A Change in Practice
Before, there were wizards and warriors. They went on adventures and killed dragons and orcs, found treasure, saved maidens. All of that.
Gradually, there were no more dragons. The orcs (and the kobalds, bugbears, etc) were long ago wiped out or driven into the most inhospitable lands. Peace had come to Greyhawk [note… may put other continent name here].
The human wizards had grown strong with their knowledge of great magic. The powerful wizards spent their lives studying their arcane arts. That was what wizards were supposed to do. Except… many of the sons and daughters of the great wizards asked… why? Why pursue the ultimate secrets of magic, when immense power and wealth could be attained not through great magics, but rather from the efficient and consistent application of common magics. A wizard can cast a powerful fireball spell after studying many years. But if same wizard can create many magic wands each day, each wielded by a semi-trained peasant – a wizard could easily create an army that would rip through the lines of metal-clad soldiers.
A revolution occurred. Not overnight; not a dramatic nor romantic revolt. Nor did it come about through a sudden revelation of secret magic arts. The revolution occurred because of a change in practice, not in technique. Wizards had long known that it is not difficult to encode magic forces onto well-prepared physical objects, which would then allow non-magic users the ability to wield amazing spells. In the past, most wizards didn’t specialize in the creation of magical items; they learned new, more powerful spells in order to increase their mastery. However, becoming expert in making items meant that the wizards would have mastery over men.
It was through the rationalization of magic techniques that wizards learned how to lord magic over men by making magic simple, commonplace, and controlled by the elite. Hence, the proponents of this new practice of magic are, in general, called “the Rationalizers”. The current epoch is called “The Rationalization”
Magic Cubes and Unidonk Horns
Ironically, the dirty Kobalds taught Men the way. Several tribes of Kobalds had bred a type of stunted Unicorn – humans call it the Unidonk – and harvested the magic horns to make crude talismans which could be imbued with protective properties by Kobald shamans. Humans copied the practice (over the protests of many) and started manufacturing cheap horn-medallions which projected an aura that could turn blades. Next came the lightning wands, which could hurt (and stun) warriors at a distance.
Later came the Magic Cubes. A skilled mage could carve runes on Unidonk horn that would instill it with magic energy and create “channels” to convert the energy into force-emitting spells. But Unidonk was a simple magic creature; unidonk horns, although good for wands and small defensive talismans, could not store much energy. Better materials – like amber stone, semi-rare gems, and rocks from the vicinity of extra-dimensional portals could store more energy. With the proper inscription of standardized runes, the Magic Cube could be used for almost anything: lift heavy stones; produce fierce heat for many hours; communicate with others in far-away towns; and light the nighttime darkness without fear of fire. The technique for Magic Cube production alone revolutionized the power of wizards. In the past, great magical feats could take years to produce. Now, elegant and elaborate tall stone buildings… even floating buildings… can be produced using mass-manufactured Magic Cubes (in addition to plenty of cheap manual labor from the non-wizards).
Spirit and Life
There are many schools of magic, but generally magic effects can be categorized as follows: magic that relates to spirits (Spirit Magic, Shamanism and Druidic powers, Necromancy, etc); magic that influences elements (ie. Fire Magic); magic that influences more general forces and matter directly; magic which influences the mind; magic used for summoning extra-dimensional beings (ie. Demonology); and life/death magic.
Spirit Magic… which is to say the arts of communicating and manipulating sentient and semi-sentient spirits (and not extra-dimensional beings like demons) is the oldest form of magic practiced by Man. It used to be that Spirit Magic alone would give Man the greatest of powers… communication with the spirits directly lends itself to secular power.
Life Magic was practiced by priests, druids, and Elves. It used to be used for healing, aiding crops, promoting growth. Although gods exist, and most clerits thought they performed miracles with the aid of their dieties, in fact, much of what they did was just another form of magic, not too different from the casting of a lightning spell or turning oneself invisible.
The “Rationalizers” could not easily adopted most Spirit and Life magic techniques. Life-force is too vibrant to be rationalized and commoditized while the barriers between spirit world and the corporeal world cannot be casually breached. So crops still needed to be planted – not just magiked out of thin air. And it still requires a very special talent to actually talk with the dead. The Rationalizers did learn a few tricks though. With much training, the new Wizards found that they could specialize in the manipulation and growth of flesh. They found that they could, with some expense and effort, create living, self-sustainable bodies out of raw materials collected from animal organs, hardwood scaffolding, unidonk powder, and… the remains of a woman’s miscarriage. With some art and more expense, they could even ensure that these bodies looked human. The Rationalizers further found that although talking with the dead was difficult, tying a specific , willing soul to a magical object was very easy and cheap. Once the soul of a man is bound to a Magic Cube- which then becomes known as a “soul stone”, it is easy to move the soul into an “empty body”. In fact, imparting a soul into an empty body is so easy that it requires almost no training in the magic arts. The challenge in that process is simply making sure that no un-intented soul enters an empty body first.
Thus, the Rationalizers had discovered a path to immortality which they could give to whom they choose. They created replacement bodies – called “Vessels” – for themselves and those rich enough to buy them. Instantly, the Wizards… who’s own level of knowledge in the magic arts pale compared to their ancestors… were the gatekeepers to immortality.
The Body Snatchers
Creating in a new Vessel is costly, not because of the process of binding a spirit is expensive, but because creating a new body requires a higher level of skill in the Life Magic arts which are not easily rationalized. Creating a Vessel that seems completely human is even more difficult. These costs were mitigated by the practice of Soul-Wiping.
In the old days, criminals and bandits (and orcs, kobalds, drow, bugbears, and everything else) would be hunted down and killed. The Wizard’s realized that a body has value if it can be a vessel for souls. However, it requires immense knowledge and skill in both the Death Magic and Spirit Magic arts to force a soul out of a body; souls normally hold tight to mortal flesh as long as life flows. It was then discovered that certain creatures – namely basilisks and cockatrices – feed off of their prey by using special techniques to wipe the soul from sentient creatures while sucking up psychic energy from the agonized soul. (the expulsed bodies usually become instantly paralyzed in the process, giving them the appearance of stone). Enterprising wizards soon commissioned the capture of “stoning” beasts, which then spend the rest of their days strapped to a harness in a special cage, where they engorge themselves on the pain created from wiping souls from criminals. The hopeless criminals usually have their souls bound to Soul Stones before being ejected from their bodies, just in case there is a use for them in the future; this false hope for a future life makes the wiping process more palatable for more sensitive citizens.
The criminal justice system works hand-in-hand with the market for Vessels, giving immortality and more power to some, oblivion to others. It is because of this that criminals are rarely hunted to death. More often, a captured criminal is wiped, and the body recycled.
A well known trait about humans who have power; they are rarely satisfied with the amount of power that they have. The rationalization of magic gave the Wizard’s and their allies great power. But that power came from the demand of people for the things magic could give them. People still needed to farm the fields and build parts of the floating castles. And people have different opinions about the value of their labor and who should have access to immortality.
In the big cities, many wizards created expensive golems to lift the heavy stones of their grand palaces. Golems are basically non-organic bodies which are animated with programmed Spirits and can perform simple tasks. However, the use of Golems and other magical automation techniques devalued the labor of builders, and common laborers. Although the big cities in the Rationalization are far richer than in previous epochs, it is the wizards and noble houses who have benefited more than commoners.
One group of Rationalizers came up with a common sense plan to bring prosperity to all. To accomplish this, they decided that the best way to get rid of poverty and the strife that comes from income inequality was to get rid of poor people.
Grounding a soul into a Vessel is easy. The practice itself is a derivation of the slightly more complex practice of anchoring a spirit (a soul without any trace of sentience) into a cadaver… otherwise known as necromancy. It is easy to place a soul into the living of a sentient humanoid. It is only slightly more difficult to put a soul into a dead body, but this would cause most souls to go insane and become a Wraith (a fact well known to every Lich, demon, witch, ghost hunter, and enterprising necromancer for centuries). However a low-sentience spirit can be “grounded” into a cadaver Vessel easily, creating what is commonly known as a zombie. The spirit can utilize remaining thought and sense organs, while primitive “spiritual programs” and rudimentary sense organs (usually made out of implanted difficult-to-target rodent parts) can be quickly grafted onto the zombie in a batch process. Resultant zombies could be made to farm, to fight, to police the streets. Users of such necromancy came to call themselves “Imprinters,” after their specialty of imprinting commands onto willing and un-willing vessels.
The Imprinters thought that they had solved the answer to the hardships of manual labor. Of course, from the start, the zombies were viewed with extreme fear. But as zombie labor further devalued human labor, the zombies were looked on with not just fear and revulsion, but also resentment. Revolts broke out. The Imprinters were unprepared at first, but then viciously struck back. They put powerful Gias (mind imprints) on just about anyone who was not a proven loyalist. They forcefully Soul Wipe many thousands of common people, and killed many more. Those that died joined the Imprinter’s labor force as Zombies.
As news of the atrocities committed by Imprinter’s leaked back to the other realms, the common citizens demanded action be taken. Furthermore, many citizens looked at their own elite Rationalizer leaders with extreme distrust, for really, there was little difference between the Imprinters and other Rationalizers. All were Wizards who used their efficient magic to amass their own power. Within all the states of the land, the Rationalizers and allied elites coveted fresh Vessels and sought new ways to decrease the value of mundane labor. Use of other mind – control methods like Gias was fairly common everywhere. Many Rationalizer fiefdoms use constructs to supplant people in many jobs.
To head off revolts in their own kingdoms… as well as to grab new lands and resources… the Rationalizers went to war against the Imprinter states.
The New Ways of War
Supposedly there was a time when humans and elves and dwarves heroically fought hoards of orcs and other foul creatures. There was a time where the forces of light would face off against undead hoards. Those wars were quaint by today’s standards.
In a large scale battle between nations, It is a common tactic for specially trained wizard demonalogist weapon specialists to open portals for extra-dimensional fiends to enter this world and create havoc. Huge monsters, barely under the control of anyone, spew poison and spawn nightmare beastlings. Arbalests and other huge mechanical projectile throwers launch magically sharpened harpoons at the demon monsters. Magic dissipation zones are used to channel forces into killing fields and trap demons in glyph traps. Poison gas emitting giant toads are let loose n order to kill mammalian-race scouts. Wizards, creature summoning platoons, and command and control operations hide behind force fields to direct the movements of battle. Often the winner of the battle is the side that can hide until the worst of the battle passes, then rise up to claim control over the devastated lands.
In this new form of war, the role of the individual warrior is usually not for fighting, but for rather for scouting / anti-scouting actions. Warriors are used to place forcefield markers, bait demons to move in certain directions, and kill targets of opportunity. The new infantry soldier typically wears plate armor imbued with magic to make the soldier stronger. The armor is embedded with protection charms that can turn blades and make the wearer almost impervious to elemental attacks. . Often these soldiers wield large weapons (like a glaive or war sword), each coupled with a lightning-discharge wand and imbued with their own anti-magic powers in order to penetrate through the magic defenses of other warriors.
Sometimes the assassin is the more effective warrior on the battlefield. Magic protections can be neutralized with anti-magic imbued blades, but it requires speed and a very fast blade to exploit the weak joint-points of field plate. “Cat warriors”… warriors trained for speed who wear Vessels made to maximize agility and stealth… roam battlefields, pouncing on slower, steal-clad warriors as they make their way towards the enemy’s control stations.
The battles of the new age have turned many areas into no-man’s lands that are only inhabited by deadly deamon offspring and exotic, lethal magical creatures, as well as the desperate and the the desperate predators that feed on others. Ironically, there are also many battle-sites which are in pristine condition, in part because they have become deadly to any sentient creature that would enter such haunted forests.
Ascendancy of Human Kinds and the Threat from the Borders
The Rationalization effectively brought about the end of many non-human races, and marginalized the common “friendly” races of the old world.
The Dwarves were better at mining, but the humans outnumbered the dwarves hundreds to one and would work for much cheaper. Undead slaves and constructs could work even cheaper still. So many Dwarves dug deeper but didn’t come up. The ones that stayed were comparatively skill-less and disaffected.
Most Elves eventually left. They knew their forests would invariably be used for timber to make furniture and boats for the numerous humans. So the elves, with their strange magic and ethereal ways, built ships to sail the ether between worlds. But not before they past on many of the esoteric secrets of live magic to the mages. The elves that stayed behind inter-married with dominant race or mostly integrated themselves into the Rationalizer societies. Many… especially the forest elves, could not adjust and wound up in the slums adjacent to the modern cities. Surprisingly, many of the Dark Drow eventually left the Underdark; they finally understood that life can be better working with the new elites than servicing their insane goddess. And in the vast Rationalizer (and Imprinter) cities of this the new world, they often found comfort among their old enemies – the elves.
There are still Gnomes to be found; many have found great success with their magical inventions. Halflings have their communities on the outskirts of mainstream civilization. There are few as productive at farming than the hafling peoples. Dragonborn and Half-Orcs are no where to be found in the new world. Tieflings are actually more common, as the humans have had more dealings with beings from infernal realms since the beginning of the Rationalization.
The races that could not widely and efficiently use magic – or form intelligent survival strategies – have almost gone extinct. Those with higher abilities who have not retreated await on the side… await for an opportunity, if by chance humans reach too far and suddenly fall fast.
Bugbears, hobgoblins, and orcs have all been driven from the lands of humans… and almost driven out from existence. Brute strength is no match for mass produced lightning wands and battle armor. The new nations were particularly efficient at destroying the Hobgoblins, as they were much more threatening. Many of these were turned into Imprinted slaves, or soul wiped and used as cheap temporary vessels for lower-income merchants.
Some races, like the Bullywugs, simply migrated far away from the powerful nations. Goblins, a race which offers no value to others in their works nor in their flesh, simply moved away or dug deaper. Knolls have stubbornly stayed alive and, as always, prey on the weak settlements far from civilization’s core.
Some ignored the new powers… Giants have seen many great empires come and go. The old races still wait. The seas hold hidden powers which more than rival the power of Human. The Arboleth plot in their deep ocean lairs.
There are also crazy tyrants and monsters who still have life… of a kind. Beholders dream of conquering reality, although their slaves can never match the powers of a modern magically imbued army. The Flayers great the new kingdoms with joy… they think that the more advanced a civilization is, the easier it will be to infiltrate and corrupt.