a man, and cut the cane and insert the scroll inside it, and, during prayer, put on your face a handkerchief and ride on the cane and say this: “by the ten names which are written on the scroll which is inside this cane on which I ride, lead me from this place to place so-and-so,” and you will be there.
And be careful not to remove the handkerchief from your face before you reached your destination for then you will surely fall. And after you arrived to wherever you wanted to go, fest in reverence for three days and wash and purify your body and praise the LORD, for he is great and merciful.

The Virtue of Flying enables the kabalist to fly at the speed 50 miles per hour for as long as a day (12 hours) at a time, after which he must rest and purify himself before attempting the virtue again. During flight, the kabalist is extremely vulnerable because he must keep his face covered with a handkerchief, his arm holding the cane and his tongue repeating the prayer. If he fails to do so, the cane will lose its divine powers and the kabalist will plunge to his death.

3. The Virtue of Success (DC 5)
Wash and purify, and write these holy names on the newborn baby’s miter and on a forged silver flier and bury the miter and flier under the earth when the sun doesn’t rule, and in the morning remove them and hang them on the entrance to your shop or home and you will succeed in all of your endeavors.

This useful virtue grants the kabalist a +2 luck bonus to all non-combat rolls made inside his shop or home, as long as the kabalist deals fairly with his customers and treats his family kindly. Greedy kabalists who try to bless both their home and shop, suffer a
-4 luck penalty to all rolls as long as both fliers are in their places.

There is a lot of fun stuff you can do with the Explicit Name

4. The Virtue of Invisibility (DC 13**)
Take a twig, make a small cut in it, and write on a parchment made of a fallen deer’s carcass these excellent names and put the parchment inside the twig, and place it against your heart and walk in front of any man and he won’t be able to see you. But be warned; it is not proper to write it save during the month of Tamuz*.
* mid-June to mid-July.
** Wisdom check must be re-rolled for every minute of invisibility

This useful virtue has enabled many Rabbis to escape their persecutors without committing the sin of bloodshed. This works just like invisibility but is cancelled if used for theft, peeping, assassination or any other immoral purposes. In any case, the kabalist is able to see himself and can judge whether he is visible or not only by others’ reactions.
Also, the old manuscripts say that one should not stay invisible for more than ten minutes per day else he would disappear from the world completely. So far, no one has dared to test the truth of this dire warning.

5. The Virtue of Safety (DC 15)
To pacify the sea’s rage, take a new cauldron and write on it: “I, so-and-so, implore with the ten names of the fifth virtue that the lord of the sea, Zerukhael and the lords of the four winds pacify the sea from its rage and tumult and safeguard this ship from all evil until it comes to shore and let it be unharmed.” And shatter the cauldron and throw the shards to the four winds of the sea and reach your destination safely.

This powerful virtue is usually used by travelers who must travel to faraway lands. If properly performed, it guarantees good weather throughout the passage and automatically cancels any harmful encounter such as pirate raids or monster attacks.
The Virtue of Safety doesn’t work if there are more evil than good NPCs on the ship, instead turning the voyage into a nightmare of violent storms and murderous assaults until the good-to-evil balance is restored.


6. The Virtue of Commanding (DC 15)
Take a staff of the loz or ashira tree, and write on it these fabulous names. And if, while walking down the road, you see people who are mean to you or seek to do you harm, take the staff and strike the earth with it three time, and say each time “go your way” and they will go their way, and if you wish to hold them, say “stand” and they will stop, and write these names in great purity and use them not for evil lest you be swallowed by the earth.

This virtue is designed to protect the lone traveler from brigands and thugs. It affects anyone able to see and hear the kabalist and whose attitude is hostile. The first command causes the target/s (7 humanoids maximum) to walk away in a random direction for 2d4 minutes, while the second simply causes them to stand confused in their places, unable to decide what to do or where to go. Both commands can be avoided with a successful Will save (DC 20).
Any violence towards the target immediately ends the virtue’s effect and cracks the staff, rendering it useless.

7. The Virtue of Love (DC 17)
If you wish to be loved by all people and have them follow you because of the power of their love, take the born baby’s miter or a deer parchment that was worked by a pure man, and write on it these admirable words in purity and holiness. And after you have finished that, roll the parchment into a scroll and touch with it every man or woman and immediately they will follow you.

This virtue is the most morally ambiguous and as such is the least used by honest Rabbis and the most abused by corrupt kabalists. It causes anyone who doesn’t hold a specific grudge against the kabalist to become helpful for 24 hours, after which his attitude returns to what it was before the virtue’s application. Those affected by the virtue are not aware of the fact that they are being manipulated and attribute their sudden helpfulness to genuine respect or attraction, depending on their gender.

Need more kabala rituals for your game? Find them here!


  1. Heh, you should have written at the top that what you've added of your own is a translation into RPG-speak.

  2. Cabbage-Ish is right, you should clarify it is RPG translation. And a mighty fine one! You made a barbarian wish to use magic instead of a 2 handed torture device!
    As for the Will saving throw DC 20 - wouldn't be more fair if it were say DC 15 + Kaballist Level? I'd figure it gets easier as the kaballist advances in levels...
    Using the Kaballa for D&D... If the right/wrong people read this, Rabbis all over the world will issue a "Psak Halacha" for your demise :)

    1. Good, I won't mind some free international publicity.

  3. Uri, anyway to put these charms into a traveller variant?
    Cudos to you. Lawrence Dale Warner

    1. Interesting challenge. I suppose I could try to turn them into psionic powers...