Thursday, August 23, 2012

Worldbuilders' Guide, Part Three

Historian’s Guide to Aret and Ara

According to one source, the world of Aret was originally settled by neoluddite space travelers from Earth, including a number of people who we’d call gamers. These people found themselves on a world where magic was ‘easy,’ and it quickly replaced technology (which they used only grudgingly.) The elves, dwarves, halflings and other ‘native’ races are the result of intentional genetic manipulation of human stock to better survive the erratic climate of Aret before The Equilibrium, where the Font (the place where all magic intersects with the Prime Material Plane) spawned storms of wild magic, dead magic, and even anti-magic. This technology-based starting point is said to explain both why the occasional high-tech ruin is found, and why the language has words which should be meaningless to people not from Earth. (Spartan, for example, is a word which would require a Sparta in the history to be meaningful.)
Likewise, many of the deities of Aret are similar to Earth deities in name or appearance (some, such as Fortuna, have the same name, but are much more important in the Aretor Pantheon) and the explanation that the planet was settled by earthlings is a good explanation for this. Other explanations involve the idea that both Earth and Aret were settled by the same beings, or that both are reflections of the one true world.
The elves and dragons, who have been here since the beginning, tell a different story, that the humans, dwarves, gnomes and other older races, as well as technology that seems out of place, slipped into the world because of the world’s loose connection to the Border Ethereal, which regularly takes various peoples from other places (especially ships at sea and flying vessels) who’ve become lost on the Ethereal Plane, and dumps them onto the planet. This theory is made credible by the fact that those lost at sea or in airships on Aret regularly find themselves slipping into the Ethereal Plane, and many large ships have crews which include clerics or mages skilled in steering away from such rips in the fabric of space-time. The sea between Misty Cross and Northern Conteria is especially notorious for these such rips, and about one in four ships will encounter them if they attempt to go the ‘short’ way across the sea.
Ships, particularly airships, which find their way into Aretspace are often stuck because the laws of physics work ever so slightly differently here. The powders, oils and compressed gasses which fuel them are often non-explosive or even inert once they’ve transcended space and landed here. Even those substances which still burn often burn less effectively, and some ‘inert’ substances that should not burn explosively explode with impunity. With magic so effective and predictable, many of the technologies that rely on gunpowder or petroleum products in the mundane world are simply passed up or replaced with magic in Aretspace. Alchemists from other worlds coming into Aret find that this combustion suppression has something to do with the magic or the atmosphere, because in tightly controlled labs or small amounts the mixtures might work, but when scaled up, they often fail. Alchemists from other places have a -50% to their alchemy scores when trying to use them on Aret.


The most frequently used non-academic calendar on Aret is the civic calendar of Misty Cross, which dates the first year as the first year of peace after the Racial wars that tore the city apart. It is dated from the completion of the castle in the city center, and is frequently called PW, or Post War, with year before then going backwards (as with our BCE) and ending at year one PW. Before then, the city used the founding of the city (CF) itself as a start date,  having been founded (according to both the city mythology and Grey Elven historians) in the year 2056 PM (pre-Modern.) The castle, then, was completed in 2057 CF, or 1PW.
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, there exists a Grey Elven Calendar, a Shom-Rainian Calendar, a calendar that dates from the creation of the Equilibrium and several dozen others, each with a different set of abbreviations, but most commonly found without any such thing. Each of these gives the year in a different number, and only the Grey Elven and Misty Cross Calendars share a starting date.
In general, conversion between calendars works thuswise (pretending they all start on same day.) As if this wasn’t confusing enough, some of the more obscure calendars don’t even agree on what date it is now. :
                              Converting from
Converting to
Grey Elven Calendar (GE)
Creation of the Equilibrium (Eq)
Founding of Misty Cross (CF)
Shom-Ra/Haran (SH)
After Mage War (MW)
Misty Cross Calendar (PW)

The Equilibrium

1352 years before the city of Misty Cross was founded, the Equilibrium was created. The Equilibrium is an incredibly important aspect of magical culture (and, indeed, all culture) in Aretspace. Before it was created, frequent wild magic storms blew forth from the intersection of the two poles of magic (near what is now the Crystal Desert on the Continent of Tia.) Magic would sometimes surge in power, wiping out large areas of land, mages would find themselves overflowing with power one day (sometimes destroying themselves in the process) and completely without magic the next.
It was a hardscrabble and chaotic existence. Magical surges would generate monsters and areas of dead magic, flying castles would fall out of the sky, cities would sink into the ground, people would teleport into blocks of stone…not an easy way to live. Sometimes magic would disappear altogether, and using it would draw the innate magic out of the land around it, turning it to dust, other times, magic would surge so powerfully that it would leave a coating of a somewhat explosive residue on everything. This residue could be used to make something rather like a drug that boosts magic power and is incredibly illegal in Aretspace. This substance, Rhizen, absolutely does not exist, according to all official sources, and if you ever encounter it, you should tell someone in The Inquest.
Aaron Blackheart[1] (or so the legends say), who would come to be known as “the mad mage,” traveled across space and time learning about how magic worked in other places and eventually ended up on the elemental plane of magic. How he survived there is anyone’s guess, but one legend is that he was a descendant of some sort of metahuman family. Certainly the Blackhearts and their descendants have had a habit of living two, even three hundred years, but whether this is magic or something else is up for debate. However he survived, when the Mad Mage came back to Aret, he would sculpt the magic of the land into The Divine Balance, a rigid balance whereby magic pours into the world in the form of a font of power, tended to by a Mage-King, initially Trinian the first. Within one hundred years of the creation of The Divine Balance, a group of mages known as “the Hand of Divinity” managed to wrest the entirety of  the font over to the power of what they considered Good, and for forty years the magic of the world, and indeed, the world itself, was ruled over by the Sorcerer-King Belian the Bold (known as Bel).
Bel managed to set himself up as a minor deity, enforcing his ideas of justice and good upon the world. While this worked out well for the friends of Bel, it drove massive wedges between the humans and other races of the planet, resulting in a massive decrease in numbers among elves in particular, and setting up a number of race-based wars, with humans and approximately half of the planet’s Dwarves (and nearly all that would survive) fighting for The Sorcerer-King.
Bel’s magical abilities allowed him to see inside the hearts of men, and he ‘destroyed’ evil by simply wiping out evil beings where he found them, without trial, without jury, without even law. He would go into a household, find an infant who would grow to be evil, and dash that child’s head upon the rocks. Progressively he grew madder and madder, and because of his powers, the world went mad around him. This time period, called “The Black Forty” or even “the age of darkness,” reduced the population of the planet to around 5% of its population beforehand.
One area, in what is now Kelara and the Unclaimed Lands, enraged Bel so much that he caused the entire land to be cast under a cloud of darkness that would not end for nearly 2500 years. He threatened to extend this darkness (called The Mists, or sometimes The Murk) over all the lands that did not comply with his demands. This cloud killed everything that breathed it, and shore off buildings at their foundations. It was elves in particular that were Bel’s target, although sources disagree as to why the elves provoked his wrath (one source claims there was an advanced and thoroughly evil elven subrace, similar to drow but more prone to work together, at the heart of Kelara.) Certainly there are many ruins of temples to evil powers within Kelara which support this belief, but there are also many ruins of temples to deities of good found there, and the remains of large human cities, and places where the races clearly lived together in peace.
As Bel went madder and madder with power, he became focused inward, and this allowed a small group of very powerful figures, including Uvala and Astra, then two fairly limited deities, to attack him, with the help of Aaron Blackheart and the Elven King Vanithil Tyllnion, and at least one elemental of pure magic. At least ten others were involved, but their names are lost to history, or hidden. Bel ended up divided into two separate beings and removed from the Prime Material Plane (he would later end up as the deity Bel the Two Sided) and the font itself was divided into three sections, two parts representing the directional magics, and a third part which would empower the cautious balance between all three, which would come to be known as The Equilibrium. (The planet Ara would be pulled into its current position during this, but that is another story.)
In order to keep the balance, Blackheart selected the two most powerful and least alike mages he could find and bound them to the respective fonts, before binding himself to the third. All three mages would slowly be consumed by the fonts, but not before bestowing their students with the maximum amount of power possible without causing their destruction. The fonts, to this day, retain a great deal of the personalities of those three mages, and these personalities (and alignments, to a degree) greatly flavor the Mage-Protectorates. This is why, although it is technically not accurate, the Mage-Protectorates are said to control the demesnes of good, evil and neutrality. (Some of the most potent mages in history have actually been ‘cross wired,’ having a good alignment, for example, but the “sinister” handedness.) Throughout history the names of the demesnes have gone from ‘good, evil, and neutral’ to ‘white, black and gray,’ and even ‘dexter, sinister and balanced.’   Depending on the historian, and the fashions of the day, you may hear all three.
A Mage Protectorate is largely like a transformer on an electric grid. Power flows from the Elemental Plane of Magic, through the font, to the Mage Protectorate, and is distributed through him (or her) to all the mages in the world who use that flavor of magic (match the Mage Protectorate’s handedness). S/he is bestowed with enough knowledge and prescience to be able to control the flow, stopping The Equilibrium from failing.
The Equilibrium has failed three times, and wavered a few hundred times in its existence. In all three failures, a Mage-Protectorate found a way to tap into the energy of one of the other fonts. Each time The Equilibrium has failed, at least two Mage-Protectorates had to sacrifice themselves to get it back ‘up and running.’ When the Equilibrium is down, there is no magic in the world, save that stored in items or people. Items cannot be charged, spells cannot be memorized, and very bad things begin to happen. Every mage on the plane, including other creatures which use magic, feels when the Equilibrium wavers or fails. And they know that it is bad.
After the last failure, the Mage Protectorate of Neutrality developed “The office for the protection and defense of the Equilibrium, and for the destruction and prevention of any and all threats to the Equili-brium, by means of Scrying and Inquest,” generally known as The Inquest. Although politics have driven them out of the public eye on more than one occasion, they do exist, and no one wants to be on their bad side…All they do is protect The Equilibrium.

[1] It’s well established that the name derives from the black hart on the family’s coat of arms, and was changed some generations before. A common claim is that they are descended from the Lockeharts, notorious pirates with similarly long lifespans.

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