Band of Bugbears
Magic in the world
Magic in the world of Arcadia is tied tightly to The Cycle. The cycle is a 1000-year long process of flare and fade. At the year 0 of each new Cycle, magic explodes into the world, causing races to mutate and shift, and awakening strange powers in many. This is known as Resonance. This process usually lasts for approximately 60 to 70 years, when the world “settles down” again, and new races and forms of magic cease formation.
It is important to note that all of these effects do not necessarily occur in all cycles. While records are not completely accurate, it is not believed that any sapient races emerged during the third cycle’s Resonance, nor the second cycle, but the only entities with accurate records or memories stretching back further than the mid to end of the first cycle are the Elves and some Dragons, and they have not been forthcoming with information.
In the first three hundred years of a cycle, there is a great deal of magical energy available to practitioners, and this phase is known as the Cornucopia. There are some species of creature that only reproduce during this phase, and it is theorized that their reproductive processes tap into the ambient energy available to result in viable offspring. This is most notably present in Dragons. During this phase magic is more potent and more flexible. All of the most powerful magical artifacts that have been uncovered have dated to the Cornucopia, especially the first 150 years thereof. Societies operating in The Cornucopia often come to rely on the abundant magical energy to “grease” the wheels of their society.
In the second three hundred years of a cycle, the magical energies available are fewer, but are still significant. This phase is known as the Equinox. This often is the “high water point” of magical practice, as the shifts in how magic is practiced stemming from the Resonance have been studied and accounted for, and the levels of ambient magical energy are still high enough to allow a great deal of magical experimentation. It should be noted that “permanent” magical enchantments are still possible during the Equinox, but they tend to be far less effective than enchantments created during the Cornucopia. The difference is between a sword capable of lighting on fire to deal more damage to targets and a sword that is capable of destroying a castle with a single swing.
In the final four hundred years of a cycle magic remains present, but many magical feats possible in the Cornucopia or Equinox are simply no longer possible, regardless of the amount of study put towards their accomplishment. This is known as the Fade An excellent example is the Time Stop spell. During the Cornucopia, any journeyman Gnostic wizard would be capable of stopping the flow of time around him for less than a minute. During the Equinox only the most skilled and experienced Gnostics could hope to accomplish the same feat. Today, late in the Fade, researchers at Settajet Institute of Magic believe that they have determined how to accomplish the same task, using twenty-five skilled Gnostics in a ceremony that would take place over the course of an hour and a half, and require the expenditure of components costing slightly over $250,000. While they are attempting to lower these barriers, the fact remains that with the same expenditure of effort, it is simply not possible to achieve the same results with magic that one could even 500 years ago. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of enchanted items. It is almost impossible to permanently enhance an item through magical means during the Fade. The only reliable form of enchantment is in potions and the like. Through expenditure of no small amount of material wealth and energy sufficient magic can be held in containment that while it does eventually “leak out” and cease functioning, up until that point the potion or other consumable spell can be used.
In the current cycle, there are two primary magical practices. These are referred to as Gnostic magic and Thatic magic. They are completely incompatible in approach, but both feed off of the same source. It is theorized that another world, or dimension, supplies the energy needed to perform magical spells, keeping their practice within the bounds of the laws of thermodynamics.
Regardless of the form that one uses to control magical energies, the process to utilize them remains the same.
- Acquire energy: The practitioner summons magical energy. It has been noted that some areas have far more “ambient” energy to be drawn from, but only in the most powerful magical spells will this make a practical difference. For details on how magical energy is summoned, see the articles on specific magical practices.
- Shape the energy: This step is where Gnostic practitioners and Thatic practitioners differ most noticeably. Key to this is that Gnostic practitioners tend to use complex equations and formula, along with implements and paraphernalia to shape the energy, where Thatic practitioners rarely have such trappings, and instead command the energy with the force of their will. Thatic practitioners often criticize Gnostics over the “overcomplexity” of their spellcasting, but Gnostics likewise often point out that Thatic magic is inherently imprecise in most functions.
- Release the energy: After the energy has been accumulated and then directed, it must be released in a smooth, orderly manner. Note that this magical release can interfere with communication and navigational gear, and in unusual circumstances even disrupt electrical appliances.
Dangers of Magic
In addition to the above mentioned issues with electical and magnetic forces being disrupted by magic, magic can be very dangerous. It must not be forgotten that magic cannot do anything inherently impossible, but can often do things more quickly, or in situations where only magic can complete a task. Take for example the “fireball” spell. In practice, what it accomplishes is to super-heat a sphere of air 20 feet in diameter, or slightly over 4100 cubic feet. This is accomplished over less than half a second. The “flame” seen is actually atmospheric hydrogen lighting on fire. The energy required to perform all this has been estimated to be approximately 120 million Joules, or about as much energy as used by two typical Galacian households in a single day. This spell is one of the less energy intensive spells in existence! This makes spellcasting dangerous for both the spellcaster and those around them. The most likely mishaps and the stage at which they are likely to occur are as follow:
- The primary danger during the energy accumulation phase is primarily one found in Gnostic magic. An improperly designed tool or mathematical error can result in an uncontrolled energy draw, allowing magical energy to spill out into the world with no form or control. The interaction of this energy with the world cannot be predicted. Luckily, this process usually destroys the caster and his or her equipment quickly, ending the draw. If the caster or equipment were somehow shielded entirely from the magic without breaking the connection to the magical source, the resulting energy draw could destroy the entire planet.
- The primary danger during the energy shaping phase is that a mistake will be made in the actual shaping. This is almost impossible to detect until the magic is released, and is commonly referred to as “Wild Magic”. Often wild magic will resemble the spell that was intended to be cast, but will seek out a different target, or have unusual side effects. In one notable incident, a Gnostic engineer working for the Serene Empire of Matacia enchanting sheets of metal to be used in a battleship applied his tools incorrectly, resulting in metal that was no more resistant to ballistic force, but was entirely immune to friction. The plate was moved to the Royal Academy of Magic and after it proved impossible to reverse engineer the magic, was put into service as a work of art. In field conditions, unfortunately, the results of wild magic are rarely as amusing, and are far more often deadly to the target of the magic, the spellcaster, or both.
- The primary danger during the energy release phase is simply that the the energy will be released in a burst, rather than slowly and smoothly. Many spellcasters report that the sensation of holding pent-up energy for a spell is highly uncomfortable, so this form of mishap is a hallmark of novice spellcasters. Releasing energy too quickly can have unpredictable effects, but the most common are damage to the spellcaster, whether in the form of burns or blinding, or simply a massive detonation in the case of more powerful spells.
Magic and Culture:
While different forms of magic have had different levels of penetration in global society, there are a few constants. Both Gnostic magic and Thatic magic require no special qualities from their practitioners to be put into service, but require intense study, either from an academic standpoint for Gnostic practitioners, or contemplative standpoint for Thatic practitioners. This is comparable to a university-level education, and as such spellcasters remain rare, despite their services being in high demand. Many nations subsidize the university expenses of students who receive degrees in magic and practice it, in an attempt to incentivize its study.
Almost as significant a part of culture as practitioners are magically crafted items. These are very difficult to create late in a cycle, so early-cycle artifacts are prized highly and are often family heirlooms. Artifacts with significant military applications are often confiscated or purchased from their owners by national governments, either for study or use. This policy often applies only two artifacts dating from the Cornucopia of their Cycle.
The Metahuman Soul
While some elven scholars contest this, it is generally held that the original intelligent creature was a human, and all metahumans are the result of the Conucopia spinning off subraces that proved successful. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Halflings, Gnomes, Bugbears, and many other species possess what is, for lack of a less poetic term, the Soul. The soul is a magical construct that contains critical information for sapient life. Given sufficient energy, a necromantic ritual is capable of reanimating a body without a soul, but such products are for practical purposes mindless, capable of following simple orders, but not solving problems independently or learning. After death, the soul departs the body of the metahuman and leaves Arcadia. The highest altitude at which a soul has been detected was 19,400 feet, when a mage summiting a mountain successfully detected the soul of an unfortunate climber below who had perished attempting the top. The mage explains that the soul rapidly passed upwards until he was incapable of detecting it. Theories abound for the eventual destination of souls, but beyond the sphere of religion, nothing is truly known. What is known is that souls eventually return to Arcadia to inhabit the body of a newborn metahuman. The moment during gestation at which the soul enters the infant varies from species to species, but it is generally shortly before viability. Souls can also be summoned back into their original bodies through potent magic, but this generally only possible during Equinox or Cornucopia phases. While memories do not seem to be retained by a soul, it is not unusual for souls to carry some echoes of skill if inherited from a particularly focused metahuman. This is taken to explain the presence of natural aptitude, and an infant displaying a proclivity for an honorable (or lucrative) skill is generally seen as an event to be celebrated. Outside of the Elven Dynasties, no-one has been successful in tracking specific souls in their journey Beyond and back, or encouraging them to find a host in a specific child, but that such things are possible by any metahuman has tremendous implications, and many mages hope the next Cornucopia will provide an opportunity to plumb the depths of the mysteries remaining.