Five Years Worth of Sketches: Ritual Magic, Death Masks, and Helmets

This weekend I finally started digging into about 5 years worth of sketches and thumbnails doodled in the margins of my school notes. The majority of the sketches are for helmets, masks, and faces, but there are some symbols and ritual magic designs.


Most of the helmets on the left are meant for Redcaps, which are elves that have warped their bodies into killing machines. Their helmets usually have a grinning skull motif, like death masks. On the right are robes, designs, and a mask for a necromancer. The almond-shaped mask design is one of the oldest masks I made.


Most of the designs on the left are ritual hook designs, surrounded by symbols. I’m not sure what I’ll use them for yet. The other symbols scattered around the page are for necromancy. On the far bottom-right corner is a sketch of the god of death, Erroth.


I’ve been experimenting with creating a language of symbols for magic based on Chinese or Japanese pictograms. The two blocks in the center and left are some automatic drawing examples. On the right is a design based around the mask of the god of death.


More helmets on the left, and death masks on the right. The mace in the middle is a take on the Gae Bolga, the famous weapon of Cuchulain, the Irish hero.


These are some assorted drawings of faces, including the skull-like face of a necromantic character and the alien-like neck and head of Absurdity, which is an embodiment of chaos.


Worldbuilding: Spell Maps and a Pathfinder Puzzle

A group of New York friends have asked me to DM a short Pathfinder session for them, which means the last couple days have been spent rummaging through my notes from the last campaign I ran, which was about four years ago, back in Washington State, with about 7 people. It ended up being a fantastic experience, despite the fact that, over the course of that 8-month campaign, every character tried to kill themselves at least once out of a combination of despair and existential angst.

But this group doesn’t know that.

The Pathfinder session is going to take place in the fantasy world I’ve established in my stories, which means house-ruling a lot of the magic. It also means I end up spending hours on designing extremely complex puzzles for my players.

This particular puzzle stopped being a puzzle at about the 3-hour mark and became an Occult Triangle Lab project. It’s got everything: triangles, some research into magnetism, mathematics, and a practical application in a fantasy setting.

occult triangle lab

These are my notes for a spell map that will allow one of the mages to enchant a piece of magnetite so that it becomes a strong, permanent magnet. This is meant to be a major plot point in the upcoming session, so I wanted to take some extra time to create something more engaging, rather than just have the players roll a dice and beat a hard DC.

The rabbit hole I fell down was creating a spell map for the enchantment (If you haven’t read my post on spell maps, you can check it out here). After reading up on magnetite, which is the source of naturally occurring magnets called lodestones, I found that it naturally forms octahedrons. Rather than having players working on a 3-D puzzle, I drew out a 2-D version of an octahedron on graph paper and started seeing if I could make a sort of Sudoku puzzle:


The idea was that the spell map would be a miniature octahedron, reflecting the crystalline structure of magnetite, but the sudoku idea didn’t work out so well. Still, the diamond pattern ended up forming some interesting patterns: the octahedrons in magnetite are actually formed by thousands of smaller octahedrons, so it was cool to graph out a spell map that was made up of small versions of itself (huzzah, it’s recursive!).

But I wanted the players to feel like they’re actually learning about magic rather than just doing a stock puzzle, so I started seeing if I I could weave information about magnetite into the puzzle, such as its melting point, durability, metallic qualities, etc.


But that didn’t lend itself to puzzle solving. I took a look at the cool, nested design of the 2-D octahedron and thought maybe it would be fun for the player to use the patterns found in magnetism itself to solve the puzzle. I tried superimposing the lines of magnetic pull on the octahedron pattern:

occult triangle lab magnetism








I found out I could superimpose the patterns in a simple bar magnet on a lattice of octahedrons to create a pretty cool design that might have the material needed for a puzzle: structure, patterns, and a goal. That led to this design:


The idea would be to build a sort of “connect-the-dots” puzzle built on the patterns in both magnetism and the structure of magnetite, with the player following rules to recreate the design formed by the magnetic paths (which are like big loops radiating out from the North and South poles).

Below are some of the important graph points I isolated (along with the qualities of magnetite). At the center are the two poles, with the outer dots forming the boundaries of the magnetic patterns. These are meant to form the guidelines of the puzzle, which will require the player to do some tracing to recreate the drawing in the previous picture.



Eventually, I created a blank grid of numbers, which the player will use to reconstruct the whole design by following a set of instructions (sort of like a human computer program).









Compare the grids and sketches above to the sketches in the last post about spell maps:

occult triangle lab chris mahon worldbuilding fantasy spells

What I found was that this layout, made up of numbers arranged on a grid, ended up looking a lot like Pascal’s Triangle, which in turn forms the basis of the Sierpinski Gasket, one of my favorite fractals:

fractal triangle occult triangle lab


I don’t know if the puzzle will end up being a functional part of the upcoming session, but I thought I’d share it here on the blog. It’s a cool intersection of geology, mathematics, and fantasy, and it ended up being good practice for figuring out how a mage would go about enchanting a rock to become a compass.


Worldbuilding: Spell Maps and a Pathfinder Puzzle

Oroboro Pyramid Plans

Years ago, sleeping on a futon after a long night of reading about Sierpinski Gaskets and Pascal’s triangle, I had a dream about a pyramid. Rotating in three-dimensional space like a computer simulation, I could see that it was a pyramid made of pyramids, with letters running along the edges. It was a name I’d invented years earlier: OROBORO, a stylized version of OUROBOROS.

I was attracted to the name because it was a palindrome, and because you could place the letters around a circle to create a loop that had no beginning or end:


In my dream, each one of the letters of OROBORO were placed at the vertices of the pyramid, arranged so that when you read along the edges of the pyramid, you looped around the whole pyramid and came back to where you started, creating an infinite loop.

When I woke up, I immediately drew what I’d seen in my pocket notebook. It became one of the key images of my stories, a sort of keystone that brought together trigonometry and eternity. You’ve probably glimpsed it a few times already in my notes:

What makes this frightening and interesting, though, is that once I was awake, I couldn’t figure out how to put together the 3-D jigsaw puzzle I’d seen in my dream. Maybe it was mathematically impossible–in the dream, the number of letters and vertices on the pyramid had matched up perfectly, but I’d never run those numbers before. Ten vertices, seven letters, but repeated how many times? Even stranger than that, when I tried to write it out on paper, I couldn’t visualize the layout in three dimensions, or figure out the right arrangement of letters to create the infinite loop. Maybe it couldn’t be done, and I was just operating on the flawed memory of dream logic.

But if it was possible to arrange those letters on the pyramid to create the infinite loops, that would mean my mind was designing puzzles and patterns that I couldn’t figure out when I was awake!


Finally, I figured it out. It was possible. Each face of the pyramid could spell OROBORO, and, when read from the correct starting point, could spell it in three dimensions.


The pattern only works because the first ‘O’ in OROBORO can also function as the last ‘O’. Two full OROBOROs can fit on the pyramid, which would normally add up to 14 letters, but because of the dual-purpose ‘O’s, there are only 10 letters needed.

The amount of insane coincidences and patterns is mind-boggling. OROBORO, from Ouroboros, the worm that eats its own tail and the symbol of infinity, has just the right number of letters to fit on the pyramid in perfect loops, becoming exactly what it’s meant to represent. The fact that I was obsessed with triangles to begin with, and that a figure made of triangles could fit the name I had come up two years earlier is also bizarre. But strangest of all was that I had figured out how to fit it all together in my dreams.

So now I’m working on a new project: a real Oroboro Pyramid, made of folded black paper, wires, and white beads placed at the vertices, with each of the letters written on them. The plans are below:

IMG_1596 IMG_1598 As I start assembling the pyramid, I’ll post some pictures of the progress. It’ll bear a lot of resemblance to the ANATMAN pyramid, but will hopefully be sturdier.


You ever seen Hellraiser?