Americana (DnD Campaign Setting)/Magic
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Magic is a fact of life in Americana. There are certain forces which defy the laws of physics set by normal science, in the rebuilding years since the Great War. And as far as anyone is concerned, that's just the way it is. There are legends, of course--some of the oldest legends, now almost completely forgotten or ignored--which claim that at one time, there was no magic in Americana. But whether that is true or not, there's certainly no getting rid of it now.
Unlike coal, gold, or steel, magic is not a resource which any Americ nation can control. The entire continent is saturated with "background magic"--ethereal energy which which ebbs and flows like water wherever it seems to see fit. Most people cannot see or interact with this mystical energy, and in some ways, they're the lucky ones. Being magically attuned in Americana makes a person extremely sensitive to background magic; while this means one can harness this power and use it to aid them as they see fit, it also means they risk swamping themselves with that same power and going under.
|“||The brain of a magic-user acts as a conductor, drawing power from the background flow of magic and harnessing it to do such things as shooting fire from one's fingers or flying without wings. But like any conductor, the brain has a limit to what it can handle--and every person's limit is different, making it impossible to calculate with accuracy. If a magic-user goes over this limit, KRAK! The conductor burns out.||”|
|—Nicholas Newcomben, scientist and electrician, at a seminar in Minneapolis.|
Arcane magic-users--wizards, sorcerers, and the like--are those who draw on the local background magic and channel it into various spells. Occasionally this requires a focus, either in the form of a temporary one such as a spell ingredient or a piece of a ritual, or in the form of a more permanent one such as a crystal ball, which allows extra power to be channeled. Such magical talent manifests itself in different ways--in the case of wizards and sorcerers, the ability is innate from birth, but wizards have to train themselves in the art of controlling magic whereas sorcerers find it more instinctive. This is why sorcerers are more aggressive, more powerful in most cases, and also much rarer--such independence and self-education leads to a burnout rate about twice that of the relatively more sedate wizards and usually at much earlier ages.
Other methods of attaining skill in the arcane arts are rumored, but not officially sanctioned by any of the great magical schools. Practicing such talents is sure to draw the ire of the great institutions.
The three Great Schools of arcane magic are centered around the three major magical academy-states--Seattle in the far northwest, under the constant rain, the oasis at Phoenix, driven underground to escape the heat, and the floating city of Indianapolis, drifting above the blasted wasteland of the northeast. Each school is tied to an element--Seattle to water or ice, Phoenix to fire, and Indianapolis to air or lightning--and similarly specialize in certain talents--Phoenix in offense, Indianapolis in defense, and Seattle in a balance between the two.
Telling the difference between practitioners of the schools is quite simple--all three share the magic-user's uniform of tricorne hat, coat, and breeches, but have different colors associated with them. Seattle's is slate gray, Phoenix is sandstone red, and Indianapolis is buff yellow. Wearing a uniform in the school colors without actually being a member or graduate of the school is a very bad idea--independent users are encouraged to wear the same outfit but to use colors of their own choice.
There is no official fourth Great School for earth and acid, though it is theorized that one exists in the wastes north of Chicago to complete the shape formed by the other three--magic adores symmetry, after all, and hates an uncompleted set. The unofficial fourth school of magic is in San Francisco, which teaches a form of magic that is halfway between arcane and divine, drawing on the power of the land and nature, and is known as druidism. Some independent magicians have established a small school for earth and acid magic in San Francisco, but as none of them have been accepted by the Hippidrum society, the school will likely remain small until a non-square endorses it, which isn't likely to happen from within Frisco's ranks.
The gods are alive in Americana, and they make their presence felt through their avatars on earth--from the lowest parish clergyman to the Grand Aide of Presidism. Such divine power, when channeled, gives the clerics and paladins of the holy orders their might--and their flashy effects. But as with arcane magic, trying to call upon more than you can handle is a very bad idea. Depending on which god you call upon or even their mood that day, the gods may well either simply refuse--or dutifully send the ambitious clergyman what they know to be too much.
There are two major and countless minor religious factions in Americana. The largest is the Presidential religion, centered around the city of Atlanta, which worships the ancient and mysterious gods known as the Presidents. Following it in size and might is the Holy Audience of Los Angeles, which worships a pantheon so large it has never been counted, headed by a legendary ur-god known as the Executive Producer. These two religions have spread themselves and their adherents to neighboring city-states, with slow and gradual success.
However, they are not the only options. Countless minor religions, from the ancestor-worship of the Meheek to the druidic nature rituals of the Natives of the Great Plain to the ancient vodoun of New Orleans, exist in smaller numbers and closer locales throughout the Americ nation. The majority of these religions are polytheistic.
Monotheistic religions exist, but are much rarer--most theologians would argue that creation seems too many-faceted and complex to ascribe to any one being, even a god, but most theologians could also be said to have a bias. The most notorious monotheistic religion in the Americ nations is the blood-magic, human-sacrificing, apocalyptic religion known as Geddonism. Following the belief that the One True God will some day return to earth to sweep it clean in fire and salt, and that by killing as many people as they can they can speed up this timetable and save themselves, the Geddonites were the original inhabitants of Atlanta, until they were driven out by General Roger Kalland, one of the three founders of Presidism. Since then they have been driven underground, and have been hunted mercilessly by the Atlantean Secret Society.
Bardic magic is a distant cousin of arcane magic, and uses the same principal of drawing power from Americana's background magic--but whereas mages can do this innately, bards must rely on their instruments to assist them, in the same way that certain tools like crystal balls or wands can assist a mage in performing powerful spells by acting as focuses.
Bardic magic is safer in that if too powerful a spell is attempted, the instrument is what breaks rather than the bard's brain (which is not to say that injury from whip-snapping strings or flying splinters isn't still a very real possibility in such a case). But a proper bardic instrument is not a cheap piece of work--a true masterpiece can take a lifetime's earnings to buy--and as such bards tend to be very protective of their kit. Rare is the bard who can afford to smash guitars at the end of a performance--rare, and usually respected.
There are three major musical schools of thought in Americana--two old, one new. The oldest, Jazz, is the great musical style of New Orleans, and is intricately woven into the social structure of that city. Jazz virtuosos are as strongly respected in Nawlins society as the blood nobility, and as such Jazz is one of the most common routes for an ambitious peasant to try and better his lot in life. Jazz is usually smooth, primarily defensive or supportive when used in combat (though you don't want to be on the wrong end of a saxophonist's attack lick), and often uses enormous brass ensembles to boost the power of its spells--though Jazz soloists are a force to be reckoned with. Additionally, its improvisational style makes it difficult to learn--and even more difficult to defend against.
Metal, only barely younger than Jazz, is the great rival of that storied school and the darling child of the tribes of Portland. It evolved out of the sonic magic the tribes used during the Great War, and today forms the backbone of both their culture and their warfare. It is impossible, nowadays, to become a Portland chief if you don't have at least a rudimentary knowledge of one of the Four Pillars--vocal, guitar (rhythm or lead), bass, and drums. Metal is almost exclusively offensive, loud and punchy, and usually uses smaller groups of musicians--though, like with Jazz, you don't want to mess with a Metal bard who's good enough to go solo. Its learned, steady rhythms make it somewhat predictable, but the sheer power the school packs has always been enough to carry Portland through.
The third school is the compromise--Rock and Roll. Formed by the legendary "King" of Las Vegas to bring an end to the "Bardic Wars"--conflicts of interest which threatened to turn into open fighting between New Orleans and Portland citizens wherever they met--Rock and Roll blends elements of both schools to create a compromise style. Though not as good at either offensive or defensive magic as Metal or Jazz are, Rock is quite capable of handling both, and uses elements of both in its sets. Rock bands vary in size from four members to eight, and Rock music can switch between free improvisation and devastating measured sets with incredible ease. And, as always, you don't want to mess with a proper Rock soloist.