Friday, July 26, 2013


I can't recall if I've written something like this post before about sorcery and stuff, but here goes. 

Sometimes it's easy to forget that Hekinoe is a high fantasy campaign. There's a lot of focus on the industrialization of The Known World and sometimes sorcery takes a back seat to that and it's easy to forget that it's incredibly common and prevalent. Especially when the first campaign resulted in precisely zero magical gear being used or looted by the players. If you squint, you can just pretend the weird races are aliens or something and that sort of thing. Besides, no one ever really makes a big deal out of Karl's webbed fingers or the fucking glowing runes etched into every inch of Karrak's flesh or the fact that Eran never fucking blinks because he has nictitating membranes over his vertically slitted cat eyes or that Donovan has skin that is white like a piece of college ruled paper and gemstones for eyes and his hair is actually thick tendrils of crystalline fibers. 

Crimany, this group is like a fucking collection of rejects from the extras on the set of the cantina scene where Luke and Obi-wan meet Han and Chewie.

Anyway. Sorcery.

Sorcery is common and cheap in The Known World. I've got a pricing table for magic stuff somewhere in my files, but we'll just say it's all cheaper than normal. Because sorcery is unreliable. But Hekinoe is a high magic campaign, despite the heavy industrialization. So sorcery is all over the place. A little note about terminology, sorcery is the catch all term for magic of any kind. Most regular folks of The Known World don't use the word magic because it's not really called magic in The Known World, it's called sorcery. Additionally, any practitioner of sorcery is referred to as a sorcerer. Non-PC characters don't use words like Wizard, Rogue, Fighter, etc to describe people and their profession unless it's appropriate to the conversation. Like "That guy's a helluva fighter, put down ten marks on him KOing the other guy." When someone says something like "That bloody handed bastard is the most powerful sorcerer I've ever seen!" It doesn't mean that the bastard in question is a Sorcerer and has bloodline abilities, a high Charisma, and is an intuitive caster. It means that at some point the bastard in question has used sorcery in a powerful way. Which could mean he is anything from an Alchemist to a Wizard. Though Alchemist seems unlikely, as their bombs could easily be mistaken by a regular Joe as grenades or something, and their abilities tend to be somewhat subdued when compared with the abilities of a Sorcerer or Wizard. 

So in a normal high fantasy campaign, magic is common and reliable. In The Known World/Hekinoe magic is common, but unreliable, and warps the flesh of those that wield it. So how does that affect sorcerers and such? The warping of flesh isn't such a big deal really (with certain caveats) when you consider the fact that Sereth and Vyanth look horrifyingly weird and alien by our real world standards and they don't elicit much of a response in melting pot places like Kusseth (thinking about it, Kusseth is really the only true melting pot in The Known World). It does serve as a pretty strong indicator that you are a practitioner of sorcery, or are a Fell Human of some degree, though. So any sorcerer (or Fell Human, or Fell Soulless, or Sereth, or Vyanth, or Child of Volung, or Dwenoren, or Soulless, or Rankethlek, or Fallen, or Glenwighta) wandering into The Plains of Dust or The New Empire needs to take precautions if he doesn't want to end up burned at the sake (or find himself chained to an anvil in a special type of forge witch hunters make specifically to melt down and unmake Soulless and Rankethlek). 

The unreliability is a whole other story. Because sorcery is so prevalent, because there are multiple sentient and powerful races who are imbued with sorcery (Soulless, Fell Soulless, and Fell Humans) there are almost no places outside of The New Empire and The Plains of Dust where merely being a sorcerer is a crime. In most places, using sorcery in public around other people is akin to how we look at drunk driving. It's dangerous and has risks, and is sometimes horribly deadly and will get you in trouble with the law if they catch you in the act. But it happens, and happens a lot, and most of the time it goes unpunished. Whurent, Steeltown, and the Fremwightan enclaves outlaw the practice of sorcery within cities (or city, in the case of Steeltown), but they don't violently hunt down known sorcerers. They do punish practitioners that cause misfire catastrophes pretty harshly though. 

In The Beast and Wild Lands, where the shamans are part of a clan's leadership, they use sorcery only when necessary or only in specific areas, at least the good guys do. As I've said recently, there are plenty of nasty sorcerers hiding out in the woods, and they have no fucks to give about what their misfiring spells may do to others. Things operate in a similar fashion in Serethnem. The desert, now becoming a former desert, has plenty of wide open spaces to practice sorcery without risking harm to the clan. In Vyanthnem and The Fell Peaks, those countries are basically magocracies with most of the population practicing at least some small degree of sorcery on a daily basis. To these races, when magical disasters that occur because of misfires happen, there's no admonition of "you are bad, sorcery is dangerous" laid against the sorcerer responsible. They look at the side effects of misfiring magic the same way we do floods and bad weather. It happens. Sometimes it is horrific and destructive, sometimes a mere inconvenience, but there's nothing anyone can do about it and no one you can hold responsible and punish. Sorcery is sorcery. But, that doesn't mean they don't prepare for disaster. These countries have outfits similar to fire departments and EMS and whatnot that prepare for and mobilize for sorcerous misfiring disasters. Just because they're magocracies where sorcery is widespread doesn't mean they're Lawful Stupid and don't take precautions against it.

Kusseth is a bit different. Kusseth is big on fines and taxation. Any spellcaster wishing to practice sorcery within city limits needs to pay a monthly fee to do so to the city he inhabits or is passing through. If he is found to be casting sorcery without a license, he receives a fine. If he is found to be responsible for a magical misfire and does not have a license to practice sorcery, the punishment is a fine and immediate incarceration in the penal labor force. This incarceration carries an option of amnesty if the felon is willing or capable enough to enter the ranks of the wardens sorcerous. In a situation with a licensed practitioner of sorcery causing a misfire related disaster, it results in a heavy fine. However, there is a second tier of license that is significantly more expensive that a sorcerer may purchase that makes him exempt from this misfire fine. Typically, in situations where a misfire occurs and causes property damage or loss of life and that sort of thing, the city pays out a chunk of change to the victims. It should be noted that actually receiving compensation is a long and drawn out process that typically involves lots of red tape and significant meetings with officials and rescheduling of meetings with officials and so on and so forth.  

The Fallen Empire of Man is similar to Vyanthnem and The Fell Peaks, but a little more restrained. The Fallen are ancient and have been using sorcery for a long time, so they are well aware of the risks of unrestrained use. Misfire related disasters are not punished, but foolishness is. The Necropolis is a big city, and the Fallen are a very small population. The city is like a ghost town in most parts, with the only citizens being patrols of zombie herders and Soulless in some areas. So there are lots of empty places, and a lot of these are designated free fire zones. If a Fallen is found to be practicing potent sorcery (higher level spells are more unreliable and most of the effects of misfires are level dependent, so more powerful sorcery equals more powerful misfire) in a foolish fashion outside of these designated areas, he is imprisoned for a period of time determined by his peers. The Fallen are undead, so they don't have a lot of needs, but the one thing they have an excess of is time and being deprived of that can really be a big pain to them. They may take the long view of things because of their undeath, but while they sit in a cage, they may rot away to nothing and it may be interrupting important research or plans they are working on. The sentences for imprisonment tend to be lengthy because of the fact that Fallen are undead/immortal and because it can be such an inconvenience to them. Can you imagine being sentenced to a hundred years in a cage, never sleeping, never eating, never shitting, having nothing whatsoever to occupy yourself with or kill time with except staring off into space? Yeesh. 

In Volungshemle, sorcery is viewed as a weapon and misfires are viewed as a failure of the wielder. Warriors choose to pick up their weapons and if they don't know how to use them, they may injure themselves or others. If a sorcerer causes a disaster or a misfire harms or kills others, the sorcerer is punished as if he had killed or destroyed whatever is affected by the misfire. There aren't laws stating sorcery may not be used inside of cities or around people, but the Children are pretty good at policing themselves. Most Children don't take too kindly to sorcerers risking the lives of those around them just by casting spells nearby and most Children are all too happy to walk up to a sorcerer and break his jaw for casting spells around people. It's a really informal system that is enforced pretty well by the violent and angry nature of the Children of Volung.

That's all kind of a rough outline of how sorcerers are treated in The Known World. Sorcerers run the full range we see in film in literature. Wise and noble hearted Gandalf types, manipulators and power amassers like Maleficent or Emperor Palpatine, heroes/lawman/good guys like Dresden, tricksters like Rumpelstiltskin, planners and plotters like Mordenkainen, etc etc. Some are hunted and have been running all their lives. Some don't care what their practices do to others, others live with that always at the forefront of their minds. Some are physically broken, others hold all their warped flesh on the inside, others wear it as a badge of pride or hide under heavy robes. 

One thing we see in some fantasy worlds is the idea of an arcane school. Places where spells and the casting of them is taught via curriculum and that sort of thing. This occurs in The Known World as well. Most often in The Fell Peaks, Kusseth (where Kusseth taxes the fuck out of it), and Vyanthnem. They're unnecessary in The Fallen Empire, everyone that knows and can use sorcery has already learned enough to not burn themselves to cinders. In Serethnem, The Beast Lands, and The Wild Lands it is typically more of a master and apprentice or apprentices situation and more informal than a school. There aren't any formal schools in Volungshemle, but there are masters and apprentice situations, though they're a little more stealthily performed than they would be in The Beast or Wild Lands. In The Plains of Dust and The New Empire there are no schools, but people learn what they want to learn so teaching exists. It becomes more like a cult or secret society than a school though. Lots of coded phrases and concern over spies and narcs and that sort of thing. A similar kind of thing happens in Kusseth, as the taxes are high and not everyone wants to pay them. No schools exists in Steeltown, but practitioners of sorcery exist there, so it is likely that there are masters and apprentices, the same goes for the Fremwightan enclaves. Whurent does have formal schools for the teaching of sorcery, but they adhere to the rule of no sorcery within cities, so the schools tend to be deep in the caves and fairly distant from civilization. 

So there's a pile of information about sorcery. For your health. 


  1. It's the Mos Eisley Cantina, adjacent to the Mos Eisley spaceport, where Han and Chewbacca had the Millennium Falcon parked in docking bay 94.

  2. I think I've called Donovan "Facet Face" or similar jewel related puns