Adventuring in the World of Mundane Magic

Andy Chalk | 5 Apr 2011 08:29
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The roots of alchemy can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China, India, and, in the west, Hellenistic Egypt, from where it passed through ancient Greece and Rome. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the focus of alchemical study shifted to the Islamic world, which was far more rigorously systematic in its approach and documentation than its predecessors. It was during this period that many of the most important advances in alchemy were made, including the discovery of distillation and chemical reactions that led to the creation of acids and other substances.


The Crusades introduced the Islamic advances to European society, leading to a revival of alchemical studies which for a while found ready acceptance within the Christian belief system. By the 15th century, however, it had been disavowed by the Church, leading to a view of alchemy as a dark art and even to the persecution of its practitioners. Yet while the long-sought-after transmutation of lead into gold stayed stubbornly out of reach, in the strange world of Darklands there are plenty of other, more practical problems to solve. A good alchemist was a handy fellow to have around.

Alchemical magic is subtle. There are no magic missiles or giant, crushing fists materializing out of thin air to strike down foes. Instead, using formulae created by historical figures like Petrus Bonus, Nicolas Flamel, and Albertus Magnus, Darklands alchemists use marsh vapors, black bean, brimstone, "sanguine base" - the classic eye of newt, tongue of toad and even powdered unicorn horn - and other exotic ingredients to create thrown potions like flash bombs, liquid fire, and deadly, poisonous mists, or sinister coatings that improve weapon penetration, armor strength, or even the accuracy of arrows. Those who lack the knowledge to create their own mystical brews may still purchase them for a hefty price, subject to availability and, of course, provided they know the right people.

The other, purer form of magic is not that of men but of God, or more precisely the many saints who work on his behalf. Darklands portrays 137 real-world saints in all, some well-known and others very obscure. They offer a wide range of boons; Alexis of Rome, an eastern saint who lived in the fifth century Roman Empire, will improve a party's standing with the local populace, while Drogo, who was reportedly able to bilocate, can greatly improve overland travel speeds. Some saints will improve specific skills, while others aid in the avoidance of battles or can alert adventurers to the presence of evil. In times of true desperation, a few will even provide small amounts of money.

But prayer in Darklands is more a matter of pragmatism than of simple faith. Sufficiently virtuous supplicants can entreat a particular saint for real and immediate aid, but not without cost. Divine favor is limited and must be replenished through prayer or, for those in a rush, substantial donations to a local church or cathedral. Furthermore, anyone can pray but praying effectively is an altogether different matter. Comprehensive knowledge of saints is largely restricted to those who can read and write, understand Latin and hopefully have some religious training, and the fewer saints an adventurer knows, the fewer his options when things get ugly.

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