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Tag: magic (Page 1 of 11)

By Force of Will

I talked to my great-grandfather and he tells me that the heavens generated by the will of the deities are not nearly as sweet as the wine he shares with his father and the visits from his living descendants.

Anaxiletus - Voluntatis (Of Free Will)

When a sentient creature dies, the soul or spirit separates from the body and traverses the Astral Sea and the Ethereal Mists to make their way to the home of one of the various deities, usually one that was revered in life. Revere is a strong term, the deities will let anyone in that wants to be there.

The deities will say that the Empyrean Ring was created by the force of their will alone. Each plane demonstrates their power to control creation. The deities create these planes for a permanent place to live and to avoid conflict with other deities. For a deity to live in a Material Plane would not only endanger that plane, but upset the others that also need the worship of souls in that plane.

There is an unspoken agreement amongst all the deities that rare visits and occasional avatar visits are okay, but worship is a scarce resource that needs to be shared for their mutual survival. With all the Material Planes floating around the Astral Sea, each deity should have enough souls to thrive. But there is a reason that the bodies of dead deities drift in the Astral Sea, deities can be forgotten and the lack of remembrance will kill them. Once dead, no amount of worship can revive them.

To survive, the deities generate their home planes to provide an eternal place of worship. Again, worship is a loose term that can range from simple acknowledgement to elaborate rituals than span centuries. Any amount of consideration will contribute to the survival of a deity.

The Lands of the Dead

Some souls, though, find a place amongst the Ethereal Mists to call home. Like deities, through shear force of will, a soul can create their own place to be. It is gray, but it will have its own source of light making it brighter than the surrounding mists. Through force of will, solid ground will form and even a structure or two. As there are countless Material Planes floating along the Astral Sea, there are countless demi-planes that dot the Ethereal Mists.

If another soul finds a demi-plane, it will grow to accommodate all the souls on that demi-plane. The will of more sentient creatures makes it brighter. As the souls interact with each other, small landscapes emerge like a small field or a tiny grove of trees. The collective will adds detail and/or substance to the demi-plane. If more souls find a demi-plane and choose to stay, the demi-plane becomes a Land of the Dead.

The easiest the find Lands of the Dead are comprised of generations of related souls. These are bright places that could easily be mistaken for a large city or a kingdom with vast fields, towns, and food bearing plants. In these places, the living will visit or even take up residence. There are many cultures on the Material Planes that revere their ancestors and take periodic trips to visit them.

Not everyone's idea of a good time is endless retirement. Some souls thrive on conquest. For those souls, the Ethereal Mists start out as a fun place, but when materializing anything comes through force of will and no one is truly able to die, their restless souls look elsewhere. These ghosts and spirits have enough will to affect the Material Planes and use that power when they visit. The cost of being of taking a physical form is a small price to pay to have the ability to interact in the Material Plane. Having a physical form, of course, also makes them mortal and susceptible to death all over again.

The demi-planes of the Ethereal Pirates, however, take this to the highest degree. Through force of will, they have become completely corporeal to the point of requiring sleep and food to survive. With their corporeal forms, they can board etherships to seek out plunder and conquest.

The Source of Magic

The Ethereal Mists are the raw material of the universe. Some call it ectoplasm, but most call it Antimber. Antimber doesn't act on its own, but reacts to being acted upon. The Astral Sea is the raw material of thought or Huye. It acts upon the Ethereal Mists to create matter and energy. The Astral Sea also does not act on its own. In the beginning, the Demiurge had its first act of will as the only thing in the universe that could act on its own. It's first act was to set the Astral Sea in motion to begin the Affluviam and thus the generation of the universe.

In the same way, magic is the manipulation of thought and matter to generate an effect. The spellcaster wills something to be and it will be. This can be mending a small tear in a garment, invoking a fiery maelstrom, or granting a wish.

Thoughts Outside the Fiction

I want to talk more about magic before talking about the game implications of the cosmology.
In D&D, people can through study (Wizards), bloodline (Sorcerers), or transaction (Warlocks), use their will to generate magic. Clerics will be a separate post, but they function like Warlocks. It isn't self-contained, though. Spellcasters use something outside of themselves to generate magic triggered by their will. For Warlocks, their will activates power that comes from making a deal with a greater being. There's a direct exchange between the source and the warlock. The Warlock get magical powers and the patron gets a soul, a favor, or something else of value to them. Wizards, though, have less obligations. Instead of a soul, they gain magical powers through study and the necessity of components. Their tether to their source of power is either the spoken word, physical motions, a physical object or a combination of the three. For sorcerers, the power is in their body, a gift from an ancestor. No selling the soul, no wandering all over for obscure ingredients, studying obscure languages, and mastering the hokey-pokey. The power is innate, but is tied to their physical body. Specifically for the purposes of my relex, the power is in their blood.

Going one step further, there is now a rationale for psionics (also a separate post). A psion is their own source of power and it is mental, not physical. Like the soul forming a demi-plane in the Ethereal Mists, everything a psion does in the Material Plane is a pure act of will. No components or blood required. Psions spend only their personal mental energy.

In game, deities have a special hatred for psions. The source of magic for spellcasters can be traced back to them. Warlocks directly receive power, the strongest connection. Sorcerers get their powers from one of the deities through their progeny, so there is still a connection. Wizards are driven to research everything, usually through formulas, incantations, or rituals that the deities themselves invented or revealed to others. Psions, though, have no tie to the deities at all. As such, deities are fearful that they will lose their power and ultimately their lives if sentient species find a way to empower their own magic. The fear is that there will be no need for worship if an individual can be their own source of magic.

Going back to the Lands of the Dead, the intent was to provide something that made sense for the "free and willing" target of a resurrection spell. The assumption I wasn't happy about was that someone wouldn't come back because they were at peace in one of the Outer Planes. That left the only creatures capable of being resurrected were those that were willing to leave the Outer Planes. The most obvious reason would be that they would leave is that the soul is in one of the bad planes.

Admittedly, the question of where the soul when upon death is intentionally vague in D&D. I found, though, that thinking through it offered an opportunity for some great settings. The idea of a soul going to an outer plane is born from Western cultures. Other cultures, though, have a form of afterlife that do not involve deities directly or even at all. D' Jalia / Ancestral Plane from Black Panther comics and movies is not tied to any deity that I am aware of. A couple of adventuring ideas for these Lands of the Dead are:

  • Having a place for family reunions with the dead.
  • investigating ancient mysteries by interviewing someone that was at the scene thousands of years ago.

I am working on game crunch. I am a bottom-up worldbuilder, so I want to know the why of something before I can describe the how. These three posts so far provide the universal whys of the universe making it easier to talk about how some classes work and develop subclasses for them. It also provides fodder for different spells and magic items as well as new creatures to encounter.

Tomorrow I hope to talk about Clerics or Psions.

Dal Tana, the Magical Salts of Shastra

General Notes

Dal Tana is the name given to the Five Salts that power salt mages. These salts can be consumed (in moderation) as food. Chefs all over the world make dishes with the bright colors of the salts. As such, most shops sell at least a little red, yellow, and blue salt. Black salt is the rarest and most expensive, rivaling the prices of fine jewelry. White salt is so common that it can be purchased in bulk for a few coppers.

Salt Mages, though, spend their lives mastering the ten forms defined by the accepted two-color and three-color combinations of the five salts. Each two-color combination fuels a different category of magical spells while the three-color combinations unlock special magical abilities.

Salt Mages use their own language to name and activate their spells. The source for this information uses Shastranusian words as is it provided from the miners and formen of the salt mines. These words appear in italics.

Mother of Salt

Mother-of-Salt (Flanya Vi Priru), is the source of the five salts. It transforms soil and rock to salt wherever it is buried, starting with black salt and growing outward to the other colors. The longer it is left undisturbed, the larger the salt deposits generated from the mother-of-salt. The largest mines in Shastra are believed to come from a single mother-of-salt that has been untouched for thousands of years.

Shastran Alchemists (Enzarosh) believe that they can split a Mother-of-Salt in two allowing for the creation of new mines. However, given the time scale required to generate enough salt, this is only theoretical.

Mining the Salt

Mining salt in Shastra is an arduous task. Salt must be dug out by hand with non-magical tools. It cannot be flooded with water to make brine for extraction by evaporation. The water will ruin the magical properties and flavors of the salt. Magic tools or even nearby magic items have a corrupting effect on black salt and a destructive effect on Mother-of-Salt.

Shastran Artificers (Oon Zerosh) are in high demand. They are renown throughout the world due to their extensive experience building effective, yet non-magical drills. These muscle-powered drills are similar to Archimedes screws normally used to pump water. The salt is hard, yet brittle; the drills are designed to allow most of the broken pieces to be gathered into carts. Drills range in size from the lever-powered tunnel borers to the personal hand drills operating by turning a crank.

As the miners dig deeper into the mine, some are tasked with reinforcing the tunnels with arches. Shastran Alchemists (Enzarosh) have developed a thick paste that interacts with the salt to create a substance they call concrete. The paste has a simple formula, lime, manufactured rock sand (meo loisha) or volcanic ash, and a bit of water. When the paste is applied to the walls of the tunnel, it transforms into a concrete arch to keep the tunnel from collapsing.

Working in the salt mine is dangerous without protective equipment. The three biggest dangers are dehydration, hypothermia, and inhalation of the salt. To protect from dehydration, miners cover all skin with a thick cloth garment and gloves. This also prevents hypothermia from the unnaturally cold tunnels. To prevent inhalation of the salt, Shastran Alchemists have developed a type of electrum called Gretuer Mona that makes the salt inert. A mask made of Gretuer Mona covers the nose and mouth of the miner. From time to time, an inert bright pink dust gathers on the mask and the miners merely wipe it off with their gloves.

Other Hazards of Salt Mining

The five salts react strongly to the presence of magic and spellcasters (Inzarosh) except for Salt Mages and Psions. The five salts become volatile and either activate random magical effects or detonate magical items and spellcasters. They doesn't affect the fey or fey creatures unless they use magic or cast spells. If the salt activates random magic, much of the precious salt is lost.

To protect the salt, security around the mine entrances is tight and the penalties severe. Guards line a perimeter around mine openings far enough away that magic will not trigger the salt. Visitors are questioned and sent away peacefully. Those that resist face nullification or worse.

Shastran alchemists originally developed Gretuer Mona to non-magically detect the presence of magic or persons that employ magic. Sprinkled on suspected magical items or spellcasters, it turns into a fine, brightly-colored pink dust in the presence of magic. The electrum alloy doesn't discriminate between divine or arcane spellcasters.

Those that do no consent to the test will discover that one or two psionic guards are stationed at every post. The guards will cover the area with Gretuer Mona to nullify any magic items and disrupt spells. Then they will attempt to force feed an elixir made with the electrum alloy to all trespassers. The elixir will temporarily nullify the ability to cast spells or commune with deities or patrons. It is extremely painful to spellcasters through intense headaches and a burning sensation. Sorcerers will writhe in intense pain from the transformation of their blood into dust. All others will have stomach pains, but no other harmful effects.

The elixir can last anywhere between two hours to forty days depending on the amount swallowed and the constitution of the victim. (This had horrific effects in the last war 30 years ago). The guards are punitive by order of the king. They will continue to force feed elixir until trespassers are unconscious or dead. For those they do not employ magic, either the psions will drive them away or the guards will cut them down. The five salts are the primary income for the Shastran kingdom, so no quarter is given to any potential threat.

Any unauthorized Salt Mage that approaches a salt mine suffers a fate worse that nullification. They are poisoned by their own salt, doomed to become a brightly colored zombie that vomits blue and red salt or a Dessicate (darnyawu), a Salt Mage lich whose magic is fueled by their body.

In short, don't mess with the guards of a salt mine. Since you cannot use spells or magic items to combat them, they will mess you up in ways worse than death.

Shastranusian Words

  • Cran Manucho - A brightly colored zombie that vomits bright red and blue salt created by posioning a salt mage with their own salt.
  • Danu Poa - Literally the Hollow Person. This is the name for those that use psionic powers.
  • Darnyawu - The Salt Mage lich created by poisoning a salt mage with their own salt.
  • Enzarosh - Shastran Alchemists. They are known for developing concrete, electrum alloys, and the nullification elixir. They are also employed to refine raw salt into its five component salts.
  • Flanya Vi Priru - Mother-of-Salt, the source of the Five Salts.
  • Gretuer Mona - An electrum alloy made of gold, silver, and a bit of platinum. The Shastran Alchemists alone know the formula. It can detect the presence of magic or magical items.
  • Inzarosh - A generic term in Shastran for any creature that can cast spells.
  • Meo Loisha - Manufactured rock sand. Shastran Alchemists and Artificers worked together to create this cheaper substitute for volcanic ash, a critical component in making concrete. Meo Loisha has to be very fine, almost like dust to active the salt in the mines.
  • Oon Zerosh - Shastran Artificers. They are renown for the creation of non-magical and non-clockwork machinery used to dig in the salt mines. They also worked with alchemists to develop a material used in making concrete.

Thinkertoys – Magic in the Samoora Sea

The title comes from a book my Michael McDonald. You can find out more about the book here. I don't reference the book at all, I just like the title.

I am trying to integrate a few ideas from various notebooks lately. What began with a spellcaster that carries around increasing amounts of junk to cast spells has retconned to a new encumbrance system based on stones instead of pounds.

Let me back up a bit. I change my system of choice from time to time. Recently, I have shifted away from The Black Hack and back to Swords & Wizardry. I love the elegance of The Black Hack, but enjoy all the fiddly bits of S&W. I want those fiddly bits to present the way all magic works in my campaign world.

Arcane Magic

In my Samoora Sea campaign, one of the conceits is that arcane magic is regional and much less formalized. To demonstrate that, arcane spellcasting classes are mechanically different by region. Where a character is from is important to what the character can do and how they do it. One tradition of magic is intelligible to a spellcaster in a different tradition.

If a character hails from Porta Nile, they gather bits of damaged arcane items scattered around the island to generate energy to power spells. They record their spells with alien runes. These arcane items are believed to be detritus from the alien crabmen's shining city. This type of magic developed as humans living there cobbled together whatever they could find to defend themselves from the crabmen. These are the spellcasters that triggered the need for a stone based encumbrance system to reduce bookkeeping for these characters.

If a character hails from Gaerleon, they will use energy from the five salts to power their magic. Each salt has a different color and taste sensation (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami/savory). An apprentice mage learns to cast spells based on only one type of salt at a time. As they gain mastery over one type of salt, they learn about a different type of salt. After studying three types of salts, they gain the ability to combine two types of salt for more powerful spells. The Master Salt Mage can use a specific three-salt combination to power wondrous mechanical devices.

In Helica, spellcasters are masters of time, luck, and travel. Ancient gates open doors to other countries, regions, planets, and dimensions. Fueled by the power of these gates and their mysterious energy, they work powerful magicks to build the fledgling Helican empire through trade with other worlds. A handful venture out in search of lost portals.

In Nagelor, those that do not follow the warrior paths of their ancestors become Blood Thieves. A Blood Thief steals a bit of essence from a creature to fuel magic to alter or augment the spellcasters' own body. In their wake, the scourge of cypher beasts rage against all living creatures. Blood Thieves are distinctive due the equipment they use to steal a bit of essence. The large, but silent contraption is worn as a backpack connected to an obsidian bracer by a thin metal tube.

As spellcasters travel throughout the region, they adapt based on what's available. For example, the five salts may not be available in some places, so a salt mage learns to glean power from other items (plants, crabman tech, blood, etc).


Rogues exchange their Read Magic ability at 9th level for a Scribe ability that starts at 1st level. A rogue can write down a spell from any form of arcane magic to create a scroll or translate an arcane spell to another spellcasting tradition. For example, a rogue can write down a spell record from a Blood Thief to create a scroll. A rogue can also take a spell from a Porta Nile Runecaster and write it down in the form of a spell recipe that is understandable to a salt mage. At low levels, the chances of success are very low.

This ability parallels the fiction of the world that trade between different countries has only recently been revitalized. As characters progress, they encounter new things and adapt what they can to become more powerful in this world. Scrolls may not be intelligible to the party's spellcaster, making a rogue invaluable.

Divine Magic

Clerics, though, are from an organization called the Hendenciad, the Group of 11. Mechanically, there isn't any difference from a standard S&W Cleric. Again, Clerics are the same, except that spells are broken up by deity instead of schools. The fiction says that a small token/negotiation with a specific deity is required to gain a spell. While playing the game, though, this doesn't need to be played out every time a divine spell is cast.

Divine Magic is based on the story of the creator god, Samoora, and their three types of offspring. Collectively, all Samoora's children are called deities, though each one has a different title. The oldest are gods, the next are titans, and the third are kwemara. The gods and titans created intelligent creatures for the planets Samoora made. Each race claims a god or titan as a patron.

In time, however, the gods and titans killed Samoora and the kwemara ran away to the stars. Each of the three have a different perspective as to how Samoora died. When the kwemara returned, they slaughtered many of the gods and almost all the titans out of vengeance. Before returning to the stars, the three offspring set up the Hendenciad, the group of 11, to watch over the world. In the group of 11 are 7 gods and 4 titans. The kwemara left a mysterious creature named the XO to oversee the gods and titans. The XO does not accept worship like the gods and titans, and so does not grant divine magic spells. No Cleric has determined any token, ritual, or negotiation to win the favor of the XO.

An ancient caste of human Priests call themselves Canavarii, the Clan of the Wolf. They do not build temples, nor do they participate in the religion of the Hendenciad. They claim to be servants of the earth and often appear in numbers during times of great trouble. Their first appearance was marked thousands of years ago when metal-eating beasts threatened civilization. Their second appearance was born from the devastating armies of the Reanimators, horrible wizards that reanimated and reshaped the dead into horrific and fearsome warriors. Their current appearance, however, doesn't appear to be in reaction to any great calamity.

Canavarii are present in every area of the region and are believed to have a presence everywhere in the world. Whenever a new land is discovered, invariably, the Canvarii appear to have been there already. They are respected, trusted, and revered. There has never been (nor will ever be) and evil or former Canavarus.

Other Magic

Emissaries are a race of awakened dolphins that represent the Great Sea God (not a titan) on land. They wear self-contained suits that protect them from risks both environmental and violent. Disconcertingly, they hover on land as if swimming through the air. Their movement is an innate ability of these awakening dolphins and is not powered by their suit. They communicate telepathically, but cannot read minds. Their form of magic is unique and is unlike arcane or divine magic despite their connection to the Hendenciad.

In Nagelor, the Sachima (dragon/tiger descendants) that choose the ancestral path of dragons employ magic centered around expelling magic from the mouth. In addition to various breath weapon magics are spells that begin with an exhalation of mystic energy.

On Pella's Column, spellcasting refugees from the Western Continent lug around heavy spellbooks and devote themselves to endless hours of study to master magic. None of them came here by choice. Priests of alien gods gibber about the island unable to perform any magic save for minor healing spells. Most of them are mad, but harmless. Most of these spellcasters were marooned here after a shipwreck, the remaining ones came by way of a portal or a mishap in planar travel. Those that have not resigned themselves to be marooned in this region have already left the small island in search of a Helican portal that can take them back home.

In Eastern Camalanth, the Cult of Hot Iron melds a zen-like tradition of pistols, ceremonial battles, and ki-fueled martial arts.

My Own Private Greyhawk

Now to switch gears back to systems.

At some point, I can backport all of this into The Black Hack, but it feels easier to start with Swords & Wizardry for now. I worked for a long time to get this working in The Black Hack, but it always seemed like the mechanics got in the way. I started creating my own private Greyhawk in middle school and S&W feels like the version of D&D I played starting in those years and throughout high school.

I call all of this my own private Greyhawk because this will eventually link to my Tanah Con-Rahn (Indonesia) region, The Western Continent (my high school world), and Zyg (homeland of the advanced Naga and Garuda).


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