Wednesday, June 1, 2011

7K - Magic of the Seven Kingdoms, Option 2

So, I did mention before that my prior post on magic was version 1. Rather typical fantasy. The second version is a bit different. The biggest difference is that it combines two genres: fantasy and superheroes. One of the big tasks to pulling off that combination is drawing a sharp distinction between magic and super powers. It should be constantly obvious to both players and characters that there is a fundamental difference, not just in execution, but in feel.

In order to really maximize that distinction, there are a few other changes that would need to be made to the setting as well. Look for those towards the end of the post.

Magic is a matter of deep ritual. It is difficult, time consuming, and mysterious. However, it is also open to any who have the intelligence and ambition to unlock its secrets. This would continue to work pretty much just like the magi described in version 1. The primary additions would be witches and prestiges.
  • Witch - The witch is the mistress of misfortune. She is able to levy terrible curses on her opponents, and potentially their families or even entire nations. This is a curse very much in the fairy tale sense. Each curse has a fairly specific effect, and a very specific escape clause. The escape clause may not be easy, but it is always possible. In fact, young witches are cautioned that the more outrageous they make the escape clause ("until you climb the highest mountain on the moon!"), the more likely it is that the universe will twist itself about to fulfill at least the literal interpretation of the clause (the sufferer will find a noble's estate named The Highest Mountain on the Moon). But, it can still be easily years or even generations before that comes to pass, and a witch's curse is no easy burden in the meantime.
  • Prestige - The prestige is different from many of the other magi, in that his magic is less about producing a specific effect. Rather, the prestige is able to take on an aura of power that allows him to produce illusions, perform numerous simple tricks, and, most importantly, influence and intimidate his audience. Do not be fooled into thinking this is the art of a simple charlatan. A skilled prestige is the ultimate courtier as well, able to change his look and even his environment to best suit his needs. As an orator, the subtle (or, on occasion, not so subtle) benefits of his magic make him exceptionally persuasive.
There are no fey-lin, nor are there any chosen. Halflings are still noted for having an affinity for magic, though their nomadic ways often make any formal study difficult. Churches often maintain schools of their own, to teach their priests at least the rudiments of the arcane arts. But, a religiously minded magi is no different from a politically or academically minded one.

The other primary source of magical working comes from the Shards. To properly understand them, a bit of a history lesson is required.

In the age of our grandfathers, some fifty years gone, the Lich Lord Acnev swept out of the heart of Is-Ka'ander to conquer the world. His armies of undead were implacable, and nearly unstoppable. Tsoi, the first neighbor of Is-Ka'ander, fell quickly. Clan chiefs and jarls were easily played against one another, toppling the northern kingdoms. Amazza and Davrakotia held out a while longer, if only because the undead do not make for good navies. The last holdout was the noble kingdom of Lhianna. It was able to fend off the advances of Acnev's Empire for several years, thanks to the armies of creatures created by the merlanes, and thanks to the Cudovny Crystal.

The Cudovny Crystal was a massive natural gemstone the size of a man. It was both a source of magical energies, and a powerful focus. Queen Arabella (having taken the throne when Iskandrian assassins murdered her husband) was able to use the Crystal to cast spells that would protect the entire nation. The wards she produced proved an impregnable barrier to the undead armies.

Naturally, the Cudovny Crystal had to be destroyed, if Acnev was to win. He sent his personal champion, Kaspar, along with a hand-picked group of warriors into the heart of Lhianna. They were discovered, but not until they had penetrated to the inner chambers of the palace. A titanic battle ensued, as the palace guard attempted to arrest the intruders. Kaspar won through to the throne room. The only defender of the Crystal was Queen Arabella herself. She proved no match for the hardened killer, and he slaughtered her without mercy. He brought his adamantine blade down on the Crystal, shattering it into thousands of pieces. But, inexplicably, those pieces, those Shards, vanished as they shattered, leaving Kaspar standing in nothing but a pile of glittering dust.

Lhianna was conquered, and crushed under the heel of cruel Imperial governors. But, they never forgot their freedom. Rebellions were a constant problem, no matter how viciously they were squashed. Then, a few years ago, something amazing began to happen. Individuals, keeping their identities scrupulously secret, began attacking Imperial forces and outposts, using abilities that had never been seen before. These heroes of the people quickly gained popularity, and legends and tall tales spread like wildfire. But, through all the hyperbole, one thing was clear. Something new was in the air.

Sages, employed by the Lich Lord, have deduced a little about these new powers. First, they are completely innate to the individuals. They cannot be learned, or bought, or stolen. Second, the abilities are extremely specific. While some individuals have clearly learned how to perform unusual tricks with their abilities, the abilities themselves do one thing and one thing only. Finally, that the powers appear to have derived from a final command from the dying Queen Arabella to the Cudovny Crystal as it was destroyed. Hence, the name that was coined for these abilities, and those who wield them: Shards.

Imperial decree has declared Shards to be illegal. They are to be arrested and shipped, preferably alive, to a special prison somewhere in Tsoi. As such, Shards must be extremely circumspect in the use of their abilities. This has been reinforced in recent months, as Shards which previously disappeared have come home, but now as brainwashed agents of the Empire, working to track down and capture their brethren.

The known types of Shards are:
  • Jumper - The jumper is certainly the Shard most likely to avoid capture. This is because they can teleport to a distant location as easily as you or I move across the room. However, they cannot simply teleport anywhere. They need to have an excellent picture of their destination in their mind. The simplest way to do this is to teleport to a location they can already see. They can also hold a limited number of "acquired" sites in their memory. These are sites that they have memorized well enough to visualize near-perfectly. Note that a significant change to a site, such as adding or removing a large piece of furniture, can mean that it no longer matches the visualisation, and the jump will fail. In addition to these acquired sites, every jumper has a "home" site, a place in which they feel safe and comfortable. For most jumpers, it is the actual home where they grew up. The jumper can always return to his home site, no matter how much it changes (even if the building should burn to the ground and a different building be built on the same ground). A jumper, when panicked, will tend to jump home by reflex. The jumper is able to move with whatever he is carrying (it must be clear of the ground, not merely dragged). This generally allows him to carry along one other person, or a pretty decent amount of equipment. However, it also means that if the jumper is bound to an object larger than he can lift, he cannot jump away. However, jumping creates an odd slippery effect around the jumper, so he may be able to wriggle free of a person holding him or a loosely tied rope.
  • Mover - "Mover" is just a simpler name for a telekinetic. They can move objects with their minds. Some are very strong, able to lift very heavy objects or swing objects very hard. Some have exceptionally fine control, able to perform such feats as embroidery or lockpicking. More experienced movers learn to control more objects at a time. Other than the simple constraints of strength and control, telekinetics are also constrained in that, in most situations, they must be able to see the object they are affecting. It is also important to note that movers have to move something. Invisible punches and forcefields are not their forte.
  • Shifter - The shifter is able to change into a limited number of other shapes. Each shape requires practice before it can be maintained, so most shifters only have a handful that they use. With additional practice comes additional mastery, ranging from accessing special abilities (such as flight) to changing shape faster (it usually takes about a minute to change). Also, certain difficult shapes may take additional mastery before they can be used. Some examples are merlane creations with supernatural abilities (e.g., medusae) and creatures that are smaller than a large dog or bigger than a horse. It is also important to note, especially for those who may be hunting a shifter, that their features tend to remain the same from shape to shape, within the normal range of that shape. A large, heavy shifter will turn into a large, heavy falcon. A blond shifter will turn into a light-haired dog. With yet more practice, a shifter can learn to master a second form with different qualities, allowing them to hide more effectively. (Rumors persist of shifters who even learn multiple human forms!)
  • Paragon - The paragon is, quite simply, the pinnacle of human achievement. They are just like you and me, except better. They are smarter, faster, stronger, healthier, more perceptive, and, just to rub it in, better looking. However, for all that, they have no dramatic "power." They cannot fly, cannot move things with their minds, cannot withstand terrible amounts of damage. They just do normal human things. Better. (For inspiration, think of Batman, Ozymandius from Watchmen, Doc Savage, or Chiun, the master of Sinanju.)
  • Blaster - The blaster can, quite simply, throw blasts of elemental energy. Each blaster is attuned to a specific element. While blasters are rarely subtle, and frequently find it difficult to bring their abilities to bear in any way other than pure destruction, certain skilled users are capable of greater finesse. A Fire blaster can focus to ignite a single candle. A Force blaster can create short-lived barriers. An Ice blaster can make the floor slippery. An Air blaster can generate a gentle breeze, possibly driving away noxious gases or refreshing a close room.
  • Immortal - The immortal does not age, is immune to most poisons and diseases, and rapidly heals from nearly all wounds. In short, she cannot die. Mostly. Every immortal has one particular weakness. Common weaknesses include being beheaded, being pierced through the heart, and immolation. If the immortal is struck down by her particular weakness, she will die. Otherwise, no matter how much damage she may take, she will eventually recover.
  • Brick - This Shard is super strong and nigh invulnerable. There is little else to say, as there is little subtlety to the power.
  • Flier -The flier can fly. Without wings, or any apparent support, he soars among the clouds. This shard requires a lot of consideration to use well, as it is not a powerhouse. But, there are few Shards that inspire quite as much envy.
  • Listener - One half of the ever-popular telepath package, the listener is able to "hear" surface thoughts of those around him. It does require concentration, so these Shards do not have to worry about being driven mad by a constant onslaught of idle musings. And, it is possible for someone aware of the presence of a listener to stifle his thoughts, concealing them. Strong listeners are also able to "call" to others who have specifically opened their minds, speaking directly to them telepathically. It is even possible to carry on a stilted conversation in this manner, though it is very draining for the Shard.
  • Pusher - The other half of the telepath, the pusher is able to force others to do his bidding. This is not easy, and requires constant reinforcement. The pusher is only able to give his target a single, clear imperative command per "push." The target will hear the pusher's voice in her head, even if she resists the command. As such, most pushers choose to focus their efforts on the notoriously weak-minded.
  • Acrobat - What the brick is to strength, the acrobat is to grace. It is not only agility that this Shard has power over, but speed as well. Those who master this power can move faster than an arrow in flight, or even faster than the eye can follow. The Shard does not grant any particular endurance, however, so the speed is only good for very short bursts.
  • Shadow - This Shard has the ability to move hide from sight. With additional mastery, he can even hide from touch, gaining the ability to slide through the infinitesimal gaps in solid objects themselves.
Mechanics, obviously, will shift from system to system. However, one note I do want to make is that these powers are supposed to "at will" or "always on." At most, there is some cost for special tricks. That is the one of the major things that will distinguish Shards from magi.

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