Friday, February 01, 2013

M is for Magic

I had earlier indicated my desire to discuss/share my Map for the letter M, and discuss magic under S for Sorcery.  I'm updating my plan, because the map is taking much longer to get done than I hoped, and I don't want this series to languish without updates for that long.  I'll get the map out there soon--I am working on it already--although it might not end up being part of the A TO Z challenge after all.

The mundane, regular world is the natural world. Things that happen here tend to happen for natural reasons. In this regard, the world of the DARK•HERITAGE campaign setting is very much like the mundane, scientifically understood world in which we live in as well. However, the world of the DARK•HERITAGE setting also intersects on occasion with many other worlds, and when energies, spirits, demons, or entities of unknown type cross over through these intersections into the mundane world, it is called supernatural rather than natural. Unlike some fantasy settings, such as those served by the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game, the supernatural in this setting is rare, poorly understood, and often dangerous to encounter in any form whatsoever. Most people have never witnessed anything supernatural, and some few don't even believe in it. Most others do, but it is similar to how many people in our world are religious or superstitious; it is not because they have direct evidence that is convincing for its existance, it is because they have faith and/or fear in the potential power of the supernatural to disrupt their lives.

Because the supernatural seems to maintain a discrete stance on this setting, it is most often referred to as the Shadow; a force that can only be percieved indirectly, and only rudimentarily understood, and which stays out of the glare of knowledge and enlightenment. Mankind is simply not equipped to know and understand the supernatural, so to him, it will always be merely the Shadow; lurking in the darkness just out of sight, haunting his footsteps, waiting for an unwary moment. As H. P. Lovecraft said, "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

But occasionally the Shadow does, indeed, intrude into the lives of mankind. Some have learned to control or harness a portion of the Shadow to increase their own power. These sorcerers and witches may wield power which is a trifle to the Old Ones, or the demons and spirits of Beyond, but they are perilous to mortals. Monsters and strange, alien creatures occasionally can breach the Gate and walk through the intersections into our world. The entire, dire location of Leng is one such intersection, and the slow seeping of Shadow out of that area has created the entire cursed and shunned region called the Forbidden Lands. In the distant past, an ancient god or demon named Tarush fell from the sky and was buried where he fell in the nation that became Tarush Noptii. While he is now perhaps dead or dreaming, his influence has spread, infecting some of those in the region with the curse of vampirism. The hellkin and the jann also claim to have ancestors amongst them who come from the Shadow; although that is as much legend as fact. And in some way poorly understood, the curse of lycanthropy infected those who lived in the Shifting Forest anciently. While the curse is now believed to be greatly diluted, and the great and terrible werewolves of old no longer exist, their descendents in the form of the changeling race still bear the mark of the Shadow on them.

While many people remain largely ignorant of the Shadow--even changelings, hellkin and jann give it little thought, for the most part--still it lurks, just out of sight, a secret world which surrounds and infiltrates the more mundane world. While most people in this setting have few encounters with the Shadow, player characters (PCs) and others are exceptional; and as such, are much more likely to encounter the Shadow in the course of their travels. For the most part, this will come in a few categories:

• Monsters of the Shadow may be discrete, and some may doubt their existence, but they are all too real. Vampires really do roam the streets and rule the kindgom of Tarush Noptii. Dog may be torpid and asleep for years at a time, but he really does come out and eat sacrifices on the edge of Porto Liure. Strange creatures like the river gods or the thurses lurk in the wild places of the world. Unscrupulous sorcerers summon creatures through the Gate into the world from Places Beyond. Alien creatures wander from Leng, or other places of natural weakness in the Gate, and find their way to places they do not belong.

• Any character can learn to cast an Incantation or Ritual, assuming he can read and speak the language that the ritual is in. The rules for doing so are found in the Arcana section of the MSRD right here. In theory, I (as GM) should provide you with Incantations that are available; you mostly have to find them in forbidden tomes like The Prophecies of the Daemon-sultan, or The Book of Eibon or somesuch. The rules for creating incantations are for GMs, not for players. Eventually I'll get around to it, but the urgency is not there at present, so look at the examples in the Arcana section of the MSRD to see how they work and what a typical Incantation looks like.

• There are two advanced classes that provide some access to the Shadow--as well as some that are focusd on hunting and rooting out its influence. The Occultist and the Soulknife have very different approaches to dealing with the Shadow; the Occultist advanced class being much closer to the traditional archetype of a sorcerer or witch.

• There are a few feats that can give access to any character to a few minor spells and a familiar--most "world class" sorcerers start here while learning as many Incantations as they can get their hands on, before advancing into levels of the Occultist advanced class.

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