One of the things that made Planescape work, flavor-wise, was the cant. The designers had incorporated the rhyming slang of 19th century old world thievery and made it a part of the way NPCs spoke.
Our friend and kobold rival Wolfgang Baur did something similar in The Book of Roguish Luck, a sourcebook he designed for Malhavoc Press back in 2005. As part of the creation of a new class, the gutter mage, an impromptu street-educated magic user, he gave new names to the standard spells on the class list.
This gutter mage argot added great flavor for any player character who used it. The cantrip bouncing fall became bounce the baby,Â ray of enfeeblement became palsy and shake,Â charming lie became trust me, boys, and my all-time favorite, treasure magnet (greater), became into the bag, dammit!
Now, this being the Halloween season and all, and me being on a witch kick after reading Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” I thought of doing something similar for potions.
Any witch worth her salt, after all, is going to have her own monikers for the brews she cooks up in her cauldron.
I mean, you can bet those miniature Dutch fellows that shared their keg with Rip Van Winkle had a special name for the draft that knocked him 20 years sideways, even if Irving didn’t record it.
So, here’s my take on potions (and other edible items), oils, salves (and sympathetic magics) and inhalants that fantasy witches of my homebrew village of Crossroads Hollow might concoct, which you can use to substitute for common potions.
The lists are by the witch item name, followed by theÂ common spell name, and finallyÂ descriptor.
A Bitter Pill (stinking cloud)
A Good Sight Smarter (fox’s cunning)
Eyedrops of dew and pixie dust.
Braid the Snake (animate rope)
Small crafted thread wrapped about a cord or rope.
Buck UpÂ (virtue)
Suck on a lozenge.
Ceiling Cling (spider climb)
Powder rubbed into the palms and pads of the bare feet and hands.
Celery StalkÂ (hide from animals)
Hearty chew on a thickly green celery stalk.
Cheat the ReaperÂ (stabilize)
Oil poured into the ear canal.
Clear Fizzy (invisibility)
Draught of a sparkling soda.
Creamy Goodness (eagle’s splendor)
Additive to cow’s or goat’s milk.
Day Old BreadÂ (purify food and drink)
Spritz or droplets applied to stale, spoiled or soured food and drink.
Devil’s Guiding Hand (guidance)
Draught of fiery distilled liquor.
Down the Rabbit Hole (reduce person)
A taste of sweet nectar from a thimble.
Dutch Oven Pie (remove blindness/deafness)
Sample this sweet dessert.
Eve’s Apple (sleep)
A bite of prepared fruit that looks irresistibly delicious, such as an apple, peach or pear.
Fat Franny’s Fish Food (water breathing)
Flakes of gag-inducing texture that creates gills.
Grandma’s Tarts (goodberry)
Ingest small fruit cakes.
Granny’s Give a Damn (remove curse)
Foul-tasting porridge (may require check to keep it down).
Granny’s Mushroom Surprise (remove disease)
Eat creamy soup made from mushrooms picked under a quarter moon.
Heart of a Lion (heroism)
Chomp down and crack open a red, round hard candy.
High Hopes Honey Cake. (good hope)
Tasty sweet baked at midnight.
Jackrabbit Rum Punch (darkvision)
Gulp down rum and carrot juice concoction.
Jumpin’ BeanÂ (jump)
Eat a small bean.
Katerina’s Kitchen Knife (keen edge)
Oil applied to a bladed weapon.
Kitty’s Nip (cat’s grace)
Just a nip of this distilled liquor.
Leave Nothing Behind (pass without a trace)
Salve or powder rubbed on feet.
Lilly’s Stogie (water walk)
Smoke a cigar wrapped with lily pad leaf.
Lost in the Fog (gaseous form)
Additive to pipe tobacco whose smoke produces a cloud of vapor.
Maenad’s Curse (rage)
Down a cup of stout wine fermented with a strand of satyr fur.
Mighty Oak’s Varnish (shillelagh)
Rag doused with a polish rubbed onto a cudgel or wood club.
Mornin’ Joe (longstrider)
Eat a candy coated roasted coffee bean.
Ne’er Mind the Weather (endure elements)
Scented oil (or sometimes, a thick grease) applied liberally on the body.
Puff o’ Smoke (blur)
Quick drag on a cigarillo obscures character’s outline.
Quicklime Sally (protection from …)
One of a variety of powdered or crumpled chalk tossed at the feet of the caster that instantly imparts a protection spell. Among the forms:
- Fingernails on the blackboard (… energy, sonic). Blackboard chalk.
- Tummy ache (… energy, acid). Crushed antacid tablets of calcium carbonate
- Tailor’s stripe (… energy, cold). Talc used to mark fabric for tailoring.
- Fireproofing (… energy, fire). Slaked lime for building mortar.
- Spark begone (… energy, electricity). Builder’s putty.
- Off the mark (… arrows). Chalk used to absorb perspiration and increase grip.
Raised by the Roost (owl’s wisdom)
Sampling of a prepared sap from a tree that serves as an owl’s nest.
Reap the Whirlwind (haste)
Quaff a tea steeped with ginger, autumn leaf and stirred with haystraw.
Sculptor’s Friend (stone shape)
Grey-green putty applied to stone.
Shoe Leather JerkyÂ (magic fang, greater)
Gnaw on tasteless jerky increases natural armor.
Stranger’s Sour Balls (tongues)
Suck on whiskey sour candies.
Tinker’s Lubricant (magic vestment)
Oil applied to the joints of armor or clothing.
Too Big Fer Yer Britches (enlarge person)
A gulp of bitter brew from an oversized jug.
Toothpick tea (barkskin)
Drain a canteen of tea steeped with wood bark.
Under the New Moon (darkness)
Place this circular wafer on your tongue.
Up Draft (fly)
Swig of a light pilsner ale brewed on a windy day.
Upsy Daisy (levitate)
Spoonful of light syrup.
Up to Snuff (remove fear)
Inhale a snuff concoction.
Voodoo Stroll (hide from undead)
Inhale a bitter incense smoke.
Whipped into Shape (aid)
Ingesting a black licorice whip.
Witch’s Cake (delay poison)
Eat a foul-tasting cake.
Witch’s Cookie (neutralize poison)
Eat a foul-tasting cookie.
That’s some mighty fine hoodoo.
“Fart-inducing Pill” is among the best descriptions of a magical item I’ve read in a while.
Yep, pop one of these and go stand in the center of the melee, then let er rip …
Ya know, the more I think about this list the more I like it!
If I ever run a Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I will definitely being using it. Hell, if I ever run any version of DnD again, it may just make an appearance.
Overall the item nomenclature in interesting, but… the cant used in Planescape, Berk? I absolutely detested the cant in Planescape – it turned me off completely on the setting. I really couldn’t take the monster guides seriously because of the cant used.
Well that’s some barmy chant yer slingin’ there, addlecove. Need to get ya a well-heeled tout to help ya tumble to the truth of it… afore ya rattle yer bonebox any more.
Really, though? I found the cant to be awesome/intriguing right away. It appears some people have different opinions than me… I’d better attack them with many personal insults. I mean this is the internet, right. ;p
Planescape is an amazing setting, it’s unfortunate the lingo soured you to it. Especially since you can’t get much out of it without running into the cant. (IIRC the Planewalker’s Handbook had less of it, should you wish to look into the setting.)
Language is important and great for immersion but can also accidentally create barriers. I once had an NPC Minotaur that I wanted to be really menacing. I thought a name that sounding like something breaking would be great for him: Carakus (kah-rak-uhs). When my wife just kept giggling and saying “crack-ass” over and over again, it sort of sucked the drama out the room.
And personally, I know when I see a bunch of hyphens or too many syllables in a fantasy name, it sours me to the story or game almost instantly. So ya, opinions.
I purchased several of the Planescape monster guides just to get access to some Elemental monster love – I can always use more monsters. And I use language for immersion on home-brew and even published products. There’s a lot more Japanese terminology, vocabulary and proper names in my Kaidan setting of Japanese horror (PFRPG) than most published Asian settings, but I offer single words, not grammer and sentence structure. Still that first line in your last post almost made me cringe from the memory of that kind of content in the Planescape books.
When using any argot in your game, I think it’s important that it be done at a level that a player is comfortable with. It’s OK if an NPC uses a specialize language or dialect — just be sure that — as an issue of fairness — the GM “translates” those usages.
For PCs, argot should be according to the player’s own taste. If a player didn’t want to use cant in a Planescape game, that should be fine. To each his own. Such a thing should never be forced on a player.
But as a GM, should a player decide to talk in a character’s voice that way, I would see that as an attempt at immersion and roleplaying and try to reward such behavior — so long as it doesn’t become a distraction or lead to a situation of a spotlight hog. But I think making the effort is worthwhile.