"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me." - Hunter S. ThompsonIn an old campaign world I created (the one associated with these two maps) magic was practically non-existent. The only people who had access to any type of magical powers were despotic theocrats who worshipped an alien and malevolent god. They used their powers to control and corrupt people, and generally acted like a bunch of bad guy douche-bags.
But all of this was foreseen by the ancient keepers of the occult traditions. These seers knew that one day their secrets would be needed, but they also understood that their was need of subtlety in their transmission. They decided that rather than perishable forms, such as books and scrolls, they would hide their secrets in nature. So they hid all of their knowledge in an unassuming little plant called Yarapay, there to abide until such time as those who have eyes to see should uncover these ancient mysteries.
To most people this plant was just a rare medicinal herb, with some rather fun side-effects. But to those gifted with "the sight" (people with the latent power of magic hidden within them) this plant would unlock their mind and show them undreamed of potential within.
I don't really remember all the details about how I introduced it to the campaign or how I actually used it in game terms. Basically you use it, and bang - big mind fuck weirdness - and from then on you can use magic. Pretty simple.
This drug Yarapay became the catalyst for an entire campaign. The bad guys didn't want the good guys having access to something so powerful, and the good guys wanted to "magically awaken" as many people as possible to help them fight the bad guys. If I recall, for most of the campaign the players were running from the bad guys protecting a plant. It may sound silly, but it turned into an awesome campaign that lasted nearly two years.
I figure anyone could adapt this basic idea into their campaign. It doesn't have to be a "no magic" world. It could be simply that wizards who use certain mind altering drugs get some sort of magical benefit. It's really just a great way to add a little weirdness to your wizards, and some character to your campaign world.
Here is the write up for Yarapay:
Yarapay (the three masters)
Yarapay is a rare and rather ugly plant. It grows in scrub-lands and hills of the desert regions of the world. It is short and only grows to about one foot in height at full maturity. Although it is short it has a very thick stem and its leaves are heavy and very bushy. It exudes a slightly musky odour, and its smell has been noted to repel insects. The leaves of the plant are wide, with a green base that progressively turns to a deep red at the tip of the plant. It is said that the deeper the red is at the tip of the plants leaves the more potent the variety.
Yarapay is called the three masters because there are three distinct parts of the plant that have different effects and are used for different purposes.
The leaves and stem can be crushed and dried, then smoked. It's effect being similar to a certain needlessly illegal plant we have all heard of. Smoking Yarapay is the most common method of ingestion. It is also used as a painkiller and for recreational enhancement (ie. partying).
The seeds of the plant are found in small reservoirs at the base of the leaves. They are can be crushed and used to treat fever, kill pain, and they also act as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antiviral agent. I suppose this could be the basis of a simple healing potion of some kind.
The roots are the where the weirdness is. The roots of Yarapay are toxic (Like food poisoning, but with hallucinations) if not prepared properly. To prepare them they must soak in water for at least 24 hours (leaving them longer amplifies the effect), then the roots are crushed in the water making a pulp-like substance. This is left to dry in the sun, and when the water has completely evaporated it is crushed again into a fine powder. This powder can then be ingested either by eating or smoking. Either way it's taken it fucks you up royally and gives some sort of magical abilities or insight. That's about it.
Have you ever created any strange herbs/drugs for your campaign world?