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Basic Information

A magical charm (which is, ironically, very rarely to do with charm magic) is a form of single use magic item designed to store the effect of a working until it is required … at which point the user activates the charm and releases it. A charm may be activated by being broken, burned, eaten or otherwise destroyed or may require a conscious act of will or some kind of short ritual to trigger it. Self activating charms may also be created - often for service as amulets. As a result, size, appearance and materials of construction will vary a lot - the law of sympathy would tend to prefer the charm to have a correspondence to its effect, but this is not strictly necessary and materials may include things with inherent correspondence (a mummified cockroach for an armour spell, drops of blood for healing, a rats tail for something that boosts stealth and deceit1), but again this can probably be easily circumvented2. As noted, use will generally destroy or at least denature the charm (if it is not destroyed by activation it may rot, crumble, darken or otherwise degrade with use … the progress of decay may give you an indication of the remaining duration for a non-instant effect) … a few charms may survive intact but still need recharging with another working before they will serve again3.

Depending on setting, potions and magic scrolls might be considered charms, otherwise a charm will typically be designed to do something that takes time and effort to do with magic but may be required at short notice - and they generally need to work on or through the user, although charms that can be used offensively probably have some role as well. A charm may also double as a humbug - in the case of a literal humbug, for example, eating the thing both triggers the stored working and consents to its effect.

Presumably, given shamanic magic or other magical effects from external sources, a charm might actually consist of a chit or marker signifying an agreement to assist the bearer - in which case using the charm simply means calling in the promise of assistance. This may mean that the charm itself has little or no magical footprint… although even a technically non-magical object may have charm like uses if it creates a link between the bearer and a worker who can thus extend their powers over them.

There is also the possibility of, for want of a better term "hostile charms" - objects given to someone for a negative effect - the humbug probably belongs in this category, but there are other traditions of covertly planting an object on someone (or even better, tricking them into accepting it) in order to bring some form of maleficium down on them.


  • Casting the Runes by M. R. James gives a splendid example of the means - and pitfalls - of using a cursing charm on an enemy.
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Great single use magical treasures to stack up for PCs to use and probably the nearest thing to retail magic in many campaigns.
  • A likely form of magical assistance for an ally to provide - rather than follow you down the dungeon, he provides you with a selection of charms.
  • Great for flavour as well - whether the magic sweets from the confectioner-wizard up town or the mummified insects from the goblin trader at the bazaar …and the delights of not being able to freely chose the one over the other (for reasons of availability, cost or legality) …
    • Other choices for charms might include knots, woven or knitted designs, complex magical diagrams drawn onto a sheet of paper, inscribed sticks, pieces of scrimshaw, origami figures, cheap glass or plastic tchotchkes… anything relatively easily unmade. Again, the exact form will probably depend on who is making it… quite possible a lot more that the magic it contains (although the Law of sympathy should not be ignored).
  • In high fantasy, this stuff can be quite impressive looking. Bottles of lightning, glowing fireball beads, a self-building house with a smoking chimney…
    • It may even take more skill to make charms that aren't obviously magical.
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