Sinai Player Guide v5.0: 5.0 - Magic and Technology

Sinai Player Guide v5.0

5.0 Magic and Technology: What Works, What Doesn't
  • 5.1 Graduations of Technology
  • 5.1.1 Limitations of the Sinai Universe
  • 5.1.2 Sifras and First Ones Technology
  • 5.1.3 Dream Realms
  • 5.2 The Power of Magic
  • 5.3 Forbidden Zones
  • 5.4 The Planets
  • 5.5 Magic
  • 5.5.1 Cantrips and Rituals
  • 5.5.2 Dance Rituals
  • 5.5.3 Inherent Powers
  • 5.5.4 Enchantments
  • 5.5.5 Spheres of Magic
  • Light/Scrying
  • Water
  • Air
  • Shadow
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Spirit
  • Dream
  • Chaos
  • Illusion
  • Life
  • Mind
  • 5.5.6 Common Spells
  • 5.6 Materials

  • 5.1 Graduations of Technology

    On Sinai's surface, technology above simple clockwork has a chance of breaking down, or failing self-destructively. Unstable materials and explosives of all kinds always explode prematurely or fail to combust. Electronics tend to short out.

    This is not a change of physical laws: it is an increase in quantum uncertainty at the macroscopic level. More succinctly, whatever can go wrong generally does.

    At higher elevations, the quantum uncertainty becomes less pronounced until computers will run (with a high degree of error) at the level of the sky islands. The effect ends at the ionosphere.

    There is a higher mutation risk for surface-dwelling races, which has caused some visible drift between "pure" examples of a species and "variant" tribes.

    In recent years, this effect has shifted slightly. As recently as 6097 RTR, steam boilers would have a high chance of exploding for no particularly good reason. Now, steam engines are coming into use on the surface with greater frequency, and simple combustion engines are being introduced to airships (though the concept of motorized flight is still a matter of theory and experimentation).

    In areas of high magical activity, machines still have a high chance of malfunctioning or breaking down violently, but as of 6104 RTR, it's now possible to build railroads on the surface, and to make use of zeppelins. Gunpowder is still too dangerous to use below sky island level, though.

    Technology that Generally Works:

  • Basic Physics
  • Mechanics
  • Steam Powered Engines
  • Technology that Sometimes Works:

  • Chemistry
  • Electronics
  • Absolute No-Nos:

  • Nanotechnology
  • Biotechnology

  • 5.1.1 Limitations of the Sinai Universe

    While Sinai itself may have certain limitations on technology, there are also some distinct limitations that apply everywhere in the Sinai universe. Not even the GMs can break these rules. (There are, however, several clever ways of seeming to do so.) This list is by no means exhaustive, but just lists a few things that might help to clarify the "laws" of the universe beyond Sinai.

  • No Time Travel: It may be conceivable for events to be accelerated or slowed down, or perhaps a region is "frozen" in time, due to a spell or alien technology. However, time in the Sinai universe is linear. There is no traveling back in time. There are no "time paradoxes". There is no traveling into "alternate futures". You can only go one "direction" through time: forward.
  • No Alternate Universes: While provisions have been made in the Sinai setting for "Exiles" to come from other realities, the scope of the role-play here is only to take place in the Sinai universe. If it were possible to get back out of Sinai's universe, any given traveler is not going to be coming back. There's no "back and forth" skipping between universes to bypass the otherwise "universal" laws that the universe of Sinai abides by.
  • No Replicators and Transporter Beams: Technology of the level we see in certain popular science fiction TV series and movies that allows for casual rearranging of matter on a molecular level and "beaming" it from point to point is beyond what's possible in this universe. There is "teleportation" technology, of a sort, but it operates more on a "gate" principal, the subject being transported (by means not fully understood) from point A to point B, fully intact. (And as for the energy expenditures required to accomplish such a thing ... just don't do the mathwork, and we'll maintain suspension of disbelief, okay?)
  • Conservation of Energy and Mass are Maintained: Some degree of suspension of disbelief is required, lest we have to do complex mathematical analyses of how much energy wondrous alien artifacts might consume to do their thing, but there are no perpetual motion machines, and (barring the use of "magic" on Sinai), mass is conserved. Although "gate" technology may be possible, it takes energy to move something from one point to another. You can't just link two gates together and generate endless energy by dropping a rock through an endless fall, or other such "clever" abuses. You can't get something for nothing.
  • No Psionics: Sinai has Mind Magic, and the Learning Helmets suggest some marvelous technology that can interact with minds at a very deep level. However, "psionics" is considered magic here, not technology or "natural phenomena". There are no spoon-bending, mind-reading mental wonders beyond Sinai, without some sort of technology to support it.
  • Any Technology, Sufficiently Advanced...: Magic on Sinai is something special in this universe. Any technology that basically endows its user with endless, god-like powers is generally not going to work in Sinai's universe abroad.
  • Furthermore, it should be noted that the GMs aren't physicists and biochemists. Just because you might have studied in that realm, or some other science, doesn't mean that if you throw a bunch of numbers at the GMs, you should be able to justify all sorts of wild technologies that your PC can make use of. "Selective science" to bolster your case isn't helpful, either. (For instance, your PC is up against an airship in some plot, so you, the player, rather than dealing with the problem at hand, argue with the GM about how physically infeasible the enemy airship is, and how it shouldn't work at all. One might wonder why these arguments didn't come up earlier, before an airship actually posed some sort of threat to your PC.)

    As a rule of thumb, if you come up with some clever idea of how some technological or magical wonder can be abused to get a whole lot of power, odds are that, no, it won't work. (If nothing else ... why hasn't someone else done it by now?)

    5.1.2 Sifras and First Ones Technology

    In short, First Ones and Sifras technology doesn't follow the same rules and restrictions as other technology. Since the PCs are not Sifras or First Ones, there's not much that a PC can do with this information (and PCs should probably skip this part), but there are still some guidelines for GMs to keep in mind.

    More about Sifras and First Ones Technology

    5.1.3 Dream Realms

    One possible point of confusion over the setting might occur thanks to plots that involve "dream realms". It's important to note that there is no "dream plane" that PCs can travel to as a real location either by dreaming or by some sort of magic or interdimensional travel. It is conceivable, thanks to magic, for multiple individuals to have shared dreams within the context of an artificial reality experienced within the dream. Sometimes, rules that apply in the waking world may seem to apply within the dream: the standard rules for spellcasting and combat may seem to still apply, using the dreamer's normal statistics. However, that is not always the case. (Perhaps that's one reason why GMs have so much fun with these types of plots.)

    It is theoretically possible for events in a "dream realm" to have an impact on the "waking world", but only in special circumstances. For instance, the planet of Morpheus has collections of Sifran crystal that rearrange themselves, as affected by influences from certain magically-charged dreams. It is possible for someone to walk around on Morpheus and possibly get a few odd visions of dreams while there, and Morpheus himself may pop up from time to time in dreams. However, Morpheus can't spy on just anyone's dreams -- there typically has to be magic or really bizarre circumstances involved.

    From a plot standpoint, this precedent is important, because if, every time someone falls asleep, one is at the mercy of strange forces wandering the "dream plane", any such plot could easily affect all of Sinai with little effort, from Rephidim to the most remote backwaters. Plots with such sweeping, inescapable effects are generally avoided.

    5.2 The Power of Magic

    Magic is strongest around ruins, along fault lines in the planetary strata, on volcanic mountains, and in valleys close to or below sea level. It dwindles away the higher one goes, vanishing entirely at the ionosphere. Wherever it is strongest, technology becomes weakest. The interference causes breakdowns and catastrophic explosions which are proportional to the technological level of the object. It is illegal to bring any but the simplest technologies into inhabited surface areas.

    Magic must be gathered by the caster in some way before being used or stored. It is difficult to contain for very long. It is sensitive to willpower, and some people are naturally resistant or immune to magic directly worked upon them. Iron and other heavy metals tend to warp or disrupt magic. Some organic products have obscure properties in disrupting particular types of magic, leading credence to "superstitions" that involve creating special herbal talismans to ward off supernatural beings.

    Magical items are difficult to make. Permanent magical items must be made with materials created by the First Ones, as lesser items will deteriorate and warp under the effects of enchantment.

    Notes for Player Characters:

  • There is no true spirit world or dream world in this world universe. While there may be ghosts, demons, spirits, and god-like figures, they are actually living constructs of magic, evoked either by a sorcerer or by powerful beliefs. They are tied to the material world and not gifted with superior perception of Sinai's nature. It is conceivable that some powerful mages may create a magical "dream environment" on Sinai, sustained by potent rituals, but this does not reflect anything about the nature of dreams beyond Sinai's magical influence.
  • Magical items retaining virtues of their own, and not merely used as triggers for spells (which degrade over time) are highly difficult to create and require advanced knowledge of magic, typically beyond the ability of starting PCs.

  • 5.3 Forbidden Zones

    Certain special locations on Sinai are identified as "Forbidden Zones". They share in common that airships passing into these areas tend to mysteriously vanish. Beyond that, details vary greatly. Some Forbidden Zones have high concentrations of magical energy. In some, magic may be suppressed, or perhaps may be so wild and uncontrollable that it is simply not practical to use. In some Forbidden Zones, the very laws of nature may seem to behave differently. When one enters a Forbidden Zone, all bets are off, as to how magic and/or technology may behave -- A spell or machine that works in one instance may behave totally differently the next time someone thinks to make use of it. Forbidden Zones are, for the most part, wisely avoided.

    5.4 The Planets

    In recent history, the Gateway Tower in the Himaat was discovered, and it became possible for a few brave (or foolhardy) adventurers to take expeditions to the neighboring worlds, and to even contact other cultures there. As of yet, little is known about how magic and technology differ on these worlds. The average person on the street would know little of this, but certain persons in the know (i.e., closely associated with Rephidim Temple) might discern this much:

  • Magic as it is known on Sinai is only present on Sinai itself. Any sort of "magic" present on the other worlds is governed by different rules, and is in many cases quite dangerous to wield.
  • Magic is apparently non-existent on Abaddon, where technology is significantly advanced beyond that on Sinai, up to an early Industrial Age. However, there is evidence of at least some degree of "Quantum Uncertainty", as complex electronics and more advanced technologies are not in evidence, and some of the species there exhibit some mutations, though to less of a degree than surface-dwellers on Sinai.
  • Magic on Fortunatis, the Planet of Chaos, is "wild", with unpredictable and quite possibly self-destructive results. Anyone trying to utilize magic on Fortunatis is playing the magical equivalent of Russian Roulette.

  • 5.5 Magic

    Magic, as it exists on Sinai, is the direction of strange and barely understood energies that are stronger near the surface, and weaker as one gains elevation. At times, magic seems to manifest itself without any direction, especially in Forbidden Zones. For the most part, however, it appears under the direction of living, sapient beings.

    5.5.1 Cantrips and Rituals

    The traditional way for mages to cause effects by means of magic is through the use of "spells", with the power of the resultant effect tied to the amount of time and effort put into the casting of the spell. The shortest of spells is the "cantrip", which is nothing more than a few magical words uttered for about 15 seconds on the surface, or a minute in Rephidim. These are typically useless for practical purposes, but only as amusements ... although a few cantrips could potentially be useful for such things as providing a dim source of light, or to do things that could be easily performed with a simple tool ... when one doesn't happen to have the tool in question.

    Minor Spells are the next step up, ranging from 5 minutes to 15 minutes in casting time. These are significantly more potent than cantrips, but this is offset by the longer casting time.

    Rituals require more than mere uttering of magical words, as the creation of magical circles and complex rituals lasting an hour or more (sometimes several days) is necessary to build up the desired level of power. Sometimes, additional mages or apprentices may be required to increase the power of the spell, or to help take "shifts", due to constraints upon the endurance of the wizard(s) involved.

    It should be noted that although these spells are caused by rituals and the uttering of magical words, it is not the sound of the word that causes magic to form. A tape recording, no matter how faithful the reproduction, would be incapable of replicating a spell.

    For more on the differences between Cantrips and Rituals, see 9.7.2 Levels of Magic.

    5.5.3 Dance Rituals

    Not all magic requires the uttering of magical chants. In fact, it may not be common knowledge to all of Sinai, but Savanites have long been able to use magic, by the use of elaborate rituals that utilize dancing instead of chanting. Casting times are the same, but Cantrips are not possible with this method of spellcasting. (That is, Cantrips could be cast ... but the total time required to set up the ritual and dance would make it more reasonable just to use a Minor Spell for increased effect.)

    5.5.3 Inherent Powers

    There are certain rare cases where magic manifests itself in forms other than traditional spell-casting, but rather in inherent powers found in creatures -- either as a racial trait, or else as a unique ability. One example would be the semi-magical shapeshifting ability of the Lacinus -- No ritual or spell-casting is involved, but rather it is just an inborn ability that works more effectively in high magic areas, and not so well in low magic areas. Attempts have been made to study these phenomena and see how it might revolutionize spell-casting ... but so far, these instances are not fully understood.

    5.5.4 Enchantments

    There are certain instances -- for the most part rare -- where inanimate objects have been empowered with permanent or semi-permanent "enchantments". Such items have some sort of supernatural property endowed upon them, typically by lengthy and expensive rituals. Sometimes, especially in the case of items with limited uses ("charges"), it isn't immediately apparent just why someone would go to that much trouble for something that wouldn't last. There are legends that, once upon a time, the Aelfin race had some mages in its number that were especially adept at the art of making permanently enchanted items, but this art has long since been lost, and Aelfin artifacts (most notably being Aelfin blades) are exceedingly rare and generally highly valued.

    5.5.5 Spheres of Magic

    The field of magic is so broad that no mortal could hope to learn it all in a lifetime. Therefore, the areas of magic have been divided up into twelve "Spheres", each with a different emphasis on power. Sometimes, a mage may specialize in a sub-Sphere -- an even narrower focus on particular effects within that Sphere -- for the sake of becoming even more adept at that limited band of powers. Light/Scrying

    This Sphere deals with the arts of prophesy -- seeing into the future, the present, and the past. Mages of this field are also known as Seers, and they traditionally wear golden robes.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Light Water

    This Sphere deals with the manipulation of water. Some Specialize in a sub-Sphere of this, known as Winter Mages. Water Mages typically dress in robes of sea green, though Winter Mages wear robes of pale ice green.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Water Air

    This Sphere deals with the manipulation of air, and control of the weather. Air Mages are sought after to aid in air travel, to propel and protect airships that travel across the world of Sinai. Air Mages typically wear robes of sky blue.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Air Shadow

    Shadow Mages deal with spells that obscure, obfuscate, and conceal. They are of special interest to military operations where stealth is necessary. Shadow Mages traditionally wear robes of very dark purple.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Shadow Fire

    Fire Mages wield great destructive power, as their spells deal with the control of fire. They sometimes also train in the use of weapons, for they are often employed as battle mages, providing fire support for armies. They traditionally wear robes of fiery red.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Fire Earth

    Earth Mages have power over plants, stone, metal, and dirt -- all associated with the earth. Some specialize in one of these four aspects, but those that do not have a fairly wide repertoire of powers. Nature Mages (plants) are able to heal plants and to promote growth. Stone Mages can reshape stone, and cause their own bodies to adopt stone-like qualities. Metal Mages can reshape and douse for quantities of metal ... though they generally specialize in a single type of metal (iron, gold, etc.). "Mud Mages" are the rarest, specializing in just manipulation of dirt, but they are still valued for their ability to encourage fertility in soil that is about to be planted with seeds for a new season. Earth Mages traditionally wear robes of deep, earthy orange.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Earth Spirit

    Spirit Mages deal with the energies associated with living beings, and those "impressions" left when creatures -- especially sapient ones -- die. Some specialize in the arts of Necromancy -- the creation of "ghosts", and the animation of corpses. Others take the flip side of the coin, becoming Warders, specializing in the combatting of such forces. (After all, Sinai has several strange phenomena, and ghosts and other undead creatures that arise without need for a Necromancer to create them.) Spirit Mages traditionally dress in robes of white.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Spirit Dream

    Dream Mages affect what goes on in our minds when we are asleep ... and can sometimes even bring out apparitions from dreams in the wakeful, or cause those who are awake to go to sleep. Dream Mages traditionally dress in robes of grey.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Dream Chaos

    Chaos Mages specialize in the raw energies of magic itself, and of probability. They can enhance the magical power of rituals of other mages, or dispel or inhibit them. They can also slightly increase or decrease the chances of something happening ... but this is a very inexact "science", and the results are quite often not what was expected. Chaos Mages have no specific color associated with their Sphere.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Chaos Illusion

    Illusionists can create false sensations in any of the sense groups -- taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing ... and even false readings in other senses, such as "magic sense". Making truly convincing illusions, however, is a true art, limited by the caster's knowledge of the subject being impersonated. Illusionists traditionally wear robes of black.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Illusion Life

    Life Mages specialize in the manipulation of energies of healing, and even modification of the living body. On the flip side, they are also capable of causing injury and illness. Some Life Mages specialize in becoming Healers, while others specialize in Transformation of the body. A very few specialize as Disease Mages, though this is greatly frowned upon. Life Mages traditionally wear robes of all the colors of the rainbow.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Life Mind

    Mentalists specialize in psionic powers and the reading and/or influencing of minds. They are capable of swaying and even controlling the weak-willed, though their powers over the strong-willed are somewhat limited. Some Mentalists are powerful enough to be able to exercise "mind over matter", and to levitate small objects.

    Details on Spells of the Sphere of Mind

    5.5.6 Common Spells

    In addition to specific spells for each Sphere, there are certain spells that are common across most of the recognized Spheres -- spells concerning the detection, dispelling, resistance or warding of magic in the caster's own Sphere.

    Details on Common Spells

    5.6 Materials

    There are many strange materials utilized on Sinai, most of them of organic origin, which fill a number of roles -- some to make up for the scarcity of metals. Here's an overview of some materials of note:

  • Chitin: A very common substitute for metal, chitin is produced by many sources on Sinai, but most commonly by the bug-like Zelaks. The Zelaks are capable of producing all manners of shapes by chitin, which hardens from a liquid substance, either forming objects wholly made of chitin, or else covered with chitin, on some sort of frame (often made of wood). Chitin is capable of holding a sharp edge, and with sufficient thickness, it can serve as armor. Still, chitin blades are difficult to sharpen once they begin to dull, and they have a tendency to break.
  • Ironwood: Ironwood trees can be chopped down or burned just like any other, but a process was discovered whereby a special treatment on the wood makes it harden. Ironwood nails are therefore used in lieu of metal ones, and this material is used where the strength of steel is desired, but the real thing can't be afforded. It can't really hold an edge, so it's not useful for the making of blades. The downside of using ironwood is that, unlike steel, it burns.
  • Sifra Crystal: This strange crystal, occasionally found in ancient ruins, or buried beneath the ground, exhibits strange properties, sometimes glowing, and taking on an appearance of molten glass -- even though remaining cool and solid. Large amounts of this crystal have been associated with an ancient race dubbed "The Sifras", though the actual name of this race (if it had any) is unknown. The Temple has prohibited mining operations meant to harvest this type of crystal, since such operations have tended to end in strange catastrophes (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, monsters emerging in the region). Still, while the Temple tends to collect any of these crystals it comes across, there are still many in circulation. One curious aspect of Sifra crystal is that Earth Magic cannot reshape it.
  • Zolk: This is a fabric made from fibers "mined" from the Sea of Sand of Himaat, or produced in Zerda-run zolk farms. It comes in many varieties, the rarer and higher quality varieties having a sheen like silk, but legendary durability. The costliest zolk of all, "platinum zolk", is a metallic-white in appearance, and is extremely durable and resistant to penetration -- much like kevlar.