If I’m going to host a blog carnival about the Wise, I might as well talk about my own settings too, right? Today I’m talking about Aurikesh, the setting of my current tabletop game. Probably the best summary of the Wise of Aurikesh that I’ve written so far comes from the opening of a story still in progress.
In the northern continent, which is called Balioth, there are some ninety men, and a roughly equal number of women, who comprise a kind of society. Like everyday society, this one exists solely to be a good reason for these men and women not to kill each other, as the cost of their open warfare would be too great to be permitted. They are, after all, wizards; and when we call them the Wise, we mean that their eyes are open (more than most) as to certain very ugly realities. The first of these is that the only people who truly understand them in the world are those who share their power, and thus can profit from their deaths. This is not a pleasant thing to realize about your only friends.
Because of ideas like “collateral damage” and “existential threat to all life on the continent,” the wizards do not fight one another with spells or weapons very often, and then only in certain ways. The first of these is dueling, which may take place only in prescribed areas, by prior arrangement; this is how murder is practiced by those with the proper combination of daring and social grace. The second of these is as an adjunct to conventional warfare; this is how murder is practiced when both sides have significant political allies, and those political allies can be induced to hate one another. This case requires that both sides have the consent of certain other wizards. If you are going to kill hundreds of people who have done nothing to you as a footnote to killing the one who has, it is (for obscure historical reasons) seen as important that the act have some legitimacy.
The third of these is by consent of the aforementioned other wizards, who have acted as judge and jury to the typically absent and unaware defendant. They permit the prosecuting wizard to become an executioner, to the best of her capacity. The important thing is that the verdict and the reasons for the ruling are shared with the whole community of the Wise, so that the defendant’s allies will understand his wrongdoing and stay out of the conflict. The alternative would be dreadful; outlaws with friends would be above justice, or the conflict would eventually expand to include all wizards. Obviously, this is how murder is practiced by those who can pay. The great thing about this method is that you can sometimes get other wizards who have high-minded ideals about justice to help you kill someone. The downside is that sometimes the judges hand down rulings other than guilt or sentences other than death. Is there anything worse than someone who doesn’t stay bought?
The fourth of these is to go outside the law and just kill one another, the way the teeming hordes do. This is how murder is practiced by people without social niceties, respect for law, or any of those things.
As you can see, the society of the Wise is exactly like the society of everyone else, but with more arrogance and less self-deception. Only the clergy and the esoteric physickers are any different when you get right down to it; all inexplicably, they organize themselves into various religions and sects to do their fighting. It’s like slaughtering someone for preferring to drink beer at the wrong tavern. Don’t they know that every tavern in town just uses slightly different combinations of barley, malt, hops, and water?
Now Balioth is the second-largest continent of the known world; if the Wise did not meet every few months, they would probably go home and forget all about one another, living quietly in their towers, caves, grottoes, chicken-legged huts (this is not common), or whatever else keeps the rain out. On the other hand, these are the only other people on the continent who get your jokes about the Old Witch And Her Three Apprentices, so it’s necessary to meet every now and again to renew the old grudges and see whose wand has the largest… reserves of power.
In Aurikesh, wizards have been initiated into the mysteries of their craft by another wizard. The source of their magic is empyreal fire – conceptually the same secret fire of which Mithrandir is a servant. Their spells come from the movements of five planets through the constellations, and their spellbooks are a combination of star charts and increasingly abstruse exegesis – wizards are expected to preserve the scholarly commentary of their predecessors and append their own, creating exponentially longer volumes and causing spells to fall out of fashion.
This is the oath that wizards swear upon their initiation:
I take up the spear of the sun’s fire. Never shall it rest in my soul until I pass into the Ghostlands. With the spear of the sun’s fire I have taken the first step upon the path of Wisdom, which leadeth to immortality, by the decree of the Silver-Eyed Lord, Vashtal who set the stars; and by all the gods.
In just about any setting I write, the presentation of the Wise is going to be heavily influenced by Sepulchrave’s Tales of Wyre, which is itself influenced by Jack Vance, but in a less nigh- or post-apocalyptic setting, and thus with wizards slightly more willing to cooperate. I like the idea that possessing arcane knowledge is, in itself, isolating, and thus wizards come together in cabals and colloquiums just because their art is so lonely (and because collaborative research is much more efficient than flying solo). In this way, I almost can’t help but write a particularly lethal imagining of fantasy academia.
In Aurikesh, unlike in Dust to Dust, there is a ruling council of wizards, called the Inmost Ring. They are hopelessly venal and inefficient, but the existence of the Inmost Ring provides a check on magical violence and a potential end goal for many. Conceptually, it’s a lot like a collection of university deans or the Hogwarts heads of Houses. Wizards outside of the Inmost Ring vie for their favor, which carries a huge variety of perquisites; the Inmost Ring can always offer more carrots to get someone else to be their stick. (They didn’t get where they are by risking their own necks too damn often.)
The one thing the Inmost Ring does energetically enforce is adherence to the Traditions – that is, the eight schools of D&D magic. Your Tradition says a lot about how you interact with the rest of the society of the Wise. There are some who are technically wizards, but have broken the oaths of their initiation: these are called apostate, and they have sealed a pact with one of the Powers – non-divine entities such as Highlords of the Fey, the Lords of Hell, the Nightwalker, the Abominations (Aurikesh’s Great Old Ones), or the powers of the Abyss. Similar to them are the renegades, who were initiated with empyreal fire and became apprentices, but (for whatever reason, usually the untimely deaths of their masters) never joined a Tradition. In this I was heavily influenced by the Test of High Sorcery in Dragonlance.
Against apostates, the Inmost Ring is merciless – it is famously near-impossible to get free of a pact with one of the Powers, so they regard apostates as ruined goods (or, if you prefer, someone they can all agree to hate, but whose spellbooks would still be useful). Renegades, on the other hand, might get an invitation to come in from the cold and join a Tradition. Maybe. (Or they might get taken advantage of and murdered, because they don’t have anyone waiting around to avenge them.)
There is no Academy of Advanced Wizardly Studies in Aurikesh, as of current writing, but the story that the above text block comes from is about an assortment of wizards coming into alliance and conflict over a new initiative to create one.
In theory, wizards are on the same side of Aurikesh’s cosmic struggles as clerics are. In practice, most clerics and wizards aren’t actively engaged in the cosmic struggles that the Gods gave them their powers to fight. Specifically, clerics and wizards are supposed to keep the Gods in control of Aurikesh, rather than letting rulership of the living world slip into the hands of one of the Powers. (While I’m on the matter, druids have a divine mandate to protect the living world from anyone that would harm it, even the Gods and their servants.) When it comes right down to it, there are enough different Powers contending to push the Gods out of Aurikesh that wizards and clerics might ally with one group to fight off another – even the Highlords of the Fey hate the Nightwalker, for example.
Aurikesh was designed from early on to support all of D&D’s classes, even when I was thinking of running it with a classless system (a hack of SIFRP that I’ve mostly dropped). I haven’t established how spellcasting archetypes of classes that aren’t otherwise spellcasters factor into the society of the Wise; I’ll figure it out if it ever comes up in-play.
Of all the different kinds of magic, only sorcery is inborn in Aurikesh, and even that only usually so; as a general statement I actively dislike the idea that magic is only for those born with it. For one thing, it undermines the idea that learning magic is work, because you either have it or don’t. For another, Chosen One narratives are so passé. For a third, I don’t want you to have to declare at character creation whether or not you’ll ever multiclass into a spellcasting class.
First and foremost, wizards clash because they want one another’s magical treasures, spellbooks, and research notes (and, for that matter, control over useful locations and so on). In a close second place, they come into conflict because a large number of overweeningly arrogant (and often emotionally stunted) hermits are not likely to get along on the rare occasions that they run into one another. By contrast, they form cabals because they are people with genuine needs that only another person can provide – physical security, intellectual stimulation, emotional support and validation. Even wizards like to pull a pint with whatever passes for friends.