Malifaux: Through the Breach
Magic and Technology
Magic was a waning force on Earth until the opening of the Breach. While Earth itself saw a minor upsurge in arcane energies, the true prize was Malifaux itself. The world beyond the Breach was a place where arcane power was still abundant, both in the ambient environment and in the form of soulstone, an arcane mineral that could store mystical energy for later use by sorcerers.
Soulstone made a variety of wonders possible on Earth, and the closing of the Breach made it the rarest and most valuable commodity in the world. The battle to control that commodity started the Black Powder Wars, which irrevocably changed the political landscape of Earth and gave rise to the monolithic and powerful Guild.
When the Breach reopened nearly five years ago, the Guild systematically moved in to control the city of Malifaux and its access to soulstone. The Guild considers itself the only legal purveyor of magic on the Malifaux side of the Breach, and all unauthorized (i.e., not Guild) sorcerers to be criminals and potential terrorists. The possession of arcane tomes, mystical talismans, or soulstone without Guild licenses is a certain trip to a holding cell, and a likely trip to the hangman’s noose.
Because of the long arm of Guild regulation, unlicensed sorcerers in Malifaux must be careful to keep their powers a secret. This is even more of a pressing issue because the trip across the Breach can actually awaken magical talents in people who previously had none, forcing them to choose between submission to the Guild and lifelong servitude, or concealing their growing talents from both the Guild and from creatures that are drawn to the magically adept. In many cases, even people who want nothing more than to deny their unasked-for powers must develop them in order to defend themselves from the Neverborn
The moment a sorcerer becomes aware of the magical energy pervading his body and surrounding him is known as his awakening. It can be a quiet moment, full of awareness of the universe, or it can be a cataclysmic event, full of fire and blood. It is different for each sorcerer, though many schools of magic have ritualized the process in order to guide a burgeoning magic-user though his awakening and into formalizing his powers.
Sorcerers and Magical Theory
While a sorcerer can begin using his magic almost immediately after undergoing his awakening, these minor magical talents (called “immuto” in common lore) will never advance until the sorcerer begins understanding the theory and practice behind the formal use of his powers. Several different theories and practices of magic exist, and each seems valid enough for achieving certain results. A magical theory is equal parts esoteric lore, practical application, and philosophical world view. Embracing a magical theory means changing oneself to adhere to it, and so certain theories tend to create certain kinds of sorcerers.
Every sorcerer must develop a magical theory before he can develop his meager powers. Those that do so in formal schools (whether those schools are legal or not) are known as “wizards” or “school sorcerers,” while those that walk the thorny path alone are known as “hedge witches” or just “witches.” The most common schools of magic are discussed in this section.
The Guild’s tight regulation on soulstones is widely referred to as the Thalarian Doctrine. In the wake of the Powder Wars, the Guild began to greatly restrict magic on Earth through legal means. These investigations were headed by a man named Abel Thalaric, who staunchly believed that the powers of magic belonged not to those endowed with magical ability, but to the common man.
Thalarian Doctrine is the Guild’s officially sanctioned magical style and political platform. While they have momentarily lost the shadow war to keep the Oxford Method in check, the Thalarian Doctrine is cited as the magical system that promotes the common good and the non-magical person, as equal to the Warlock (as the doctrine defines all non-Thalarian Spellcasters).
Thalarian Doctrine uses complex formulas and concepts to create magical items that anyone can use. Indeed, it is closer to a craftsman’s training than it is to any other magical art, and Thalarians often refer to themselves as Magewrights. Thalarian practitioners hold that magic is a universal right, not just for those who have wild talents. This belief makes Magewrights astoundingly good at counter-spelling.
The Oxford Method
One school of magical theory is the Oxford University of Metaphysical Studies located in Mississippi. Recently having re-opened its doors to new students, this school trains its pupils in a very regimented craft. This style of magic is what most people think of when they think of a wizard.
Common components of the Oxford Method include summoning circles, magical formulae, and ritual words. The school teaches that magic comes from a mindscape, where the practitioner imagines a reality, and then harnesses the appropriate gestures and magical words to bring it into being. Wands, staves, and runes are also common fixtures of Oxford magical usage.
Oxford-trained wizards tend to hold that their education, rather than their raw magical talent, makes them superior to other people—and to other sorcerers. This superior attitude makes Oxford Method wizards drift into government and advisory positions more often than not, since they are among the few powers that can keep a “warlock” safe from the Guild.
The Darlin Theories
Less of a codified system of magic, and more a collection of magical and scientific treatises, the Darlin theories are the closest thing to science that magic has so far achieved. The theories are named after the mecha-tyrant of Virginia, Aaron Darlin, who is probably best known for the Conflagration of Richmond in 1791. However, his works circulated widely after his death in 1792 and his name has become synonymous with steam and clockwork powered magic.
The core metaphor of the Darlin Theories is that magic must be shaped through discovery. Each practitioner is encouraged to create their own theories about how magic interacts with steam and clockwork parts. However, those trained in the Darlin Theories are taught a rigorous system of notation (with elements of classical debate) so that other similarly minded individuals can recreate and learn from their work.
To a Darlist each spell effect is a combination of scientific principles, augmented by ether and soulstone. Even when a Darlist personally channels his spells, he sees it as an execution of science that requires some form of pneumatic assistance. For this reason it is very common for Darlists to have a pneumatic arm or similar focus item which they have customized to allow for a wide variety of “magical effects.”
The Court Procedure
Aristocracies crave power, and magical power is no exception. A remnant of the Powder Wars, Court Procedure is the mocking name given to the magic of Lauren Descartes, a necromancer and enchanter. Bordering on heretical, Court Procedure isn’t a system of magic in its own right. Instead, it is a collection of nearly eight thousand laws that are organized into eleven distinct “gates of power.”
Each Gate of Power contains revelations and training that each student is expected to master before unlocking the next gate. There is no organized teaching of the Court Procedure. The introductory primer explains that students are expected to teach themselves without a master. Once mastered, the practitioner will have the necessary knowledge to recognize and find others like them, and may thus gain access to the tomes of higher gates, and find even more powerful hidden practitioners.
Descartes believed that power comes from forcing others to obey rules that the powerful do not abide by. As a practitioner learns more of the laws, he is allowed to break more of them. Ambition and rule breaking are simultaneously encouraged and punished harshly.
Court Procedure has many of the same surface trappings as the Oxford method, but “the Gathered” (as practitioners call themselves) are very organized. It is only their internal conflict (and need to hide from the Guild) that keeps them in check.
The Balanced Five
Balanced Five is a rough translation for an extremely complex and nuanced form of magic. The basic tenets revolves around five elements (Earth, Metal, Fire, Water, Air) that must be kept in harmony. Each in turn has both a positive and negative energy alignment, where each element grows in strength and polarity with the ebbs and flows of life.
Practitioners believe that magic is always happening, that the very stuff of life is indeed magical. Every trip down the road to the neighbor’s is a magical experience. A life in balance is a serene and natural affair, and is the goal of the Balanced Five. Spell effects are created not when things are in harmony, but when they are out of harmony.
Rather than willing a spell effect into creation, the practitioner ceases to maintain balance in certain elemental combinations, and the magic bursts out in the desired effect. A practitioner sees himself not as a creator of magic, but as a dam that stops all magic from flowing through him at once.
Common trappings are somewhat mystical in nature, such as incense, meditation, physical representations of the elements, and ancestral communication.
Little is known of this theory, other than it does not come from the minds of mortal men. Those who are driven insane enough to create undead life are hunted mercilessly by the Guild. In their death throes many of them speak of a driving force, something that teaches them their macabre skills. The Whisper is the name given to this condition.
As might be guessed, the Whisper is a Malifaux-only phenomenon, and it is unknown if its practitioners would even be able to use their powers on Earth without a basically unlimited amount of soulstone. This is one of the few instances in which the Guild’s strangehold on soulstone production and distribution actually contributes to the public good. A plague of undead unleashed on Earth might well be devastating.
The practitioner is driven to make ever more complex undead creations, and they learn the skills almost spontaneously. A common man may wake one morning with no arcane ability, but find himself with magical talent by nightfall… and a Whisper on the wind to guide his education…
The lifeblood of the Malifaux’s economy is the soulstone. These rare gemstones serve as a magical fuel source on Earthside, and are instrumental to the creation of many wonders. Most soulstones are not very large, and are not of very high quality, fit for being embedded in jewelry. These soulstones can hold only the faintest magical charge and are burnt out when used, becoming inert, if beautiful, rocks.
These stones are often ground into a powder and used by Guild agents on Earth to work magics. The powder is also provided to some governments or powerful universities for training purposes. Larger or higher quality soulstones, however, are not expended when used. The charge is not infinite, but it will rebuild its reserve on its own over time. Once depleted, the magic effect that the soulstone is powering will fail, and must be re-applied.
For this reason it is vitally important that a soulstone of sufficient size and quality be used in any situation where the caster wishes a permanent effect. The soulstone must recharge faster than it is depleted. Of course, a soulstone can also be recharged in a variety of ways, which can make even a low quality soulstone a viable fuel source for an enchantment in the hands of a skilled or vile practitioner.
The most notorious method of recharging a soulstone is to leave it in the presence of a dying person. As the individual dies, the soulstone begins to glow green from within. The larger the soulstone, the more deaths it must be present for in order to fully recharge. The Guild—pragmatic and ruthless as it is—maintains dozens of hospitals and prisons Earthside to use the ambient death as fuel for their soulstones. Rumor says that they sometimes “accelerate the process” if their recharging quota starts to fall short.
The rise of magic has advanced technology significantly in some ways and retarded it severely in others. The most obvious leaps forward have come in the field of weaponry, which has jumped forward by leaps and bounds, particularly during the Black Powder Wars. Other fields, such as medical technology and agriculture, have stagnated for decades because of the Guild’s focus on soulstone technology.
The modern firearm is a cartridge-loading repeater, far from the powder-and-shot weapons of a century before. The pistol of choice is the revolver, a handheld weapon with a central cylinder that holds between four and ten bullets, rotating from one to the next as it is fired. The so-called single-action revolver (in which the hammer must be manually cocked before the weapon can be fired) is falling out of favor compared to the double-action revolver (where the pulling of the trigger also cocks the hammer). A few gunfighting aficionados prefer the older weapon, though, since the hammer of a single-action revolver can be “fanned”—that is, struck repeatedly while the trigger is held down, allowing the weapon to fire all of its shots far faster than a trigger could be pulled.
Rifles and shotguns remain the weapons of choice for hunters, and both bolt-action and lever-action rifles are commonly used by military forces. A breech-loading rifle can hold between five and twenty shots, depending on make and model. Shotguns are capable of firing pellet-filled rounds or solid slugs, and vary between single-shot weapons and pump-action weapons capable of holding between four and ten shells.
The deadliest weapon on the modern battlefield is the Gatling gun, a lever-cranked machine gun that fires hundreds of rounds each minute. These horrifying weapons can mow down soldiers by the dozen, and its invention necessitated a complete revision of military tactics after several nations embraced its use. Cannons and artillery shells have seen several revisions during and since the Black Powder Wars, and they remain popular in large-scale militaries. A recent invention that has begun seeing use on the battlefield is the flamethrower, a metal backpack filled with gelatinous fuel that can be sprayed from a handheld pump; when the fuel strikes the small flame in front of the nozzle, it becomes a brilliant streamer of deadly fire.
Despite the preeminence of firearms in the modern world, many warriors still prefer to keep a knife, club, or sword on hand. Firearms are less precise for personal combat than close-quarters weapons—which is to be expected, since a firearm’s primary purpose is to shoot an unaware animal for hunting or to be used in vast volleys on battlefields. Such weapons are also less regulated, which is a significant advantage in Malifaux, where the Guild tends to regard firearm ownership as a matter of licensing and regulation.
Medicine has crawled forward in the last century. The invention of pneumatic limbs—prosthetics powered by soulstone—has pushed amputation to the forefront of surgical practices. The average surgeon’s opinion is that it is better to cleanly remove a badly damaged limb than to attempt to save it; pneumatic limbs are stronger and tougher anyway (not to mention prohibitively expensive for most people who would need them). Disease remains rampant among poor populations; though modern medicine understands the germ theory of disease, no effective means to prevent most illnesses exists.
The steam engine remains king in the industrialized world, and soulstones make it possible for such engines to run hotter and longer than ever before. Railroads crisscross the civilized nations of Earth, and one such line runs through Malifaux itself via the Breach. Outside Malifaux city, the local rail lines run to the nearby communities of Fortune Falls, Ridley, and Edgeport. A few non-rail steam vehicles exist as well, including the horseless carriage and the dirigible.
Steam engines also make possible the factories that process soulstone and the vast amounts of metal needed for industrial infrastructure. Indeed, the prominence of the steam engine is one of the reasons for the formation of the Miners and Steamfitters Union, a major power player in Malifaux. Modern steam engines are powered by a combination of coal, soulstone dust, and petrol, though the low-temperature (and supposedly much safer) diesel engine is creating quite a stir back on Earth.
Electricity is a widespread phenomenon, with electrical lighting gradually replacing gaslamps in most major cities, including Malifaux. Alternating current is the order of the day, thanks to the tireless effort of industrial scientist Nikola Tesla, and the telegraph enables long-distance communication in mere hours or days as opposed to the weeks and months required for parcels.
As a general rule, the “hard sciences”—like physics, chemistry, and engineering—have made major strides over the last century since the first opening of the Breach. The “soft sciences”—biology, botany, and anthropology—have largely stagnated. A single new branch of science has risen between the Breach’s two openings—psychology, the study of the mind and its ailments—but this pseudo-science remains in its infancy.
Soulstone has applications in the realm of the technological as well as the magical, and fusions of the two are fairly common. These items, known in vulgar parlance as “magitech,” are the most common end result of the Guild’s sorcerous practices, and the Guild’s golems—enormous machines hissing steam covered in sparking runes—are a common sight in Malifaux. It is said that the standard revolver of the Guild Guard, the Peacebringer, is enchanted such that its bullets will wound even the Neverborn. A few other sorcerers, such as those of the Darlinist Theories, practice large-scale fusions of machine and magic, but they must avoid the Guild’s notice whenever possible.