Thread — RPGaDay #3

The thread at the heart of The Dee Sanction is the conceit that witchcraft is okay, providing you’re benefiting in some way. In reality, this is a historical fact and not something that I’ve made up.

The court of Queen Elizabeth, for example, was sufficiently in debt that the monarch encouraged alchemy, astrology and other occult practices that might bestow wealth or good fortune. Knowing the right day to do something or having the means to exercise the power of the Philosopher’s Stone to transmute base matter into precious metal was O-K.

Cursing your neighbour’s cow or spoiling the harvest was not okay; let us be quite clear about that. I mean, the fact that the cow was looking pretty ropey and you didn’t get the best weather this season has nothing to do with anything—it’s fine to drown or burn the old, warty crone.

Within the backdrop of the game, in 1563 the Queen passed an Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts. It muddied the water a bit, making the punishment for particular acts of magic more severe than others, but in many cases drawing the line before a death sentence. Most lucky witches could look forward to a long time in prison.

In 1564, the Queen passed an amendment—the Dee Sanction—that permitted the practice of magic in defence of the realm. Indeed, it supported the potential for a pardon of those thrown in prison if they worked off their sentence in service to Her Majesty. That capacity for reprieve fell within the jurisdiction of Walsingham and Doctor Dee. They controlled those fortunate malefactors as agents, bound to a covert intelligence service.

Throughout the decades that followed—despite both Dee and Walsingham’s apparent rollercoaster ride in and out of favour—this potential for absolution persists. The focus and mission might shift and change, but the goal remains; use magic for the good of the Queen, and you might earn your freedom.

Every day during August, I’ll be writing something new on The Dee Sanction and aim to connect the word prompt of the day with the development of the game. Check out the concept, the list and the graphics over at AUTOCRATIK.

Garlands of Deceit

Sir Philip Sidney, by unknown artist, given to the National Portrait Gallery

I’m having an interesting time reading about John Dee and his role as an intelligencer within the court of Queen Elizabeth, referenced in the early sections of The Essential Enochian Grimoire: An Introduction to Angel Magick from Dr. John Dee to the Golden Dawn. While I was mainly looking for more information about Dee’s exploits with Enochian lore, his mysteries don’t start with his pursuits of the supernatural. Even before Francis Walsingham stepped up to the plate as Elizabeth’s spymaster, it seems Dee may have been running secretive errands for the Queen.

For the setting of The Dee Sanction, it’s assumed very much that Dee and Walsingham are partners in their intelligence activities. One deals with the mundane, while the other handles those threats less easily quantified.

Dee provided assistance and advice to the young Elizabeth from long before her coronation; only later did his effort become, by any measure, public knowledge. In appending the Dee Sanction to the 1563 Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts, Elizabeth gave her backing to an official agency in the fight versus dark powers. Whether powers in pursuit of their own ends or in league with the likes of the Holy Cee or the King of Spain, they all come within the remit of Dee and his agents.

In reality, it’s hard to see what actually was happening. Dee did serve Elizabeth in some intelligence-based capacity; however, the available information, scattered across diaries, journals, once hidden papers and other more official sources, provides but a fragmentary view. When Dee took to his travels across Europe with Edward Kelley, actual information on the purpose of said journey remains vague.

In the face of considerable opposition, from Catholics and others, the Queen had every need to seek support, from both political allies and higher powers. The Dee Sanction follows the exploits of the player characters as agents of Dee, whether in 1570s England or deep in Eastern Europe during his travels in the 80s. Whether on the word of Dee, Kelley, Walsingham, or the Queen herself, the characters plumb the shadows for artefacts, hidden lore, and potential allies.

As if to create additional layers of uncertainty, Dee diaries contain several specific references to individuals by the name of Garland. At least four named persons have this same name and the fact they do not appear in any corroborating record suggests Dee used the term as an alias for fellow agents, couriers, or supernatural contacts. Walsingham used a variety of travellers and personalities himself, including writers, poets, diplomats, and merchants. All intelligence was good intelligence in the war against the Catholics – and undoubtedly Francis had a network scattered across Europe, gathering information, carrying messages, and spreading unrest from within.

Whether Garland was a codename isn’t clear – but, it could be. The use of Garland could be a specific code for a type of agent, or a reference Dee alone used to identify his own allies or contacts. In some references, it seems like the Garlands might be brothers – which made me think of the Koenig brothers from Agents of SHIELD TV series. However, all weight of evidence suggests that the name signifies something other than familial kinship. I certainly intend to add a Garland to the available character options for The Dee Sanction.

Delivering a garland to someone clearly involved something more than just rocking up with a pretty arrangement of flowers for someone.