Magic is common in Ahneria. Magic is infused within common materials, it permeates objects and creates a variety of effects, and those objects are gathered by wizards and sold to the wealthy and adventurous. And, of course, monster parts can be crafted into magic objects.
But magic isn't just the domain of those with class levels. As I discussed recently, nearly all commoners have some latent magic ability. Your average commoner is able to cast a single spell tantamount to a cantrip, though not as often as a practiced magic user. They might be limited to once a day or even once a week.
This manifests in a variety of ways (similar to how different cultures might cast spells differently). A person might be able to cast a version of Blade Ward by appearing helpless and meek, forcing an opponent to pull their punches. Or they might have some heightened sense of danger, and effectively create a Blade Ward by dodging the full impact of an attack. And if the person lives a peaceful life, they may never even know they have such an ability.
The point is, it's rare that a creature in Ahneria is completely cut off from magic. If a creature wishes to put effort towards expanding their magical abilities, they already have a starting point. However, since they haven't trained in a class, for all intents and purposes, they aren't proficient in their magic yet.
This means that these magic abilities will rarely affect an enemy NPC's CR. A bandit who can cast Shocking Grasp (which, without proficiency, would be +0 to hit and deal 4 damage) would know from experience that their scimitar (+3 to hit, 4 damage) would be a better option. Even a ranged attack like Firebolt is outclassed by the Bandit's basic crossbow.
Now, let's get into the meat of this article: how is magic created in Ahneria?
divine shards and sparks. A divine shard is a powerful, reality-bending piece of divinity controlled by a fickle Immortal, but divine sparks are everywhere. They are the "units" of magic, that nestle in certain materials and objects, that spawn the monsters of the worlds, and that every living creature has some (limited) awareness of. If enough sparks were gathered in a single place, it might approximate the power of a shard, but only rarely does that occur - we'll discuss a common method later.
A spark has two properties, the first of which is its function. Wizards refer to this function as a "School of Magic", and a Detect Magic spell can identify the function of a spark.
However, most sparks that fill the multiverse are without function. Wizards refer to these by many names, such as "The Weave", "Ley Lines", or "Auras", but we'll refer to them by what the Immortals call them, which is "Free Sparks". A Free Spark is one without function, but it can be granted function by adding intent to its use. A mind using its power to shape the spark towards a certain goal is also called a "spell".
Thus, Detect Magic is designed to filter out Free Sparks and focus on Determined Sparks, or sparks that have a set function. Sparks retain their function for various amounts of time. Some return to being Free in an instant, others last as long as the mind continues directing them. If it is infused into an item, it can become permanently Determined, creating a magic item with a particular function.
The second property of a spark is alignment. All sparks have an alignment, just like all shards. In the Free Sparks, many different spark alignments intermingle, meaning a spell such as Detect Evil and Good must focus on a greater concentration of aligned sparks, such as an area of hallowed ground, where good sparks are in abundance.
The Detect Evil and Good spell can also identify creatures created by the power of sparks. Undead, Fey, Celestials, Fiends, Aberrations, and Elementals are such creatures, and thus are bound to a particular alignment. This causes them to appear to this spell.
Sparks naturally settle in certain objects, particularly precious minerals like silver and gold. This is why these metals retain economic value, despite being commonplace in Ahneria. Gold is a common standard, but its many magical uses means it is still sought after, despite its high availability.
Additionally, unless directed by a trained magic user, these materials tend to gather sparks slowly. As gold entered circulation, however, it was exposed to more and more mortal minds, giving it intent - saving, spending, or collecting. This means that civilized cultures tend to have more potent wizards, as they can use the power of gold that has been in circulation. Many cultures in Ahneria speak to "the magic of gold", though their understanding of the actual mechanics of this effect varies wildly.
I mentioned before that enough sparks in a single area can generate great magical power. Also, sparks can be infused into materials, if given intent. So, let's talk about dragons.
A dragon's power comes from its hoard. Its powerful resilience, breath weapons, ability to change shape, its effective immortality - all of this is greatly diminished if the value of its hoard is stolen of decreased. A dragon's defining magical ability is simply to gain the powers of the sparks they have collected, at any distance. Ancient Dragons with massive hoards have powers that rival the Immortals.
It's hypothesized that if a dragon's hoard were stolen away from it, it would lose some or all of its powers. This is difficult to prove, however, as many dragons will guard their hoard to their last breath. Those with the cunning to flee before their demise often go into hiding, only emerging when a new hoard has been gathered. If a dragon's hoard is stolen but the dragon left alive, expect a rash of attacks among nearby small villages and farmsteads.
- Wizards, Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, and any who practice magic via knowledge have, in some capacity, learned about the difference between Free and Determined sparks. Again, every culture and race will call it something different. But the power of a wizard comes through subjugation of sparks. A spell is a series of incantations, gestures, and objects that adds enough intent to a spark to make it into a spell. This requires intense mental stamina: a spell without proper intent could turn on the user, or worse. Thus, wizards are exhausted by the effort and constantly seek ways to work around their limitations: Spell Scrolls, Wands, Robes, Staffs, etc.
- A Sorcerer or Mystic is someone with the ability to "speak" to sparks - to direct them instinctively. This might be due to their bloodline, random chance, or an event in their lives that granted them the ability. This is similar to the subjugation of wizards, in that sparks take effort to control, even if that control is more natural. A sorcerer or mystic requires training to learn their own limits, lest they cause their magic to backfire.
- Across the multiverse, the Immortals try to keep the nature of shards hidden from mortals. They don't like the idea that their shard could be stolen from a mortal, and protect themselves accordingly. However, some beings shirk this duty. They share the power of their shards with mortals, setting odd conditions and unusual limits on the mortal's power. These mortals are called Warlocks. Archfey grant power to mortals in return for odd favors, Fiends usually request their Warolck's soul in return. And the beings that live beyond the stars, the Great Old Ones, occasionally leave a piece of their power to be found in the material plane, hoping that a mortal's mind will forsake all else and feed their endless hungers. No two warlocks are alike - each has unique benefits and strange limitations on their powers granted by their patrons.
- Clerics and Paladins circumvent the requirements of mental fortitude required to subjugate sparks, and gain power via prayer: convincing a God to control the sparks for them. A cleric focuses on appeasing a single God, earning their favor and therefore their power. Low-level clerics are attended by small celestials who can grant basic powers, while high-level clerics gain the attention of their God's aspects or even their avatar. Paladins, rather than picking a single God, devote themselves to an oath that attends to the needs of many different Gods. Their magic is more constant, but less powerful than the devoted cleric's. However, the Immortals still fear a mortal gaining too much of their power, and place limits on the amount of magic they will grant to a Cleric or Paladin. A more trusted servant is granted greater powers.
- Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers cast spells in a similar manner to Clerics, except they focus on Gods that control Nature domains exclusively. Unlike the Gods of Clerics, Gods of Nature formed a pact long ago, the Hollyhock Accord, that those who sought their aid could be assisted, for good or evil. They do not need persuading. However, the Gods of Nature tend to favor neutrality or chaos, seeing lawfulness as the domain of civilization. Therefore those who would try to dominate nature too much and bend it to their will are cut off from their power, at least until the next dawn.
- Bardic magic is based on music, art, and emotion. Most magic users focus on the sparks to create magic - bards focus on the relationship between the sparks. The question is not of how a mortal mind can shape a spark, but how a mortal mind has been shaped by sparks up until this point in time. The sparks in the air, which carry the vibrations of sound and light, are all connected. These connections are the source of a bard's power. The ultimate lesson of bardic magic is that there is nothing that cannot be done, if you know how everything is linked together. However, like many kinds of magic, accessing these connections is exhausting. A Bard can only perform so much before they must recover.
- Monks are unique among magic users in that they do not use free sparks. Instead, they work to build a "bridge" towards the planes of the multiverse within themselves. They then channel power from a particular plane into their techniques. The energy they use for this transfer is built within their own bodies, which means their "Ki" can be used to summon planar magic or enhance their physical combat prowess. Their magic is akin to teleporting the power of the planes into their bodies. The exact plane depends on the training the monk has received: the elemental planes and the shadowfell are common, as is the immortal battleground of Ysgard.
A Wish spell does not simply summon a spark to subjugate to the caster's will, but in fact summons a divine shard. The shard, capable of bending reality, is then subjugated to the user's will.
However, there is no such thing as a "Free Shard". Every shard is owned by an immortal, and when Wish is cast, the avatar or aspect of a God is summoned. Their domain will always reflect the nature of the Wish being cast. If a magic user makes a Wish that is too powerful, that threatens to create the next Raven Queen, the Immortal can choose to brand the magic user with a sigil visible only to those who hold shards. It is known as the Black Feather Brand.
Though the brand is granted based on the discretion of the Immortal, once a creature is branded, they will never be able to Wish again. Shards will never again answer their call, and when they die, their soul is obliterated - no Immortal or Plane will claim them.
This is why only Wizards, Sorcerers, and Bards can cast Wish. They are the only magic users who gain their powers without the assistance of the Immortals or the Planes.
Using This Material in Your Setting
- Use your rules to define how persistent the magic in your world is
- Define how common magic is in your setting (high-magic or low-magic)
- Identify one or more sources of magic in your setting
- How do material components interact with magic in your setting?
- Figure out how detection spells like Detect Magic and Detect Evil and Good work
- Think about the history of magic in your world. Who created the schools of magic? Is magic the same throughout the world? Are certain types of magic banned in certan cultures?
- Define the relationship between spells and magic items, and define how magic items are created
- Make creatures that have a unique relationship with magic, and make them important in your world
- Based on the source of your magic and how common it is, figure out how the PC classes use magic, and why each class has certain limitations on their magic
- Makes spells that use magic in unique ways, and make them powerful spells in your world
Thanks for reading!