Wednesday, June 22, 2016

ADDITIONAL NOTES: Atman (Part 1)

Atman (noun)
The spiritual life principle of the universe, especially when regarded as inherent in the real self of the individual.

Atman, named after a Sanskrit word meaning self or soul, is the working title of a fantasy setting I developed over the last year and a half. The main themes I wanted to explore with it and its magic system are cycles, rebirth, fate, and destiny. 

I started working on it early last year after reading this series of articles by Rich Burlew, author of Order of the Stick. In the articles, he details his own process for creating a setting, both for private play and for publication. I took some of the questions that he asked there and ran with them. Where he got inspiration from Zoroasterism and its dualities, I took inspiration from Hinduism and the idea of constant rebirth. The first thing I decided was:

Everything that dies is reborn.

There is no afterlife in Atman, nor are there gods. It's a perpetually spinning top sustained by an inherently cyclical cosmology. Beings that die dissolve into pure ambient magic energy that arcanists use to power spells. Because this was originally for an RPG, I had to have that duality of arcane and divine magic, so I worked out their differences as such: Instead of gods, people honor saints and channel lingering magic auras that form like dust around objects that have been used for great feats. There is a third type of magic in most RPGs, which is inner power. Ki, or psionics, or whatever you want to call it. That exists, but it involves burning your own soul like a battery to enhance your abilities. People that do this have dramatically lower lifespans, but are renowned fighters or mages. In the final version of the setting, there are other methods of magic that are more specific or based on a particular culture's traditions--like the Petrans, who use magic stored in tattoos to shape stone. More on cultures later. (Or right now, as my previously detailed Khidran Principalities article describes one of the cultures from this setting.)

But those artifacts, those relics of old folk heroes and saints. That's all well and good, but the rules don't discriminate. If a sword that kills a lot of people gets better at killing, a murderer's knife would be good at murdering. Imagine an untrained thief tapping into a knife's memory of a famous assassin's abilities. There would need to be some kind of authority to cleanse people's belongings after they died. I decided that these people would be specialists, since for every service, there's someone willing to pay for it. I also liked the idea of "magic police," so I decided that some of the mages who specialized in this art were like Men in Black, working either for the government or from above the government to ensure that nothing became too saturated with magic over time. I like the idea of a noble prince having to cleanse his father's sword on the day of his inheritance. It makes for interesting scenery.

I should mention that anyone is capable of learning magic in this setting. There's no point to this Harry Potter bullshit where some people are just born Better Than You. Especially when thinking of how magic works in this setting. There's no reason someone would be physically unable to use magic. It's magic, not science. Yes, I take a vaguely scientific approach to explaining how magic works and what it can and can't do. Still, it's fantasy. I don't want to pretend I'm born better than everyone else for no reason, especially when there are loads of shitty people in real life who actually think that way. I treat fantasy as a space to relax and have fun and experience things that are impossible in the real world. That's why I often play RPG characters that are different from me, whether by means of personality, sexuality, or gender...ality. Gender identity. Whatever. I wanted a rhyme.

Okay, so I got a little sidetracked. I'll be back tomorrow to talk about some of the worldbuilding I did for Atman based on the cosmology and magic detailed above.

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