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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Dawn of Sorcery

I'm completely convinced that no class can or should exist with no clear place in the game world, distinct from that of any other class. In particular, when talking about the arcane triad of Wizard, Sorcerer and Warlock, I'm of the opinion that extra thought must be placed, to explain why their magic is different, and ultimately what is the origin of magic itself.

I always had in mind some lore and cosmology when thinking about my version of the Sorcerer, and as always, it's not something incompatible with what Wizards told us, on the contrary.

I wanted to write the whole thing as an in-game legend, but I found it's really too complex as of now, so I'll just write down freely, explaining to you (few) readers my ideas...

Note: I wrote this long before creating my World of Cthon cosmology, and the assumed cosmology is basically that of 4th Edition D&D, although intentionally left without names so that it can adapt to different settings. I will however adapt a lot of this material to Cthon, with a few important changes here and there!

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The origin of Sorcery, that is, channeling of raw magic, goes back to a time where the Gods were newborns, and the Primordials thrived. It is, in fact, the magic of the primordials, and arguably the first kind of magic, although certain Warlocks claim that strange and incredibly old entities mastered Eldritch Magic eons before.

But Sorcery is far easier to understand, especially in its links to the Primordials.

The primordials lived in the Elemental Chaos (or Maelstorm), an amalgam of all the elements, and were made of the very same elements themselves. It was with a sheer act of will that they shaped the world from those elements, because only will separated them from the matter outside them. And this is exactly Sorcery.

The myths about how Sorcery had come into the hands, or better into the blood, of mortals, are many, and nearly as many are the races that claim that the first Sorcerer was born among them.
The most prominent schools of magic though, mostly have one version of this story in their restricted archives, and it has to do with the creation of mankind and the Dawn War between Primordials and Deities.

The legend speaks about the gods having the power of forging souls and sparking life, while the primordials had the power of forging anything physical.

Most primordials only knew how to channel the four material elements. Although very powerful, this ability wasn't very compatible with life, and the primitive world saw many living creations of the gods die under the sheer power of the elements that the primordials shaped.

Few creatures resisted, and it is said dragons were among them, although it's not clear whether they were created by the gods, the primordials, or both.

The first humanoids were always destined to ruin in such a world, because they couldn't master elemental sorcery, since it was an innate ability of primordials that would have required offspring between them and the mortals to be passed to them, and this was physically impossible.

But one day,  the youngest and cleverest among the primordials discovered how to channel a fifth element, or a non-element: an immaterial energy which was Chaos itself. With this ability, he could manage to shape things beyond raw matter, and he used it on himself firstly, becoming a being far more refined than the elder primordials.

Finding himself the first member of a new generation of beings, this primordial whose name has been erased by all records, was very lonely, and it is said a god understood his feelings, and thought of a way to make him happy and at the same time help his creations be the first to thrive in the primitive world.

The god created the race of mankind, not much in his image, but resembling the young primordial, and gave them both the rationality proper of the gods and the impulsive creative spirit of primordials.

These first human beings looked like young brothers and sisters for the clever primordial, who observed them from a distance, and learned a lot about them.

The elder primordials saw a lot of danger in this, and prohibited any contact, but they couldn't do much to contain their youngest, since with the power of Chaos that he had mastered, he could trick their minds easily.

With an illusion, he simulated a long voyage to the far reaches of the universe, and with a transmutation he changed his true self into a human, starting to mingle with them. Eventually, he fell in love with a woman, as the creator god had hoped, and gave birth to children who displayed, for the first time in a mortal, his ability to manipulate Chaos.

The first Sorcerers were born, and their presence was readily noticed by the Primordials, who understood the betrayal of their younger brother, and went to destroy humanity. The god that created humans readily descended to the world to defend his creation, and the Dawn War began between gods and primordials.

The mortal sorcerers were very strong, but they couldn't compete with primordials, so they were all dying. Eventually, their primordial father showed up to defend them, and his elders could finally recognize him. In a joint effort of vengeance, they captured him and it is said they damned him to an eternal torture, in some remote place of the world or outside of it. But the military effort required to do so put the primordials in disadvantage in the context of the war, and gods and mortals were managing to beat them for the first time.

The first and strongest of the mortal sorcerers understood that however, his ability could not last, and his descendants could eventually be all killed. So with the help of the god of knowledge, he went to meditate about magic itself in a remote place of the world, passing long years alone in his hermitage.

In the mean time, the other mortal sorcerers managed to tame dragons, and with their help they created the first empire of history. The dragons, already possessing the spark of sorcery, eventually acquired the ability to channel Chaos too, and transforming themselves briefly, they were able to procreate with humans, founding a second bloodline of sorcerers with dragon blood, able to channel the Elements instead of only Chaos. Again, the primordials, with the help of a traitor god, concentrated all their strength against this new threat to their dominion, this time bringing the first demons with them, said to have appeared in the Maelstorm after some foul act perpetrated by the traitor god.

The war was destroying the world itself, when something unexpected happened. All the chaotic energies produced by magic duels that raged all over the world, found their way inside the world itself, and gave life to it, creating the first primal spirits. These spirits understood that the world they were part of was going to be destroyed if left in the hands of beings that came from outside of it, so in a single battle in which they allied with the purest of the mortals, those not "tainted" by sorcery, giving them unimaginable powers that later became known as Primal, they managed to banish the outisiders and kill most of the equally dangerous sorcerers. The world was peaceful for the first time, the first mortal empire ruined, and sorcery remained confined to a few lonely and mad survivors and the dragons who had surrendered themselves or who fled to the most remote corners of the world.

Someone saw this great retreat of dragons coming towards him, the first sorcerer in hermitage and meditation, who finally woke up from his decades-long meditation with a long white beard, having lost the years of his youth. And waking up, this old man understood that thanks to the help of the god of knowledge, he could speak a language that controlled his magic, without using his sorcerous power.

He understood that his life was approaching its end, and travelled towards civilization, wanting to teach this language and magic to humankind, to make their life easier. But he got very tired, and had to stop his voyage in the first virgin forests of the world. There he encountered the elves, who with the help of primal spirits had helped make the world peaceful.

He was treated with respect and kindness, and his ability was recognized as something beautiful, by the sensitive elves of the dawn of the world. They let the primal spirit judge that new form of magic, and since they could only sense the power of things that were alive, such as the magic inside the blood of sorcerers, they couldn't recognize any danger from magic that came only from rationality. So with the spirits' permission, the elves learned the art from the old man, and wizardry was born.

Nothing is known about what happened to that old individual, or how wizardry came to humankind again.

Nothing is known either about what happened in the world of the fey, from which elves came from, and how some other powerful beings came to develop their magical abilities. Some warlocks claim that the language of magic existed long before the first wizard, and that wizardry never approached its full power, left to beings such as the Archfey or the Devils, who it is said were the angels of the traitor god.

In any case, Sorcery managed to come to the mortals and stay, although in very few individuals, and from the very first love between the forgotten primordial who had first mastered Chaos, and mortals (not everyone agree they were humans), the first mortal Sorcerer was born, and with him Wizardry, since with the godly gift of knowledge and rationality, the manipulation of Chaos could finally become a learned ability.

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This is roughly the lore I have in mind to explain the passage from Sorcery to Wizardry, with a clear reference to classic mythology. (I guess nobody missed it )

As I explained, or better failed to explain, the place of Eldritch Magic, or Warlocks, is unclear in this. The best explanation could be that the first Warlocks found out that selling their souls to powerful individuals gifted in sorcery could lend them power, just by speaking the right words of the Tongue of Creation. One could argue then, that Wizardry could more likely come from "cracking the code" of that language, thus breaking the need of the bargain with powerful beings, and making magic available through study instead.

The final point thus is that both Warlocks and Wizards have ways to learn more refined magic powers than Sorcerers, but that without Sorcery, and in particular the Mastery of the Fifth Element, Chaos, Wizards and Warlocks could not exist, since the essence of Chaos is the essence of raw arcane power itself.

From a game point of view, this kind of lore where magic gets gradually learnable, from a time in which it was impossible for mortals to master it, offers many hooks for additional stories and adventures even. In fact, there could be all kinds of secret form of arcane magic, perhaps coming from different lines of sorcery, perhaps not even from the primordials in a first place, and the legend I just tried to write, could be instead some kind of big lie that covers up a different truth for the interest of someone, or something...

At any rate, I hope that through stories like this, gamers won't think that Sorcerers and Warlocks don't have a place in the world, just because the Wizard class was born before. The point is that Wizardry is like a fantasy equivalent of high technology, the triumph of rationality. But just as high technology requires many lower technologies to exist in a first place, Wizardry can't be the original, first kind of magic, it simply doesn't make sense. Sorcery and Eldritch Magic both help fill that "fantasy-historical gap", and make magic itself far more varied and mysterious, making any D&D campaign a deeper and more engaging fantasy experience for the players.