World:Shadow of the Empire
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Shadow of the Empire is a High fantasy setting for GURPS, set at TL:3 with an in depth development of a unique set of magical traditions.
Before the rise of civilization little is known, and most of it is a matter of deduction, conjecture, and observation of the races which have not developed their own civilizations in their native tribal habitat. It is apparent that pre-civilization there was no magery, though som spells which do not require magery would have been developed and handed down by oral tradition. In some cases these must have required selecting people with the correct personality traits, such as a knack with animals, in order for them to be able to learn these early spells. The tribal wise men became early priests, and apparently their power earned them, more often than not, a respect within the tribes that translated to political power. Upstart spellcasters would have to either wait until the old wise man died to lead the tribe or develop new spells, driving a slow but relentless pressure to develop their limited set of spells further and further. It would seem that when a newly developed spell did not fit within teh structure of the spells the tribe already used the new spellcaster would be driven from the camp, to either found a new tribe, if enough people saw value in the new spell, or to perish alone. Given available evidence it is expected that such developments were extreemly rare.
As humans, and in a few places some non human allies, settled down the learning structure of religion became more academic, and more stratified. Priesthoods arose which both recorded and protected their knowledge, seperating themselves from teh remainder of the population through a combination of magical knowledge and religious ritual. additional advances were made durring this phase, including a system of initiation, sacred acrhitecture which focused certain magical energies, and mass rituals led by an educated priesthood capable of harnessing the combined efforts of thousands. It was also the period in which the calendars were perfected to record annual events and seasonal changes. The priesthood ruled individual city states, and eventually it was noticed that some of teh spells the initiated priests used could not be used by anyone who had not been properly initiated. Eventually this developed into a system of tiered initiations which also served to improve the capabilities of the priesthood at using magic.
As before the primary chance for overthrowing a system was from within, through the development of new spells, though this would still require a signifigant ammount of political manuvering, and administrative skills were also highly prized, leading to a greater social and political stability while still driving magical research. Even if a spell were developed by someone without teh necessary skill or connections to lead it would greatly accelerate their rise within the religious ranks, and in an era when simply waiting your turn to lead was not successfull more often than it was this kind of boost could be more important to the person developing the spell than actual takeover of a tribe had been in bygone eras.
The First Empires
Eventually it was discovered, and stories vary as to how, that temples that were developed for use in one temple could be used by initiates of another temple, even the spells which required initiation. Where previously temples had existed dedicated to a single deity at the center of a city state this discovery began to change the political landscape as temples began to attempt to gain access to each other's libraries. The main reason that the diversity of religious centers even survived this period is that most spells had been engraved into the walls of the temples where they had been developed for durability, which made the prospect of hauling away a library rather daunting.
In different areas these empires developed in different ways. In the Kelrath Fertile Valley the temple of Helion (Lord of the Flames) led an era of conquest in which they systematically subjugated the other city states, established branch temples to lead each of them and insisted on access to the vanquished temples spell libraries in exchange for allowing them to continue to exist. The Pilanth Empire of the Wichiwa River developed as a series of political negotiations in which the Temple of the Gwaith, the Eternal Mother, secured a top position and temples in all of the other cities in the empire. The Manntharian Empire of the Leshanu Mountains was comprised largely of wandering tribes of herders, and the temple of Cernas already predominated through social influence, and quietly absorbed the other temples into its influence as it simply became the head of the pantheon of the region.
The Zarthonian Empire
600 years ago a thief named Zarthos snuck into a series of temples and copied the instructions from the walls for every spell he could get a hold of. While he got away with the crime itself he found there was simply no market for what he had stolen, with only a handful of spells being usable without initiation. In the process of attempting to sell the spells however light was cast upon his crime and he was forced to flee. He found a place to settle himself at the mouth of a river between three empires, where he set himself up as a god using the stolen spells he could master. Life was certainly easier for him, and in the process of infiltrating the temples he had picked up the basics of how religious rituals worked. He initiated and taught magic to several priests before he ultimately died of illness, revealing his charade.
The revelation however, showed much more than his charade, as the initiated priests remained magical initiates, even after they had lost faith in Zarthos as a deity. They attempted to confer initiation onto new initiates but found that without the faith in Zarthos it did not function. However the revelation that it is faith, not divinity, which makes magical initiation possible, was astounding. As scouts and envoys of the three empires approached the independent town it was far more, the revelation was one which threatened the stability of every empire. For the people of Zarthanon a democracy was formed, in which all religions were allowed, but initiation had to be provided to civil servants as well as the priesthood.
To prevent this outcome each of the empires agreed to allow Zarthonan to maintain its independence, and even began to use it as neutral ground, and eventually as mediator for inter-empirical disputes and as a way to avoid war with each other. Meanwhile the Zarthonians found that faith could be a much more complex idea than was originally thought. One did not have to believe in the literal existence of a deity to have faith in the symbol of a deity, or even an ancestor. This symbolic faith was enough to allow magical initiation and, ironically reform the temple of Zarthos.
In time ideas did spread, but they were softened by both time and further discovery, and eventually Zarthonian negotiators merged the 3 empires into one, allowing the major temples of each to spread amongst a larger territory and population while secularizing the study of magic, including the development of new spells, into a national academy. The new empire was ruled by a system of judges which enforced laws and mediated disputes, all of them appointed by a central Judge, which became an emperor, elected by the various states that the government represented.
Collapse of the Zarthonian Empire
As the power structure of the Zarthonian Empire changed, with the temples exhibiting less regionalized influence and the secular government taking authority, it eventually became overburdened by its own administrative needs. As large theocracies crumbled they did so on a city by city basis, with individual cities becoming semi-autonomous territories dotting the Imperial map. Each of these territories of course needed its own chief judge to report to the emperor, and eventually the system of appointments became too complex, leaving a number of towns with no effective judge to settle disputes and enforce laws. Instead these regions began to set up a system of successor judges, where instead of being appointed by the emperor the ‘suggestions’ from the community or previous judge would be sent in, along with an administration fee, and the judge would be approved by rather than appointed by the emperor. As generations passed the emperor became more and more of a figurehead, settling at first inter-territorial disputes, and then relying more on more on the diplomacy of the local Judges to work out their differences. Tax collection and coordination of troops became more and more problematic, and the emperor became less and less of the person really in charge. In name the Zarthonian Empire still exists- lip service is given to the Emperor, and the registration fees are still sent in when a new judge is “appointed”. The emperor has issued a few rulings now and then, but they are ones designed to establish a new standard of how the territories inter-relate rather than to actually settle differences. The most recent of these was 5 years ago when a city dispute escalated beyond all expectations and one city actually invaded the other, executing the judge and attempting to install a new one. The city petitioned for their own choice of judge, and the emperor sided with the invader, stating that larger, more unified territories were in the best interest of the empire, and the conquering judge was now the territorial judge of the new combined territory, and as such entitled to appoint any subsidiary judges he chose. Opinion is divided as to whether the emperor is being honest in his reasoning, or lacks confidence in the weight of his decision and chose to side with the victor to avoid the challenge of having to back up his ruling.