In this worldbuilding post, we will look at the magic and religion of my forthcoming sci-fi series, Øtherworld.
In Jarrod’s real life dystopian future, religion plays a big part in most people’s lives:
“Atheism was out-of-fashion, at least in the West and in the European Union, mostly thanks to the misguided legacy of Dr. James Bartholomew. He, and other scientists like him, believing in both the autonomy of man and in Darwinian evolution, felt that man was an evolutionary dead end and that man had only himself to save him from his fate. To this end, he came up with his infamous “Evolution Solution,” wherein he hoped to help man artificially evolve by means of genetic manipulation. The only thing he truly accomplished was the creation of mutantkind, his Homo sapiens adaptis, who inevitably attempted to supplant Homo sapiens. The further implications of his godless philosophy, sometimes called Bartian evolutionary theory, had wreaked havoc on Terra Prime in the form of uncontrolled genetic experimentation, the resulting Mutant Wars, legal conflicts over mutant rights, religious debates over the existence of the mutant soul, and the genocidal terrorisms of mutant-hating Purists.
“Evolutionary theory itself had also lost popularity. Not a few considered it blasphemous, as some always had. Others thought it unpatriotic, since the Mutant Wars had often been painted in terms of evolutionary fate versus the continued survival of Homo sapiens. Technological advances also took their toll on the once-popular theory. Thanks to modern scanning technology, archaeological digs were no longer necessary and nearly all Earth’s fossil record had been catalogued. Save for a few staunch demagogues who held onto some form of punctuated equilibrium, nearly all faith in evolutionary theory had been shattered in the glaring absence of Darwin’s promised missing links.
“In an interesting reversal of fortune, religions now found themselves in high favor. A belief in atheism or any form of evolutionary theory was considered naive at best and sociopathic at worst. Old religions, like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, enjoyed a swelling of ranks. The Islamic Confederacy was strengthened by its stand against the mutant abomination. Hinduism was swallowed up by its own syncretism and became Dalai Zen, which in turn displaced most Asian and Indian religious philosophies. Of course, the known worlds also had their share of strange and horrible cults.”
The religions of the Gameworld pretty much mirror their real-world counterparts. The Gamelords, savvy to people’s sensibilities, left the religious template of the human game environs largely blank. Gamers happily fleshed out the details to suit their real-world religious beliefs. Religions exclusive to the game tend to be cults like the Warmongers, or Cult of Dominus (a group dedicated to resurrecting Impworld’s medieval fantasy equivalent of Hitler), Corpus Dracon (who worship dragons and the prophesied dragon kings) and fake religions attributed to non-human races like goblyns, minotaurs, orcs, etc.
There are two distinct forms of magic in the Gameworld: true magic and wyld magic (also called chaos magic):
“Lunabase was unique in the universe. To anyone approaching the planet from the satellite’s far side, it was obvious that this was a man-made object, a space station through and through. On the other hand, those who viewed it from planetside were treated to a detailed mock-up of Impworld’s smaller red moon, Ikon. It was said to be exactly like its virtual counterpart, right down to the placement of its mountain ranges and seas. The planet’s other moon, a natural satellite, had been dubbed Sylvanus, after the larger of Impworld’s two moons.
“By the rules of the game, the phases of the moons determined the level of power a spellcaster had at his disposal. Thrice annually, both moons waxed full and a magic-user’s potential was at its peak. In the interests of balance, their power dropped to its lowest ebb roughly two weeks prior and following this “doubling.”
“Spellcasters kept track of their power levels via a magical tattoo on their forearm. The “mark” resembled a stylized hourglass, where the current stage of each moon was represented in its own hemisphere. In order to gain this mark, one had to submit to the quidnunc, a gauntlet of challenges administered by representatives of the Magus Council to determine the spellcasters worthiness for the art. Those who passed were marked, legally sanctioned to learn and practice magic. Those who failed were denied all but the meanest of spells on pain of death. Many who did not pass died in the attempt.
“To refuse the quidnunc was to place a deathmark on one’s own head. The Magus Council kept careful track those with budding magical abilities. The Council sent its inquisitors to hunt down renegades who chose to practice magic unmarked. Once cornered, they were given the choice to submit to the quidnunc or be executed. Inquisitors were especially zealous since a small army of unmarked wizards and witches had experimented with powerful, but unpredictable wyld magicks, resulting in the cataclysmic Magewar.
“Like most other gamers, Jarrod knew enough of the rules of magic to survive the game, but found its rules too much of a headache to pursue fully. He much preferred magical artifacts. You just figured out how to turn them on and pointed them in the right direction.”
A blind rule-mongering program controls the magic of Øtherworld. So long as participants abide by the rules, they can use magic. The magic itself is pulled off via a combination of artifact-based abilities (eg., magical “gecko” gloves are simply molecular bonding gloves, future tech in our day, but commonplace in Jarrod’s future world) and nanite technology.
Magic is currently mistrusted in Øtherworld, thanks to the cataclysmic results of the Mage War. The Magus Council has fallen from favor. Magical artifacts have been confiscated, spellcasters have been registered and the practice of magic severely restricted or even outlawed in many kingdoms.
In our next worldbuilding post, we’ll look at the food, drink, holidays and culture of Øtherworld.
Please note that this article contains quotes from an early draft of Luckbane. The published version contains minor differences.