Thursday, November 27, 2008


I turned 25 on monday, and today the blog turns a full year old. So, happy birthday, Aarn! Have some cute.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Magic: More than you ever needed to know about Wizards

The process of writing the last post helped me understand Aarnian magic, but it also raised some questions, when I considered some of the logical implications of my rules. One of these questions was: "Why don't wizards explode?"

Despite the amusing mental image, it's a serious question. I try to force Aarn's magic (at the very least, its wizardry magic) to follow the law of conservation of energy. Like solar radiation, the energy that fuels magic bombards Aarn from the Astral Sea. Once a magical spell is prepared in the material world (or so I wanted my rules to state) its energy must be expressed -somehow-, or canceled out by other magic.

So this brought me to the question of why a staff releases its magical energy when broken, but a wizard does not. Obviously, I do like the idea of wizards exploding like staves, but if this were true of Aarn, the entire civilization I've built would have developed differently. Science and knowledge would be mistrusted, and Aarn would be far more like a traditional fantasy setting where wizards are mistrusted and banished from reasonable civilization, with good reason. And that sort of setting is boring and overplayed.

Eventually I decided that because wizards have souls, the spells are attached to those souls and not their physical bodies. Otherwise a wizard's spell would discharge whenever they break an arm or get ripped in half. (Hey, it happens.) But this still raises the question of why a wizard doesn't explode when he dies, and his soul goes through the trauma of death, or when a soul-linked animal dies, with similar results.

What I eventually managed to decide (with some help) was that wizards don't explode because the spell energy follows the soul into the inbetween, and then the astral sea. If a wizard dies, there is indeed an explosion of magical energy, but it takes place in an area where only ghosts and astral channelers will be affected. Perhaps some strange magical effects will persist in an area (such as all the physical objects in a certain radius sharing the ex-wizard's spell resistance) but for the most part, no truly visible effect will happen, while preserving the law of conservation of energy.

Of course, once in one of the nine hells, all bets are off for what happens. For a long while, I wanted wizards to lose their spells when their astral body was destroyed and forced to reform in the afterlife. If they did this, they would either have to explode, or the hells themselves would have to do something with the energy. I'm not so fond of the second solution (I try to avoid deus ex machinas) but I haven't decided quite how to handle it yet. I hadn't thought of making the afterlife so different from Aarn that wizards were outcasts due to their exploding when killed, and I'm still not sure if I like the idea or not. It might explain why the afterlife's technology hasn't progressed beyond Aarn's, though, and then again there's the hilarity of exploding wizards running around everywhere. It's made funnier in a setting where no one can be permanently killed.

As for Aarn itself, I think some justification is needed for why wizards are tolerated in society even if they -don't- explode. A wizard has far more power available to him or her than the average town guard, and it would be far too easy for a wizard to abuse the system and also Aarn's populace.

The simple solution is that wizards are self-policing. The spells in the first 6 tiers of spell levels are more or less as powerful as channeling can get without overchanneling. After that, wizards become exponentially more powerful. A single level 12 spell (the most powerful spellweaves can get) can wipe out a town with one blast. Even without a tenancy to explode, wizards are quite literally walking bombs, if they were to bring all their energy to bare.

In order to help ensure that civilization proceeds without self-destructing, the wizards from taking everything over, or the leaders of communities don't abuse their wizards, wizards themselves have entered into an agreement of mutually assured destruction called the "Wizards Council." The council was probably formed as the result of some long past war of wizards that destroyed civilization. (Again. Probably happened 3000 years ago.) The Council itself is made up of the 40 most powerful wizards alive. Membership is not optional, and there is no way to opt-out. If any wizard gets too big for his or her britches (even a member of the council), the council is there to smack them down and put them in their place.

In practice, the council has not worked as well as in theory. Civilization is still stable, though, so the council must be doing something right. Even if it -is- constantly back-stabbing itself, conspiring against itself, and overlooking the more powerful displays of magic when they occur. The wizard's council has been less about mutually assured destruction, and more about nursing the egos of wizards to keep them under control, while also acting as a public relations department to keep giant displays of magic tolerable by the greater populace.

Wizardry is more or less Aarn's version of nuclear engineering. Like nuclear engineering, wizardy is very dangerous when performed by amateurs, tolerated because it helps to further society, and rarely used to its fullest potential because everyone understands that such a release of energy would be against humankind's collective best interest. The kingdoms and nations of Aarn understand that any level 10 and up spells used in an act of war would effectively destroy whatever goal they had in starting that war, and likely destroy themselves in the process.

The analogy is not perfect however. Nuclear engineers don't confine their experiments to towers for fear of explosions killing pedestrians. There are far fewer nukes on earth than wizards on Aarn. Our nukes are also not self-aware, nor can they decide to set themselves off on a whim.

Wizardry's volatility is perhaps yet another reason for why Aarn's world population is so low. The Wizard's Council, instead of preventing destruction, may simply be used as fodder for the following argument: "Hey, we should tolerate wizards despite all that death and property destruction. Imagine how much worse things would be -without- the Council, and in the meantime, wizardry has given us so many wonderful technological advances."

So naturally, while I love the idea of a wizard spontaneously combusting, if it was commonplace, SWC (spontaneous wizard combustion) would destabilize an already unstable situation. Granted, I can't let such a hilarious idea go to waste, so there will of course be very powerful spells that can cause a wizard to completely discharge all their spell energy. Wizards do still explode occasionally on Aarn. They just don't -always- explode at death.

Magic: Contramagery

By popular demand, this post is going to be a basic rundown of what happens when magical effects end, and how to cause such ends to happen artificially. This post is going to be filled to the brim with jargon, so proceed at your own risk!

As a refresher, these are all the different types of magic that exist on Aarn:

Spellweaves: A spell that either is an instant effect or has a timed duration, controlled and produced by wizards.

Manifestations: A spell that either is an instant effect or has a timed duration, controlled and expressed by divine casters.

Channeling: Raw magical energy directed by the intuitive will of a godtouched creature.

Infusions: The essence of a spellweave or a manifestation permanently bound to an object, which leaches magical fuel from the surrounding aether. Cannot be used on godtouched creatures, because the natural magical energy flowing in and around their bodies disrupts such magic.

Soul Links, Soul Bonds, and Soul Divisions: Semi-permanent effects that bend the rules of magic, blurring the lines between spellweaves, manifestations and channeling. These effects can provide semi-permanent magical abilities and traits not otherwise possible.

Potions: A deliberately unstable infusion of water, that is designed to release its infused effect when the water is scattered, metabolized, or absorbed through other means.

Boons: A type of manifestation that is a permanent effect granted to a godtouched creature.

Runecrafts: The raw "language" of magic, which provides a simple, yet semi-permanent effect borrowed from the channeling magic system to an object, animal or godtouched.

Spellrunes: Runes that are designed to release a single spellweave or manifestation effect, once, destroying/damaging whatever they are inscribed upon in the process.

Further, there are a number of different sorts of spell effects which can be produced using the above methods of magical casting.

Physical effects: Whenever a spell causes damage indirectly with a physical object, this is considered a physical effect. An example of a physical effect is lifting up a rock and telekinetically flinging it at a target. The telekinetic spell could in theory be dispelled, but the rock cannot, neither can the wound caused by the rock.

Semi-illusory effects: Most common in channeling and manifesting (wizards have great difficulty reproducing these effects because spellweaves cannot provide the intuitive manual control needed), semi-illusory effects include the processes of transmutation, liquification and solidification. When an object has changed its shape through these means, it stores a sort of magical "memory" of what it used to be for 1-2 months. After this period of time, the change becomes permanent and can no longer be dispelled, but during this time, a dispell effect will try to restore the object's original shape.

Instant effects: An instant effect is a spell effect such as a fireball or ray of energy, that only persists for a very short period of time. These effects do not have a duration, and the results of these effects cannot be dispelled, though the energy itself can be dispelled if the character doing the dispelling has very quick reflexes.

Persistant effects: Any spell effect with a duration is considered a persistant effect. These are spell effects that provide some change to something in the environment that requires a constant supply of magic. Once the supply of magic provided with the spell is extinguished, the effect ends. The effect can be prematurely ended through dispelling.

Most channeler abilities that need to be maintained by a constant amount of energy (read, everything except for the physical results of shaping) are considered persistent effects, though a channeler can always provide more energy and restart the effect if it is dispelled.

Enchantment: Any spell effect that is semi-permanent but not illusory is considered an enchantment. Most enchantments can be dispelled, though soul-related magic and boons repair themselves over time. Enchantments, despite being a type of magic, can produce their own secondary magical effects. When a wand fires an instant effect at a target, there are two magical effects in play, the instant effect itself, and the enchantment that grants the wand the ability to unleash the instant effect.

Of course, with so many types of spells, there's more than one way of getting rid of their effects. Primarily, divine casters and channelers focus on magic that protects against effects, and wizards tamper with the magic itself, removing the effect, though wizards also have access to protective spells

Spell Resistance: As stated above, all godtouched creatures (and most monsters) have turbulent magical energy flowing through them, whether they are a mage or not. This energy not only prevents godtouched creatures from normally being subject to permanent spell effects, but it can also block impermanent effects as well. Any mage must take spell resistance into account, because spells will affect a godtouched creature much less severely than an animal or an inanimate object. Inanimate objects that have infusions, runes or are potions also have spell resistance.

Barriers: The simplest method of blocking magical energy is a shield or barrier. These types of protection do not do much to the magical energy. Instead, barriers replace the energy's intended target with themselves. If a barrier is not sufficient to block all of the magical energy subjected to it at once, the barrier will usually be destroyed, and the rest of the energy will affect its intended target. Some more advanced barriers will simply buckle and fold, allowing the excess energy through, then re-form themselves. Barriers can protect against all different types of magical effects.

Reflection: Whenever a barrier has the ability to redirect a spell effect away from itself, the barrier is said to be a reflection effect. Reflection effects, like other sorts of barriers, can only redirect so much energy before buckling and failing. Basic reflection spells simply rebound magical energy in the direction it came from.

Advanced reflection effects can redirect magical energy in any direction the caster chooses. Still more advanced reflection effects can temporarily store magical energy that hits it. The person in control of the reflection effect can then release the energy at a time and direction of the caster's choosing. The more powerful the reflection effect, the longer the caster can wait before releasing the energy.

Reflection effects do not change anything about the fundamental nature of the spell energy they redirect, other than its direction. Reflection effects do not protect against indirect physical effects from magic. They also have difficulty protecting against enhanced objects or physical strikes that have been imbued with magical energy, like a sword that is on fire, or a punch enveloped by swirling winds.

Nullification: Nullification effects, such as "Dispell" spells, are one of the most common forms of magical defense. These effects overwhelm magical energy, canceling it out with an equal and opposite amount of energy. Sometimes dispell effects are single-cast spells, other times they are advanced barriers with a reserve of energy available to block and overwhelm other magical effects. Still other times an object can be given a nullification effect with an infusion. These objects then work similarly to dispel effects that have a duration, using their magical charge to overwhelm and remove spell effects.

Absorbtion: Absorbtion effects are an advanced form of nullification. Instead of overwhelming the opposing magical energy, an absorbtion effect steals it away. Most absorbtion effects then use that stolen energy to fuel a new, different magical effect. Many absorbtion effects can be turned against their wielders by overwhelming them with too much energy at once. Mages who use absorbtion effects in their spells or their infusions must be careful with how they use them, or they will instead experience horrible backlash when all the energy absorbed is released at once.

Importantly, nullification and absorbtion effects only deal with a spell effect's energy, and not the spell effect itself. If a spell effect is self-sustaining, such as an infusion, a runecrafted object, a channeler's abilities, a divine caster's boon or a soul effect, the magical effect in question will return over time. Most spellweaves, manifestations, potions and spellrunes do not self-sustain their energy, so these magical effects can be completely eliminated through nullification and absorbtion.

Disruption: This is a fancy term for "physically breaking an enchanted object." Infusions, runecrafted items and spellrunes can all be disrupted through physical damage. Doing so will release all the energy stored in the objects in an unrefined magical explosion with no specific effect other than raw damage. Such explosions can further disrupt other magical effects in the area, effectively starting a chain reaction of magical explosions while giving everything in its radius an extreme amount of spell resistance (while at the same time severely harming whatever's in its radius.)

Potions cannot be disrupted, because they are designed to release and create new magical effects -when- disrupted. Drinking a potion, applying a salve or throwing a grenade potion will all disrupt the effect in the potion water, creating the desired magical effect.

Counterweaving: Counterweaving is perhaps the most flexible and useful way to eliminate spell effects. A counterweaver is a wizard who uses his or her ability to weave spells to un-weave spells. Without specifically using any magical energy or spells effects, a counterweaver can directly manipulate the cords involved in any non-instant spell effect. Counterweavers must either have manual access to the spell they wish to tinker with, or have access to a telekinesis effect so they can do it from range.

Counterweaving takes time. The more complex or powerful the spell effect, the longer it takes the counterweaver to do their stuff. Counterweavers do not need to learn how to cast spells - simply how to manipulate the strands of energy that make up magical effects. In essence, while all wizards have potential counterweaving skills, not all counterweavers are wizards.

The three effects that counterweavers have at their disposal are activating, venting, and spellbreaking. Of course, there are spells that emulate these effects, but counteweaving is magically "free," and only requires skill and expertise that are usually also required to cast the spells that ape counterweaving's effects.

Activating: A counterweaver can prematurely activate the effect of a spellweave that is being stored in another wizard's aura, an infused object, or a collection of spellrunes. In many cases, counterweaving is the only way to activate spellrunes, though there are some spellrune objects designed to be activated through other means.

Venting: Similar to activating, venting is the ability for a counterweaver to release the raw, magical energy stored in a spell effect in a desired direction (usually away from the counterweaver). The raw energy is released in a stream that can be used offensively, and like the results of a magical disruption, the energy has no specific magical effect other than raw damage. A skilled counterweaver can take a magical item with a peaceful use and turn it into a weapon of war by venting its stored magic. The final results of a completely vented magical effect is the same as a completely nullified or absorbed effect.

Spellbreaking: If a mage wishes to permanently remove a self-sustaining magical effect, he or she must find some way to sever the magical cords that cause the effect to take the shape it does. Doing so without first nullifying, absorbing or venting the energy surrounding such cords is dangerous, because when a spell effect is broken, raw magical energy is released.

Spellbreaking is usually used against infusions and runecrafted items, but unlike disruption, it can also be used against spellweaves, manifestations, and the effects of channelers who use shaping skills. Trying to spellbreak these effects releases energy the same way as spellbreaking an improperly drained infusion or runecrafted item. Because draining one of these effects will remove it as well, spellbreaking is almost never used on these effects, due to how undesireable magical explosions are.

Unfortunately, for a poorly-understood reason, the cords that sustain channelers themselves, soul-magic, and boons self-heal if severed, so spellbreaking is not effective against these types of magic.

Spellbreaking can further be effective against the -effects- of spellrunes and potions if one does not mind the resulting release of raw energy. Against the water of a potion or the object a spellrune is inscribed upon, spellbreaking is completely useless, and will in fact simply activate the potion or spellrune's effect. This is because these two methods of enchantment are specifically designed to create their intended effects when the cords storing their magical energy is broken, like a trigger.

The reason why disruption is effective against spellrunes but spellbreaking is not is because disrupting spellrunes involves changing the shapes of the runes until the runes are useless. The actual cords of energy in a spellrune-inscribed object are designed to flower and produce a new spell effect upon being broken/activated, the same way potion water is designed to create its effect when disrupted. Destroying the runes physically will disable this flowering, but spellbreaking the runes will not, and will simply cause the flowering to take place.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Regions: Habruk

The area branching north and west from the Eifalos mountain range is called Habruk, and it is one of the smaller geographical regions of Aarn. Normally, I would group an area as small as Habruk with one of the other regions of Zenninfal, but for historical, religious and racial reasons, Habruk is notable enough to be considered a world region in its own right. Originally, I used the word “Habruk” to refer to the entire northernmost Aarnian subcontinent. As my ideas of the setting changed, the eastern region of this continent became known as Zhanpai, and remained too culturally diverse from Habruk to maintain the whole continent as a single region. Now, “Zhanpai” refers to the entire northern continent instead of “Habruk.” The area I continue to call Habruk has become smaller and smaller over time, and now bridges a region shared by both Eastern Zenninfal and Western Zhanpai.

Habruk is the last refuge of the Habrukkan people, who are the direct descendants of the Tehxiona, one of the three original tribes of humans. These people are hardy, jocular and warlike, which makes them friends to be cherished and enemies to be feared. The Habrukkans have divided themselves into two distinct groups, the Sky Tribe who inhabit the coastlines and islands to the west, and the Deep Tribe who inhabit the mountainous mainland.

Regional Religion:

The Habrukkan division between Sky Tribe and Deep Tribe is a religious one. Though all Habrukkans recognize the same set of gods, those gods themselves are divided into Sky Tribe and Deep Tribe, constantly at war with one another. The Habrukkans themselves have simply aligned themselves with the gods and ideology they prefer, and wage the war on Aarn that they believe their gods wage in Heaven.

The gods of the Sky Tribe, to an outsider, would seem distant and judging. They are paternal figures (even the female gods) who claim to guide by example from afar. Paradoxically, the Sky Tribe gods are also seen as passionate and expressive. Their dogma seeks to repress sexual urges and encourage other forms of emotional expression. The gods often forget to follow their own rules, though. The mythology of the region suggests the gods follow a “Do as I say, not as I do” philosophy. These gods are as harsh and unforgiving as the northern winds and seas, but they also have a spectacular energy that inspires and makes the Sky Tribe Habrukkans strive for glory.

The gods of the Deep Tribe, conversely, are maternal and nurturing. They are warm and close, like the earth itself, but they do not seem to concern themselves with glory or honor. Deep Tribe gods are passive and dispassionate, content for things to continue as they are. These gods seek to encourage sensuality and drink in their followers, but their dogma does not hold other forms of expression and art in high regard. Artistic pursuits are seen as a waste of time and a waste of energy, when one could be digging a new tunnel or farming more food.

Naming Styles: The people and place names in Habruk sound similar to words in the scandinavian, uralic, and eastern slavic language families.

Major political factions:

Since the fall of the Jerolan Empire, there have been no true nations in Habruk. Instead, the people have divided themselves up into city states who war with one another just as consistently as they war with outsiders. Even two city states who follow the same tribe of gods have been known to war with one another.

Frejord: : The most important port city of the seafaring Sky Tribe is Frejord, a massive complex of wooden palaces, shipyards and docks. Originally it was a small port town on the southern cape of Freos, the largest island in the Habrukkan region. More recently it became an important staging area for Sky Tribe naval expeditions, and has quickly grown into the unofficial capital of the Sky Tribe culture. It is arguably the third largest pirate staging ground in the world, second only to Pellisar in the Eastern Islands and The Caserian Islands in the Jhettan Rim.

Kuulainen: Currently populated by the Deep Tribe, Kuulainen is considered one of the wonders of the world. Its interior is a tropical paradise maintained by magic, while the outside lands are snowy, harsh and unforgiving. Historians estimate that it was originally built by the Tehxiona, and the fortress itself may even predate the Aledoran empire, which would make it the eldest populated city in the world. Only very mindful care and constant upkeep has kept the fortress functional for so long.

When the Jerolan Empire conquered Habruk a thousand years ago, this city was the only part of Alatra that they could not claim. A combination of the environment and its magically sustained farms make the fortress impossible to siege. During the occupation, the fortress's Deep Tribe society accepted certain members of the Sky Tribe as a kind of asylum, but the demand for asylum easily outstripped the limited space in the fortress and its subterranean catacombs.

The city remained politically independent until the collapse of the Jerolan Empire three centuries ago. Although it was hated by the Habrukkan locals who were not allowed to escape inside, it was largely this fortress that preserved the Habrukkan “old ways.” The Sky Tribe members who sought asylum in the fortress have since been kicked out, which has made Kuulainen's inhabitants even more disliked by its neighbors.

Lovalta: Lovalta is a southern city-state in the temperate region of Habruk, which is at about the same latitude as the northern regions of Cerenbaun's Shanbar province. It has a proper summer, spring, and growing season, and while the area is not rich in resources, the soil is fertile enough for its inhabitants to be comfortable. Lovalta is famous for being a beacon of peaceful life in an otherwise war-torn region. As its population grew, its notoriety grew. At this point, it is so large that the entire region sees it as an almost holy neutral ground where Sky Tribe and Deep Tribe can commingle without fear of violence.

History: There have been at least three empires based out of the Habrukkan region, which historically makes it one of the most politically unstable regions of Aarn. The original Tehxiona inhabited much of Habruk and Eastern Zenninfal, and were eventually driven out of Eastern Zenninfal and back into Habruk by war with the Aledorans.

After the Aledoran Empire fell and the Era of Lies began, the Habrukans were the first human civilization to reach prominence again, their culture largely surviving the hardships of the Silent Era by waiting out the catastrophe in Kuulainen. They spread south and west, driving the remnants of the Aledoran people down into the islands of the Jhettic Rim and the Yesshan desert, where they interbred with the Rensvaja people to create the ancestors of the modern Yesshan race.

The ancient Yesshan empire of Yun used the islands of the Jhettic Rim to retake Western Zenninfal, driving the Habrukkans back east and north. The interbreeding between the native Aledoran refugees of those islands and the Yesshan warriors helped to create the ancestors of the Jerolan race, while the Igan race evolved out of the commingling of Habrukkan, proto-Jerolan and Kaipu people in Igakari. Even to this day, the barbarians of Rothysia continue to practice many aspects of Habrukkan culture, including speaking some of the language.

Several thousand years later, the Habrukkans had another revival. A group of them based out of Freos invaded Shanbar and the Hightrade Rim in Western Zenninfal. Their influence on the language and the culture of the area helped to give birth to the very first people to use the Jerolan name. After approximately 200 years of enslavement, the first true Jerolans drove the Habrukkans out of Western Zenninfal again, then began their conquest of the Jhettan Rim, Western Zenninfal, Yessha and Habruk, leading to the formation of the Jerolan Empire.

Magical Styles:

It is not surprising that the expressive Sky Tribe would specialize in divine magic, while the pragmatic Deep Tribe specialize in wizardry. Habrukkan divine casters practice their craft by singing, a fact that they are famous for. The raids of Habrukkan pirates are done from small boats that carry a great deal of warriors. Each boat has at least one divine caster, whose singing provides powerful, controlled wind that gives the boats unprecedented speed and maneuverability. These songsingers have even been known to rob the wind from the sails of their victims' ships.

Habrukkan wizards tend to specialize in alchemy and runic casting, using potions, scrolls and rune crafted items more than other kinds of magic. It may be that the cold of their environment reduces the dexterity of their fingers enough to inhibit proper spellweaving. It may also be that they prefer the hands-on, practical quality of magical items rather than the act of storing potential spell effects in their own auras. Habrukkans in general already enjoy tattooing themselves for battle, and many of these tattoos are used for enchanting their own bodies with runecrafted effects.

Major Conflicts:

Pirates from Frejord have been raiding the fishing villages and merchant ports of the Hightrade Rim. Locals have tried to petition Cerenbaun to provide protection with its powerful magically-driven warships, but so far the pleas and fallen of deaf ears.

Political strife in Kuulainen threatens to plunge the fortress city into civil war, and many outside forces wish to see this happen.

With increasing frequency, members of the Deep Tribe have decided to follow Sky Tribe gods. This has led to the permanent exile of a great many Habrukkans who are outcasts wherever they go within their homeland.

The fighting between members of the Deep Tribe and Sky Tribe have become increasingly common during recent years. There are calls on both sides for the other side to be completely eradicated. Some religious zealots believe such a conflict will be the start of the end of the world.

The island of Goldblood to the south is the site of a three-way war between the Sky Tribe and two Eastern Zenninfal nations.

The tunnels of the Deep Tribe which are expanding east have begun to intersect with the tunnels of the Lennshin which are expanding west. Tensions between the two godtouched races are high, and a violent conflict seems inevitable on both sides.

Points of interest:

Freos: The largest island in Habruk. It is cold and inhospitable. Its growing season is only 4 months long on the southern cape of the island, and farther north there is virtually no growing season at all. Its Sky Tribe inhabitants are largely sustained through fishing and piracy.

Alatra: Alatra is the local name for the cold, marshy coastline of Habruk. It is a surprisingly moist (if cold) environment. Some of the coldest marshes and bogs in the world exist in this region. Its highly irregular coastline and proximity to the sea helps to keep its temperature more moderate than it otherwise would be. The farmers in this area have two growing seasons, one for vegetables and grains, and one for fungus. Each season is about five months long, with a two month period of overlap.

Sevirska: The name the Habrukans have given to the region that includes the Eifalos Mountain Range and everything to the north of it. Due to both its altitude and its northern latitude, it is one of the most inhospitable, yet still inhabited places on Aarn. The communities that live here are almost all subterranean, sustained by a combination of magic and ingenious hydroponic gardens inside the deepest caves.

Nolevsk: The largest and most famous of the Habrukkan subterranean cities in the Sevirska region. The Deep Tribe members who live here are highly xenophobic and do not tolerate outsiders of any kind. Its full population is impossible to know, but some people claim that there are a full million people in Nolevsk and the surrounding caverns. What few reports have gotten out describe an entire world below the surface, complete with a “sky” painted with magic on the cavern ceilings, rolling hills with trees, grasses, and farms, massive stone castles hanging from the cavern walls and ceilings, and a huge subterranean freshwater ocean.

Rissenacht Sea: This large body of water is what separates Western Zenninfal from Habruk. It is famous for its thunderstorms and blizzards, and is very treacherous to navigate without magical aid.

Goldbood: This island could be considered a part of Eastern Zenninfal as much as a part of Habruk. It is inhabited by a large number of people who share Habrukkan lineage and culture, but it is also inhabited by Igans from the mainland nations of Ulda and Heirsenn. The island itself is very fertile, and a source of the most profitable gold mines of Aarn. This has made the island extremely desirable. As mentioned before, the southern Sky Tribe and the nations of Ulda and Heirsenn have been in a protracted, three-way war over their respective claims to the island and its gold. Any natives that Goldblood originally had were exterminated long ago by this conflict.

Climate: Much of Habruk is constantly cold and stormy as air from the northern Arctic Sea mixes with the relatively warmer waters of the Rissenacht Sea. Blizzards accompanied by lightning are so common in Habruk that there is even a bit of a tourist industry for outsiders to come and watch the storms. Habrukkan natives balk at anyone who has never experienced a Habrukkan storm, yet still has the gall to complain about the weather.

Godtouched Races: Humans (Habrukkan), Ardlins (Cave, Snow), Dragons (Frost, Metal), Lenneshin

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Godtouched Races: Skull Imps

The skull imp was considered a Camarian myth until quite recently. In all fairness to scholars who scoffed at the concept, skull imps are an entire race of creatures who are born death channelers. Because death channelers become unliving creatures over time, it was thought that a race of such creatures, if they ever did exist, would go extinct very quickly as they would have no ability to reproduce.

The paradox of the skull imp's biology lies in the fact that, unlike death dragons, skull imps have a functional society where individuals not only “live” and “die,” but also create new generations of offspring. No skull imp has ever been demonstrated to have any physical life processes, even at birth. They eat, but only to grow, reproduce and heal, and they do not defecate or urinate. A skull imp has no blood, and its mind, soul and body's animate nature are sustained only by its own magical power. Experimentation has shown that if a skull imp's magic is dispelled or blocked, it enters a state of suspended animation from which it will recover slowly. This works similarly to how a channeler's abilities or runecrafted effects will return over time if dispelled.

Skull imps are usually three feet tall, with diminutive, child-like proportions. They have been known to weigh between 50 and 100 pounds. The most common variety of skull imp appears female. These individuals have a skull-shaped carapace that forms over their face and scalp giving them the appearance of four eyes and two noses. This makes their already large head appear even larger. Their “skull eyes” usually glow a powerful red and provide illumination in the dark caves of their habitat, while their lower eyes and mouth glow a pale yellow.

This variety of skull imp has long and pointed ears, with a bent crook halfway up the shaft of their ears. On their bodies, their skin is taught over their bones. Vertebra, collar bones, ribs, shoulder blades and hips all protrude in unnatural ways. Their bodies however are not thin or emaciated, and in many cases they could be accurately described as “plump.” Their skeletal structures are simply exaggerated to a ridiculous degree. These skull imps also seem to have a short upwards pointing spike at the base of their spine, which resembles a short dog's tail.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing features of this type of skull imp is their thighs and biceps. These muscles have an odd shape to them, as if someone had literally butchered their arms and legs, pulling out 3-4 inch deep strips of flesh. This gives the impression that they are wearing long, ornate gloves along with thigh-high boots. The recessed area in these parts of their bodies are colored more red than the rest of their skin, which is usually dark purple, blue, white or black.

The hands and legs of skull imps in general tend to vary from individual to individual. Legs and arms are almost always colored red, as if to evoke the color of blood, but their shapes do not conform to any one particular style. Human-like hands and feet, scythe-like claws, bird-like toes, and even bone-shaped stilts have all been reported on the ends of skull imp limbs. In fact skull imps individuals are often named after the distinguishing characteristics of their limbs, examples being “Long-toe,” “Bent-claw,” or “Sharp-thumb.”

A less common variety of skull imp appears male and tends to be colored more brown than the cooler blues and purples of the “female” type. This skull imp has narrow shoulders and hips, a stooped posture, a prominent pot belly, and its head has only one “face.” Its entire head is shaped like a skull, and it has such a severe underbite that its lower jaw is hidden from view

Skull imp reproduction is poorly understood, but both the female-appearing and male-appearing skull imps have been observed to be “pregnant.” A skull imp who wishes to reproduce will usually find a partner to “help” with the shaping of the child, but this seems to be optional as their reproduction cannot truly be considered sexual. Parent-to-be skull imps will gorge themselves on on vegetative matter and the corpses of animals, and the new individual will spontaneously grow inside one of the two “parents.” Both the role played by the “helper” and the actual birth of the child are better left undescribed. The child that is “born” is biologically dead, and like its parents, is sustained only by its natural death channeling magic. It will grow over time, consuming only enough material to add to its body mass, until it becomes a fully-formed adult after a period of four years.

Skull imps have no known lifespan, though they have been observed to “die” of their own free will. Like any other godtouched they have been shown to have souls. These souls do in fact travel to the afterlife upon the “death” of an individual as well. Asides from their strange form of suicide, skull imps are also known for viciously killing one another when they wish to reproduce, in order to weed out the weakest members of the society. Perversely, they find these acts of violence both fun and socially acceptable. Death in skull imp society is seen as a natural progression from one world to the next, and those who wind up being killed seem to accept their loss in combat with dignity and in some cases even pleasure. Acts of cannibalism have also been observed when their cavernous societies are too far from the surface to reliably escape into the night to hunt for prey when one of them is injured or wants to reproduce. Such hunts are quite rare, but skull imps do require the occasional drink of water. They must keep their bodies supple to prevent mummification. Skull imps prefer moist environments, and do not tolerate desert heat well.

When skull imps wish to cast magic other than their natural channeling, they usually rely on divine magic. For being such insular subterranean creatures, the imagination and willpower of a skull imp is quite strong, which lends well to divine magic. Skull imps have reported that they worship Corsova, the Camarian god of disgust. Corsova is analogous to Western Zenninfal's god of perversion and undeath, Nektos. It is unknown how long ago skull imps were created, but it is possible that they are slightly older than humans, and served as a sort of prototype race for Nektos's plague of undeath. Skull imp myths report that Corsova sought to create a race of creatures of mischief and mirth, who would nevertheless disgust the and repulse godtouched races who already existed. If that was indeed His intent, it went brilliantly. It did not take long for the skull imps to be banished to “the bowels of the earth” in order to spare the locals of the area (predominately naga, valdrex, and ghorma at the time) from their perversions of nature.

Other than the violence, cannibalism and repulsive methods of reproduction, skull imps do seem to be a race of mischief and mirth as they claim. They have been observed to be so light hearted that they are almost schizophrenic. They revel in observing the expressions of disgust or repulsion in living creatures, especially when the living creatures are attempting to be diplomatic or dignified. They enjoy acting evil and playing up to the expectations of those who would judge them by appearance, but for the most part skull imps seem to have compassion. If a joke or spectacle has gone too far, they will usually attempt to coax their guests back into being comfortable, if only because they can then play another one of their jokes, or reveal more socially unacceptable things about themselves. It seems to be the transition between comfort and discomfort that they enjoy observing. It is the rare skull imp who finds raw fear, terror, pain, sorrow or desperation to be entertaining.

When interacting with one another, skull imps are quite expressive. To some researchers' shock and disbelief, they were seen to be singing, reciting poetry, creating macabre sculpture, making staggeringly provocative paintings on their cave walls, or waxing philosophic on the nature of life, death, undeath and unlife. At first it was thought that this behavior was another one of their practical jokes, but some works of art and subterranean architecture were shown to predate first contact with modern researchers. The researchers were forced to conclude that Corsova's sense of sophisticated humor should never be underestimated.

Since the skull imp's discovery, many individuals have ceased to see the point in hiding away underground. It seems that the contact with cultural researchers has rekindled their love of making other creatures profoundly uncomfortable, and many have left their caves in order to interact with the world. Skull imps are often mistaken for undead creatures (which they are not) and in many locations have been hunted and killed mercilessly because of their appearance and antisocial behavior. Still, skull imps who have traveled to the surface seem to take this hatred in stride. If they find a society hostile, they will simply leave to find the next one without holding a serious grudge. There have not yet been any reports of skull imp settlements outside of Camaria, but skull imp barmaids and singers have been observed as far west as Treddis, and as far north as the port city of Frejord in Habruk. This author humbly questions the wisdom of anyone who would hire a skull imp for a job that requires interacting with the public.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Regions: The Eastern Islands

Summary: Unlike many other regions, the Eastern Islands do not have a single cohesive language, culture, or pantheon. The cultures of islands and islanders tend to be unique due to their isolation, and while many inhabitants of the Eastern Islands use boats and travel from island to island, just as many don't.

What can be said about the Eastern Islands is that they are the remnants of a land mass destroyed by a magical cataclysm, perpetrated by the first major human empire. The natives tend to be exotic and insular, the flora and fauna unique and wondrous, and the many ruins of the islands filled with magical treasures beyond imagining.

Regional Religion: Most inhabitants of the Eastern Islands are primitive and tribal, so it is no surprise that many native religions are animist in nature. Unlike other Aarnian religious followers, many island tribes do not even worship beings analogous to the gods of the mainland. Instead, the beings worshiped as gods include spirit animals, undead spirits and local fey. It has been theorized that the fey worshiped as gods have not yet become true gods because their worshipers are too few, or perhaps the scope of the fey abilities too small. Still, some mainland gods have been introduced to the islanders through missionaries, explorers and colonists. Igan gods are worshiped in the west, the gods of Camaria in the southwest, and the gods of Zhanpai in the north.

Naming styles: The natives of the Eastern Islands tend to have names that sound as if they were from islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans, including aboriginal Australia. This also includes a handful of languages centered more in and around mainland Asia, such as Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean.

As an important cultural note, the name that mainland humans have given to the humans from the Eastern Islands, “Kaipu,” is seen by many natives as a racial epithet. The root of the word “Kaipu” is related to the concept of “easterner” in some of the more common languages of the islands, and the islanders who understand the word find it insulting to be grouped under an all-inclusive label. They do not consider themselves the same race as the mainlanders from Zhanpai (also called Kaipu), nor do they even consider themselves the same race as those who live on their neighboring islands.

Major Islands and Cultures:

Omuri: This island nation is a matriarchal society that has a somewhat flexible caste system. One's caste is decided by many factors, including parentage, sex, and order of birth, but the most important factor deciding caste is the free will of the individual. There are approximately 20 castes in the society, and a child will normally be able to choose from two or three of these castes when he or she comes of age. Children in Honruka belong to no caste, and have no name. They are referred to by their family names, with diminutives, honorifics and context helping to tell siblings apart. It is not until their coming of age ceremonies that children will choose their name, similar to how they choose their caste. The island is famous for its warriors, quality metal smithing and its governing council of wise women.

Ganswada: One of the southernmost and largest of the Eastern Islands, Ganswada is cohabited by humans and centaurs who share a complex legal code. Because the cohabitation is homogeneous, neither side could form its own nation. Instead, members of each race have their own set of laws and social codes they must follow when dealing with members of their own race, and a separate set of of laws when working in mixed-race groups. Strangers to the island often find themselves bewildered when a human can pick a fight with a centaur with no legal consequence, and a centaur guard will arrest its own kind for picking a fight with a human, but not for picking a fight with its own kind.

Although Ganswada is quite far from the mainland, it is equidistant between the coastal kingdoms of Zhanpai, Camaria and Eastern Zenninfal, which has helped it become a politically neutral trading hub between all of the eastern nations and kingdoms. It is arguably the most politically and culturally important of the Eastern Islands, and international agreements are often brokered there.

Xenda: The neighbors of this small island watch it carefully, out of both caution and fear. 90% of the soil of Xenda is fertile and farm-grade. Farmed crops grow large and trees grow fast, which provides its inhabitants with a nearly inexhaustible supply of natural resources. The animals of the island are tough, hardy and ferocious in order to put up with the natural defenses of the quickly-growing plants. This competitiveness also applies to the humans who live on the island, who have begun to build fleets of primitive warships. Several islands have already been claimed through warfare and slavery, and the Xenda people are on the path to creating a vast empire.

The Historical Territory: This massive area has been claimed by Igakari, and is constantly patrolled by its powerful warships. Staying true to their supposedly diplomatic ways, the Igans do not concern themselves with the natives or natural resources of the area, and are simply interested in the Aledoran ruins. The official Igan doctrine is that the ruins are “Of great historical and cultural importance to the human race as a whole, and only the Great Nation of Igakari can be trusted to reveal the secrets of the ruins with an unbiased and apolitical eye.” In theory, Igan scholars were supposed to have an unobtrusive presence in the area. In practice, corrupt ship captains, shortsighted scholars and obsessively myopic archaeologists have all succeeded in making the lives of the natives miserable. Of course, the surrounding “civilized” kingdoms in the area do not trust Igakari at all, but currently have insufficient political or military capital to do anything about the claim but fume.

History: The history of the Eastern Islands of Aarn is a hopelessly tangled web of inter-island trading, constant wars, and commercialization attempts by mainlanders. It is much easier to find two historians who disagree about the Eastern Islands than who agree, though the islands themselves are extremely populars sources of research. There are scholars and sociologists who see the Eastern Islands as a model for the birth of civilization, and study the vast tangle of island politics closely. There are also archaeologists and wizards who explore the islands hoping to uncover the hidden secrets of the Aledorn people, despite (or perhaps because of) the mortal dangers associated with such research.

Magical Styles: The mages of the Easern Islands are overwhelmingly divine, with thousands of different casting methods. Some of the more exotic methods of casting include whistling, burning one's one flesh, acts of sexual depravity, eating sacred fruits, putting on masks and wearing animal skins, and making silly facial expressions.

There are very few wizards due to the lack of education, though there are a handful of tribes who practice wizardy in small amounts, in the same way an under-educated tribe of third-world natives might practice chemistry or electrical engineering.

Major Conflicts: If you throw a stone in the Eastern Islands, you'll hit a war or some kind of ethnic cleansing. Most of these wars are perpetrated by d'zonts or by humans. Centaurs are not comfortable on boats and ships, and their culture predisposes them to mostly keep to themselves. Ironically, the centaurs are the fiercest warriors of the islands; they have to be in order to survive without conquest.

Other troublemakers in the region include pirates, colonialists, missionaries, ornery dragons, mischievous spirit animals, opportunistic Ghorma who see the islands as a source of easily-stripped wealth, and ancient Aledoran horrors who still guard their temples and ruins ferociously.

Points of Interest

Pellisar: This island is a haven for pirates whose heritage consists of mainlanders of all colors and creeds. The pirates prey on the merchant ships who travel to and from the coastal mainland kingdoms. Most Aarn kingdoms consider Pellisar to be its own nation, though the pirates who live there see it less as a nation and more as a place of neutral ground for all pirate kind. Many wars have been declared against the island, but its easily defended coasts, natural resources and the sheer number of pirates calling it home have all worked against those who would like to see the Pirates' extinction. Pellisar is also the home of one of Aarn's largest slave trade operations, second only to the slave trade of the Valdrex themselves.

Hasperia: More a part of eastern Zenninfal culturally, Hasperia is an Igan colony close to the coastline. It is from this colony that Igakari conducts all of its business with the islands, including the managing of The Historical Territory.

Insett: This island is comically dangerous, and it is hailed as the most difficult place to survive in the world. It has practically no animal population, nor are there any permanent godtouched residents. Everything on the island is sharp, barbed, poisonous, or otherwise hazardous to the health of any and all seeking to explore it. It has been rumored that the island was originally the sight of an Aledoran biomancy lab, and its vegetative test subjects have overun the island over the thousands of years since the area became an island. An entire tourism industry has sprung up around the island, where foolhardy and suicidal adventurers attempt to “conquer” or “claim” the island for the sake of glory and prestige. In truth, everyone simply laughs at these adventurers for how stupid they are.

Assassins the world over see Insett as a mecca, and many travel to the island clandestinely to collect raw materials for their poisons.

Climate: The area covered by the Eastern Islands is massive, and covers a wide gamut between tropical, subtropical and occasionally temperate climes. Rain is plentiful, and only Ganswada has anything even approaching an arid climate. Unlike the mainland, much of the area is dominated by alternating seasons of hot, rainy, and cool weather. Beneath the waves, much of the continental plate has been shattered into cracks. In many places, pools of magma covering hundreds of square miles constantly bubble out of the ocean floor, making much of the area warmer and more stormy than it otherwise would be.

Native Godtouched: Ardlins (sea), Centaurs, Dragons (air, water, metal), D'zonts, Humans (Kaipu), Ghorma, Salamanders, Spirit Animals, Phoenixes.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A new world map!

One of the reasons the blog hasn't seen many new posts lately is I decided the world needed a slightly more polished and geographically original world map. The last few regional posts have been using the old map, which I became quite dissatisfied with about 3 months ago. Since then, I've been slowly working on a new map, and I just finished it about a halfhour ago.

Please click for the full sized image. The thumbnail doesn't do it justice, in my opinion, whatever that's worth. ;)