Setting: Quintessence

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Setting: Quintessence

Postby Kaylin » Sat Feb 25, 2017 7:04 am

TL;DR: Victorian Earth (specifically England especially London) but with elemental mages, shapeshifters and vampires.

This is a setting in which I've been writing a novel for the past...*mumble* years. Since the majority of my characters originated or at least exist here, it seems like a good setting to use for glowfic. My only current thread, In your philosophy with Guilty, contains the Shifter-verse instance of my character Raven, who's been dropped in Milliways because this post wasn't ready yet. (As an aside, if anyone else wants to meet Raven in Milliways, message me.)

Divergence Point

The default time period for this setting is 1848-50, but I'm prepared to write anything from the 1820s to the 1860s with this character set. Magic started to appear in the world, as did shapeshifters, sometime in the late 15th century. As is standard for Earth-with-magic worlds, this has had surprisingly little impact on the last 300 years of history.

Shapeshifters

Let's start here, since it's the only aspect of the setting that's come up in the thread so far. Shapeshifters in this setting are a new species, subspecies, or mutant strain of human (genetics hasn't advanced far enough to tell) with the heritable ability to transform at will between a single human form and a single animal form. The specific animal is also genetically determined. Shifters make up less than 1% of the population in 1850.

The majority of shapeshifters have mammalian forms, around 60%. Nearly half of those are canines, with wolves being the most common historically and dogs beginning to overtake them. Carnivore or omnivore forms are more common than herbivores. After mammals, the next most common category is birds, at around 25%, then reptiles at 10%. The remainder are weirder things like insects, fish, etc.

Shifters can have children with humans, and the resulting child is sometimes a shifter. This is uncommon, due to widespread racism against shifters and a common perception of them as animals. In 1850, it has recently been made illegal to enslave a freeborn shifter, but it is still legal to own a shapeshifter slave. Human slavery has been illegal for half a century.

Finally, shapeshifters are incapable of outright lying. They are capable of deception and can in fact become excellent spies, but cannot utter a statement which they know or expect to be false.

Elemental Magic

Everyone born in this world has a certain amount of magical energy, which is either called mana or essence. However, most people don't have enough of it to do more than put out a candle, and even that is too difficult for the majority. Those that do have enough magical potential to be worth teaching make up approximately 1% of the human population. Statistics are not available for shifters, due to the popular belief that shifters cannot be mages. It is possible for any mage to learn to see other people's magical energy and potential, but shifters show up weirdly to this sight in a way that makes them appear to lack mage potential.

Every person has a unique magical signature, although the differences between them can be very subtle and take training (or an innate gift) to be able to reliably detect. One difference which can be discerned fairly trivially - by someone who has magesight in the first place - is the mage's elemental affinity. This is a spectrum from Fire at one end to Nature at the other end, and has a statistically significant correlation with the type of magic they are likely to be best at. It is rare for a Fire mage to be much good at Nature magic, for instance, and this cannot be entirely explained by lack of study.

The exact classifications and boundaries of the elements have shifted over the years from a starting point of the classical four, but the currently accepted standard is Fire, Air, Water, Ice, Stone, Nature. People (and magic types) with no discernible affinity - rare but possible - are labelled Aether, formerly known as Quintessence. This is considered to be the element of magic itself. Magesight is one example of Aether-aligned magic, which as a category tends towards metamagic. Each element gets the ability to manipulate that element (e.g. Fire mages get pyrokinesis) and another set of powers.

Fire magic is emotion-based, including empathy and also enthrallment-type effects. A Chelsea would require at least a decade of study to get anywhere near her usual level, closer to two to be able to reliably enthral people without them noticing and have it stick when they're out of sight.

Air magic is to do with the mind. The most basic level of this is communicative telepathy, which progresses up through mindreading to mind control and memory manipulation. Air also has a second strand, revolving around illusion. At higher levels (15 years plus) a particularly dedicated Air mage might be capable of creating illusions that feel solid to the touch. It is theoretically possible, but would require at least 25 years of study dedicated entirely to illusion magic, to create illusions which respond to their surroundings based on simple programming.

Water magic, again, has two strands: travel and divination. Travel starts with minor telekinesis, worse and taking longer to learn than the aerokinesis-based kind, and ends up (again, with more than two decades of study) at teleportation, which is very energy-intensive and therefore unavailable even to most of the people willing to spend 20 years getting there. Divination allows visions of the past, present and future, with study mostly giving better and better control over what is shown in the water. Targeted farseeing in the present is usually easier to learn than targeted pastwatching which is easier than targeted futureseeing.

Ice magic focuses on defence and time manipulation. Cryokinesis can slow something down slightly without much training, but timestopping even a small room would be the work of a Master (15-20 years). The other side of Ice is the ability to create shields, both physical (made of ice created from water or, later, air) and of pure magical force.

Stone magic centres on transmutation and enchantment of objects. The Silmarils, being intelligent, would be the work of a Master mage (and would probably take at least a decade on their own, after spending 15 years learning the principles - and this is accounting for Feanaro being a genius). Golems, intelligent or not, would similarly require at least 15 years of studying Stone magic. Another application of Stone magic is the ability to transform other things into stone or metal. For example, a Master Stone mage could gain Medusa-like abilities. However, most are more likely to focus on magic items and/or taking their geomancy to a level where it can be used for construction.

Nature magic allows healing, extending into outright biokinesis which can be used for de-ageing, cosmetic surgery or disguising oneself. Immortality and animal shapeshifting are on the edge of theoretically possible. Many Nature mages also learn to communicate with animals and plants, and leverage that side of their powers to make plants grow faster or modify them. Biokinesis can be used on animals as well as humans, but requires learning for each species individually.

Learning Magic

Learning magic takes a long time, as the examples above demonstrate. The vast majority of mages never put in more than a single decade's worth of study on a single element, and most stop after less than that. State of the art in magic teaching is that potential mages are identified as children, sent to dedicated schools at the age of 9, and remain until at least 16. Magic manifests at puberty, so boys spend the first couple of years getting a rounded education and starting on magical theory.

Magic school is expensive, and the standard practice in Britain is for students to be sponsored by one of: their parents or a family friend; an existing Master mage (someone who has spent an extra 5 or 7 years studying to pass an additional qualification); a person or organisation for which they promise to work upon graduating; or the government. In all but the first case and sometimes the second, the student is required to later pay off their debt to their sponsor, usually through magical labour but sometimes simply through paying a portion of their wages.

Vampires

Vampirism is transmissible by draining a significant amount of someone's blood and getting them to drink a similar amount of yours. Vampires need to breathe, do not need to sleep, and can eat food but don't have to. They do need to drink blood on a regular basis, or they start ageing more and more rapidly. To sustain a human-like level of ageing, a vampire would need to drink a single wineglass' worth of blood once a week. Most prefer to age slower than that, and accordingly either drink every day or two, or drink more at one time. All vampires are infertile and incapable of having children. Nature magic might theoretically be able to fix this, but possibly only for male vampires. (Technological solutions might also suffice.)

The greatest hazard to vampires is sunlight. Moonlight affects them as sunlight does humans, so it is not actually impossible for a vampire to get a tan. If they want to go out in the daytime, they need to wear concealing clothes and heavy makeup and/or some other face covering. Without protection, a vampire standing under Mediterranean sunlight in summer would be visibly burnt (beyond sunburn level) inside a minute. In contrast, it would probably be safe to walk around London for up to an hour unless the smog was particularly light that day, and come away with a moderate-for-humans sunburn.

Vampires have been common knowledge for at least 150 years in Britain, and while they have not achieved the same level of social acceptance as mages (who are now condemned only by a small religious minority), they are at least officially and publicly acknowledged to be no more evil than humans. Being ex-humans, some vampires can perform magic. However, their capacity is about half of their human level, because the remainder is going into keeping them alive.

Better Name Ideas

Apparently there exists a world known as "Shift", which is too close to "Shifters" for me to go with that as a name. So far I've come up with:

  • Aristotle, whose fifth element, Aether, I am borrowing.
  • Quintessence or Essence
  • (suggestions welcome)

I've probably missed something out, because I know this setting quite well and it's been in my head and my notes for a while. Ask me questions, comment on how your characters would fit into this world, suggest names for it...Go!
Last edited by Kaylin on Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Setting: Shifter-verse (better name pending)

Postby Timepoof » Sat Feb 25, 2017 11:20 am

I find this element arrangement very aesthetic ooo.

One possible naming solution is to go with something relating to the time period.

Once you've learnt a magic thing, how long does it take to apply? As in, say I've learnt Nature magic and then I come across someone who's bleeding out and almost dead, how long will it take me to heal them?
The WAFFLES will submit to this indignity.
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Re: Setting: Shifter-verse (better name pending)

Postby Kaylin » Sat Feb 25, 2017 11:48 am

Timepoof wrote:I find this element arrangement very aesthetic ooo.

It started as a more conventional wheel but then I noticed I could fix the problem of Fire and Nature being next to each other by straightening it out. So now it's a spectrum.

One possible naming solution is to go with something relating to the time period.

That would tie me down to that specific time period, though, and I have vague ideas for significantly earlier stuff.

Once you've learnt a magic thing, how long does it take to apply? As in, say I've learnt Nature magic and then I come across someone who's bleeding out and almost dead, how long will it take me to heal them?

You can work magic as quickly as you can focus on exactly what needs to happen, but your speed is limited by the fact that you do have to hold every detailed step in your mind, either simultaneously or sequentially depending on individual casting style. Part of the reason magic takes so long to learn is that it does very little of the detail work for you.
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Re: Setting: Quintessence

Postby Kaylin » Tue Feb 28, 2017 4:30 pm

Setting name changed to Quintessence.

Also, a detail about vampire mages I forgot to mention. They have approximately half as much essence available to use as they did when they were human, because the other half is constantly channelled into keeping them alive.

Please keep the questions coming!
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Re: Setting: Quintessence

Postby MaggieoftheOwls » Tue Feb 28, 2017 5:04 pm

This setting reminds me a lot of the Parasol Protectorate, aside from how it's completely different.
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Re: Setting: Quintessence

Postby Kaylin » Wed Mar 01, 2017 4:31 am

I actually have read some of the Parasol Protectorate books, although not the main series. I started working on this before I'd heard of them, though. I think the main points of similarity can be summarised as "Victorian or quasi-Victorian with vampires and werewolves", and that's an incomplete/misleading summary of both of them. For one thing, Parasol Protectorate vampires are very different - a concept I love, but really didn't want to borrow. Also, that series has a lot more steampunk elements and I think less actual magic, although I could just be failing to remember the magic.
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Re: Setting: Quintessence

Postby MaggieoftheOwls » Wed Mar 01, 2017 8:10 am

You're not wrong, I will admit.
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Re: Setting: Quintessence

Postby Kaylin » Sun Mar 05, 2017 5:33 am

Dragons

Dragons have been around, unknown to the majority of humans, for longer than magic or shapeshifters have been known. Most of them were driven extinct, or away from human-controlled areas of the planet, by the early eighteenth century, and by the present day they are believed to be fantastical. Dragons had a large shapeshifter population, with one dragon form and one other (usually human). These days, the only dragons left in human society have taken human form to blend in.

Magic and the Elements

Every elemental affinity comes with the ability to manipulate and control that element. However, "element" in this context is a conceptual category, not a natural one. The spectrum from Fire to Nature is real, but the exact divisions within it are artificial and have changed over time. For example, Ice used to be considered part of Water, rather than a separate category, and Stone and Nature were lumped together as Earth.

What "counts" as belonging to a particular element depends on whether the individual mage thinks of it as counting. For example, haemokinesis (manipulation of blood) has only relatively recently been discovered as an application of Water magic.
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