In the campaign setting World of Weirth (TM), I’m setting up a new-ish idea, that there is no difference between Arcane and Divine Magic and that all spells LIII and above are taught/bestowed/granted by Supernatural Entities. The following is from the draft of the Player’s Guide to Weirth (TM):

Cleric is a job, not a class.

Anyone can be an evangelist for a god. In a world where gods are real, and sometimes take a personal interest in the goings-on of mortals, everyone is “religious”. There are no “atheists”. In a polytheistic society, the typical person will commonly call upon more than one deity for various day-to-day needs and blessings. There are assuredly “churches”, buildings or places where one or more gods are worshipped (or spirits, demons, elemental forces, ancestors, etc), according to their various spheres of influence. In the Weirth setting, magic is seemingly everywhere, and nowhere. The supernatural forces are burning it up with their squabbles. Without the Elves and the Voorsteh to cultivate and grow sources and flows of magic, it dissipates. Magic is being forgotten, and in the forgetting it dissipates.

Every year there are fewer and fewer people born with the Gift of being able to grasp the power of magic to manipulate reality. Most of the inhabitants of Weirth can’t sense the flows of magic at all. Some have Knacks, a bit of a “special power” that would seem magical if we didn’t all know how dangerous magic is.  Besides, a Knack isn’t something one can control, it just happens, like when your grandmother’s biscuits always turn out so light and tasty. Or how your cousin can tie a knot that never slips, or untangle a skein of yarn by just pulling on it. The master cabinet maker who is able to cut boards around the knots in a piece of wood, then make them look like they belong in the finished piece. It’s not really magic.

Magic is an accepted and expected practice on Weirth. In fact, anything unexpected or unfortunate that happens is generally attributed to magical interference from a supernatural being. Everyone knows, and uses constantly, small charms and hexes they believe will affect the outcome of their activities, or protect them from those same supernatural beings.

There are many forms of Blessings – for food, for shelter, before beginning tasks or journeys, at night for protection from the dark, monsters, or deadly dreams. Hedge witches, midwives, prophets and zealots abound. Very low-grade, commonplace magic, sleight-of-hand and chicanery are taken for granted as supernatural power derived from gods or demons. Alchemy and the creation of protective trinkets is a booming business. Though based on chemistry or natural effects, the efficacy of these products is ascribed to that same god-blessed or demonic magic.

Priests, Prophets, Zealots and others in the hierarchy of a ‘church’ or ‘cult’ (a congregation of people that gather to worship a particular spirit, elemental force, god or group of gods) often have no magical ability at all. What they do have is the weight and force of history and tradition behind them, political power, charisma, and often a magic item that serves as “proof” of their chosen status. Even without actual magical ability, these Clerics are a very important part of everyday life as they are believed to speak directly to and with the gods (or spirits, demons, elemental forces, ancestors, etc). As such, they will have an outsized social influence. A shouted command of “Seize the heretics!” becomes a much different thing when superstition is the rule. The townsfolk will do it. No questions asked. Religious rules, restrictions and obligations are extremely important to the peoples of Weirth.

A Magic-User is just a Magic-User

The old woman who helps with child-birth, helps set broken bones, and leads the village in the Harvest Festival every year has some magic, but she’s not a Wizard. Wizards are the old, shriveled elders in the courts of the Lords. They’ve been to the Tower of Silence for training in the mysteries of magic. They’ve completed the Grand Trial and learned the secrets of the universe! What they have not learned, however, is the actual language of magic. The true knowledge of this has been forgotten. The language itself still exists, and Magic-Users are able to teach each other (or perhaps puzzle out) how to pronounce it, but no one knows what the words actually mean. Any conjugation or alteration of existing magic words is impossible, as the known magic words are only gestalts or symbols.

In the Weirth setting, the “Cleric”, the “Paladin”, and the Nurdiyan (sort of a Druid) are sub-classes of Magic-User, like an Illusionist (and a Witch). At low levels, the AD&D PHB class description states that Clerics gain spells just like any other MU, through study and memorization. It is only at mid- and higher-levels do they need to communicate with a supernatural source for spells and power. Well, I’d like ‘regular’ magic to work like that, too. Every mid- and high-level Magic-User needs to contact a supernatural being, whether it is a god, a demon, the spirit of a place (such as a forest or river) or a departed ancestor.

The Magic-User needs to prepare and perform rituals of summoning that carry more than a little risk, to bring forth the entities to teach the higher-level spells (third level spells and above). The power to remember and cast these spells is transmitted due to prayer, cajoling, bargaining or even taken by force through compelling or binding the summoned supernatural entity.  The higher the level, the greater the danger. To make a proper low-magic, low-fantasy setting the greater magics need to be rare, difficult and dangerous. Therefore:

  • There will be a Sanity mechanic.
  • There will be Spell Failure tables.
  • Turning Undead will be eliminated as an ability (& transformed into a spell).
  • Magic Items have charges (the magic is dissipating), or are powered by bound entities. These entities may or may not have the ability to contact/influence the wielder of the item. Dispel Magic can break this binding, results are unpredictable.
  • At 5th level, the level needed to request and cast L3 spells, Magic-Users gain the ability to Sense when another being is casting a spell. (Details TBD)

All Magic-User sub-classes need to undergo a ritual Great Trial in order to pass from ninth to tenth level. This involves a Vigil and a ritual poisoning with Mother’s Milk (a magical substance secreted by certain monsters, very rare and extremely dangerous). Only about 25% of those that attempt the Great Trial survive. Those that do become part of an elite leadership cadre, with limited membership, as per the Druid Class description in the AD&D PHB. Each sub-class will have its own leadership cadre. Many Magic-Users do not undergo the Great Trial, preferring instead to retire to a tower, fortress or monastery in order to continue with their research, train new Magic-Users, or simply enjoy their twilight years.

The Sub-classes of Magic-User are:

  • Priest (NPC)
  • Exalted Warrior
  • Nurdiyan
  • Witch
  • Arcanist (Specialist)
  • Illusionist

The Priest (NPC) Sub-Class

In the Weirth campaign setting there is no “Cleric” class. The Closest thing would be a Parish Priest or church leader with limited spell-casting ability that is not a typical adventurer. A Priest uses the Cleric XP and Saving Throw table, but is limited to Level Four. Spellcasting ability is up to second level spells (unless one uses a Ritual, Scroll, or Blood Witchery and the con-commitant possibility of failure). These men and women run the day-to-day operations of Temples, Churches, Shrines, etc. (especially for Name-Level (9th) PCs that may not be around all the time)

These officers of the church often have great personal and political power, if not full access to a church’s coffers, and they will hold a high place in society. Some are Zealots for a cause, who may or may not actually have access to magic, but have learned the catechism and can “walk the  walk”. This is often the type of church leader that one finds roaming the countryside, proselytizing and aiding the less-fortunate. They are your traveling Healers, for people and animals. You will also find them acting as Scribes or Sages or other professional-type occupations.

Priests do not generally wear armor, nor have weapon proficiencies. They fight as 0-level types. They have a minimum WIS score of 12.

Spell Casting

A Priest can cast magic spells up to level two, chosen from a list particular to their god.

Low-level spells and rituals have spread throughout the peoples of the world in a definite cargo-cult style. Ritual phrases, symbols, bodily motions and dances intended to manipulate nature are the kinds of magic that most people encounter or utilize in their daily lives. These practices are a mixture of superstition, chicanery and poorly understood ritualism, designed to harness the power of magic for the safety of children, the fertility of crops and fecundity of flocks.

Many of the practices exhibited by everyday people are based on remnants of actual magical procedures left over from the previous age, yet they rely on a type of “placebo effect” for their efficacy. These practices have been handed down from parents to children, from prophets and zealots to their congregations, over generations:

  • Gestures to ward off evil/harm/trouble/illness
  • “Magic” words and phrases (such as a chant of “Heave-Ho!” makes a group stronger than the sum of its members, likewise “One-Two-Three-Push”; “open sesame” is thought to release a stuck door, etc)
  • Making Dream-catchers (actually very powerful tools in the right hands)
  • Drawing hexes as semi-permanent spells of protection or blessing
  • Engraving runes (masonry and woodworking are considered very valuable, high-status positions)
  • Creating tattoos
  • Chemistry tricks for alchemy (boiling Willow bark makes a tea that relieves pain and reduces swelling) or other potions, salves or spirits (fermentation and brewing are considered a form of alchemy)
  • Smelting metals from ores and metalsmithing are considered magical practices (smithing is also high-status)

These practices, in one way or another, apply to Magic-Users of any class.

In upcoming posts we will look at the playtest versions of various Magic-User character classes.

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