It’s commonly accepted that the world began in 30,000 BE, though there are a handful of historical records that claim much different dates, some more authoritative than others. Among entities that claim to have been present at (roughly) the start of prehistory:
- The gods all claim to have “arrived” around 30,000 BE, though they refuse to say where they had been before that time. Invreizen describes Aerb as being “thawed out”, Karakter describes it as a “fracture”, Skaduwee says “a lightening”, Aarde refers to it as a “mudslide”, and Truuk has never told the same story twice. These variable descriptions are difficult to reconcile with each other, though it’s possible that they arrived in different places on Aerb, or perhaps came at different times.
- The three eldest dragons all claim to be roughly thirty millennia old, and all describe Aerb as a place constantly in motion, with sweeping changes on a weekly basis, sometimes with mountains appearing from nothing. Shadowfang’s theory is that the world of Aerb was “pieced together” from other worlds, but she offers no suggestions on the mechanism for this to have happened, nor for the source of these other worlds, nor does she have any evidence besides what she saw with her own eyes.
- The earliest memories of the renacim date to approximately 30,000 BE, and reveal much of early efforts of the mortal species to civilize, as well as the various monsters that prevented much in the way of that happening for thousands of years.
- The elves claim that Celestar has its own history distinct from that of Aerb, and that Aerb “appeared” one day as a round jewel in the sky. That said, there were thousands of years between elven accounts of the appearance of Aerb and the first successful attempts at traveling there, and the history of Celestar is considered suspect, as much of it was written by those who emigrated from it.
- The city of Cidium claims to have existed in perpetuity, not just thirty thousand years old, but millions of years old, if not billions, or, at the extreme end of claims, without end. This would be easy to dismiss as impossible if not for several sources of independent corroboration.
- Demons and devils have been, predictably, unhelpful, but their estimates of the age of Aerb do sometimes conform to the standard thinking on the matter.
[Juniper’s Notes: Aerb kind of looks like it was literally hacked together from bits and pieces while the simulation was running, which I guess is as good a creation story as you could ask for. But it’s kind of funny, since a lot of the speciation is consistent with longer time spans. They don’t really have genetics on Aerb, at least, not yet, but you can take a look at the differences between island populations and see that logically, this group of finches is consistent with having a common ancestor with this other group of finches. There’s a similar thing for plate tectonics, where a lot of the geography follows the rules, but there’s not enough time for it to have happened in if you accept the ~30,000 BE start date. So I don’t know what’s really going on here, and none of my theories really illuminate anything, nor are they testable. I assume that “everything hacked together from different sources” is commentary rather than literally what happened, but that’s a matter of theology.]
The First Empire was erroneously named, because there were many empires before it, though none quite so large or successful. The history of Aerb prior to the First Empire is one of civilizations rising and falling, each time leaving behind a little of themselves. As most varieties of magic require extensive education, which in turn requires large civic support structures, most of these large-scale nations and small-scale empires were supported by magic in one way or another until their collapse, which typically took working knowledge of the magic with them. While many of the great nations were felled by internal structural factors, there were also occasionally outside factors in play, typically monstrous but occasionally as a consequence of the magics being used to sustain the large civilization.
The origins of the athenaeums lie in this rising and falling action that preceded the First Empire. From time to time, a crumbling nation or empire would be able to maintain a single city-state that was able to weather the civic collapse of the rest of the nation. These city-states typically remained as centers of learning and knowledge, with the most accomplished mages often sitting at the top of the power structures. These proto-athenaeums didn’t always last, but those that did carved out a place for themselves that could weather the centuries of political change and plan for different contingencies, making them some of the most resilient organizations on Aerb for their time.
It’s sometimes theorized that even without Uther Penndraig, Aerb might have been heading for a revolution anyway. The majority of the athenaeums had been founded and were firmly entrenched, a number of “enabling” entads had either been created or were soon on the horizon, and the “two steps forward, one step back” path that civilization had been on was heading toward technologies that would help to stabilize civilization and better ensure that the single step back wasn’t so catastrophic.
[Juniper’s Notes: Interesting that so many people think that Uther was just a cog in the machine of history. I mean, he clearly wasn’t just that, but it seems like he was set up so that was a plausible excuse for at least some of his successes. Aerb doesn’t have the long history of stagnation that some fantasy worlds have. Kind of curious how much of the ebb and flow was DM machinations, and how much is just how histories work; it calls to mind the fall of the Roman Empire, fall of the Ottoman Empire, et cetera?]
The First Empire
Following his defeat of the Dark King (a minor emperor in his own right), Uther Penndraig began making overtures of cooperation to the kingdoms surrounding Anglecynn, some of which had been under the Dark King’s control. The Meeting of the Seventeen Swords established a pact of mutual protection, trade, and cooperation that would quickly lead to the formation of the First Empire, with Uther at its head as the Secretary General. Following the adoption of Uther’s new calendar, this would become 0 FE. The First Empire committed enormous resources to its own improvement, partly in the form of education, partly in research and development (a process that had been created from whole cloth by Uther), and partly in new social, cultural, and physical infrastructures that would allow the empire to knit itself ever more tightly.
Uther’s inventions are often overshadowed by his other feats, but the wood-burning steam engine and the moveable type printing press were the two primary innovations that set the foundation for the next hundred years of the First Empire. The spread of Anglish as the common tongue was controversial at the time, but helped enormously by the flood of incredibly cheap books into foreign cities. More than that, Uther seemed to have an endless supply of stories, and even after he went missing, his pamphlet stories kept landing by the bale in the major cities of the Empire.
Wherever he went, Uther sought to revitalize and reform, and the oft-heard term ‘Penndraig reforms’ refers to any of hundreds of different schemes, some of them on the level of the empire, others in less grand arenas, like mail systems or bureaucratic codes. In general terms, the Penndraig reforms were focused on making things “efficient, consistent, and redundant”, meaning that they would produce the most possible with the least resources, they would hardly ever fail, and when they did fail, they could be easily repaired or replaced.
As another point of order, the exclusionary principle started around the time Uther first came on the scene and somewhat marred the First Empire, both in the way it occasionally removed useful magic from availability, and in how it negatively impacted the involved economies (both in terms of the land/infrastructure/resources/people it removed from the hexal market, and in the magics that were made unusable anywhere else).
There is some debate over whether Uther was the lynchpin of the First Empire by design, negligence, or necessity, but in the wake of his disappearance in 30 FE, it became clear that the First Empire wouldn’t outlive him for long. Part of the problem was the short-sightedness of his sons and their near-war with each other over control of Anglecynn, which had calamitous effects on the rest of the Empire, namely in how they attempted to hold their resources hostage or extract capital from goods and services that had once been held in common trust. This began a cycle of withdrawals from imperial agreements and escalating tensions between the various polities of the Empire, which eventually led to the Imperial Remnants period circa 48 FE, marked largely by small groups of polities holding each other as close allies, typically in open hostilities with other groups (and usually grouped according to species similarity or shared cultural values).
It wasn’t quite a period of complete regression. The athenaeums held strong, weathering the imperial collapse as they’d done in the past, and most now abiding by the cooperation agreements that Uther had set in place. They were also acting under (most of) the Penndraig reforms, which proved a boon to their continued operations. Similarly, a number of initiatives started under the First Empire continued in modified or partial form after its collapse, either under the directives of individual polities, through amended agreements, or by individual actors. Notably among those were the railway systems, the Draconic Accords, international mail, and the vast increase in literacy (much of it focused on the Anglish language, which continued to cement itself as the lingua franca of Aerb).
While culture was generally regressive during this time, as nationalist ideologies clawed back territory, many of the measures that Uther had put in place began to take hold, bringing the major centers of population into greater conformity with Utherian ideals of cooperation and understanding. Similarly, technology was able to progress, largely as a result of Utherian advancements being percolated out into the rest of Aerb.
In some respects, the first interimperium was gentler than the second and more famous period that would follow the Second Empire, but it was still a time of calamitous changes, even if some of that was regression toward what had been before. Popular among amateur historians is the idea of a Great Snapback, as though the world had been pushed out of shape against tension and was destructively returning to its old form, but the truth is more complex, as many of the problems of the interimperium cannot be attributed to Uther ‘pushing things out of shape’, but rather, to the greater interconnectedness of the world, to advances in technology and magecraft, and to changes in social structures. It is likely that the Internecine Wars and the attendant loss of life would have happened regardless of whether there had ever been a First Empire; they would simply have been between dissociated polities rather than former imperial members.
The Second Empire
The rise of the Second Empire happened largely as a result of the discovery of the bulk teleportation spell, which made organized warfare between countries much more deadly while at the same time greatly lubricating the frictions of trade. The Athenaeum of Barriers was put to work fortifying cities against attack by bulk teleportation as best as possible, and pacts of mutual defense and/or teleportation-in-warfare bans were put into place, which, along with trade agreements and enforcement mechanisms, formed the basis for the rise of the Second Empire and its eventually legal formation in 176 FE.
Ideologically, the Second Empire took quite a bit from the writings and thinking of Uther Penndraig, usually taking them a step further or showing less in the way of restraint. Uther had worked to demystify any number of phenomena, and beyond that, spent a great deal of his time challenging stagnant or corrupt institutions, along with those traditions and practices he considered “barbaric”. The Second Empire put funds and personnel into full unification of Aerb, sometimes at swordpoint when there were disagreements with rulers who sought to have their nation stand as a pillar of independence.
Soul magic provided the backbone of imperial power, and skilled soul mages stood as force multipliers in both military and political realms. Soul mages were used to enact bloodless coups where possible, as well as produce a variety of soul-manipulated creatures that served various utility and combat roles. One unfortunate feature of soul magic is that the soul is resistant to change and will regress toward the mean unless manipulated extremely carefully over a long period of time; this feature meant that it was more economical and logistically simple to consolidate power in a single place so that soul mages wouldn’t have to be constantly on the move, refreshing their manipulated subjects. This consolidation of power and soul mages helps to explain why so many important people were in Lankwon when it became an exclusion zone.
Scientific research in the Second Empire was conducted with a fevered intensity. Some of these efforts bore fruit, increasing scientific understanding, especially in regards to the various schools of magic, but many simply resulted in wasted resources, events that would later be deemed atrocities, and the creation of new exclusion zones. Beyond that, the Second Empire’s general defiance of conventional wisdom and lack of respect for established institutions and traditions resulted in a number of high-profile failures when those institutions and traditions turned out to have served some useful function after all.
The action of the exclusionary principle engulfed Lankwon, the Imperial City, in 324 FE despite the best efforts to prevent such a thing (research bans within 500 miles, restrictions on entad creation within 300 miles), and the nature of the calamity was such that there was a near-total decapitation of imperial leadership. This came at a time of heavy criticism of the empire and its various failures and a strong counter-imperial movement, effectively bringing about a swift end to the Second Empire (which was arguably on its way out anyway as its various mechanisms of cohesion and economic prosperity had been coming undone). Counter-imperialists began purges in a large number of member polities, sometimes trying people for post facto crimes and other times swiftly executing the opposition.
Special note must be made of the many deaths during the Second Imperial period. Some were a result of imperial “misadventures”, some were intentional extermination campaigns, and others came in the wake of imperial fracture. Hexal population was approximately seventeen billion at the time the Second Empire was founded, but dropped to ten billion at the time Manifest took the Imperial City. Imperial supporters will point out that much of this century-long drop can be attributed not to malice or incompetence, but rather disease, increased prophylaxis, and a deliberate attempt to curb birth-rates of the most populous species following projected labor surpluses.
[Juniper’s Notes: It’s pretty interesting to think that a bunch of the people who were in the Second Empire are still around, given how long-lived some of the species are on Aerb. Hells, some of them were around for Uther’s time too. I guess the word I would use is “complicity”, and there seems to be an awful lot of it going around in that time period. I’m sure that it was just like the Nazis, which the Second Empire is kind of sort of patterned on; a lot of people would say that they were just pressured, or trying to work within the system, or that they were secretly double agents when really they were just trying to play the odds. Then you’ve got institutions like the athenaeums, which actively worked with the Second Empire, a fact that usually gets swept under the rug or attributed to a period of bad leadership. Hard to know how much everyone knew and who was actually buying into some of the more reprehensible shit they got up to.
I should note I’m also giving the whole thing with Manifest the stink eye, because it looks more like DM intervention than exclusions usually do.]
In the same way that the First Empire gave way to a wave of reactionary nationalism, the Second Empire gave way to regressive, conservative, and isolationist sentiment, especially as the counter-imperialists were (largely) the ones to take up the reins in the wake of the Second Empire’s dramatic fall. Soul magic was seen as one of the culprits for the Second Empire’s various crimes, and as a consequence, tended to be tightly regulated if not outright banned.
Where the collapse of the First Empire still saw some advancements from the systems that had been put in place, the collapse of the Second Empire left very little of worth behind, not least because virtually no effort had been put into proofing against collapse or maintaining strongly decentralized systems.
As generational churn was putting some of the weight of that era in the past, two developments naturally led to a more strongly united Aerb, in spite of the remaining counter-imperial sentiment. The first was the creation of the teleportation keys through forge frenzy in 389 FE, while the second was the development of radio technologies in 413 FE. The keys in particular were a boon to the nascent empire, given that they were auctioned off in such a way as to be somewhat evenly distributed among the soon-to-be member nations. With those technologies in place, increased communication and cooperation was nearly a given, and after some initial growing pains, many of those in power began once again talking about having a true international community.
The Empire of Common Cause
The Empire of Common Cause formed at a glacial pace in comparison to its forerunners, being termed an “empire” three full decades after the initial cooperative agreements were in place, and a decade before the Articles of Empire which created the modern governmental structure were signed. The initial “core” of the Empire of Common Cause was seventeen member nations who entered into mutual trade, immigration, and defense agreements. The athenaeums were principled supporters of the early empire, in part because of remaining imperial sentiment there (the athenaeums having not been hit quite as hard by the purges and general violence that marked the second interimperium), and in part because of a need to be able to exert influence beyond their city-states.
Another factor in the rise of the Empire of Common Cause was the falling birth rates around the hex, most of which was due to the policies that had been implemented by the Second Empire. Advances in technology had increased food production and multiplied the effects of labor, which helped lead to greatly increased urbanization as the agricultural labor force moved into the cities, sometimes in protest.
Originally developed as a joint economic zone, the Empire of Common Cause expanded with every passing year, not just inducting new members, but instituting new laws and expanding its purview. In theory, every member polity flew its own flag and abided by its own laws, but the gradual creep of power and responsibility has allowed that principle to go to the wayside. Much ado is still made about sovereignty in the face of exercises of imperial power, but the risk of censure silences all but the most egregious offenses.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: “Utterly dysfunctional” is a pretty apt description of the Empire of Common Cause, which is largely a result of the aftershocks of the Second Empire and unchecked diseases in the underpinnings of imperial law. Of course, there’s no fixing it without consensus from the entire Empire, which is never going to happen, so we’re stuck with what we have. Frighteningly, this might be the best possible Empire we could ever have achieved without someone going on an extensive conquering spree. Let us be thankful that there are islands of competence and utility hidden within the sea of bureaucracy and waste.]
[Juniper’s Notes: The phrase ‘member polity’ shows up a lot in discussions of the Empire of Common Cause, which threw me for a loop at first, since ‘member nation’ is what the UN uses. As it turns out, ‘nation’ has connotations of ethnocultural unity that, apparently, some people really don’t like, mostly because their polity isn’t homogenous. Similarly, ‘state’ doesn’t accurately describe some of the polities, who have weirdo layered governments or oddball politics. So I guess ‘polity’ is the catch-all that everyone has settled on, even though the default in the modern era is nation-states, similar to on Earth.]
Originally disparate institutions of learning, the athenaeums of Aerb were united by similar institutional aims during the reign of Uther Penndraig, though the “athenaeum system” has seen continued development over the centuries since then. Because they began as individual institutions, and because each caters to different schools of magic, the experience of learning or teaching at an athenaeum had a great deal of variance. Nonetheless, the Penndraig reforms and later Imperial reforms have resulted in the athenaeums having a fair amount in common with each other. Notably, each of the athenaeums has a near-complete monopoly on the teaching of their respective magics (or in some cases, science), backed up through soft and hard power and imperial law. All athenaeums accept students from throughout Aerb, often with scholarships given to communities which would otherwise be unable to afford tuition (and therefore be tempted to engage in illegal education). Because of their size and prominence, each athenaeum is functionally (if not legally) a city-state, wielding a great deal of local power in addition to the power they’re able to project throughout the hex.
Athenaeums typically license their students, sometimes with a ‘graduation’ and sometimes without. Formally, the title of ‘mage’ is usually given to someone with a license, while ‘magus’ denotes higher learning, but the use of these titles varies between athenaeums and in recent years, standards have grown somewhat lax, leading to the much decried ‘title creep’.
Located in the tiered city of Junah, the Athenaeum of Barriers is one of the oldest of the athenaeums, dating back nearly four thousand years. It began life as a cabal of warders and eventually grew into a proper institution of learning when the cabal embarked on a successful coup of the Junah city government, with the Athenaeum of Barriers maintaining control of the city to this day, despite numerous attempts to take it back by the surrounding kingdom. The Athenaeum of Barriers is the only place on Aerb where the teaching of warding is authorized.
Junah is built on a hill next to the Alden Coast, and has five ‘tiers’ to it, each separated from the others by a tall wall with many points of entry. In the modern day, the bottom three ‘tiers’ are publicly accessible spaces where many of the introductory courses are taught, as well as containing the majority of housing for students, faculty, staff, and support systems. The top two tiers are devoted to more intensive and specialized study, including the athenaeum’s large, restricted-access library and the storage facility for warding-related entads that are loaned, rented, or leased by the athenaeum.
The athenaeum’s culture is largely conservative and its posture is defensive, even more so than the athenaeums generally are. The walls that separate Junah’s tiers are laced with wards that protect the city, and in particular, the upper two tiers, from a very wide variety of threats, and access points through the walls are typically keyed wards that restrict access to students and teachers with particular clearances and levels of learning. Because the athenaeum and its graduates are responsible for security all around Aerb, much of the teaching is defensively focused, not just in terms of how to construct wards and where to place them, but in terms of security-minded warding, preventing physical access through non-ward means, protecting potential targets, and to a lesser extent, thinking like an intruder or attacker; there are a number of students of Barriers who spend their years their learning how to construct locks and safes without picking up much in the way of being able to cast wards.
There are two smaller departments at Barriers which focus on unique aspects of the magic. The first is Arcane Properties, which focuses mainly on the magical spectrum and analysis of magical effects, often working in coordination with the Athenaeum of Speculation and Scrutiny to decipher the effects of entads, magical effects, or magical creatures. The second is Wardbreakers, which puts much of its effort and teaching into attempting to subvert wards, a disfavored but sometimes necessary occupation.
Speculation and Scrutiny
Derisively known as ‘The Athenaeum of Bits and Bobs’, Speculation and Scrutiny has a distinct lack of focus in comparison to the other athenaeums. There is no particular magical school taught there, nor any one specific aspect of the universe that’s intensively studied. In part, this is due to the athenaeum’s history; originally a research institute funded by a king in the pre-imperial era, it quickly grew far beyond its original mandate, and once it began to turn a profit, eventually outlasted the kingdom that had created it. It’s said that the scientific method came out of Speculation and Scrutiny, but the actual origins are unclear.
In concrete terms, the Athenaeum of Speculation and Scrutiny is divided up into a number of different ‘colleges’, though teachers often teach at more than one college, and students are encouraged to have a diversity of education, drawing on as many different and interrelated disciplines as possible. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it’s difficult to say what a graduate of Speculation and Scrutiny can actually do, because their specialty might be just about anything.
Among the colleges at Speculation and Scrutiny are:
- Keli College: entads
- Wirisi College: inheritance and bloodlines
- Pasu College: Animalia
- Cerebral College: dream-skewered
- Daniner College: ‘dead’ magics
- Bats’aral College: exclusions
Additionally, there are a large number of colleges devoted to bloodline or specic magics, though those magics tend to have non-athenaeum centers of learning closer to the center of their population, and only a fraction are represented at Speculation and Scrutiny.
Speculation and Scrutiny is relatively more cloistered than the other athenaeums, in part because of its small size. It’s located on top of a mountain, high enough up that plant growth is diminished; a trolley leads down the mountain to the town of Boastre Vino, a common location for students with some free time to visit for a night of carousing.
Mathematics and Metaphysics
The original creator of what would later become the Athenaeum of Mathematics and Metaphysics has been lost to time, though he/she/it is heavily suspected to also be the creator of the (slave species) salin, those who inhabited the city of Kresham for time immemorial and, for a time, hovered on the brink of extinction. The salin, one of the more unusual of the mortal species, subsist entirely on the creation and cataloging of knowledge, and per experimentation carried out by the Second Empire, are able to produce caloric energy as a byproduct of mental activity.
Following the presumed death of whatever entity created them, the salin went through a period of aimless calculation, measurement, and cataloging, which led to them having a large and largely useless library. Sometime around ~400 BE, an enterprising human came into Kresham and turned the salin to more productive tasks after taking up the reins previously held by the master that created them. The salin were hired out in the wider region to act as accountants, engineers, mathematicians, navigators, cartographers, and spies, and the vast library in Kresham was eventually turned to useful purpose.
An institution of learning eventually began to flourish around the large quantities of useful information that the salin were directed to gather, even as poor curation of the species led to a declining population. Eventually, the regional business that the salin had been working toward needed to be supplemented with lower-quality (but much more plentiful) trained humans, who became the first computers. Around that same time, star magic was independently invented and became an integral part of the burgeoning center of learning.
Following Uther Penndraig’s visit and the adoption of a number of Penndraig reforms, the Kresham Institute was rebranded as the Athenaeum of Mathematics and Metaphysics, and the salin population began to once again grow.
Always one of the more submissive athenaeums, Mathematics and Metaphysics has a tendency to be a more docile force on the world stage.
Bone and Flesh
The Athenaeum of Bone and Flesh is the largest place of learning with regards to healing in all of Aerb, and one of the largest of the athenaeums. The main campus takes up the majority of Cranberry Bay in the Monarchical Democracy of Esplandian, and stretches through the city with disparate buildings owned and operated by the athenaeum. It is currently most known for the teaching of bone magic.
The ‘Flesh’ in the title ‘Bone and Flesh’ refers to the magic once employed by the fleshsmiths, though fleshsmithing was excluded to the Pendleham exclusion zone shortly after the athenaeum changed its name. The school of magic is (understandably) no longer taught at Bone and Flesh, but the name remains, now referring to the more mundane healing arts, which are taught in conjunction with bone magic. One of the largest buildings at Bone and Flesh is the Boneyard, the athenaeum’s enormous collection of bones from around the world. The greater a bone mage’s skill, the more that they can draw out of the bones, and the most proficient of the magi can draw specic or bloodline magics, including from magical beasts. The Boneyard takes up three city blocks and contains a wide variety of bones that have special uses, including some bones that come from now-extinct species (though research must be done at a satellite site five hundred miles away due to RDLLE legislation in the hopes of minimizing casualties and damage from potential new exclusions).
Quills and Blood
Formerly known as the Sanguinary Estate, the Athenaeum of Quills and Blood, the largest part of the city-state of Sanguine, concerns itself primarily with blood magic, though it has an unusual split focus into more mundane aspects of education, particularly those regarding administration and management.
Sanguine was originally a city of decadence inhabited by various creatures of the night, vampires chief among them. The populus was harvested from the surrounding countries, who could do little against vampiric night raids, and those who were fit were brought within the walls of Sanguine to become servitors. During the day, while the vampires slept, abominable creatures kept watch and prevented escapes from the captive population; during the night, the vampires would take their blood tax, occasionally killing for sport. Vampires were natural practitioners of blood magic, especially when engorged, and it was one of the chief complements to their vampiric might. When Uther Penndraig swept in and killed the ur-vampire, all of those the vampire had turned died with him, sweeping Sanguine (and all of Aerb) clean of vampires. The creatures they’d used were put down easily after that, and the city of Sanguine was thrown into crisis as an immense power vacuum formed. The athenaeum eventually rose from the ashes, largely thanks to a number of un-turned scholars and low-ranking hangers-on of the vampire court. This new leadership was largely despised by the people of Sanguine, but many of them were third or fourth generation blood chattel, and fell in line as a matter of course.
The extent to which Uther Penndraig was involved in the establishment of Quills and Blood is a matter of some debate. In public opinion, it is sometimes considered the third of the athenaeums that he founded, but blood magic had a rich history in Sanguine, and most of the eventual instructors at the athenaeum were blood mages who had been bound in service to vampiric masters. To that extent, it’s sensible to say that Quills and Blood is only a continuation of existing vampiric research and thought, both where blood magic and civic administration are concerned. The unclear history hasn’t stopped Uther Penndraig from figuring prominently in the mythology of Quills and Blood.
While blood warriors are often what comes to mind when people think of Quills and Blood, in the modern day much of the athenaeum is devoted to either the medical aspects of blood magic (which covers a fair amount of the healing that bone magic is incapable of touching) or management and administration. In the mythology of Quills and Blood, the athenaeum is heir to Uther Penndraig’s artistic genius, but while it does produce the occasional world-renowned writer, poet, or musician, the vast majority of their graduates are there for three to five years in order to become managers, administrators, bureaucrats, and functionaries, usually with a token education in blood magic, if any.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: Quills and Blood is my alma mater. I was sent there by my aunt Rosemallow when I was thirteen, then came back to Anglecynn at sixteen. It was an education, certainly, but it was also a way of tucking me away somewhere I wouldn’t interfere with Anglecynn politics until Rosemallow was ready to give me my debut. I learned just enough blood magic to give me an edge in unarmed close combat.]
Claw & Clocks
Once a much larger athenaeum, Claw & Clocks suffered more from exclusion than any other major institution of learning, now being reduced to revision magic alone, along with some ancillary, unstructured or non-universal magics.
In its heyday, Claw & Clocks was home to three separate time-related magics, which had all been united under a single institution: butterfly magic, clock magic, and revision magic. The former two were excluded, leaving revision magic to be taught alone, sometimes seen as the weakest of the triad. Opposite the time-related powers were the bodily magics, which in the beginning included various forms of lycanthropy, a number of specic magics, and fleshsmithing, a discipline shared with other centers of learning. Fleshsmithing was excluded at Pendleham, which became the City of Flesh, in 194 FE and lycanthropy was outlawed and then eradicated by the Second Empire in 256 FE, in one of the few successful actions that the Second Empire took against any of the athenaeums, that success being predicated upon a loophole in the Mage’s Agreement and a general dislike and distrust of the lycanthropes by the other athenaeums.
Through its history, Claw & Clocks has held a balance between its two main houses, with the “claw” often serving as muscle and the “clocks” often serving as utility or force multiplication. This blending of powers allowed for projection of power, which enabled the athenaeum to run a functional magocracy for nearly six hundred years. Following the collapse of the Second Empire, anti-imperial forces looked at the caste system of the magocracy and turned their daggers toward the authoritarian leaders, overthrowing the government and installing a monarch instead. In the ensuing hundred years, the kings of Claw & Clocks became more and more comfortable with the leadership of the athenaeum, until eventually the Reunification happened when the eldest prince enrolled.
The long-standing two house structure of Claw & Clocks continues into the present day, though both are considerably weakened. This division exists within the structure of the campus itself and within the structure of the athenaeum, where many of the duties and roles of staff are duplicated. Instructors “belong” to either Claw or Clocks, and though they might take on students from either house, this happens through a complicated bureaucratic layer ensuring that the houses stay in balance against each other.
The unique nature of acquiring revision magic lends Claw & Clocks some of its current flavor. Because a person must be revised an entire year, which they cannot retain their memories through, Clocks has a tradition of a “lost year”. Because that year is impossible to retain (with caveats), first year students at Clocks will engage in behavior that would otherwise be risky or reckless, so long as such things are capable of being revised, and so long as death is not a possibility. First year “students” (for they cannot functionally learn anything) commonly lend their bodies for various purposes, and generally approach their lives with a sense of nihilism. Numbering of years for revision mages commonly starts at zero. Once they are inducted as revision mages, training begins in earnest, and there is a taboo against talking about things which may or may not have happened during the “lost year”.
Students at Claw come in all varieties, and the school itself, lacking a distinctive magic, has made bodily modification of all kinds its focus, whether magical or otherwise. Claw owns a great many body shaping entads, those which can change a person’s shape or other personal attributes, and on top of that, Claw is one of the few places in all of Aerb where the Empire of Common Cause permits soul magic to be used to alter bodies, an exception opened up just thirty years ago. The lack of a specific magic left Claw trying its best to carve out a niche, though the school has been underperforming relative to its counterpart since the time lycanthropy was eliminated, and looks to continue doing so. There have been talks of sundering the two schools from each other, but no action has been taken thus far.
Of special historical note, the secret project which created changelings (now extinct) was originally the brainchild of a student of Claw.
[Juniper’s Notes: This is more detritus from Uther’s campaign, if you want to call it that. There are so many places where he just swept in like a wrecking ball and threw entire societies into chaos, and this is one of them. So far as I can tell, Uther’s Knight, Forty-Two, was born in a city not too far from Claw “&” Clocks, as part of a species creation project. Uther came in and shut them down hard, which from a distance seems like it might have been a companion quest. Officially, the athenaeum had nothing to do with it, but if that was a loose plot thread, it doesn’t appear to have ever been resolved.]
Sound and Silence
Originally built around the Li’o’te Temple, the Athenaeum of Sound and Silence was a place of study for still mages, whose wellspring of power and ability comes from a week of meditation in that temple. The other major magic practiced there, vibrational magic (sometimes incorrectly called sound magic), didn’t become a part of the athenaeum’s stock and trade until after Uther Penndraig brought the Rod of Whispers there and inculcated the first generation of vibrational mages.
The Li’o’te Temple is deep underground, and while the original Spelunker’s Stroll is still traditional for still mages who are ready for induction into the ranks, a long elevator has been installed parallel to it for a straighter route used by the various guards and attendants who regularly visit it. Because of the overlapping security concerns, the Rod of Whispers, which allows for access to vibrational magic, is kept in a securely warded and heavily guarded underground vault, accessed only three times a year when the next crop of students has undergone sufficient training to embark on their journey.
The bulk of Sound and Silence is above ground, with housing and facilities in the famed domed buildings of the P’emp’te Valley, more architecturally homogenous than typical for a major city of the empire, in part due to an unusual focus on aesthetics. The city is famous for its sounds, thanks to the vibrational mages that are tasked with producing music as part of their training, typically while standing near the top of one of the minarets. It’s said that you can hear a different song in any part of the city from the collective beats woven together from a dozen mages, though the cobbled-together tunes are an acquired taste, and when the freshman class begin their music-making, it’s more accurately described as cacophony.
Given that access to both their schools of magic are restricted by security, Sound and Silence is an outlier among the athenaeums, as it faces no significant threat of rogue mages, intellectual infringement, or being usurped. While it remains a part of the athenaeum system and acts in compliance with the greater governing rules, its unique restrictions on the magics make it somewhat unruly as far as the other athenaeums (and the imperial laws they would like passed) are concerned.
Ink and Ardor
The Athenaeum of Ink and Ardor is the oldest of the athenaeums, founded some ten thousand years ago and persisting in its current state since that time, with very few changes. Originally founded by the Order of Passionates, a group of passion mages, ink magic was an early addition to the school, one which helped to solidify the athenaeum’s place as a local power. For most of its life it was known as Caerdall, and is still spoken of as such by anyone native to the region, though the name is losing its power as subsequent generations of imperial students have drained the local culture.
The Order of Passionates grew out of a small collective of passion mages who eventually learned the proper methods of quick instruction for passion magic, which led to a flourishing of their craft. As the principles were laid down in numerous books and regimes for emotional control were developed, it eventually seemed that passion magic would spread far and wide without restrictions. This eventuality formed a schism between the teachers and scholars, eventually leading to a short period of civil war, which the elitists won. From that point forward, teaching was tightly controlled, as was the publication of materials, which slowed the progress of passion magic to a near-halt, especially when combined with punitive measures taken against scholars. The Order of Passionates was one of the first athenaeums to take part in the Mage’s Agreement which restricted the spread of magics around Aerb for much of its history.
In the early days of the Order of Passionates, following the schism that led to the magic being locked down, there were attempts to branch out into other forms of magic, in the hopes that the Order of Passionates would be able to maintain their stranglehold on magical power (an effort that went hand-in-hand with other, more mundane forms of power). Of these attempts, the only one that bore fruit was ink magic, which had a somewhat significant degree of overlap with the induced states of passion magic.
In its later years, Caerdall would become known as the most expansionist of the magical institutions, always on the lookout for new magics that it might incorporate into its curriculum, and beyond that, foreign missions to investigate new species that might benefit from passion magic in new and unique ways. To this end, Caerdall became the home to glass magic, dibbling, and conjoinery, all of which are now excluded. Of special note, Caerdall was a major institution of learning for soul mages during the time of the Second Empire until imperial forces declared soul magic a state secret and moved most of the relevant books and instructors to Lankwon (later known as the City Made Manifest).
Ink and Ardor’s extreme longevity as a roughly continuous institution owes much to the fact that one of its central teachings has always been the understanding and control of emotion, a teaching which both ink and passion magic benefit from in different ways. This emotional knowledge and control has led to relatively clear-headed leadership by its very nature, though sometimes marred by dispassionate reasoning or sociopathy. It’s often claimed that the leadership of Ink and Ardor goes through cycles of excess and reform, though the issue is muddled enough that there are always people claiming that the current moment is either.
The Caerdall campus is noted for being the home to a number of eccentrics, which both passion magic and ink magic attract. While many courses focus on self actualization, there are also those which advocate for medical or technological solutions to the demands of the professions, and such altered states are common among both the student body and the faculty. Caerdall is also home to a large infirmary, which often operates at capacity.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: By some accounts, Caerdall was the birthplace of the Second Empire. Caerdall welcomed in soul magic with open arms, back when it was still not quite so understood, and soul magic was more of a boon to those two magics than to any other pair of magics on Aerb. Caerdall had always had self-modification as part of its culture, and it wasn’t too big a step toward modification of others. Ink and Ardor was dealt a horrible blow when the soul mages picked up stakes and moved, but they were spared from the Manifest exclusion, so I suppose they didn’t have it so bad.]
Might and Motion
The Athenaeum of Might and Motion was, in the time of Uther Penndraig, located on an island surrounded by ship-breaking reefs and dangerous sea creatures, with the only available passage being with the assistance of the velocity mages, who could run across the water, or the ships built by wood mages. It was with the Penndraig reforms that the athenaeum was moved to the mainland, allowing much greater ability to import woods and come under the regulatory authority of the local kingdom.
Might and Motion was originally founded as Rodyn a Horth, a conclave of wood mages whose reclusive island had favorable weather for a large number of different trees that their practice used. Wood magic was, in those days, a matter of patience and forward thinking, as trees planted during a wood mage’s lifetime would rarely grow to maturity by the time of their death, except in the case of the longest-lived species. Wood mages were highly-valued artisans, in part because they were capable of production quality on par with mid-tier entad armor and weapons, as well as being able to complete construction projects that would be infeasible using solely labor.
The introduction of velocity magic to Rodyn a Horth was quite by accident, as two velocity mages arrived on the island, thinking that it was entirely uninhabited. In those days, velocity magic was poorly understood, with the conditions for the initial activation completely unknown. An enterprising wood mage was among the first to attempt replication of the circumstances by which the velocity mages attempted to gain their powers, and when that worked, the institution of Rodyn a Horth took on its second discipline.
The patient, forward-looking wood mages have, since that union, attempted to rein in the recklessness of the velocity mages, though those efforts have been only partially successful through their history. Upon becoming a velocity mage, perception of the world changes, and patience becomes considerably more difficult. For that reason, it was often the case that Rodyn a Horth would allow only the most calm and meditative of their students to become velocity mages, a tradition which eventually fell to the wayside.
In the modern day, both halves of the athenaeums are on uneven ground. Wood magic has largely been superseded by other magics or technologies: steel magic has become the primary method of construction for buildings large and small, modern materials diminish the marginal utility of wood mage items, and both economies of scale and mass production have pushed prices below what can sustain a wood mage. Further, mismanagement of the rare or magical species during the Second Empire have left wood mages in a much worse place, with the rebuilding of those stocks in some cases impossible, and in other cases, simply time-consuming.
Velocity mages have suffered from the Second Empire in a distinctly different way. While the exact requirements necessary to acquire velocity magic are unknown, it is acknowledged that one of the key factors is sustained, non-magical speed above a certain amount, which incrementally increases with every new velocity mage. Through the history of Might and Motion, a number of new methods have been developed to push potential mages faster and faster to get beyond the ever-increasing threshold. Though the specifics have not been disclosed, enrollment into the velocity mage program has been curtailed for the last two decades, which some outsiders see as a sign that the current methods of going fast enough is soon to reach the end of its lifespan, with no replacement in sight.
Might and Motion maintains a tertiary focus on ‘brutes’, those specialized in taking damage for a small group of people, though the necessary education is typically not extensive enough to warrant training at an athenaeum. This association exists for historical reasons related to the 2nd century FE Zoomer War.
The campus of Might and Motion sits in the city of Crenn, on what was once its eastern edge, but is now squarely in the downtown area due to shifting demographics and the inherent pull of the athenaeum. Crenn is often referred to as the fastest city in the world, as goods and people are rapidly transported thanks to the efforts of the trainee velocity mages. As part of the foresight of wood mages, both the campus and the city itself have an unusual number of trees, lining avenues and in some cases woven into the buildings of Crenn itself.
Named after the famed mentor of Uther Penndraig, the Vervainium was founded by Uther as a place of study for flower mages in 18 FE. Prior to that time, flower magic was learned on an individual basis, often accidentally, largely due to the difficulty in teaching others and the problems inherent in transferring the skill. It wasn’t until the Vervainium was built (with Vervain as the sporadic headmaster until his untimely demise) that the unruly magic finally began to be systematized.
Pustule magic was a later addition, and somewhat unwelcome by the existing professors. It was, however, a natural fit, given the close similarities between the two magics in terms of how they’re practiced, and in spite of their different presentations and effects. While numerous attempts have been made to rename and rebrand pustule magic, those efforts have seen no success among the general populous, and the negative connotations of the admittedly valuable magic have led to a rather strict segregation between the two schools, to the extent that the Vervainium is sometimes called a twinned athenaeum. Despite this, the two schools share many core courses in common, and there’s a great deal of overlap between their teachings, enough to keep them as a coherent whole.
The tertiary concern of the athenaeum is magical flora and fauna, an outgrowth of their interest in (and skill with) plants. The conservatory covers a large part of the campus, with habitats and kennels close by. Where Speculation and Scrutiny engages in the study of ‘magical beasts’, their focus is largely academic and their research done through eyewitness accounts and dead specimens. In contrast, the Vervainium focuses on the care of living creatures, often with an eye toward domestication, rehabilitation, release, and commodification. Though they’re separated by quite some distance, the Vervainium shares a close relationship with Might and Motion, and a satellite campus of Might and Motion sits on the campus of the Vervainium for visiting scholars and students.
In physical form, the athenaeum is considered one of the most beautiful on Aerb, due largely to the profusion of flowers, the sculpted trees, and an overall design that put an emphasis on aesthetically pleasing flow. Following Vervain’s death, a large monument was constructed to honor him.
Steel and Sweat
For a period of roughly a thousand years, Scamadus was known for its steel, which was folded some hundred times, giving it a unique pattern and several beneficial properties. Because of the native properties of the iron ore used in Scamadus, the steel they made was almost universally better than steel made elsewhere, which earned it a fearsome reputation. It is then no surprise that a people for whom steel was part of their national identity would be the ones to discover and perfect steel magic, though the actual practice was not geographically constrained or controlled.
It wasn’t until the time of Uther Penndraig that Scamadus got a proper athenaeum, one founded by Uther Penndraig himself. Under Uther, the steel mages of the world were united and given a place to learn, along with a position under the umbrella of the Mage’s Agreement. Given its rather late consolidation of power, steel magic has a number of other campuses which all fall under the same central authority, their lines of communication enabled by Utherian entads prior to the advent of bulk teleport. The impetus for Uther creating the athenaeum is somewhat debated, but his stated intent was to ensure that the structures that steel mages created would not collapse under stress or otherwise suffer from costly failures. Additionally, Uther, a master steel mage himself, advocated for changes to the practice of steel magic which would allow a number of his innovations in plumbing and (then new) electricity for steel mage structures, which would allow for better heating, cooling, and other utilities in buildings.
The integration of skin magic into the new athenaeum was done shortly after its founding, and largely at the behest of Uther, whose Knight Everett Wolfe was the most skilled skin mage of his generation. The association between skin magic and steel magic is often confusing for outsiders, but at their base level, both are artisanal magics that require extreme precision with some added utility in artistry. The newly founded Athenaeum of Steel and Sweat became a mecca for technical artistry, architecture, and practical art, largely through the pull of Uther during the time of the First Empire.
In 62 FE, carapace magic joined skin magic as part of the athenaeum’s purview, though it is naturally limited to those of the mortal species which have carapaces, and includes enough differences with skin magic that there’s only minor overlap between the two.
While the athenaeum is located in Scamadus, there are still multiple satellite campuses, and steel mages in their final years are often sent away in groups to places where they can practice their craft without leaving behind a building that no one will be able to use. Excess magestone is a considerable problem for steel mages, even if a structure can be collapsed, and waste sites are typically inhospitable so there are no arguments about cultural, social, or economic impacts.
[Juniper’s Notes: Most of the athenaeums have or had two or more magics. I kind of wonder whether Steel and Sweat was created to follow that pattern, or if there really is significant overlap between them. Heck, even if there is significant overlap, I’m skeptical that there’s any real benefit to having them taught together … but back on Earth, we had colleges that would teach English literature to some students and computer science to others, so I suppose the radical thing being done on Aerb isn’t that there are two disparate fields being taught at the same place, but that there are only two, rather than dozens. There are exchange programs though, and a couple instances of satellite sites.]
Stars and Sigils
The Athenaeum of Stars and Sigils is located a half-step out of phase with prime reality, as half its buildings are contained within the ethereal plane and accessible only by sufficiently skilled star mages. The rest of the campus sits on the Buried Steppes, a rock formation within the Festus Desert, a place with little plant or animal life which has been able to flourish with rail lines and later bulk teleportation.
Unlike other athenaeums, which ended up with two or three specialties through intentional merging, coincidence of application, or cross-pollination of technique, rune magic and star magic are essentially unaligned with each other. The fact that rune magic was discovered and pioneered at the same place where star mages were practicing was, to some extent, a matter of coincidence (though runic magic was likely to be developed at a center of advanced learning with large amounts of intellectual capital, of which there are seldom many in the world, and location next to a runeforge is, of course, mandatory).
Stars and Sigils is more divided than any of the other athenaeums, with overlapping classes being mostly the general, non-magical ones, and most of the runic and stellar magic housed in their own buildings. Stars and Sigils houses two of the five runeforges necessary for runic magic, with the remaining three under their explicit control at satellite sites as of the end of the Second Empire. Given the costs and limitations of runic magic, it has fallen out of favor, which has led to Stars and Sigils putting more of a focus on star magic, in spite of the fact that they share this specialty with Mathematics and Metaphysics.
Keys and Cloaks
When the Riaj Delta would flood, the farmers needed somewhere to go and something to do. Their god-king commanded them to work for him, building immense structures that would stand the tests of time and secure for him a legacy. It was during one of these great constructions that a curiosity of the place was discovered, one which warped time for those who stepped within. The effect was small, amounting to no more than a quarter hour lost in a day, but the god-king saw some promise, and in later constructions, made attempts to manipulate this phenomenon. Over several generations, a scholar class arose, one which was dedicated to the mysteries of how these buildings might manipulate time. Progress was slow, given the size of the constructions, but the state of the art eventually progressed to the point where a single sand scholar, working with a team of just a hundred men, could create a structure that would manipulate time for useful purpose, rather than just as a curiosity.
At the same time, very close by, a group of desert nomads were further developing air magic, which they had been using in minor ways for millenia. The nomads built skiffs from wood with sails of hide, which an experienced air mage could use to cross the desert, saving (but not quite eliminating) the labor involved in transportation. The developments allowed for greater utility, keeping people cool during the day and warm at night, though there were hard limits to how much an air mage could achieve, given both the inherent limits of the magic, and the fact that they came one or two to a group, with little cross-pollination or independent study.
In roughly 2,000 BE, the god-king of the Riaj Delta formed an institution of learning, one which had a primary focus on sand magic, but secondary focus on other arts. Because of their close proximity, and claims to governance by the god-king, a number of nomads were brought in, and study of air magic was begun in earnest, though it was always a difficult magic to learn, with uses so niche that it was almost always better to find some other solution that didn’t require the magic. Together, the two magics allowed something useful, as an air mage could allow a time chamber to stay habitable for much longer than it otherwise would.
By the time of Uther Penndraig, the Crooked Citadel was the most powerful force in the region, with the tendrils out into every nearby kingdom, and numerous time chambers of various abilities accruing power. The Citadel had been a late entrant to the Mage’s Agreement, but with Uther’s arrival, became one of the first converts to the athenaeum system, largely because of the leadership’s fear that they would be left behind, or that their techniques would be stolen.
The newly minted athenaeum took the name of Keys and Cloaks, the former a symbol of the sand mages, who still dealt almost exclusively in large buildings, the latter the attire of an air mage, who uses their cloak to help feel the winds.
In the modern day, the Citadel is among the weakest and smallest of the athenaeums, owing mostly to the niche applications of both its component magics. Much of the Citadel’s power comes not from its workforce (as is the case with many of the other athenaeums), but from the multitude of time chambers and other structures built over the past few hundred years, which have many industrial uses.
Other Magic and Places of Learning
The athenaeum system does not control the entirety of magic on Aerb. Some, like gold magic, are far too volatile to be taught in a structured setting. Others, like fire magic, are taught at athenaeums, but have induction processes that are so erratic that no centralized control is possible. Finally, there are bloodline magics, which generally have smaller populations and if institutions of learning exist, they typically fit into a national or ethnic context rather than an imperial one. In addition to that, there are a number of magics which are not part of some systemic school, and therefore not under the direct purview of the athenaeum system, instead being widely distributed.
The Empire of Common Cause is an organization that spans the entirety of Aerb and consists of the large majority of the hex’s polities. The Empire of Common Cause is not in any direct way a successor organization to the Second Empire, having a different legal basis, organizational structure, and stated goals, though similarities must be drawn given that the Empire of Common Cause has a somewhat similar geographical scope and in some respects lives in the shadow of the Second Empire. In brief, the Empire of Common Cause exists largely to solve conflicts between member polities, to regulate trade, to enforce intermember laws, and to enforce a select few laws which are within its scope as defined through imperial legislation. Additionally, the Empire of Common Cause provides voluntary frameworks that members can agree to, in the case that no consensus can be reached on imperial legislation. Issues which firmly fall under imperial authority include: intraimperial mail, teleportation, intraimperial rail, copyright law, patent law, disaster relief, intraimperial crime, exclusion zones, infohazards, deities, soul mages, conservation, and a large number of others. In many cases, laws which apply only to intraimperial aspects of an issue result in the adoption of policies which govern other aspects which are internal to a member polity (very few member polities have the will to build their own separate rail network to different standards for intramember travel).
Member polities of the Empire of Common Cause are incredibly diverse, and include absolute monarchies, direct democracies, feudalism, communism, city-states, communes, vassal states, kraterocracies, gerontocracies, and in one case, a capracracy (rule by goat). It is often said that the Empire of Common Cause contains every possible type of government, but this is obviously untrue, and in fact, the majority of member polities are either constitutional monarchies or representative democracies.
Likewise, member polities are of diverse species and cultures. Humans are the most populous and widespread species, due (in part) to their adaptability and fondness for new diets and climates. Just behind them are the dwarves, though dwarf-dominated cultures tend to be nearly invisible on the world stage, with most of them being underground city-states (dwarfholds) that only rarely communicate with the empire at large. Stepping down from those two, the long tail of populations begins, including all of the mortal species, though not every species has a polity where they’re dominant. Notably, the Animalia by their nature have very few populations of more than a few hundred people whether mixed or pure, and there are a number of so-called ‘slave species’ who remain in minority positions even following the abolishment of slavery.
Special note must be made of all of the polities which have elected not to be a part of the Empire of Common Cause. In total, these polities account for less than two percent of the hexal population, but nearly thirty percent of the land area. The vast majority of the non-member polities (sometimes, ‘dissenting polities’) are from cultures of lesser technological and social development, usually of underdeveloped areas, and especially those with harsh climates and infertile lands. Some are not polities as such, but rather loose collections of tribes or groups of nomadic wanderers who exist outside of any central authority.
While desert nomads are what the common person thinks of when they think of non-member polities, there are a number of polities which have taken a principled stance against the Empire of Common Cause. In most cases, their disagreement is one of sovereignty, which they feel admission into the Empire infringes upon. Others have practices which would be prohibited or severely curtailed by even the permissive standards of the Empire. Either way, non-member status effectively means removal from the global community, as it is imperial policy to limit the number of separate agreements that non-members can make with members.
In a number of cases since the formation of the Empire of Common Cause, war has been declared against imperial non-members, typically for gross public welfare violations, but also occasionally perceived threats against member polities and/or the general interests of the Empire. While the Empire of Common Cause has no army of its own, joint missions by imperial members, authorized through legislature and common assent, happen with some regularity.
The Empire of Common Cause consists of four essential components. The arbitration branch is effectively judicial in nature, existing to adjudicate disagreements between member polities, and later, to adjudicate disagreements between imperial citizens where no polity has express authority. The legislative branch has twin functions, the first being the creation of laws which will apply to all member polities, and the second being the creation of draft legislation intended to be spread among the member polities, but without the full weight of law. The executive branch exists to carry out explicitly defined legislation, typically on a time-limited basis. Finally, the independent-executive branch exists to carry out useful functions for the empire, but the various bodies within it are not generally beholden to the legislature, especially as their funding is rarely negotiated, or they exist as self-funding entities.
The EoCC legislature has representatives from all member polities, from imperial polities (those with direct or nominally direct imperial governance), and from the athenaeums, present in accordance with complex rules to ensure that imperial stakeholders have representation in accordance with their stake, at least in theory. Few laws are decided by the entire legislature, which is quite large, instead being drafted and then passed by imperial committees and subcommittees, which were created and derive their authority from the legislature as a whole. Because most lawmaking take place at the committee or subcommittee level (a result never intended by those who initially drafted the Articles of Empire), controlling assignment to committees and subcommittees is a large part of any politician’s job within the imperial legislature. Several mechanisms exist to remove members of the legislature, including having the member polity pull their representation status, while seating is usually done through the action of the committee itself. This process of legislation has often been called opaque and dysfunctional, but there is a common refrain within Lensen that “otherwise nothing would get done”.
The arbitration branch of the imperial government is one of the most carefully watched parts of the government, in part because there is little recourse against it short of a full assembly of the legislature, which is called only in times of great need, and frequently deadlocks on even remotely contentious issues. The arbiters are, generally speaking, a close-knit bunch, operating on the precedent laid down by their peers and forebears. When disagreements arise between the arbiters, their systems of resolution are first to have a superior adjudicate, and if that doesn’t produce an acceptable outcome, to have a council of arbiters form. As with the legislators, effort is made to pull in arbiters from all across the empire, though there is no legal mandate to do so. The arbitration branch is sometimes called the shadow legislature, as they effectively modify and sometimes create legal reality.
The executive is split into two broad halves. The first half is the executive as an arm of the legislature, which usually creates temporary (sometimes “temporary”) agencies with a legislator or legislative committee at its head. The second half is the independent executive, a collection of agencies that were created by the legislature through special procedure and which exist with relatively little interaction with the rest of the government, by explicit design and writ of the Articles of Empire. The first and largest of these agencies is Imperial Affairs, which has several child agencies, most of which were created by the legislature and then absorbed into Imperial Affairs. Aside from Imperial Affairs and its child agencies, the independent executive includes Apportions (responsible for taxation, usually at the behest of the legislature or other agencies), the Office of Imperial Disaster Relief, the Transit Office (responsible for planes, trains, and teleportation), the Bureau of Information (responsible for collection of data, especially for use by the legislature), the Bureau of Standards (mostly dealing with trade), and Special Threats (which deals mostly with exclusions, though there has been some scope creep in recent years).
In theory, the Articles of Empire created a system of governance that moved slowly and would gum up fairly easily, on the theory that it was usually better that an imperial government did nothing rather than doing something contentious. The independent executive was a compromise whereby the vital functions of the empire would be insulated from the whims of the legislature. In practice, the independent executive moves quite fast, and the slow legislature often seems to be gumming up while trying to provide checks and balances to the independent executive. The arbitration branch has also become much more powerful than originally envisioned, in part because the slow legislature necessitated it.
Opinion on the government of the EoCC varies by polity. Generally speaking, the EoCC is well-liked among its varied citizens, in part because it has reasonably good public relations and branding, and in part because people conflate the idea of a hexal community with the actual practice of imperial governance. Most people interact with the Empire only by way of seeing notes of inspection on bulk teleported goods, which is seen as a sign of quality. In some polities, the EoCC is a convenient scapegoat for domestic problems, demonized as being an entity with so much power that the member polity has no choice but to comply. Opinions on the EoCC vary wildly, naturally, and change in response to hot button issues, which vary from place to place.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: The Empire of Common Cause is necessary, but sometimes I think that’s as much of a positive spin as you could put on it. Creating and enforcing standards, not just trade standards but legal standards, provides an enormous boon to the global market, and is one of the rare cases where a rising tide lifts all boats. Of course, not all boats are lifted equally by the rising tide, which makes for a mangled metaphor, or maybe just one that’s intentionally misleading. Most of my problems with the Empire ultimately comes from the Articles of Empire, which put into place a lot of the problems that would come into play later on. The jockeying of the legislature for committee positions, the raw power of the committees themselves, the difficulty in reigning in Adjudication, the mess that the independent executive makes of things with almost no recourse to the legislature because of the impossible levels of cooperation needed — I go back and forth on how easy these problems were to see in advance, and how much they’re the result of good intentions or attempts to manipulate, but it’s all immaterial, because the Empire is what we have, and there’s no real chance that it will be remade in a new form unless it comes crashing to the ground first.]
There are, roughly speaking, four levels of law within the EoCC. At the highest level is imperial law, those laws which are created and enforced by the EoCC itself, though enforcement mechanisms are complicated. One level down is the so-called “common law”, laws which member polities share with each other, and whose enforcement they are responsible for, on pain of sanctions. Below that, there are suggested laws, those written for distribution by various parts of the EoCC, which are meant to fit within the common law framework, but which don’t carry the same weight, and are much more voluntary. Lastly, there are the laws of the member polities themselves, which vary widely, and are worthy of consideration within the context of the EoCC primarily for their impacts on trade and travel.
The entirety of the legal landscape of the EoCC is considered impossible for any one person to know, and complex legal matters essentially require dozens if not hundreds of man-hours for groups of people to become temporary subject matter experts, often entad assisted. Nevertheless, it’s entirely possible to make some statements about the EoCC in broad terms:
- Slavery is, by and large, illegal. Chattel slavery is illegal, but conscription and forced labor are not, and neither is bonded slavery, though these are illegal in the majority of member polities. Several of the mortal species are ‘slave species’, created or bred specifically for slavery, typically with compulsions or dispositions toward being slaves. In those cases, exceptions are sometimes made. Controversially, slavery is not considered casus belli against non-member polities, which means that any war against a non-member polity over the issue of slavery will typically be met with sanctions.
- Many magics are restricted from being taught anywhere but their athenaeum, or an approved athenaeum satellite site. Publication of materials deemed sensitive are prohibited, and in some cases, not allowed to be sold or transferred to non-authorized personnel. Mages are, in most cases, licensed by their athenaeum. Violations of this law tend to be particularly harsh, including, in one particularly egregious case, the removal of all mages from the member polity by their athenaeums (on a voluntary basis through threat of revoked license), extensive sanctions, and eventually, removal of member status, shortly followed by war.
- Most member polities of the EoCC respect freedom of travel for imperial citizens, though this is not a part of the common law, only the suggested framework. Most member polities will require a permit or endorsement for longer stays, with the law varying depending on the member polity.
- The Bureau of Standards mandates many different aspects of imperial life, largely uncontested, ranging from allocation of radio frequencies, to bulk teleport procedures, to food handling. Additionally, there are many areas where the BoS offers certifications, which allow products to command a higher price, sometimes with the non-certified versions being forced out of the market. Of late, there has been a push for tighter standards to ensure accommodations for a wide variety of species, though the issue is contentious.
- Most member polities have laws regarding treatment of those under forge frenzy, seizure of entads, and compensation for entad seizure, though these are far from universal. Most member polities consider entads to be personal property, owned, transferred, and operated like any other, with licensing or confiscation in place for those that are particularly dangerous. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, and a number of places within the empire where entads are exclusively or nearly exclusively the purview of the member government.
- Member polities are directly taxed in several different ways, both through dues paid to the Empire, through taxes levied by independent agencies, and through agreements for use of labor, supplies, and other indirect financing. Member polities themselves have wildly different tax schemes, though taxation of travel and bulk teleport is highly regulated by the empire itself.
- The Empire tightly controls research into areas deemed potentially capable of ‘causing’ an exclusion through the RDLLE Acts. Additionally, major exclusions are generally considered the territory of the empire, though not rising to the level of imperial polities. Depending on the severity of the exclusion, travel might be restricted or banned entirely.
Despite the fact that it consists of hundreds of species and hundreds of member polities, there has still arisen something identifiable as “imperial culture”. Imperial culture is a result of mass media, bulk teleportation, and unified standards, some of which descends from both First Empire and Second Empire innovations and cultural shifts.
Generally speaking, ‘imperial culture’ is far more present in the cities of Aerb than in the rural areas, owing to both the increased prevalence of goods from around Aerb, and the way that different cultures overlap and interact with each other, a key feature of imperial culture. Urban areas have much greater economies of scale, allowing them to sustain and support a much larger variety of businesses and the import or creation of a greater variety of goods. On top of that, it’s much more common for people to emigrate to urban areas than rural areas.
Imperial culture is egalitarian, premised on the fact that all people deserve equal rights and opportunities, within the limits of physiological reality of differing species. It is understood that there’s a wide variety of mental modalities between the species, with inborn hangups, reactions, and preferences, but people are lauded for going against these predispositions, and most will be slow to say that you can’t do something because of your species, so long as you can prove yourself, or some accomodations can be made. Several of the mortal species have difficulties in mingled imperial society, such as criios (who require cold) and penumbrals (who cannot tolerate much light), and pains are taken to ensure that they are not excluded. To this end, most places which follow imperial culture will have a wide range of accommodations, usually with adjustable seating or different seating sections, some of which is dictated by the Bureau of Standards.
The language of the Empire, and of imperial culture, is Anglish, mostly as a result of Uther Penndraig’s cultural export programs and the legacies of the First and Second Empire, which first made Anglish the lingua franca, and later made it the common language of Aerb, pushing many languages into either cultural niches or into extinction. This imperial Anglish is a far cry from the Anglish of Uther’s time, as it includes many modern additions pulled in from other languages, not just those that refer to techniques, materials, and ideas non-native to Anglecynn ( kear for the material dwarves use to eat away at rocks, dejang for the runed spike used to collect souls), but those unique or useful to the Empire and imperial life (‘muggle’ as distinct from magic user, ‘spam’ for unwanted mail, ‘wannabe’ for someone who tries too hard to fit in). Despite the fact that people in major cities rarely meet each other, culture and language are effectively transmitted around Aerb through mass media, giving a consistency to pronunciation and vocabulary.
Imperial food is dominated by bulk teleport, though in recent years there has been a push toward processes and procedures that can only be done locally, especially fermentation and ‘live’ preparations. Additionally, there is a focus on foods which can be consumed by as many of the mortal species as possible, in part because of the aforementioned inclusivity, and in part because this is more economical for restaurants and helps to ensure proper food safety (there are numerous foods that are poisonous to one species but not the others). Many of the foods from varied cultures have ‘imperial style’ preparations that remove or substitute problematic ingredients. Among the poor, Barren bread and Barren milk are common supplements to a more flavorful diet, typically reduced in volume in various ways that do nothing for the flavor in order to minimize teleportation costs.
In contrast to the egalitarian beliefs of imperial culture, there is a large degree of self-segregation among the mortal species of the major cities, especially in the case of those who retain their original (or a pidgin) language, or who have special housing or dietary needs that require a degree of specialization. Within the major imperial cities, these are usually divided into ‘towns’, which typically take the form of extended neighborhoods rather than governmentally distinct areas of those cities. A ‘small town’ is one of the most common, a place where the smaller species have their housing, and in many cases a city will also have a subterranean ‘dwarf town’, though full dwarfholds are common as well, typically less integrated into imperial culture.
The Prime Material Plane
The base level of existence, also known as “Aerb”, though “Aerb” can colloquially refer to all planes of existence. Aerb can be represented as an infinitely tessellating hexagon with an edge length of approximately twenty-seven thousand miles and a surface area of 1.9 billion square miles. Traditional directions on Aerb are determined taking the direction of travel of the sun as one axis (“east” and “west”) and then establishing a second axis perpendicular to the first (“north” and “south”). For technical purposes, a six-axis directional system, with the three axes sixty degrees offset from each other, is used.
Aerb contains forty-four continents, divided by eleven major oceans. Biomes are largely determined by the super-atmospheric projection layer, which changes the amount of available light from the sun, while seasons are largely determined by the fact that the sun’s apparent size grows in the summer and diminishes in the winter. The shape and properties of the projection layer, now well-mapped, are largely responsible for hexal weather patterns. In certain areas, the projection layer is inwardly warped, providing hotter climates, or outwardly warped, providing cooler climates.
- At the bottoms of the six largest oceans are the Gelid Depths, vast expanses of pseudo-ice which range from 200 ft. to 1 mile thick and which lay on the ocean floors.
- The largest of Aerb’s continents is Auberlo, which contains a vast grassland laced with sedate rivers. In the center of the Auberlo lies the Spine of the World (sometimes, World Spine), both the tallest and longest mountain range on Aerb.
- The longest river is the Jesh, which spans three different continents, and is also part of the world’s largest rain basin, in an area known as the ‘Second Cradle’ for its prominence in imperial politics (the first cradle being Anglecynn and the continent of Bretaigne).
- The deepest body of water on Aerb is Fathom Lake, near the city of Remar. While the lake is fairly small, it’s estimated to be more than a thousand miles deep, with labyrinth caves on the sides starting a mile down. The lake is home to a number of indigenous species found nowhere else.
- Aerb only has a “center” by convention, but that convention is dictated by what’s known as the Perimeter Route, a perfect hexagonal path that a ship could take without ever touching land, the only such route in existence. Portions of the Perimeter Route have been used for trade for several centuries, though other portions are more treacherous (and shipping is somewhat rare following the advent of bulk teleport).
The Ethereal Plane
The Ethereal Plane, typically accessed by star magic, is the plane most directly adjacent to the Prime Material Plane. The Prime Material Plane is clearly visible from the Ethereal Plane, making it historically useful for spying. The world of the Ethereal Plane doesn’t fully map to that of the Prime Material, namely, the geographical features are distinct, making it difficult or dangerous to enter the Ethereal Plane in all but a few locations. Ethereal ecology is distinct from that of the Prime Material plane, with the ethereal having a number of magical creatures, flora and fauna, and two of their own mortal species.
The Elemental Planes
There are twenty-eight elemental planes connected to Aerb: acid, base, blood, bone, chitin, clay, earth, electricity, fire, flesh, glass, gold, ice, iron, lava, light, magnetism, mist, rust, salt, sand, shadow, smoke, steam, stone, vacuum, water, and wood. Each of the elemental planes consists of roughly 90% of the given elemental, with the remaining 10% being divided up into foreign materials that have arrived through planar travel, adjacent elements, and air (breathable or otherwise). Creatures native to the elemental planes are often called “elementals”, but they’re so different from one another that the label is largely useless.
The elemental planes were discovered slowly over time, with the first three (earth, fire, water) being plainly obvious, and the others requiring some level of research or magic to discover. In the past hundred years, it’s become more common for planes to be “discovered” through theory or philosophy and only confirmed much later.
Direct corporeal access to the elemental planes is difficult, especially because so many of them are hostile to life, but it’s somewhat common for entads and specific spells within different schools to be discovered accessing one of them rather than creating matter or energy ex nihilo. Beynard’s conjecture states that all magic which appears to violate conservation of mass or conservation of energy is, rather, interacting with one of the planes in some way.
[Juniper’s Notes: There’s some parallel to the discovery of elements on Earth here, which is funny. Not funny enough to laugh at though. Also, I’m sad that my truly exotic planes never made it in there, like the plane of slime, the plane of slugs, or the plane of leaves. Maybe they just haven’t been discovered yet.]
M-space is a plane of nigh-infinite energy, all densely packed together; the ‘m’ originally stood for ‘mana’, but the term was truncated. All research into m-space was permanently banned during the First Empire, a ban which has (officially) persisted in every polity on Aerb since its inception. While m-space is sometimes called the “elemental plane of energy”, this is incorrect.
N-space is a plane of concentrated, “raw” negentropy, which is theoretically (but unprovably) drawn upon by a number of entads and magics, with revision magic chief among them. All research into n-space is currently banned, but the prohibitions are less strict than on m-space.
P-space is a plane where raw concepts are located. As it’s not a physical plane but a conceptual one, making observations with instrumentation is difficult, and actually visiting it is right out. P-space is, in theory, the plane magics connect to when they need definitional assistance (e.g. “Is this a chair?”), though differences in ostensibly identical requests throw some doubt as to what’s actually going on, and some magics which appear to use definitional assistance will, in fact, use rigid mathematical models instead.
[Juniper’s Notes: The ‘p’ was for Platonic, though annoyingly, I haven’t been able to track down whether the same is true on Aerb. Was ‘p’ just picked out of a hat?]
G-space is the dumping ground for nearly everything that “disappears” from Aerb, save for those things which are erased from existence by the void. Attempts to observe g-space have routinely failed for unclear reasons, but a number of observations of magics from Aerb appear to confirm its existence.
The Disjoint Planes
This collection of thirty-seven planes share little in common, save that none of them have the sweeping variety of climates and life seen on Aerb. They range from the low gravity and wandering mountains of Kantvarld, to the undulating, wave-like fields of Masqwa, to the glass forests of Erborea. What the Disjoint Planes have in common is that they’re monobiomes (in rare cases, dual biomes), smaller than Aerb, and considerably more hostile to life than Aerb is on average. None of the disjoint planes connect to each other in any meaningful way.
Following Uther’s Interdiction, none of the disjoint planes are accessible from Aerb, though it’s theoretically possible to get to them by first passing through one of the elemental planes. There has been no known successful attempt at doing so.
[Juniper’s Notes: Looking into it further, it appears that Uther’s Interdiction might actually have been an exclusion? I can’t figure out why no one calls it an exclusion though, except perhaps that Uther declared that he’d done it for the safety of Aerb, so maybe this one time he just took credit? It’s also weirdly underplayed in the history books, maybe because the disjoint planes weren’t really interacted with all that much by anyone but Uther, and had little impact on the average person’s life. Really, the disjoint planes themselves are a big cliffnote in Aerb’s history.
Incidentally, the disjoint planes appear to have been a dumping ground for some of my less-adaptable ideas. In my Critter Islands campaign, the world was an endless desert with miles-long magical creatures with singular biomes on them, and maybe half of the disjoint planes appear to be plane-sized versions of those. Similarly, there’s a disjoint plane with ‘thick cilia’ that I’m pretty sure is the Plane of Cocks from flesh.txt, my never-shown-to-anyone pornographic campaign setting.]
The Plane of Dreams
It’s often said that the plane of dreams is excluded, but this doesn’t fully convey the reality of the situation. What instead happened was that the magic of dream-walking was apparently excluded, to an unknown exclusion zone, if there is one, which cut off the ability of anyone on Aerb to step into the plane of dreams through that method. However, some entads on Aerb still function within the plane of dreams, and of course, the phenomenon of dreaming relies on interaction between sleeping mortals in the material plane and the plane of dreams itself.
The Plane of Mirrors
Like the ethereal plane, the plane of mirrors connects more directly to the material plane than many of the others do, being almost entirely dependent on what happens within the material plane. Before mirror magic was excluded, every reflection on Aerb (man-made or otherwise, despite the name) was a link to the plane of mirrors. On the other side of these reflections is a copy of the material plane, though the copy is only exact in the places that are reflected. In places where no reflection falls lives the true heart of the plane, colored in shades of blue and home to all manner of exotic flora and fauna, typically adapted to slowly grow back from the sterilizing effects of a mirror penetrating their realm. Larger specimens can fully withstand a reflection and either interact with material counterparts that a reflection reveals in the plane of mirrors, or cross over to the other side. When mirror magic was excluded, apparently all forms of access to the plane of mirrors went with it.
The Plane of Drift
Things that are magically erased from existence go to g-space, but things that are magically lost end up in the plane of drift. The plane of drift has little in the way of gravity, and little in the way of features, aside from the various lost things that float through the air. While some of the detritus comes from heavy magic, a greater portion comes from a species of magical creatures that gained power by shunting things off to the plane. The only place of note in the plane of drift is the City of the Lost, a community made up of people who have crossed over to the the plane of drift and made a makeshift society for themselves. Following Uther’s discovery of the plane, a permanent link to the City of the Lost was created, and it currently holds member status in the Empire of Common Cause.
Throughout recorded history there have been a few suggestions that there are “alternate timelines” out there, parallel planes which contain duplicates or near-duplicates of much of the material plane. In a few of these instances, the evidence that something has happened are incontrovertible; there are two of the Castle Trull, with exactly the same layout, brickwork, and blemishes, and historical records indicate that at some point during the First Empire, the second Castle Trull appeared beside the first, with a history diverging some twenty years prior. There are, of course, other explanations for these phenomena, but no scientific research has borne fruit.
By far the most numerous of the planes, the hells can be accessed by only a very few methods. The most important among these is that an unattended soul on Aerb will quickly transfer to one of the hells, as will the soul of a deceased person if not removed within approximately thirty minutes. Souls placed in glass containers with glass stoppers will eventually decay, bypassing the hells, a process that takes approximately three years.
There are nine thousand of these hells, each with its own peculiarities. The common thread between hells is that magic is almost completely non-functional, devils and demons (collectively, infernals) live there, there are some number of mortal species who are deposited by means of abyssal transversal, mortal species are under a regeneration effect, and almost all flora, fauna, and natural conditions exist to cause mortal suffering.
Beyond those elements, there is wide variation among the hells, with some being hotter or colder, having lower or higher gravity, or otherwise expressing divergent physics. Flora and fauna run the gamut, beyond even the wide variety found on Aerb, and different natural phenomena present themselves. Most of this variation is unstructured, with no particular rhyme or reason to why each hell is different from the others.
The nine thousand hells are usually spoken of as being “below” Aerb, a consequence of early superstition about the hells, later codified in mathematical notations relating to infernal energy. As more began to be understood about the hells, scientists began to refer to some hells as being ‘above’ or ‘below’ each other, terminology which seeped out into the popular vernacular. Unfortunately, this terminology is misleading, as we would be better served in thinking of it as directionless ‘distance’ as determined by energy needed for access.
“Higher” hells are more likely to contain weak infernals, including imps (the weakest of them). Higher hells tend to have lower rates of regeneration for the mortals there, and perhaps as a consequence of this, they have less hardy and robust flora and fauna. Generally, suffering is lower in these places. As such, the ‘Alpha Hell’, the hell which is closest to Aerb, is considered not too much worse than living in an exclusion zone. Because these hells are closer, it takes much less effort for an infernal to take on physical presence on Aerb. “Lower” hells contain strong infernals, stronger regeneration for mortals, and more aggressive and pervasive flora and fauna.
Though mortals are offered some regenerative protection in the hells, this does not appear to be to their benefit, as this regeneration is often used against them by the flora, fauna, or infernals. Because a mortal can survive having a finger removed and will slowly, painfully regrow it, there is considerable leeway for organisms to repeatedly harvest fingers, for example. Similar rules apply to harvest and consumption of blood, skin, flesh, bones, eyes, vital organs, infliction of pain, and to a lesser extent, a wide variety of emotional, intellectual, epistemic, social, and other horrors, given the mental resilience of mortals.
A mortal’s placement in the hells was initially thought to be determined by some qualities of their moral character, with those of poor moral character being sent to lower hells than those with good moral character. Later intensive studies have shown this to be false, and distribution of abyssal arrival follows a probabilistic curve that peaks around five hundred hells below Aerb, with a long tail toward the Omega Hell. A similar rule applies to any mortal who suffers enough damage to kill them in one of the hells, with the same curve being apparent, and the same peak at roughly five hundred hells below where they started. Any chart of abyssal travel will show a sharp spike at the Omega Hell, which is the ultimate destination for any mortal who dies enough times.
As the ultimate destination of any mortal, Omega Hell deserves special mention. There, death is truly impossible for any mortal, and even so extreme of circumstances as being completely atomized will result in the mortal reforming somewhere within the hell. In the Omega Hell, tortures and suffering can be much more abstract than elsewhere, with nervous systems taken apart and smeared out over a field, or a body taken apart into its component pieces. Paradoxically, the surplus of mortals in the Omega Hell, as well as the fact that it’s a seat of power both make that hell a home to some of the most well-kept mortals within the hells (though they’re held in reserve primarily to be tortured at a later date, or to facilitate the torture of others).
Abyssal travel is a complicated affair. Mortals can, obviously, travel to lower hells by the process of death. For infernals, abyssal travel is difficult and labor-intensive, and non-native planes can be physically uncomfortable. It is still possible for infernals to traverse the planes, but each transfer must be taken individually, and travel is largely relegated to rare instances of permanent relocation. Goods can be moved somewhat easier, though many of the same restrictions apply, and infernal governance being what it is, there’s a severe lack of the infrastructure that would allow rapid transit of those goods.
Communication between the hells is much easier: the infernals simply use infernoscopes, in a similar method to how the same technology is used on Aerb. Because the lower hells are difficult to see using an infernoscope on Aerb, much of what’s known about the lower hells comes from using terrestrial infernoscopes to watch abyssal infernoscopes.
[Juniper’s Notes: Obviously the hells aren’t great. They also seem like complete overkill to me, given that a single monolithic hell would be just as terrifying and seems like it would serve the same purpose. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, thinking about the worldbuilding instead of the people down there, but the worldbuilding … well, I can’t say that I get it, if there’s anything to get. A lot of what I read of the hells marks them as being something like I would come up with, but nine thousand is more variety than I’d think you’d ever need unless you were just throwing off a big number. Also, there’s the obvious ‘over nine thousand’ meme, but I’m hoping that Aerb is built a little more solidly than that.]
In the parlance of Aerb, “magic” is usually used to refer to a systematized practice which can be learned and developed into an expertise. This is in contrast to an entad, which cannot be learned, developed, or duplicated, or a “free” spell which is essentially immutable and static once learned. Environmental effects are sometimes called magic, but that’s an improper, imprecise use of the term. Warders’ definitions also include entads under “magic”, but that professional definition is somewhat broader, including anything that they can see with their monocle and affect with their wards.
Latent, Passive, and Active magic
Magic can be divided into “latent”, “passive”, and “active”.
Latent magic is essentially nothing more than the possibility of magic, or some interaction with magic. In physics terms, it’s somewhat equivalent to potential energy. By metaphor, it might be more similar to a loaded gun or a mousetrap at full tension.
Passive magic generates some constant effect. If someone’s skin is tougher to pierce through some magical effect, that’s likely passive magic. In physics terms, it’s somewhat equivalent to a constantly applied force, though the actually effects aren’t necessarily physical as such. In programming terms, passive magic might be thought of as a property of something.
Active magic is usually some short-term effect, representing a spike of magic. If latent magic is a mousetrap that’s ready to snap closed, active magic is that moment of snapping. Generally speaking, active magic is unstable, and presents as drawing on a store of magical energy in one way or another. If not, then it’s a temporary tapping of magical energy from somewhere else. In programming terms, active magic might be thought of as a method call.
The latent/passive/active distinction is largely unimportant, except as it interfaces with various meta-magics, the most important of which is warding.
Species Specific (Specic) Magic
A number of creatures on Aerb are capable of practicing their own magic which is specific to their species. This “specic” magic is defined by the ability of the practitioner to learn and grow their ability with it. One example of this would be a unicorn, whose ability to distort time grows more powerful over time. There does not appear to be any substantial difference between the specic magics of the mortal species and those of so-called “magical creatures”, at least in principle. If a species is capable of producing an effect which is not subject to learning, growth, or development, that is instead a “specic effect”, though common parlance will tend to call both phenomenon “magic”.
Where specic magic is confined to a species and common among all members, bloodline magic is instead controlled by lineage, mediated by the soul. While at first blush they might appear similar, or it might appear that one is a subset of the other, they’re quite distinct from each other in terms of how who can and cannot use the magic is determined. Because they utilize the part of the soul which contains lineal information, bloodline magics tend to share many similar properties to entad inheritance. In contrast, specic magic tends to exclude those potential practitioners whose species is too diluted from crossbreeding (with specific dilution for ineligibility dependent on the specic magic).
[Juniper’s Notes: Not to be confused with bloodline magic, which acts on a person’s bloodline. Pretty much no one knows about bloodline magic, and it’s excluded, so it’s a confusion of terms that only affects a very few.]
There are a number of skills which are supernatural in some sense, systematized, and which can be learned and practiced, but which are not generally regarded as ‘magic’, given that they’re outgrowths of other skills. The two most notable examples of such phenomena are the blade-bound, who have supernatural attenuation to a blade, prescient ability to parry, and enhanced cutting power, and the Elon Gar, who have a near-complete control of typically automatic reactions. These ‘pseudo magics’ do not interact with meta-magical phenomena such as warding.
Air mages have a fine-tuned telekinetic control of air, particularly in separating out slightly different aspects of the air and manipulating particulates. Generally considered one of the more underwhelming magics, much of its practical utility has been superceded by wards, leaving only a relatively small community of practicing air mages. Their primary specialties are operating at high altitudes where the air is thin, breathing air that would otherwise be poisonous, altering temperature, creating extremely local weather, and killing people by making the air unbreathable.
Blood mages use their own blood (or more rarely, someone else’s) as a conduit for gaining access to their powers. At the lower levels, this means drawing on attributes of the blood, particularly motion and heat, which give rise to the two classical signs of a blood mage, a blood-swiftened strike and a flaming finger.
Continued use of blood magic depletes the body’s quantity of blood, eventually leading to anemia. Prior to anemia, the blood itself can become drained of magic through the use of too much of any particular attribute: too much motion results in sluggishness, while too much heat results in chills.
The more difficult applications of the magic involve controlling the flow of blood to prevent bleeding out from wounds, control over clotting, and control over immune response. All of these abilities are useful to one degree or another in healing, especially with a line going between the blood magus and their patient. Where bone mages serve as the primary healers of Aerb, the blood mages generally supplement that skill, especially with their ability to ‘burn out’ toxins and diseases. With a venous connection, skilled blood mages are often useful in surgeries in order to prevent blood loss, or to supplement blood flow and oxygen distribution in the patient. For these reasons, it’s common for blood mages and bone mages to work together in the healing arts.
At the upper tiers of blood magic, practiced by a relative handful of mages, the blood becomes a tool, capable of being drawn out of the body and shaped to whatever purpose the blood mage desires. Spears and swords are typical combat applications, wielded by high caliber blood mages in the field of combat, and notable for the fact that they carry their undetectable weapon on them at all times. Defensively, these blood mages can harden themselves against attack, resisting a blow with the strength of their will alone.
Overall, blood magic has something of an identity crisis, given that its abilities are poised between practical combat and healing utility. The difficulty inherent in study, and the ease with which various aspects are accessed, means that novice blood mages have access to a fair amount of athletic and combat utility, journeymen have access to healing, and masters are once again tapping into combat-oriented powers. This zig-zag while moving up the ranks has made blood magic one of the less favored of the magics in recent, more peaceful times.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: I do wish that I had gotten an extra few years at Quills and Blood. When I met Juniper, I had just the bare amount of knowledge necessary for Aarde’s Touch and the Crimson Fist. Once you have those first three years under your belt, you’re allowed to train on your own, but I was always busy with other things, and didn’t have the time to dedicate to eking out more utility just by working through the exercises on my own. Having access to one of the magics is pretty common among the Lost King’s Court, and blood magic is one of the more popular ones, but it’s the defensive abilities that really make that the case. Being able to burn out poisons is helpful, if you’re a noble of Anglecynn.]
All bones contain latent magic, linked to the soul, which a bone mage can ‘burn’ for various benefits. This is typically done by holding or touching the bone in question and concentrating on the aspects of the bone, which can be felt by the bone mage. The easiest task for a bone mage is ‘tapping’ physical attributes, which can be used for increased swiftness, strength, and vitality. The latter of these is particularly important, as sufficiently increased vitality allows for rapid healing, and forms the basis of the majority of medical solutions across Aerb.
Bone mages can tap fast, which increases the effect at the expense of effect duration, or tap slow, which increases the duration at the expense of the effect’s power. The typical rule is that fast is for combat situations and slow is for utility, though there are certain edge cases. The rule exists due to the “total effect” curve, which dips down sharply with a faster tap. The majority of the edge cases are for situations in which a slow tap would be inadequate for the circumstances. Note as well that bones can be burned in vivo, either by touching the exposed bone of a creature or adversary, or when a bone mage burns their own bones.
Beyond “physical tapping”, and requiring significantly more skill, there is also intellect and focus tapping, as well as memory tapping, which belongs in a slightly different class from the other attributes. Intellect tapping enhances an individual’s intellect, though the short time it applies for and the necessity of taking bones from an intelligent individual make it unworkable in all but the most dedicated setups. Similar constraints apply on focus, though this is much more workable, as focus can be found in abundance in a handful of domesticated animals. A number of tests during the Second Empire led to the discontinuation of regular intellect and focus tapping, citing extremely high expenses and unclear benefits in the real world, despite the promising results of isolated testing.
Memory tapping is somewhat different, and rather than enhancing any attribute, instead causes a flood of memories to flow through the bone mage. These memories are particularly difficult to deal with, and besides that, fleeting as soon as the bone has been burned, which makes use of memory tapping vanishingly rare in practice, despite the benefits it would otherwise appear to offer.
Finally, bone mages can tap into specific magics held by magical beasts, as well as by various members of the mortal species. This ability is considerably less useful than it might first appear, because the bones do not transfer requisite skill, nor do they make any biological modifications, nor do they allow access to stored magic. A vitric bone would be useless unless the bone mage had electricity stored in their veins like a vitric does. Similarly, the bone of a water mage would be useless to the bone mage, as water magic requires significant skill to use. This leaves a rather narrow number of organisms whose bones can be used by bone magic to produce a magical effect.
Because of the existence of bone magic, almost all animals harvested for meat or that otherwise die are stripped of their bones, which are then used by bone mages around the world. In the modern era, it is relatively rare that a bone mage will use bones from an animal which has been specifically bred or hunted for that purpose, as bones from domesticated animals harvested for their meat are quite common and cost-effective for the primary purpose of a bone mage, which is healing. In some polities, bone mages are nationalized, with bones provided by governmental departments, but in other places, a bone mage is tasked with securing his own bones.
Combat bone mages typically serve as medics, often with storage entads capable of replenishing their bone supplies. Because a bone mage must touch a bone in order to use it, bone mages tend to wear their bones on their exterior, held in place by straps or long pockets, rather than concealed.
Carapace magic is a companion to skin magic, available only to those creatures covered in hard exteriors. Though the school is informally called carapace magic, to the extent that this term is found on official documents, it is typically considered to extend across all kinds of hard coverings and exposed parts of the mortal species, including those made of dentin, keratin, bone, chitin, and other materials. Formal publications often refer to this collection of hardened exteriors as exobiology, though such terms have not penetrated into the general public, and most carapace mages will refer to themselves as such.
Like tattoo and scar magic, carapace magic involves making modifications to the material, in the case of carapace magic, typically by either carving out the carapace (similar in function to scar magic) or by inlaying the carapace with magical materials (similar in function to tattoo magic). If the carapace is inlaid, the effect is much more likely to be temporary or single use, with the carapace restored to whole through the use of the effect. Like both tattoo and scar magic, the designs required are exact, made difficult by the irregularities of the bodies they’re placed upon.
Carapace magic initially developed with the harmonia, an insectile humanoid with massive shells on their backs. Because they could not reach their shells, all processes were done through the labor of others, and it was common for there to be a division of labor between those who altered the carapace and those who used their powers. Following Uther Penndraig’s war against the Harmonian Nest, carapace magic became widespread among those of the mortal species with hard exteriors, eventually including those with large antlers or horns. In the modern day, there are even human carapace mages, utilizing their nails or teeth for minor effects, though this is often seen as an example of Human Derangement Syndrome rather than a sound investment in education.
Widely regarded as the single most societally damaging magic, essentialism, or “soul magic” is a method of manipulating a person’s soul. These manipulations can result in changes to the body, interactions with other magics, changes in personality, loss of hard-earned skills, loss of memories, and at the extreme end, effective death.
The good news is that essentialists take a fair bit of time to actually affect a person, they must be touching their victim, and it takes the entirety of their focus. The real risk of an essentialist is that they will kidnap or bind their victim, or get them while they are asleep or drugged, at which point the essentialist can spend that time creating a convert to their cause. Essentialists require time and effort for each person affected, as many changes will naturally revert to baseline and some elements of personality are difficult or impossible to change, which further limits their ability to act as a major threat.
During the time of the Second Empire, essentialism was widely accepted, though the actual number of practitioners was fairly small in comparison to other magics, in part due to the Second Empire’s desire to keep the field limited to those whose loyalty was assured, and in part because it’s simply a difficult and complex magic which takes significant time and effort to have a handle on. Nevertheless, the Guild of the Essential Soul made ample use of essentialism, in many cases converting their political enemies, stealing land, making soul-altered alliances, creating various monsters, and in general providing the backbone for imperial power at the time. Soul mages would work on dissidents for a day and get them to reveal everything about their networks, protocols, and plans. Soul mages would sometimes take part in trials and compel those involved to tell the truth. In many ways, the power of the soul mages was utterly intoxicating for the empire at large.
Following the Manifest exclusion, the majority of the most senior soul mages perished or were captured. Those who were captured were stripped of their abilities by skilled anti-imperial soul mages. Once this was accomplished, the majority of the anti-imperial soul mages voluntarily stripped themselves of their power, with only a small cadre left for ensuring that important functions could be carried out (especially including the rooting out of imperial elements).
Special note must be made of the anolia, whose specic magic allows them to see inside souls. This process takes them a fair bit of time, though less than a soul mage, but it allowed them to confirm whether or not someone’s soul has been tampered with by a soul mage, and beyond that, whether or not they are a soul mage. Without the anolia, it’s unlikely that manipulative soul magic would have been so thoroughly eradicated.
In the modern imperial era, soul mages are tightly controlled and strictly licensed, authorized to perform only a few functions which are considered vital to the functioning of the empire, such as protective soul-linking to a ‘brute’, or which have been deemed harmless (such as the soulbinding method of transferring effects).
[Amaryllis’ Notes: Soul magic is too damned useful. After the fall of the Second Empire there were a lot of hardliners, vicious fucks who had allegiance to no country and would come kill you and your family if you so much as thought about loosening the regulations against soul magic. Time wore on, and the hardliners died or lost that spark of vengeful hatred, which meant that eventually soul magic lost a little bit of its taboo, especially among people who didn’t live under the spectre of the Second Empire. Now, it’s creeping back in, bit by bit, except now it’s with loud proclamations of how we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past, how we have oversight and ethics. There are, naturally, covert soul mages in practically every polity on Aerb, since they’re too useful for that not to be the case. Sometimes the best solution is to soulfuck someone, and it’s unlikely that’s ever going to change.]
[Juniper’s Notes: The brute soul linking thing is weird. In game terms, it’s, I don’t know, equivalent to hitbox chicanery, making it so that your hitbox maps to a different character. From everything that I’ve read, the soul contains a whole bunch of information, all the data that makes up “you”, but the fact that soul linking is allowed means that your soul also contains information about the position of your body, and this information is somehow used by the world at large to, say, calculate damage. Which is kind of nuts. On Earth, someone shoots you, and the damage to your body is just physics interactions, but on Aerb, your soul is involved somehow. But what’s especially bizarre is that this doesn’t work all of the time, because if it did, then any force at all would be transferred to the person that was linked. It might actually be the single most game mechanical thing in the entirety of Aerb. Of course, souls have to logically contain a lot of information, because they’re what a huge variety of magics interface with in some way. A druid turns you into a sparrow? It’s your soul that remembers who you were before. An entad resizes to fit you? It’s checking your soul (most of the time, anyway). Essentialists aren’t able to manipulate or even see all the stuff that the soul does, partly because there are a ton of micro-exclusions, partly because it seems like they just didn’t ever have the breadth of ability it seems like they should have had.]
All farmers and gardeners have some potential toward flower magic, which comes simply as a result of having a connection to and understanding of a flowering plant. Despite that, flower mages were vanishingly rare before Vervain, namely because of the difficulties inherent in forming and maintaining a connection to even a single plant. Following the founding of the Vervainium, flower magic began to be more well-understood, which allowed for far more of the mages than there had been in the past.
Connection to a plant is the first step for a flower mage. In abstract terms, this means seeing and understanding the plant in a true way until a part of it is bound to you, and you to it. In concrete terms, this means spending time with the plant, nurturing it, watering it, and expressing yourself to it. This connection can be hard for a novice to detect, and is formed (or not) when the seed is planted. Flower mages who are starting out sometimes plant dozens of plants in sequence, suffering through the failures.
Once there is a connection, that connection must be carefully maintained, and the plant must be carefully cultivated. When the plant produces a bud, that bud can be pinched off before it flowers, taking some or all of the connective strength between the mage and the plant with it. The bud can then be used for an effect which depends upon the connection and the strain of plant, though the typical effects of flower magic are nature-oriented in some respect.
[Juniper’s Notes: ‘Nature-oriented’ is doing a lot of work there. From what I understand, there are a whole host of books that you could get from the Vervainium on the exact possible scope of what flower magic can do, and a whole library that catalogs all of the effects of known strains and who all the flower mages connected to those strains were. As a magic system, it’s horribly constrained, because you only end up with, at most, a dozen spells at your disposal, each of which takes a lot of time and effort to ‘prepare’. The trade-off is that the spells tend to be pretty damned good.]
Despite its name, and the rather dramatic method by which fire mages are created (namely, immolation), “fire” mages actually have control over a large number of chemical processes. Unlike some other magics, these “alternate” effects are available without much additional training, and can be exercised independently of any knowledge of fire, including underwater and in hard vacuum.
As they progress, fire mages typically gain a better and better intuitive understanding of the potential chemical reactions around them, which increases their ability to utilize their power. Further, after several years of modest training, a fire mage can begin to offer some share of either catalyst or reactant, incurring a chemical debt that must be paid down later. The simplest example of this is with fire, where a fire mage can provide the fire with oxygen and increase its heat. He will then incur a debt, which he must pay back by gathering oxygen over the next few days, lest he get “fire sickness”. This collection is done through the skin. Because a fire mage can provide reactants, it is possible for very skilled fire mages to create chemical effects from nothing.
Fire mages are created through intense trauma, typically with burns covering a large portion of their body, though a few instances of extensive chemical damage have been recorded as well. This damage is not a guarantee that someone will become a fire mage, as only roughly one in one hundred people who suffer in this way become fire mages. In order to make a single person become a fire mage, this process, which typically brings a person close to death, must be done sixty-nine times to have a fifty percent chance of working. [Juniper’s Notes: Nice. Though actually, it seems like that’s just because of how the math works out.] Thankfully, the process can be done with the help of various magics, allowing it to be minimally painful and non-fatal.
A fire mage’s range increases with their training, up to fifty feet at the upper end of skill. Experienced fire mages are also capable of supernaturally sensing chemical reactions as they occur. Fire magic has difficulty affecting chemical reactions internal to people, as the soul causes interference.
By holding a cut gemstone in hand, a gem mage can cause it to emit beams of hard light with various properties dependent upon the cut, clarity, color, and carat of the stone. The largest difference among gems is in their color, with their properties dependent on the spread of colors along human-oriented RGB lines.
- A pure red gem will fire a constant laser-like projection of force, half of which will be directed back at the user. This beam will have 0 spread.
- A pure blue gem will fire once every eight seconds, emitting fifty projectiles at a spread of 180 degrees, which will alter course toward user-intuited targets up to 90 degrees.
- A pure green gem will project force in a cone away from the user, expanding with distance at a roughly 45 degree angle (90 degree cone) with commensurate weakening of power. This gem requires one quarter the usual expenditure of power.
- A pure magenta (combining red and blue) gem will fire once every four seconds, emitting twenty-five projectiles at a spread of 90 degrees, which will alter course toward user-intuited targets up to 45 degrees. One-quarter of projectile force will be directed back at the user.
- A pure cyan (combining blue and green) gem will fire once every four seconds, emitting twenty-five projectiles within a 120 degree cone. Projectiles will weaken with distance from origin in accordance with half of the inverse square of distance. Projectiles will alter course toward user-intuited targets up to 90 degrees. This requires one half the usual expenditure of power.
- A pure yellow (combining green and red) gem will fire a constant projection of force in a 45 degree cone with force reduced by half of the inverse square of distance. One quarter of the force will be directed back toward the user. This requires one half the usual expenditure of power.
- A pure white gem is special, and can be used to boost other gems when channeled. Because most gem mages can only use one gem at a time, white gems are either used through special techniques, or with a second gem mage.
- A pure black gem is special, and can be used for countering other gems at half the cost of what the offensive power takes.
Using a gem like this requires skin contact with the gem mage, which is often accomplished by placing the gems within jewelry that rests against the skin. The projected force naturally comes from the palms, though an experienced gem mage can project from their fingertips, eyes, mouth, forehead, or even feet, given enough skill and training. Generally speaking, projection is easiest closest to the site where the gem makes contact, and this is standard procedure for all gem mages. A starting gem mage can fire only one gem at a time, but more experienced gem mages can fire two or more at once.
Gems have many properties, all of which alter their effects when used in some way:
- Clarity: how clear the gem is. Clarity has a sigmoidal relationship with force per unit power; the first few points of clarity provide ever-increasing force per unit power, while the last few points of clarity provide ever-decreasing force per unit power.
- Cut: how many facets the gem has, and what their arrangement is. Cut has two components, facets and symmetry. A lack of symmetry in the cuts typically results in force projection being off-balanced or warped in some way, though one axis of radial symmetry is enough that the effects are much less noticeable. The number of cuts increases the “sharpness” of the force projection.
- Carat Weight: how big the gem is. Larger gems require more power to use, but have greater force per unit power at superlinear rate.
- Color: see above
In short, more clarity is always better, a more symmetrical cut is almost always better, more cuts are almost always better, a greater carat weight is better so long as you have the power available to use it, and color is variable.
Gem magic comes at the cost of mental fatigue, with intensity of fatigue dependent on the particulars of the gem. Experienced gem mages experience less fatigue, and are better able to cope with it.
There are a variety of different approaches to gem magic. For many users, it is primarily a weapon used in self-defense, given the onerous nature of the costs. For others, it’s a single (or double) use weapon for circumstances in which that’s all that’s needed. Combat mages with a focus on gems are quite rare: it’s usually a contingency of some kind, or a readily-used burst of offensive power. Because gem mages depend upon their gems to be functional, and because more powerful gems are more rare and require specialized artisans to make better, most gem mages are either wealthy or sponsored by someone who is wealthy.
Gem magic doesn’t tend to be taught at athenaeums, in part because the actual practice of gem magic spread too far and wide to be contained, and in part because tutoring or instruction are of limited use in comparison to the gains in skill that come from repeated and consistent training. As a consequence, there are a number of gem magic tutors and instructors, but they are only loosely affiliated with each other and have nothing like the monopolies that the athenaeums hold. This is not to say that there are no institutions of learning for gem magic, as several exist across Aerb, with their own specialties. The most famous of these is the Spectral Monastery, which specializes in the use of many small chips of gems, rather than larger individual gems. The technique was developed by the archmage Alvin Xoppet, who takes a very different approach to his craft than most athenaeums take to their own.
[Juniper’s Notes: Gem magic looks cool, but is super lame in practice, in part because it’s incredibly draining to use more than a small handful of times. The fact that it uses RGB values is really odd, because there’s nothing special about RGB in a physics sense, that’s just the standard that the human eye uses. Also, one of the things that drives me nuts about Aerb is that there are little hidden anagrams, references, and jokes all over the place, enough that I sometimes think that some of them are false positives from my mind trying to draw connections that aren’t actually there. That said, I’m pretty sure that Alvin and the Chip Monks is an intentional pun.]
A relatively simple and widespread spell can be used to mark a quantity of gold greater than a single pound, after which the caster will become a gold mage. Gold mages have tactile telekinesis whose power is based on the quantity of gold they have marked, while their ability to manipulate that telekinesis is based largely on innate mental attributes and learned skill.
A gold mage must respond to the ‘call of the gold’ in order to keep his status as a gold mage. Described sometimes as a voice and other times as a feeling, the call of the gold will demand certain tasks of the gold mage, which primarily include securing their gold, attaining more gold, and marking attained gold. It is unclear whether the call of the gold represents a psychosis that universally afflicts gold mages, or an entity (or entities) associated with gold magic. Either way, the call of the gold appears to come with extrasensory perception, which notably includes the ability to find non-warded gold in a fairly large area, and an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the gold cache.
The general lifecycle of a gold mage starts with an initial collection of gold, securing that gold, then ruthlessly gathering more and more gold until the requests/demands of the call of the gold become too great. At that point, the gold mage will cease to be a gold mage, usually at an inopportune time for them, and will be forever unable to access the magic, even if they somehow collect the gold that was previously required. The longest known duration for a gold mage was eighteen years, aided in part by her location away from many sources of gold.
Attempts to utilize gold mages have historically been unsuccessful, primarily due to the compulsion to adequately protect the gold, mixed with the compulsions to attain more. The gold mage is, of course, free to ignore the compulsions at any time, but this quickly results in a loss of power. Additionally, the call of the gold will often angle for bleeding the host dry, if the gold comes from a polity. Some polities still keep stashes of warded gold on hand so they can create a gold mage at will, but such are only used for short periods and not relied on long-term.
Despite the name, ink magic has virtually nothing to do with tattoo magic. While both use magical inks made from magical materials, these ink-making processes and reagents have very little in the way of overlap. Tattoo magic involves the rote replication of standard tattoos with uniform expressions, while ink magic instead involves the temporary creation of objects which must spring from the creativity of the caster in conjunction with his available 'palette'.
The first thing that ink mages learn is the processing and ingestion of ink. While it’s not strictly necessary for ink mages to create their own inks, it’s often considered to be a part of the creative process, and works as an aid to the eventual manifestation of magic. Unlike with tattoo magic, the magical inks are not strictly associated with any particular ‘spell’ or effect, instead being symbolically linked to effects on an individual basis which can shift over time or through changes in approach. Once a mage ingests these inks, he can learn to store them in the body, periodically replacing them as they go bad or wear out their welcome. This collection of inks is known as the ink mage’s ‘palette’. Use of ink magic does not drain from the palette, but repeated use of the different inks within the palette will naturally make them weaker by using the symbolic space available to each distinct ink.
At heart, ink mages are creators, with their limits being a function of the power of their inks and whatever they can imagine. Each ink mage will tend to have specialties, but common themes are armor, weapons, animals, and contraptions. Stability and duration of these creations depends largely on the creativity involved, but ‘creativity’ is a delicate and fraught word for ink mages, who will sometimes replace it with terms like ‘artful’. Ink mages require a certain mindset to engage in creation, a mindset that they sometimes have to invoke while under stress, which creates one of the major complications for the magic.
In practice, an ink mage’s creations are the result of their particular aesthetic focus, the inks that they’re able to make and hold, and their creative bent. Because an ink mage will often change their focus in order to “stay fresh”, many of them are generalists, adapting to their creative whims in order to leverage the creative power as much as possible. Others will stick within a central conceit, hoping that variations on a theme don’t creatively sap them.
Note that for an ink mage, “creativity” is a somewhat nebulous internal feeling, which means that so long as the ink mage still feels their creations to be the product of creativity, it doesn’t actually matter whether they’re producing rote replicas of what they’ve made before. For this reason, mind-altering substances are common among professional ink mages, as altered states can enhance the internal feeling.
[Juniper’s Notes: The fact that ink magic and tattoo magic both exist here really puzzled me, until I realized that they were meant to be opposites from one another. Tattoo magic is rote, it’s basically just copying instructions from a book onto someone’s flesh, over and over again, with maybe a bit of skill required in finding new spells, which pretty much never happens anymore, or in mastering known spells. Ink magic, by contrast, is all about creativity, but in practice, it’s about the demands of having to be constantly creative and inventive. Now, I was just a DM, not actually an artist per se, but maybe you could divide these two magics up into crunch and fluff, rules mastery and imagination.]
Passion magic is, in some sense, actually multiple different fields of magic with strong overlapping conceptual space and cross-applicability of skills. In fact, at the dawn of passion magic, it was widely believed that these schools were incompatible and in tension with one another, which led to considerable infighting before a passion mage made a detailed attempt at a synergistic approach.
In practice, each emotion is tied to a particular expression, with complex emotions giving access to complex expressions. These expressions are not uniform between passion mages, being shaped by the particulars of how each passion mage feels and processes these emotions, but in general:
- Anger typically allows for some variety of telekinesis, with the exact form depending on the nature of the anger and the particulars of the individual. The telekinesis can be pushing, pulling, squeezing, crushing, cutting, or some other manifestation, usually quite limited.
- Sadness allows for environmental control, though the specifics of this control are varied even more than usual for passion magic. The differences in range are enormous, from miles-wide control of the weather to a radius of meters. The differences in environment include but are not limited to temperature, gravity, wind, texture, humidity, air composition, decay, and in a few rare instances, the spontaneous generation of life. These manifestations, more than others, appear to be influenced by cultural factors.
- Fear allows for greater speed, with manifestations being highly variable, and a far cry from the sheer movement allowed by velocity magic. Reaction times are typically heightened, sometimes to the level of precognition, or at least reaction without stimulus to react to. Movements are typically faster on instinct, though some manifestations of fear’s power involve perceptual slowing of time.
- Contentment allows for a very crude level of emotional state reading and emotional state projection. A content passion mage might push their contentment weakly to a wide crowd, or powerfully at an individual, though typically only one of those. If there is emotional blending, this “pushing” power can be used either in whole or in part, but this technique is extraordinarily difficult. Emotional reading is more straightforward, but comes with its own variations.
- Love allows for personal enhancements, typically shielding in nature, though that’s culturally dependent. A love mage might grant skin of stone, a blade in hand, wings, or any other manner of enhancement, typically temporary and reversible. Love is also sometimes associated with growth, though this is sometimes thought to be the domain of a separate emotion, happiness.
[Juniper’s Notes: I’ve never been a fan of magical realism, at least so far as I understood it, but passion magic seems to be something like it. I can imagine a society with a lot of people who had an aptitude for passion magic just living in a world where things get weird at a time of high emotions. You get sad, and suddenly the wind picks up, the place gets cold, and everything is just a little bit darker. Or you get angry, and your gesture causes a window to break. Of course, because this is a weakly systematized magic, you have the Reimer’s of the world coming by and trying to tear it apart to see how it works, and passion magic isn’t so ineffable as druidic magic, it’s just personal and hard enough to pin down that there are models with holes in them, rather than a grand unified model. And of course the powers that be have tried to hammer it into shape.]
While it’s often said that every passion mage is unique, general trends have been observed, and in the years since the Athenaeum of Ink and Ardor was founded, much progress has been made in harnessing what appears to be a scattershot and unruly discipline.
The first innovations in the field, in place before passion magic was a unified practice, were simply matters of understanding and controlling emotions. Passion mages would practice different methods of provoking their emotions by various means, as well as operating under the cognitive impairment those extreme emotions would sometimes cause. In particular, much attention was paid to sustaining emotional states during times of crisis when there were events or objectives that might conflict with those emotional states. Because of the difficulty of doing this, many of the different threads of passion magic were relegated to times and places where the “natural” emotion lined up with the use of that emotional magic: for example, anger magic and fear magic were commonly used in battle, as anger and fear were typical emotional responses to combat.
Starting around 15 BE, passion mages began to make greater use of mood and mind altering substances and techniques. This required even greater skill and control than before, which might explain why the innovation took so long into the history of passion magic (though some examples predate the alteration era, such as imbibing alcohol). A wide variety of substances and drugs from an expanding world, as well as greater understanding of chemistry and medicine, helped to cement alteration practices as a core part of passion magic over the next fifty years.
During the time of the Second Empire, soul magic was used to make for better passion mages, though soul magic did not seem to be entirely the right tool for such an endeavor, as there was no direct mechanism to affect emotion within the soul, and indirect methods necessitated changes in personality and values. Still, for much of the time of the Second Empire, it was common for specialist passion mages to be employed, typically within a single sphere of emotional magic, and oftentimes with signed agreements to revert them back to their former selves. Today, such practices are tightly controlled and audited, effectively ending the practice in all but the most necessary circumstances.
Pustule magic is often considered a companion magic to flower magic, as they share many similarities. In the same way that a flower mage cultivates a connection with a plant, a pustule mage cultivates a connection with their body and their personal microbiome. While a flower mage typically uses a flower bud to expend that connection, a pustule mage will instead use some outward or inward symptom of a microbiome imbalance as a way of expending connection. The similarities continue, as pustule mages often talk about strains in a similar way to flower mages, and benefit from keeping long-running strains and trading with other pustule mages in the same way that flower mages do.
A pustule mage must carry all of their strains with them at one time, giving them far superior range when compared to a flower mage, who is usually bound to his garden unless he has a form of fast travel. In that same way, the pustule mage is limited by the side effects he experiences and the ability of his body to handle various afflictions.
Typical “expressions” of a pustule mage are biological in nature, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Gouts of acid, warping of flesh and bone, and the summoning of creatures from the skin are all hallmarks of the pustule mage. While some expressions eat through built-up connection with each use, others are permanent additions to the pustule mage’s abilities, with power commensurate with connection and no drawbacks or costs associated with use aside from the side effects.
In practice, pustule mages tend to be fanatics about their own bodies and experts in maladaptive conditions. They carefully track their food intake, supplement their meals with medicines, vitamins, and remedies for their side effects, and do as much as possible to understand all of the side effects they are under so that they might better manage them (and in so doing, increase in power). As pustule magic is a well-studied field, there are common strains that are shared between pustule mages, though the personal nature of the magic has prevented true standardization.
One offshoot of pustule magic, which has been banned from study following the collapse of the Second Empire, is so-called macropustules. To wit, there are a wide variety of organisms on Aerb which have a parasitic relationship with the mortal species, most of them either insectile or rodent-like. A sufficiently skilled pustule mage is capable of making the jump to these macropustules, though there are inherent mental risks to doing so, which the Second Empire discovered to its chagrin (which did not stop them, naturally).
Pustule magic is taught at the Vervainium, alongside flower magic. It is primarily used offensively as a combat magic, though there are specialized pustule mages who are suited for extreme conditions such as high or low heat, underwater exploration (where aquatic mortal species would not do), adaptations to poisons or venoms, high altitudes, and various other situations that would result in biological peril for others.
Note that pustule magic works on a fairly wide variety of phenomena, including viruses, bacteria, any of the variety of nearly invisible mites and other insects commonly found on the surface of the skin, the macropustules, and beyond that, certain conditions of the mortal body which are caused by imbalances, even when those imbalances are not “foreign” in nature.
[Juniper’s Notes: Pretty sure that I had a bad case of acne when I came up with pustule mages.]
In general terms, revision is the localized reversal of physics, limited by what material is available, the amount of time to be reversed, and the volume of material to be reversed. Revision mages are, like some other mages, limited by an internal well of power, though their abilities are much more constrained by their hard limits in terms of volume and time spent.
One of the major secondary limitations for the revision mage is what does and does not count as ‘physics’. Generally speaking, revision mages can reverse magical effects, but cannot reverse magic itself. This distinction is a difficult one, but instrumental in understanding the use cases for a revision mage. In general, revision magic will properly reverse almost anything mundane in nature, or with only latent magic.
When passive physics-altering magic is involved, the reversal will occur as though the passive physics-altering magic was not present, and if a physically inconsistent state would be reached, reversal fails entirely. The easiest example of this is a hypothetical entad which increases the acceleration of a thrown object, such as an apple. A thrown apple will follow a parabola through the air, and when altered by the entad’s magic, will follow a different, likely shallower parabola. If a revision mage revises the apple, the apple will not go backward through the air following the shallower parabola, but rather, follow a parabola which the apple would have followed if it were not affected by magic. This backward path will have the apple end up in a different position than the one it began in, sometimes radically so, though often it will be stopped in its backwards, ahistorical journey due to inconsistencies or ambiguities that cannot be resolved.
Another classic example of interactions with revision magic is that of steel magic. When a steel mage has used their magic to expand their facsimile, a revision mage is virtually unable to affect the structure at all, because reversing the action of physics on the structure has almost no effect (similar to how the action of normal time-forward physics has almost no effect on a properly built structure).
Revision mages do not need to touch their targets, but their range is typically measured in tens of feet, with mages capable of more being quite rare. They are limited to “whole” targets, meaning that they could not, for example, revise the motion of the top half of a person to kill them. This revision is within the privileged reference frame of Aerb, making it difficult to use within other reference frames (the classical example being while on a train or ship).
In modern imperial society, revision mages are often given the role of bodyguards and medics, as they are capable of reversing fatal bodily damage in most cases, if done within thirty minutes post mortem. Revision mages are common as first-responders and hospital workers, especially for major trauma. They are also sometimes hired on retainer for industry, where they can reverse major accidents, and occasionally work to exploit the asymmetries that accompany magic.
Revision mages are limited by an internal well of power which grows with the revision mage’s experience.
Rune mages create runes using magical materials. These runes have particular properties that allow them to harvest and redistribute energy in various ways while in the possession of the runemaker. Runes must be made at a runeforge, of which there are only five in the world. In practice, a runemaker will spend a large amount of their time working with the runeforges until they’re happy with their creations and setup, then spend time out in the world using their runesuits, runeblades, and runerifles. Over time, runes will break down, especially with heavy use, necessitating another trip to the runeforge, typically with a new design in mind.
While the runes themselves are entirely static and replicable, the runemaker must make the runes themselves on a runeforge, and the typical cases for use of runework heavily benefit from being tailored to the specific runemaker who will be wearing, wielding, or using them. Runework designs then fall into several broad categories: mass-manufactured designs, adapted designs, and bespoke designs.
In terms of practical effects, runes are capable of absorbing most types of energy, then processing, redirecting, and storing that energy. To that end, a system of runes can passively absorb and store energy, convert it from attacks of various kinds into harmless forms, and output that energy in various ways. This leads to different builds for runemakers, leaning toward either defense, offense, or utility. Because runemakers are constrained by the amount of time it takes to make their runes, and because they’re limited to what they can carry, trade-offs are often made in terms of function.
Runes can be put onto many different materials using the runeforge, with different rates of decay and different amounts of effort needed to inscribe the rune. Metal is most common, longest lasting, and most difficult to do. By contrast, prepared vellum is easiest to inscribe, but won’t stand up to repeated use. Because breakdown of runes is uneven, runemakers will often create modular parts that can be swapped in at common failure points, allowing them to continue on without having to make a premature trip to the runeforge.
The runeforges themselves are immense ziggurats, each the size of a stadium. They are inviolable and labyrinthine, though their mazelike nature is undercut somewhat by the maps that have been posted throughout them, and the fact that they are all laid out identically. Throughout the runeforge there are numerous stations ready and waiting to be used, as there have been for as long as the runeforges were known. None of these stations are complete, and a runemaker must move between them in order to complete their work, or alternately, make compromises on design in order to finish their work without continually moving between stations. By analogy to woodworking, it would be as though the jigsaw, bandsaw, miter, router, et cetera were all separated from each other by hundreds of yards of cramped, twisting passages.
[Juniper’s Notes: I’m pretty sure that this was based on one of my first attempts to make a magic system of my own, back when I was a fledgling worldbuilder. I had been watching Fullmetal Alchemist and was enamored with equivalent exchange, so I tried to sketch something out that would basically be that. It had way too many rules and probably would have been broken in a half-hour if I had shown it to anyone, plus it didn’t really work within the confines of D&D, but it was fleshed out enough that it made sense to me, and I had a whole group of villains who were runemakers. Really, I would have been better served not making rules and just saying, “okay, this guy has fire immunity and shoots lasers, this guy is resistant to bludgeoning and has double movement speed with two attacks” or something like that, but it really scratched an itch to have all this background.]
[Amaryllis’ Notes: The runed spike that’s commonly used to pull souls from bodies is, technically speaking, a part of rune magic, in that it registers as such to a warder and is created through (apparently) simple means in the runeforge by a runemaker, but it’s so-called ‘free’ rune magic, not tied to any runemaker. There have been numerous attempts at expanding the field of ‘free’ rune magic, but so far as I know, all of them have failed. The spikes were hammered out pretty quickly once they were discovered, and there are probably as many as there are people. If rune magic ever gets excluded, there are other methods of post-death soul removal, but none as fast and cheap as the spike.]
The fundamental utility of sand magic is the manipulation of time in various ways, though the most iconic among them is the time chamber, which can speed up time inside it to an absurd degree, so long as enough time has been stored inside of it. Sand mages spend large amounts of time building structures which internally manipulate time, usually by speeding it up, slowing it down, or transferring it, though many of these processes are fatal to living creatures.
Generally speaking, structures are built of sand with other materials for reinforcements, with the power of the structure scaling with the size of the building, and the skill of the sand mage determining the precision and power of the effect. Sand mages most often have a team of people working for them on the construction end of things, as the amount of work necessary to create such a structure would be too onerous for a single person.
The primary use cases for sand magic are in speeding up time-intensive processes and slowing down time-critical processes, though the latter does not work on people, for unclear reasons (thought to possibly be related to an exclusion or proto-exclusion). Sand structures are capital-intensive, given how many people are usually involved in their construction and the amount of materials they take, especially as sand purity and origin plays a large role in precise function. For this reason, most of the sand structures on Aerb are actually created and used in industrial processes, rather than the more publically well-known time chambers. Typically, these industrial sand structures are run without any personnel involved, and without the limits that are inherent to mortal-survivable sand structures, allowing the quick aging of cheeses, liquors, and various other products. Similarly, some specialized sand structures can be used for the quick aging of animals and growth of plants, though this also requires very well-engineered internal conditions to ensure survivability.
[Juniper’s Notes: I’m tempted to call this part of the utility magic trifecta, but it’s not clear to me that there are only three of them. Sand magic is great, but the primary people who benefit from it aren’t the casters. Same goes for water magic, which is largely used for weather manipulation (and admittedly has some combat utility depending on the circumstances). The last would be steel magic, which is used for construction. But I guess you’d have to include bone and blood as being utility, since they both have healing aspects, and warding is obviously ninety percent utility. The distinction I’m trying to drive at is that there are a lot of magics that are very nearly only utility, nothing more. It was the kind of stuff that you didn’t really see that often in D&D, where most magics either fit into five-people-walking-through-a-dungeon archetype or got axed.]
Skin magic is divided into two distinct, broad categories, the first being tattoo magic, and the second being scar magic. The latter is only usable by elves, except in some specific circumstances.
There are three primary constraints on tattoo magic. Firstly, and most seriously, tattoos require inks from magical sources, including magical plants, magical animals, and magical minerals, sometimes with additional magical processing along the way. This can make the costs of certain tattoos extremely expensive, especially given non-sustainable practices used in the past, and certain reagents that are by their nature limited. Secondly, tattoos require a skilled and steady hand to produce, though there is technically no requirement for them to be done by a tattoo mage. Third, there is limited space on the body for tattoos to be placed.
In formal definition, a tattoo requires two things. The first is a set of instructions which define the tattoo’s exact dimensions and dimensions of each component piece, while the second is a list of ingredients and the processes necessary to refine them, if applicable. Specific inks are used in specific parts of each part of the tattoo, and when the tattoo is completed, it will gain its magic. Every tattoo has a third aspect, the effect, which is the same in every instance, though control and knowledge of a tattoo’s effect depend somewhat on the skill of the tattoo mage, as do the rare variations. Effect may also vary on the basis of tattoo size.
[Juniper’s Notes: I’m telling you, SVG graphics. Now, I don’t actually know jack shit about SVG graphics, but I do know that it’s a programmatic method of reconstructing pictures, and it seems like it fits really, really well.]
In contrast, scar magic is highly variable, with a proficient scar master required to get the most from each individual subject and no two patterns of scars exactly alike, though there is some repetition of theme. Generally speaking, scar patterns are stronger the more skin they cover, and are stronger when made using the smallest possible component scars. Because of the precision necessary and the way that minute changes in bodies can invalidate a pattern, elves are the only species on Aerb that regularly use scar magic, though the practice was more common during the Second Empire when skilled soul mages had a method of temporarily boosting individual soldiers through scar magic.
The actual effects of the tattoos vary widely and are idiosyncratic in both their reagents and effects. Discovery of new tattoos is extremely difficult given how few working tattoos there are in the space of all possible tattoos.
Star magic is, simply put, the most prominent ability capable of interacting with planar and dimensional forces. The connection to stars occurs largely with relation to the changing constellations, which provide a map to how certain rites and rituals might be performed. By following and interpreting the stars, a star mage can travel to another plane, pull in things from other planes, interact with the ethereal realm, banish creatures that come from other planes, and make standing portals between planes.
The stars above Aerb are the same anywhere on Aerb, with their multicolored configurations often changing, a few major constellations excepted. However, the exact nature of a star mage’s rituals and procedures varies significantly on the basis of their geographical location in non-obvious ways, to the extent that star magic was independently invented five different times without the clans that formed around the magic understanding how it might work beyond their borders. In the modern era, star mages have among the best location determining equipment available, including detailed maps of whatever location they’ll be working in, meaning that a star mage can adjust to their location much better than in times past. The stars must still be observed, because their shifting positions alter the rituals and procedures. A star mage’s power is variable with the stars, as certain rituals and procedures become more difficult, or sometimes impossible, as the stars move around in the sky.
In practical terms, a star mage’s work largely consists of laying down lines, typically using metal pieces. These lines must be positioned properly in accordance with the stars, sometimes in three dimensions but typically in two, and once the laying of lines is done, the effect will come into being, usually over the course of a few hours. These lines can be straight or curved, connecting or not, though if not connecting, they will usually need supports of some kind. The actual material used for the lines doesn’t matter, so long as it’s sufficiently distinct from the surrounding material and sufficiently uniform that it makes a line. As a consequence, star mages are entirely capable of laying lines with nothing more than a pen and paper, which they almost always have on hand to do their calculations and to chart out the relevant stars.
Once lines have been laid, the dimensional or planar effect will typically last until the next movement of the stars, weakening and then eventually failing, sometimes catastrophically. If the effect is meant to work until it fails, certain steps can be taken to ensure that failures are graceful and safe. Conversely, it has sometimes been the case that star mages are employed for the destructive force they can bring to bear with a calibrated closure, though star mages tend to be exceptional at warfare in any case.
If the circumstances call for a permanent solution, star mages are capable of laying additional lines for “untethering”, which allows the effect to persist even beyond the movement of the stars. This tends to be a much, much more complicated process than the simple laying of lines, and for larger projects, intermittent steps must often be taken during the untethering to ensure that the effect will remain, which means shifting the lines that have been laid down or laying new ones in a different configuration that accomplish the same thing.
In practice, star magic is primarily used for large, expensive permanent installations, or for one-time speciality applications. The holy grail of star magic has long been the establishment of ‘corridors’ to connect major metropolises, though so far various efforts have proven prohibitively difficult, as well as being thought to risk exclusion.
[Amaryllis’ Notes: The relationship between the stars and the rules for star magic is unclear. Obviously the stars move and the rules change … but why? Does the position of the stars create the rules? Is there some higher order rule that causes the rules of star magic and the positions of the stars to change? No one knows.]
[Juniper’s Notes: In D&D, dimensional effects are super high level, unreliable, and costly. The same seems to be true of Aerb, though a lot of the planes serve as unifying forces for entads and magics, meaning that they can technically be accessed by normal channels even if you can’t manipulate the plane on a more raw level. In practical terms, star magic isn’t used for a lot, simply because it’s so finicky and unstable. I remember a campaign I ran back on Earth where there was a whole city riddled with extradimensional spaces, strange, non-Euclidean avenues and places where more and more extradimensional space got built up because of the real estate rule about location, location, location. Not so much on Aerb.
It also occurs to me that star magic is kind of twisted, on account of how the sky is the same no matter where you are. I would naively expect an astrological magic system to vary on the basis of what’s in the sky above you, maybe changing with what constellations are visible, but that’s not possible on Aerb, so the instructions as given by the stars get interpreted differently on the basis of geography, even though the stars themselves don’t change. It’s weird.]
Steel mages are capable of rapidly creating structures and objects by first making a facsimile in steel. For most of Aerb’s history, the production of steel was time, resource, and labor intensive, which led to steel magic remaining undiscovered for a long time, and once discovered, relegated to special cases. As time wore on, the cost to create steel went lower and lower, opening up new areas for steel mages to effectively operate within, and expanding the ranks of steel mages, which in turn allowed for a greater diversity of techniques, better instruction, and further advancements in the realm of steel. This eventually culminated in the work of the steel mage Bessemer, whose new process for steel production cut the price to an eighth of what it had once been. This ushered in a new era of steel magic, one in which the majority of new large buildings are made by steel magic.
Before a steel mage starts creating a facsimile, he must first decide on a scale. Smaller scales take less in the way of materials, tools, and time, but are prone to warping and imperfection. Larger scales are, for this reason, generally prefered, though the exact scale is down to the determination of the individual steel mage. For large structures, a steel mage might work on as large a scale as 1/10th, while for a crude or mass-produced application, he might work on a scale as small as 1/1000th. Any irregularities in the form of the facsimile will be magnified, which is another reason that larger scales are generally preferred for anything approaching precision work.
Creation of the facsimile starts with the steel, which the steel mage must handle personally at the point it’s molten. From there, the steel must be worked in various ways until it’s in the form of the facsimile, with the most common method being casting the steel and then spending significant time cutting and sanding the structure, as well as removing the flash. This process must also be done personally by the steel mage, rather than an apprentice or hired hand, and represents the majority of the steel mage’s actual labor. A steel mage can make a facsimile using any number of pieces of steel, so long as they are joined together with steel and nothing else, and so long as both pieces have been personally handled by the steel mage. These joinings are technically difficult and often result in problems with enlargement, so are used sparingly.
Once the facsimile is finished, the steel mage will bring it to a specially prepared site of the structure’s exact dimensions, place it at a precise point, and then begin the process of enlarging it. For a large building this can take as long as half a day, but for something smaller, it might be as little as half an hour. The process of enlarging is the only point at which the steel mage is using anything that a warder would call actual magic, and once started, it cannot be stopped without losing the facsimile and creating a structurally unsound mess that would need to be cleared away. Once the enlargement is finished, the steel will have been transformed into magestone, a magically inert material, and the structure will be complete. This process of enlarging exerts very little force.
In practice, steel magic is largely artisanal in nature, with the knowledge and skill base required to be a steel mage incredibly varied. A steel mage must have an in-depth knowledge of steel manufacturing, steel casting, and steel working, as well as a solid grasp on steel magic itself, particularly the problems inherent to expansion. On top of that, a steel mage is often asked to play architect, building planner, and engineer as well, though a successful steel mage will likely have a team of experts to do that part of the labor. Special care needs to be taken with the site of the structure so that it’s prepared to take the weight, and everything needs to be leveled and cleared in preparation. Beyond that, the structure that a steel mage creates is not “finished” in any sense of the word, especially in the modern era when electricity, plumbing, phone lines, and elevators are all expected as basic amenities. In essence, the steel mage is only building a shell or a framework, and while it’s the most important part of the structure, it’s far from the only part.
The other major purview of the steel mage is in creating defensive structures, which naturally take relatively little planning, artisanship, and care. Given the ease with which a steel mage can make a wall, there are very few major cities without one. In earlier times, this was the primary use of the steel mage, since they could reshape a battlefield to a greater extent than nearly any other mage.
Special note must be given to the varieties and purity of the steel mage’s steel, which informs the precise properties of the magestone in the final product. Formally, steel is iron with a certain carbon component, but there are other “alloy steels” that fall under the umbrella and powers of steel mages with additional components added, including but not limited to manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, silicon, boron, aluminium, cobalt, copper, cerium, niobium, titanium, tungsten, tin, zinc, lead, zirconium, starmetal, feymetal, bloodmetal, ironwood, necrium, dragonscale, laberthium, vervainium, utheralt, and voidstuff.
[Juniper’s Notes: This is another of the utility magics. Whoever designed the magic system had been very careful about making sure that there wasn’t much in the way of combat application, though there’s a huge amount of combat utility, so long as what you need is a structure or a barrier of some kind. Supposedly that was more common in prior eras, and there are, per Amaryllis, places where steel mages littered the countryside with different defensive fortifications in the course of various wars. One of the neat tricks they did was making tall towers that were easy to knock down if you knew the trick, so that they could be collapsed when the steel mage left. The fact that the enlargement process exerts practically no force at all is really restrictive and means that you can’t, for example, use a piece of steel to lift up or break down a door, not unless you do some tricks like having the enlarged steel on a lever, or used as a weight. The fact that the magestone sticks around is a pretty big problem, since it means that you can get stuck with a bunch of it.]
After approximately a week of meditation in the Li’o’te Temple, a person will become a still mage, capable of stopping any movement (or more generally, any change). The two big limitations on this power are first that it requires continuous, intensive training to increase in power, and second, that it only applies to those things that the still mage is directly or indirectly touching. Additionally, a still mage has a great deal of difficulty in affects things which are not whole objects. A still mage’s capacity to still objects always has an upper limit, and when that limit is reached, whatever change they’re attempting to still will ‘spill over’, meaning that using sufficient force is a valid tactic against them.
Still mages are often bodyguards and warriors, though their magic is almost entirely defensive in nature, and as stated, requires close contact. In terms of utility applications, they are often used at construction sites or other places where big, heavy things are moving around and might benefit from being stopped or slowed. Still mages are also prized as police or enforcement, given the non-lethal nature of their magic.
At the higher levels of the craft, still mages are capable of stilling more esoteric things, aside from just kinetic effects. Uther Penndraig was known for his legendary feat of stilling both lasers and lightning, a feat which has not been replicated to this day, though lesser feats are possible for masters, including the stilling of heat and chemical processes.
Velocity mages control and manipulate speed, the time it takes for an object to move from one place to another. Generally speaking, this control and manipulation of velocity involves simple trade-offs which conserve both power and force, meaning that velocity mages are, technically, manipulating multiple different aspects of physics.
In the naive case, a velocity mage will increase their own velocity at the expense of mass, conserving power. This allows for much faster movement, at the expense of an ability to affect the world. A velocity mage at ten times speed will punch with one tenth the mass. At high speeds, the movement of air becomes a serious consideration, and a velocity mage must use an ever-increasing amount of their power to push the air aside, using a similar process of making the air easier to move. This process has been noted to work more on intuition than raw physics, in part because the power is mediated by the intellect and will of one of the mortal species.
Beyond this simple manipulation of physics, velocity mages have naturally enhanced mental acuity, especially when using their powers. In popular conception, the velocity mage sees the world as being immensely slowed down, but most velocity mages report a feeling of incredible speed and actions taken almost before they’ve been thought of, with little time for deliberation. This has often been compared to the way that a grandmaster swordsman moves without conscious thought, his reactions born of long training and a lot of experience, though velocity mages do seem to use higher functions, even if they internally feel as though you’ve been compressed down to twitch reflexes.
In the modern empire, velocity mages are often couriers and first responders, though velocity mages typically have little ability to transport sick or wounded. When a velocity mage takes a combat role, it is typically one involving hit-and-run tactics, and while their magic prevents them from being able to do much physical damage with their velocity manipulation, there have been numerous strategies crafted by the Athenaeum of Might and Motion, including but not limited to: needles to inject poison, contact poisons, planted explosives, and firearms used while still.
To become a velocity mage, you need to travel faster than the previous person who became a velocity mage, with a few requirements such as not using magic. With every new velocity mage, the benchmark increases, and a current ongoing problem is that the supply of velocity mages is, ultimately, finite.
[Juniper’s Notes: Velocity magic is at least in part based on Tiff’s character from our Mutants & Masterminds, Hummingbird, a speedster that I wrote a bunch of rules for. The big problem with speedsters is that velocity is extremely powerful, since power equals mass times velocity. Increase velocity and that means that you’re increasing power. Archetypal speedsters aren’t brutes though, the Flash doesn’t punch like a train and splatter anyone he touches, at least in most incarnations. So this was, more or less, what we came up with.]
Created by the touch of an entad known as the Rod of Whispers, vibration mages have the ability to control oscillations within their range, altering either amplitude, frequency, or both. This manipulation comes at the cost of their internal store of magical energy, which they call ‘breath’. Modifying down is nearly costless, and used with abandon, while modifying neutrally (amplitude for frequency or the reverse) takes a small amount of power. The vibration mages are most known for their power multiplication though, making sounds louder or amplifying oscillations for destructive effect.
The vibration mage serves three vital roles within imperial society. The first is as spies, given their exceptional ability to dampen certain frequencies and amplify others, which gives them auditory access to nearly any unwarded space. The second is as engineers and analysts, given their fine senses, though they are usually partnered with a large firm rather than cross-specialists themselves. The third is as combat specialists, given their decided range advantage, which combines well with their ability to do reconnaissance. While the empire is in a time of great peace, there is still ample demand for combat specialists for deterrence, planning, training, homegrown threats, and extra-imperial actors.
Warding is one of the ‘keystone’ magics of Aerb, responsible for a large portion of infrastructure and industry. As a result, it’s one of the more common magics, and the Athenaeum of Barriers is one of the most important, though journeyman warders are much more common than true warding magi.
A warder has two basic implements, a wand and a monocle. The wand is the mechanism by which they interact with wards, while the monocle is what they use in order to view magic. These two implements correspond to the two primary functions of the workman warder, the first being the construction and maintenance of wards, and the second being observation and analysis of magical phenomena.
When constructing wards, the warder consumes a personal resource known as concordance. Concordance replenishes over time, typically going from ‘empty’ to ‘full’ in the course of a week. Better warders are capable of producing wards with equal effect using less concordance, but they also have a larger pool of concordance, one which they’ve expanded through effort and time. Different wards require different amounts of concordance, with temporary wards requiring far less than permanent ones, and more specific wards requiring less concordance than more general ones. A ward against a specific spell or entad takes far less in the way of resources than one against an entire field of magic. Wards can either act as barriers against the specific magic, or they can act to annihilate or suppress the magic that passes through them, with the latter costing far more concordance and taking considerably more training to use.
Two or more sufficiently skilled warders can link together, adding their pools of concordance together, but this process is difficult and time-consuming to do, with fairly minor benefits, and so isn’t practiced often. The linked warders are capable of producing more complex and stronger wards than a single warder alone, but a single warder can already create wards that are as good as they need to be, in most circumstances.
In addition to their wands, warders typically also construct a warder’s monocle, which allows them to see magic, filtered by parameters, including wards. Warder’s sight is useful not only for security, but for diagnosis of various magical effects, and is considered one of the greatest assets of a warder. Sufficiently skilled warders can utilize the warder’s sight without the use of a monocle, though this is relatively rare. The monocle has some adverse effects from overuse, including blindness, which is one of the reasons that the preferred form factor is something that is only ever temporarily held up to the face.
[Juniper’s Notes: Warding has just a buttload of rules, both first-order and second-order. It’s something that I’ve talked with Grak about a number of times, both because I want to know more, and because I want to know him. I think the biggest revelation I had was when I asked him how a velocity ward could stop one person and not another on the basis of who their grandfather was. He explained that you sometimes have to weave wards together, which kind of blew my mind, especially when combined with the pass-through principle. Trying to conceptualize some of the powerful wards we’ve walked through: they check blood, which gives access to the soul, which contains information on lineage, which gets checked to see if it follows the rules set in the ward, which then interfaces with the velocity portion, which either stops a person or lets them pass. But we’re not done, because it needs internal logic that lets everything they’re carrying through, not to mention the parts of their body that aren’t blood, and if you want someone to be able to designate a friend … well, I’m not so sure on that part yet, but it probably involves more rules.]
Water magic is a bloodline magic which occurs with highest frequency among the humans of Francorum. Its primary and defining feature is macrohydrokinesis, the ability to manipulate large quantities of water, which is most often used for weather control and defense against water-based natural disasters. A water mage’s area of effect, level of control, and raw power are based partly on their talent and natural attributes, and partly on the amount of water near them. In other words, a water mage standing in the middle of a lake will have far greater control, range, and power than a water mage in the middle of a desert. The chart of the effect would be sigmoidal, with power ramping up significantly as more water is added to the environment until eventually it levels out, typically when water makes up at least a quarter of a sphere around the caster.
[Juniper’s Notes: Strong in theory, weak in practice, mostly because the control is lacking for all but the masters. Strong utility, certainly, I would never dispute that, weather control is amazing, but it’s actually pretty limited weather control, because it’s only water-based, meaning that it wouldn’t likely save you in a desert, and is kind of sketchy if there’s no large body of water around. Curiously, it’s the only bloodline magic that I have available.]
When a tree has died, something of it lives on in its wood, even after it has long since dried and lost any spark of life. A wood mage can tap into this elemental essence for various effects, chief among them the wood’s desire to grow, though other applications are also available for more skilled wood mages.
There are two primary paths for a wood mage. The first is construction and fabrication, where they can use the natural growth potential in the wood to make rough cuts into precise, unbreakable joints, or shape and harden the wood to make armor or weapons that rival steel. The second is in combat, where the strengths of the wood are pulled on more intensively, and in shorter bursts, almost always in a melee capacity.
Unfortunately for the wood mages, their ability at construction is largely outclassed by steel mages, who, since Bessemer, can create more and better structures for cheaper. There are still wood mages working in construction, but it’s far more niche than it once was, typically chosen for aesthetic, or to complement a steel mage’s work. Similarly, the fabrications of a wood mage are often outclassed by either entads (at the high end) or mass manufactured goods (at the low end) with little room in-between.
In terms of combat, the wood mages are arguably even worse off, having been left behind by industrial and technological advances, and particularly hard-struck by the ravages of the Second Empire, which endangered many of the most important tree species that wood mages relied on and caused a few of them to go extinct through unsustainable practices and/or incompetent management. Of note, ballistic technology continues to improve, much of which is capable of killing a novice wood mage in their armor outright. Other magics have grown more powerful, while wood magic has been left behind. It’s widely regarded as a “struggling magic”, in part because barring another magic being excluded or an advance in wood magic, the art will continue on its downward trend.
[Juniper’s Notes: One of the things that I find funny about Aerb, in a funny-weird way, not a funny-ha-ha way, is that there are some magics that just don’t seem to do all that much. Magic getting left behind by the industrial revolution is a pretty uncommon trope, as compared to magic fading from the world, but here on Aerb it’s not just that wood magic got left behind, it’s that the benefits of technological and scientific advancement, as well as economies of scale, have been applied to the various flavors of magic in really unequal ways. But yeah, wood magic isn’t very good, and doesn’t seem like it gets much better in combination with other magics or entads, most of which just outclass it. In any other setting, I might ask what the point was, but on Aerb, it’s pretty clear that is the point.]
Free Magic of Note
Throughout Aerb there are also “free” magics, those which are not associated with any particular school, and formally, those which occupy a narrow band on the magical spectrum. These are typically spells, performed with specific ingredients and done according to a ritual, which may be either simple or complex. There are very few ‘free’ magics, but they are, as a rule, widespread, except where the necessary materials provide a meaningful constraint.
Bulk Teleportation: Given the proper ingredients and a copy of the ritual, anyone can teleport a volume of space to nearly anywhere else on Aerb. This teleportation will fail if the destination location is high up in the air or if the destination location is already occupied. Across Aerb, bulk teleport is used on a daily basis to get goods from one place to the other, usually with careful prearrangement by both parties to ensure that the spell doesn’t fail. Bulk teleportation sterilizes whatever was teleported, making it unusable for the transport of living things.
Touchstones: Touchstones are a (non-entadic) magic item, capable of being produced en masse. Originally created for cultural reasons, they were found to have a curious property: they had strange interactions with a variety of magic items. An entad map that filled in coastlines and cities on its own would show the touchstones even when they were a long distance away. An entad that counted sheep would include nearby touchstones in its count. In various ways, touchstones appeared to interact with entads, usually counting it as something that it was not, or including them in magically created lists or tallies. Now, because of their application for teleportation keys, they are heavily regulated and placed only in major population centers, each heavily warded and guarded.
Infernoscopes: An infernoscope is a device that allows a person to look at the hells. This is done through simple mechanical means using a unique crystal capable of reflecting light from other dimensions. Invented during the time of Uther Penndraig, the infernoscope is basically still as it was, generally in the form of a large table with a flat viewing surface onto which the reflection is projected. An infernoscope can look at one hell at a time, and is limited in where it can look by its geographic location on Aerb, though a typical infernoscope will have levers and controls that allow for some degree of freedom in what is shown, especially as minute movements of the crystal inside can produce large amounts of lateral movement. As the infernoscope looks into deeper and deeper hells, it becomes harder and harder to make out details, until eventually it is impossible. Thankfully, infernals themselves do not appear to have an equivalent way to spy on Aerb.
Though not magic in a technical sense, void is often grouped with it, as its effects approximate magic to a layman’s understanding. Around the world, in thirty-one cataloged sites, there are purple-hued crystals which, when stimulated electrically, will produce a void effect. This void effect completely destroys matter, leaving no trace behind, and can be directed depending on the specifics of the stimulation. When first discovered, void was used for everything from weapons to carving to removal of material, but in 472 FE, star mages at the Athenaeum of Mathematics and Metaphysics discovered a growing discrepancy in their planar charting, which eventually revealed a creature of enormous size and destructive power heading on a collision course with Aerb through fourth dimensional space. When the correlation between increased use of void tools and weapons was uncovered, charted, and verified, several attempts at stopping or contacting the ‘Void Beast’ were made, until eventually the Empire of Common Cause passed legislation completely banning the mining of void crystals and use of void technology, which appears to have stopped the threat in its tracks.
Void is notable for its interactions with magic, namely in that it appears to bypass or simply not interact with a large number of magical defenses. Additionally, because it isn’t magic, it cannot be warded against.
All of the mortal species possess a soul, detectable through inference by a wide variety of magic, and removable by a runed spike (known as a dejang, though this term is considered somewhat old-fashioned). Classically, the soul has been divided into the anima ipsa, the thing itself, and the anima exa , the soul as it exists outside the body. This distinction is important for a number of reasons, especially as it relates to magic and magical effects. There is some evidence that animals possess an anima ipsa, but there is no known way to extract the soul from their bodies.
Once a soul has been removed from the body, it presents as a small white ball the size of a large coin. If left exposed to the air, it will fairly quickly fade from the Prime Material Plane, whereupon the person whose soul it was will appear in one of the hells, a fact confirmed by infernoscope during the time of the Second Empire. If not removed upon a person’s death, the same will also happen, but it will take thirty minutes rather than the ten or so minutes that it takes in open air. If the removed soul is instead placed into a glass container with a glass stopper, it will slowly decay, until eventually fading out entirely, which takes roughly three years. This will not cause the person whose soul it was to appear in the hells, who will instead completely cease to exist in any measurable way. This fate, commonly called oblivion, is widely — though not universally — considered far preferable to continued existence in the hells.
When a soul has been put into a glass container, it gradually decays, and this decay gives off energy, which can be harnessed through the use of a thin filament. If rotated, this filament can actually speed up the decay process, generating more power at the same time. Given the ability to artificially grow souls, this has become the dominant method of generating electricity throughout Aerb, especially as it requires relatively little engineering and produces no byproducts. There is some question of moral hazard involved, as these artificial souls do go to the hells if exposed to air, and apparently continue to mature somewhat there, meaning that industrial accidents, car accidents, and general malfunction have resulted in eternal tortue for beings that have never known the relative comfort of Aerb. Some efforts were made to switch over to alternative fuel sources following the fall of the Second Empire, but the most promising of those, blackthornes, used the necrotic field effect, which was excluded to the Risen Lands. Short of severely curtailing electrical generation, it appears that soul power is here to stay.
[Juniper’s Notes: The hells were known before Uther’s time, mostly through demons and devils coming up to the ‘surface’, the occasional possession, and some entads, but the infernoscope roughly dates to then, and though it changed the world less than I might have thought, it did change the world. The discovery that you could bottle souls and prevent them from going to the hells was another major landmark in the understanding of post-death, and marked another major revolution in how people treated the dead. A lot of different traditions have sprung up around the bottling of souls, from deathwatches so the soul can be taken immediately on death, to euthanasia, to keeping labeled bottles in homes in the same way that we’d use an urn. People still don’t act quite like they actually believe that they’re going to hell, but I guess the same is true in the real world, and denial is a powerful thing.]
Entads are a subset of magic items. The word entad comes from ‘ento-’, meaning ‘within’ or ‘inside’, and ‘-ad’, meaning ‘a unit’. ‘Entad’ is this something which is inside itself, a magic which is the only member of its set, singular in nature, though this definition is imprecise and the word has shifted somewhat as entads have become more well understood.
Forge frenzy is the process by which entads are created. Under an unknown set of circumstances, a member of the mortal species will enter into a forge frenzy, a state which causes an obsessive devotion to the creation of an entad, grants special skills toward creation of that entad, and grants special knowledge of what is needed for the entad’s construction. Forge frenzy represents complete devotion to the task of creation, to the level of supernatural willpower and complete lack of rationality and emotion. Once the entad or entad set has been created, the forge frenzy will fade, leaving the “smith” with lingering memories of the frenzy but no special knowledge or skills. A careful observer following along with the smith will not be able to create a duplicate of the entad, though it’s unknown whether this is due to conditions or steps that are non-obvious to whoever is attempting duplication, or whether it’s simply the case that forge frenzy is a pathway for a special type of magic. (Forge frenzy does not appear to occur on other planes, being localized to Aerb.)
Though it’s often said that forge frenzy affects only artisans, this doesn’t appear to be wholly accurate, as there have been a number of recorded frenzies which have affected those without any artisanal trade to their name. Further, while frenzies appear to happen on a per capita basis, this doesn’t hold for all circumstances, and there are suspected to be some additional unknown rules behind when a forge frenzy will happen which are not accounted for in current frameworks.
Entads will most often take the form of an article of clothing or a tool of some sort. Typically, it will be ornate relative to others of the time and place in which it was created, though there are exceptions to this rule. Occasionally, the form the entad takes will mimic objects which are decades or centuries from being invented, as is the case with numerous entad pistols created before the invention of gunpowder. Typically, these “future” entads will have little in common with their future parts on a mechanical level, aside from specific pieces of form; all examples of pistol entads prior to the invention and adoption of the pistol could be fired without any gunpowder, lacked firing pins, et cetera.
Forge frenzy will sometimes result in entad “sets”, the most famous example of which are the teleportation keys. Entad sets are always the resort of a single frenzy. Sets may contain any number of entads. Those entads may be “linked” to each other by magical function, though if the linkage is “total”, meaning that both entads must be used simultaneously by the same entity for any effect, it will generally be considered “one” entad rather than an entad set (e.g. a pair of earrings, both of which must be worn). Entad sets may also be “duplicate” or “mismatched” (and rarely, mixed); two identical entad swords that are part of an entad set would be considered duplicate, while an entad hat and entad coin that form an entad set would be considered mismatched. Except in vanishingly rare circumstances, two or more mismatched entads of an entad set will be linked in some manner, whether partially or completely.
Binding and Inheritance
Once created, entads can bind to individuals, bloodlines, or much more rarely, collectives. This binding is usually “complete” binding, where the entad’s magic will only function for whoever it is bound to (or whoever they’ve vested it to), but more rarely, the binding can be “partial”, where the entad will have incomplete functionality for the unbound and complete functionality for the bound. The specifics of binding depend on the individual entad, but it’s most common for the entad to bind with either its owner or the person who most closely handles it. Binding typically happens within a week or two of the entad’s creation, though the period can be much longer if there is no contact/ownership. Roughly 80% of entads bind, with the rest being “free”.
When the person the entad is bound to “dies” (here, typically meaning their soul fades to oblivion or passes to the hells), the entad will rebind. If the entad only rebinds along familial lines, it follows inheritance rules, which are sometimes difficult to ascertain without outside assistance, namely a highly skilled warder. Inheritance rules are typically depicted as rules of node traversal through a graph of the family tree, though common rules are often given elaborate names, and there are a number of recorded instances of ‘inheritance’ that break this rule. Of special note are the “gavelkind” rules, where node traversal is dependent upon otherwise independent entads within the gavelkind collection. If someone with three sons is bound to three gavelkind entads, each son will get one entad, with the specifics determined by individual entad preferences, parent bind order, or some other rule. If there are no viable candidate owners in accordance with the inheritance rules, entads will occasionally ‘freely’ rebind, though in approximately 25% of cases, the entad will be ‘dead’ and unusable by anyone.
Approximately 40% of bound entads can be “invested” (or “vested”) into another person, usually requiring direct contact by the person the entad is bound to with both the entad and the vestee, along with a minor mental push. This investiture often comes with restrictions, and often needs to be refreshed after some amount of time passes, with a month being somewhat typical. More complicated schemes of investiture also exist, but these are rarities.
Despite being “magic” “items”, the magic of entads does not belong to any particular school of magic, even if the effects of the entads closely resemble that school, or the entads interact with that school in some way. One of the important impacts of that is that entads are able to dodge the exclusionary principle; though portal magic is excluded, there are still functional entads that can create portals outside the exclusion zone. Similarly, while warders can ward against schools of magic, they cannot ward against the effects of individual entads without either listing them explicitly (impossible if they’re ignorant of the entad or haven’t seen/acquired the signature) or creating a full-spectrum entad ward (extremely costly and time-consuming).
As a minor technical note, the Athenaeum of Barriers currently promotes a “bound matrix” holistic understanding of magical phenomena, wherein any given magical phenomena can be placed within a two-dimensional grid, which has some implications for the practice of warding. This framework is not considered theoretical, but one of the natural laws of the universe. Per this framework, there are a limited number of possible entads, equaling approximately 2.1 billion. What would happen once this boundary is exceeded is unknown. (It’s commonly stated that there are one billion entads on Aerb, but that number does not account for historical entads that have been lost or destroyed, definitional issues with entad sets, and a few other issues.)
[Juniper’s Notes: I’m guessing that “approximately 2.1 billion” means 2,147,483,648, which is 2^31, or the size of a signed 4 byte integer. More fodder for the simulation theory, I guess, but it might also be an artifact of the math being used in the calculations, or random chance, or the DM fucking with me, or just my personal prediliction for powers of two.]
While the effects of entads vary wildly and are considered to be “unique” to each entad, a few broad trends can be observed.
- Entads have a broad spectrum of impacts upon the world, which entad experts at the Athenaeum of Speculation and Scrutiny have distilled down to a simple numerical impact factor, or i-factor, assessed via a scoring guide. According to the most recent i-factor analysis, entad i-factor has a power law distribution, with roughly 80% of the total i-factor score belonging to only 20% of entads.
- Entads often have restrictions, limiting when they can be used, by whom, how often, and where. Less common effects tend to have more restrictions on use, which lowers i-factor (per the scoring guide).
- Very rarely, entads are subject to the exclusionary principle, locking them away in their own geographic zone. Per the scoring guide, such entads have a “sub-maximal” i-factor, one high enough to affect the majority of life on Aerb, which is often used as a key piece of evidence in exclusionary analysis.
- Extremely common effects: Resistance to physical damage, whether that be kinetic, chemical, electrical, radiant, thermal, et cetera. Conferring resistance or resilience to their wearer/bearer/inhabitant. Direct production of kinetic, chemical, electrical, radiant, thermal, et cetera energy, so long as that production is small in scope and limited in range. Resizing. Communication of basic facts about the entad to the wielder/bearer/inhabitant.
- Common effects: Manipulation of physical objects. Manipulation of space. Temporary manipulation of the wearer/bearer/inhabitant. The granting of heightened or extra senses, especially in conjunction with other effects. Creation, ex nihilo, of temporary consumables such as food or water.
- Rare effects: Permanent manipulation of wearer/bearer/inhabitant. Healing. Manipulation of others’ senses. Distance communication. Sentient entads. Creation, ex nihilo, of permanent objects. Imbuement of magical effects on objects or people. Manipulation of time (forward). Prediction. Animal control.
- Extremely rare effects: Soul-affecting effects. Mental effects. Mind-reading. Illusion. Compulsion. Long-range teleportation. Simulacra. Sapient entads. Viral effects. Memetic effects. Animal creation. Probability manipulation.
- Vanishingly rare or legendary effects: Meta-entads. Resurrection. Planar travel. Manipulation of time (backward). Infernal control.
Entads of Note
Generally speaking, entads are so singular that they have limited impact beyond their local environs, or if their impact extends beyond that, it has little effect on the world at large. There are, however, numerous exceptions to this rule, as items with extremely high i-factor might be rare, but definitely do exist.
Teleportation keys: Forged in 389 FE, the teleportation keys are a set of one thousand entads, making them one of the largest entad sets in existence. When touched and focused upon, the user will see their ‘worldline’, a representation of every place they have been in their life. With a mental push, they can travel to any point on that line, taking up to four people touching them with them. This ability can be used once every two hours. Given how extremely rare long-range teleportation is, even when limited by focus, time, and quantity transported, teleportation keys make up a fairly large majority of long-range teleportation entads. Because teleportation keys interface with the user’s worldlines, it is possible to use a teleportation key to move to a touchstone, even if they’ve never been there before, and this is, in fact, the primary method of use.
Shimmerplate: Currently held by the Empire of Common Cause (specifically, Imperial Affairs), shimmerplate is not an entad or entad set, but rather, the result of the action of a single enatd, the Armoring Rifle, which encases anyone it hits in armor. This armor, presumably dubbed shimmerplate because of how little it reflects light, is strong, breathable, nullifies minor damage, and resizes to anyone who wears it, all common on entad armor. Aside from allowing the mass production of entad-equivalent armor, the Armoring Rifle allows revocation of armor from a distance at the wielder's command, though it gives little information on who is wearing each specific armor and where they are, which must be corroborated and tracked by a small department within Imperial Affairs responsible for that in the event revocation is required.
Prosperous Rod: One of the legendary meta-entads, the Prosperous Rod is capable of conclusively identifying any entad it touches, with information about the entad transmitted to the wielder. This information includes the inheritance rules, precise function and limits, special conditions, command words, activation requirements, species or gender requirements, links to other planes, links to other entads, and so on. The Prosperous Rod is currently held by the Empire of Common Cause, which charges a fee for its use.
Fountain of Everblood: One of the six entad exclusions, the Fountain of Everblood is capable of producing an enormous quantity of blood, pulled from the Elemental Plane of Blood, though it is thought to have once had variable output, or possibly some other function. It is unclear when or where the Fountain of Everblood was first forged, but in 311 FE, an area near Wettring began to flood with blood, killing crops and causing other damage. The blood eventually stopped at the exclusion border, a spherical containment that slowly filled until it was at capacity in roughly 353 FE. The blood therein is shaded with the magic of the entad, though it is unknown whether this is an effect of the entad or the exclusion. During the time of the Second Empire, ‘blood mines’ were constructed around the exclusion at great expense to attempt to harvest the vast quantities of blood for useful purposes, but for various reasons, these facilities proved uneconomical.
Rod of Whispers: Currently housed at the Athenaeum of Sound and Silence, the Rod of Whispers allows those touched by it to become vibration mages (and in fact, vibration magic is a particular variety of entadic magic). The Rod is limited in how many people it can affect in a given span of time.
When an exclusion occurs, some particular magic, magical effect, physical effect, or entad ceases to function in all but a relatively small geographical region. When an exclusion happens, there are typically two immediately visible effects. The first is that magic everywhere stops working, except within the exclusion zone. The second is that exclusion is often accompanied by some calamity within the exclusion zone.
- Silent exclusion: A “silent” exclusion is one in which no one is affected by the loss of magic, usually because it wasn’t in use, and there is no accompanying catastrophe in the exclusion zone. These are typically discovered after the fact, with the “reason” for the exclusion being discovered at a later date, if at all.
- Dead exclusion: Enpersoned and entad exclusion zones are not necessarily permanent, especially because exclusion on its own does not provide immortality or indestructibility. Once the person dies or the entad is destroyed, the exclusion zone is “dead”, meaning that the excluded magic no longer exists in the world. Sometimes, the exclusion zone can be reclaimed.
- Full exclusion: Occasionally an exclusion will be detected by the loss of magic among its practitioners, but without the apparent creation of an accompanying exclusion zone. To all appearances, the magic is simply gone from the world. (Sometimes the exclusion zone is found at a later date. This was especially the case when telecommunications were not what they are today. Needless to say, if people find the exclusion, it’s no longer a full exclusion.)
- Partial exclusion: If the exclusion applies to a specific magical effect or to a school of magic, sometimes the exclusion will be partial, i.e. not affecting the entirety of the school or effect. Specific elements of soul magic have been excluded but the school as a whole is not afflicted. Specific applications of the bulk teleportation spell have been excluded, but the spell is not excluded. It is unclear what causes partial exclusions.
- Empersoned exclusion: Sometimes, in addition to the restriction of magical effects to a geographical area, it’s additionally restricted to a single person within that geographical area. As a rule, these people cannot leave the exclusion zone by any means. There are currently thirteen empersoned exclusions.
- Entad exclusion: Similar to empersoned exclusions, but an entad is confined to the exclusion zone instead of a person. There are currently six entad exclusions.
- Double exclusion: It’s occasionally the case that two exclusions form next to each other with overlapping area, or one forms within the borders of another. This holds no special significance, except insofar as it might complicate attempts at dealing with the exclusions.
- Free exclusion: An imperial term. An exclusion is considered ‘free’ if it has arable land and poses no direct threat to the mortal species. Thus far, only two exclusion zones have been deemed ‘free’, the Lalonei exclusion zone and the Parsmont exclusion zone.
- Minor exclusion: An imperial term. Minor exclusions are capable of maintaining a small population with little outside support in conditions not much more hostile than a hot desert or arctic expanse. People living in minor exclusions experience and expect hardships, and tend to have lower lifespans, but they are in no imminent danger.
- Major exclusion: An imperial term. Without significant magical support or extensive non-magical preparations and planning, lifespan in a major exclusion is measured in hours. Any person living within a major exclusion zone is doing so with either tacit permission of an enpersoned exclusion, or heavy wards and magical support.
Causes (and Questions)
It is unknown what causes an exclusion zone, but a shorthand for the cause, whatever it might be, is “the exclusionary principle”. There are, however, some common links between the exclusions, which provide a starting point for talking about what rules govern the exclusionary principle. First and foremost, exclusions coincide with zone-encompassing calamities so often that the simplest rule is “whenever something would destroy the world, an exclusion is created instead”. This is clear, intuitive, and wrong, given the number of counterexamples that are available.
A more complex version might be “whenever something would fundamentally change the world, an exclusion is created instead”. This accounts for both calamitous exclusions and more benign ones, but leads to the question of what ‘whenever’ might mean. Given the existence of silent and full exclusions, the answer can’t be a simple set time period before the change would occur. Without being able to answer that question, we’re left looking for a unifying exclusionary principle, if one exists.
It’s also unclear how exclusion zones themselves are created. Geographical footprints vary wildly, from less than twenty square miles in the case of the Nightsmoke exclusion zone, to eighty-two thousand square miles for the Fel Seed exclusion zone. Geographical boundaries sometimes follow natural features such as rivers and mountains, but sometimes present as regular polygons etched on the surface of Aerb. Further, the exclusion zone is rarely centered on the source of the calamity, instead seeming to select its center at random. There is little rhyme or reason to these differences.
Lastly, the question must be raised: where are all the good exclusions? Why are exclusions so universally bad for the mortal species? In particular, the majority of the enpersoned exclusion zones wouldn’t have been calamitous if a different person had been subject to being enpersoned. The only reason that the Doris Finch exclusion zone is looked at with fear and suspicion is that the copies are of Doris Finch. Had it been anyone else, the exclusion zone would be a veritable paradise. At this point the evidence for some kind of selection effect is so overwhelming that there must be an answer. Does enpersoning drive people insane? Or are only the insane selected?
[Juniper’s Notes: From a worldbuilding perspective, the exclusionary principle exists to justify a whole bunch of zones of adventure. From a DM’s perspective, it exists as a diegetic way to stop OP things from destroying or changing the whole world. It’s also a way to ‘end the world’ without actually ending the world. I did always love ending the world...]
The imperial bans on Research Deemed Likely to Lead to Exclusion (RDLLE, colloquially, “Riddle”) date back to the early days of the Second Empire, when a number of research bans were issued in the hopes of preventing exclusion zones from forming in populated areas and preventing useful magics from being removed from the world. Numerous provisions were made for when and where Exclusion Risk Activities could be conducted, with sites often selected on the basis of how it would impact the Second Empire’s dissident groups rather than potential loss of life, potential loss of economic activity, or other considerations.
In the time of the Empire of Common Cause, the RDLLE Acts place blanket prohibitions on a number of fields of research, and these laws are backed up by the full might of the athenaeums (which naturally stand to lose enormous amounts of power should their disciplines be excluded). Specific acts of engineering are also covered under RDLLE, including a number of large-scale proposed projects whose end results are unknown (or insufficiently known) to those who have proposed them.
These research bans are not without detractors. The bans are often criticized as overly broad, politically motivated, and detrimental to progress. To the cynical, the research bans are another of the crude legal tools the athenaeums apply against potential competitors, as a non-excluded breakthrough might make an existing school of magic virtually obsolete. To the optimistic, the research bans represent a dimming of hopes for the future (though this language obviously harkens back to the zeitgeist of the Second Empire).
[Amaryllis’ Notes: People have tried to weaponize it. Of course they have, why wouldn’t they? All you really need to do is an enormous amount of research until you find something that looks like it has enough worldwide scope to trigger an exclusion. From there, you can build an exclusion bomb. It’s not an entirely stupid thing to do, if you’re a self-interested, amoral twat who’s willing to kill an absolutely enormous number of civilians, create a lasting blight on the world, and, if the exclusionary principle doesn’t hold, doom us all.
There are even some indications that people have successfully used exclusion as a weapon. Specifically, the area now known as the Risen Lands might have been the result of someone using such a weapon in an act that might ignite a worldwide war… if anyone knew who was responsible.
Yes, Anglecynn stood to benefit from the Kingdom of Francorum losing a large portion of their holdings and getting thrown into economic freefall. Yes, it would have been trivial for a small group of scientists to build a lab in the countryside outside the view of Francorum’s primitive intelligence services. Yes, there’s some evidence that such a lab was built and yes, a portion of Anglecynn’s black budget payroll went to a number of scientists who specialized in the (now excluded) necrotic field effect.
After the exclusion, a fireteam that reported to me went into the exclusion zone to look at a small plot of land purchased with funds from one of Anglecynn’s many black budgets and found that it had been burned down. No, no one has seen hair nor hide of the scientists who were on the black budget payroll. If you had all those facts at your disposal, you could construct a narrative that looked very bad for Anglecynn, so bad that economic sanctions would be a given and expulsion from the Empire of Common Cause would be on the table, along with civil unrest and possibly war. Of course, whether or not Anglecynn actually did it would be conjecture, and it wouldn’t help anyone for those facts to be made public, especially since there’s no rogue element within the Lost King’s Court that we could point a convincing finger at as a scapegoat.]
[Juniper’s Notes: The “mortal species” encompass roughly two hundred types of humanoids, near-humanoids, and a handful of other sapient species. The phrase is a political one that dates all the way back to the First Empire, when it was crafted as a term of law to refer to a specific class of people that the law would apply to. Some people use it with abandon to encompass anything that’s remotely a person, myself included, but who is or isn’t in the ‘mortal species’ is kind of the whole point of the term. Without really thinking about it I’ve adopted what’s actually a very liberal policy on the matter. There’s also a distinction between ‘mortal’ and ‘mortal species’, since there are some individuals who are definitely mortals, but also definitely not a species of their own.]
Large, traditionally nomadic humanoids with sharp, rending claws, flat teeth, and enormous guts which hold the stomachs they use to digest immense amounts of wood. Their society largely revolves around felling trees and eating them, then sitting around to digest before moving on to the next one. They have a limited role in the international community.
Dark-skinned humanoids. The males have antlers, which are a form of signalling worth and often decorated, but since the days of the First Empire, the women have taken to wearing false antlers (‘susliq’), which evoke similar feelings to those evoked by a male with a prominent rack. Since they’re false, can be made more impressive, to within the limits of engineering. Their species has a large focus on presentation and detail work.
Altek are a species often mistaken for human, though their proportions fall well outside the human norms, with wasp-like waists on both men and women, and calves that are almost as thick as their thighs. Additionally, their faces tend to be heart-shaped, and their eyes a bit larger. With proper clothing, these are barely worthy of note, and altek will often dress so as to minimize their differences. One other major factor which distinguishes them is the males and females pair-bond for life, to a level unknown to other species; if one half of the pair dies, the altek refer to the survivor as ‘half dead’, and re-bonding is completely unknown.
Every so often, for unknown reasons, an animal will transform, becoming anthropomorphic (though on the more animal, less human side of anthropomorphism). The process of transformation results in a creature which is within 50%-150% of normal human height and weight, bipedal, and able to manipulate objects with hands (sometimes gaining limbs in the process). During the transformation process, which takes between three months and two years, the Animalia will become more intelligent (or at least more neuroplastic), adapting quickly to language and society. This intelligence fades down to human levels once that process is complete. Animalia can only breed with other Animalia of their own source species. (They are not traditionally considered as part of the mortal species.) Like forge frenzy, the process doesn’t follow population numbers; there are far more cows in the world than tigers, but cow Animalia don’t have the same ratio to tiger Animalia.
Lizardlike in appearance, this species has the unique ability to view aspects of the soul with their inherent magic, requiring only visual inspection rather than physical touch. In the wake of the collapse of the Second Empire, they were often employed to ensure minimal alterations to the soul, to confirm that soul mages had removed their ability to do soul magic, and to assist in hunting down rogue soul mages. The relatively small population of anolia as compared to the hexal population means that they’re in near-constant demand, which has greatly increased their standing in the world. Prior to their “discovery”, they were a pre-metal swamp-dwelling species.
A tall, muscular species of long-lived warriors. Broshe have low fertility rates, and while they’re renowned for their combat prowess, it’s actually rare that they engage in fights that they’re uncertain they’ll win. While it’s always tricky to make generalizations about a species’ mindset given the overlaps between culture and species, the broshe tend to be incredibly conservative, driven to fight but without the bloodlust that’s typical of other warrior-oriented species like the Ha-lunde.
A shape-changing species. One of the “forged” species created through magic, entads, or divine will rather than “naturally” occurring on Aerb, changelings were designed as infiltrators and assassins, but they turned on the mage that created them shortly after he gave a command so heinous that they would not accept it. The exact nature of this command was lost to time, and it was tradition among the changelings that each time they would make up a different story. Given changeling morals, these imagined commands were universally beyond the pale. Following their freedom from bondage, they formed a small, tight-knit society, one which took joy in transgressing against the others. Uther Penndraig, with the help of a turncoat changeling named Forty-Two, wiped them out, making Forty-Two into an endling.
Chelloni women have thick shells on their backs, which they adorn with elaborate decorations in order to attract chelloni males, signal status, and find personal satisfaction. Males have a thinner shell, which is typically unadorned, though there are some cases in which a female will do minor work on a male’s shell as a way of signaling commitment/dominance. Chelloni are one of the ‘peacock’ species cluster, with a heavy focus on elaborate and largely useless aesthetic displays, though there’s a wide amount of overlap into labor-intensive endeavors.
A short green-skinned species that spends much of their time feeding on the sun, which they do by stripping naked and laying in the grassy fields that are their normal habitat. In the winter months, they tend to hibernate, sequestering themselves into earthen houses where they eat through the food they’ve saved up and do their best not to move. In climates where winters aren’t so harsh, this hibernation period is much more brief.
White-skinned humanoids with black hair that can’t tolerate temperatures much higher than freezing. Many ice mages came from their ranks, until Uther crushed the last of the ice mages and the school became a lost art. There are extremely few places on Aerb that criios can make their homes, though in the modern era it’s somewhat common for wealthy criios to have “winter retreats” to places that drop to suitable temperatures in the winter months. Given their incompatibility with so many other members of the mortal species, criios have a limited role in the international community, and are rarely found outside specific geographical regions unless they have heavy magical support.
Not technically one of the mortal species, but not a hybrid of them either. There were many stories in the past about how they came about, but it’s now known that they’re created when a demon or devil inserts itself into the reproductive process shortly after conception, tainting the species with infernal physical traits (mental and social traits are a more contentious issue, but there are several demonblooded exemplars that serve as examples of capacity for good and cooperation). The term is always “demonblooded”, even when the suspected infernal is a devil. Demonblooded are rare, as the process the infernals must undertake is difficult and typically unrewarding.
When first hatched, dragons are consumed with hunger and will hunt and kill anything they think they can get away with killing in order to feast. As they grow older, this hunger begins to abate, until eventually the dragon begins on their hoard, which will grow to sustain them in perpetuity. Possessed of incredible speed and power, an inborn resistance magic, sharp fangs and claws, and the ability to breathe dragonfire, dragons are among the most formidable lifeforms on Aerb, especially in their fully mature forms. Their hoards are one of their only weakpoints, not just in the sense that they are a source of power for the dragons, but in the sense that they give the rest of the mortal species something of a handle on dragonkind. A dragon whose hoard centers around music, for example, will have cause to hire musicians and composers, for example. The exact nature of how a dragon’s hoard is chosen is unknown, and dragons tend to be cagey about what their hoard is composed of, as well as its location. Example hoards include medical equipment, seeds, geodes, poetry, fabrics, and preserved insects. These hoards inevitably include extremely rare and expensive pieces. Of note, dragons are extremely heterozygous, with their varied abilities not directly following family lines.
Dwarves are the second most populous mortal species on Aerb, though somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world due to their social organizations, underground cities, simple tastes, language, etc. Dwarves are parthenogenetic, capable of either self-inseminating (creating a clone) or copulating; their single physical sex codes as male, and they are often referred to as such. Traditionally, dwarves live underground and farm an organism that eats rocks and produces a barely-palatable but highly nutritious material that “bakes” into a bread. Dwarves are responsible for the majority of mining done on Aerb.
Generally speaking, elves are a tall humanoid species of obligate carnivores with uncanny non-magical luck and an obsession with perfection. In many respects, they have significant advantages over humans and most of the other mortal species, being stronger, faster, and more intelligent, but these features come with significant psychological and sociological limitations. Elves live long lives, but have difficulty with (and hostility toward) change, especially in their later years. Almost every elf of historical note has been aberrant.
Star elves were the first wave of elven immigrants from Celestar, though as their name suggests, they had originally meant to colonize the stars around Aerb before finding them inhospitable. They are characterized as being the most bloodthirsty of the elves, difficult to conduct diplomacy with, incredibly proud, and very much set in their ways, even more so than the other elves. The story of their emigration from Celestar is complicated and largely lost to history, but appears to stem from a lack of adequate living space.
Moon elves were the second wave of immigrants from Celestar, coming to Aerb directly through then-new (and then-unexcluded) teleportation methods. In this case, the proximate cause of emigration was a bloody civil war whose topic was the proliferation of variant forms, fundamentally a disagreement over the nature of perfection, as many elven disagreements are. Moon elves were on the losing fundamentalist side, and the descendants of the second wave remained, to large extent, hardliners.
Dark elves are nominally the third wave of immigrants, though their own history is largely lost to time. It is theorized that during the Flourishing Era which followed the schism that the moon elves came from, a band of elves adapted themselves to a more perfect form suitable to living underground in complete cold. Their transfer to Aerb is likewise shrouded in mystery due to gaps in the historical record, but they were found living in the Gelid Depths circa 4 FE, with scattered sightings prior to that. They are noted for their teeth, which are flattened and human-like, and their general goodly nature in comparison to their counterparts. The majority of the dark elf population still lives within the Gelid Depths.
Wood elves mark the fourth wave of immigration from Celestar, and the last prior to the cataclysm that permanently scarred their moon. Similarly to the moon elves, the wood elves were on the losing side of an ideological debate, this one primarily centered on whether the struggle for perfection (not the term they would use) should be oriented toward the past or the future. The wood elves, largely possessed by a desire to return to a time and society that never really existed, immigrated to Aerb and established nature-oriented ideal communities, isolationist beyond all reason. Wood elves put a lot of stock in ritual and ceremony.
Though the exact cause of the cataclysm that scoured Celestar is not precisely known, it is widely believed that it was caused by some sort of magic that the elves there were doing. The final wave of elven immigration immediately preceded the cataclysm, and was much more varied than the other waves. Partite elves come in a much wider variety of skin color and body shape, though they still tend to have the pointy ears characteristic of elves, along with being tall and lithe. Partite elves, as a general rule, place a lot of importance on personal perfection, but they’re much less invested in any elven society. Some mistake them for being free thinkers, which is simply not the case; they are as rigid and carnivorous as their cousins, but simply more independent as a rule.
Outwardly identical to humans, the Ell are a long-lived species that take roughly 100 times longer to do everything humans do. They reach maturity at around 1800 years old, middle age at 4000 years old, and generally speaking, become elderly around 7000 years old. This elongation extends to almost all aspects of their lives: their pregnancy lasts 4000 weeks, sleep lasts 800 hours, digestion takes hundreds of hours, etc. They still move, speak, and in some respects think as fast as humans do, but are slower to learn new skills or adapt to new information. They are extremely rare, for obvious reasons. Ell possess internal extradimensional organs which hold a hundred times the mass that normal organs for a human.
The endlings are not a specific species, but rather, a designation given to any species with either non-viable populations, or occasionally, species whose population would take centuries if not millennia to bounce back. [Juniper’s Notes: There are a surprising number of these, given that Aerb has a fuckload of species. Some of the remaining ones are just treading water, going through braided breeding patterns to keep their species alive for as long as possible, or interbreeding with other species in order to at least have something of their kind survive, but it’s shitty all around. Also, the term ‘endling’ on Earth refers to specifically the last of a species, but there was apparently some linguistic drift on Aerb, because they don’t use ‘relict’ or ‘relictual population’, instead preferring ‘endling’ as a word that encompasses a lot of different cases.]
Traditionally a savanna species, the ghill have long, grass-like hair on their backs, which they use for camouflage. Psychologically, they’re most noted for their extreme patience, combined with moments of rapid movement and energy, which can sometimes be interpreted as laziness by other species.
A species which, significantly, has a single sensory organ, deep within its belly. Rather than sight, sound, smell, or even touch, the gimmal have a very finely tuned gravitational sense which takes the place of all other senses and can be used to sense in all directions. Their form is vaguely humanoid, more hunched over, and their traditional mode of movement uses three limbs (as the gimmal are lacking a left arm). Their head is largely vestigial, lacking eyes, mouth, nose, or ears. The traditional environment of the gimmal is underground, and their skin comes in varying hues of gray. For sustenance, the gimmal appear to absorb gravity, which they also have some minor ability to manipulate.
Gnomes are one of the prototypical diminutive races, very similar in appearance to humans, but with proportionally larger heads, hands, nose, ears, and feet. Gnomes are noted as having a high incidence of neurodivergence, which gave rise to the idea of gnomes as wild, madcap eccentrics. Within gnomish culture, this divergence is venerated, but outside it, gnomes are often looked at with a raised eyebrow, since you never know what you’ll get when you meet a new gnome. Gnomes are often compared to apples, in the sense that a seed won’t breed remotely true, though this applies primarily to their minds and not to their bodies. Gnomes are disproportionately both innovators and mental patients.
The image of a goblin as a hoarder of gold and treasures is a relic of earlier times. Now, goblins almost universally hoard books and other forms of the written word, a direct result of Uther Penndraig’s intervention. Goblins are short, with large, floppy ears, exaggerated facial features, and sharp teeth, though their diet is typically more omnivorous than their teeth would suggest. Goblins hold the largest libraries on Aerb and greedily hoard their books. It is theorized that goblins and dragons are distantly related for this reason.
Greensnouts are a large, piglike species with green snouts and a green stripe down their back. [Juniper’s Notes: That’s really all there is to them. Usually when things I made get ported over into Aerb, they become rich and complex, with all the care and thought that I might have put into them, if I could have been assed to. Greensnouts were lazy, but the curious thing about them is that they stayed lazy on transfer. They have no great defining characteristics that might make them cool or worthwhile, they’re just reskinned humans, more or less. Everyone else has their own “thing” but the greensnouts have no niche.]
The Ha-lunde are a unigendered species of necrophiles, presenting as large, humanesque males, typically six or seven feet tall, with all the secondary sex characteristics of a human male (chest hair, lack of breasts, facial hair). As part of their reproductive cycle, a Ha-lunde will find or make a fresh corpse and copulate with it, using their phallus to leave an egg inside of it. From there, the egg will proceed to use the corpse as fuel, with birth taking place some weeks later. Among the mortal species, the Ha-lunde have experienced some of the most radical social changes over the course of the past five hundred years, going from a species that existed mostly through pillaging and conquer to one of the stalwart members of the Empire of Common Cause, a transition helped by the discovery of domesticable species of cow that suited their reproduction.
Halflings are almost exactly the same as humans in terms of physical appearance, scaled down by half. These similarities extend to their social and mental attributes as well. Where humans have largely spread themselves out across Aerb, halflings are consigned to those areas that are inhospitable for large species with higher caloric needs, generally preferring highlands. While halflings are often remarked as humble, this is a result of their place in the world and a consequence of their typical communal agrarian lifestyle. If an imperial city has a Small Town (a place with structures built to a smaller scale), it will typically be dominated by halflings.
Harmonia are insectile humanoids with extra arms and a multi-hued shell. They originated from the Isle of Kīṭa, which has many insects of different varieties, but have done a fair job of spreading across Aerb, making them one of the most common non-humanform of the mortal species. They are also the originators of carapace magic. [Amaryllis’ Notes: Obviously one shouldn’t say that they have “extra” arms, one should say that they have “four arms”, because to say “extra” brings in the reference frame of humanity and the humanoid species.]
The he’lesh are smokers, through and through, with a unique smoke magic available to every member of their species, though to varying degrees. In their blank, unsmoking state, he’lesh tend to feel dull and lifeless, capable of carrying out simple tasks or holding uninspired conversation, but not truly living. When they smoke plantlife of varying kinds, they come to life, imbued with emotions and a spark of liveliness. The he’lesh tend to carry around a collection of cigarettes to smoke as the mood suits them, switching from one emotional dominance to another as circumstances warrant. Some he’lesh like certain emotions more than other, or will choose one for their default state, though most shy away from strong emotions. A he’lesh who chooses to can gain expertise in smoke magic, which has many possible avenues, all of which revolve around smoking various magical substances. Physically, they have skin ranging from orange to red, three fingers on each hand, and would stand roughly nine feet tall if they didn’t tend to walk with their legs mostly bent.
It has been noted as a matter of simple fact that humans are “average”; if you took every member of the mortal species, humans would be within a single standard deviation of the mean on almost every axis. They are also the most populous of the mortal species, accounting for roughly 40% of the world population. Additionally, humans have the highest score on the Syfriend Breeding Compatibility Scale. The primary thing that sets humans apart is their eagerness and ability to integrate into other culture. This should not be confused with strict adaptability, as this integration is often maladaptive and sometimes fatal; the distressingly common Human Derangement Syndrome (HDS) occurs when a human integrates with a foreign species to their own detriment, and often with deleterious effects on their health. (The term “humanoid” is in wide use to describe bipedal species with two arms and a head.)
[Juniper’s Notes: Humans are always a toughie when you’re talking about fantasy races, because most of the fantasy races are just different flavorings of human, aspects of our cultures and societies, or divisions of our psyche. Humans usually get to be either adaptable or the jack-of-all-trades, mostly because it leaves them as human, and the other races as still having traditional human elements. Aerb humans take adaptability up to the nth degree, to the point where there are a lot of sterotypes and jokes about it. I think in that respect they’re different from Earth humans, but I would need to do a study of people ‘gone native’ to know whether there’s some actual difference.]
[Amaryllis’ Notes: Humans seem more common than the demographics would suggest, largely because the next biggest portion of the population, the dwarves, are largely confined to their dwarfholds. The same is true of a few other mortal species, who have big populations, but haven’t spread out all the much, either because of their physiology, temperament, or history. Criios are one big example, since they’re confined to cold regions and there are only a small handful in the more temperate areas that dominate Aerb. So while the population of humans on Aerb is fairly large, to walk through one of the big imperial cities, you would probably think it was much higher than it actually is.]
A lizard-like species that collect rocks which they hold in their mouths, rather than having teeth. In the modern era, most of these rocks are made or carved in industrial processes. The species deals well with tedium and discerning minute differences between similar things on visual/tactile inspection. They have excellent vision and tend to be very patient. [Amaryllis’ Notes: It’s not really clear whether it’s more to do with igno psychology or igno culture, but a very disproportionate number of them ended up being important members of the Second Empire.]
Claustrophilic tunnel dwellers, most comfortable when their movement is heavily constricted. For this purpose, kle’tan garb often includes as many pieces of elastic as possible, and where that’s not possible, they sometimes employ binding to give some tension to their movements when out in the wider world. Kle’tan traditionally fill their homes with as much as they possibly can, though they mimic the cleanliness of their ancestral burrows, rather than hoarding possessions (which is the stereotype). Also notable for having a strong odor of almonds to the human nose.
Fluid with a skull in the center. The lenssi typically assume a humanoid form when not amongst their own kind. Though the fluid looks similar to water, it’s a biological solution unique to the lenssi which regenerates slowly if lost. If the skull in their center is destroyed, the lenssi will die, but they are otherwise immortal, even if the vast majority of their fluid is lost. Lenssi are incapable of producing speech sounds, instead relying on a gestural language system or written words.
A tall humanoid species. The lodona have a number of “moods” which alter their relative aptitude for different tasks. The lodona switch between “moods” by ingesting herbs native to their home continent, typically switching four or five times over the course of a day. To outside observers, a londona in a different “mood” might seem like a completely different person, but the lodona often liken it to the effects of alcohol on most humanoids. In the modern era, massive herb farms supply the lodona, with herbs typically consumed in the form of tea, a consequence of industrial drying processes and sterilizing bulk teleport. Lodona are vegetarian.
Mezin are a lanky species of climbers with elongated necks. Native to the cliffs of Cidium, their pre-civilization forebears spent most of their days climbing up and down the cliff walls, eating a combined diet of mosses, eggs from the local birds, and when they could catch them, the birds themselves. The mezin have the distinction of being one of the last species to be civilized, having never developed civilization on their own, despite being of quite keen intelligence. Once introduced to civilization, in 131 BE, they migrated nearly en masse, with very few left living on the cliffs they had long made their home. Curiously, even modern mezin have an enormous distaste for climbing, despite their universally good aptitude for it.
Not technically one of the mortal species, but rather, the complete absence of species. Non-anima are nearly human in appearance, though with skin and hair more lacking in pigment, and red eyes, which aren’t typical of humans. There are two major concerns with non-anima. The first is that a variety of wards simply do not work on them, given their lack of a soul. The second is that infernals can possess them for extended durations with startling ease. Throughout the Empire of Common Cause, the non-anima are considered kill-on-sight; this includes at birth. (Non-anima appearance does lend some credence to the “default human” theory of specification.)
Prior to Uther Penndraig, the largest orc civilizations were matriarchies, with a female head of each clan, a social organization due in part to the ease of orcish pregnancy and childbirth, along with the perilously high rate of death for adult orc males. Orcs were stronger, faster, and more physically fit than the average human, as well as being able to subsist on a much more varied diet. Following the defeat of the Dark King by Uther Penndraig, he began a radical campaign of alteration to the very fabric of orc society, starting by the effective decapitation of their matriarchy through extensive incarceration and utter destruction of their admittedly warlike culture. The orcs were further diminished by the Second Empire, though they never rose to the level of threat that other species did, and weathered the years better than most of the historically ‘malignant’ species.
Parovartako are one of the species with variable biology, though not to the extent of the changelings, and of limited use in infiltration. Instead, the parovartako (paro) are capable of altering their physiology on a temporary basis to become more beastial, which increases their strength, dexterity, endurance, and typically gives them natural weapons such as sharp claws or rending teeth. This transformation can be done in part or in whole, lasting between ten minutes and two hours depending on the magnitude of transformation (greater transformation resulting in lesser time transformed). The paro are one of the ‘cloaked’ species, indistinguishable from humans without magic or biopsy.
Penumbrals possess a ‘reverse photosynthesis’, feeding on shadows rather than light, a form of sustenance which is entirely magical in nature. In appearance, they’re roughly humanoid, with slightly smaller stature on average and generally remarked as having imperious features, with the primary distinguishing feature being that they have no pigmentation in their entire body aside from black, white, and shades of gray. Penumbrals require large amounts of shadow to live, and if given the option, will spend most of their day in complete darkness. More than four hours of sunlight per day are enough to make them ill, with more than six hours of direct sunlight being invariably fatal. Penumbrals are also possessed of unique specic shadow magic.
Rebirthers with a limited population of 20,000. When one dies, they will reincarnate within a few days, taking the place of the closest available embryo in an already-pregnant woman. Their skin is a vibrant pink. They have the skills and memories of their past lives at the same age, with skills and memory fading for long-ago lives, and less strong for ages older or younger than their current age. Renacim are extremely resilient with regards to effects that alter the soul, and in many cases, damage taken in one life will be completely erased at the beginning of the next, for unknown reasons.
Rhannu are a humanoid species which engages in mitosis rather than sexual reproduction. After roughly thirty to forty years, the rhannu undergo compulsory splitting, with each descendant rhannu getting approximately half of the skills, memories, and personality of the original rhannu. Distribution is approximately equal in ‘volume’, but not in particulars, meaning that one might get almost all the memories at the expense of something else. Splits can also ‘misfire’, resulting in the death of one (or rarely, both) of the descendants. Rhannu society is largely structured around pairbonding of rhannu who are ‘off-cycle’ from each other, such that they can take care of each other when they’re in their vulnerable post-split state, which often involves some amount of relearning how to speak, walk, eat, etc. and might be likened to intensive physical therapy.
The salin are a slave species, and though the identity and intent of their original creator has been lost to time, their peculiar physiology gives some hints as to what he/she/it might have had in mind. The salin are infovores, sustained by the creation and cataloging of information, with much of their actual efforts devoted to numeracy. Like many of the so-called slave species, salin are severely lacking in agency and have a strong tendency to become enthralled by other species, living in pseudo-slavery or otherwise abused. The majority of the salin work at the Athenaeum of Mathematics and Metaphysics, with the second largest cluster currently working for the goblins.
Shellbacks are one of the carapace species, though they don’t grow shells of their own, and rather, find them or make them from found parts. Aside from this peculiarity of their anatomy, they’re a typical scavenger species with manipulating tentacles ending in a beak-like protrusion that they use for cutting or acts of manipulation that require additional pressure. Psychologically, the shellback are possessed of an obsession for the found or refurbished, and a disdain for the newly created. A consequence of this has been that the shellbacks thrive in urban environments of other species, but are virtually incapable of sustaining a civilization of their own.
Testudines closely resemble anthropomorphic turtles, to the extent that it’s possible for a casual onlooker to confuse a testudine with a turtle Animalia. The primary difference is in the shell, which sits further forward on a testudine, and the articulation of the fingers, which is worse on a testudine (as is fine motor control in general). Testudines are commonly known for their tendency to hoard food, water, and personal possessions, even when such hoarding is wasteful or detrimental to their other goals. Successful testudines develop complex coping mechanisms to deal with these desires or to give them a safe and healthy outlet.
The tuung are an amphibious species that requires constant application of water to survive, typically delivered in the form of mister tanks when they’re not in an appropriately wet climate. Their species is notable for the ability of their females to determine the sex of the many eggs they hatch, as well as the wild changes in their male psychology when exposed to the proper female scent. Tuung are also notable for having virtually no members of their species within the Empire, largely as a result of their matriarchal gender-imbalanced societies, with rights abuses and living conditions that would disqualify them as members without reforms.
The tywoods are one of the more diminutive species, native to many of the deserts of the world, particularly those with large amounts of sand. They originally made small pits for themselves in the sands, each no bigger than their bodies, to wait out either intense midday heat or midnight cold depending on climate. Eventually the existence of the tywoods was changed forever by a variant of the same mold the dwarves used to process rock into food, which caused a population explosion as the tywood were no longer dependent on what little they could cultivate in the wild. Eventually, the tywood developed large undersand dwellings, supported against the crushing weight of the sands by their own unique architectural processes. Unlike traditional dwarves, tywood are typically welcoming of outsiders and were early adopters of successive waves of imperial cultures. In physical appearance, they’re lizard-like, with legs that bend backward.
One of the three so-called ‘sapphic’ species, vitrics have only one physical sex and present as female. In terms of appearance, they’re characterized by blue hands, bald heads, and being somewhat larger in stature than male humans. Their principal advantage is their control of lightning, with that magic entirely locked to their species. Their skill with lightning (its power held within their blood), along with their longevity, has made them one of Aerb’s most powerful species, and since their proliferation beyond the island their kind began on, they’ve seen the most growth. When a vitric wants to have a child, she will seek out a male of (nearly) any of the mortal species and copulate with him, which will produce a pure-bred vitric.
Yentrin have an extreme dimorphism, with the males being half the size of the females. When the yentrin mate, the female will absorb the male in a process that takes several years of constant contact, eventually leaving the pair permanently fused, with the bones of the male “passed” and many of the internal organs absorbed or repurposed. The yentrin female then ends up with a subordinate brain and the ability to self-fertilize. Yentrin society is largely segregated between males, females, and the bonded, as their lives, desires, and abilities are radically different from one another.
Males have young on their faces, attached to nipple-like growths that are covered up by the eel-like young. The eel-like young grow during the zildin’s equivalent to puberty, and remain on their face until they’re either used for impregnation of a female, or die through neglect, accident, et cetera. Zildin skin is a dark purple, and they’re hairless, with bumpy ridges where their eyebrows would be. Female zildin tend to be larger than the males, with darker skin and a stronger frame.
Caledwich was the home of the First Empire, and Lankwon (later Manifest) was the home of the Second Empire. When the Articles of Empire were being written, it was acknowledged that imperial governance would greatly benefit from a centralized location. After a great deal of debate between interested parties, it was finally agreed that Lensen, a moveable floating island, would be made into an imperial polity, controlled and administered by the empire itself, and transferring locations at set intervals so that it wouldn’t favor any particular member polity more than others just because of geographical proximity. The plan was that the floating island of Lensen would move every four years to a newly prepared location where various services could be reconnected, and the city itself would serve as a monument to the unity of the new empire.
Unfortunately, the reality of moving an entire city, even through known means and a large amount of magic, has logistical challenges that are difficult and costly to overcome. Lensen was originally set down twenty miles from Hershford, but took nine years before it was moved for the first time, rather than the original four years that were planned, largely due to cost overruns at the recipient site in Parrungal. Additionally, while the plan had been for Lensen to be a self-contained city-state, this didn’t bear out in reality, as disconnection from its first site caused considerable strain on the polity.
Following Lensen’s landing in the kingdom of Parrungal, there was some skepticism that the floating island would ever fly again, skepticism that has been borne out until the present day, though a reception site has been prepared in Anglecynn, and motions will occasionally be brought in the legislature to move the city once more. At this point, such a move seems incredibly unlikely, as Lensen has been deeply embedded into Parrungal, and Parrungal itself has poured significant amounts of money into infrastructure support for Lensen’s continued location in their kingdom.
Lensen is a city-state and imperial polity, governed in part by the legislature and overseen by a mayor who is chosen by a legislative sub-committee. Formally, the city of Lensen’s authority stops at the edge of the floating island, but in practice, the mayor has broad authority over the surrounding areas, which include a number of businesses and buildings that are of vital function to the surrounding area, as well as housing for many of the people who live and work in Lensen. The arrangement with Parrungal is a complex thing, and colors much of how citizens of the city view themselves and their city, with a sharp divide between Parrungal and Lensen.
Architecturally, every building in Lensen must be designed with movement in consideration, which increases building costs somewhat and results in fewer of the tall buildings that are found in other major cities. Because Lensen can move as a whole, there is less risk of structural damage than might be assumed, but there are still practical matters like the effects of acceleration to consider. In the taller buildings, magical materials are often used, which is sometimes reflected in their outward appearance. When people think of Lensen, it’s typically of the government buildings, which dominate the available space, and around which everything else is built.
The largest of these buildings spans three city blocks, an entad building called the Myriad Halls, which predates the EoCC and was one of the reasons for choosing Lensen. The building is hyper-adaptive, altering rooms and adding extradimensional space as needed by its occupants. The main chamber can expand, adding desks, for the entirety of the legislature, and every meeting room will have exactly as many chairs as needed, with more popping into existence as people join. As with most entad buildings, it’s not without its quirks, and the many staff the place requires are largely there to correct the building’s attempts at ‘helpfulness’ (though the building cannot communicate and is arguably sub-sentient). The Myriad Halls have offices for every member of the legislature, as well as meeting rooms for every committee and sub-committee. As the internal space expands, bathrooms are added at regular intervals.
The continent of Widders is notable for being tilted, with its eastern edge three miles in the air, and its western edge gently descending down into the ocean. The Cidium Cliffs on that eastern edge present an enormous sheer drop, and it is within a crook of this cliff that the city of Cidium is located, spanning three vertical miles.
Aside from its verticality, Cidium’s claim to fame is being not just a city, but a City, a population center that has existed for either millions or billions of years, or, possibly, since before the dawn of time. Within Cidium, this is taken as a bare fact, but elsewhere it is regarded as simply being myth. There are, however, a number of ways in which this has been partially corroborated, namely through postcognition entads, a survey of local flora and fauna, and archeology. It is difficult to determine whether these amount to anything, and many of the postcognition entads seem to be affected by power-of-two limits with regards to items from Cidium, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Cidium’s extreme age is not simply a matter of local folklore.
The other claim that citizens of Cidium often make is much more contentious: they believe that Cidium is possessed of a magic which is the secret to its continued existence, one which ensures that a city will always exist at that location, no matter what might happen in the wider world or what calamity might befall the regions around them. There is no firm evidence for this claim, nor could there be short of a complete apocalypse that left only Cidium standing, but it is commonly believed by the citizens of Cidium, and informs at least some of their institutional recklessness.
Cidium has different policing for its various levels, but the most effective and widely feared are the Vespers, police that are inducted at a young age, then trained at stationed at the top of Cidium, just above the cliff edge. Vespers have a special entad-made armor that allows them to ‘air dash’, moving horizontally through the air in a short burst which completely and safely kills downward speed. When there is a call to action, the Vespers will step out on their sky dock and jump off, dropping down to the desired location and then air dashing onto buildings or walkways to avoid death or serious injury. Vespers are noted as one of the most effective police forces in the world, though attempts at copying their model have proven unsuccessful in other cities. Lower down in Cidium, more mundane police are used, with the Vespers being called in only for serious matters.
The majority of Cidium fits within the Grand Crevasse, a natural V-shaped section of the Cliffs of Cidium. The city covers both walls of the Crevasse, with bridges connecting the two sides close to the crook of the Crevasse. Transportation up and down Cidium is accomplished through several enormous elevators which run continuously, and whose sounds are one of the primary background noises of the city.
Cidium is divided into loose "tiers", which number either five or three depending on who you ask. In the narrow scheme, there are three tiers: Uptown is the top level, where Vespers are more common and faster to respond, where buildings tend to be in better repair because there's no risk of things falling, and where the best views of the Grand Crevasse can be had; below that are the Midlands, where cliffside caverns are much more common, where tradesmen and lower-class merchants make their business, and where everything is much more modest, though still mostly protected from the winds and ocean; at the bottom are the Tidelines, home to the worst elements of Cidium and the highest crime rates, where policing is mostly done by corrupt guards and Vespers are infrequently called down, where sailors proliferate, where trash from above gathers. Cidium is large though, and each of these areas has its own neighborhoods with their own flavors, cultures, local legends, and businesses. The two tiers that are sometimes not counted are Cliffside, the upper part of Cidium where the city creeps out onto flat ground, and the Undertide, a place where buildings have been built below the tideline.
Cidium is beset by a carefree attitude, and one of the highest accidental death rates among the imperial cities, owing in part to the dangerous heights of the city and a lackadaisical attitude toward building standards, especially in the city’s lower half. Some of this can be attributed to successive waves of weak government, because while Cidium has seemingly existed for a very long time, the last five hundred years have been particularly turbulent in terms of changes of power. This has left the city far behind on many metrics that other great imperial cities take for granted, especially with regards to standardization and order. The current city government consists of a nine-member city council, which is generally ineffective outside the top third of the city.
In terms of demographics, Cidium has relatively more amphibious and aquatic species than elsewhere, even more than other port cities. Similarly, the few mortal species capable of flight are disproportionately represented in Cidium, often used as couriers.
The city of Caledwich was one of the largest in the time of Uther Penndraig, and has only grown since then. Caledwich was the seat of the First Empire during Uther Penndraig’s time, though he was careful never to place his home country in a place of prominence above the others. During the Second Empire, Caledwich was a stable and stalwart ally of imperial interests, and despite that, at the fall of the Second Empire, it was able to swiftly recover as many other places did not. There is a common saying, less true in the days of the EoCC, that ‘as Anglecynn goes, so goes the Empire’, and Caledwich, the largest city in Anglecynn by far, is often seen as synonymous with the country as a whole.
The layout of Caledwich was designed by Uther himself following major destruction during the time of the Apocalypse Demon, and put into place once the Wandering Blight had been defeated. It was considered the first and greatest feat of urban planning, with a foresight that was utterly unrivaled, though critics will often point out that this redesign was essentially only possible because of the enormous political capital that Uther wielded, and even then might not have happened without half the city being razed to the ground. Of the major structures left from before the Dark King’s only Caledwich castle remains, with numerous additions that dwarf the original structure. Rather than being built around the castle, Caledwich is built around its port, with radial avenues coming out from that section of town, making the city look, from above, like a sunrise.
Much of what was done to Caledwich by Uther was practically prescient, with a great deal of work and care put into the underground, specifically in terms of places for pipes, wires, and the subway system that was nothing more than a drawing when it was planned. Uther strongly believed in designing for the future and looking at every angle of that design, especially as it related to keeping a city happy, healthy, and clean. To that end, many of the neighborhoods of Caledwich were rigorously planned, and a large focus was put on combining tall, densely packed structures with wide green spaces, which Caledwich has more than in almost any other city. Over time, several structures have aged poorly, especially those not made by Uther, and have been torn down and replaced at great expense, usually with a different design. Many of the planned green spaces have also been carved out in favor of using the land for more fruitful purposes, which was especially true during the Second Empire. Nevertheless, the core of Uther’s vision remains, and many of the changes he anticipated were able to slot directly into the city with very little cost to retrofit.
Caledwich is home to the Lost King’s Court, the fractious governmental organization that exists as the result of many generations of familial infighting in the wake of Uther’s disappearance. After the fall of the Second Empire and the brief civil war that passed over Anglecynn, the political capital of the country was briefly moved, but it returned to Caledwich fifty years later. The political situation of Anglecynn is complicated, but the princes and princesses (as they are styled) congregate in Caledwich, and generally keep to either a cluster of several buildings downtown, or to their estates on the edges of the city.
For everyone else, Caledwich can be a bit of a backward place in some respects. Uther’s focus on humans might be understandable given the demographics of Anglecynn during his reign, but combined with the impact he had on the city’s design, some aspects of the city can seem inhospitable or antagonistic toward non-humans. The much vaunted subway, for example, was built on a scale that makes it difficult for the taller or wider species to use, and the cost to expand is so high that it will almost certainly never get done. The same things are true for dozens of other aspects of the city’s design, making it appear old-fashioned to imperial citizens, and not in an endearing way.