Monday, January 14, 2013

The Ethereal Tribunal

In 1203 (1), magi of the Order made a promising discovery: a Magic regio with very unusual properties. First, it can be reached by several different regios on Earth rather than just one. Second, it has a very strong aura and isolated pockets where the aura is even higher, without breaking into another regio. Finally, and most spectacularly, it is a miniature replica of the cosmos beyond the lunar sphere, with seven island-sized "planets" circling in a watery sea around a central and inaccessible "Earth". The place, currently kept a secret by House leaders and archmagi, has been dubbed "Etheria." Several groups of magi have, with the blessing of these leaders, established hidden covenants in Etheria with an eye towards officially establishing an "Ethereal Tribunal" in 1223, at the next Grand Tribunal.

Magi of the Order cannot explain Etheria's unusual properties, especially the fact that it appears to connect to multiple weaker regios. (2) For example, regios already known at Stonehenge and at the Great Pyramid in Egypt provide access to Etheria from their highest levels. A few other access points are known, scattered widely across the world, no more than one in each Tribunal of the Order. This quality makes Etheria a potential travel route for those able to safely navigate both Etheria itself and the regios it connects to. Etheria's aura is also highly unusual; most of the regio has a Magic aura of 6, but this rises as high as 9 in a few locales. Ordinarily, when the aura within a regio rises, a new regio is formed, but Etheria has no other regios inside it or "above" it.

The landscape and geography of Etheria is utterly fantastic. At the center is an enormous island which replicates the habitable region of the world (Asia, Europe and Africa) in miniature. No one has been able to get a good look at this island, because all who approach are cast out of the regio and appear at the edge of the real world. This central "Earth" is circled by seven smaller islands, each of which represents, in miniature, one of the planets, with the Moon closest to the center, followed by the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The islands are not especially large; there are few locations on them which could not be reached in a day's hard travel. A black dome of the fixed stars covers all of Etheria and, since there is no "sun" in the sky, it is always night there. The sea which surrounds the islands appears pitch black and marked by stars, but this is an illusion; in fact, the sphere of the fixed stars continues beneath the sea and is perceptible through the perfectly clear and transparent water. This sea, dubbed the "Twilight Sea," is exceptionally dangerous for magi, prompting episodes of twilight in those caught within it.

The islands, while of fabulous geography, are nevertheless habitable. For example, the surface of the "Sun" does indeed burn with perpetual fire, but there is at least one mountain peak which rises above the flames. The beaches are cooled by contact with the sea and the fire is extinguished wherever streams and lakes are found. When the aura rises on these islands, that aura is always aligned to the sorts of activities associated with the proper planetary body. For example, the stronger auras on the Isle of the Moon are aligned to magic of emotion, the tides, cyclic magic, fertility, and childbirth. (3)

Magi initially discovered Etheria in 1203 after sailing from the Great Pyramid's regio in Egypt. They made a brief survey before turning their boat for the central island and being forced out of the regio. One magi and his grogs had asked to stay behind on an island to explore and, when the boat did not return for him, he eventually led his group through another exit from the regio, emerging in the circle of Stonehenge in Britain. It was not until these two stories were brought together that the possibilities inherent in Etheria began to be recognized. The explorers approached an Archmage and asked his advice; he in turn contacted those House leaders whom he knew, and a brief conference followed, conducted through magic. Eventually, all thirteen leaders (4) of the various Houses and several archmagi were told about Etheria, though more than a few of these considered the place nothing but an interesting curiosity.

Perhaps because of this lack of interest, another faction prevailed with the argument that Etheria might prove to be a huge boon to the Order. For one, the high aura made it a lucrative place to gather vis. Second, the multiple routes of access suggested that it might be a way for magi, companions and grogs to move rapidly across the world without requiring vis or complex rituals. Finally, the regio's enormous size suggested it could host multiple covenants. Indeed, each island could comfortably house magi, resulting in an "Ethereal Tribunal" entirely within the boundaries of the regio! Such a place would be invulnerable to attack from the Order's enemies, it would not suffer from the encroaching aura of the Dominion, there are no Faeries or mundane lords to get in the way, and even the Infernal seems to be absent. In short, it is a magical paradise.

Ultimately it was decided that Etheria should be explored, but to ensure that no House came to dominate it, no covenant established there could have more than a single magus from a given House. If four covenants could be established by 1223, the Ethereal Tribunal would be formed. Regardless, the existence of Etheria would be revealed to the entire Order at that time. Besides establishing safe covenants, the other priority for the magi in Etheria is research into the nature of the regio itself. In particular, the Order must know if it is stable. If Etheria is "collapsing" down towards lower level auras, or "rising" up to the Magic Realm, this will cause catastrophic damage to magi and covenants located there. An Ethereal Tribunal is only practical if the regio is stable and, even then, it might be of limited life.

The initial explorers of Etheria include those magi who first discovered it, as well as select others chosen for the task by the leaders of the Houses and a few archmagi. Obviously, personal favoritism was a powerful factor, with many magi choosing their own former apprentices or close allies. In particular, several magi from the Greater Alps Tribunal became involved in the effort, since Etheria is perhaps the only place ever discovered which is even more remote than the Greater Alps already is. Moreover, there is no room for new magi in the Greater Alps, where the peripheral code forces all magi out to new Tribunals. Magi from the Stonehenge and Levant Tribunals are represented because they have easier access, but other entrances to the regio have been found, roughly one in each Tribunal.

Because there are no fey here, House Merinita has little interest in it; likewise, House Jerbiton is poorly represented, preferring to focus on mundane organizations like the Church and nobility, and House Ex Miscellanea has expressed little interest. While Etheria is populated by occasional Magical spirits and beasts, there are no ordinary animals here, and House Bjornaer has little involvement with the project. In contrast, there is strong representation from Houses Bonisagus, Verditius, and Criamon. House Tytalus, in particular, seems to think Etheria is far too docile and quiet, and needs a good shaking up before it will be useful. At least one Guernicus has been attached to the project as Quaesitor, and the Redcap network is setting up in the regio, using a variety of means to safely travel not only over the Twilight Sea but back and forth to the mundane world.

Companions in Etheria are generally chosen for a supernatural ability aligned to Magic; the high aura of Etheria ensures warping for all others who live there. Some magi keep their grogs in Etheria for only half the year before sending them home, thereby avoiding warping, but other magi don't find warping in grogs to be especially important. One of the first steps in the exploration was the construction of several boats which would be able to safely sail the Twilight Sea. Vis sources have been found there, usually aspected by the island where the vis is found. Thus, the Isle of the Sun is the primary source of ignem vis in Etheria, and this has prompted trading and cooperation among the various fledgling covenants.(5)

Etheria is not without its dangers, or its inhabitants. In particular, each Isle is ruled by a planetary spirit of high Magical Might, and attended by a host of other magical beings. Relations with these entities is a primary concern for the covenants forming there. The fabulous terrain has presented many challenges, and of course the scheming of Hermetic magi is ever present, pitting some covenants within the Tribunal against each other. The strong aura throughout the regio makes botches both likely and dangerous. In some senses, the magi of Etheria are their own worst enemy.

More to Come: Character Creation Guidelines and other Rule Considerations
(1) The dating for the Ethereal Tribunal was calculated with the following premise: one season advances in the setting for every week of real time and, with a few weeks left over for vacation and holiday, that means one year passes in the game for every month in real time. Google+ launched in June of 2011, roughly 18 months ago. If the formation of the Community, roughly a month ago, occurred in 1220, the generic campaign start date for AM, that means Etheria was discovered seventeen years previous, and it is currently 1221 in the setting. The Grand Tribunal establishing the Ethereal Tribunal will occur in two years, or roughly March 2013 in real time.

(2) The Order has not yet agreed on an explanation for Etheria's bizarre properties. Partly, this is because it has been kept a secret from all but a small number of magi. Once its existence is revealed at the Grand Tribunal, a better explanation may be found. For now, the prevailing theory is that Etheria is a fragment of the Magic Realm (a cosm or insula) which somehow "broke off". Some argue this would be impossible. Others argue that this definition already describes all Magic regios. See Realms of Power: Magic p. 18-19 for more on cosms and insulae.

(3) For the magical associations of the seven planets, see "Planetary Magic," p. 57 of "The Mysteries: Revised Edition".

(4) Thirteen because House Tytalus has two praecos vying for dominance.

(5) I tried to assign particular flavors of vis to the seven planets, and while some were easy, others were hard or impossible, and it felt forced and unbalanced. So instead I figure some flavors are just more common on some islands than others.