In memoriam perpetuam is, for the most part, continuous with IllFlower’s previous Magical Burst campaign, with some changes detailed below to make the world fit the Dogs in the Vineyard milieu. The short version? Imagine Madoka mashed up with Kara no Kyoukai.
Older revisions of this page contain more discussion and brainstorming from the early days of the campaign, which has been elided here for the sake of readability.
The world of magic
Our protagonists are Conservators of the Magical Order, the first line of guardians in an esoteric occult tradition that dates back to at least the Carolingian Empire and was transmitted to Japan around the time of St. Francis Xavier in the 16th century. Where most of the Order’s initiates are responsible for protecting civilians from spiritual corruption that manifests as shadowy entities called witches or demons, the Conservators serve as the Order’s internal police force, protecting the magical institution from initiates who themselves fall to moral blight. Their motto is the Latin phrase ceteris nescientibus in memoriam perpetuam, meaning “with all others unknowing, in eternal memory.” The meaning of this is twofold: “All others” refers to the non-magical, who are unlikely to ever find out what led to an initiate’s demise; and “in eternal memory” refers to the Conservators’ desire for the magical to remember the good in fallen initiates that has been lost to corruption.
The Conservators are selected and overseen by a special council of the Prophets, who sit at the Order’s highest echelons. The Prophets usually do not interact with initiates or the Conservators directly; instead, magical beings called familiars serve as their handlers. Rumor has it that familiars are artificial lifeforms created by the Prophets for this express purpose, whose lives are forfeit should they be deemed unfit to serve. In any case, familiars are responsible for scouting out new initiates, granting and revoking magical abilities, and keeping an eye on their charges’ activities.
Most initiates join the Order during their teenage years, and either retire from magic or enter the ranks of the Prophets by their mid-twenties. The vast majority of initiates, something like eighty percent, are female, and thus even those who should know better often use the term “magical girls” to refer to them. Conservators are generally somewhat older and more experienced, but their ranks are no less female-dominated. (On the other hand, most of the Prophets are male, and indeed positions at this level of the hierarchy are often passed from fathers to sons. It’s not unheard of for an initiate with no magical lineage to eventually become a Prophet, but even here male initiates are disproportionately favored; certainly, this is one of the reasons the gender imbalances persist.)
New initiates are granted a single wish concerning their non-magical lives.1) In exchange, they are bound to use their magical powers according to a fairly strict moral code. Most transgressions of this code are punished by a full or partial sealing of the offender’s magical abilities for some length of time. For ceremonial reasons, this is typically done by the familiar with responsibility for that initiate, though in extenuating circumstances any familiar may perform the needed ritual. In particularly heinous cases, especially those involving the loss of innocent lives, an initiate may be permanently excommunicated; he or she is “marked” with a spell instantly recognizable to any familiar as a warning against reinstatement. This is, in essence, equivalent to a magical death penalty, one that is handed down at most once every one or two years. There are no documented instances of blacklisted initiates having their powers restored.
As familiars have an inherently limited ability to fight recalcitrant initiates, the job of securing their custody is given to the Conservators. In turn, the Conservators are generally given wide latitude to accomplish this task as they see fit. Should they deem it necessary, they are authorized to use lethal measures to protect against immediate threats to the Order’s sanctity or the lives of civilians.
The hierarchy, TL;DR version
Here’s a loose translation of Dogs’ concept of hierarchical responsibility (“Stewardship”) to our magical world:
- Civilians are normal non-magical people; a bit like Dogs’ Mountain People, except without the general perception of being primitive, unsaved sinners, as virtually every initiate has close friends or family outside of the Order.
- Initiates protect civilians from witches and other magical malefactors, and are the equivalent of the Faithful.
- Conservators, like the Dogs, preserve the unity of the hierarchy by making sure that other initiates don’t fall to corruption.
- Familiars are Stewards with authority over initiates’ magical duties. Normal initiates’ familiars are subject to the oversight of the Conservators, who are in turn subject to the oversight of their own familiars.
- Prophets, the Order’s elders, scholars, and specialists, lie at the top of the heap. The particular details of the Prophets’ organization are too intricate to outline here, particularly because nobody’s thought too hard about that yet.
So here’s a mapping to the Stewardship charts on pp. 98–99:
- Magic overall: Civilians → Initiates → Familiars → Prophets
- Families: Not covered, except when it comes to wholly magical families
- Local officials: Generally handled by a single familiar
- Regional officials: Folded into the Prophets
- Conservators: “Normal” initiates and their familiars → Conservators → Conservators’ familiars → Prophets
- Individual initiates: Non-magical life, day-to-day tasks, obedience to hierarchy, etc. → Initiate
Running the numbers
- Guns become magic. Magical ability is rolled in with the Acuity stat, and gun fighting is replaced with magical combat. Thus, initiates can only take enough Fallout to die outright when attacked with magic, “all guns get an additional 1d4” (p. 28) becomes “intrinsically magical objects get an additional 1d4,” and so on.
- Coats become costumes. Each initiate’s costume is affected by his or her experience, whether through direct physical alterations or symbolic reflections of psychological character.
- Demons become witches. Witches are almost never major opponents taken on by direct magical conflict, unlike in Magical Burst. Instead, they make their presence known by negative effects on civilians and initiates. For example, a witch’s influence may bring someone to the brink of suicide. An initiate that manages to talk this person back from the edge will have dealt the witch a blow without having to use magic at all. Accordingly, corruption is reflected in a character’s stats as a relationship with a witch (demon) or sin.
- Elemental powers are taken as traits. For example, “I have power over water: d6,” or “I can alter gravity: 2d8.”
- Ceremony doesn’t change much. It remains, in essence, a way for initiates to use magic for fixed ritual purposes, without actually escalating to potentially lethal conflict.
For a sample character sketch, look at Amaterasu (thanks, Iverum!). She uses a Well-Rounded background and has traits related to her skills, her personality, and her magical element. Her relationships are mostly family; the die sizes let you see how important the relationships are to her, but don’t specify if they are bad or good relationships. Her belongings are mostly her costume and magical items, but she also has a personal item that could come up in some conflicts. Actual characters should probably have more belongings related to their personal lives.