I am going to be playing a GURPS Fantasy game set in Greyhawk using some of the rules from the Thaumotology book, which include Contagion:

two things that have been in close contact are magically connected thereafter, particularly if they were formerly part of the same thing.

and Sympathy:

things that look (or act) alike are alike, and can affect each other magically.

My question is, is there any canon support for either of these two magical laws existing in the Greyhawk setting? Any edition of D&D is fine.

Any examples of wizards burning hair / fingernails would provide support for the law of contagion. Any examples of poppet magic or symbolism could serve as support for the law of sympathy.

In 5e, the spell scrying demonstrates both of these principles, as a likeness or picture provides a penalty to the creatures saving throw, as does a body part or a lock of hair from the chosen creature. I didn’t remember this when I wrote the question, however, it still stands as I am mostly looking for lore examples as opposed to rules from specific editions.


3 Answers 3


Examples of contagion and sympathetic magic exist throughout the the material components of AD&D 1e spells:

  • Mending: requires two lodestones that attract one another. Two objects "sticking" to one another is what the spell does.
  • Spider climb: a spider and a bit of bitumen. This one is pretty literal.
  • Darkness 15' radius: a bit of bat fur and some pitch. This has some contagion in the bat fur, as well as sympathy in that pitch is black like darkness.
  • Fly: feather(s) from any bird; both contagion and sympathy.
  • Imprisonment: "Only works if the name and background of the victim are known".


This extends into the spells created by (or at least named for) characters from the Greyhawk setting. Consider these examples:

Drawmij's Instant Summons (PHB pg. 87) implies some magical contagion. In preparing the spell the caster must have the object to be summoned as well as the trigging gemstone at hand -- so they're brought into proximity (if not contact).

Bigby's Interposing Hand (PHB pg. 79) has a material component, a glove, where there is sympathy between the component and the magical effect.

So just in the material components used in many of the Magic User spells, including those created in/for Greyhawk, one can find a justification for incorporating both contagion and sympathy into the magic system. This is to be expected since these are very general features of the concept of magic in the western tradition (and probably also elsewhere).


The iconic example, Fireball, supports elements of Sympathy.

Since as far back as at least first edition AD&D, Fireballs have relied on a pinch of bat guano, which is about 40% nitrogen and 6% phosphate. For a while in the 19th century, humanity farmed guano to some extent for the production of gunpowder and other explosive materials.

The material component of this spell is a tiny ball composed of bat guano and sulphur. (Fireball, PHB p. 73, AD&D 1e)

Another example:

The material components of the spell are a bit of fur and an amber, crystal or glass rod. (Lghtning Bolt, PHB p. 74, AD&D 1e)

To my knowledge you don't light the guano on fire during casting, so it wouldn't be contagion, but using the stuff you use to make gunpowder for a fireball seems to qualify for the other half, to me at least.

On Contagion.

The closest examples (in 5e) I can find to contagion are Familiars and the mounts from the Find Steed/Find Greater Steed spells; these creatures are bound to you and created as a result of your magic, and thereafter you can share spells that only affect the self with them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Many if not most of the material components of spells, going back to first edition, have elements of sympathetic magic. Stinking cloud, for example, has as its material component skunk cabbage leaves or rotten eggs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 6:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think "guano" -> "fireball" follows sympathetic rules. It follows symbolic meaning ("source of fire" -> "expression of fire") for sympathy is about relation through resemblance. The classic example being the ubiquitous fantasy version of a voodoo doll where harming the doll harms the person it is modeled after. More examples are creating or burning effigies of things to attract or deter them (e.g., "good" or "evil" spirits). \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 7:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Contagion is also not really what you describe. The classical example of contagion magic is using a hair or body part to track somebody. Other manifestations might be "treasured item" (something particularly close to a person) or "something they own" (e.g., clothes). Usually in fantasy contagion is "tiered" so these produce weaker and weaker links to work with. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 7:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VLAZ Clone requires flesh from the target creature to create the clone and scrying can traditionally be enhanced by possessing something of the creature's, including its blood or hair. Would that be more in line with what you were going for? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 8:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheFallen0ne yes it would. The familiar might also fit the case. Depends on what the interpretation is for "closeness". But could also be a mystical link that doesn't rely on specifically contagion in order to be formed. The book doesn't exactly make it clear, but also doesn't deal much with the in-world laws that magic follows. IMO, it's open to interpretation of a group if they want to tap into those. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 9:07

The Orb of Golden Death

As other answers have noted, the material components of spells in first edition (for which the default setting was Greyhawk), often show sympathetic magic and sometimes contagion. However, it seems the OP is looking for something tied more specifically to the Greyhawk campaign setting itself, and those same 1st edition spells (and their more recent iterations, which often use the same material components) might be used in any campaign world.

One such example of a Greyhawk-specific item is the Orb of Golden Death, as described in the first edition adventure module The Temple of Elemental Evil, itself firmly ensconced in the Greyhawk setting. I will be quoting from the passages in the T1-4 version of this module.

The Orb was created by the demon powers Iuz and Zuggtmoy acting in concert; both of them invested some of their 'essence' in it, although Zuggtmoy contributed the larger share; "things that have been in close contact are magically connected thereafter, particularly if they were formerly part of the same thing."

As with other artifacts of great evil, one needs to beware of close contact with it because of the power of Contagion (ToEE p. 127):

Because of its nature and aura, no paladin1 will touch it willingly, nor will any Good cleric; they feel its immense innate Evil.

This caution is well-founded, for although the Orb grants great powers on any who possess it, the corrupting Contagion is also great (p. 128):

No Good ever results from the employment of the Death Orb's powers, except on a very short-term or temporary basis. Thus, if evil can result from any use of the Orb, that occurs along with whatever was actually done. For example, an elemental conjured [by the power of the Orb] to fight against some evil creatures will do so, but in such a way as to allow them to harm the conjurer's associates to a maximum extent. Also, each time the Awe Power is brought forth, the user actually loses 1 point of Charisma (but only with respect to those not Chaotic Evil)

The Orb, which was created to focus and harness the powers of Elemental Evil (evil earth, air, fire, and water), also shows the power of sympathetic magic, for it is vulnerable to those selfsame forces. In fact, the only method to destroy it is as follows (ibid):

It must then be subjected to the following effects, in quick succession and in the proper order: a wind of 50 or more mph force; the strike of a maul made from a solid piece of granite; a very hot flame (1,000 degrees F); and immersion in very cold water (32 degrees F). The procedure causes the Orb to shatter...

However, the destruction of the Orb also causes harm to the places and powers associated with it, through both sympathetic and contagion magic (ibid):

...which causes the Elemental Nodes and the Greater Temple (Dungeon Level Four, area 417) to collapse, and the dungeon levels above as well. Zuggtmoy takes 111 points of physical damage, is unable to use any powers for four days, and cannot leave her own Abyssal Plane for 40 years. luz, having less invested in the Death Orb, merely loses the services of evil elemental creatures for four years.

1In first edition, paladins are required to be Lawful Good as a class restriction.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice setting-based answer. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 15:04

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