Worlds of Whimsy #2 – World of the Oldest Magic

The world I’d like to discuss this time is more fantasy-oriented this time in the classic sense.  I crafted this one out in more detail than the previous one as I actually thought of it in game terms from the start.  I actually had several stories planned, but after I wrote the first one I found out trying to plot the second I didn’t have a good feel of where it was actually going.  Still, this is a world I’d hate to see go to waste.

Obviously given the name, the first thing I’d like to cover is the way magic works here.  From a high level it’s like what’s called Vancian magic, aka the way magic worked until 4th edition D&D, with daily limits and all.  The way it works however is much less abstract.

In this world, most spells take a long time to cast from scratch, like several minutes at least.  The way casters work around this is they go through most of the cast, but leave a crucial piece out, such as a certain word or gesture.  Doing this right allows them to “hang” the spell mentally and complete it at any time with the missing piece.  The higher level the spell, the harder it is to master and prepare, and there’s only so many “attachment points” to hang spells off of, which gives the effect of Vancian magic, while allowing a few ways to bypass it for story reasons.

There’s another piece to the nature of magic that calls back to old school D&D too.  Metal can ground magic, like a Faraday cage, preventing it form being used on armored targets in a lot of cases, and obviously preventing casters from having a significant amount of metal covering them.  There is an exception however, a type of magic user called a warlock.  They can still use magic even while in armor, but it’s a rare hereditary gift, and those who can are usually feared by the mundanes and full casters alike.

Magic is also not too uncommon at the lower levels, but becomes rarer at higher levels.  Most towns for example may have access to level 1 spells and cantrips – think town healer with “Cure Light Wounds” or streetlamps with the “Light” spell.  Level 2 and 3 spells are typically only found in larger cities and are fairly rare outside that.  There’s little publicly known of level 4 or 5 spells, other than nationwide heroes are typically the only ones capable of such feats, and the spell libraries supporting them are typically kept in kingdom libraries or by royal magisters, away from those who would use them against the kingdom.

The highest and oldest magic however is fertility-based, and requires lovers who are willing to give fully of themselves to each other.  At the time of the story, this had been lost among the younger races, and only the dragons still held the secrets of such magic.  This would have been part of the twist in the end.  As such however, it’s not anything that need ever come up in a game due to its rarity, unless your game is already inclined in that direction of course.

While dragons are something that will be covered in the timeline, there is another side to all this.  The world at the time of this writing is on the cusp of a scientific and technological expansion, and age of exploration.  The smaller towns are still at the typical Fantasy tech level, but as you enter bigger populations, you’re more likely to see tech working in tandem with magic, leading more towards a steampunk level of things.  Guns exist, but are still fairly crude, and mostly in use among the kobolds.

Speaking of which, the intelligent races on this world aren’t necessarily the Tolkein defaults.  Well, some do start that way, but with little twists.

  • Humans are fairly similar to humans everywhere, as usual, but they are improvisers and are the most likely to mix technology and magic
  • Elves are all dark-skinned and are the survivors of an ancient magical empire that was lost in a cataclysmic event that shaped the world they know today.  They are not a forest people, and live in the remains of their crumbling cities.
  • Dwarves are still very traditional and clannish, but they don’t care about gems and other shinies.  They live for metalworking, and like their creations, they are very slow to change.
  • Orcs in the “modern” day can best be likened to gypsys.  They travel the land, calling no land their home, living out of wagons and making their way through life as they will.  There may be a few marauding tribes out there still, but they have little relation to the wagon-traveling orcs.
  • Kobolds in this world are tinkers and inventors.  Think tinker gnomes, except their inventions actually work!  They are the ones primarily driving the technical revolution, as spellcasters of their race are few and far between, much like dwarves.

The last and juciest bit is the timeline, which stretches back 2500 years from the modern day.

  • -2000 CE(Common Era) – A golden age of magic-as-tech. Elven empires spanned the world, with draconic advisors to guide them. Dwarves were isolationist and buried deep beneath their mountain, using the natural iron to keep elven magics out.  With nothing left to conquer or explore, the elves began to focus their vision outward, to other stars and planes.
  • -1000 CE – So far most worlds or planes visited have been barren of intelligent life. Elven advancement in most fields ceases, apart from entertainment, as they begin to lose the motivation for further advancement
  • -500 CE – An unknown elven mage stumbles onto a planet with beings much like themselves, but with rounded ears, and a lifeforce that burns brighter than theirs, but faster in equal measure.

    They send an envoy using magic to hide his ears. He lives among these “humans” as they call themselves for a time, and helps found a kingdom to spread the elven ways. Things go wrong and he is forced to flee back through the gate, but not before taking as many folks as he can from the kingdom before it was destroyed, using mists to hide his escape. The elf’s name was Myrlyn.

  • -250 CE – The small foothold of human civilization quickly expands into a small kingdom on this new(to-them) world. However, they are also reckless with the new knowledge they uncover. With elven and draconic help, most of the arcane disasters were kept on a small scale. Dragons on the other hand have begun to retreat back over the sea to their homeland, as if they sense some great disaster approaching.
  • -100 CE – A particularly gifted human is born. Recognizing his potential, the elves take him fully under wing and guide his studies. While still young however, he stumbles across the old portal used to bring humankind to this world. He hides this fact from the elves, but begins to focus on dimensional studies
  • -50 CE – Curious, the mage took all his knowledge and attempted to open the portal himself, secretly, although last time it had taken a full council of elves. He almost succeeds, but as the elves arrive to try and stop him, the energies go out of control and instead a portal is opened to a desert land. Before they can close it, a ban of green-skinned marauders rides through, slaughtering the mage and his elven teachers. Before long, more come through as the marauders hold off the elven warriors, unused to hard battle after centuries of peace, and the first elven-orc war begins
  • 0CE – In a last ditch effort to close the portal, the most learned elven mages take the ley lines that run through the portal and forcibly relocate the nexus. As the ley lines chaotically re-arrange themselves, magic goes wild. The mountain underneath the dwarven capital erupts, wiping out the city and the royal family. Cities that had been floating found themselves rocketing into space, or crashing into the ground below. Persistant spells and magical effects themselves vanished, to reappear elsewhere, or in some rare cases even took on a life of their own.

    The portal is destroyed, but at the cost of most of the elven civilization, and those that remained were shaken by what they had done. It had changed them all on a fundamental level; the skin of every elf alive had turned a dusky color, as if covered in ash.

  • 100CE – Within a few human generations or one elven generation, the fallout from the ley line changes had settled, leaving much about magic changed in its wake. The arcane was no longer as easily accessible, requiring great precision and concentration to mold even the simplest of effects, compared to the marvels that were once experienced daily.

    Dwarven society had broken up along clan lines, and for their own survival had reached out to the neighboring human settlements, providing worked iron tools in exchange for supplies and food.

    While orc raiders were still a problem, humanity had brought their science to bear and started looking for non-magical solutions, even as the elves who were only now entering the prime of their life bemoaned their lost society.

    The elves themselves had remained behind the walls of the cities that had survived up until this point, but as they felt the ley lines settle they began to venture out again into the changed world, making contact once more with the humans. They found a less-than hospitable welcome from most dwarves however, as they (rightly) blamed the elves for the destruction of their former capital.

  • 150 CE – A particularly frustrated human mage discovers how to “prepare” spells by leaving them unfinished, and nearly blows up his own home. He shares this discovery and founds a magickal college in the capital of the human Terian Empire, Duskhold. This starts a magical renaissance of sorts over the next century as human and elf explore the limits of this technique.

    Orcs begin to “settle down” into caravans as their most aggressive are weeded out over and over, and become a race of nomadic travelers, travelling the land in wagon caravans trading(and stealing) what they need.

  • 200 CE – A particularly ambitious human king attempts to re-unite the continent in his name, using this new magical knowledge. He nearly succeeds, but the dragons, not having been seen in nearly a hundred years, return in force and raze his stronghold to the ground. His son, much wiser and less ambitious takes his place and the empire fragments into several kingdoms and Fiefdoms. Most of the dragons return to their homeland across the sea, but a small group stays behind, settling among the mountains.
  • 350CE – First appearance of kobolds among the worldly races. Even more energetic and short-lived than humans, they combine that with the touch for metal that dwarves have. Great inventors, but not great at refining ideas. They kick off a small scientific renaissance not unlike the magical one earlier. While the elves longed for their magics, and the dwarves were too stubborn to take advantage of most of the new tech, humans combined it with their magical knowledge and began to explore the world once more.
  • 547CE – Present day.

And there began the story of a human warlock and his dragon lover-to-be.  That story series would not have had huge repercussions outside the barony the warlock had been near to inheriting.  In the end, in the other portion of the twist, the magics would have changed him as well and he would have become fully dragon in both body and soul as the price for what he had asked.

This one would make a fairly good campaign setting I think.  And who knows, maybe it will someday, on the game tables of the folk reading this, or maybe even my own!

Someday.

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