Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Magic and everyday life

Not every little boy wants to grow up to be a fireman, train driver, or jet pilot. On Podroth, some of them yearn to be mages. There's a certain glory to remodelling reality - even though, for the most part, there's some fairly strict boundaries to a mage's power.

The various mage guilds train their members in specific areas of magical skill. There are those who teach evocation, those who teach conjuration, guilds for divination, enchantment, illusion, transmutation, and even prestidigitation, although the latter are somewhat looked down upon as "magic for those who can't master REAL magic". The guilds are not exclusive, but most practitioners have one preferred school, and merely dabble in others as a hobby.

As a career path, magic is like any other; you invest the time and effort to learn a skill, and then you perform that skill for those who will pay for it. Most spellcasters will learn one, or maybe two spells, and achieve mastery of just those spells; such commercial casters are generally referred to as trade-mages, and are valued in the community as tradesmen. The true masters of the art, though, devote their entire lives to study; the rewards are great, but seldom financially viable, and the guild leaders receive a proportion of the guild dues to enable them to maintain their studies.

But even the greatest of mages cannot fathom the enormous power at the command of the 'walkers. For those almost-mythical beings, it's not just teleportation - it's world-hopping. Dimension-walkers are held in some awe, whether they come for good or for ill; those who visit in peace are welcomed, those who wish conquest are feared. Since a walker's arrival is such a momentous event, some mages maintain a part-time job - royally funded - watching for hints of a walker, and greeting them when they come. These walk-trackers buy and sell information occasionally, but mainly use magical means of detecting the disturbances made by a walker's arrival or departure - the forces involved invariably leave some traces behind.

For the general public, magic is just another service to call upon. Magical healing takes the place of first-responders, illusionists help people "test out" construction plans prior to building, and divination is very popular as a means of learning gossip! Even among the poorest of people, magic still has influence; in times of crisis, the whole community will pitch in to help, and every now and then there's the odd spell cast their direction.

From the magnificent to the everyday, magic is important to most Podrothians. But for those in the trade, it's just another line of work, albeit one in which you are comfortably in control of your own life - which, for many, is infinitely preferable to a salaried job.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The city of Podroth is orderly and well-policed; crime is handled by a police force that includes some mages, and the courts ensure that everyone gets a fair trial. Bribery and corruption are harshly punished and extremely rare. The legal system allows for several levels of appeals, although it is rare for any case to be appealed more than once. Local judges handle all cases of simple civil disturbances (including, for instance, a mage mis-casting a spell and damaging property); city judges handle larger cases, or those which cross local boundaries; the High Court is almost exclusively for appeals from either of the above courts; the Elder Council, while not normally a judicial body, will hear appeals from the High Court, and the final appeal is to the King in person.

In many cases, the laws are designed to either invoke reparation, or to give satisfaction. For simple property damage, recompense; for simple defamation, a court-ordered public apology, possibly with some compensation to the aggrieved. Possibly the most peculiar punishment system is for accidental damage to an abelith - a fine plus a public flogging, between one and six strokes per aggrieved person.

Abeliths and medals are an important part of Podroth society. When someone does a great act of sacrificial kindness, or nobility, or valor, the beneficiaries of that act make a submission to the Abeliths Committee, and if it is approved, a two-part honor is given to that person: a medal, which he wears, and an abelith, or commemorative stone, which is installed where the act took place (or near the home of those who applied for it). An abelith has an inscription on it, detailing the action and person being honored, and it is maintained and kept visible by those who had it erected. Wilfully damaging or destroying an abelith is a great affront to all involved parties; such an act would be dealt with very severely by the courts. Accidental damage, however, is still considered an act of disrespect; people are expected to be aware of where they are going, and to give these stones the respect they deserve.

In trying a case of abelith damage, the judge normally considers three factors: the extent of the damage, the level of carelessness that resulted in it, and the person's attitude toward that abelith. He will then give a ruling, in the form of a fine (notionally for repairs, but in practice it goes to a collective fund for the eventual replacement of abeliths) and a number of permissible blows, usually between one and six. Every person who came to bring the case is then allowed to lash the defendant that many times. This peculiar form of punishment means that high profile abeliths with many keepers command higher punishments for damage than do small, personal markers which might have perhaps a family of three to watch over them.

It would be impossible to talk of Podroth culture without mentioning its one most noted feature. All the peoples around them know the Podrothians as "the people of the phrasebook", and with good reason. In this highly mercurial city, traders and tourists visit from all around, and not all of them speak Lenqua - the local trade language - and most of the local businessmen don't speak anything else. Yet trade they do, mainly through the detailed phrasebooks published for many languages.

The mercantile phrasebook - in Lenqua, 'eliborlenq', or "little book of words" - is an illustrated booklet designed to facilitate trade. Regardless of the language, every eliborlenq is laid out the same way; page 7 on this one corresponds to page 7 on that one. Consequently, a merchant can simply ask to see a customer's eliborlenq, flip to the page he wants, and point out the phrase or expression he is looking for. Once you have your phrasebook, the only Lenqua word you need to know is "eliborlenq" itself, and you can get around reasonably well.

Weights and measures

As is fitting in a highly commercial city, an accurate system of weights and measures governs trade. The primary financial unit is a gold coin called a Dran; one dran might be a week's work for a skilled worker. These coins are therefore somewhat ill-suited to day-to-day business, for which notes are used. These notes are issued by one or other of the large banking houses, and since the Grand Unification, they are always issued in one of two values: one tenth of a dran, or one eighth of a tenth (one eightieth of a dran). These notes are commonly referred to simply as a "tenth" and an "eighth", giving the odd result that an eighth is smaller than a tenth.

For purchases where even an eighth is too large, various local schemes are used, but none are nationally enforced. Some banks will issue notes to the value of a tenth of an eighth, which are slightly mis-dubbed "twentieths"; businesses which encourage repeat custom will more usually simply run an account for people, thus avoiding the hassle of dealing with small change. Unofficial promissory notes are well known among certain circles, but - being unofficial - these cannot be used outside the particular group in which they are valid.

By law, no banking-house is permitted to issue notes for which it does not possess corresponding drans. This has led to some difficulties when a bank has been robbed; but such an event has not occurred since the security of banks was assured by the guild of mages. The only fear is that a walker might rob the bank and leave; but the difficulty of aiming a dimension-walk makes this occurrence unlikely.

Welcome to Podroth!

Podroth! What, the name doesn't mean anything to you? Then please, allow me to introduce you!

Podroth is a world like our own, a three-dimensional space where people live, laugh, and labour, where there are stars in the heavens and sand on the seashore, and where money is made by buying and selling goods in huge cities. In fact, the name Podroth actually applies to the dominant trade city, but since this is the part of the world of most interest to travellers, the whole world is referred to as Podroth.

In Podroth, magic is a well-known phenomenon. Not everyone casts spells by any means, but everyone knows that spells can be cast. Young boys and girls will yearn to become mages, just as they yearn to become firemen or any other glorious career, but in the end, it's just another calling like any other. But superior to all mages are the "dimension-walkers" or "walkers", those fabled mages who have the ability to traverse the great emptiness of the "sixes".

The universe has actually more than the three dimensions we know. Anyone can move in three dimensions, but with the aid of powerful magic, one can step out across six - and the entire world of Terra or Podroth becomes just a bright point of light in the vastness of space. The "sixes" are not empty in the way that a room can be empty; they are not even empty as is our knowledge of outer space. The emptiness here is utter and complete - not a fleck of dust, not a mote of air, no light, nothing. Stepping out requires magical power sufficient to overcome the gravity of an entire world, and once you are moving, you must keep moving until you find another world in the blackness. A dimension-walk is a very serious undertaking, and cannot be done safely while distracted; but as a means of escape, nothing beats leaving the world altogether.

Walkers visit Podroth only rarely, and there are none known to be native to it. A walker's visit is therefore a momentous occasion, one of either great joy or great fear, depending on the walker's outlook toward the local peoples. For the laws of the land cannot restrain a dimension-walker - there is no punishment that can be enforced on one who cannot be tracked down. There is an entire organization devoted to following walkers' movements and noting when they visit; these "walk-trackers" do their utmost to ensure that any visiting walker is made welcome and is treated with respect, in the hopes of maintaining good diplomatic relations.

Between visits, and for most people even during visits, life goes on without any reference to the walkers. People live, work, conduct business, often without any reference to magic, much less dimensional travel. And that's as it should be...