The Brass Coast 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, in the Brass Coast, 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.
You can read more about hearth magic, what it is, and how it works, here.
The Freeborn appreciate flamboyant clothing and like to express themselves through the garments they wear. Many believe that any clothing that is worn for a few years can become invested with part of a person's soul, reflecting their identity. Regardless of the truth of this belief, it is known that clothing can take on elements of the personality of its wearer, and influence other people who wear the garment. Usually these effects are subtle and nuanced, but occasionally the hearth magic is so powerful that it is obvious to everyone as soon as they touch a garment. Similar hearth magic is recognised in many places, such as the Imperial Orc idea of worth, or the League understanding of masks and rings.
When a Freeborn citizen dies, their family usually keep their most precious veil or richest robe so that their memory can be preserved. The garment will be given to a favoured relative or a close friend of the deceased, so that they can benefit from any magic the apparel has acquired. These prized garments are kept safe - as they become too worn for everyday use they are increasingly brought out only on special occasions to ensure that new owner can call on its assistance when needed for as long as possible. When these items have finally reached the point where they no longer be worn, they are often burned with great respect by the family they have served.
Another way to evoke the hearth magic of clothing is with a black gift. Black cloth is the garment of the dead in Freeborn society; bodies are wrapped in black shrouds when they are burned. As a consequence, black cloth can be dangerous to the living. A gift of clothing made with such fabric is sometimes sent as a calculated insult or curse. Some people who truly offend Freeborn sensibilities find black ribbons - often the remains of burned shrouds - nailed to their door. Even worse, such ribbons may be attached to their clothes, a sure sign that others wish them dead. Black ribbons are often delivered to merchants who have transgressed Freeborn honesty; when nailed to the door of a business they are said to bring misfortune not only to the dishonest owner but to anyone who chooses to deal with them. Disposing of a black gift can be expensive. The traditional way to dispense with the curse is to put the ribbon or cloth in a box, cover it completely in money, and then give the box to an orphan. If the child keeps the money, then they can burn the cloth without anyone coming to further harm.
Clothing in Play
You can use this hearth magic by choosing a piece of your clothing or costume to be a family heirloom. When you define your character's personality, you could decide that part of their outlook is based on their own experiences and part is based on the garment they wear. Sharing a story about the provenance of such an iconic piece of costume can provide plenty of opportunity to roleplay. If another character - of any nation - has a particularly fine item of clothing, you might ask them what the history of the garment is. They might brush you off, but they might be ready with a story of their own.
A more challenging approach would be to have a specific piece of costume that you wear only in special circumstances, giving you the perfect justification to change how you roleplay your character. The item of clothing gives you license to slip between two different characterisations when the need arises, such as switching from a fun-loving Freeborn to a shrewdly calculating merchant by donning your grandmother's money belt.
Delivering black ribbons to someone is a serious matter in Freeborn society - akin to sending them a threatening letter. It is an iconic Freeborn way of showing personal enmity - of telling the world that you wish another character ill. If you're making a black ribbon to give to someone, then any strip of black cloth will do, but the best ribbons would be one that is ragged and burned at the edges. If you receive the black gift then it's up to you to decide how the curse affects you, but as a minimum we recommend blaming anything that does go wrong for you on the curse. If a friend or member of your group is cursed in this manner, it can fun to do this as well - as we point out this is one of those rare occasions where a curse might prove to be contagious.
In most lands coins are reused without a thought, but many Freeborn like to set aside a coin earned as part of a lucky or particularly important deal or transaction. A portion of the luck and prosperity of the deal rubs off on the coins that exchange hands this way. A coin may be kept in perpetuity and handed down as an heirloom, and many Freeborn enjoy telling stories of how they acquired certain coins. Others prefer to hand a lucky coin on after a time, passing a little of its fortunate power to another. Giving a coin of note or significance to a person who is down on their luck will help to improve their fortunes. Loaning such a coin is not effective however; the lucky ring, crown, or throne must be unequivocally someone's property if it is to have any impact on their prosperity.
There are other ways that coins can be used to bring good fortune. Some parents will sew a crown into the hem of a garment for a child who is leaving home for the first time, with instruction not to remove it unless they have no other choice. Relations often give their nephews and nieces a gift of a four crown piece when they come of age with the intention that the coin may serve as a charm against misfortune. A Freeborn citizen who never needs to spend their last coin is truly blessed by fortune, and may transfer a little of that good luck to their descendants by passing on to them the first coin they were given by their parents.
Several stories exist of dire misfortune befalling anyone wicked enough to steal a lucky coin. When a coin is stolen, all the good fortune bound up in it immediately turns to bad luck and falls on the head of the one who stole it. If they spend the coin, whatever they purchase is likely to be lost, to break, or to fail them at the worst possible moment. The only reliable way to lose the curse is to identify the lucky coin and return it to the person it was stolen from. Given that identifying the specific coin is often impossible, a thief may have to return all the coins they stole if they are to shake off their bad luck.
Coins in Play
If you set aside a "lucky coin" or two, each with their own story of good fortune, they give you something to roleplay with other Freeborn in quiet moments. Refusing to spend such a coin, or reluctantly parting with it in dire need, can both add significance to an interaction as can passing such a coin to a friend. If someone is going into a dangerous situation, handing over a coin with the hope that it might protect them can be a dramatic roleplaying moment.
One important thing to remember with this hearth magic is that the worth of a lucky coin lies in the story attached to it - not the coins monetary value. Every Imperial coin has an explicit connection to a specific virtue. Emphasising that you are hoping to encourage someones Ambition with a gift of a one-ring coin, can help add drama to any exchange.
The coins also have have slogans stamped on them - rings say "virtue's reward" and are best employed to reward virtue... or to remind someone that they need to be virtuous. The crowns say "nation's steel" and make good gifts when you want someone to fight for their nation - either on the battlefield or in the political arena at Anvil. Thrones say "freedom's cost" - they're ideal when you want someone to make a sacrifice or a difficult decision.
A contract is a binding agreement between two or more individuals. Properly prepared, they are a physical symbol of a promise, akin to an oath. When making a deal, Freeborn citizens often employ a capable scrivener to ensure that a permanent record is made of the agreement. The most powerful contracts are those that are written in clear language, meticulously inked, beautifully illuminated and then displayed publicly - all steps that are known to add to the potency of the agreement.
Tampering with a contract or knowingly breaking it risks terrible misfortune. Freeborn stories are full of examples of villains who cheated a contract and suffered an ironic fate as a consequence. Intent is crucial to this however, contracts that are broken through misunderstanding do not give rise to magical retribution. Because of this, it is widely accepted that the best contracts use simple plain English that everyone can easily understand. Most contracts commonly include a get-out clause with appropriate penalties since few people wish to see their business partners ruined if they were genuinely unable to complete a bargain.
Some citizens of the Brass Coast who intend to swear an oath will have a scrivener prepare a contract laying out the terms of the vow. Like the Navarr marking their oaths with tattoos, the oath will usually be a beautiful document which is proudly displayed for all to see, once it has been signed. Freeborn philosophers and poets argue that the "other party" is the spirit of the nation, or perhaps even Creation itself.
Contracts in Play
Any Freeborn character should feel free to insist on a formal, written contract before engaging in an important transaction. Getting a scrivener involved brings another player into the roleplaying and underlines how important the deal is to everyone. Contracts shouldn't be convoluted legalese - the Freeborn prize candour and honest speaking - a straightforward contract that is easy to understand is ideal.
Taking pains to illuminate the contract - to decorate it with cursive script or ornamentation to make the actual document attractive - will make for a wonderful prop, and further demonstrate how important the agreement is. It's great if it can be done at the time, but you could create a beautiful document between events if you wished - provided you don't change the wording. You can explain this as having paid a skilled scrivener to produce a beautiful copy of the contract to better reflect its importance.
Most Freeborn will go to extraordinary lengths to keep to the terms of a contract they have signed to preserve their reputation for honesty and avoid any potential curse. That might not always be in your character's best interests, but going to inordinate lengths to keep your side of the deal can provide a huge amount of roleplaying fun for everyone, especially if it's to your character's detriment. If you do choose to break a contract, even if you are forced to default by circumstances not of your choosing, then you should roleplay that any misfortune that you subsequently experience is a result of the curse that has befallen you. The more you embrace that curse, the more fun you'll have with it.
On the Brass Coast the most common form of hospitality is Syrah, the ritualised drink of the Freeborn, that is habitually provided at every opportunity. Syrah encourages those who partake to deal with each other more honesty so it is commonly offered to all parties before any negotiation begins to improve the chances of success. It is not a truth serum, but people who intentionally deceive one another after partaking of Syrah often experience feelings of nausea. In rare cases particularly perfidious lies can result in crippling stomach cramps.
The more unusual the recipe, the greater the beneficial effects, so each family strives to create a unique recipe. One might use a sweet fruity syrup, while another might employ a strong brew of coffee or tea as a base. Some families are even known to trade with foreigners or even heralds for rare and exotic ingredients. It's not common for a Syrah recipe to include strong alcohol, but families often add some spirits to the mix for an appropriate audience. Regardless, the intent is to create something that is tasty and enjoyable to drink with rich flavours and a pleasing appearance.
Syrah in Play
Practically any drink can be presented as Syrah. Perhaps your Syrah is hot chocolate, or a mixture of fruit juices, or simply white coffee with tiny marshmallows in it. The best recipe is something unusual and delicious - you want people to come to your camp to drink your Syrah!
There can be more to Syrah than just providing a drink. Your Syrah might involve a special way of preparing or serving it - mixing the fruit juices immediately before the drink is served for example. There might be a simple ceremony involved in drinking it - perhaps you ask someone to close their eyes before they take their first sip so they can appreciate the flavours without distraction. Any interaction with your guest makes the experience of partaking of Syrah more involved - you could even challenge your guest to try and guess the ingredients after they're had time to savour the flavour.
The need to be honest when drinking Syrah is entirely up to the person who drinks it. Syrah only works as part of genuine hospitality anyway - there are no circumstances where you can trick people or force them to drink it to drag the truth out of them. It's entirely up to the player how they respond - they will only roleplay squirming in their seat with nausea or cramps when lying or exaggerating if they decide to do that because it makes the scene more fun for them to roleplay.
As this hearth magic involves drinking something unusual, it is not appropriate to present someone with something unpalatable or noxious in any way. It's better to avoid strong alcohol by default, but it can be included as an option on request. Some guests will have allergies, so you should always tell anyone what the drink contains if you are asked. Whatever the situation, it is acceptable to roleplay your character drinking the syrah by putting the cup to their lips but not actually consuming any.