Blog #4: Magic and the Planes, Part 2

Hi apprentices,

Now, on to Part 2 of our discussion of all things magic in TAG: the otherworldly planes beyond Terryn and the fantastical inhabitants of our setting.

Buckle up, because this one’s taking us far from Freestone!

Arcana: Cosmology

The universe of The Adventurers Guild is populated by mysterious otherworldly “planes,” strange worlds that are the origins of both magic and monsters. There are seven known planes, grouped into two categories — Inner and Outer — though there may be planes that are yet undiscovered.

In Freestone, the days of the week are named after these seven planes, similarly to how ours are named after the planets: Terday, Feyday, Fieday, Luxday, Noxday, Asterday, and Morday.

Inner Planes: These planes are closest together, making it easiest to draw magic (and Dangers) from them.

Terryn, the world, where the story of the books takes place. Anima, or life force, originates in Terryn. Creatures from here are called natural and generally aren’t categorized as Dangers, even the dangerous ones.

Fey, the faerie plane, enchanted and lush, from which wizards cultivate their mana. Dangers from here are called faeries or fey, or elementals. Some believe that the elves once originated in this plane, though their time in Terryn has changed them greatly.

Fie, the infernal plane, from which fiends and djinn originate. Warlocks gain their power by forming pacts with the more powerful and intelligent of these creatures. A tumultuous and fiery place.

Outer Planes: The outer planes are more removed and mysterious. Uncanny abilities can be culled from them, but the nature of this power tends to be harder to shape than mana.

Lux, the plane of order, logic, and light. Dangers from Lux are mechanical and sometimes have angelic-looking wings. Automatons, golems, and seraphs all originate from Lux, as do the runes that are used by the dwarves. No “living” creature has ever emerged from this plane — only automatons powered by runes. Even the winged seraphs are mechanical, except for their great feathered wings.

Nox, the plane of chaos, chance, and shadows. Once, there were people who could draw uncanny luck from this place, though manipulating good fortune always came with an equal cost of bad luck. Dangers originating from here are stealthy or indistinct. Some are simply living shadows, while others are shapeshifters, chimeras, and werebeasts.

Astra, the plane of the mind. Dreams are said to originate from this cold and starry place, though little else is known of it. Ancient psions were once able to harness the forces of Astra to provide them with odd psychic gifts: telepathy and telekinesis, psychometry and memory alteration, and even mind control. Reportedly, many psions who explored the powers of Astra too deeply succumbed to madness. Monsters from Astra are often horribly jumbled and disfigured, inflicting madness on their victims — or they are psychic creatures of impenetrable intelligence that strip away the wills of their thralls.

Mort, also known as the Gray Gate, or the plane of the dead. No Dangers originate from this plane. Rather, the power that spills from it causes the dead in Terryn to rise, and can be harnessed by necromancers to force them into service. Ghosts, skeletons, zombies, and vampires are the results of the Gray Gate’s opening.

Arcana: The Fantasy Races of Terryn

Humans, elves, and dwarves are the races we most commonly meet in Terryn, but the world once flourished with a diversity of fantastical peoples, inspired by Nick and my favorite fantasy stories and games. We hope to someday explore the other surviving cities beyond Freestone, and learn a bit more about these folk.

One of the questions Nick and I sometimes get on school visits is whether children like Zed — who is half-human and half-elf — can be born from pairs of other ancestries, like humans and dwarves or even dwarves and elves. While rare, the answer to this is a resounding yes! The child of a human and a dwarf would be called a halfling in this setting, or dwarf-blooded among the humans of Freestone. Halflings generally present as small humans — they have the dwarven height, but not their robust constitutions. Once, whole communities of them lived in underground homes carved into sprawling hills, broken into governments called shires. They were renowned for their kindness, curiosity, and hospitality.

The child of an elf and a dwarf would be a gnome: a small, thin, spritely person inheriting both the elves’ knack for magic and the dwarves’ keen ingenuity. Though even rarer than elf-blooded and dwarf-blooded peoples, the gnomes of history were often regarded as geniuses of enchantment, mixing magical and material talents into wondrous inventions.

That ends our lesson! Feel free to contact us with any questions you have about this setting. We can't promise we'll answer — some of these might reveal secrets or spoilers — but we're always happy to talk about the world of TAG!


Blog #3: Magic and the Planes, Part 1

Hi apprentices,

It’s been a long time coming, but finally it's time to discuss the magical workings of The Adventurers Guild. Here I’ll dive a bit deeper into all things magic in our series: wizards, witches, healers, and the mysterious planes beyond the world of Terryn.

This is a long one, so I'll be splitting it into two parts for easy digestion. Hope you brought an appetite for the arcane.

Arcana: Magic

Magic can mean different things, depending on the fantasy property you’re reading, but in our world it refers to spells that are crafted using a resource called mana. Mana is a personal, invisible energy that allows the weilder to direct powerful forces through spells. Most mana comes from establishing a connection to either Fey or Fie, the Inner Planes (more on these in the next post), though sorcerers are born with an innate reservoir of mana that derives from neither.

There are multiple ways of tapping into the planes to gain access to magic and magic-like abilities, but the only socially acceptable mages in Freestone are wizards, and to a lesser degree, sorcerers. The abilities of healers, necromancers, and druids are not actually considered magic by official mages, since they don’t use mana, even though they have magical qualities. To most laypeople in Freestone, however, if it looks like magic, and it quacks like magic, then it’s magic.

Wizards: Wizards use the mana of Fey to power their spells. They learn magic through study and meditation. Wizard spellcasting is extremely organized. Each spell’s complicated formula must be memorized and then given shape with signs — words, gestures, symbols, or approved items — and mana. If performed right, the effects of each spell are ordered and distinct. All wizard spells have names and are categorized into “levels”, depending on their difficulty. Particularly useful spells tend to be named after their creators.

It’s commonly believed that wizards develop mana for casting spells through their meditation. In truth, every apprentice must successfully perform a ritual to summon a sprite — the weakest of known Fey creatures — and have it unlock a small font of mana for the aspiring mage to then build upon by meditating. Any further attempts to summon creatures from the other planes is forbidden, however.

A sorcerer who can sense wizard magic would experience it as smelling faintly of mint.

Warlocks / Witches: These spellcasters gain their abilities through pacts made with the creatures of Fie, usually on purpose, though sometimes accidentally. Mana culled from fiends, djinn, and other warlocks tends to be much more volatile, and even addictive. A warlock can’t build upon mana with meditation like wizards can — only by making more and more dangerous pacts. Their spells are perhaps the least understood of any magical tradition. Knowledge of their workings is outlawed, and even so, the beings who impart such secrets only ever do so at a cost. A witch’s magic is imprecise, but can reach levels of power unknown to wizards. Warlocks typically employ fewer spells than wizards, but the ones they use are brutal.

Ever since Foster tried his world-destroying ritual to broker for more power, all but destroying Terryn in the process, witches and warlocks have been banned from Freestone. Anyone convicted of being one is put to death.

It's worth noting here that mana of Fey and Fie are magically immiscible — meaning they don’t work well together, sort of like oil and water. A spellcaster cannot use both at the same time. So a wizard who wishes to become a witch or warlock has their Fey-based mana emptied as a result of any pacts. It's still possible for them to cast wizard spells using fiendish mana, but the effects are often more erratic — and more powerful. History is full of lackluster wizards who were accused of witchcraft when their usually mediocre spellwork gained sudden potency.

Warlock mana has a sulphurous odor to the magically sensitive, rather than the usual minty smell of wizard magic.

Sorcerers: Sorcerers and sorceresses are rare individuals born with an innate font of mana, which they develop with practice. Once, all elves were sorcerers, although this is no longer true. These spellcasters treat magic like an art form rather than a field of study, relying on talent and practice rather than memorization and meditation.

The scope of their spells is also more specialized than wizards. Many sorcerers experience a natural disposition toward one particular “element” like fire or lightning, or a magical “theme” such as illusion, teleportation, or augury. The effects of their magic often don’t have formal spell names.

Some sorcerers, like Zed, can sense both wizard and warlock spells, and their inborn mana makes them capable of interacting with both kinds (as much as talent and opportunity allow).

Dwarven resistance: Dwarves, for unknown reasons, are resistant (but not immune) to magical effects. Dwarven wizards and warlocks have existed, but are extremely rare — about as rare as human sorcerers. There has never been a dwarven sorcerer.

Runes: But the dwarves do have an ancient and storied tradition with runes. Unlike wizardry and witchcraft, runes are believed to draw their power from the plane of Lux. In fact, the dwarves first learned of runework by studying the symbols that were drawn onto the Dangers from that plane. (See: Cosmology.) They can use these runes to enchant inanimate objects, creating magical effects on weapons and armor that never fade, or even in creating golems and other lifelike automatons.

Wizards and warlocks are capable of casting a spell upon a weapon to enchant it, but the mana will eventually fade unless continuously fed. The effects of runes never fade, as long as the runes themselves are kept intact. For this reason, dwarven runes are considered the very best enchantments in the world, and the secrets of their creation are closely guarded.

Enchantments / Focuses: A focus is a physical object that can be used to heighten and sustain a powerful or long-term spell effect, as long as mana is continuously added to it. Many focuses are crystals, as the ordered nature of the crystal’s structure lends itself well to capturing and directing mana.

Technically, however, any item enchanted with non-runic magic is considered a focus. Weapons and armor so enchanted are very valuable, not just for their magical properties, but also for their durability. (When mana is present inside an item, it becomes extremely difficult to damage.) Once drained, however — or if filled with two conflicting types of mana from Fey and Fie — the item is once again made fragile enough to destroy. Runic enchantment has the same effect, but the runes themselves must be preserved. If a rune is scratched out, the effect fades.

Certain materials (such a mythril, wood, bone, and crystal) are more receptive to magical enchantment, and some (such as iron and silver) are resistant to it. Steel is of medium receptiveness (the carbon helps offset the iron), and orichalcum (also known as “dwarven steel”) is entirely impervious to conventional magic, though very receptive to runic enchantments.

Healers, druids, and anima: Healers use a force separate from mana to power their abilities: anima. Anima is life force, and exists within all living creatures, though most will never develop it enough to wield its power. Before the Dangers, different cultures called this force different things: spirit, ki, prana, and other names now lost.

In Freestone, the brothers and sisters of the Golden Way are the only people capable of using anima, developing it through a strictly disciplined life of poverty and training. These monks and nuns can use their own anima on living tissue — healing wounds, granting strength and endurance, helping to cure diseases, and even purging the body of harmful magic. Anima can be dangerous to use in this way, however, and overexerting it can result in exhaustion and even death. When used, anima gives off a warm golden light.

Druids were once capable of calling upon anima, though they used it differently. Through a connection to Terryn, druids could use the anima in other living things — such as the plants and animals around them — to create wondrous effects that usually involved nature and the elements. The particulars of this art have been lost to time, however.

Necromancers: Necromancers once harnessed the energies of the plane Mort to raise and control the dead. Necromancy was among the most reviled of arts, not only for its gruesome results, but because of the destructive nature of Mort’s power. Those who used too much of it found that they themselves began to fester and rot, slowly transforming into undead creatures known as liches.

Liches were ruthlessly intelligent monsters, obsessed with mortality. Their sole motivation was adding the living to the ranks of the dead.

That's it for the magic portion of our discussion. Next up: the mysterious, otherworldy planes!