Varieties of Magic in Eldritch Realms

Big news today! My co-authors and I have settled on the sorts of magic that will be in the Eldritch Realms core book. Eldritch Realms is set in Renaissance England, so our priority is to include magic that one encounters in history books about the period. (If you are not familiar with Eldritch Realms yet, it’s the roleplaying game of Elizabethan fantasy that we’re developing — check out the introduction).

Without further ado, here is what the rules will cover:

Alchemy

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f4/Azoth-Fouth_woodcut.jpgAlchemy is the magic of transforming things to a higher state: of purification, refinement, and transcendence. While alchemy employs the paraphernalia of what a modern person would call “chemistry,”  in Eldritch Realms, it is definitely magic. Alchemy is capable of wondrous effects: potions of flight and of invisibility, enchanted armor and weapons, and prophecy through symbolic visions. The ultimate goal of alchemy is to transform the alchemist himself into a a physically, mentally, and spiritually superior person. Alchemy is strongest at spells of health and healing, at making various enchanted tools and weapons, and at granting people extraordinary abilities.

Astrology

The stars influence the fates of men and women, but Renaissance thinkers also strongly believed in individual free will. The predictions of astrology are therefore never perfect, but they can reveal hidden forces at work in the world or foreshadow that a seemingly unremarkable person has a great destiny. In addition to forecasting the future, a magician-astrologer knows how to imbue the power of the stars and planets into talismans that can help a person find fame, wealth, even love; and can protect against both earthly enemies and supernatural curses.

Conjuration

Circletriangle.gifThe world teems with invisible spirits, but whether these are angels, demons, faeries, or something else altogether, no mortal can tell. Conjuration is the science of binding and commanding these spirits and thereby harnessing their powers. Through the spirits, a conjurer can levitate into the air, scry on distant places, deflect musket-balls, or summon a tempest. Yet the spirits obey mysterious rules of their own, so every spell has a weakness that can be used to block or unravel it. A conjurer has a close relationship with a familiar spirit, who acts as the magician’s servant and sometime advisor.

Druidism

Pictures of English History Plate I - Druids, or British Priests.jpg

The magic of the ancient Celtic magicians known as druids still echoes throughout the British Isles. Their magic combines elements of alchemy, astrology, sigils, and conjuration into a hybrid science with a distinctive cultural identity. This is the magic of Merlin from the legend of King Arthur. It excels at shapechanging, illusion, and commanding the elements of nature.

Sigils

Bewcastle Cross, Plate of Runes.jpgFrom the heirogylphic burial spells on ancient Egyptian scrolls, to the runes of the Anglo-Saxons and Danes who settled in early medieval England, to the theurgic inscriptions of medieval Kabbalah and Dr. John Dee’s “angelic language,” magical writing, diagrams, and glyphs have carried power in many lands and cultures. The science of sigils excels all others at creating protective wards. It is also strong at creating long-lasting blessings

Folk Magic

Radiestezija.jpg Magic is not just for learned experts. Practically every village in Eldritch England has a cunning-man or woman, who tells fortunes, makes charms, finds lost property, and cures sick cattle. Folk magic is a hodgepodge of weak but practical spells derived from more formal kinds of magic, imperfectly copied and then mingled with the lore of local herbs and spirits. Folk magic is too weak weak to be playable on its own (unless you like the idea of playing a more limited wizard), but it can be easily combined with any of the sciences of high magic to broaden a wizard’s powers.

Eldritch Realms Will Use the Fate Core Engine

Fate Core System cover
Fate Core System cover

I’m overdue for an update on Eldritch Realms development, so I’ll try to make one that is a bit more substantial. I’m pleased to announce that Eldritch Realms game mechanics will be based on Fate Core!

The design team put a lot of thought into this decision, starting with asking the question, should we use an open game engine or create a new
one from scratch? We looked at several RPG rules engines, some open, and one proprietary. We pretty quickly came to the conclusion that the game will provide a better experience for the players if we base it on an established game engine instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. When we finally get the manuscript finished (remember, 2018 is the target) and launch the Kickstarter, we want our backers to have confidence the game is built on a solid foundation.

You can get a PDF or e-book of Fate Core rules by paying what you want, or you can browse an HTML version of the Fate System Reference Document for free online. To be clear, Eldritch Realms will be a stand-alone game containing everything you need between one set of covers. You will not need a copy of the Fate Core System to play — all the rules will be copied into our rule book, edited to fit our writing style and presentation, with new examples and explanatory text. This is all perfectly legal because Fate Core is licensed under the Open Game License.

Continue reading “Eldritch Realms Will Use the Fate Core Engine”

2016 Year-End Update on Eldritch Realms

Eldritch Realms has taken enough shape that I can start to talk about the production schedule.

The magic rules are firming up. Designing a new magic system out of whole cloth takes time — especially since magic is the centerpiece of this game. I am confident we have a solid foundation in place. Since I have a background with the classic RPG Ars Magica, I want to emphasize that Eldritch Realms‘ magic system is not like Ars Magica. It’s based on the period writings of Renaissance magicians, about whom we know quite a lot (thank you, Mr. Gutenberg!). There are several different styles of magic, which I call “sciences” — used in the archaic sense to mean any organized field of study, not necessarily one as rigorous and formal as what we today call “science.” The three primary sciences are astrology, alchemy, and conjuration. If you want an idea of what a powerful wizard (not a beginning player character!) can do in Eldritch Realms, take a look at Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

A Scene from Act I, Scene 2 (Ferdinand courting Miranda) of Shakespeare's
Illustration by William Hogarth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole year of 2017 will be devoted to development. We’re aiming for a closed, invitation-only alpha playtest in the fall of 2017. After that we will revise, hold more public playtests, and repeat for at least half of 2018. Since I am eager to get a paycheck from this game before I have kids and send them to college, I will do my level best to make sure the Kickstarter to produce this game launches before the end of 2018.

Draft introduction for Eldritch Realms

Hot off my keyboard, I have a first draft of the introduction to Eldritch Realms.  This will no doubt be revised and may end up being rewritten entirely. That said, here is what I have to say about the upcoming game.


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene 5
The Alchemist by Sir William Fettes Douglas, 19th cent. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Alchemist by Sir William Fettes Douglas, 19th cent.

The European Renaissance was a golden age of magic. Alongside the blossoming of art, mathematics, and natural philosophy was a corresponding flourishing of astrology, alchemy, and mysticism. Queen Elizabeth I of England (reigned 1558-1603) had, for many years, a court magician: not a mere entertainer, but a serious adviser named Dr. John Dee. Alchemy was not merely a quest to turn lead into gold, but the noble science of transforming matter, which was hoped to cure sickness and perhaps even extend the human lifespan. Astrology was a required subject at medical school so doctors could diagnose patients’ ailments from their horoscopes. Yet magic was not just for the elite: astrological almanacs were best-selling books, second only to the Bible in popularity.

We now know that natural philosophy, which modern people call simply “science,” was the branch of knowledge that would bear fruit, while the branch called “magic” ultimately proved barren. What if it had been the other way around? What if, in an imaginary world, it was magic that contained the keys of truth and gave mankind mastery over nature?

This is the world of Eldritch Realms: a world of historical fantasy where the magical lore of Renaissance Europe is basically accurate. The stars do guide people’s fates. Conjurers can call spirits to project images of distant places into a crystal ball. A host of invisible spirits, good and evil, swarm through the world and can be commanded by those who know their names and the proper rituals.

The world of Eldritch Realms has all the perils and villains of historical Europe — tyrannical barons, conspiracies against the Crown, war, rebellion, fanatical witch-hunters, corrupt businessmen and officials, highwaymen and pirates — with an added layer of the supernatural. Rival wizards scheme to steal your magical secrets. Fallen sorcerers become the pawns of evil spirits in their subtle and wicked games. Werewolves prowl the moors and forests. Vengeful ghosts torment the living. Faerie princes lure mortals into their hollow hills, never to be seen again. Eldritch England is a place of wonders and perils, ripe for adventure!

This book contains all the information you need to create adventure stories in Eldritch England, our fantastical version of Britain during Elizabeth I’s reign. Your character is a wizard, one of the very few who possess the cleverness, dedication, and strength of character necessary to work magic. If she knows the right spells, she can wield the powers of legend: to turn invisible, spy upon distant places with a crystal ball, to become nearly invulnerable in battle or even to forecast the future. The story you create will be partly about how your character chooses to wield this great power. Together with your friends, you decide how your character’s destiny unfolds!


I would love to hear your feedback on this. Please use the comments to share your thoughts!

October update on Eldritch Realms

The development team and I are continuing work on the magic system. This, of course, will be the defining rules section of the game, so it’s important to get it right. Where we stand is that we have a roughed-out framework for how magic generally works and are starting into the details of creating spells.

Everything is still subject to change. I can say with confidence that the design of the magic system is inspired by historical (alleged) magicians such as Christian Rosenkruetz, Paracelsus, and Doctor John Dee. These are magicians of the intellectual tradition of European magic called Hermeticism, which shares a name, but little else, with the high-fantasy magic portrayed in the great RPG Ars Magica. So Eldritch Realms is inspired by (historical) Hermeticism, but I want it to also be inclusive of other kinds of magic from different places and times. If I get the design right, you’ll be able to play a folk magician or a Turkish mystic and have just as fun and interesting a game as if you had played an Hermetic “magus”.

On an unrelated note, I read The Elizabethan Underworld by Gāmini Salgādo last month as part of my research for Eldritch Realms. It’s an accessible and interesting book full of inspiration for any GM. It’s definitely going on the list of recommended reading in the back of Eldritch Realms.

Introducing Eldritch Realms

On Sunday, my team of freelance designers and I had our first play session of the new tabletop RPG we’re developing.

As I’ve said before (and told everyone I met at Gen Con), this will be an RPG of historical fantasy set in Renaissance Europe. The concept of the game has firmed up enough that I can make some more details public.

The working title of this game is Eldritch Realms. We may change that title before we’re finished with development, but for now, it will serve.

We’ve chosen Elizabethan England as the setting, because it’s awesome. Another reason for this choice — second only to its awesomeness — is that it should be familiar. Anyone who’s completed high school in an English-speaking country has read some Shakespeare. Maybe you loved it, maybe you hated it, but at some point you had to pass a test on Shakespeare and his time: and that of his sovereign. Very likely, you already know all the history you need to dive into the setting and feel comfortable role-playing there. And if you’ve been to a Renaissance fair, you’ve already visited that world.

Well, almost. Eldritch Realms is not about historical England. It’s about fantasy England and, specifically, playing a wizard in fantasy England. Eldritch Realms is a game about wizards and werewolves and King Oberon and Queen Titania and clandestine alchemical experiments and secret societies and probably giants on the Yorkshire moors. History is the starting point for understanding the setting. The game is a fantasy game, where you play a wizard and go on adventures and save the good people of England from supernatural menaces.

We’re just getting started on developing the magic system, but our approach is to try very hard to capture the flavor of Renaissance folklore. This means magic is going to be subtler than in D&D or other fantasy games (including Ars Magica) because historical magicians didn’t claim they could throw fireballs around. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of options for magical powers. The designers’ research so far shows that Paracelsus claimed the power to levitate objects into the air. The Rosicrucians could reputedly read minds, turn invisible, and communicate magically over great distances. Dr. John Dee possessed a shewstone, which was the inspiration for the name of my company.

Our current thinking is that all the player characters are wizards, and will probably have a choice of different kinds of historical magic to specialize in.

We have a great development team, whom I hope to introduce in a future post.

It is much too early to talk about when the game will be ready. It’s still more than a year away, and possibly more than two. We are working on the game now, writing the rules in rough form and playing as we go. Eventually we’ll have a rough draft ready to try out at conventions. Please keep following us on Google+ or Facebook, and we’ll post updates as often as we have news to report. We’re going to take our time with this and make the best game we possibly can. How long that will take, my shewstone can’t tell me.

About the Working Title

“Eldritch” means “spooky” or “eerie” and, according to Merriam-Webster, is a word about 500 years old. When gamers see the word “eldritch,” they often think of H.P. Lovecraft, because “eldritch” (along with other gems such as “squamous” and “cyclopean”) was among that author’s favorite words. Eldritch Realms has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. It has to do with England about 500 years ago. Well, 450 years ago, around the time the word “eldritch” must have been hitting its stride. I think of this name reclaiming a word at risk of becoming Cthulhu Mythos jargon, and putting it back to work as a general-purpose and really cool way to say “eerie.”