Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Magic in the Seven Kingdoms - Version One

I have been toying with a couple different options for implementing in the Seven Kingdoms campaign setting I've been working on. This is version one. It is closer to a standard load-out for fantasy magic, being reminiscent of both 3e D&D and Rolemaster. However, there are some, well, tweaks, to help it feel closer to a good cinematic magic system.

The Basics

First, there are three types of casters: magi, fey-lin, and chosen. However, there is only one kind of magic. Magic is the distilled essence of life, thought, and emotion. It is psychic energy, channeled and re-formed into any number of effects. Every living thing generates tiny amounts of magical energy with every thought, and every action. This energy becomes imprinted on the landscape, eventually pooling and coalescing into a usable form. Much like wind or water, this energy begins to flow, creating what are typically referred to as "ley lines." It also does have its own weather, pushed about by major emotional events, such as battles, or by large magical workings.

Magi tap into this ley energy, drawing it out and shaping it. This process is not easy, safe, or quick. However, it is potentially very powerful. Magi learn the intricate rules of ritual, so that they might form the dweomers that catch and hold the magical energy. These rituals take time and careful work, ranging from a few minutes to upwards of an hour. Even when the ritual is complete, it requires a certain amount of concentration to hold the effect together. Advanced magi can keep fifteen or twenty different effects going at a time. Aside from the limitations of the magi's own skill, ritual effects are also limited by other factors. Thresholds are the most prominent. It takes exceptional effort for a summoned creature to cross the threshold of a home uninvited. There are other thresholds, however. For instance, dawn and twilight represent the thresholds of the day, and most spells will collapse at these times.

The Six Fundamental Schools

Magi fall into a number of broad categories. Those termed "wizards" are broad dabblers, capable of performing relatively minor feats in any of the various specialties, but only rarely capable of successfully completing truly taxing rituals. Most of the true magi have adopted a specialization. The Grand University of Qaid-e-Azam, the pre-eminent center of magical education in Is-Ka'ander and, hence, the world, teaches six major areas of specialization. The specialist programs are:
  • Necromancer - This magic controls the mystery of life itself. While the most famous necromancers are the magi that worked for The Lich Lord Vecna Acnev creating his armies of undead, the makers of clockwork "golems" in Davrakotia are also necromancers. While necromancers are rarely noted for their personal power in battle, they are almost invariably accompanied by fanatically loyal and nearly unkillable "bodyguards."
  • Summoner - The Summoner brings creatures from other locations and binds them to her will (hopefully). It is a particularly tricky magic, as it is difficult to precisely target even a particular kind of creature. Often, the summoner will get a random creature who fulfills a specific need. It is also a rare creature that is pleased to be used in such a way. Most summoners meet their ends at the hands of a ritual gone awry.
  • Seer - The Seer is able to cast their awareness out to another location (or even another time), or to re-tune their awareness to see hidden aspects of this world. They may be able to listen in on a conversation in another building, gain insights into the outcome of a battle, or "see" the presence of poison in their meal.
  • Chirurgeon - This is a program of magical healing. These magi are able to knit wounds, restore health and energy, and fight diseases. However, it is important to note that the chirurgeon accomplishes this by creating a sympathy with a healthy body, often his own. If the chirurgeon is not very careful, there is a chance that the injuries will pass to the healthy body, instead of simply being healed. And, a chirurgeon cannot heal himself.
  • Mentat - A Mentat is capable of pushing his mind into that of another. He is able to read thoughts and emotions, project his own thoughts and emotions, and eventually control his target's mind or even change his memories. Fortunately for everyone else, it is actually quite difficult for a mentat to target any person he cannot see. There are also steps one can take to protect one's mind, though folkore is often quite confused as to what those steps might be.
  • Alchemist - These magi are able to draw out the magical elements inherent in everything, blending and enhancing them to create very specific effects. These effects are, unfortunately, almost invariably temporary, and also almost invariably destroy the elements involved. They are also known to come with side effects, which can be pleasantly surprising, uncomfortably awkward, or even downright fatal. While most people assume that alchemists deal exclusively with potions, they can actually produce a number of useful items that are similarly consumed upon use, such as a self-lighting torch.

The Lesser Schools

In addition to these major types of magi, there are two other, primarily found in Lhianna:
  • Merlane - Merlanes were declared illegal, punishable by torture and execution, by the Lich Lord Vecna Acnev. This is simply because they were responsible for a great deal of the effective resistance to his conquering armies. Once Acnev was defeated and the Empire broken, some few merlanes came out of hiding. At the Tower of Oeufe, one of the two major universities of Lhianna, these merlanes have gathered to try and recover their former glory. Unfortunately, too many people remember more about the monsters the merlanes have left behind, and not enough about their glories and sacrifices. You see, that is what merlanes do. They make monsters. They are able to give creatures abilities, change their shapes, cross-breed them, and even give them intelligence. A few hundred years ago, there were no such things as harpies, trolls, or beholders. These were created by merlanes, along with the great tribes of humanoid brutes known collectively as "orcs" (an ancient word meaning "broken ones"). Most of them were created specifically to act as shock troops or special forces to deal with the relentless onslaught of The Lich Lord's army of walking dead. (Ed. note: With the shift in setting, much of this information is not correct, thought it may one day be.)
  • Vaisseau - The Iskandrian magi reject the Vaisseau as a legitimate specialty, dismissing them as specialized Summoners. However, they are a bit more than that. In researching just exactly how summoned creatures move from one location to another, the original Vaisseau discovered that the limitations of space and distance were not as fixed as they seemed. They discovered ways to, effectively, summon themselves to another location. That is, they learned to teleport. It is still a very young discipline, and the possibilities are enormous. There is already a permanent gate established between the Queen of Lhianna's palace and the Tower of Feaux (rival to the Tower of Oeufe, and home to the most prominent Vaisseau).
Each specialty has a unique skill that they develop. There are also a few skills common to every magus. Wards are magical symbols that protect places and things. They can vary from a simple alarm, notifying the caster when a room has been entered, all the way up to complex workings that can bar the entry of all but a select few, or even do serious harm to those who cross them. Binding is the act of tying a spell to a specific object or location. It has the advantage of separating the spell from the caster's will, which not only frees the caster to concentrate on other rituals, but means that the spell will continue on after the caster's death. It has the disadvantage, however, of linking the spell permanently to whatever it is bound to, possibly restricting its usefulness. Spellcraft covers all of the various ways in which magi can manipulate existing spells. This ranges from simply noticing them, up to identifying and unraveling them, and potentially even changing them in place (for instance, changing a Ward to allow the magus to pass, without the caster being able to notice the change).

The Fey-lin

Fey-lin are "natural" spellcasters. They have fey blood in their veins (ranging from true halflings up to those indistinguishable from humans), and can tap into the natural magic that blood gives them. All fey-lin are able to change their shape in some way, dictated by the nature of their blood. The exact nature of other magic available to them also varies depending on their bloodline. There are approximately a dozen known bloodlines (sages differ radically on which are true bloodlines, which are variations, and which are still in existence). Below are described the four most common:
  • Marvello - This irrepressible showman is also know as "the trickster" by those who are not so amused by their antics. The marvello is at worst a master of deceit, misdirection, and disguise. And, yet, they more often use their talents as entertainers, putting on remarkable displays of illusion and prestidigitation to earn a few coins. They have three primary talents: Conjuration is the skill of minor magical tricks, such as moving a coin from his pocket to his hand or lighting a candle with a snap of his fingers. Glamer is the skill of "clouding men's minds," as the stories often put it. With this skill, the marvello can put his target's in a daze, influence her emotions, or, at the extreme end, even influence her memories and actions. Illusion is the skill of making things appear to be what they are not, including creating something out of nothing or nothing out of something. The marvello's shapeshifting powers are both limited and subtly powerful. They are restricted to only mimicking the humanoid form (though size can range from two to ten feet in height). However, they have far more control over the details of their transformation than other fey-lin, allowing them to potentially precisely duplicate another individual. Marvellos are most common among The Motley Folk.
  • Witch - The witch is certainly the most common of the fey-lin, and is the bloodline that tends to show through even when the fey heritage is very diluted. It is also the most misunderstood and maligned. All sorts of powers are attributed to witches that they simply do not possess. If the local wise woman has indeed cursed your cow to stop giving milk, it is because she is a chosen of a divine power, not because she is a witch. Witches may only transform themselves, not others. If they use poison, it is because they learned the properties of herbs, not any innate talent. And, stories of witches eating children are generally the result of irrational fears mixed with confused stories of cannibalism among The Wild Ones. There are three talents a witch can bring to bear: The Sight allows the witch to see the true nature of the world around her, and the connections between all things. A touch of destiny shines like a beacon to her; the signs of a hidden injury may be read like a map; with a simple focus (such as cards or bones), even the paths of the future may be revealed. The Speech allows the witch to communicate with all manner of creatures, from foreigners with an unknown language to the beasts of the forest or the fish of the sea. The Heart is the skill of skills, allowing a witch to draw upon the knowledge of all who share her bloodline to potentially gain extraordinary competency for one task. The witch's shapeshifting powers allow her to take on the form of any true animal (as opposed to a human, a fey creature, or the creation of a magus), within certain size limits.
    Witches vary based on the culture they live in. Among The Wild Ones they are known as druids, and have an exceptional knowledge of the benefits and perils of herbs and the like. Among The Motley Folk they are known as strega, and are better known for their use of the sight. The Wave Riders refer to their witches as sea witches, and their Speech can even be used to communicate with their living ships.
  • Warlock - It is well known that the fey of Davrakotia are different. It only makes sense that their fey-lin would be different as well. Children of genies, they are similarly aligned with the elemental forces. While there are tales and rumors of warlocks who channel the more uncommon elements such as wood or lightning, the vast majority are aligned with one of the classic four. Warlocks have a wide range of abilities, further multiplied by differences between their elements. The three primary talents are: Create, which allows the warlock to bring some of his aligned element into being; Shape, which allows him to move or sculpt his element; Blast, which allows him to channel an aspect of his alignment as a weapon. The four elements seem obvious, but have some quirks, and may be a bit broader than commonly expected.
    • Air has the commonly understood ability to command the wind. Creation of Air is the weakest creation of the elements, though it does have the advantage of possibly saving your life in a hostile or enclosed environment. Shaping the Air allows the creation of small winds, allowing for a sort of crude telekinesis. There are two forms of Blast: a violent gust of wind, which does little damage but has a good chance of throwing targets around; a blast of lightning, as Air also commands the powers of the storms.
    • Water is often seen as the weakest of the elements from a purely military standpoint. And, yet, the ability to Create Water in the salt deserts of Davrakotia has saved many a water-lock and his company. He can Shape Water to form favorable currents, making him welcome on most any ship. The fact that Water also extends to control of ice also means that some water-locks have found good employment in the halls of the Jarls in the northern mountains. The Blast can either create a sudden geyser of water with the force of a battering ram, or a blast of ice that freezes anything in its path.
    • Earth is a surprisingly subtle element, which requires intelligence and imagination to use well. It is certainly the strongest Creation element, allowing the generation of huge blocks of stone, instant defensive earthworks, or even unlimited shot for catapults. It is also strong in Shaping, allowing buildings to be sculpted in a way no mere chisel could accomplish, or undermined and collapsed with a touch. In turn, though, its Blast is the weakest. The earth-lock can generate either a vicious sandstorm, scouring away his enemies' armor, or a sudden increase in gravity in an area, crushing his enemies to the ground.
    • Fire is the most spectacular of the elements, but often the weakest outside of actual combat. Fortunately, Fire also has the ability to call forth metal from the bonds of Earth (metal cannot be Created, per se, but can be rapidly extracted from ore without any need of smelting equipment), and Shape it. Creation of Fire is also frequently useful, though rarely used for more than a convenience. The Shaping of Fire allows the fire-lock to keep it away from his allies (and himself), or even to extinguish flames by moving them away from their fuel. The Blast of Fire is fairly obvious, as it is simply a devastating gout of inferno. However, the fire-lock has a second, subtler Blast that often surprises his foes. He is able to remind the metal in his foes' arms and armor of the heat of the forge, causing them to burn their wielders.
    Warlocks also, of course, have a shapeshifting capability. However, unlike most other fey-lin, they only have one other form. They are able to shift into an "elemental" form, taking on many aspects of their aligned element. Fire-locks become immune to heat and fire, highly resistant to most other energy attacks, and burn anyone who touches them. Earth-locks become nigh-invulnerable walking statues with extraordinary strength. Water-locks become malleable, able to squeeze through tight spaces and shrug off many physical blows. Air-locks become nearly insubstantial, and gain the ability to fly.
  • Nephilim - The nephilim were the children of fey nobility. They had exceptional powers. Unfortunately for them, they primarily inhabited Is-Ka'ander. Now, they are few and far between, with some sages arguing that, as a race, they are functionally extinct (meaning that the only new nephilim would come directly from a new human-fey pairing. This would be tricky, as the fey nobility have retreated far into their hills and have not been seen in generations). However, they were once common enough, and clashed with the Iskandrian nobility often enough, that their abilities are well documented. They have three talents, each of which was troubling in its own way: A nephilim can use the Adept skill to turn her energies inward, significantly enhancing herself, giving her increased speed, strength, wit, or even hardening her skin against injury; the Fealty skill allows her to share her gifts with those who swear allegiance, creating exceptionally effective troupes; and the most frightening of all, at least to the Iskandrians, was the Recant skill, which allows the nephilim to negate magical effects and disrupt rituals. The shapeshifting ability of the nephilim is often difficult to separate from effects of their Adept skill. Nephilim are able to manipulate their bodies in nearly any way they can imagine, under a few limitations. So, they can give themselves fangs, claws or wings. Hard, scaly armored skin is certainly possible, as is a second set of arms. However, the form must remain basically humanoid, the nephilim is unable to change her coloration or adopt the specific features of another person, and the total mass of the nephilim cannot change. It is also worth noting that a nephilim is much slower at changing shape than other fey-lin. As such, many of them used to find a particular shape that worked for them and simply live in that shape. Naturally, in their current hunted and semi-mythical state, that is no longer a wise course of action.
Now I just need to finish writing up the Chosen...

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