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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).


Jar Burial in the Land Beneath the Winds

In human cultures, it is common for the dead to be buried in large jars. The preferred method of burial (and the most expensive) separates the bones from the flesh. The bones are then placed in a large ceramic jar decorated with various writings. This jar is sealed with a wax and clay mixture that makes it watertight. The flesh is liquified and placed in a second sealed container. The second container is marked with a single glyph that represents the wheel of rebirth.

The bell of the bone jar is approximately four feet tall and about five feet in diameter at its widest point. It stands on four feet that are curious bound by chains near the feet. The feet are four different sizes, one extends into a three-foot diameter disk. The entire jar stands about five to five-and-a-half feet tall. The other jar, with the liquified entrails, sits on the large disk of the "odd" foot, placed upside-down.

This elaborate burial ceremony is intended to prevent the body from being animated by wizards or demons. Both wizards and demons seek to reanimate the whole body in an effect to gain the knowledge, spells and/or skills the deceased had when they were alive. Without both the bones and the flesh, wizards and demons cannot create the magical stones that would contain the deceased memories, knowledge and skills. (The truth is that these elaborate measures do little to deter wizards and demons.)

More importantly, it is intended to prevent ghosts to re-integrate with their bodies in an attempt to prevent their reincarnation. It is believed that if the ghost somehow manages to re-enter the bones, the shaking caused by its attempts to escape the bone jar will spill the contents of the second jar. It is believed that without the flesh, it is impossible for a ghost to re-enter their former bodies. This turns out to be true. There is such a great fear of a spirit re-entering its former body that the widespread reach of this custom has relegated the existence of a re-integrated body into myth and fairytale.

For those that cannot afford ceramic jars, clay jars are used instead. If the family of the deceased cannot afford jars with feet, the bone jar is made to sit flat on the ground. The liquified entrails are placed in a sealed metal box and buried in cement under the bone jar. Cement is very inexpensive, but cannot be made very thick. For this reason, to prevent a ghost from opening the second jar, it is buried at least three feet into the ground. Theoretically, it would be easier for a ghost to re-integrate into the body if the burial is done this way, however, the poor usually have little reason to avoid the wheel of rebirth.

Projects to Keep the Homefires Burning

It's one of those things with homebrew settings. Parts of it began in 1981 with me as DM and two players. More recently, much of it began three years ago with the hope of being published by a small RPG company.

I've changed system twice until finally going to a system that is the closest to what I played back in '81. The ruleset is Swords&Wizardry.

Unlike Midgard, I am not sure that I will ever finish. I keep trying to finish, but I think that I have nerd projectitis too bad. Despite all organizational efforts to the contrary, it gets bogged down to making the details work and settling for "good enough". Then, of course, I see something and say "oh that's cool!" and let go of development for awhile.

Still, I have 1.5 hours every Monday night, a huge room to myself, lots of tables and a computer sans internet access to get things done. I think I have the magic system the way I want it. I have the time to do it without stressing out the family because the family is all in other classes. 🙂

What used to be called Shayakand and Tanah-Con-Rahn will now be called The Land Beneath the Winds. I'm going for something more accessible with much less conlanging. I don't believe that I am able to do something akin to Spears of the Dawn, but at least something with fewer European pastiches and more Southeast Asian flavor.

I say this, but this is my fourth restart. All of this means nothing if I don't actually publish something, you know? Still, I'm hopeful.

I enjoy the world and writing inside of it. The cosmology is different, the geography is not a planet drawn to account for prevailing winds, current, weather patterns or the like. The world is flat. The rim of the planet has mountain ranges with 500,000 ft tall mountains (straight out of Cambodian Mythology). The rest of the world has three concentric circles of tall mountains with oceans between them. The players start on the outer "circle" of oceans and landmasses. If they can somehow get over the northern mountains, they will be in a no-man's land rumored to be the play area of the gods themselves. Heck, maybe they just go into space.

Magic is based on certain words discovered by three different civilizations. Some of the words have really weird effects like creating small objects capable of independent movement. Spells with this word could create a swarm of bees or a volley of arrows that move in wild trajectories. Hedge Wizards strip essences from creatures and sentient humanoid for their own purposes. All forms of magic interact with technology is unpredictable ways. This technology includes the alien technology of the Mentors and the human-built technology of clockwork engines. Everyone can read magic, but being able to read magic does not grant you the ability to use a scroll or copy spells in a spellbook. Spell casting is a gift of the gods. You can do it or you cannot do it.

Psionics have a purpose. Not only are psionicists gifted in dealing with non-corporeal creatures, but unlike Wizards, anyone can learn this ability.

Clerics differ by primary deity. Some have no devotion to a specific deity, but instead attempt to manipulate them all to gain boons and bestow banes. Only one type of Cleric has the Turn Undead ability. The rest have different powers and abilities.

There are no elementals. There are no golems. Ghosts are not undead, but a different type of creature that plagues civilized peoples. The sentient species are different from elf, dwarf, halfling, half-orc and the like. A few minor species exist for GMs to use at their discretion.

The super-rich build massive clockwork devices to suit their own whims. Numerous libraries exist in cities and towns throughout the land. The printing press has not been invented, but the photocopier has. Literacy is high. Books are everywhere.

Cities have apartment buildings and places to get cheap food quickly. There are no inns or taverns, but there are plenty of places to play a game of chess and discuss the potential treasures in an abandoned temple east of town...

Cities also have byzantine bureaucracies that seem to tax and regulate every aspect of city life. Each city has its own oddities. Trade and markets are closely watched. A person does not simply walk into a magic store and buy a +2 sword. You can get any kind of food, herb, powder or exotic flesh you can dream of, just don't ask to buy magic publicly.

Benevolent benefactors known as Basha are always looking for people to help. Granted, the more people that work for a given basha, the more power he or she has. Bashe (plural of basha)  see themselves as loving fathers that care for hundreds, even thousands of individuals. Through their personal network of merchants and mercenaries (and a few judges and other bureaucrats) they wield incredible influence throughout the realm. As bashe battle each other for more power, it is common for characters to be contacted to "perform a little light work" now and then.

Outside of the city, farmers work the soil largely free from the hectic life in the cities. Their basha will come and request their share of crops, but otherwise rarely see anyone of any authority.

There's more to it, but I'll stop there. Here's to 2013. The year I hope to finally finish this project. Wish me luck!

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