Magic… or madness?
It begins as a simple curiosity, and so quickly it becomes an insatiable hunger. You crave more, and there’s always more to be had. You stop working, eating and sleeping, but it ceases to matter. It just rewards you further, empowers you - nourishes some part of you that you never knew existed. Soon, it is the only part of you that exists at all.
It corrupts you, the chaos. You become one with it - a twisted brilliance others are helpless but to behold. Inevitably, it becomes more than what a single vessel can contain; you begin to corrupt these others, their fates sealed from the moment they tasted it.
But every mage knew this before ever casting their first spell. Just as you do now.
Chaotic energy - called gloam - is the primary energy source of Nodd; it is also often referred to colloquially as "magic" or “arcane energy”. Not only a weapon and utility for mages, it illuminates streets at night, powers technology, heats homes, and essentially makes up life in Nodd itself.
Gloam is the only energy force known to alter "spellthreads". Threads are concepts that are woven together to create the perceptual fabric of Nodd's reality.
A "spell", then, is a formula that directs gloam to change one thread to another. The energy is spent in this process, and the gloam degrades. In this form, it is a faintly luminescent teal haze for a short while after the energy has been spent. There is usually so little it can only be seen at night. The substance is then reabsorbed by the city through the Conduit - the immense and enigmatic structure at the top of the Council Spire.
The Conduit rejuvenates spent gloam, but can never produce more than is spent. The Council Spire has been built around this structure, and much of the building is dedicated to its harvesting, as well as redistributing the newly converted fuel. Raw, unspent gloam must be contained in a cartridge or specialized artifact or it will immediately disperse, causing a horrific explosion of random and chaotic changes to the current moment, often of a destructive nature. It has a bright, green glow to it until it is expended.
The more seamlessly the desired change can be integrated into the overall fabric of Nodd - the more believable it is - the easier the spell. The more phenomenal or unbelievable a spell's results, the more difficult it is to cast, and the more gloam it expends - because it must alter more threads in order for the end result to be achieved. Changing a raw steak to a cooked steak, for example, is far more achievable than changing a rock into a cooked steak - but both are possible with the right artifacts, sufficient gloam, and ideally the belief of anyone perceiving the event.
For this reason, mages seek prestige and attention, as any belief in their magic-use helps to manifest their spells. Likewise, mages in combat aim to cause their opponent and opposing audience to falter in their belief, thus making their spells less effective and predictable. Each house and cult has their own trademark approach to this. This also explains the superhero and villain personas taken on by a number of citizens - deeds of any kind only draw more recognition and thus more belief, further empowering the mage. Branding is also effective for this reason, so most mages try to enforce a recognizable aesthetic or symbol to evoke belief in their cause.
An artifact is something that parses a spell or spells in some way. The mind is technically an artifact, as are wands, staves, swords, vehicles, automatic doors, and toasters - anything that uses energy is, in fact, an artifact.
A toaster's only purpose would be to execute a spell that gradually changes the concept of a raw substance to a cooked one, in the confines of the space affected. There is no actual cooking happening in terms of physics, but to the user it would appear - and taste - the very same.
As belief is required in order for a spell to be successful, an artifact is usually designed accordingly. For example, a toaster doesn't absolutely need to be shaped like a toaster, but since it is, its user would then have no qualms with the perception of the bread turning to toast once it's inserted - making the usage of the device easier and more predictable to use, and more efficient. A user who has never seen a toaster operate may not have the same luck; likewise, a toaster with the shape and texture of a trout could still possibly get the job done, but only when powered with enough gloam to account for the reality of a trout producing toast - an absurdity in most contexts.
Gloam is also available in its raw form - usually contained within a cartridge - to be loaded into less disposable weapons or appliances. Homes usually have a gloam tank that is essentially a large cartridge to power spells throughout the building, such as lighting and climate control.
The mind's purpose in terms of gloam manipulation is not well understood. A highly successful mage - one who has been exposed to gloam use for a long time - hardly needs an artifact to direct energy, and some become so chaotic that they essentially become their own energy source as well, expending their own excess gloam. This is the case for all six of the citygods, who are kept locked away in their respective towers.
Many citizens are mages to some degree, and many belong to one of the six houses, or to a cult.
A house or cult teaches a citizen to perform a defined set of spells, rituals, and beliefs. Mages use artifacts - such as staves, weapons, wands, censers, lanterns, etc. - to perform their spells.
Any mage, regardless of affiliation, can be a formidable opponent. Higher ranking mages deserve their prestige and respect - the more experience and belief a mage has, the more powerfully the magic reacts to their using it.
Battlemages make their living by engaging in combat in the streets and taverns of Nodd. While some battlemages choose to fight with magic and weapons, some employ creatures, either alone or alongside themselves in combat. These individuals often call themselves "beastmages".
Heroes, Mercenaries & Villains
The City of Nodd is not only watched over by the Council - some citizens have seen fit to help protect it themselves. While many are mercenaries and charge for their services, others are simply driven to fight evil - of which Nodd has an ample amount.
Heroes are usually skilled mages, and often play up their roles with elaborate costumes and a pseudonym. Heroes work either as an individual entity, or in a company.
Naturally, this trend has also spawned villain personas who then target a hero to harass and impede. A well-known hero may be "courted" by several different villains in an attempt to receive public acknowledgement as an archenemy.
Most successful heroes have a ravenous following that celebrates their work, and many fantasize about being rescued by their favorite celebrity hero - or kidnapped by their favorite villain.
There are also mercenaries, whose motivation is not necessarily fighting evil, but in the interest of financial gain. These individuals may be employed for a variety of deeds.
Many mages seek the prestige and reliability of an education from one of the six official houses.
Hybrid mages are not unheard of, but mages are not able to enroll in multiple houses simultaneously. Houses tend to be rather patriotic, and quite hostile towards one another - particularly their opposing house.
Each house has two sects which differ in purpose, belief, and aesthetic.
For those who can't find what they're looking for, or for those who do not wish to be associated with the Council, cults are an option.
Cults are unofficial, independent houses. Cults are not usually affiliated with other houses, and some are exclusive, competitive, or even aggressive and gang-like against other houses for status, territory, or media attention.
Nodd's regard for these types of mages varies wildly between individuals and establishments. An education from a cult does not tend to come with the same flavor of prestige and pomp as one from the official houses, but many consider a cult mage every bit as powerful, if not more so.
In addition, some mages prefer to be entirely house- and cult-agnostic. An agnostic mage is one who has chosen to approach magic their own way.
Despite the challenges, an agnostic mage has the potential to be more powerful - or at least more unpredictable - than one whose skill set has been molded and perfected by organized education.
These gatherings are held regularly by each house and many cults to draw in fresh blood. These tend to be showy and alluring, and any attendants are carefully attended to, if not outright spoiled with every indulgence the house has to offer.
Those curious may freely attend and speak with established mages, partake of exclusive amenities, and sample various spells and artifacts.
From here, one may request to proceed with an official initiation, if desired.
A fledgling mage has a couple options when it comes to being accepted as a disciple of a particular house or cult. While cults may vary in their procedure, all houses currently accept disciples on the basis that they successfully complete one of three options: trial, tribute, or apprenticeship.
A prospective disciple may choose to complete a trial to be accepted into the house. These are harrowing, sometimes deadly tasks that test the mettle of newcomers. Higher ranking mages - savants - are known for seeing the trials as an opportunity for hazing, and often the tasks will be made impossible, distasteful, or meaningless.
As most savants would prefer the luxury of having an apprentice, trials are intentionally made an exceptionally off-putting choice.
A would-be disciple with access to lots of gloam or other resources may be able to make an ample enough tribute to bypass the need for a trial or apprenticeship. In some rare cases, this may also be a favor of some kind.
An initiate will most often choose the route of apprenticeship to grant them acceptance. For one turn, the student will shadow their mentor and obey their every command.
Needless to say, this experience varies greatly depending on the mentor. Much of Nodd's slavery is in fact apprenticeship for various houses and cults.
Unless there's the potential for a significant tribute, most prospects will be pressured to enter into an apprenticeship, over completing a trial.
Once a disciple has been accepted into the fellowship, their goal is to work towards taking on the Final Rite. Completing this will grant them the rank of Savant, and is the primary goal of most enrolled in a house.
The Final Rite is a trial unique to each house and cult. Unlike the initiation trial - which may be anything a savant decides - these challenges have been carefully crafted by the most powerful mages in that house.
There are several official titles given to citizens which describe their relationship with magic.
Utilitarian - uses little to no magic beyond using it as a utility; does not identify as a mage
Agnostic - a practicing mage that does not wish to be in a house or cult, or otherwise eschews any official system of magic; an independent mage
Apprentice - studies under a Savant to become accepted as a disciple
Disciple - has successfully completed a house or cult’s initiation trial, paid a worthy tribute, or has completed an apprenticeship
Savant - has successfully completed a house or cult’s Final Rite
Immortal - has achieved special acknowledgement from the Council and has received an infinite symbol on their ego file, denoting infinite resurrections
Corruption refers to the long process of any citizen's awareness merging with the city as they come to experience more of it in various ways - this includes magic use in general. The result is a progressive magical corruption with chaotic and unpredictable effects, and often a citizen will gradually appear more monstrous as a result.
Both outsiders and insiders are susceptible to this mechanism with enough exposure to the city, but most citizens do not experience any perceptible effects in their lifetime, in part due to the limitations of lifespan (which is ultimately in the hands of the Council). Elders and cityspeakers are more inclined to this process, as are insiders.
The primary drive for pursuing a life as a mage is the promise of fame and power, which go hand-in-hand due to the mechanics of gloam. One way to secure this is through competing in Nodd's brutal MageGrinder, which is held regularly in The Mortar. Here, powerful mages are pitted against one another as gladiators to fight to the death, empowered by their audience.
Upon achieving a consistent flow of incoming gloam, mages are said to be one of Nodd's immortal, and generally receive ample celebrity and media attention from then on.
A cityspeaker is a seer who interprets the will of the city and the flow of arcane energy. They can be either outsiders or insiders. This skill can be trained, and comes with age through corruption, but some have a natural intuition with no guidance.
All members of the Major Council are thought to be the most powerful cityspeakers in Nodd.
Arcanograms refer to magic signage throughout the city. When one focuses on the symbols in an arcanogram, they are granted a subjective understanding of the message without any prior knowledge of the symbol's meaning. These may be shop signs, advertisements, warning signs, maps, schedules, or anything other number of things.
Each citizen has their own personal arcanogram, as do most businesses, which generally have them as signage on the outside of their building. One can visualize an arcanogram when using their ego bracer to contact the owner.