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Setting: True Names

December 8, 2012 1 comment

TheSpecktre, who plays Knostril asked:

So a Primordial’s true name is like Entish? Telling the story of that individual? :P

That’s an interesting question and it’s not far off the mark actually. The Truth is that True Names are far, far more complicated than that – they form part of the fundamental base code of the universe, and are heavily linked to Divine Magic.

First off, a True Name isn’t a story per se, and it’s not just Primordials who have them – practically everyone alive, dead or otherwise does. Often, a True Name is referred to as a “Soul Name” because it’s something living, conscious beings tend to have, but the label is inaccurate. True names have been at least established as existing for entire species, important locations, philosophical concepts and even, Gods – none of which have singular souls, and some of which aren’t technically “alive” by any practical definition. In addition, it doesn’t just describe their history, but their future as well.

A True name is more like a series of definitions describing the thing in totality than a story. It’s called a “True Name” because it indicates a thing so specifically it only describes them and nothing else in the universe. It’s not just comprised of words, because words carry intent and broad implications that can change within a culture over time. It’s more specific than that, including its own ideas and concepts to provide an objective specific context that gives the words meaning. In fact, a true Name often contains more information than could ever be practical. So usually what you perceive as one is an abbreviated, simplified version of the real thing, interpreted by complex magics to apply your will to the real thing. This limits your ability to use it, but you have to in order for it to have any practical applicability. The thing that makes True Names useful and powerful instead of obscure bits of arcana nobody can interact with is the spells used to access it essentially define it as a mathematical variable, which you can alter by including it in an equation.

The way this works is heavily abstracted, but most scholars agree that True Names are, or are the result of a very pure, very powerful form of divine magic. Most beliefs are vague or conflicted or uncertain enough that they create very little impact on reality unless you have a lot of people believing in concert, but a True Name so completely encapsulates the idea of a thing that all ambiguity or uncertainty is by definition lost. When you gain such a transcendent understanding of some facet of reality, you wield almost surgical power over how it is expressed in the universe. Some say this is how the Gods function, others suspect it might be something beyond even them.

What is less ambiguous is that having a True Name doesn’t just command things, it can change them fundamentally. Major changes tend to be difficult in that they require rewriting and re-contextualizing a huge amount of information, and generally a mortal brain just doesn’t have the processing power to do that even with magical interpretation, but straightforward changes  in behavior, high level functions and attitudes are often “simple” enough to be practical. Where by simple I mean complicated as all hell but not so complicated that powerful mages can’t find a way to use them.

That’s why True Names are often used just to influence powerful beings, rather than to reshape oneself into a God; that and there are really good reasons to limit what you do with them. Firstly, you’d have to have nearly the mental capacity of a God to attempt it, second, if you did you wouldn’t be stupid enough to try fundamentally rewriting yourself because you’d understand the extraordinary risks involved. Risks including defining yourself out of existence by including a contradictory term. Or screwing up the way you interact with the universe in the exact wrong way that you tear a hole in the fabric of spacetime. Or even just altering the way you think, damaging your interpretation of your own name, causing an infinite feedback loop twisting you into a self-contradictory fractal abomination that cannot and should not exist. Among other things.

To be the kind of person who could use a true name to a significant fraction of it’s potential you’d have to be either a God or something more than a mere mortal – even the magically powered icons would have difficulty doing something really drastic without external aid. That’s not to say they can’t get said aid or collaborate with one another, but they rarely, if ever do. To do it yourself you’d have to  not only be supernaturally intelligent (an ancient dragon lord perhaps), able to harness the power of multiple minds working in parallel (say, if you took control of the Collective Unconscious on Wyrmweb and forced its users to think for you) and have an incredibly strong will (the kind it takes to rule a galaxy). And that’s a rather low estimate for a minimum baseline on my part. Luckily, people like that are pretty few and far between.

To give you one last idea of why this is a good thing, imagine a God and a Primordial who know one another’s True Names having a duel. Now Imagine every atom in a universe exploding at the speed of light, while the speed of light itself deteriorates into nothing as all sensibility and reality breaks down into pure, literal chaos. There is potentially no difference between those two scenarios. For that reason, a lot of people praise Ioun, god of Knowledge for making it really hard for people to use True Names.

Categories: Setting

Setting: Myddea Luminastra

November 17, 2012 1 comment

I made a comment earlier that if anyone else were to run a game in the Age of Stars setting I’d want to play a young version of the Astrosage. She’s one of my favourite icons and has what I consider the most interesting backstory of all of them. Somehow that translated into me actually drawing her and statting her for 13th Age. She’s an Aasimar Sorceress with strong ties to the Archmage and his arcane magic, and the High Priestess, though her relationship with the latter is not nearly so positive. I know I’ve always referred to The Astrosage as a wizard, but a Sorceress would really be the more accurate description for the way her powers manifest.

All of Myddea’s powers are space themed.

But before she ascended to greatness she was cast out from the church of Corellon, and left to wander the lands gathering her arcane power and slowly coming to understand her unique situation. As an Aasimar, Myddea has supernal blood flowing through her veins, and comes from a long line of high priestesses – a role she can no longer fulfill. As she travelled her priest’s robes became tattered and she traded her ceremonial staff for a more practical spear, spending what little money she could scrounge together on protection from both her enemies, and the remote reaches of the galaxy.

You can see the original 13th Age High Priestess on which she was based here. Her costume might have initially looked something like that.

Categories: Setting

Setting: The Four Sources

November 2, 2012 4 comments

Magic in the Age of Stars is defined as a product of four different power sources – Arcane, Divine, Primal and Psionic, each with their own unique properties and effects. Because they define a lot about how the universe works, here’s a bit of an explanation of what they are and how they interact. All magic draws on different forces inherent to the universe, and can be wielded through different thought processes, with some being more amenable to certain kinds of thinking than others. Different kinds of magic may be inherited from one’s ancestors or learned as a skill, though not everyone is able to wield it effectively. Often non-magic users are able to unconsciously draw on it in order to perform superhuman feats, but they can’t shape it in the way an actual mage can. These aren’t comprehensive descriptions, as so much about the nature of magic is either unknown or involves conflicting schools of thought, but people tend to agree on most of these facts.

Primal

Primal Magic was the first kind of magic discovered on Nasca and is perhaps the oldest in the universe. It flows from the creative aspects of elemental chaos, rewriting the fundamental nature of the universe, and as such is highly concentrated in nebulae and within stars. This connection to the fundamental forces of the universe has earned Primal magic a reputation as “nature magic” because it is at its most potent where nature has been allowed to grow unchecked. Primal wielders tend to be tribal and traditional, acting on instinct more than reason, strengthening their connection to the primal forces through their passion and more animalistic qualities. As such you get barbarians who perform extraordinary feats through bestial rage, and druids who assume the forms of the animals they live in harmony with. Of course, for different races “getting in touch with nature” means different things, but the broad strokes are similar for most sentient creatures.

Divine

Divine magic is the magic of the Gods, or to be more precise the magic of faith. It flows from widely held ideas strong convictions, and is generally wielded in the service of great causes or steadfast ideologies. As a magic of order it works to impose belief on the universe, reshaping reality to the will of sentient beings. Divine magic does not come from the gods, so much as the Gods come from it. Each one represents a massive concentration of belief, which is what gives them their powers, while their personality comes from a mass cultural personification of the idea. For example, Bahamut originated as a powerful metallic dragon who stood for justice and protection, and in death he became synonymous with it, giving a life and a persona to the concepts as the new god of Justice.

Primal magic is often at odds with Divine magic, and the two tend to aggressively counteract one another. A sufficiently powerful Primal power source such as the one beneath Ferrosa has the power to alter the nature of life and death, allowing for the physical manifestation of souls under certain conditions, even if that soul would not normally manifest*. The gods meanwhile can overpower the magic of nature, resurrecting the dead or performing miracles. Because of this Primal/Divine paradox mages tend to have great power over the fabric of the universe, but their constant spiritual imbalance can result in the effects of their spells being corrupted, sacrificing specific effects of one source with the effects of another.So smiting someone with a lightning bolt might cauterize their wounds or even heal them unintentionally.

*Souls manifesting through primal magic are called spirits and tend to do so because of a powerful emotion or significant event. Souls manifesting through divine magic are ghosts and tend to stick around as a result of unfinished business or to aid a cause they served in life. Psionics can’t cause a soul to manifest but a sufficiently powerful psionicist might leave a psychic imprint on an area, which will resemble their consciousness, but isn’t actually them. Arcane magic doesn’t manifest souls, but necromancy can be applied to an already manifesting soul for fun, profit and undying horror.

Arcane

Arcane Magic involves harnessing raw chaotic power to break ordinary physical laws, and as such can be highly destructive. It seeps through the universe via leylines – magical hotspots that occur through as-of-yet unknown means. Sorcerers, dragons and demons favour this kind of magic because it’s very direct and highly flexible. On the flipside, statistical analysis and complex mathematical operations can be employed to use arcane magic in highly ordered, structured ways. Reducing the uncertainty of certain events happening to a statistically negligible amount is how wizards and artificers operate.

Arcane magic reacts with primal magic by resonating and amplifying one another – Arcane/Primal Paradox Mages can amplify primal spells with arcane power, and imbue arcane spells with unpredictable primal effects, whether intentionally or otherwise. As such, these kinds of mages rarely occur naturally, and often destroy themselves and others with their untamed magical energy before they can fully gain control of their abilities. A notable exception is when one becomes a paradox warlock, in which case the effects of the interaction are much easier to control with two entities managing them.

Divine Magic reacts with Arcane as a lens does with light – focusing or shaping it, changing specific properties to reflect the mage’s beliefs. An Arcane/Divine Paradox mage manifest their spells differently to their peers – a fireball may be cast as a cleansing holy flame for example. Meanwhile a divine ward against physical harm may prevent other magic from affecting the target instead. These effects make arcane/divine paradox mages highly versatile within their chosen fields.

Psionic

Psionic magic is the power of the rational mind created and centered around conscious thought processes. Where Divine magic is concerned with what people believe, Psionic magic is about how they believe it. Whether practicioners being monks seeking to free their minds of earthly distractions to achieve transcendence, or psions using their understanding of physics or psychology to apply telekinetic forces or mental suggestions respectively. This is why psionic knowledge is often considered less important to the skill than the process of attaining the knowledge in the first place. Being able to comprehend the mechanics or influences behind a subject is what grants a psionicist their power, which is why psions tend to gravitate towards scientific understanding and study.

Psionic power tends to be highly opposed to the primal way of thinking, or to be more precise the lack thereof. Where Primal power requires emotion and instinct, psionic power favours logic and rationality. Because of this, Psionic/Primal Paradox mages must reconcile their conscious thought with their unconscious instinct, learning the triggers and connections of their own minds and how even the most logical thought derives from innate primal instinct. Doing this grants a strange kind of focus, turning the manifestations of their abilities from organic shapes to crystalline lattices, making them much harder to dispel or interrupt. It is conjectured that shardminds evolved in such a state, becoming highly intelligent in an environment of extreme primal magic. Much like a diamond is forged through heat and pressure, the shardminds became the way they are today.

Arcane magic tends to be similarly opposed to Psionics, with the chaotic forces of arcana rendered static by psionics. The spontaneous manifestations of Arcane magic defy causal reasoning, so a Psionic/Arcane paradox mage will often cancel out their own abilities. This means the most common paradox mages are some variants of Wizard, using their understanding of arcane theory, rituals and spellcraft to satisfy the requirements of psionic reasoning.  This expertise tends to be highly rewarding however as Arcane/Psionic mages are masters of their craft, shaping new spells from raw effects and manifesting psionic enchantments that confound the mind or heighten the senses. The highest concentrations of such mages are found within the Faraday Corps, which is famous for its use of mental magic in ways that for centuries only wizards could dream of.

Mastering both Psionic and Divine magic requires not only strong convictions but rational philosophy and reasoned logic backing them up. Given the right cause, this kind of mage can have their faith bolstered by logic and their curiosity satisfied by a well explored worldview. This strengthens both aspects of a Psionic/Divine mage’s spellcraft and is considered by monks and clerics alike to be a state of enlightenment, compared to understanding the fundamental nature and meaning of the universe. The level they describe however is rarely achievable, but it is something aspired to by many, even those who cannot wield both powers. Nonetheless, a Psionic/Divine paradox mage is a force to be reckoned with.

Categories: Setting

Setting: The Obsidian Vault

October 24, 2012 3 comments

I mentioned on twitter a while ago I might write another Age of Stars campaign for my friends at home. Whether it pans out or not is yet to be determined, but I thought you guys might find my pitch interesting. It occurs pretty far away from the goings-on on Ferrosa, with different icons to the ones you’ve seen, but there’s some relevant info on Nasca here that you might like.

Categories: Setting

Setting: The Thirteen Seals

October 20, 2012 1 comment

Each Icon in the Age of Stars has their own seal, representing them in some abstract way. These seals are unique to the icon, and are not used by anyone else, except when referring to them. The seals are used by agents of their respective icons to verify that they act with that person’s authority. Often such insignias are used to tag certain areas where the icons’ influence has been exercised as a way to signal other agents. Such marks are typically enchanted by a glamour, allowing only the icon’s allies to see it. Such enchantments can easily be dispelled, but doing so will erase the glyph, and being able to detect an Icon Seal is not the same as being able to read it. That said, some with conflicted or even negative relationships with certain icons have reported being able to detect and read their seals, though it tends to require more effort than otherwise.

Each icon has a corresponding seal, whether chosen by themselves or associated by them by others.

Some Icons choose to use the insignia of their organization as their seal, while others simply use a personal logo. They can be a statement of intent, something the icon believes reflects their personality, or simply a design their followers refer to them by.

What to they all mean?

Ceylon Tuatha chooses to identify himself through his terraforming efforts, the ones that earned him his title. He is immensely proud of it.

The Huntsman’s spiderlike insignia reflects his name and Drow heritage. It is functional, but the Huntsman would prefer to have no identifying marks.

Grayson Faraday encourages others to see the universe as it is, and his icon is about as clear an illustration of his teachings as he could muster. As such, it adorns the uniforms of the Faraday Corps.

Diin Aradesh refuses to use the symbol of Ioun unaltered, though he has had trouble disassociating himself from it due to his station. He insists Ioun’s symbol should be revered, not misattributed to him. As such his symbol is ever so slightly different.

Myddea Luminastra founded the Galactic Order of Astronomy and as such bears it’s symbol. After stepping down as the high priestess of Correllon – a position her preincarnations have held for a millenium – she proved to be an arcane prodigy, earning the right to bear the Star of Correllon once more.

Oona’s many avatars sign her name with a smile. It is customary for her foes to cross her seal’s eyes to prevent her from spying on them.

Shahrukh’s seal came from a political cartoon depicting her holding the fate of the universe within her claws. The webbed wings were meant to compare her unfavorably to Lolth – spider-goddess of the Drow, however she reportedly took a liking to the depiction. That said, she doesn’t breathe fire, she breathes poisonous gas. The cartoonist was reminded of this in the manner befitting a fine steak dinner.

The Blood Emperor’s seal depicts a heart cut in two. Opinions are divided as to whether he uses it literally to refer to his title, or metaphorically to refer to his sensitive, poetic side. OK, so they’re not really divided so much as people like to make fun of him from a very, very safe distance.

The Wild Man’s seal reflects his views on the duality of nature – it’s serenity, contrasted with its ferocity. The fact his ferocity is apparently tearing serenity apart is a connotation he has never explicitly rejected.

The Dwarven Hammer above Briginan Earthroot’s mountains is said by his political rivals to represent the size of his ego. He however would state that it merely refers to the Dwarves rising above their station. With overwhelming force.

Darvill and Amelia represent themselves with the ancestral seal of the house of Whitecliffe, the sun representing a new dawn for humanity.

Quartorzi’s seal is the subject of great debate. The fact she refuses to explain it is only partially owed to her muteness. Most people just settle for crystals=shardmind and leave it at that, but few seriously actually believe that’s all there is to it.

The origin of The Revolutionary’s symbol is unknown. It is used by her followers or supporters to show solidarity, but it is unknown if she ever uses it personally. It is unique in that it is only ever inscribed under glamour, and appears as another icon’s seal to anyone who is not already sympathetic to her cause.

What does this mean in-game?

Spot a seal, an icon had some influence here. You might spot a seal as a result of a successful relationship roll, or simply come across one if you’re in their territory. What it means can vary greatly, but seals are almost always beneficial to those they reveal themselves to. They will show up via detect magic as an indistinct blob splattered onto a surface, but can only be identified through either  successful relationship roll with the icon it represents (positive relationships identify them automatically).

You can also use a seal to identify yourself or others to an icon’s followers, or their enemies.

Categories: Setting

Setting: Ferrosa cross-section

October 16, 2012 2 comments

Area Map of Ferrosa (Session 2)

For those curious, here’s the map of Ferrosa as used in the campaign. It’s not to scale obviously.

The planet Migdol on which Ferrosa is located has an ecosystem of its own, including giant space squids who uproot treebirds from the forest for food, but are otherwise docile.
Because of this, Phillipe is considered the colony mascot, and the druids sometimes feed him from the top level of the biome (the upper dome has openable windows).

As the campaign progresses more of the map will be revealed. There is for example a subterranean cavern system which the party has yet to explore, but are consistently suspicious of.

The design’s a bit different from the original image but that’s because the original is wrong.

Categories: Setting

Setting: The History of Nasca

October 4, 2012 2 comments

Nasca is the Motherrock – the cradle of galactic civilization, so in honour of the fact the campaign is going to be starting this week, I thought I’d write up its history. If there’s anything in particular you need to figure out before then, now’s the time.

Those who originated from Nasca measure time via ages – vast global paradigms that begin and end with world shattering events. There have been 12 so far and Arcanauts takes place in the 13th.
The current age is known as The Age of Stars, which is also what I’m calling this campaign setting (Arcanauts is the campaign itself).

1 – The Age of Darkness
Before civilization really got started, the early humanoid races (humans, halflings and dwarves) were essentially no different from intelligent beasts such as goblins. They lived like the other beasts, surviving from day to day, with only the adaptability of humans, the strength of dwarves and the cunning of halflings keeping them alive.
2 – The Age of Druids
The discovery of primal magic allowed early humans to dominate their environments, cementing their place at the top of the food chain. The dwarves never mastered it in the same way, but were able to keep pace via technological prowess. Halflings could exploit either, though never as well as their cousins. Primal magic lead to an explosion of diversity, including the first elves, half elves, half orcs, half giants, half dwarves, shifters and wilden.
3 – The Age of Gods
The humanoid tribes developed the ability to weild divine magic, settling down and developing agriculture. The races learned to properly comprehend the Gods, understand their wills and draw on their abilities in exchange for worship. Dwarves took naturally to weilding this kind of magic, creating orders of paladins, while humans discovered how to channel divine energy from non-theistic beliefs such as causes or creeds. Divine magic quickly supplanted the practice of primal magic among “civilized” areas, but those in the wild never forgot the old ways. The first records of planetouched date from this era, as practicioners were able to make contact with ‘outsiders’, both friendly or otherwise.
4 – The Age of Arcana
Divine magic was often regarded by philosophers to be incomplete – its laws applying inconsistently to non-deistic casting. It was known that powerful magical beasts could create effects that were neither divine nor primal in nature, and that some people were born with inexplicably similar capabilities. Though initially feared, research into these strange gifts resulted in something new entirely – the field of arcane magic. The ability for anyone of sufficient education to cast powerful spells, and the dedicated facilities required to master them resulted in the establishment of large cities with universities and forums. It also meant the first scientific experiments into the nature of magic, resulting in powerful advances and strange creatures, some of whom (namely minotaurs) formed their own civilizations.
5 – The Age of Exploration
These new city-states were shocked to find Eladrin explorers arriving from across the oceans – already masters of arcane magic, but of a strange unearthly kind. This sparked an era of exploration, sailing the seas and searching for new lands, eventually mapping out the surface of Nasca. In addition, the Eladrin warned of their eternal foes – the subterranean, xenophobic drow, resulting in the discovery of the massive underground system of caverns lacing Nasca’s crust. Drow enclaves assaulted the surface world, plunging Nasca into war both above and below ground. Above ground, Nascan civilization fought off constant assaults, while subterranean incursions were beaten back at great cost by Dwarven Paladins, who prompted the leaders of their race to withdraw to their underground strongholds where they could remain vigilant against future threats. At the end of the war, The Dwarf lords, badly beaten but victorious, bitter from the lack of support from the other races did just that, taking their technology with them.
6 – The Age of Borders
After the defeat of the Drow and the withdrawal of the Dwarves, the surface found itself with its own problems. The massive exploration often resulted in land wars between the races of Nasca, and newfound nations struggled against one another over the few remaining unexplored lands and the first international empires were founded.
7 – The Age of Wills
Shardminds arrived in a massive meteor shower, bringing with them psionic magic, which became a rare and valuable skill taught to few. Even so, it was vehemently fought against by priests for its ability to subvert the will of individuals. This conflict resulted the first monastic orders, created in secret to oppose the outraged clergy. Eventually, advances in philosophy and the regulation of psionics by monks created an uneasy peace.
8 – The Age of Fire
This peace was broken when ancient dragons flew down from the mountains, waging a sudden and bloody war on civilization with the aid of the hitherto unknown dragonborn. Many of the advances of the age of philosophy were lost and monasteries were forced to relocate to cities or be destroyed by the dragonborn hordes. United against a common foe, practitioners of all four disciplines of magic were able to work in harmony to defeat the draconic menace.
9 – The Age of Unity
The empires after the age of fire were united under the four banners of magic, teaching each one in order to create realms of magnificent opulence and mystical grandeur. It was a time of peace and great mystical knowledge, however things were not to be. The scattered reports from that era suggest that artificers were on the verge of a breakthrough in magical technology, which was unfortunately lost as civilization was rocked by cataclysmic magical disasters that obliterated a great deal of information on the final years of the age, and the early years of the next.
10 – The Age of Discord
What is known is that it didn’t take long for the non-magical citizens of Nasca to rise up in revolution against the magocracy, utilizing the very magitechnology they had created to forcibly remove them from power, leveling cities with arcane explosives and waging war on all who practiced the now forbidden arts. Mages, becoming fewer and fewer in number retaliated with the creation of the Warforged – a machine race that brought entire armies to a standstill. Civilization was irrevocably changed as empires changed to be based on magic or mundane ideals.
11 – The Age of Reparation
With civilization shattered and power driving both sides mad, the future of civilization looked bleak, however hope was found in the form of 13 adventurers from all corners of Nasca. Their identities were never recorded – only their titles and the fact that all whom they encountered had claimed to see the stars above reflected in their eyes. They traveled the land, convincing the disparate empires of Nasca to unite once more for the good of all civilization. Their tale was legendary, and their work lasted beyond their lifetimes, with each descendant taking up the mantle of their predecessors to continue the work of peace and understanding.
12 – The Age of Prosperity
When the work of the thirteen families was complete, Nasca stood whole once more. It was a golden age – monsters were pushed away from settlements and into the remote areas of the world, while order reigned over civilization and a new harmony between mages and non-mages ensued. The first of the Whitecliffe line began to preside over civilization, and for more than 1000 years, all was well. Wizards worked to unlock the secrets of the universe, while historians sought to remember lost knowledge and artificers used technology to comprehend the physical laws – scientific understanding was slow, and painstaking, at least until practical uses for that knowledge were found.
13 – The Age of Stars
The ability to channel magic power through specially designed cores allowed for the production of fantastic amounts of energy, enough to travel to the moon and beyond. Early galactic travel involved traveling in repurposed sea vessels at FTL speeds from one planet to the next, under the protection of special wards. Soon after, techniques were refined to protect against the specific hazards of outer space making interstellar travel possible, if impractical for the masses. This changed when the massive Shard Station appeared in the skies, though few knew what to make of it at the time. Shortly it was attacked and taken over by the dragons who reached out to the dwarves for technological aid. The Shard Station was renamed ‘Wyrmweb’ and 200 years later, all corners of the galaxy are inhabited. This is not to imply a ludicrous growth in population, though it has grown, just that colonies are widespread and life is found on many more planets still.

Categories: Setting