Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planes
‘I still remember the first time my son showed his powers. Akmenos was only a boy. No older’n ten. We was out in the woods berry pickin’, him with that bloody lute as always. He was pluckin’ away the whole walk back, that must’ve been what attracted them. Out of nowhere they jumped us, a gaggle o’ goblin types. Before I knew it I was on me ass with one stood right over me, big rusty knife in both hands ready to plunge down, and suddenly I hears my kid screaming… but not with fear. Not for help. He was – cross me heart, I promise – he was cursin’ the goblin out! “You miserable old goat, I’ve used bigger knives to cut my bread” he screams! Were I not so scared I’d have been laughin’ my head off, but then the oddest thing happened. The thing recoils in front of me – eyes squinted up, shaking his head, stumbling about – and he misses! There I am, sprawled out an ‘elpless, but a swing and a miss! Anyway, soon as that happened, little Akmenos was off. Layin’ into all of the things, he was. Going on ‘bout her nose and his hair, that their mother’s were ‘amsters and their father’s smelt of elderberries… I couldn’t believe the effect it was havin’! Arrers flyin’ into the air, knives swingin’ uselessly over each other’s heads, spears droppin’ to the floor, and all the while they were backin’ off, lookin’ like they’d seen a ghost.’ – Father of Akmenos the Repentant, bard of the Great Sands, recalling his first exposure to his son’s magic.
For many bards, Vicious Mockery is the first way they will learn to hone their magic into a physical manifestation. A bard’s magic is drawn from their creative flair, and no spell is a more direct funneling of their charisma than this. It needs no special ashes or animal parts, it needs no intricate handwaving or specific incantation, it doesn’t even need the same words to be spoken every time. It simply requires focus, originality, and music… three things that every bard should have in spades.
This means that tracing the origin of the spell is an almost impossible feat. Legend has it that in millennia past, Words were imbued with a magical power that swept the land like a plague. A choice phrase that gathered steam would snowball until it became contagious as a virus, and what started as a light jibe would leave a whole town reeling; a clever joke would cause crippling hysteria; a charming Casanova would risk wooing the whole room. Along came a mischievious sorcerer who promised to siphon the unrestricted magic out of the air for a hefty fee and lock it away in a safe place. Instead, as he worked he merely constrained specific magics to specific words, movements and tokens which he could sell knowledge of to aspiring magicians, birthing the Enchantment school of magic. His personal favourite form of Enchantment, however, he saved just for himself, binding the ability to sway others through childish mockery to his bloodline. So the legend goes, the mysterious sorcerer is long gone, but the ability to cast Vicious Mockery lives on through distant traces of his bloodline.
Outside of colourful myths, historians have long been trying to find the oldest recorded use of Vicious Mockery. In the Dawn Age, the Sarrukh tribal leader Ssentiss was known to rule with an iron fist through his words rather than violence. It is written he was more humorous and teasing than aggressive, and yet those he would single out would be dazed and recoil at his words. Historians disagree on whether or not this is enough evidence to confirm use of Vicious Mockery, but were this to be accurate then it would predate the next known use of the spell by hundreds of years.
Moreso than almost any other spell, each casting of Vicious Mockery is utterly unique, only serving to prove how much this spell is defined by it’s caster’s personality. Not only is the incantation different from caster to caster, but it’s different from target to target and even from one instance to another. In fact, the more personalized and creative the incantation, the more effective the spell. The legendary bard Soveliss Underrda was famed for his intricate, detailed renditions more reminiscent of a roast than a spell, which could take up to a minute to cast and would leave it’s target reeling with vertigo. There were many reports of particularly weak-willed people having collapsed from the experience.
The subtlety of Vicious Mockery leads to a wide range of uses for the ethically challenged. To an onlooker, it’s hard to distinguish between a barbed comment throwing someone off their game and a magic spell distorting someone’s perception and leaving real, psychic damage. As such, civilized society bans the use of Vicious Mockery in many circumstances, but it’s difficult to enforce. Sporting events, court proceedings, election debates, hunting expeditions, bar fights, business negotiations and a variety of other activities can be easily corrupted when competitive banter turns into subtle magical manipulation. Many successful figures have drawn criticism for flirting with this line – most prominently, controversial gambler Grubb Nackle is well-known for taunting his opponents during high-stakes games. Many have levelled accusations of magical interference, but none have yet been able to prove wrong-doing.
While it can be a useful trick to hold up your sleeve, anyone willing to use such magic to gain an edge should do so with caution. The momentary advantage it infers can come at the cost of enraging your opponent – not to mention that the strong-willed are more than capable of resisting it’s effects. Nothing makes a silver-tongued devil look more foolish than a failed attempt at Vicious Mockery.