published: Sep 4, 2017 | last modified: Sep 4, 2017
estimated reading time 18 minutes

Can a society, devastated to near extinction by magic, but who need magic explicitly and implicitly for survival, find a set of morals, traditions, beliefs, and a way of life that will allow it to rebuild?


Some History

The Present

The Shard

The Lyre

The Elements


The Marked



This setting is intended to explore societal taboos and values associated with a necessary evil. That evil is magic. Magic was once used and relied upon in all areas of society, deeply embedded into everyday life. Abused beyond reason, the natural forces in the setting took action to correct the abuse — magic fought back. In doing so the rules of magic, as well as the environment, were altered.

Some history

Magic exists within and around everything and binds all endeavors. Magic is the most powerful force of nature. Used to raise mountains where mountains shouldn’t be raised, burn the sands of deserts creating landscapes that make deserts appear as oases, manifesting storms devastating the land below and all life thereon, harness tidal forces to permanently change the shape of coastlines, create magically driven automata to do mans bidding and fight mans’ wars.

Even split the atom.

This is where the world drew a line. In response, the elemental forces removed their hold on the Tempest. And the Tempest proved more destructive than even splitting the atom. The Tempest played with the very metaphysics of magic itself. Thus began the Age of Cataclysm.

The Tempest left nothing untouched. Man, the world, magic, the stars, even the Tempest itself. In the end, no one knew the world, no one knew the elements, and no one knew each other. Everything had changed. After a time the Tempest calmed itself, content to play only here and there.

As men stepped forward to once again take control of the elements and their destiny, the Tempest would rage changing all they did. This is when the dragons appeared. Some would teach in the hopes that man would learn self-control in their use of the elements and magic. Others destroyed in order to prevent any further raging of the Tempest. The rest just watched; waiting. For what no one knows.

This is where we are now. A dead civilization trying to build something new, remnants of ancient technologies once powered by magic, but long dead, litter the world. The elements and magic changed beyond understanding. The few survivors struggling for the basics like food and identity in this new world.

The Present

The world is currently in the throes of readjustment. Magic has yet to fully settle into a framework and the world itself is still undergoing some changes. Life as it was known before the cataclysm still exists but is rare. There are tales of many unusual landscapes: bodies of water that burn; trees that walk; insects that are the size of a man. And then there are the mists.

In an attempt to survive in this new world, man has banded into small societies. These individual societies suspect and hope that others exist, but communications between them are all but non-existent. The setting is meant to focus play in one of two formats: a community and a vessel.

The community is a single developing society several generations into the cataclysm riding an “island.” This island, referred to as the Shard, is a remnant of the past magically technological age. Upon this Shard is a struggling society of humans that remember the past glories through tales and song passed down through the generations. The society has started to move away from hunter-gatherer toward agrarian in the last generation.

The Shard is home because it is more easily defendable against the many unknowns and perceived dangers now present in the world. And there are those that still lust for the control and glory of the past. These individuals usually develop agendas that include the Shard and its population. This setting is meant to explore societal change and growth as one society learns to cope with the changes wrought by the Tempest.

The second focus of play is a small vessel. Here we have a few individuals on an “airship” named The Lyre that remains afloat based on pre-cataclysm principles. The airship itself has undergone many changes in structure in the past generations, but the engine that keeps it afloat and allows for minor navigation of the ship is an artifact of the past magically technological age.

This focus of play is meant to explore the variability of societal growth across the world and interacting with the different developing cultures as humans rebuild their destiny in the landscapes the Tempest has altered.

The Shard

I am one of the Marked

I stand upon the forward edge of our Shard looking out upon the world as it slips by. A world shrouded in mist and magic. Magic permeates everything. We live, eat, and breath magic, but we dare not use it. The Tempest is still with us, still unchecked, waiting for the fool that uses magic. And the laws here on the Shard state that magic is not to be used.

The older shamans teach that once everything worth doing was done with magic, directly or indirectly. Now it is forbidden to do anything with it. Magic is all around and within us, so thick one can almost taste it. Most use of magic today is unconscious or accidental. ‘Ware if magic is used, and the Tempest notices. Even if you survive, others will know, for you are marked by the Tempest. Our Shard is small, and those marked by the Tempest don’t go unnoticed for very long. One just has to hope that the right group notices first.

Our shamans teach that our world is made up of 6 elements — Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Dream, and Tempest — all woven into patterns like a tapestry. Magic gives structure to the warp and weft of the world. But in this time of trouble, this time of cataclysm, the magic itself is sensitive to change, and thus the Tempest. Though the Tempest is not an element in its own right, it is an aspect that harnesses and abuses all other elements. The Tempest is constantly reaching into the pattern and tweaking it.

Everything is shrouded in mist. Our shamans speak of the mist as magic you can see. This is because of the nature of the mist. Sometimes the mist is so thick you cannot see your hand in front of your face. At other times the mist is withdrawn to the point one can easily see where the arrow lands on a long shot. Sometimes it takes on a color or a taste.

And the mist has qualities at times akin to the elements. Hard to breathe, as if one is choking on dust. Hot to the point of burning the skin, eyes, and throat. Dry enough to cause drought and cracking of even the supplest skins. Wet to the point of never being dry, and if the temperature is cold, we have ice and snow. It can miss-direct lights and sounds. And dreams, or nightmares, that are so real one is not sure when they are asleep.

And when the Tempest visits, the mist acts as an accelerant for it. If the Tempest visits when the mist is very thick, the raging will be very bad.

There — see atop that low mountain peak — a dragon. And though you can’t see it from here, you can be sure it’s Marked. They are all Marked.

Some teach that the dragon has already fought with and conquered their Tempest. And that is why most just sit, and watch, and wait. Wait to see if we will conquer our Tempest. Others teach that they are waiting for the right moment to strike and finish off man in one final blow before we destroy the world completely. Those are extremes of course, but you can always find someone with an opinion matching any shade in between. And like magic, many would gladly die for their beliefs.

The Shard has a friend in a dragon – Brightscale. Named such because one of the Tempest markings it has is a handful of scales that glow. The colors change on occasion. And we don’t know if we should refer to Brightscale as a He or a She. No one knows how to tell the difference between dragon genders, or if there is more than one. Brightscale’s dragon name is unpronounceable with our mouths, so we gave it that name.

Brightscale shows up at random times. It’s been years since it was last here. Some do not welcome the visits, but most will at least listen to what the dragon has to say. When the dragon does come around, it attempts to teach, though most of the time the lesson is lost, as generally, we cannot understand what the point is or the concepts. But Brightscale is patient. And due to that patience, we now are cultivating some of what we used to gather off the Shard.

No that one is not Brightscale, so don’t stare. We wouldn’t want to anger it now, would we?

An immense crystal platform, deformed and eroded by the effects of the Tempest, upon which a small population resides. There are many theories as to what the purpose of the Shard was, but no one really knows. Upon the Shard is a layer of rich soil and small bodies of water. Plant and animal life thrive on the Shard, both without and within. Most of this life has been touched in some way by the Tempest and natural selection has reduced the variety and population of life on the Shard to manageable numbers.

The Shard itself floats above the surface of the world, normally only a few man heights. Folks can, with a little effort or assistance (ropes, ladders, magic, etc.), climb aboard or leave the Shard at will. The Shard is constantly moving, normally at a walking pace. The height and pace can vary, however, and normally is dependent upon the residual magic level in the area as well as the dominant elemental aspect of that magic.

Though many have tried, the Shard resists attempts at directing its travel and height. The many failures to do so have been attributed to the Tempest, as magic is what is needed to make any desired adjustments. Why the Shard takes the course it does is unknown, though opinions are common and freely given.

Across the Shard, folks have settled in areas with other folks that have similar ideals, morals, values, traditions, beliefs, and taboos. These small villages have sprung up everywhere. Occasionally there are disputes as several groups are elbowing for the land around a particular body of water, but generally, there is no issue with finding a spot to settle in.

If one can’t find what they like on the Shards surface, there are other places to settle. Many openings lead deep into the body of the Shard, sometimes opening up into vast caverns or catacombs. There are even folk that have found a home beneath the Shard. The most noticeable though are the people above the Shard. In many places, the crystal material of the Shard appears to have been drawn or grown. In these places the crystal tears through the topsoil and presents tall thin projections. In an area on the right of the Shard, there are a great number of these projections and are collectively called Needles. The projections of Needles are larger than most, and there are hundreds of them. In and amongst the Needles are all manner of home and hovel, hanging on the sides or strung between. Here folks have disputes with their neighbors over sunlight and refuse, both which filter down from the top.

Over the generations, society has attempted to pacify the Tempest and shun magic as the evil that caused the current state of the world. As such, many laws have been laid down and moral values pressed on the inhabitants of the Shard to outlaw the use of magic. But magic is the foundation of life in this setting and can manifest unconsciously in even everyday affairs. This in itself would not be a problem, but if the Tempest shows up, it always leaves its mark.

On a personal level, the individual that caused the Tempest is marked. When magic is consciously used, especially if used in a big way, there are extreme ramifications to the individual and others. These others do not seem to have a reason for being chosen, but usually, there is something that can be found common among them: in the same area; the same gender; the same color hair; are left-handed; no longer have wisdom teeth, etc. And the environment itself is affected. Changes in elemental composition, structure, texture, additions, replacements, removals, etc. are all possibilities. Sometimes there are combinations of any and all the above.

And once you are marked, it can be hard to hide. A mark is what others use to find someone to blame for their troubles, whether you were the cause or not. Those that, in one form or another, zealously watch for the Marked, are referred to as Unbound. The unfortunate thing is that you don’t even have to consciously use magic to get marked; you could be marked by association. That, of course, isn’t important. You are Marked, and therefore are guilty of the ultimate sin.

However, the people of the Shard are not mindless of these circumstances. The customs of dress allow one to cover everything or nothing without question. There are suspicions though if one is well covered, especially in warm weather. Conversely, there are groups that revel in markings and the power that magic brings. And on all sides are those with agendas. Many of these groups are secret in nature, keeping to their own. A few are not afraid to flaunt it, for if you have used magic once, you would use magic again, and no-one wants to get caught in your Tempest.

Even sex is an issue. Sex in and of itself does not have morality or regulation placed upon it. However, it is theorized that few emotions and feelings are as personally powerful as those manifest in a union, and the Tempest likes extremes. The Tempest never rages because of intimacy, but the potential child from the union is commonly affected; a child can be born Marked. These could consist of the usual markings if one can consider them usual, or possess some unusual ability or power. This is another issue with the Unbound, and how newborns are treated varies greatly across the Shard. Some areas of the Shard regulate sex and/or childbirth. Generally across the shard, same-sex couples are encouraged for both population control and preventing a Marked birth.

The Lyre

I am the Captain of The Lyre

The engine that keeps the ship afloat is a large (about two man-heights in diameter) enchanted magically sensitive crystal that sits in the center of a large crystal ring (about two man-heights wide and thick). The central crystal referred to on board as the Focus, floats upon the magic lines that crisscross the world. The elemental aspect of the line generally doesn’t matter. The ring of crystal, referred to on board as the Band, is magically locked around the Focus. If the Focus moves, the Band stays with it, keeping the Focus centered in the Band and the Band generally level. One can change the height of the engine, and therefore the ship, by either physically moving the Band, forcing the Focus to track with the Band, or magically moving the Focus, forcing the Band to track with the Focus.

The ship itself is built upon and extends from the Band itself. Nothing touches the Focus and survives un-Marked, if at all. Channeling magic to and from the Focus for the purpose of navigation is risky. We are again playing with magic, and the Tempest doesn’t care how or why you are playing with it. Both the Focus and the Band show Markings of past magical manipulations. Therefore the ship is normally allowed to sit at whatever height the Focus settles at above the landscape, and sails anchored to the Band are used for motive force and to navigate the landscape.

The main deck of the ship is of a wood that pre-dates the cataclysm and mounts directly onto the Band. As strong and durable as steel, the rest of the ship’s structure is built upon or beneath this main deck. Unlike the main deck, the rest of the ship’s structure is a hodge-podge of materials and architectures assembled out of necessity for ships operation at the time it was needed.

The Elements

Earth (physical passive)
Earth is the aspect of structure and stability, strength and endurance, the past. The aspect of Earth exists in stone and stars, resistance and sinew, runes and the symbolic, arrangement and application, blunt weapons and siege, tolerance, and patience.
Fire (physical active)
Fire is the aspect of extremes and instinct, dexterity and action, the present. The aspect of Fire exists in volcanoes and candles, impulse and first impressions, division and gesture, now and presence, edged weapons and tactics, decisions and closures.
Air (mental passive)
Air is the aspect of thought and reasoning, intellect and perception, the future. The aspect of Air exists in lightning and breath, whispers and knowledge, preparation and measures, precision and quality, piercing weapons and logistics, facts and diplomacy.
Water (mental active)
Water is the aspect of emotion and self, wisdom and willpower, relationships and patterns, mortality. The aspect of Water exists in waterfalls and rain, sweat and tears, simplicity and composition, myth and lore, unarmed and intimidation, empathy and barter.
Dream (binding passive)
Dream is the aspect of insight and belief, complexity and mistakes, possibilities. The aspect of Dream exists in intuition and relationships, foreshadowing and reflection, imagination and illusion, meditation and mirrors, choices and values, intimacy and sacrifice.
Tempest (binding active)
Tempest is the aspect of order and chaos, uncontrolled calm and structured rage, change. The aspect of Tempest exists in storms and emptiness, consequences and repercussions. Tempest is magic-of-magic. Tempest has no form and exists in all other aspects. Tempest refuses manipulation and welcomes play. One that uses magic plays with and within the Tempest and is either a dragon or a fool.


Dragons are an enigma. They existed before the cataclysm but generally stayed out of the affairs of humans. Occasionally a dragon would rage on a town, destroying and killing with little regard. Usually, in these cases, a single item or person was left untouched. Any diplomacy with dragons had ended in either elimination of the ambassador and their entourage, or simply flying away.

An interesting thing of note is that before the cataclysm, all dragons already appeared to be Marked. As if the Tempest had visited them before the cataclysm, as it does man now.

Today, though dragons are not common, most everyone has seen one by their senior years. Dragons are known to be intelligent but think in different ways than man. They place little value on material items. However, they place great value on the relationships of material items with other things, be they other material items, dragons, or humans.

Dragons are known to have hoards, often filled with mundane or otherwise worthless items, hidden and guarded. A dragon will fight to the death for their hoard. This is known only because sometimes a dragon will try to take something from another dragon’s hoard. Dragons are also respectful of, and expect respect for, the space one occupies. Whom they allow into their territory, and their relationship to the dragon is more important than power and material wealth.

Attacks on dragons always end in disaster. Tales tell of a single violent encounter that ended in something other than the dragon winning, and in that tale, both sides were destroyed. This dragon skeleton was the only known skeleton to exist, at least until a flight of dragons converged and flew off with the skeleton.

The Marked

This is the term generally used for any intelligent being in the setting that has the markings of the Tempest. What constitutes markings of the Tempest is left somewhat up to the fiction and interpretation. One that has never had the Tempest visit them, but having a natural hair color of flaming red, might be mistaken as one that is Marked.

“Markings” might include: colorations and symbols of varying degrees and sizes (bright colors usually, eyes, hair, teeth, nails, etc.) of whorls, spirals, splashes, overall pigmentation, etc.; minor alterations (extra fingers and toes, a third eye, a third nipple, no belly button, changes in body proportions, etc.); major alterations (an extra limb, no face, cloven feet, wings, etc.); and combinations thereof. Tempest marks are usually minor, as folks don’t normally consciously use magic. It is rare that the changes are not permanent.


This term is generally used for any intelligent being in the setting that has not been Marked (or hides it very well) and generally goes around championing the cause of forbidden magic, calling for all to “unbind” from the magic. Most Unbound are not militant about their cause, and the results are guilds or churches dedicated to and preaching of their own evils of magic.

There are the few true zealots of the cause willing to die and kill for it. These groups generally do not pose too much of a threat to the general population as they usually have their own laws stating that it is a sacrilege to persecute an Unbound, even unintentionally, so a mistake in whom one punishes can have severe repercussions.

This is a post in the "settings-and-snippets" series.
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tags:  setting 
series:  settings-and-snippets 
categories:  geek