The League 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 League 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.
Everyone in the Empire knows that bad things happen to those who break their word. There is power in obligations and even more so in those that are laid down and recorded.There are countless stories in the League of people who suffered a catastrophic decline in their fortunes after refusing to pay what was owed. The League practice of Dead reckoning, of recording every significant debt and favour owed or owing, makes this hearth magic more powerful.
In the League, the wealthy often trade in favours - if someone does you a service then you owe them a favour in return. Citizens of the League keep track of the favours they have done for people, no matter how meek their place in life. After all, who knows when they will be in a position to repay such a debt? Some also record every time a rival acted against them - for this too creates an obligation that must eventually be repaid in kind. When calling in a favour, it is important to ask for something of equal significance - otherwise the hearth magic is void.
Memory alone can be unreliable, so the wise consider it prudent to keep a ledger or a journal in which debts can be recorded. An individual might keep their own journal, or sometimes a guild will run one ledger for all their members, appointing one of their number to keep the records straight. Such ledgers can be a potent talisman when performing a ritual to bring down a curse on someone who has overstepped the mark. While there have been significant criticisms of this practice from the Synod in the past, claiming it is akin to the invocation of dangerous spiritual forces, the General Assembly recently agreed that the practice of seeking recompense for transgressions against an individual is not contrary to doctrine.
Debts in Play
Employing this hearth magic means treating all significant debts and favours as important. It can be to your advantage to track every debt you are owed, but it's important to lean in to the magic around owing someone a favour. Having a debt with someone is a little like a curse in some respects, it's rarely in your character's best interest - but owing a favour to another character can create huge amounts of roleplay for you if you embrace it.
Writing debts down makes it easier to keep track of them and underlines their importance. When calling in debts, being able to present an in-character record can add to the drama of the situation. A group might have a member whose job is to keep the dead reckoning ledger up to date, but any individual in the League can keep their own journal or scroll detailing what is owed if they want. The key thing is to record the debts, favours, and grudges that are significant and have drama - your ledger is a list of things that are important, it's not a sales ledger. Two League characters comparing debts, or entering an important debt into their respective lists, can provide a fun roleplaying experience.
To legitimately call in a favour, you have to specify something of equivalent value to the favour you received. How you reckon that is partly up to you, but the best requests are ones likely to create engaging roleplaying for your debtor - you're more likely to get something valuable if what you have asked for is also enjoyable to roleplay with. When calling in debts, everyone is encouraged to embrace the drama that flows when someone cannot or will not settle a debt or repay a favour. Such a refusal threatens arrangements that are part of the fabric of League society and should be treated as significant by all who hear of them. League stories are full of curses that befall those who default, so if you default on a debt it can be fun to ascribe every misfortune that subsequently befalls you to the power of this hearth magic.
Some players may enjoy agreeing to owe debts that predate the start of the game, giving them connections to other groups or individuals before they enter play. Owing a powerful League prince a favour or two can be a good way for a new character to get started in Empire; putting yourself in another character's debt creates the potential for drama when you're called on to pay those debts.
Masks are used extensively in the League, in theatre productions, in masked dance, and in the performance of ritual magic. But League citizens will don a mask at the drop of a hat, and many maintain a selection of masks expressing different personalities. Choosing an appropriate mask can make it easier for you achieve your goals, while observing which mask your rival is wearing can provide crucial insight into their intentions. Donning a mask can cause you to assume elements of the identity that the mask represents. These qualities vary between individuals - two League citizens who don a wolf mask will not necessarily experience the same urges - but the masks associated with the dramaturgy personae have particular resonance for everyone in the nation.
There are plenty of accounts from the League of masks gaining an identity of their own, especially those that are used prominently in front of large audiences. Usually this affects masks employed by dramaturgy troupes but there are some stories of masks worn consistently by politicians or others in the public eye beginning to take on a power of their own. Someone who dons such a mask will find their performance grows in conviction, but those who lack the strength to rule the mask often report losing themselves in the role. There are cautionary tales of actors who discovered they were unable to remove their mask when the performance ended. Stories of actors who had no personality of their own left when their mask was removed are generally dismissed as children's tales, but none-the-less every League troupe takes great care to store their masks carefully and ensure they are well-protected. It is believed to be dangerous to destroy or dispose of a powerful mask, so the oldest ones are often hidden away in vaults and brought out only for very special performances.
Masks should be worn with care when dealing with creatures of the realm. Some eternals are fooled by masks - and some do not understand masks in the way a mortal does viewing a mask more like an title or position of authority, as if the mask were a personality whose interests the wearer were representing.
Masks in Play
Masks are common in the League, anyone can wear one. When you do, this hearth magic explicitly gives you an in-character reason to change how you play your character. The personae of dramaturgy are a great place to start when looking for inspiration, but a mask may also have a personal meaning to your character that changes how they act. It is entirely acceptable to spin a story about your mask that explains why it effects you the way it does. It can also be fun to create a character whose personality seems to undergo a marked change when they don a mask - effectively allowing you to play a pleasant or mild-mannered character most of the time except when you don your mask of the Witch and become a mysterious scheming riddler or mystic.
It can also be fun to play up the idea that someone in a mask can be difficult to identify. The tropes of opera or theatre, in which someone wearing a mask is unrecognisable to their closest friends and family, may seem foolish but in Empire they can be a magical consequence of donning a disguise of this nature.
Mirrors reveal the truth. Usually, they show what is physically present, but they can also provide unexpected insight. Anyone looking in a mirror may see hidden truths about themselves revealed, either things they have concealed from others or from themselves. Mirrors can reveal someone's true nature to them, or hint at their true feelings. There are accounts of murderers caught because at a crucial moment they were startled to see their reflection covered in blood, or the image of their victim standing accusingly behind them. Mirrors are subtle in their effects - and these truths are intensely personal. A League citizen contemplating treachery might see themselves perfectly reflected except for the striking absence of a crucial ring.
Some inhabitants of the League have adopted a Holberg tradition that encourages those with worries or wracked with guilt to confide their problems to their reflection - engaging in imaginary dialogues as they work through the concerns of the day. Thanks to the hearth magic involved, it is not unknown for a reflection to speak back to someone using it in this fashion, making a comment that encourages them to confront or accept their true intentions, or even offering advice on how to deal with their problems. As with more visual effects, only the person looking into the mirror hears the words.
There are occasional accounts of people seeing revealed truths about other people in mirrors, but these are obviously impossible to verify. They are a staple of fiction and theatre across the League, but most people would take claims that someone is a murderer because a mirror revealed it with a pinch of salt.
Mirrors in Play
The only person who can tell what you see when you look in a mirror is yourself, so you are free to roleplay that your reflection shows you some terrible secret truth if you wish. Even if your character has no dark past, they might still be cautious about telling a lie while looking into a mirror out of a genuine concern that their falsehood might be revealed or rebound on them in some fashion if they do.
You might use a mirror to gain unusual insights; regularly studying people or objects in a hand-held mirror can create an interesting character trait especially if other players lean into it. If you are roleplaying that you cannot identify someone in a mask, bringing out a mirror to study them and "reveal" their true identity can add to the drama of the situation as well as drawing out the culture of the League in an enjoyable way. A little League flavour can be given to the use of any skill that provides information by incorporating a mirror. When you perform the insight ceremony for example you might study your subject in a mirror, while a detect magic spell can be given a little extra flair by insisting on studying the target's reflection in a mirror rather than examining it directly.
The practice of talking with your own reflection can actually work as a useful dramatic technique for getting into character - as well as allowing you to talk about things you would never discuss in public with the possibility that someone might overhear and lead to interesting complications on the field.
In the League, people wear rings to demonstrate their allegiances, wearing one ring for each major loyalty they owe, be that political, economic, filial, military, or even romantic. The giving of rings is an invitation to commit oneself to the giver's allegiance, and the casting away of rings is a clear sign that an association is over. It is rare for members of a guild to wear matched rings, though that in itself would tell you something about them. Each ring worn by a citizen of the League has a story associated with it, and the rings often bear symbols or are made of materials that have a deep significance for the wearer or the target of the allegiance.
A ring may induce the wearer to honesty, integrity, or fidelity when dealing with those to whose loyalty the ring symbolises. Sharing the true story of a ring with someone – explaining the correspondences and symbols – is a sign of trust and confidence. More than a few openly wear rings that represent hidden allegiances. If you think you know who a citizen of the League is loyal to, but they are wearing more rings than you can trace loyalties, it may be that they have a hidden loyalty, or that they felt a loyalty to someone or something in the past (an ex-lover, for example, or the memory of a dead friend). Stealing rings is a dreadful insult – it implies an attempt to sever the target from their allegiances and loyalties.
While it is common for a dying citizen of the League to pass one or more rings to friends and family as heirlooms, they are often burned along with the corpses. Rings that were being worn at the time the wearer died are known to become repositories for death and ill fortune. The wealthiest citizens of the League expect to be buried with their rings, and robbing the rings of the dead is said to bring about a dreadful curse. There are any number of accounts of grave-robbers stealing rings that later bring them who quickly come to bad ends. It is generally considered safe to wear a ring that was explicitly passed to a new wearer by the previous owner in person or in their will, but there are some who refuse to take the chance and insist on wearing such grave rings on chains rather than on their fingers.
Choosing to wear a ring should not be taken lightly. If someone betrays their loyalty, then the ring may take on a lasting curse that bring misfortune to anyone who wears it. There are several accounts of rings that draw the shades of the betrayed to drive a villain mad, or that weakened a traitor at a key moment to ensure that they reap the rewards for their treachery.
The five ring piece shows a hand wearing five rings, and it is widely believed to represent the hand of Stratocanthus, the first Master of the Imperial Mint. According to legend his rings represented his loyalty to his guild, the twin-city of Tassato, the Nation of the League, the Empire and, depending on who one listens to, his wife or his mistress. Only one of the rings was enchanted, and there is a lot of debate among historians as to which of the rings bore the enchantment, as Stratocanthus is known to have commented in an unguarded moment that it was “the most important one.”
Rings in Play
Rings are a great addition to any League costume; they don't need to be expensive or ornate to help represent your personal history. The easiest way to evoke this hearth magic is simply to ensure you have a set of rings, and that you know what loyalty or allegiance each one represents. You may be open about what a ring means, or keep it to yourself but just making a mental note of the significance of each one can be an excellent way to get into character and remember what is important to you. This is especially true if you "rank" your rings in some way. In-character, subtle cues like studying or twisting a ring while dealing with topics related to it can help focus your attention or provide cues to those interacting with you that something is important. The power of rings makes it easier for you to maintain your allegiances, so shifting your roleplaying after turning one of your rings can be one way to evoke this hearth magic.
Rings can make significant and dramatic gifts for an in-character friend or subordinate. Accepting or refusing the offer of a ring is one way to add drama to any scene where characters are making agreements, making promises, or committing to a course of action. There are plenty of magic items that can take the form of rings, and any ring can be hallowed - getting an aura of pride, ambition, or loyalty attached to a ring that represents a key loyalty or oath is an excellent way to further reinforce the power of his hearth magic.