OSR: Class:The Root Doctor

Dr. Buzzard as imagined by Monsieur le Battlier
Root Doctor, Conjure Doctor, Two Head Man, Hoodoo Doctor. These are the practical practitioners of the magical world. Through observation and tradition, they find what works and they use it. Generally speaking they don’t particularly care why it works, they just know that it does. The Root Doctors of my home area pull from West African, Native American, Central European, and Levant traditions, but you can bring together a grab bag of any sort and it would work just fine.

Also, I won’t lie, Skerples’ Weather Witch does a very good job as a Root Worker

Class: Root Doctor
Starting Equipment: Purple tinged spectacles, fine linen clothing, dagger
Starting Skill: Herbalism
For every Root Doctor template, gain +1 on saves versus Fear and +1 on any reaction rolls when lying.
A: Root Casting, Mantle,+2 Spells, +1 RD
B: Chewing the Root,+1 Spell, +1 RD
C: Bury the Root,+1 Spell, +1 RD
D: Mojo Hand, Two-Headed Conjurer, +1 RD

Low John Root, looks like poop, tastes like ginger, and the best lawyer money can buy.

Root Casting: Unlike a Wizard, you do not cast magic by caging spells into books or shooting them out of your brain. Unlike a Sorcerer, you do not cast magic through the sheer force of your will, though you are likely a force of personality on your own. Your magic comes from the lingering magic that infuses every part of the world. You know how to combine seemingly innocuous objects in just the right way to cause them to express their magic. You gain +1 Root Die per Template representing materials on hand to cast your spells. Because Root spells are tied up in materials, RD used do not return to your pool but they also do not cause Mishaps or Dooms to occur. When exploring a hex or foraging, you have a 1-in-6 chance of gathering enough materials to replenish RD equal to 1d[# of Templates]. Base RD return after a long rest, in the form of incidental finds in pockets and packs.

Several Root Spells can be reversed, or Buried. Knowing the spell means you know the buried version as well.

Mantle: The Mantle of a Root Doctor is the ultimate source of their power, it the secret knowledge of the workings of the Root. It is either inherited from a parent or teacher or it is gifted to them by some spiritual source. For your player character, roll on the table below to see your new title and the power behind it.

Roll twice for spells, choose.
Roll twice for reaction rolls, take better.
Keen Vision, 2-in-6 Chance of noticing secret doors and traps.
Instantly appraise the worth of anything shiny.
+2 Defense, -1 Movement
+2 Attack on first attack
Immune to effects of rotten food, +4 save against Disease
1/week when reduced below 0 HP, instead remain at 1 HP and, as long as you do not move, appear as dead.
Secrete 1 dose of Bufotoxin daily, grants either 1: Pleasant buzz +1 to saves for 1 hour, or 2: Heart Palpitations  -2 to Defense for 1 hour
+1 Root Die

Chewing the Root: By literally chewing on the material components for Root spells, the Root Doctor is able to affect all within their sight with their power. The Root Doctor may either add or subtract the number of Root Die invested, to all rolls within their sight. Furthermore while Chewing the Root, the Root Doctor may take no other action. If taking any other action but spitting the Root out (thereby ending the effect) the Root Doctor must save vs. Poison, failure ending the effect and causing them to swallow the components and be affected by a supernatural mutation.
Bury the Root: By burying the components of a Root spell, the caster may set something of a magical trap. The spell and RD invested will be set to activate under conditions laid out by the Root Doctor. These conditions must be under seven words long or it fails. As long as the Root is buried and inactivated, the Root Doctor will not naturally regain those invested RD and can only obtain RD via foraging. A Root Doctor can deactivate their own buried Root or invest RD to create a counter charm to deactivate or weaken another’s buried root.

Mojo Hand: By wrapping up the components of a Root spell in a specially prepared bag, the Root Doctor may pass on the spell to another person for later casting. The Root Doctor my either invest their base RD or the RD obtained via foraging, but cannot invest more than 2 RD in a single Mojo Hand. Base RD invested do not regenerate as long as the Mojo Hand is active and/or uncast. Mojo Hands naturally degrade and lose potency after [dice] weeks. Mojo Hand function as scrolls but their RD is always burned and additional RD cannot be invested after the fact.

Two-Headed Conjuror: A Root Doctor of this caliber has their head both in the spirit world and the mortal world. Choose: Learn 6 additional spells or become a Boo-Hag, gaining their Flight, Incorporeality, Steal Breath, and Claw abilities but also gaining their weaknesses to counting, boodaddies, salt, and the color blue.

Minerva, widow of Doctor Buzzard,
is known to some for her role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil


1. High John The Conqueror
R: Touch T: creature D: [dice] hours or until used
A literal root spell, this creates a temporary talisman from a type of jalap root called John the Conqueror Root. The bearer of this root is enchanted to “get lucky.” This will allow the user to have a +2 bonus to any seduction relate rolls and will ensure conception after any sexual congress. The user can alternatively use up all the luck at once and add [Sum] to any roll where luck or gambling is the primary determining factor of the roll.

Buried: A Buried High John The Conqueror can have an inverse effect, causing sterilization and bad luck instead.

2. Hotfoot Powder
R: 5x[sum] feet radius T: Area D: [Dice] Hours
A temporary protection against those who would do you harm, Hotfoot Powder is spread in an approximate circle around an area and creates an impenetrable ward against disembodied undead. When cast, the caster can also identify a single unique being of 2x[dice] HD to be similarly warded against. If the caster, or whomever spreads the Hotfoot Powder, steps over the circle, the magic is nullified.

3. Honey Jar
R:[dice] Miles T: Creature Type D: [sum] Hours or until candle is extinguished, whichever is first
By adding honey (or anything else sticky and sweet) to a prepared candle, the Root Doctor creates a psychic lure for a type of creature chosen at the candle’s creation. All creatures within the affected area that meet the Root Doctor’s specifications must save vs. magic or feel a strong pull towards the candle. Creatures of [dice] HD or lower are helplessly drawn, dropping everything to move to the area around the candle. More powerful creatures will still feel the draw, but will not be compelled to answer it. If the Root Doctor knows the true name of a target, they may focus the Honey Jar only on that target  and affect [dice]*2 HD.

Buried: By using a vinegar or something else bitter and sour, the Root Doctor can cause this effect to create a sense of disgust instead of attraction. Although not warded like Hotfoot Powder, creatures instinctively avoid the area and can only be forced in. More powerful creatures similarly feel intense disgust but can overcome that feeling to approach.

4. Butting (or Flipping)
R: Touch T: 1 Creature D: [sum] turns  or until candle is extinguished, whichever is first
By taking a specially prepared candle, flipping it upside down, digging out the wick, and lighting it, a Root Doctor may inverse a curse or negative effect for as long as the candle remains lit and the target creature carries the candle. The candle must be invested with more RD than either the MD(SD, RD, whatever) invested into the curse effect or equal at least half the HD of the creature the curse effect originated from.

5. Live Things
R: 200′ T: 1 Creature with flesh D: 0 to [sum] rounds
Target takes [sum]+[dice] damage either instantly or divided out over [sum] rounds as insects, small snakes, spiders, and other small crawling creatures force their way out through the target’s skin. If the target does [dice]d4 damage to itself with a slashing weapon or is affected with a counter curse type ability, this spell will end prematurely.

Artist Andy Tate as Doctor Buzzard
6. Jitter Heart Powder
R:30′ T: Cone D: [dice] Rounds
A powder made of finely crushed reagents (arsenic being a major component), Jitter Heart causes severe heart palpitations in those affected by it. It can be tossed over an area and function as an inhalant. Targets with HD less than 1/2 [sum] must save vs. Poison or half their Movement and Defense for [dice] rounds and take 1d6+[dice] damage. If a single [sum] HD or less target should be affected by the whole spell (such as it being mixed into a drink or be blown directly up their nose) the target must save vs. Death or instantly perish, still taking [sum] damage and halving their Movement and Defense on a successful save.

Buried: A reversed Jitter Heart Powder can be used to shock a target unconscious due to injuries back into fighting form for a short time. When used on a creature with Fatal Wounds, it temporarily heals [sum]/2 Fatal Wounds and brings the creature back to [dice] HP. However after [sum] rounds, the target must Save vs. Con. A successful save brings them back to 0 HP and the amount of Fatal Injuries the target previous had. A failed save doubles their initial number of Fatal Injuries and calls for another roll on the Death and Dismemberment table.

7. Black Cat Vanishing Bone
R: 0 T: Self or 1 Creature D: [sum] rounds or until dispelled
As Invisibility, except you must keep the properly prepared bone of a black cat in your mouth the duration of the spell and are therefore unable to speak coherently.

Buried: If ground instead into a powder and thrown at an invisible target, the target is made visible for [sum] rounds.

8. Poison Drawing Coin
R: T: Creature or Object D: 0
By taking a silver coin with a hole pierced through the middle, one may detect and draw out poison. Placing the coin against the foot of a target or onto a suspicious object (such as a liquid) will cause the coin to tarnish and go black if the target is poisoned. 1 [dice] allows the caster to detect poison, 2 or more [dice] allows them to attempt to draw it out. In roll over mechanics, use the invested to make the save the poison requires. In roll under mechanics start with 4d6 and subtract a d6 for every [dice] invested over 1 to a minimum of 1d6. The poison will pour through the hole in the coin and can possibly be collected for use.

Buried: If a whole coin is used instead of a pierced coin, the target instead has any check against poison penalized by [dice] for [sum] hours.

9. Jack-Ball
R: 0 or [dice]x[sum] feet T: [dice] Questions or 1 type of material D: 1 round per question or for [sum] rounds
The Jack-Ball is a small pendulum usually made out of yarn or cloth, with the ball end full of special herbs. The herbs attract a spirit (called a Jack) to inhabit the ball and it will give simple answers to questions or act as a dowsing pendulum.

As a device for divination, it will give “Yes, No, and Unsure” answers to [dice] questions, but the spirit is not omnipotent and is only knowledgeable about the general area that the Jack-Ball was created in. The ball will sway to the left for No, to the right for Yes, and turn in a circle for Unsure.

As a dowsing device, the Jack-Ball is presented with a sample of a material that the user wants to find. If there is more of that material within range, the Jack-Ball will point towards it for the duration of the spell. It will only point towards the largest amount of the material so, for example, if it is presented with iron it is going to point at the huge iron door in range, not the hidden scythe trap in the wall.

10. Two Headed (Wo)Man
R: 0 T: Self D: [dice] x 10 minutes/Permanent
As Wizard Vision, except it can only be cast on oneself via application of prepared eyedrops. The caster can also mitigate the Permanent aspects of the spell by wearing purple tinted spectacles.

Buried: Reversing this spell instead causes the caster to be completely blind to the supernatural and eldritch for [dice]x10 minutes, thereby making them immune to appearance related or gaze abilities from monsters but also rendering those creatures invisible to the caster.

A selection of Anointing Oils used to empower mojo hands and conjure candles.

Chewing the Root is something that used to happen a lot in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Usually defendants in court cases would hire a Root Doctor to Chew the Root (specifically a root called Chewing John) and it would hex the judge and jury into being confused, flustered, and unable to make good decisions.

Burying the Root is a common practice used as a deterrent or as a curse. By burying the Root on someone’s property, they are constantly under the influence or the threat of that root’s malintent. I’ve personally seen cases where individuals were unwilling to go home for fear that someone has buried a Root on their property.

High John the Conqueror is one of many similarly named roots that are often multipurpose.  High John is usually used luck, Low John is used for sex, and Chewing John or Little John is used for influencing decisions, mostly for influencing courts as said above.

Poison Drawing Coin is one of the many methods that a silver dime can be employed, usually as a protective charm. Silver dimes minted during a leap year work best, so Mercury Dimes tend to be the preferred coinage for rootworkers.

Jitter Heart Powder actually comes from an instance in my home county. There was an overwhelming number of people not passing the medical tests during the Korean War draft in the area and Sheriff McTeer, the White Root Doctor mentioned in the previous hoodoo post, went to investigate. It was found that one of the local root doctors had been proscribing a powder to folks as a means of making their heart have temporary palpitations and help them dodge the draft. It also caused several people to get seriously sick because a major component in the powder was arsenic.

Generally speaking with a lot of these spells, the root Doctor would “dress” the components of the spell by anointing them with oils and go through a series of magical incantations. The interesting thing about the incantations though is that all Root Workers recognize that it is less about what is said and more about how it is said. It is about cadence and letting it flow from you in an impromptu way. For a lot of Root Workers who are often also Baptists or Methodists, their incantations sound a lot like a a particularly energetic and fiery minister’s sermon. Many of these Root Workers see the bible as a source of magic and Moses as the penultimate “Conjure Man.” Other Root Workers, however, come from different traditions, but still use many related items. 

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