Imperial Orcs hearth magic
In the world of Empire, formal magic is the application of learning and willpower to create supernatural effects. There is another form of magic, however which does not require the user to be a magician. Hearth magic employs the innate natural magic of the world to produce subtle but significant effects in much the same way that a compass needle always points true north. The magic is not based on the abilities of a magician, but relies on the innate mystical properties of the world. Hearth magic is usually subtle rather than potent, and where formal magic is predictable and reliable, hearth magic is none of these things.
While the principles that underlie hearth magic are common throughout the world, among the Imperial Orcs, there are certain specific practices, customs, or traditions that draw on the power of the world's innate magic. Often these proud customs are nothing more than traditions - but sometimes their practice taps into some facet of the world resulting in a truly magical effect.
Conspicuous items that are owned and carried by individuals who achieve notoriety in some way often gain power of their own. Sometimes this process is miraculous, a relic left behind by a virtuous individual. Sometimes the process is notorious as with the crown of Alderei the Fair. The deeds of the bearer leave a permanent mark on items they carry as they journeyed through life. Usually these are items used to attempt important goals, often the objects for which a person is most well known.
As items gain worth, they pass the essence of that power on to their wielder. A sword used to perform courageous deeds helps the bearer be courageous; a sword used to perform cowardly backstabbing encourages the wielder to be a cowardly backstabber. Some items with worth are better off being destroyed. An example might be the crown of Alderei the Fair - nobody can deny it has worth but that worth is tainted and corrupt because of the terrible deeds it was part of. Anyone who takes that item runs the risk of becoming cruel and tyrannical.
Worth in Play
There is already plenty of guidance about worth of the wiki but it is worth reiterating that almost any item can begin to accumulate value and significance. It is a cliche of live roleplaying to wield your father's sword, but for the Imperial Orcs having a weapon, a shield, or a piece of jewellery that has been carried by someone you respect or revere can be a way to draw on some of that character's strength and personality, make it easier to hear their words, or demonstrate something about your character. Not every item needs to be imbued with worth, but having a carefully chosen item or two can help you strengthen your characterisation.
One way to draw out this hearth magic is to be interested in the provenance and story of items, and treat them with respect. Worth is not about hiding items away however; an item gains worth by being used in significant events. The idea of storing an item of great worth in a museum, rather than keeping it in play, is anathema to most Imperial Orcs.
The Imperial Orcs place great weight in writing - partly because they were forced to do without it for so long. Everyone in the Empire knows magical symbols such as the runes are powerful, but the Imperial Orcs know that any piece of writing is potentially magical. All writing possesses an element of worth, as it captures the essence of an event or person, and contains it within the text. This effect is most potent when the writing recalls a true account of an important event, especially one written by someone who was present or directly involved. Carrying such writing, and taking the time to read it, mean that subsequent events will be shaped and influenced by it. An account in which the author triumphed over a challenge may provide aid in similar circumstances, while the wise words of a revered hero may enable someone to act more like the figure they respect.
The act of writing is a crucial part of this hearth magic. Printed manuscripts may contain useful information but are rarely a source of hearth magic. Some orcs carry an important tome on their person or if a book is too precious to be carried around, they might copy a key section and carry that instead. Another approach is to choose a personal motto or aphorism and inscribe that on parchment, vellum, or leather. Every time the bearer reads the words that helps to reinforce their hearth magic.
This magic can be double-edged. Carrying a memoir of a time someone was betrayed will make you alert to similar treachery, but it risks inviting the same disaster to fall on your head. As a consequence, some Imperial Orcs are suspicious of grim Varushkan tales or scandalous League pamphlets that seem to actively encourage bad things to happen to the people who carry them.
When an Imperial Orc wants to curse someone, writing the curse in the presence of their target strengthens the hearth magic, as does reading it aloud before placing it on their person. If someone has cheated you or betrayed your trust, writing an account of the act invites the same betrayal to fall in their heads. If the writing is placed on their person, either unknowingly or openly, it brings misfortune down on their head. Such curses are dangerous, they are relatively new and there are no reliable ways to remove them at this time, so they are not to be treated lightly. Quite apart from any bad luck, carrying such a curse might mean that the weight of the words will drag you down when you try to cross the Howling Abyss.
Writing in Play
It takes time and skill to make an entire in-character book, but you can use this hearth magic with something as simple as a single piece of parchment with an account written on it. A story or poem that has significance for your character can create a useful prop that provides a foundation to your roleplaying. Write some story that fits with your character's background or wait until you've been playing your character awhile and write about some memorable success they achieved. Capturing the essence of the moment either in a factual record, a dramatised narrative, or a poem rich in metaphor creates a cool memento of something important that happened in play.
Sharing such writings with others is a great way to show your character trusts them. If someone shares a written text with you, don't feel obliged to read more than a few words unless you want to, provided you acknowledge its significance. The ideal way to react is to treat the written word with reverence. If you respect the power a text has then you have every reason not to want to read it unless you want to be affected by it. Writing is most effective when read, but it can still have an effect on your character just by touching or holding it.
Putting a single written phrase on an item your character owns helps to make it unique and stand out. If you're struggling to think of something pithy you can always use the Imperial Orc motto, "One life - make it count". Touching the writing, while mouthing the phrase to invoke its hearth magic reminds you of the choices you've made and the aspirations you've set yourself - it may help you find the resolve you'll need to face a challenge.
If your character is given a written account of your treachery or betrayal then you have been cursed! The more you respond to such a curse, the more fun you will have with it. You could just ascribe any bad luck that subsequently comes you way to the power of this hearth magic - but you could undertake a personal quest to ensure that your soul is not doomed when it comes time to cross the Howing Abyss. If someone writes about you in their own journals, or an article about your actions appears in one of the in-character newspapers, take up any inaccuracies with the writers. After all, writing down things that are untrue or that cast you in an unfairly bad light can be just as effective at bringing misfortune to you as an intentional attempt to curse you with the written word.
Insignia are symbolic marks of identity and loyalty that are stitched into clothing or used to adorn banners or worked into items. They are especially common on armour, weapons, and shields. These culturally important symbols can be variations on a common motif, rather than being visually identical since the power of the hearth magic lies in the symbolic meaning of the imagery, rather than in the precise shape and colour. Employing a common symbol builds on the bonds between members of a band, strengthening loyalty, and making it easier for members to stay together. The decision to adopt a symbol is never taken lightly because Imperial Orcs know that it commits them to others who wear it. Most are extremely wary of the idea of being forced to take on an insignia, because it is reminiscent of slavery.
Some symbols and images have a power all of their own. The symbolic shapes of the constellations and the runes are each associated with powerful magical effects. Icons like the Wintermark birds and images of legendary beasts give the bearer a portion of the depicted creatures strengths and virtues. Many Imperial Orcs have adopted the horse as the unofficial symbol of the nation as horses are commonly associated with the virtues of Loyalty and Pride and qualities of strength and dignity.
Many groups choose a more personal symbology knowing that the nature of the symbol subtly influences the behaviour of those that bear it. For example, a warband that uses a thunderstorm as their symbol and tends to wear clothing with bold colour schemes may find it easier to work together on the battlefield, while a more meditative group that work eyes and symbols of Wisdom into their attire find it easier to explore mystical ideas together. Because of this, all Imperial Orcs know the importance of choosing the symbols they use to identify themselves carefully - it makes sense to form an initial opinion of someone based on the insignia they wear regardless of where they come from.
Insignia in Play
When designing the insignia for your group, you can look at the more formal sources of Empire symbols - the astronomantic constellations, runes, symbols of the way, or various totem animals - but it is equally appropriate to create something whose meaning is more intimate to your group. Explaining the meaning behind your insignia to others, and questioning them about the significance of their own symbols, can lead to interesting roleplaying encounters. Indeed, if someone cannot explain the meaning of the insignia they wear that might suggest that they have not properly thought through their allegiances. You are encouraged to assume every insignia has deeper meaning, and reveals something about the people who wear it, not just those worn by your fellow orcs.
You can put your insignia on anything! Clothing and banners are common but marking an item of worth with appropriate insignia can reinforce its qualities or signal its importance. When something changes hands, Imperial Orcs will usually put their insignia next to any old insignia. If you're creating an item of worth as part of your backstory, you can include faded insignia of previous owners alongside your own design if you wish.
When you want to roleplay in a certain way, studying or touching your insignia for a moment can be used as a prompt to act in accordance with its meaning. Perhaps the storm cloud insignia mentioned above helps you to act in a bold and forthright manner, while the eye insignia would help you to explore a problem from a new perspective. It is particularly appropriate to call on the hearth magic of your insignia if you invoke your strength in numbers ability to reaffirm your commitment to your group. If your group take the battlefield, having an iconic insignia that is prominently displayed on your armour can actually make you more effective on the battlefield. You'll find it easier to stick together when fighting, especially if you have a banner and that will make you stand out more, be more effective, and be more likely to survive.
The insignia of others can influence your character if you bear them. As such you may want to be wary of wearing or carrying anything with another groups prominent symbol on it. You might take the time to add your own insignia to it, or you could roleplay feeling uncomfortable and distracted by your awareness of the symbol. It might even be fun to roleplay that the symbol is influencing your roleplaying making them sympathise with the other group.
A relatively new custom has emerged among Imperial Orcs who have settled in Skarsind. Some of those who now own land have taken to marking their estates with markers to indicate their control. As slaves, the idea of Imperial Orcs owning lands and estates was unthinkable, but even after winning their freedom, they have endured for decades without land to call their own. Now, many of those Orcs who have accepted Skarsind as their homeland are once more marking what is theirs. Some orc legions have put up banners around their homes proudly displaying their insignia, while others have painted the design on walls or doors. The wealthiest have created marker-stones, smooth four sided obelisks with their legions name and symbols carved into each surface. Whatever form they take, these markers proudly announce that this land is the dominion of the Imperial Orcs.
Those who have put down these markers say that the symbols make them feel more comfortable in their new lands. If that were the only benefits, then it is likely that this would be just another manifestation of the hearth magic of insignia, but farmers who have put banners in their fields claim that the land is easier to work, more cooperative than it was formerly. Herb gardens and forests seem easier to tend, while businesses are busier. The markers are serving to emphasise Imperial Orc dominion over the land.
Adoption of this practice has been encouraged by the Imperial Orcs barbarian ancestors, and all four large orc nations that the Empire is familiar with make use of similar hearth magics. The Druj hang tattered banners in every settlement they conquer - indicating which tribe has claimed the land. The Thule are known to placed great carved statues of the dragons in their castles, keeps and towers, while the sails of every Grendel vessel are painted with symbols indicating which salt lord or wind lord owns the ship. The Jotun create totems to demarcate the edges of their territory in Liathaven, to keep the vallorn at bay, and exploration of Hordalant has suggested that this practice continues in the homelands of the western orcs. There are even reports from far-away Tsark that the orcs there establish circular monuments across the Mountains of the Moon that indicate they also recognise this hearth magic.
Markers in Play
If you have a tent, or an area of the Imperial Orc camp claimed by your legion, then you can decorate the area and evoke this hearth magic. That might be as straightforward as hanging banners with your group's insignia on the tent walls, or you could create a wooden plaque with the names of members and former members painted on it as a simple marker-stone. The Imperial Orc camp at Anvil already has a wall round it delineating the space from the rest of the field and giving the camp a military feel, but marking out your group's space within that area in some way will make it more personal and make the camp more vibrant for everyone.
It's up to you to roleplay the effects of your markers on yourself, but ideally members of your group will feel more relaxed and comfortable in their own space, but also more confident and more capable. You might insist on using your own area to hammer our difficult deals, perform minor rituals, or discuss pressing problems. You will feel more in control, and potentially be more effective, when negotiating with others on your home ground, after all. It is entirely appropriate to roleplay expecting outsiders or visitors to treat you respectfully in your dominion. At the very least, they should acknowledge that they are your guests, and are there at your sufferance.
You can still employ this hearth magic outside your camp. If your group do rituals, then it's a great idea to take banners, both group banners and Imperial Orc banners to decorate the ritual site, claiming it as your own, before you perform a difficult ritual. If you know you are going to a challenging political encounter in another camp, taking banners and other markers with you and insisting on setting them up in the area before any discussion begin is a good way of starting a scene. When you visit other nation camps, you'll encounter other groups who have hung banners in their tents or outside their camps and you can react to these markers and the influence they are having on you - reinforce the idea that you are in someone else's territory.