Sorcery and the Supernatural
In Weird Fiction, the supernatural is unnatural, wondrous, and inherently dangerous. It is not simply another kind of physics or technology, nor is it constrained by laws or conventions. Rather, it is perversion and corruption of the natural order. Although sorcery and the supernatural are not uncommon, common folk are deeply suspicious (and superstitious) about any hints of magic. Their prevailing attitude might be summed up as:
Magic is dangerous and unpredictable. Those drawn to its power are unstable, foolhardy, or sociopathic. No one in their right mind would trust foul sorcery or those who practice it. Better to stay home, mind your farm or shop, provide for your family, and leave the meddling with dark forces to those poor sick fools who are going to die young.
Magic takes many forms. In some places in the world, it seems to well up from reality itself, like some sort of raw, primal energy. In other places, ancient technology and knowledge has fixed it into powerful, mysterious effects. The world is strewn with unique artifacts and relics, each of which swells with scarely contained power. Meanwhile, a few bold, fearless souls devote themselves to ancient mystical techniques, technological tomes, scholarly experiments, faith leaders, forgotten knowledge, primal totems, or forbidden rituals.
Anyone can use the magic latent in an artifact, relic, ritual, or mystical place. Through dark knowledge, dangerous technology, or fierce will, sorcerers are also uniquely able to summon and control spells, which is the common name given to the extradimensional plasmic entities that Sorcerers have lured or trapped, and then bound to their very souls. Such plasmic beings, once tamed, may be temporarily bent to the sorcerer's will and forced to exercise their strange, extradimensional geoenergies to bend reality or create fantastical effects.
Magicians, wizards, warlocks, hedge witches, sorcerers, diabolists, conjurers, necromancers, shamans, shapechangers, dark priests, farseers, mages—the forms and styles of sorcery are as varied as there are practitioners. All sorcerers, though, play with power that is never entirely predictable or within their control. The desire for power leads them to take perilous risks.
Reality is composed of a layer of dimensions that are completely interleafed and coextensive. Knowledgeable scholars describe the dimensions as "stacked" on one another, but--strictly speaking--they all occupy the same space. Even the most knowledgeable scholars do not know whether there are infinite or finite dimensions, nor whether the known dimensions would exhaust that number.
Among the educated and dimensionally experienced, there are at least four definitely known dimensions:
- The Otherworld, also known as the Spirit Realm, the animist home to spirits and the resonance echos of everything in the realm of flesh. Governed by highly Darwinian principles of spiritual ecology.
- The Plasmic Dimension, a chaotic and extremely dangerous realm of powerful mutagenic energy and cruel supernal predators.
- The Mirror Dimension, where space itself is folded, compressed, and reorganized. A disorienting maze of reality creases, geodimensional sinkholes, and shattered nonlinear psychogeography, home to both native creatures and many settlements of exiles and lost communities.
- The Fairie, a verdant, folkloric dimension home to powerful naturalistic creatures with complex societies and baroque rules of interaction.
Scholars have debated the existence of additional dimensions, ones whose properties are not well understood, and which may not be alternate dimensions at all. Foremost is Hell, the original home of demons. Some diabolists believe that Hell is actually a material place on this plane, while others argue that is a separate dimension. Some theorize that Hell may, in fact, be a sort of cosmic cancer that infects other planes and consumes them, and which may have already twisted infinite worlds.
Disagreements also exist about The Shadow and The Light, which some scholars hypothesize are places of pure creative and destructive energies, respectively. Even if they do exist, no one is known to have returned from either dimension, so there is no extent knowledge or insight into the truth of the matter.
Sorcerers have invented or discovered methods to arrange their minds into unnatural psychic configurations that—for unknown reasons—both attract plasmids and imprison them, like a honey trap for insects. Having trapped plasmids in their mind-palace, sorcerers are then able to release trapped plasmids in a more or less controlled way and thereby alter or rewrite reality.
Plasmids, however, are little more than alien energy organisms constantly tapped into a flux of mutagenic extradimensional energy. As a result, they are extremely unstable and dangerous, so any interaction with them, including a controlled release, poses significant risk to sorcerers. Indeed, the stress of channeling a plasmid during release often leads to sorcerers' famously poor constitutions and tenuous mental health.
To cause a spell effect to manifest in the world, the sorcerer
channels the plasmid, which essentially involves releasing the plasmid from the mind prison and simultaneously digging in the metaphorical spurs. It's a stressful, attention-heavy task, and it's also exceedingly dangerous, something like trying to set off a barrel of explosives under your feet and then surfing the resulting wave to the beach while playing the ukelele. Unsurprisingly, plasmids resist this process; with any lapse of will, the plasmid thrashes about and damages the mindscape through which it is being released. This is not only extremely painful, but also stresses that configuration of the sorcerer's psychic prison, which—in its damaged state—is temporarily inhospitable. Hence, sorcerers take damage from failed channeling tests and cannot channel that particular species of plasmid until their brain recovers.
Each species of plasmid requires that a sorcerer master a different, torturous mental configuration. If a configuration is mastered, the sorcerer's mind becomes a trap for plasmids of that type, and thus is able to lure back a new plasmid of a particular species whenever one escapes—hence, lost spells reset overnight and may be channeled again the following day.
Even with extensive practice, sorcerers are simply not able to create certain of the unholy psychic mindscapes that are required to attract some species of plasmids—hence, players get one chance (the all-important mastery check) to see whether they will ever be able to capture a given species of plasmid. Failure signifies that the sorcerer simply isn't able to bend that way, so to speak.
Furthermore, sorcerers have independently developed arcane rituals that allow them to imprint certain twisting configurations of their psychic mindscapes into material anchors, with the result that material objects or geographic places can become traps for plasmids. Over the centuries, hidden shrines, legendary relics, and lost artifacts have become scattered across the empty spaces of the world. When sorcerers affix a spell into an anchor, they irreparably damage the relevant portions of the brain, however, and thus are never able to relearn an affixed spell once they've exiled it from their mind.
- Souls: A basic form of sorcerous currency, always desired by demons and useful for bartering with such. Souls themselves may also be set free in exchange for a task accomplished by the spirit, though the use of the soul will be strongly inflected by the spirit's nature.
- Cybalt Ore: A rare earth mineral, similar in texture to coal but pulsing with blue-purple energy, which is dangerous to mine or possess. It brims with unstable plasmic energy, and has been the source of more than one sorcerous calamity or unexpected mutation. But its mystical powers, while unpredictable, are often necessary to amplify or anchor the fleeting effect of plasmic spells.
- Psychoactive Herbs: Many arcane rituals channel extradimensional energies to reshape reality. Drugs that drop sorcerers out of sync with the material dimension sometimes enable that process.
- Glands, Bones, Organs, Skin, Hair, and other Harvested Organic Material: Many rituals, spells, and artifacts depend on the energy entertwined with flesh and the organs of life.
Cults are common across the planet. In general, cults fall into three categories: Demon Cults, Plant Cults, and Reptile Cults (Lizards/Dinosaurs). Some cults are relatively accepted within society, but others practice dark magic, seek to bring about apocalyptic prophesy, unleash demons, or otherwise wreak havoc. Some cults are highly organized and bureaucratic, while others are chaotic and prone to in-fighting. Some cults adhere to strict codes or dogma, while other practice rituals, body-modification, social engineering, terrorism, or the whole other spectrum of human affairs. In the Kingdom of Umiyid, cults are technically prohibited, since the state religion is Emperor Worship. In practice, however, cultic activity--both covert and overt--is common.