Thursday, February 14, 2008

Taking a blog break

Hey folks, I've decided to take a break from the blogging for a bit. There are a couple things I'd like to cover, though, to make things nice and clear.

1) I'm not tired of it. I'm really not, I promise.

2) I'm not done with this world. Quite the contrary, in fact, I'm taking a break so I can focus on other aspects of creating the campaign world, like drawing maps and working on the wiki.

3) I'm coming back, really I am. You'll just have to trust me.

I plan to take two weeks to do other work, and think about some aspects of the world I haven't thought about enough to do posts on yet. Ideally, I'm going to start writing the blog based on what I've done in the wiki, rather than the other way around.

If you're the sort who doesn't use RSS and actually checks the site every day, don't worry and don't check it for the next week. I promise I won't post anything for a week. I also promise I will have a post up before March 2nd.

Until then, farewell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Is Magic?

The entirety of this post is in-character.

What is magic?

To be quite honest, this isn't really the right question, but I'll answer it anyway. Magic is merely the specific application of natural forces through the conduit of a person. This application of force is not physical, and beyond a certain point it is rarely intuitive.

What do I mean by this? Magic is merely the name for the process by which talented individuals take power from their environment and convert it to suit their needs. There is a point up to which individuals can do this without thinking about how to do it, but beyond that point there must be a specific focus. Furthermore, the unguided application of this process is likely to bring unintended or unwanted results and side-effects.

A much better question is:

How is magic learned and used?

There is a distinct process that my colleagues and I have developed for making it easier to teach the skills required to control the application of magic. It should be noted that this process is general, and each step may be performed in many different ways, depending on the person using the magic.

The first step is simple; the individual must have the requisite talents involved. These typically include the talent for the internal manipulation of force and the talent for seeing metaphysical forces (so that they might be manipulated).

How individuals access these talents is dependent on how they view their world. In general terms, it's easiest to consider the subject in terms of metaphors. By what metaphor does the magic user access her talents?

An extended example would be that of music. First, if the person is ill-suited to music, there is little that can be done. Similarly, if a would-be wizard cannot see or manipulate metaphysical forces, there is little that she can do.

The next step requires a magic user develop their metaphysical senses. In the musical example, this would be analogous to learning to read musical notation. If a wizard cannot quickly and carefully identify the presence of metaphysical forces and the particular metaphysical forces present, the manipulation that is to follow cannot possibly be as skilled as a that of a wizard that can. Similarly, if a musician cannot quickly read and understand the musical notation, her playing will suffer.

Thirdly, a magic user must develop a fine control over her manipulative talents. If a musician could only play three notes, he is likely to be much less successful than one who can play an entire scale. In the same way, a wizard who lacks fine control over the manipulation of metaphysical forces will be limited in the types of weaves that are available.

Fourthly, at the same time as the first three, a would-be wizard must enlarge her repertoire of basic and complex weaves, practicing each. Enlarging a repertoire allows for a greater knowledge of what possibilities exist, which is important for both wizard and musician. Furthermore, the practicing of such pieces assists in the developing of senses and fine control, as well as providing practical demonstrations of theoretical concepts.

How, then, does a wizard use magic, once her talents have been developed?

There are three steps to successfully creating a weave at its most basic level. Each of these steps has its own sub-steps.
  1. Concentration
  2. Visualization
  3. Manipulation
Concentration: without it, a wizard is nothing. Without the ability to concentrate on what she is doing, a wizard is likely to cause great harm to herself and her comrades. There are many different methods for concentration, often related the metaphor through which a wizard accesses magic. My personal metaphor is language, and I have associated a particular phrase with a state of concentration, and I am able to enter a state of concentration simply by uttering the phrase and making a slight effort. A musician might strike a chord before beginning to play, to centre her mind.

Visualization: This is the stage where the wizard takes stock of what is. Accessing metaphysical senses, she quickly visualizes what metaphysical forces are possible assets, and which are possible distractors (though these are typically few). She also takes note of what weaves already exist in the area. This step is deceptively important. Without taking the moment to establish how metaphysical forces interact in a given area, using magic can produce unintended results.

Manipulation: This stage is the actual use of the forces to create a weave, and subdivided into many steps. This is typically done through reasoning from intended effect. That will make more sense in a moment.

  1. First, a wizard must decide what the intended result of the magic is. This can be as convoluted as "I must nudge the currents of spiritual earth power so as to remove the negative effect from the nearby water supply", or as simple as "Protect me!".
  2. Next a wizard must decide how best to achieve the effect. Though, in practice, this often takes the form of any weave which achieves the desired effect, regardless of efficiency.
  3. Once the manner of affecting the effect is decided, the wizard must reach out to the necessary forces and manipulate them into a weave, often tying different threads of power together to create specific effects.
This concludes the lecture.

This lecture was given to seven students of magic by Eladrine Darkweather, the current Mistress Chronicler of the Dusk Citadel. At the time, she was working with students and assisting Brix Lagander with research.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Centres of Culture V: Mechia

A note on pronunciation: It is not "MECH-ee-uh". It's "Muh-KEY-uh". Please don't think this place is about robots, dear lord, no.

This is the last major human centre of culture, and the most different from the others. If you go east north-east from the Aruan Archipelago, you will eventually reach the shores of Mechia.

This place, once conquered by the expanding Kularian Empire in the East, and then again conquered by the Aruan Empire from the West, is isolationist in nature. I'm sure I'll get many accusations of ripping off Japan, and in a sense I am, but this society has reasons beyond "Dylan needed a new cultural basis" for being the way it is.

Where the cultures of the west are full of passion, Mechia is a very dispassionate place. That's not to say that Mechians do not feel passion, but it is considered to be vulgar to show any more passion than necessary. The cold hierarchic society gets its inspiration from the moon, which is believed by Mechians and those in the eastern part of the former Kularian Empire to be made of ice. It travels around the earth to protect itself from the raging heat of the sun.

The stars themselves move very little, and are believed to be the Moon's court (well, at least they believe it in a figurative sense), all are in their proper place. So too must all people remain in their proper places. Gender does not play a serious role in this society, but social class plays a more intense role than other societies.

War and combat is also important to this society. After they had been conquered by the Aruan Empire, a great being came to their aid. He claimed to be an Avatar of the Moon, and his power was great. He singlehandedly marshalled the Mechians and with them threw the Aruans off Mechian soil. His name was Darius, and he is now referred to as Darius the Undying, as he is still their ruler today. Most people outside of Mechia believe that Darius' sons, grandsons, great-grandsons and the rest have all taken pains to look like Darius in an attempt to consolidate power.

Darius is, in fact, an ancient wizard. Having broken with the society of the ancient wizards, he remained behind, and felt that in rescuing and strengthening Mechia he was doing right. He is slowly attempting to return magic to the world through his "Angels", who are close friends and like-minded followers of his, also ancient wizards.

It is unfortunate that the sins required to turn this society into a haven for the magically inclined are great and dark. Darius claims to still be acting in the interests of the people, but much of this project is now just an extension of his ego. For those of you out there who know me, Darius has another name, but I'll keep that a secret for now.

People in the West view Mechians as sorcerers, devil-worshippers and similar unsavoury characters. As humans cannot do magic themselves (well, most humans who can't do magic believe this), they must be tapping into the powers of unsightly creatures. The moon-worship and dispassionate attitudes certainly don't help. As a result of this negative attention from the West, and the conquests, Mechia is a closed society. The only people allowed in are given leave by "Darius", and the only people allowed out are Darius' representatives.

These posts aren't supposed to be exhaustive, and I think this gives you an idea of what this culture is like, so I'll cut it there. I'm still deciding on whether or not to do serious posts on the Eastern and Western portions of the former Kularian Empire, as they're fairly similar to Kulari Proper.

Anywho, the next post will probably be about some facet of Elven society.

Centres of Culture III: Kulari (Part i, Kulari Proper) -- Revised!

Edit: I changed my mind about the Sun and the Moon religions. I've reversed them. They'll get their own posts later, but the wording of this post has been changed to reflect it.

"So", I'm sure some of you are thinking after the last couple posts, "What's the big deal about this Kularian Empire anyway?"

Glad you asked.

Kulari is a nation that first grew from the foothills of the northern mountains, much like the Commonwealth, merely further east. Historical records begin with the ascendancy of Kular, a general, to the kingship. Presumably there was some sort of society before Kular, but there are no records of what it might have been like.

Kular was, according to the records, an established general and brilliant tactician who had won battles at many places that no longer exist, or exist under different names. He did not wrest power from the hands of the former ruler, the records insist that he was chosen after the king died an ignoble death, sick in bed.

Under Kular's command, this apparently small kingdom began to expand a great deal, extremely quickly. In a push to forget the previous age of weak rule and stagnancy, Kular decreed, with the support of the religious leaders, that the nation would be renamed Kulari, and all the old records would be burned.

Posts to follow will deal with the growing empire of Kulari, but this post is dedicated to the culture of the Kulari themselves, and their descendants who still live in the area where the empire was born.

There was, in many ways, a cult of personality around Kular. A successful general and apparently charismatic man, he was a natural leader in a society where religious beliefs called for the people to rally around their leader. The old king had been weak, and died sick in bed rather than on his feet with a weapon in his hand. During this king's rule, there had been little expansion or increased wealth.

When Kular became king, all this changed, improving expectations and popular support skyrocketed. After all, everyone likes a winner.

This had a huge effect on the sorts of values and character traits that were considered desirable. Men wanted to be more like Kular, even though this meant a certain level of cold calculation and lack of mercy. Kular's personal beliefs about the inferiority of women began to percolate, and women lost much of their social status.

In the end, Kular turned to mass expansion through a vast army to keep his people under his control. It's not that they wouldn't have followed where he led them, but in inspiring people to be more like him, he grew paranoid that someone even more competent than him would wrest control away.

When he was routed and killed by the Commonwealth at the Hill of the Moon, his empire fragmented and the people of Kulari proper went back to work their farms and mines, and to sell their goods. The legacy it left was one of strong individualism that feared outside influence. Government became weak for a very long time.

The nobles slowly rebuilt public confidence in their rulers, but a popular revolt forced the principles of a parliamentary government on the sovereign and his nobles. Much like England in the medieval period, two houses were established, one made up of the higher nobles and clergy, and the other made up of elected representatives (elected from men with enough property) and lesser nobles.

The religion of Kulari is dualistic, focusing on two opposing viewpoints: That of Order (represented by the moon and stars, all in their proper place) and Chaos and Passion (represented by the sun, a raging flame that is always in motion). Neither is good and right on their own, as there must be order to build stability for growth, and there must be chaos to avoid stagnation.

The Kulari do not tend to identify with one concept more than the other, but rather speak of cycles. "It is a moon cycle," one might say, which means that it is a time of great stability and order. In times of great upheaval, it is said that a sun cycle is occurring. The Gods (Sun and Moon) who constantly fight over the sky are promoting a healthy conflict that is to be admired and imitated. As with the other major cultural areas, there are no major wars of note currently occurring, so this conflict is largely symbolic and ritual in nature.

This dualistic religion had a great effect on both the western and eastern coasts. Interestingly enough, the West has adopted many of the traits of the Sun devotion and the East has adopted many traits of the Moon devotion. It's interesting that neither set of cultural values has adopted the dualism.

I'll go more into detail on these topics in later posts, but next time: The Golden Interior!

Dimourgos' Law and the Governance of Dwarves

Dimiourgos' Law is intentionally vague and short, because all good religions have to have to room for violent conflict and heretic-burning.

I will now remove my tongue from my cheek.

Dimourgos' laid down two laws to his dwarven children, and they are as follows:

  1. One must wear the constitution of stone in one's heart.
  2. It is forbidden to destroy what another has wrought.

So, you might be wondering, what does this mean? Good question. We'll start with the second one.

At first blush, this looks like it's saying "Don't break other people's stuff". It does indeed say that, but there are some implications to be considered. Remember that dwarves create their own offspring. In this way, killing a dwarf is forbidden. There is great debate between dwarves as to whether this law extends to other creatures and races. The vast majority believe that killing itself is forbidden, and resign themselves to mosses and water for their sustenance.

Even further, many dwarves believe that this law does not apply just to physical things but also to things such as clans, the peace, and other non-physical constructs. However, the interpretation of this law changes depending on the purpose for which it is being interpreted.

As with the second law, the first law is also given to much controversy. What exactly is meant by "constitution of stone" is a subject of great discussion. Most dwarves agree that it is a call to be durable and patient in character, unyielding to outside influence without great cause to be otherwise.

When used in conjunction with the first law, this is a powerful barrier to change, and a result, the systems and traditions of dwarven society are relatively unchanged over the centuries. Deference to authority is a common thread among all dwarven societies. It should be mentioned that a dwarven adventurer is quite possibly no longer welcome in dwarven society, as such a career often requires some amount of autonomy (though this may not be true if the character is on a mission from dwarven society proper).

Dwarven Governance
There are very few issues that are of importance to all dwarves, and accordingly there is no real central government. The closest dwarven society comes to a central government is the structures of the church of the Life-Breather, but even this does not reach all dwarves at all times. There is one particular dwarven society whose Life-Breathers are taught in the central hall of the clans, rather than by the church itself, but more about this break-away sect later.

Life-Breathers do not rule directly, or use their powers as blunt instruments. Rather they arrive to clan discussions and speak softly, allowing the weight of their position to do the work for them.

In most circumstances, the clan leader is the only government a dwarf will have, and this is not so much government as it is leadership. Decisions made by the clan leader are only binding in the sense that, to most dwarves, it would be unthinkable to do otherwise.

Most small or medium-sized clans do not have their own Law-Speaker, and often live in an area with other clans nearby. One Law-Speaker may service multiple small clans or a few larger clans. The largest clans have their own Law-Speakers, but these are rare.

As with many other facets of dwarven society, Law-Speakers do not directly appoint new clan-leaders, but they are considered to be extremely persuasive, should they decide to weigh in on the matter. In the event of a delinquent dwarf, a Law-Speaker will hand down a punishment that is in keeping with what Dimiourgos' stories would suggest. These stories are only tales of what Dimiourgos has done, and his decisions are imitated in most circumstances.

In times of war, many clans come together, and the Law-Speaker or Law-Speakers meet and the group comes to a consensus on who is best suited to lead the soldiers in war. This generalship is the closest dwarven society comes to absolute rule, and even the general is subject to removal by the decision of five Law-Speakers in consensus.

Much of dwarven governance is of the "live and let live" philosophy. Clans only worry about what other clans are doing when there is a question of great danger, and even then the clans tend to fight together, only consulting with one another when necessary.

Next time: Who knows.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Centres of Culture IV: The Golden Interior

This small but important agricultural heartland only requires one cultural post. Called the Golden Interior because of the massive amounts of grain grown in the area, there is not much else to be said about this place. It is the typical "sleepy village" area, protected by a deep and rushing river to the north and a mountain range to the south.

That is not to say that it has not known war, but there are no great leaders here, merely small communities, and isolation removes much of the impact from a regime change. If you only ever see nobles when they ride through your town on the way to war, what does it matter to who you pay your taxes to, as long as they are the ones you must appease? What does it matter who takes the excess grain you grow? It doesn't, really.

Furthermore, the gods of the south are peaceful gods, and the God of Harvest is the most peaceful of all. When the young men go away to war, the harvest is neglected. Therefore the best policy is to advocate peace, and to act peacefully in all ways and at all times.

Sorry this place is kind of boring, we'll have some fun when we get to Mechia.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (Part iii, The Icy Coast)

The Icy Coast marks the north edge of the western coast, beginning in rocky shield in the south and morphing into tall, icy peaks in the north. This dangerous mountain range is a formidable foe, and human society does not go much farther than the foothills.

The south of the Icy Coast is much like the north of the Western Coast, small tribes testing each other and competing for resources. Further north, however in the foothills of the great frozen peaks, is an entirely different story.

Influenced by ancestors who had close interactions with dwarves in the distant past, the Commonwealth of the North is based on a synthesis of dwarven and human ideals.

The Commonwealth is rightly so-called. It is a large group of allied principalities where, in a similar fashion to dwarven tribes, leaders are chosen out of the population to rule by their merits. These leaders are chosen for limited terms, and may only serve once in each of the eligible stages of their life, called "Maturity" (the age at which a person can fight), and "Wisdom" (the age at which a person is old enough to stop fighting).

The Commonwealth has its origins in the expansion of the Kularian Empire. The dwarves, seeing a threat to their safety like human threat before it, allied themselves with the humans who lived in the foothills of their mountains, teaching them principles of government and warfare. Dwarven religion was rejected by the humans, though they have added Dimiourgos to their pantheon and greatly respect him.

As dwarves have no gender to speak of, the government and society of the Commonwealth is similarly egalitarian. This is an excellent society for female PCs to hail from.

The Gods of the Commonwealth are considered to be very harsh, but very fair. "The winter," the people say, "Is harsh, but does not distinguish. Nor do the Gods. The same harshness for all." In much the same way, the society of the Commonwealth is not for the soft-hearted. Justice is retributive, and age is marked by the ability to fight.

The martial nature of the society is largely symbolic, now. There are few wars, and most are against southern tribes foolish enough to try to conquer this defensible area. This does not mean, however, that this symbolic martial focus does not impart real combat skills, and warriors of the Commonwealth are to be respected, if not feared.

There is no longer contact with the dwarves, but the people still long for this interaction. A ruined dwarven temple is a few short days travel into the mountains, and once a year a large quantity of oil is carried to the temple by a group of young persons, to refill the lamp that the Commonwealth rulers keep lit, in case the dwarves return. The dwarves watch this ceremony, but do not intervene.

Next Time: Either a cultural look at the Golden Interior, or the former Kularian Empire.

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (Part ii, The Western Coast)

Just north of the Bay Coast, the Western Coast marks the divide between warm, agrarian grasslands and hilly, rocky shield. Summers are warm and winters are cold, with distinct cool periods in between.

The peoples in this area, especially extending to the east, are generally put together in small villages, mostly ignored by larger kingdoms. Most of the area is under the control of the Four Kingdoms, but most people outside a short ride of the capitols have never seen a high noble.

The Four Kingdoms are a usually peaceful alliance comprised of three traditional patrilineal hereditary monarchies and one matrilineal monarchy. The capitol cities are, in fact, one metropolis built on the traditionally defined meeting of borders. The capitol was moved here with the signing of the Four Kingdoms Treaty.

The Four Kingdoms are Gallus, Poletia, Mercia, and Ferrad. Being easternmost, Ferrad extends further east than the cultural area marked on the map (the maps are coming, I promise), but is considered to be part of the Western Coast.

Gallus and Mercia both border directly on the coast, and are quite similar to Littoria and Calar in the south. Mercia's Queen, however, is anything but standard.

The matrilineal monarchy of Mercia arose as part of their interaction with the culture of the Icy Coast. Northern religion places the power associated with birth in the hands of the women, rather than the men as is the custom in the south. Mercia has officially adopted southern-style religion in the form of Sun-worship, but many people (the further north you go, the more there are) still worship northern gods.

Poletia reaches south in the direction of the Golden Interior (coming soon!), and is the most agrarian of the Kingdoms. Apart from the greater focus on agriculture, Poletia is fairly similar to the other kingdoms.

Ferrad, like Mercia, is torn between two cultures. The largest of the Four Kingdoms, it was originally founded in violent revolution from the former Kularian Empire. There will be more about Kulari in another post (being its own cultural boundary), but Ferrad has taken a language and mindset from being a part of this historical empire.

Where most of the Western Coast believes in formal agreements and formal shows of force, the Kularian Empire was founded on shadowy operations. This is not to say that these operations were evil, merely hidden. It is considered normal for leaders to lie and maneuver, making informal agreements and alliances in the background. It can be very difficult to follow for leaders from outside the former Empire.

North of Mercia is unclaimed lands. These lands are inhabited by small tribes who are no less civilized than those of the Four Kingdoms, but they lack an overarching government. They are, however, distinguished from the Four Kingdoms by their (supposed) propensity for war. Each tribe tests the others' strength, and this war is rarely lethal or absolute, though the Four Kingdoms believe these tribes to be savage.

Next time: The Icy Coast

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Centres of Culture II: The Western Coast (part i, the Bay Coast)

This cultural area goes from the north end of the western coast right to the Three-Tooth Mountain range in the south. It's often subdivided into three areas: The Icy Coast in the north, the Western Coast in the middle, and the Bay Coast in the south.

These three areas share in common a significant slice of ocean. Their cultures are not as notably sea-going as the Aruan Archipelago, but the influence of the sea on their cultures is undeniable.

The Bay Coast
Nearest the Aruan Archipelago, this cultural area does a great deal of trade with the Aruan Empire. There are two major kingdoms (and countless minor kingdoms) in the area.

Littoria is a coastal kingdom at the southern end of the Bay Coast. Its capitol (also called Littoria) is protected by a coral reef, forcing most ships to put ashore a day's walk from from the city. Littoria is a standard monarchy, ruled by a kind and just man. It is illegal to swim to the coral reef, which is considered to be the property of the king.

Bordering Littoria to the northeast (still along the coast) is the city of Salmonsford, named after the original reason people settled at the mouth of this river: The salmon. Salmonsford is not a very large city, but it is run by a few lesser noble families who splintered from Calar, to the north. Salmonsford forms a natural border between Littoria and Calar.

Calar and Littoria have a history of war, but are currently at an uneasy peace. Littoria's king is a kindly man, but very dedicated to the protection of his people. Calar, however, has been wronged in the past by more war-like Littorian kings, and the public sentiment is against Littoria.

Culturally, these three places are quite similar. They are governed by monarchies who have the support of their people. Comparatively to other great kingdoms, these kingdoms are relatively middle-sized.

They are mixed agrarian societies, growing a good deal of wheat and cotton, domesticating cows and chickens, and fishing for fish, crabs and clams. There are typical harvest season celebrations.

Religiously, the Aruan Archipelago, Bay Coast and Western Coast all share a similar religion: Sun-Worship. I'll get more into religions later, but the Sun is representative of Passion, Strength, Determination, and Order. Worshippers of the Sun recognize the Moon as well, but do not condone its worship. The Moon is not so much devil as adversary. Religious holidays are typically held during the summer months.

One cultural area down, only a few hundred more to go, haha. Slight exaggeration, but it's a big place. Until next time!