Twenty years ago, magic was the stuff of fairy tales and legend, but few believed it was real. Then the skies opened and magic rained down and started changing everything. It’s impossible to deny now.
What the scholars have learned so far is that magic is carried by a gas called arcanon, which slowly seeps through anything, even solid rock, though precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum seem resistant to it. Arcanon is subject to thought patterns and force of will, though it takes much practice and discipline to work spells. Each spell takes on a certain kind of life, becoming a thing with will of its own, and as such is potentially dangerous to its holder. In practice there is little difference between spells that wizard cast and the spells that clerics cast. Both channel arcanon through the mind and redirect through force of will. However, clerical magic builds upon old religious rituals and faith; wizard magic borrows from those rituals, strips them down to their pure essence, and focuses them into a different form.
Magic invests itself in different people in different ways. The older citizens who were born before the invasion tend to be fairly immune to magical effects. Magically summoned fire still burns them, of course, but magical sleep is less likely to affect them. At the same time, very few of those people are able to use magical power at all. The few who can, the Imbued, are very rare and special. The children born into a magical world are all normally susceptible to the effects of all magic. A small minority of them, called the Blessed, seem to have a special connection to magic. All player characters are Blessed or Imbued. Essentially, this means that they advance with levels as they gain more magical power. A 2nd level fighter is as magical as a 2nd level wizard, for the fighter’s battle prowess is not entirely physical puissant skill at arms; some of that ability comes from magic seeping into their bones and blood. Likewise, a back-alley thief turns into a 3rd level rogue as magic quickens her muscles and gives her catlike grace.
Defeating other magical creatures and even overcoming certain magical devices and traps allows one of the Blessed or Imbued to absorb magical energy (yes, Experience Points) into their body and increase their power. It’s a bit like Highlander, only it’s really not necessary to chop off someone’s head or even kill them. Get your enemy to surrender and their power is yours and they are made fairly harmless.
Lasthold has some additional magical features you may not be very familiar with.
Misty clouds of arcanon flow around the world until they find something to latch onto. Arcanon has a mind of its own sometimes, because it’s magic, not just a cloud of gas. Wizards can use this free-floating arcanon to power rituals, so they build special towers to get them closer to the source of power and further from the ground. Nonetheless, arcanon sometimes twists itself into a more cohesive form, making threads that writhe across the surface of the world, with one end getting caught up or anchored on some strange geological feature, like a spike of iron or a deep cave. These threads are what we call ley lines. The are not fixed in place exactly. Only at certain points are the threads tethered to the earth, while the rest of the tendrils wave with the wind. If two ends of the thread are fixed, then the ley line’s location can be somewhat predictable. One reason that Lasthold became a bastion of safety against the elves and dwarves is the presence of deep gold and iron mines that snag arcanon threads. Thus the city has become a giant nexus for magical energy.
The world of Talothian has a lot of “practical” magic compared to other settings, especially in the area of masonry. It’s typical for a wizard to have some rituals that can speed of stonework, cut rock, and strengthen towers that could not normally stand so high. Non-adventuring Masons are respected magic workers who specialize in stonework. It might take them a day to prepare a ritual, but their magic can build an entire tower in a week. Adventuring spellcasters differ from their civilian sisters and brothers mainly in the speed they can cast spells.
Rituals are every spellcaster’s best friend. They allow the magic user to perform magical feats that would be otherwise impossible. The cost is additional time, focus, and material. A clever wizard collects strange components in the hopes that they will be useful for a ritual someday. Clerics need fewer specific ingredients for their rituals, but they need others’ support, prayer, and sacrifice, since their magic is powered by active belief and engaged community. For a cleric, the temple or shrine is a vital magical energy collector, not just a gathering place for sermons.
Certain kinds of magic items are prevalent in Lasthold. Circles (loops) of precious metal seem to be especially good focuses for magic. This means that magical rings (for fingers) are found fairly often. But why stop at small metal bands? You’ll also find crowns and coronets of power, enchanted torcs, magical bracelets and bracers, and even silver hand-loops (basically, take a wand or rod and twist it into a circle and wield it as a magical tool).