Verdan Arcanis – Basic Magic

English: Helm of Awe (ægishjálmr) - magical sy...

Very symbolic, but perhaps a simpler name could still convey your meaning?

With the Star Wars game winding down thanks to some exceptionally clever maneuvering by the players, it’s time to start setting up the next one – and, thanks to a series of player votes, it’s going to be the Baba Yaga system with a quasi-victorian setting with some magic where much of the world is still unexplored. There shall be lost worlds, mysterious cities in the depths of Africa, and strange creatures in abundance.

Ergo, welcome to Verden Arcanis

Lux – the stuff of magic – is one of the major differences between Verden and Earth, so we’re going to take a look at how it works in the setting. This is rather more detail than the characters will really know – but it’s fundamental to such a lot of the other differences in the setting that not letting the players have a bit of extra information would require tremendous amounts of work elsewhere.

The energy of magic and the mind – commonly known as Lux – is born in the fires of the sun, deep within the core, where the other elements of life also come into being. Unlike the physical elements (most of which will be forever trapped within the core) subtle Lux is an energy field that associates with matter, rather than a form of matter – and can jump from particle to particle, diffusing outwards from the core to charge the corona and the solar wind. Thin as that is, the magical potential of each particle in the sun and corona has built until the immense flow of Lux from the fusion reactions of the solar core is in radiative equilibrium – washing out across the solar system, accumulating in the mass of the planets, and building terrible potentials at the heliopause or during solar flares.

Lux in high concentrations twists and warps the environment somewhat – distorting the interactions between the particles of matter that host it and which make it up that environment – but the vast majority of its potential can only be tapped by a living being with the proper mental channels to handle it (perhaps the mind or soul is an aspect of Lux). Thus, over the primordial eons, Lux built up in the whirl of dust and gas that would become the planets, and anointed the substance of forming worlds – a primal legacy of power, both awaiting and encouraging the rise of life.

Fully-sapient, self-aware life forms can form esoteric mental channels, and vary them – the fundamental basis of the study of magic. Unfortunately, this means that some effects are only available to those who subscribe to particular beliefs, are psychologically disturbed, or otherwise depart from mental stability. Bizarre cults, madmen with powerful supernatural talents, and similar aberrants provide a never-ending source of problems for the authorities – leading to numerous attempts to restrict the study of magic to the “right kind of people”.

This rarely works, but does mean that members of the “upper crust” often possess enough arcane skill to partially justify the notion that they are set apart from ordinary folk.

Unfortunately, that also means that the magic of sapient beings is weaker (if far, FAR, more versatile) than that of highly-developed nonsapients with deeply-ingrained, and highly specific, mental channels. Thus certain higher animals (often referred to as “Cryptids”, in part because of their cryptic nature and in part due to their preferences for isolated and underground areas where there is less human competition for Lux) possess powerful, individual, talents and can be extremely dangerous. Perhaps fortunately, most animals are simply stronger, healthier, and more talented at survival than creatures with no access to magic – which is to say, anything with too small a brain.

Perhaps equally unfortunately, the flow of Lux through matter is slow. Despite the steady influx of lux-charged particles from space and occasional vulcanism bringing up undepleted Lux-charged material from the planets depths, the distribution of magical power across Verden is spotty at best. Over much of the ancient continental surfaces (and for a considerable distance down), the level of available Lux is relatively low. Slightly higher potentials occur on mountaintops (where the atmosphere shields less against the particle-stream from space), near streams which are concentrating sediments from such heights, in dense materials (which naturally – and as a function of their atomic masses – concentrate what magical potential is available), and in very deep and unexplored caves.

The continental Lux-depletion does not apply to the relatively new-from-the-mantle material of the sea floors; the oceans beyond the continental shelves – and especially the oceanic ridges and subduction zones – are places of wild magic and the monstrous creatures that thrive in such an environment. The oceans are terrible barriers to the spread of land-based life, and even creatures of the air cross the seas only with great caution. Thus the continents beyond Eurasia and Africa are often the homes of exotic creatures indeed – and much of the globe has never been reached by men.

The constant influx of Lux-charged particles channeled to the poles by the magnetosphere produces similar dangers – as well as most peculiar weather – there as well. Occasional eras of terrible monsters appear in the geological record where major volcanic flows covered massive areas of land; unfortunately, the geological and paleontological sciences are not yet advanced enough for humans to know this. Unsurprisingly, volcanic islands are often terribly high magical zones – and are also usually places of legend, as human colonies and visitors have an extremely difficult time surviving there.

More localized magical resources do exist; smaller volcanoes may raise magic levels in the vicinity, meteors may contain impressive amounts of magical energy (and have often been forged into talismans – although these have a regrettable tendency to “betray their owners” when their power, at last, runs out), and certain crystals and other materials seem to retain it better – and can be used to store magical power. Such finds are extremely valuable, as most accessible deposits in Eurasia have long since been depleted.

A few – even rarer – exotic metals and materials seem to actually generate Lux; even when drained and shielded from further influx they gradually rebuild their Lux potential – but the process is generally too slow to be of much use. Some magicians have reported some success in experimenting with spells designed to accelerate the process (somehow) – but such magicians tend to die of mysterious illnesses, or occasionally in equally-mysterious fires, or from spells gone mysteriously awry. It’s not generally a popular field of research.