While there are several types of magical tattoos, Sigils are related to shamanic magic – drawing on the ambient psychic energies of the empyrean plane.
Unlike true psychic powers, which draw on the user’s personal energies and transfer energy through the empyrean plane, empyrean “magic” focuses and directs the ambient psychic energies supplied by other minds – the stray thoughts, images, concepts, assumptions, and personifications of other psyches. Due to the difficulties of attunement, this is further limited to the energies of sentient, and reasonably comprehensible, minds. Unfortunately, this means that you have to put up with other peoples ideas as well. Shamans are used to it – but most people want to remain sane.
Sigils are one method of doing so. They serve to channel the empyrean energies and (much more importantly) restrict the focus to a particular, stable, concept or image. (Q.V. Empyrean Plane and Magic, Shamans, Ley Lines, and Psychic Powers)
While the selection of possible sigils is virtually endless, most of them fall into one of the major types described below. Others are, of course, possible – as the range of “forces” of the empyreal plane is limited only by the limits of the imagination.
Creature Sigils come in nine major types:
Simple Creatures. These are non- or semi-sapient “generic”, creatures. Possibilities include; hawks, wolves, bears, gryphons, tigers, horses, and many others. Such “creatures” are idealized examples of their types – large and powerful
Beings. These are specific examples of some general type, either individual free spirits or mythagos. These beings have minds of their own, individual skills, and so on. Some examples include Karith the Trader (an individual free spirit) and Conan the Barbarian (a mythago)
Entities are conceptual beings, such as Love, Death, an “Elemental King”, Mercy, etcetera. Such beings possess vast power and are very much independent beings, even if evoked.
Each of these three basic creature types may be
Evoked. That is, given a quasi-real ectoplasmic form, forged from pure psychic energy. “Simple Creatures” will obey the user, beings may be befriended and are generally well-disposed towards the evoker, but entities are true to their own nature – although they may listen to suggestions. Such apparitions possess the powers of the real thing. Note that “slaying” an evoked being is a considerable shock to its summoner, inflicting damage. This is especially true in the case of “simple creatures”, since they are controlled through a link to the characters vitality.
Manifested. That is, given temporary “possession” of the users body. “Simple creatures” may leave the user partially in control, albeit usually of a shapeshifted body with powerful instincts, but beings and entities usually take full possession at full power. “Contact” and “Wereform” variants are also fairly popular, allowing the user to simply contact an entity, or make a partial shapeshift to a “simple creatures” form.
Tapped. This variant allows the user to draw on a limited subset of a creatures powers or skills, such as a cheetah’s athletic talents, Conan’s swordsmanship, or the vitality-draining touch of death itself. “Elemental Kings” are especially popular, but other possibilities abound – such as various deities.
Item Sigils manifest the item they represent, at full size and ready for use. The major problem here is that the item must be distinctive, reasonably generic, and throughly embedded in the planetary mind. Special powers can be added – but they must be very simple and usually require a visual “tag” to help focus the idea. The more complex, technological, massive, or enchanted the item, the more expensive it will be to evoke. Note that “distinctive” simply means that the items purpose must be clearly discernible from its form. Swords are for inflicting damage – but what is a potion or a wand for? “Reasonably generic” items are those whose powers are fairly common. Destructive, flaming, and returning weapons are fairly common, but spirit-slayers are not. Variant forms portray specific items – either existing physical items (creating a “psychic link” which allows the user to summon or manipulate the item) – or even a legendary item (similar to “evoking an entity”, above).
Force Sigils evoke or imbue the user with various energies or forces, such as True Light, Lightning, and Kinetic Energy (or Raw Strength). In general, the greater the degree of control, raw power, and duration, of the force invoked, the higher the cost.
Psychic Power Sigils focus energies into more conventional psychic powers, such as psychic shields, force fields, telepathy, empathy, immunity to poisons, telekinesis, and so on. While not especially efficient, and restricted to common, unsubtle, and high- power disciplines, a wide selection of psychic talents are available.
Knowledge Sigils are one of the more popular (and easy-to-use) varieties of sigils. They allow the user to draw on the knowledge hidden in the planetary mind, giving him or her a maximum of (Int/3) skill points in appropriate skills (any relevant to the purpose of the sigil. Note that, in Continuum II, skill ranks ranged from 1-7). Unfortunately, this knowledge comes mixed with bits of folklore, extraneous data, lousy organization, and so on, limiting this type of enhancement to +2 ranks in any particular skill. “Common” sigils of knowledge include languages, magic, craftsmanship, and so on.
Permanent Sigils are straightforward enough. You simply “pay” an increased activation cost permanently, and the sigil stays on all the time. Force fields and such can be temporarily overloaded – but will recover. The most common permanent sigils are “tapped creature” and defensive sigils, but they are all possible. These sigils are often even more limited then usual, as this makes them considerably cheaper to get. Some, such as “wereform”, will also require an on-demand modifier… Popular permanent sigils include totemistic powers and “tapped” entities.
In practice, there are several notable restrictions on the use of sigils. Most are derived from their basic nature as focal devices for the physical manifestation of ideas.
Most notably; you can not have two identical (or very similar) ideas at the same time. Such are, at best, simply elaborations of the basic idea. As ideas made manifest, no one character can have any one sigil produce more then one manifestation at a time. Trying to use duplicate sigils to get around this simply acts to reinforce the effect(s) of the first one slightly – effectively “restarting” it. Since the same effect can be achieved using the original sigil, using duplicates has little point.
A second problem is that users must keep the idea which a sigil represents in mind to keep it functioning. Even with practice, it is difficult to keep too many ideas at once in the back of your head – hence no character may keep more then (Int / 3) sigils active at a time.
Third is that sigils must be a “part of” their user so that he can feed energy into them. A psychic link suffices – as does physically implanting, tattooing, or drawing, the sigils into or on the user. Whatever the method chosen the process is something of an ordeal – since the user is establishing a link with the undisciplined and unfocused psychic energies of so many other minds. The possible side effects include a drain on the users personal vitality, mental confusion (or possibly even insanity), psychic pain or damage, and neural overload. Interestingly, these side effects are greatly reduced for anyone whose mind is exceptionally stable (very high wisdom, extreme self-discipline – or used to external mental contacts), unstable (adaptable loons, shamans, and complete maniacs), or unformed (kids and such).
The fourth, and final, problem is power. Sigils are powered by ambient psychic energy. The user serves to focus, channel, and accumulate it – but is not him- or herself a major source. His or her ability to do so is measured by his aura rating and by the amount of energy available in the local environment. For game purposes, a character’s basic aura rating is multiplied by the planetary level of ambient psychic energy (1 on typical fantasy-adventure worlds, possibly 0 on never-inhabited worlds, and up to 3 in extreme cases) to determine the characters effective aura “points”. Some local conditions (natural or artificial focal points / nulls – such as cathedrals, ley lines and power points, desserts, major riots, concentration camps, Hiroshima, and pristine forests) will either modify this value or make available more specific energies. Unfortunately, this means that “twisted”, toxic, areas exist as well.
Related types of magic include Nymic, Bloodbinding, Spirit, Wreaking, Hyloka, Biosphere Taps and Werethings, Power Words, and Shamanism. Like all of these magics, sigils can draw on the users personal vitality if no other power source is available. In some worlds Empyreal energy is much too “slippery” to accumulate – but is, by the same token, easier to tap and harder to keep under control. Such worlds generally require some form of “fatigue”, “damage”, and/or “success” check when empyreal energy is used for “magic”. Empyrean magic is a dangerous field, as it is also the level determining a creatures “true form”, and supporting its life energy.