Skygarden

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Skygarden

Postby Kappa » Wed Jul 25, 2018 6:42 am

Skygarden is the capital city of this world, so named because it's beautiful and built on a flying island. The world itself, and its globe-spanning empire, have no names as such.

The magic system is founded on a system of nine elements, arranged into three tiers in descending order of power level:

  • Tier 1: Life/Death (tier bonus: resurrection, general synergy)
    • Life: healing, some mind stuff but this is an understudied area, things in the biokinesis genre, eternal-youth-type immortality
    • Death: causing things to die or preventing them from dying, some things relating to sleep and dreams but this is an understudied area, some things in the necromancy genre though Death alone can't accomplish true resurrection or communication with the dead, undead-style immortality
  • Tier 2: Land/Sea/Sky (tier bonus: the physical world in general)
    • Land: the ground and things on it; stone and metal and soil, landscape, plants, to some extent animals but those verge into Life
    • Sea: water and things on and in it; oceans, lakes, rivers, the plants and animals that inhabit these locations (though again animals verge into Life)
    • Sky: the air and things in it; weather, wind, birds (which again overlap with Life)
  • Tier 3: Fire/Light/Ice/Shadow (tier bonus: artificing and minor matter manipulation)
    • Fire: heat, vigor
    • Light: light, illusion
    • Ice: cold, preservation
    • Shadow: darkness, hiding

There is additionally a half-tier bonus for Fire/Ice (which gives you magic relating to energy-in-general), another for Light/Shadow (which gives you magic relating to senses-in-general), and a completion bonus for having every single element (which gives you some metamagic and some miscellaneous things not otherwise provided for).

There are three ways to acquire magic in Skygarden:

  • You can be born with it. This is the weakest way to get magic. Someone born with Fire can light a candle; someone born with Sea can fill a glass of water. It's possible that being born with magic might be dangerous, but if it is, it looks like "very occasionally a baby randomly dies shortly before or after birth", and babies already do that a fair amount. People can be born with any subset of the elements, but will not be born with all of them, and usually the number is somewhere in the range of 1-5, more on the lower than the higher end.
  • You can be dedicated at birth - within the first 24 hours of your life - by any adult capable of picking you up and holding you for a number of minutes determined by the elements involved. Any particular baby can only be given one birth dedication, and the dedicator must decide in advance which elements to give to the baby, then hold the baby for the required length of time. There will be minor special effects, often elementally-themed, to signal that the dedication is ongoing; you don't have to worry about letting go early because you miscounted the time. If you put the baby down or let go of them during the dedication, they will die. They also sometimes die regardless.
  • You can self-dedicate, on your sixteenth birthday. This is the most powerful way to get magic. Any particular person can only perform one self-dedication, and must decide in advance which elements to give themselves, then maintain the self-dedication for a number of hours determined by the elements involved. Self-dedication is a difficult and painful process; it's been compared to dancing with a hurricane, or turning into an Aurum vampire. You have to actively participate, and keep your balance/rhythm despite pain and sensory overload, without rest, for the whole duration, and if you give up or fail you die.

    Self-dedications are also extremely noisy and moderately hazardous to bystanders: the usual marker of a self-dedication is a loudly roaring column of fire or energy enveloping the person, extending for several feet in all horizontal directions and high into the sky above them. It is recommended to self-dedicate outdoors, as if you try it indoors the building you're standing in may cease to have a roof.

The danger/difficulty of a particular dedication is proportional to the length of the dedication, and also to the person's preexisting amount of each element involved: for example, dedicating a child to Fire is more dangerous if they were born with it, and dedicating yourself to Fire is more dangerous if you were born with it, and more dangerous than that if you were birth-dedicated to it, and even more dangerous than that if you were both.

(I keep waffling about whether or not people can tell before attempting to birth-dedicate a child what that child's born elements are. It might be a specialized skill, or require asking an adult with magic of their own to check.)

The formula for timing a dedication is: one [hour/minute] per Tier 3 element, and then each element of a higher tier costs as much as the sum of all elements below it. So a Tier 2 element costs 4, and a Tier 1 element costs 16. This means that a self-dedication to the full set of all elements lasts for 48 hours. (Self-dedications must begin during the 24 hours of your sixteenth birthday but may extend beyond it as needed.) Only one person has ever survived a full self-dedication. His name is Emperor Solekaran and he's a Serg.

Power level in an element stacks with the number of ways you have acquired it, and overall power level increases with the variety of elements a person has. You could say that having one element multiple times increases depth, while having multiple elements increases breadth.

Someone with high breadth can do things that don't fall clearly into the domain of any single element they possess; the tier bonuses are the most obvious example of this tendency, but it shows up in lesser and less-standardized ways all over the place.

Someone with high depth in an element can extend the domain of that element into new areas: for an example of high depth, consider Viasarae, also known as the Level 9000 Grandma, who has all three forms of Sea.

Emperor Solekaran's habit of conjuring arbitrary objects by growing plants out of floors/tables and then withering them to nothingness once they produce their unlikely fruit is founded in a combination of depth in Land (birth- and self-dedicated), a little bit of breadth between Land and Life, and then Death for the cleanup. His ability to make portals between locations is primarily founded in Land/Sea/Sky and requires some depth there, but also draws on the breadth of having the full set; I think the minimum requirements to make a portal are the full third tier at any strength plus Land/Sea/Sky at self-dedicated levels with some extra depth. His immortality is a Life/Death tier bonus thing, but having the breadth of the full set allows him to make it comprehensive in a way that Life and Death alone couldn't manage.


So that's the magic system. What about the rest of it?

Solekaran has ruled the world for five thousand years, since shortly after he stepped out of his self-dedication at age sixteen. Being unusually young for a usurper Serg, he faced an unusual degree of pressure to come to terms with the fact that ruling global empires is difficult and things get really inconvenient if you mess it up. He therefore arrived fairly quickly at a stable equilibrium where he is mostly a symbolic ruler who does whatever he wants with his time and only interferes with the running of the government when he has a really good reason.

As part of that process, he came to observe that the law of the empire works a lot better if he follows it. While he can abduct people off the streets on a whim and torture them to death for his own amusement, and he spent a while in the very early years of his reign habitually doing just that, this naturally leads people to be utterly terrified at the sight of him and not want to show their faces anywhere he might be around to take a liking to said face. It's really inconvenient to run an empire that way. So he instituted a form of debt slavery, and now he buys his toys at the market like anyone else.

Slavery in Skygarden works like so: a person may sell themselves into slavery if they choose, and have the money forwarded to whatever person, cause, or institution they like. If a person finds themselves with a debt they cannot pay, they are sold at auction and the proceeds given to their creditors. A person under the age of sixteen cannot be enslaved. If a slave has a child, the child is born free and caring for them is the responsibility of the owner, although if the child's other parent is free they may choose to claim the child as their own and in that case their claim overrides the owner's.

Another quirk of Solekaran's reign is that he's fairly anonymous as global emperors go. Everyone knows his name, but relatively few people know his face, even in the capital. He doesn't put his face on the coins (they show the imperial sun instead), and doesn't make public appearances. This is so that he can go out incognito, under the nickname Sekar, and meet people who don't know they should be terrified of him, and have something approaching normal human social contact. He does it a lot, but because of who he is as a person, he finds it kind of stressful to keep up the deception. On the other hand, every single time anyone has figured him out - and they usually do after a few years if he maintains a friendship or relationship that long - they have immediately been terrified and wanted nothing more to do with him.

Among Sergs, Solekaran is an interesting specimen because he has very good coping mechanisms for his dysfunctional moral intuitions, but hasn't outright rejected them the way some Sergs do. He still feels that it's wrong to show mercy; he just plays some games with interpretation so that acting to avoid making his future self's life difficult, even if it means refraining from hurting someone he wants to hurt, is still ultimately a selfish expression of power and not a selfless expression of weakness. He doesn't entirely want to have the moral intuitions that he does, and he circumvents them for his own convenience where he can, but he hasn't yet decided to ignore them entirely or figured out how to do so.

Solekaran built the floating island of Skygarden himself, and he periodically adds new land to an edge, often including some buildings as well. Five thousand years of this have left him fantastically rich, even though he's fairly generous about prices when he sells new land. His incognito persona is an architect who self-dedicated Land so he could put up his buildings himself, and sometimes he indulges in an incognito architectural commission even though he could not reasonably be described as needing the money; most of what he spends it on is slaves, disaster relief and other unexpected governmental expenses, and mansions outside the palace for his incognito persona to bring dates to. He doesn't need to buy clothes or food because he can make them with magic.

Travel to and from Skygarden is accomplished by airship. Airships are a type of magical artifact, extremely complex to make; an airshipwright is the most specialized and prestigious variety of artificer.

There is a shared global language, but a few areas maintain local languages as well; established examples include Riverish on the Shattered River. The most common naming customs of the world don't involve surnames, but local communities may differ. Place names are translated-by-convention: Skygarden, Shattered River, Pebbled Shore, Southport.


Many people in the world have at least a little bit of magic, but self-dedication is pretty rare, and self-dedication of higher tiers is even rarer. This is partly because it's so dangerous and partly because if you have a self-dedication longer than about ten hours, the Emperor will show up and wait around to have a chat with you if you survive. If your self-dedication is longer than sixteen hours, he'll ask you whether you're planning to make trouble for him, and if he's not satisfied with your answer he'll kill you. If it's longer than thirty-two hours, he might skip the conversation and just kill you while it's still ongoing.

Part of the reason he does that is because he just doesn't like the idea of anyone being a serious threat to his power, and part of it is because he's a little bit irrationally possessive of his magic system; but part of it is because fairly early on in his reign a person with self-dedicated Death decided they were going to kill him, and when this didn't work because he's categorically immortal, they escalated and kept escalating, and before he could stop them they had destroyed an entire city and killed everyone in it. He really doesn't like that sort of thing. He wants to make sure that anyone else who approaches his power level, and especially anyone else who might be able to give themselves immortality on a level with his, is someone who won't go around causing rampant destruction.

If you successfully convince him that you're not going to be a problem, though, he'll let you live even if he doesn't especially like you on a personal level.


I really need to figure out the magic system in somewhat more depth than I've got, because as it stands, no one who isn't me can feasibly play a character with Skygarden magic who actually uses their magic for anything, and this is kind of a problem. Writing a bunch of threads in the world with various NPCs has helped a bit, but I still feel like the fundamentals of the system are underdeveloped.

There is a part of me that wants to include a tenth 48-hour element and a fourth opportunity to acquire more magic, but I've never gotten anywhere trying to design them. ...although now that I say that, an obvious scenario occurs to me...

Suppose that the way people noticed the first nine elements was by observing people being born with them, and suppose that the reason nobody is born with all nine is because being born with a total element-time of 48 invariably kills you. This would explain how nobody's noticed Tier 0 so far.

Suppose that the fourth opportunity to acquire magic comes at the moment of death, in such a way that if you are categorically immortal and your immortality is strained to what would be its breaking point if it had one, you get the opportunity to self-dedicate another time, and anything short of that either doesn't put you in the right condition to encounter the fourth opportunity, or does and then immediately kills you before you can take advantage. This would explain how it hasn't happened to Solekaran in the last five thousand years, and he insists that if there's going to be a tenth element and a fourth opportunity he needs both of them.

Then I think the most aesthetically appropriate way for the fourth opportunity to work is that it's an inversion of self-dedication: instead of needing to choose to self-dedicate to a particular set of elements, you need to refuse whatever subset of the elements you don't want. And instead of being measured in minutes like birth-dedication or hours like self-dedication, the timing of the fourth opportunity is measured in days. (This may imply that being born with an element takes a certain number of seconds.) I'm not 100% sure of the special effects, but the lines I'm thinking along are "rapidly and chaotically fluctuating light and temperature levels, things being flung about and warped and transmuted and killed and brought to life, radius ~50ft increasing in severity as you near the center".

Also, I think the fourth opportunity gives you full depth on every element you accept from it: not only fourth-opportunity level, but also the levels of birth and birth-dedication and self-dedication, regardless of whether you had them before. By the nature of how you get to it, it can't kill you, but it's dramatically more painful and exhausting than the already exceptionally painful and exhausting process of self-dedication.

The Tier 0 element is probably metamagic. The total length of a fourth-opportunity dedication with no refusals is 96 days. And this is going to be a really interesting plot to inflict on Sekar if I ever manage to confront him with a sufficiently deadly threat.
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Re: Skygarden

Postby Bluelantern » Tue Jul 31, 2018 8:43 pm

Is serg really good at finding self-dedication magic? Is there any way to hide it? Also, is it possible to perform self-dedication in another universe?
Sorry for my bad english

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Re: Skygarden

Postby Kappa » Wed Aug 01, 2018 2:10 am

Whenever anyone self-dedicates, Solekaran knows exactly where and when it is happening and how long it goes on for. He has a sense for it.

I haven't quite decided on how the magic transfers, but I think that in order to have access to the Skygarden magic systerm, a person has to have been born in Skygarden. It might be possible to self-dedicate if you turn sixteen in Skygarden without having been born there, and it might be possible to self-dedicate if you turn sixteen outside Skygarden but were born there. The fourth opportunity can happen to you wherever you may be, but the fourth opportunity is special.
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Re: Skygarden

Postby Bluelantern » Sun Aug 05, 2018 4:46 am

Could you give examples of what someone could do if they had the seven levels of a given element (1 - born, 2 - birth dedicated, 3 - self dedicated, 4 - born/birth, 5 - born/self, 6 - birth/self, 7 - all three)? Maybe start with a single one, like light or shadow?
Sorry for my bad english

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