The world has always had magic in it, but not a lot. Often, when people gathered for some great cause, when they wanted something with all their hearts, miracles happened. They thanked their gods and goddesses for these miracles, and made great sacrifices in their names, so that the next time they needed to call upon their divine protectors, their prayers would be heard.
When people began to build great cities, the magic got stronger. It took many centuries for the scholars to figure out that there was something besides the divine at work—and, really, the debate rages on. The leading theories explain that masses of people living close together releases magical power from the earth, and that emotion produces magic. This is true, but it isn’t the whole truth.
Magic in Caldera is produced by emotion and creative energy. There is magic in joy and sorrow, in pain and pleasure, but also in art, beauty, planning, and dreams. When people communicate, the emotion and ideas exchanged between them is a kind of magical heat. It’s like the friction of people’s lives rubbing against one another causes something supernatural to happen. So a sculptor working alone in a quiet workshop may create a very small amount of magic, but if he sculpts a statue for his wife, it creates a larger amount of magic, and sculpting a great statue for the Forum while the city’s people watch can create a large magical effect.
Perhaps because of the amount of misery in the lowest levels of Minotaur (the oldest part of the city, buried deep under layers of new construction), weird magic is strongest there. It remains potent within the city itself, and sharply weakens in the farmlands inside the crater. Outside the walls, the magical effect recedes to nothingness.
The powerful forces created by the magical feedback loop in Caldera have created two new universes: the plane of nightmare, where your worst fears come alive, and the plane of reflection, which connects every one of the city’s shiny mirrors.
Magic in D&D
The strange rules of magic affect D&D 4E characters and monsters in interesting ways.
Character level is affected by proximity to the city. In general, characters have levels over 1st only when they’re in or near the city.
The magic in the heart of Minotaur is so strong, PCs gain 10 temporary hit points if they take a brief rest there. Leaving the city for more than a day causes temporary loss of one character level, which is restored after a full rest in the city. Leaving the crater entirely causes the loss of one character level per day until the character reaches 1st level.
All power sources are magical. That is, player characters are magically-enhanced beings. Arcane magic is a contrived kind of magic, powered by thought and artificial constructs that wizards and the like dream up. Divine magic is similar, though more pure, in that pure thought and belief shape it. And (so far), the world has not experienced psionic magic, which is the purest way to work magic. Primal magic is a kind of reflected magic. Characters who use the primal power source draw their energy from the world around them. The martial power source is a kind of magic, too. Martial characters allow their bodies to be infused with the magic around them.
Many monsters and most high-power NPCs would not exist without the enhancement of magic. Creatures and people who have left the city all know that their power depends on staying in the city, or at least the crater.
Monsters are usually constructs from people’s nightmares. If the masses get excited and frightened of the rumor of some kind of night stalker, their terror can amplify the magic and create terrible night stalker monsters. When those monsters murder people, the populace becomes more frightened, and the greater fear makes those monsters stronger. Only strong action of brave individuals can destroy the monsters and calm the people.
Sometimes monsters are creatures borne completely of strong emotion. A creature of elemental hate is a terrible agent of vengeance. A being of elemental love is a troublesome, meddling cupid.
Cosmology and Planes
The cosmology of Caldera’s universe is relatively simple. There’s the earth and its universe. The earth has pockets of magic caused by crystal, and the magical power there is magnified by the thought patterns of creatures living nearby.
Deities are not real—well, they’re real only in the sense that they are creations of thought patterns of sentient creatures. They are not real people, however (at least not yet). They are ideas formed from mass agreement of their divine form. These ideas are very powerful and create effects in the world similar to those you’d expect from distant, abstract deities.
There is a co-existent ethereal plane throughout the world, even where there is no magic, but magic is required to go there. The city’s magic makes the plane of shadow real. This is a co-existent plane that exists only in the city. The astral plane does not exist (Devas share a mental link with living people, not the souls of their ancestors). There is no feywild or anything similar (Eladrin and the like do not come from there). There are only two other planes: the plane of reflection and the plane of nightmare.
Every mirror, every still pool of water, every polished steel shield is a potential portal to the plane of reflection. This is a sort of virtual world where everyone has an alter ego (with a different race, class, and level). Whenever a character enters the mirror world, the player can create a new 1st level character (and level him up independently of his main character) or choose any mirror world character he’s played before (and retain the levels that character has earned on previous adventures). The plane of reflection is full of glassy corridors and mazes, and shining portals that lead out into other mirrors in the city. A very clever mirrorwalker learns how to get into locked places that happen to have mirrors in them. The catch: when you exit a mirror that you didn’t enter, you remain the same as your virtual character. To be restored to your old self, you need to exit the mirror you entered. Also, you cannot travel in the real world beyond the “picture” that the mirror reflected when you exited from that mirror.
The plane of nightmare is a horrible, twisted version of the real world. It is an agglomeration of the worst dreams and fears of the people of the city. Where Caldera is crowded, cramped, and claustrophobic, Nightmare is worse. Where the dark places of Caldera is ridden with frightening monsters, Nightmare is plagued with them. It is a kind of dark hell. Sometimes people get dragged into the plane of nightmare at night by their own guilty consciences. Some people learn to use Nightmare as a way to face their fears and remove curses. There’s a tenuous connection between that plane and the real world, and scholars are only beginning to understand the practical uses of it.
Appealing to Emotion
A character in deep trouble can appeal to emotion, letting emotion take over. This lets the magic in.
In game terms, once per level, a player can re-roll any die roll the player made and take the second result instead. The player must convincingly role-play the character letting emotion completely take over. This should be a moving, emotional role-playing scene. Whether it is convincingly played or not is up to everyone at the table.
The core rules explain that disenchanting a magic item extracts the magic from it and transforms that magic into a fine, silvery dust called residuum. It’s so rare and useful that a mere pound of it is worth 500 thousand gold pieces. Wow, right?
In Caldera, residuum is not so rare. In fact, the magical energies pool in the rock below the city, whose citizens mine the stuff. Well, they don’t mine pure residuum; they’re mining ore, called arcanite, which contains minute quantities of residuum. They use heat and magical processes to smelt the arcanite, and to extract the residuum. The miners are exposed to all kinds of strange magical effects over time, and most exhibit strange transformations. In general, the process the smelters use protects them better (through use of shielding, special suits and goggles, and so on).
Residuum comes in many forms. The most common form is called arcane residuum, and is a fine, silvery powder that shimmers with moving colors. In Caldera, it’s worth about 100 gold pieces an ounce (about 1/300th the value of what the core rules describe). There are other forms, each with special magical properties sought by wizards and enchanters.
Magic in powder form is incredibly useful to one who knows how to use it. However, the street has discovered a simple use: snorting it. When ingested or snorted, residuum produces heightened emotions in the user. In the right headspace, the drug creates incredible euphoria or megalomaniacal confidence. Unfortunately, these feelings are addictive and over time a residuum dependence requires more and more of the drug to achieve the effect. Withdrawal symptoms are painful and often lead to death (or suicide). An ounce of residuum will cover a typical addict for a few weeks. In addition to magnifying emotions, taking residuum occasionally transforms users permanently, giving them strange magical powers often accompanied by changes in physical appearance. These powers are often dangerous, making encounters with angry or scared residuum addicts potentially lethal.
There’s an even purer form of residuum called liquum. When residuum is combined with elemental water, heated with elemental fire, filtered through elemental earth, and then distilled with elemental air, the result is a shimmering liquid form of magic a thousand times more potent than residuum. It is generally too expensive to be used as a street drug, but it is used in powerful enchantment rituals as an amplifier.
A knowledgeable arcanist can use specially-prepared residuum and liquum to boost the power of his spells. This works like the metamagic feats from the previous rules edition, making saves more difficult, damage higher, range further, casting easier, and so on.
In general, because of the presence of mineable residuum in Caldera, magic items are more common. In fact, there’s an industry built around enchantment. The most common magic sold is for convenience (lighting, cleaning, cooking, communication), safety (weapons, security), or entertainment (games, recording and playback).