Chapter 1: Magic

Magic is one of the key features that sets a fantasy world apart from our own, and so in addition to simple game mechanics, the Darkrealm's approach to magic requires a more philosophically rooted discussion to understand how it is deployed in the game-world. We are all familiar with the concept of magic and what literary roles it can play as both a plot device and a role-playing tool. However it is necessary to define exactly what we mean when we say "magic" in the Darkrealm. There are a number of forces; such as the pseudo-chemistry of alchemy, quasi-metaphysics of artificing, or even the various forms of divination, however these are not, strictly speaking, magic. These forces are in line with nature, they take advantage of pre-existing natural forces in much the same way as a pulley takes advantage of gravity or a mill of hydrodynamics. And while within the game world these might all be recognized as having the glamour of the arcane, so are skills like navigation.

In Allornus it is a little understood force, a series of mystic rites and unnatural effects that challenge the very laws of the world. Magic is a term used by the Lictors of Haedrasia, to describe those things that they see as unnatural, while Magery, to the Mage clans of the old Kelorn lands, refers to rites and rituals, performed to affect unnatural change in the world - as opposed to the secret knowledge passed down to the priests, which merely reveals a truth about the metaphysical nature of the world.

Darkrealm players and directors should remember three key things about magic. It is incredibly rare. Incredibly powerful. And incredibly dangerous. And demi-magic is a complicated, but relatively mundane tool, possessed by the few who are learned enough to understand it.

Magic in the World


Magic is a dark force, to be sure. When the divh made the world, they laid down laws, and true magic empowers mortals to subvert, bend, even break those laws. But when that happens it comes at great cost to the mortal wielding the power, and the world around him, as both begin to unravel. For this reason magic is most often feared, even reviled. But still, it is in the nature of the changelingborn to secretly lust after that which is forbidden.

Belief in Magic

While the common folk will always hold true to their charms, and fear those who claim to be able to curse them, in many places more enlightened and educated members of the ruling class - especially those in Haedrasia, Ahlonia, Iria and the lands in the west - believe that magic is a thing of the past, all but extinct, or else nothing more than myth and trickery. They believe legendary practitioners to be nothing more than local myth. And even though the Haedar fear magic, they fear it more from the lictor's exhortations than their own beliefs. This does not mean that they do not believe in the supernatural - there is too much evidence of such things in the very fabric of the world - but many doubt the mortal ability to control it. The Ral and the Ghans, however, are more given to superstition, and few in these eastern lands would deny such things. Alchemy is certainly viewed as very real in nearly all circles, but it is not always a respected tradition, and often professional alchemists are thought of little better than beggars.

Magic and Faith

But not all magic was kept from mortal changelingborn. Indeed, much of the lore so jealously hoarded today, by malign sorcerers and warlocks, was handed down long ago by the divh. And the priests remember some secrets, and guard others with their lives. And whether these are the protective charms and chants that draw upon the lore of un-magery, or rites of true magic, they have ever been gifts from the divh, passed to the most learned - the priests, the kings, the wisdoms. Even now it is lost holy tablets, and engravings in forgotten temples, that pass the lore to the careless and curious, while the living cults share their knowledge with no one.

"Mortals were never called upon to dabble in such things, and again and again we see the corrupting evidence of the magician in our world. We see men turned to beasts, and cities laid to waste. There is no knowing this enemy, it is our duty simply to purge it from our world. For ultimately, like a plague, only complete, oft painful purgation will save us from it."

  • Marneas Notaras, Lictor of Lucerten

Superstition and Fear

True magery, and the un-magery that resembles it, is feared throughout the world. And rightly so. Magical cataclysms are a very real danger when dealing with these terrible forces, and few can truly claim to know how to control these profane forces. Those that do know enough, they know better than to dabble in such things. Those even suspected of dabbling in magic can expect to find themselves ostracised from society, and those who use such powers openly would be wise to leave in a hurry, for there are many myths and half-remembered stories about the terrible deaths that must befall magicians, to banish their vengeful spirits.

Divine Metaphysics

Divine Metaphysics - the laws that govern the world, laid down when the very land was young. In that time before history, the only living things of the world were the Djun, the elementals, the spirits born from the new-forged elements that made the world. And they were wild, and they grew powerful with alarming speed. And the divh knew that they must bind the djun, before they grew powerful enough to overthrow the divh. And so the djun were bound to the land, and the world was split in two, and the laws that bound the djun still govern the world. Where the power of the djun lie - in the materials that make up of the world - raw elemental energy lies, waiting to be unlocked. And where the djun were bound, with word and sign, such symbols and sigils and words and numbers still hold their power.

Un-Magery

Because much lore deemed arcane in most cultures does not change the world at all, but merely exploits the secrets the divh hid within the world when they built it, the Kelorns deemed these disciplines un-magery, and though the terms has fallen from use in most lands, the distinction is an important one. Alchemy unlocks the stuff of the raw elemental that makes up the world, and uses it to attract energies, or release them. It taps the divine laws that bound the elementals, and still bind them to this day, with symbols and rules that reinforce the weave of the world. Divination allows its practitioners to glimpse the design of the world, and whether they believe in pre-destiny, or merely that the will of the divh sends ripples into the world, they are frequently accurate, and possibly some of the most credible of the un-mages. And of course they mystic secret of navigation is another closely guarded mystic art, that its practitioners are willing to kill to keep safe.

Oddemancy

Not really un-magery, nor true magery, Oddemancy is something else. The Oddewurlde is another world - the prison of the djun that the divh bound, and other things - more awful things that are djun, but are not. It is the land of the dead, a world parallel to that of Allornus, and yet not. Where they are close, they are almost identical, but where they are separate the oddewurlde shifts and fluctuates and ripples in the corner of the eye. This is a place where magery, not divine law, rules. And, like a sheet of parchment laid over another, it coexists with the mortal world. But where the two touch, and bonds are weak, mortals in dreams, close to death where souls are transitioning, or in remote, mystical places, can cross over. And sometimes they can bring something back. Whether it is called dream-sending, vision questing, or spirit binding, Oddemancy is the rarest, and most diabolical kind of magery. Both natural and unnatural all at once.

"…for the better part of these past eight years, have I looked out upon the vast, grey expanse of the Occtictor, known to the common man as the Nightmare Land, and never once have I glimpsed the horrible flux that breaks the minds of the brothers we have sent into its borders - those that have returned at least. And yet it is with profound conviction that I know that to venture into that ashen waste is learn that which the mortal mind has no faculty to know. I am so certain that it promises nothing but maddened doom, that I know one day I will venture there. Like lifting a scab, it is in our very nature to seek our own destruction."

  • An-Dahl, Initiate-Brother of the Rek├╝m

The Taint

As little as the folk of Allornus know about magic, less is known about the taint, Sometimes ironically called 'The Gift', it seems that the taint is something that overtakes a mortal when he is exposed to true magic at work, or a place where it is strong. And it changes him. At first these changes might seem like a boon - for not only does he have supernatural power, but he can channel the stuff of true magery. But soon his body begins to distort, or the world begins to go wrong around him. And his mind unwinds shortly after, until all that remains is a twisted monster, or a mad sorcerer, who must be destroyed.

Types of Magic


Channelling is the most powerful kind of magic one might expect to encounter being wielded by a mere mortal. A channeller cannot provide the energy required to enact the magical flux that facilitates change, but once cursed by the gift of magic, he can do is stimulate these energies in the world around him with long, complicated, secret rituals. These are both extremely jealously guarded and often difficult and highly precise. In addition, those of most use call on the channeller to act as a sort of lens to focus energy between its raw, chaotic state in the shadow world, into the real world. Most spells teach how to protect oneself against these energies while casting the spell, but if something has been copied or learned incorrectly or if a mistake is made in the heat of them moment (an easy occurrence in sometimes hours-long rituals) then the results are nearly always cataclysmic, especially for the caster who is acting as that conduit. As a result this sort of ritualistic magic is extremely rare, used only by the confident and foolhardy, and is considered to be evil by most.

There are also other concerns with spellcasting. Primarily that when drawing on the energy of another being a spellcaster should be familiar with what kind of energy he wants, and sure that the being has sufficient supplies of such energy, and also be sure that the being will not react adversely to being robbed of this energy. Most elementals are lethargic, and are aware of little of what goes on around them, but some are especially active, and often vengeful, able to smash a would-be magician with falling stone or flash flood, or even manifest in physical form to tear a hapless magician apart while he is occupied trying to stop the forces he has unleashed from utterly annihilating him.

Of course some spells are minor, so much so that nearly everyone knows them. Peasant superstitions that have a grain of truth in them (and many do) are a kind of simple magic, and it carries very little risk indeed, so perfected have these practices been over the years. In Ralstaa for instance all kinds of protections from curses and other means by which to disperse low-grade magic are common knowledge, and most religions teach their initiates at least a handful of simple rituals that can be used to bring about a boon of some kind, often credited as being facilitated by the specific divh worshiped, but usually simply known as 'secrets' only taught to the initiated.This also explains why simple superstitious rituals only work in the dominion of certain kinds of elemental. A sprig of holly may be far more of a protective talisman in a glen embodying a life-tuned elemental than on top of a fire-tuned elemental's volcano. The sun and moons are also elementals, the largest and most powerful of their kind, and so have major impact on this kind of magic.

Un-Magic


Alchemy

In the Darkrealm the secrets of alchemy replace most modern sciences, specifically chemistry. Chemistry as we know it does not function in the Darkrealm, instead each substance is defined not by the atoms it contains, but by the elements. Certian combinations will release certain elements, and certain elements in combination in the correct ration will have specific effects. Really alchemy is the cobbled together studies of the properties of plants, minerals and animals. While conventional real world realities hold true, more complex chemical rules are meaningless, as is the majority of elements of the periodic table. Air is not comprised of oxygen and nitrogen, it is comprised of air. Natural gas is air containing a certain amount of fire, which is why it is explosive and burns the lungs, and lava is earth and fire in equal measure, and the cooling of lava is explained as the fire escaping into the air, with each element desirous of reaching a sort of place in a vertical strata that is most natural for it. The rules of alchemy are cosmetically the same as those of the real world of the players, but functionally totally alien.

As a result alchemy is not considered true magic, because it utilizes properties and reactions that are naturally occurring, but at the same time an Alchemist is recreating these reactions himself, based on an understanding of them. Like spells alchemical formulae are jealously guarded, but unlike spells they are far easier to pioneer. An average alchemist will know a good deal of common combinations and formulae that are the fundamentals of his craft, but the best only know one or two special formulae that they guard closely, with which they can create effects that occasionally rival the simpler effects of channeling. And of course a good alchemist is always experimenting to determine the properties of new substances and create new reactions to create new formulae.

Divination

Unlike an alchemist a diviner does not actually do anything. The spirits on the world live outside of the mortal conception of time, and see things that were, things that are, and things that probably will be. Time is not a continuum, it is a moment that is gone the instant it is passed, but the conception of cause and effect that a eons old all seeing creature like an elemental or a divh has is far beyond the realm of even the finest mortal mind, so as to be near to infallible. And their perception is charted by changes it causes in the world around them. By knowing which changes mean what a good diviner can read the world around him to predict the past, present or future events of which he has no direct knowledge.

There are a number of ways to do this, some more effective than others. The casting of runes or reading of card or other random elements can give very minute details, but is also highly interpretive, where the reading of portents speaks to broad trends, or major events, but is extremely reliable if done well.

Combining Un-Magic

Of course all of these different kinds of magic and demi-magic are at their most effective when an individual uses them to compliment one another. The place the magical energy comes from is crucial to using magic in a Darkrealm game. Like all challenging tests, magic is all about finding clever ways to generate bonuses before taking that final test. Most spells base difficulties are beyond impossible for an average man, and so a magician must be well studied in how to accrue bonuses in order to make success possible, and avoid the universally unpleasant results of large-margin failure. Solar and especially lunar cycles, time of day, exposure to certain elements, multiple casters, a so-called 'mana battery' and the wise use of divination to find out when the time is right, and alchemy to introduce lacking elements, and such things as tagging in and out with another magician over particularly long or demanding rituals can all be excellent ways to make the seemingly impossible a reasonable risk.

The Gift


Few men in the world of the Darkrealm can truly say they have seen magic in practice. Many believe that magic is a thing of the past - that it died or left the world with the last of the Divh, and that the magicians of the world are elaborate charlatans and tricksters. But a few will be exposed to magic. And a few of those will be close enough to be touched by it - tainted, corrupted - and those that are will never again be the same. They are (perhaps with a dark irony) called 'The Gifted', and from the point that they acquire their gift onwards, they are unravelling. The gift usually manifests in some small way, warping the body of the gifted individual, or attracting certain energies to him. But he is also empowered to channel magical power through his body, to be the lens through with the unnatural flows into the world.

Channelling

Usually the body of a living being would be utterly destroyed by the energies that an elemental would usually wield, but in the case of the gifted they are, to some extent, insulated from this, and if properly trained they can manipulate the raw stuff of the unnatural by an act of supreme will. Known as channelling, this can mean that they are able to manipulate the laws of the world as a sculptor might manipulate clay, and though they should still fear their power, with caution they can be successful.

The Dev

The force that is behind magic; the agency for change on a grand scale, lies in two places. The Divh; the spirits outside the world, and the elementals; the spirits of the world. When the Creator first shaped the world he gave it a spirit, and it began to shape itself of its own volition, and spawn more and more spirits. These were the elementals, the spiritual energies behind the raw stuff of reality. Eventually the divh saw fit to take back control of reality as it threatened to engulf them, and in order to do so bound the elementals to mortal forms, making their agency in the world finite as defined by the age of these bodies. Some elementals are physically manifested as ranges of mountains, or great forests, but some took more subtle forms, and some few of these begat children with the mortal beings that they found in the world, be they man, myr or beast. These scions of the blood of the elementals became known as the 'gifted' for the often strange powers they possessed.

About one in every ten thousand people in the world have the gift, the blood of the elementals, to some extent. However often it is so minor, so diluted by countless generations, that they never realize. But some very few individuals, perhaps one in a million, have startling, spectacular manifestations of the elemental powers that reside within them. The elemental properties of the gifted individuals vary from person to person, they are always associated with a single element depending on which kind of elemental has fused with them: fire, earth, air, water, life, death, light or dark. They may benefit from specific unique abilities, and all of this is discussed in the Gift section of the Encyclopedia Arcana at more length. But in terms of understanding magic, it is the ability of the gifted and the elementals that forms the foundation for the upper echelons of true magic. And in the case of the gifted all of them possess the ability to perform a unique feat called channeling.

Typical Magical Knowledge


The most prominent magicians in the world are those featured in the atlas, but they are certainly not representative of a typical magician, in fact the gap between the worlds finest and even a magician of great power is extreme, so it is beneficial to devote some time here to explaining what a typical level of knowledge for a professional magician would be.

The Wizard Archetype

The Wizard is a very common fantasy trope, and while this trope does exist here and there in Darkrealm games, he is certainly not an individual that every group of players should have ready access to, however one does not need to be a wizard to know a spell or two, or find one in a book and give it a go. Wizards are highly learned sages who have made their life's study in understanding the forces of magic, so as to best safely use them, and guarantee their success. They are rare, devoted individuals who, for the most part, refrain from actively using their knowledge except in the direst need, because of the degree of risk involved even for them. More common is for a group of people to stumble upon a book, or scroll and find a spell in it, and want to see what it does. This, more often than not, ends in disaster. Even a real 'wizard' has likely not bothered to commit any but the most simple rituals at his disposal to memory, and the most learned of their kind may only have access to a dozen, while the least may know one or two. Also the majority of these has experienced some kind of magical backlash, meaning that the vast majority are almost entirely mad. However the lack of restriction of how these can be used in game mean that a simple piece of magic can prove exceptionally useful. Like all things in the Darkrealm game, success is not defined by overbearing power, but by clever use of the resources at hand, and care has been given to ensure that most spells are versatile in this respect, while paradoxically having been designed for one very specific task.

Sources

Magical knowledge is found in very very few places, and this probably contributes majorly to its rarity. From the rise and collapse of the Kelorn Mage Clans to the purges of the Imperatry Reformation much has been intentionally destroyed, mainly to keep it from falling into the hands of those who don't know hoe to use it, and more still has been taken to the grave by magicians who never committed it to parchment, reasoning that it would be careless to put such lore into the world in that manner. As such there are very very few reliable sources of magical lore. Holy Books usually contain one or two simple spells, but often in versions that are only available to initiated members of the faith, and limited literacy puts this beyond the average man's reach. However stealing or obtaining copies of these from those priests who are in need of coin are popular ways of circumventing this. And of course some texts have survived the various purges. Thanks to secrecy magical knowledge remains in flux throughout history, as so much must be periodically rediscovered.

Research and discovery is very very difficult given how little information is available, and how risky a failed experiment can be, but a few magicians are actively authoring new material, and some are even writing it down, or even producing material for their apprentices. There are only a handful of such individuals in the world, but they are often prolific, and form the core of a magical revival. More often than not however it is the less responsible elements of the art whose work is in the world, and it written magic, transcribed carelessly or by the illiterate, often assumes protections that it does not directly instruct, or mistranslates, or merely omits key steps. And woe to anyone who gets hold of the lore of the Toldaks of Maldaakore or tries to steal from one of the surviving mage clans. Known books of magic are things of legend,named for their original writer, who compiled them from older works, doing the translation himself, and tested the material. Older versions of such books might be lost, or might exist in various translations and transcripts named, in turn, for their intrepid authors.

Magic and the Setting


Danger!

As we have discussed before there is an element of danger to all magic. Magic is an often chaotic force of change that the mortal form was never designed to act as a conduit for. Magicians can be ripped apart by power, have their souls replaced by another creature, their bodies can be dramatically changed, or they can have even greater dangers. Magicians calling for rain might call forth a cataclysmic storm of fire and lightening, or bring a whirlwind down right on their heads. Magicians trying to heal a dying man might find the life force coming from their own bodies. When things go even a little wrong with magic the results are dire, and when they go badly wrong the results are catastrophic. It is perhaps not surprising that many people in the world would sooner burn magical knowledge, and its practitioners, than risk their powers going awry.

Superstition and Religion

Because magic is rare it is also unnatural and terrifying to most people. In the majority of role playing games a wizard might conjure a light to better see by, in the Darkrealm directors are urged to have people panic and flee when a man does this. Those who are unfamiliar with magic are terrified by the unnatural just as you or I might be if we ever actually saw a ghost, and those who are familiar with magic (but do not practice it themselves) usually have a good idea of just how volatile even a seemingly benign spell can be if it gets out of control, and tend to (perhaps wisely) have a natural urge to distance themselves. Psychological rules are provided for the abject terror of seeing magic performed, and directors are urged to habitually use them.

Less is More

Literally this is true. To get the most out of magic, use it, but use it sparingly. It should be exceptionally rare, but we are telling a story in a fantasy setting, and while the vast majority of people will go through their lives never even coming close to seeing anything but very minor magic, we have chosen to tell the story of these characters for a reason, and magic is a cornerstone of the fantasy genre. Ensure that when magic appears that everyone has the sense that they are experiencing something rare and special, and titanically momentous (not to mention often exceptionally powerful) and you will have used magic right. Directors: If players get hold of a spell and want to try it out let them, and have no qualms about having them level a city either by accident or design. The use of magic is a world changer, and there are few who are really prepared to stand against it.

The Encyclopaedia Arcana: Magic in the Darkrealm
Chapter 1 Magic in the World;
Chapter 2 Alchemy;
Chapter 3 Divination;
Chapter 4 Spellcasting & Corruption;
Chapter 5 Talismans, Relics and Artefacts;
Appendices Alchemical Formulae; Magical Spells; Random Magical Collapses.