Ancient Lands: Magic

In the world of the Ancient Lands, there is only a single supernatural force at work. Life force, magic, spirits, souls; it’s all the same basic energy that is found inside and between everything. This energy is what gives living creatures their strength and make them grow and heal injuries and disease. It is also what creates the souls of mortal creatures and in places where the energies of the landscape are strong, they manifest in sentient spirits of great power.

The arts of magic are the mastery of the ability to not just call on the life energy within oneself, but to extend ones mental control to the energies around one and even inside other objects and beings. When casting a spell, a mage is sending a ripple through the energies surrounding him to manipulate the energies within creatures and objects to his desire, just as normal people control the energies within their arms and legs. Magic spells can make plants grow or move, split or shove away rocks, create lightning and set things on fire, and even take some control over other creatures thoughts. To be able to manipulate the life force and magical energies at a distance, mages needs to build up a reserve of energy separate from their own life force, which they accomplish by many years of training and meditation. Once this reserve is spend, they can no longer cast any spells until the energies are restored. People who have mastered magic, and creatures that are naturally magical, require almost no effort to regain their spend magical energy. Their energy reserve has become a natural part of their own being and during rest energies from the surrounding environment automatically move in to fill the void and restore the natural balance of energies. Compared to the amounts of energy in the natural world, even the most powerful spellcasters can store only such a small amount that there is no noticable drain of life force in the creatures and plants arround them.

Blood Magic

In the earliest days of the mortal races, the magical abilities of spirits and other magical creatures was not yet entirely understood and the earliest mages did not yet have the ability to create reserves of magical energies to power their spells. But they realized that magical energy and life force is essentially the same and in no other part of a mortal creature is its life force as strong and concentrated as in the blood. Not only could these early mages use the energy in their own blood to cast their spells, they could also use the life force of other living creatures.

When the more common forms of magic were discovered, this blood magic was soon abandoned. The storing of magical energies from the environment is not only much more effective, but also much less painful and gruesome. However, unlike many shamans and witches would like to believe, the traditions of blood mages never entirely disappeared and continued to exist in some small remote places for all the thousands of years. Pure, traditional blood mages are almost unheard of in the present age. The advantages of using the magical energies of the surrounding natural world are just too great for any mage to ignore. But there are still some advantages to blood magic, which allowed the ancient traditions to survive. By drawing the life force from their own blood, blood mages can significally extend their reserves of magical energy and even make their spells stronger and more powerful than they would usually be able to. And by using the life force of other living creatures, blood mages can have access to vast amounts of magical energy for prolonged rituals and large scale magical effects, that would take ordinary mages days or week. Because of the violent and gruesome nature of blood magic, most people regard it as savage and horrific, but contrary to common believes, blood magic itself does not have a corrupting effect on those who use it or are affected by it.

Demonic Energy and Corruption

Outside the natural world that consists of the material world and the Spiritworld exists a realm of infinite time and space that is simply called the Void. Just as there are spirits in the natural energies of the spiritworld there are also beings born from concentrations of the energies of the Void, called demons. When mages learn a way to create a connection to the Void, it allows them to draw some of its energies to their own world and use it as an additional source of magical power in addition to their own. With these energies they can create spells that can not be cast with magical energies of the natural world and it also greatly increases the number of spells they can cast before their reserves are exhausted.
However, the natural world and the Void are realms of completely different laws that are conflicting with each other and bringing energies from the Void into the natural world causes it to become warped and twisted, an effect known as corruption. The demonic energies are toxic to any living things that are affected by it. Mages who have mastered their use can learn to resist its effects and may show only very little signs of the massive exposure they recieve from many years of casting demonic spells. However the land around their homes and lairs becomes significantly affected, making these places hostile to all living things, turning them weak and sick and eventually killing them.

But corruption is not simply a drain of life force, but a warping and twisting of it, and corrupted life force is still able to support life, at least in a manner of speaking. When creatures becomes entirely corrupted but do not simply fall dead, they turn into the undead. Zombies and skeletons are corpses that have become powered by corrupted energy after their death, while those who have never really died become ghouls or wights. In rare cases, a person dies but the corrupted energies that have been part of him continues to exist as a faint afterimage of a creature known as a shadow. When the corruption has been so complete that the soul itself has become corrupted, it continues to exist even after the body has died as a wraith.

Why the right name and cover for a game is vital

I believe I’ve found what is possibly the worst name and book cover for an RPG I’ve ever come across.

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Atlantis: The Second Age (First Edition)

Doesn’t look so terrible? You probably think you’ve seen far uglier things before. But this isn’t about beauty, but appropriateness. The game is called Atlantis: The Second Age. What does that make think you off? A utopian society from the Golden Age of Greek mythology where people were enlightened and lived in pleasure and luxury? And look at the cover art. This women decked out in jewelry and in the background a map of a precisely geometrically constructed city with parks and palaces.

But why is this so terrible? Think about the assumptions you make what this game is like and how it plays? It certainly does not say action-packed Sword & Sorcery based entirely around mechanics that encourage and reward the players for outragous stunts and hot-blodded carnage, where your characters grow in power based on the awesomeness of their heroic deeds. A world where you can play as a hyper-intelligent gorilla with guns? But that’s what you actually get once you make it behind this cover and take a look at what’s inside.

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Atlantis: The Second Age (Second Edition)

The recently released second edition still carries over the legacy of this unfortunately boring name, but look at the cover! This is awesome! So much more better than the first edition that was the incarnation of boring. This one captures perfectly what this game is all about. Being a total badass slaying legendary monsters and adding their feared reputation to your own glory.

I quite like Barbarians of Lemuria as a lightweight Sword & Sorcery game. And while Atlantis is significantly rules heavier (though still quite moderate), there is so much more flavor and incentive to actually play an over the top Sword & Sorcery hero.

And let my say it again: Hyper-intelligent gorillas. With guns!

Movie Review: Reign of Assassins

Reign of Assassins is a Chinese fantasy movie from 2010. It’s a pretty classic wuxia movie (as far as I can tell as a casual viewer) with lots of deception, secret societies, doomed lovers, and of course lots of swords and kung fu!

f885e07de0b0a327b4248f49048246ceThe story is about a woman who was one of the most feared assassins of the Black Stones, a secret society of kung fu masters, who not only made the bad descision of trying to leave the order behind and start a new life, but also take with her a sacred relic which all the assassin groups are after: Half the body of the ancient monk Bodhi, the founder of kung fu. He is said to have been such a great master that even studying his mumified remains would allow anyone to reach nirvana, become the greatest master of kung fu in the whole world, and also gain all kind of other supernatural powers. When the Black Stones found the hiding place of one half of the body and attacked the people who had it, the heroine Drizzle snatches it away and disappears with the help of a surgeon who alters her face. Of course, her former master very much wants the body back and see her dead for betraying the Black Stones, and all the assassins of the society go out to hunt for her.

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Ancient Lands: Spirits

In the Ancient Lands are several other world than the one which is home to the humanoid races, but compared to many other setting, the entirety of all these realms is relatively simple. There are three main realms: The Material World and the Spiritworld, which form a pair of two mirroring, but not quite identical realms, and the Void, the endless and eternal space that lies beyond them. The Material World and the Spiritworld are not eternal or unchanging, and there might be countless others like them far out in the Void. This even seems very likely, though nobody has ever been able to find anything that would prove it.

Worlds

The Material World: It’s the world of physical matter and mortal creatures. By itself this matter is lifeless and inanimate, but both the forces of nature and the spirits if all living things are maintained by life energy that comes from the Spiritworld. Most of the Material World is an almost empty space in which countless numbers of stars and planets exist. Many of which are lifeless rocks, but there could still be many thousands covered in plants and wildlife. However, even the most powerful magic rituals can not allow a person to travel between them.

Spiritworld: On a first glance, the Spiritworld seems almost identical to the Material World and might even appear indistinguishable from it until obvious signs of its magical nature are encountered. However, in reality the Spiritworld consist entirely of magical life energy that takes solid forms almost, but not completely mirroring the environments of the Material World. Every tree, mountain, and lake has a counterpart in the Spiritworld, even though they might not look the same or be in exactly the same places. Events that affect the spirits of a place might be invisible in the Material World, but can lead to severe changes in the Spiritworld. Animals and humanoids are the exception, as their spirits exist entirely in their material bodies and is separate from the Spiritworld. Furthermore, all natural forces are much more powerful, including the strength of wind, the heat of the sun, and so on. This makes travels to the Spiritworld highly dangerous to mortal beings, as their bodies are not made to deal with such forces.

Underworld: The Underworld is not actually a separate realm of existence, but rather a different region of the Spiritworld. While what most people are calling the Spiritworld is the mirror image of the surface world, the Underworld are those regions that are mirroring the inside of the planet. Since the Spiritworld is not an exact match of the Material World, there are vast systems of interconnected tunnels and caverns that have conditions that could be survived for extensive amounts of time by mortal creatures with magical protections.

The Void: The Void is quite unlike any of the other realms. It’s the space that exist outside of the universes, and concepts of time and distance have no meaning there. While physical matter can be brought to the Spiritworld and Spirits manifest in the Material World, matter can not exist in the Void and is confined to its own universe. However, the Void does have energy and some sorcerers have managed to separate their souls from their bodies and take short peeks into the Void. At the beginning of the universe, an infinitly small fraction of the Voids energy started to form into matter, creating with it space and time, and eventually all life as it exists now in the Ancient Lands. Eventually, after billions of years, space, time, and all matter will again disintegrate into the primordial energies it was made from and return to the Void. This has happened countless times before, and will happen countless times again. Not just one universe at time, but a potentially infinite number, as the Void has no beginning and no end.

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Homeworld Remastered

Freaking Homeworld Remastered!

This is one of the most amazing videogames of all time. I remember when this first came out and it was mindblowing. Real Time Strategy … in SPACE!

It was actually not a very difficult or complex game, but one of the early ones which I still consider to be high art, like Shadow of the Colossus, Mirror’s Edge, and the like. If you havn’t played the original games before, I highly recommend getting this one when it comes out. If you do have played the games before, I don’t have to tell you to get this one.

As a slight embarasment, I actually never got much beyond the 7th or 8th level of just the first game, but probably got that far four times over the years. It’s simply that anytime I think “I really want to continue Homeworld again”, I want to start a new game, because even the early levels (or perhaps especially the early levels) are just so great.

Humanoids of the Ancient Lands

In the Ancient Lands, there are five main humanoid races that make up most of civilization in the setting, as well as five minor ones who live at the periphery in much smaller populations. This number doesn’t seem very low, but when you start counting monster races like orcs and goblins, a great number of settings have several dozens of intelligent humanoid peoples, with some even well exceeding 50. And once you also include other intelligent and mostly people-like looking spirits, demons, and undead, the numbers are getting much higher than even that very quickly. So with the Ancient Lands setting, I decided to really keep the numbers as low as I can get them while still including all the archetypes I like. Which actually wasn’t as difficult as I expected, since a lot of classic fantasy creatures are just very slightly different variations of the same idea. Merging trolls, ogres, and hill giants back togther takes no effort at all, and the result of fusing dwarves, halflings, gnomes, goblins, and faeries into a single creature actually got me a very interesting and fresh result.

Main Humanoid Races

Lizardmen: The Lizardmen are the dominant race of the Southern Jungles and Islands, with smaller isolated groups being found on islands and in marshes as far north as the Burning Mountains. They are on average a head taller than humans or elves and often weight twice as much, but some populations are of much more slender build. While not particularly fast or agile on land, they are very good swimers and divers and most often make their homes directly at the water. As the other races are concerned, lizardmen show few emotions or individual personalty and seem generally somewhat dull, but in reality they are not any less intelligent. The cultures of the lizardmen are among the oldest in the Ancient Land, with many of their realms predating even the earliest elven kingdoms. However, the people of most major cities consider the lizardmen to be stuck in the past and having reached the limit of their abilities. While many of the outlying tribes do indeed have no writing or barely any metal, the major cities hidden deeper in the jungles are just as advanced as any elven kingdoms.

Elves: The elves of the Ancient Lands are similiar in height to humans but tend towards more slender stature, with slightly pointed ears and large eyes. They can live well over 300 years, but a great number of them only reaches half that age due to disease, accident, or war. Elves have been living in the massive forests of the north for a very long time, but their oldest major settlements go back only 2,000 years. Most of their large cities in existance today are just over 400 years old, quite young compared to the ancient centers of lizardmen civilization. The elves of the North are often called wood elves, while a smaller group that lives in the Southern Jungles with the lizardmen is known as dark elves. Wood elves have brown skin and dark brown to black hair, while dark elf skin is ash gray and their hair ranges in shades from light gray to white and pale blond. Light hair colors in wood elves and humans almost almost indicate some dark elven ancestry. Elves are more closely related to humans than to any other humanoid people of the Ancient Lands and children of mixed heiritage are not unusual.

Humans: Until just a few centuries ago, humans were very rare in the Ancient Lands. Only two small isolated populations exist in the Far North and the Southern Islands, and they are so different in appearance that for a long time few people were aware that they were of the same race. Humans became one of the major humanoid people in the Ancient Land when elves started to trade with the lands far to the west and hired local human mercenaries to guard their caravans from hostile elven clans on the way back home to the coast. Eventually this practice led to a mass migration of human clans from the west, which are collectively known as the Vandren. A second, much smaller group of the same human people had migrated north a few centuries earlier and settled down in the Witchfens for unknown reasons. Only in recent years, with some Vandren traveling north along the coast from their new home in the Grasslands, have members of these two groups encountered each other again, and they generally don’t consider each other kin.

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Forget about creation myths

At the Giant in the Playground forum, I regularly take a look at the first outlines people have written for their own fantasy settings, either for RPG campaigns or other things like novels or webcomics. And much more often than not, these outlines start with how the gods created the universe, some war of the primordials, and the interference from hell. Which isn’t a completely stupid idea. When wondering where to start, why not start at the beginning? But I think in practice this approach to creating your own fantasy world is a rather poor one and won’t really get you anywhere.

god-creationEffective worldbuilding does not start at the beginning, but at the end. Unless you are creating a world just for the fun of creating a world, you have some kind of specific purpose for your world in mind, and usually also some general idea for it’s style. When worldbuilding is a means to an end, then it’s really the end where you should start. First think what kind of world you want to have at the end of your timeline. Think what climate you want to have, what kinds of people inhabit the world, what forms of societies and cultures there will be, and what the major themes will be around which the adventures of the characters will revolve. Only when you have established these things does it make sense to think about the origin of the world and the mythology around it.

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The Ancient Lands: The lay of the lands

The Ancient Lands lie on the eastern coast of a large continent, which runs approximately from North to South for about 2,000 miles. The northernmost parts, bordering the arctic sea, have a cold climate with long winters and don’t see the sun for about two weeks. The very south is covered by huge jungles experiencing heavy monsoon seasons. Most people live close to the coast and no more than a hundred miles from the sea, with civilization reaching farther inland only along the major rivers that run from the highlands and mountains in the west to the sea in the east. With wind predominantly blowing from the east, ships can relatively easily up the rivers for considerable distances. As there are very few roads in the Ancient Lands, almost all trade and long distance travel is done by ship. Only the caravans that bring goods from the human lands on the plains in the west form a major overland trade route. In addition to the major population centers on the coast, there are also thousands of islands of various sizes, of which a countless number is inhabited by elves, lizardmen, or humans, but an even larger number is completely unsettled and unexplored.

The Far North: In the very north of the Ancient Lands, between the arctic sea and a long mountain range that forms a natural border to the lands in the south, lies the little known homeland of the Mari, a small population of tall humans with pale skin and rich brown hair. While most humans in the Ancient Lands are the descendants of nomads who have arrived from the west only in recent centuries, the Mari apparently have inhabited this land forever and neither elves nor kaas have any legends of their first arrival. There are few trees in the Far North and very little grows during the short farming season, so the Mari live mostly from herding reindeer, hunting elks, seals, and whales, and fishing. Few traders make the long trip over the treacherous seas, but thick animal furs and whalebone are quite valuable in many lands to the south. The Far North is home to many strange spirits unlike those found anywhere else in the Ancient Lands, whose motives are very hard to understand even for experienced shamans and witches visiting from other lands.

The Witchfens: South of the mountains that protect the rest of the Ancient Lands from the worst of the arctic winter lies a large highland of fens and bogs known to the people of the surrounding regions as the Witchfens. Very few people ever go there as there is nothing to be found that would be valuable for trade and is home to all manners of dangerous and hostile spirits. Fog and light rain dominate the weather and during the summer it’s a breeding ground for huge swarms of insects. Despite being regarded as one of the most inhospitable places in the Ancient Lands, it has been home to a secluded group of small human tribes known as the Katra, who have arrived there less than a thousand years ago. While they look similar in appearance to the Vandren who have settled in much larger numbers in the south, and share a somewhat similar language, their culture has become entirely different and they regard each other and strangers. These people live in small villages made from uncut stones with earthen roofs and have only very little metal, which they seem to get mostly from raids on neighboring lands. A peculiar trait of their society is that each clan is not ruled by a chief, but instead only has a first warrior who is loyal to an Elder Witch. The witches are almost all female and are the real rulers of this dreadful land. They don’t leave their homeland and do not accompany the warriors on raids and it is most likely that their special relationship to the spiteful spirits of this land is the true reason why their people have settled there.

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The Western Forests: In the west of the Witchfens the swamps gradually turn into a forest of pines and firs that are part of the huge woodlands that cover most of the Ancient Lands. These forests, together with the northernmost parts of the great plains that lie beyond the western edges of the woodlands, are the homeland of the kaas. These beastmen are taller and stronger than either humans and elves and can wrestle easily with lizardmen – though it is rare that these two peoples meet – and are equally at home in the forests, the plains, and the barren hills they have inhabited for unknown ages. Sometimes they travel along the coast of the arctic sea in boats to trade with the Mari, but there are no roads that connect their distant homeland with the rest of the Ancient Lands. Mercenaries and explorers often travel south to the lands of the Falden and Vandren along old paths, but most of them are impossible to use with carts. To the other people of the Ancient Lands the kaas are a people of strong warriors hailing from a mystical land and they generally seem not inclined to talk a lot about their culture and traditions. There is also a small stronghold of Eylahen elves in the foothills of the northern mountain range, which overlooks the western end of the Witchfens.

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