Urizen 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 every nation 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. The Urizen are no exception to this - but their understanding of hearth magic reflects the emphasis they place on philosophy and scholasticism.
You can learn more about hearth magic, what it is and how it works, here.
Oaths, vows, debts, and obligations represent some of the best known hearth magics in the Empire. In Urizen it is understood that simply to give your assurance that you will do something creates a change in the world - one that can be for weal or woe. Some philosophers believe that a person's words shape their destiny - others claim that it is the Creator who holds you to account, demanding that you make good on your claims or else face the consequences. Nobody is certain why this hearth magic works the way it does - only that it works.
The most common view of assurance, is that the degree of passion, the level of commitment to the words spoken is important, as is the nature of the thing to which you commit yourself. A casual statement that you intend to take supper after dark is not going to move the stars no matter what time you eat. But a sworn vow to destroy the Druj, sealed with a drop of blood taken from each thumb, before a circle of seven of your peers is a thing of power.
The Urizeni practice of perfecting poise is an important asset for those who seek to master the hearth magic of assurance. Those who give in to their emotions can easily find themselves moved to speak in anger, committing them to a path they cannot travel. Those who master their emotions release them only when the moment is right gaining power from their words by committing themselves to a path they have rationally chosen.
The Druj famously do not keep their word, and many Urizen scholars argue that the debased nature of their society is the inevitable consequence of just such foolishness. Those who do not wish to suffer the same fate as the Druj take care with the commitments they make and provide assurances only after careful consideration. They strive to be as clear as possible about their intentions lest they unwittingly give their assurance to something over which they have no claim.
Assurance in Play
The simplest way to invoke the hearth magic of assurance is be measured in your speech, and be mindful of any claims you make. You don't want to suffer the misadventure that befalls those who inadvertently commit themselves to some undesirable course of action, so control your emotions and be certain that you can make good on what you say. By roleplaying the belief that breaking your word, even unknowingly, will bring consequences on your head then you can add weight and importance to all the things you say you will do.
If you do have cause to give an assurance, perhaps to swear an oath or a vow of some kind, then you should throw caution to the wind and invest your words with as much emotion and significance as possible. The Urizeni are not passionless, they seek to channel the strength of their emotions at the perfect moment. If you are certain that this is the right course of action, then this hearth magic encourages you to play up the drama and significance of such things to maximise the benefits.
If you are forced to break your oath or repudiate some assurance you have given, then you can roleplay the misfortune that is bound to come your way as a result. Leaning in to the roleplaying around breaking your word is a great way to create drama for yourself and others, even if that just means roleplaying that any misfortune that falls on your head is a result of your perfidy or mistakes.
When dealing with others, especially eternals, it can be appealing to try to find some clever interpretation of a promise that perfectly fits an agreement but is not what either party expected. A deal "to provide Prospero with that which you value above all other things" could be satisfied in a number of ways, depending on your characterisation. But this hearth magic is largely impervious to grammatical pedantry because it is rarely satisfying to welch out of your sworn oath by finding some rhetorical trick that renders your words moot. Doing that just renders your own actions meaningless and robs the things you have done of drama and significance.
There is a deep hearth magic in the giving of gifts - in the ceding of something to another. To be most effective the offering must be meaningful and significant to the person who gives it up and to the person who receives it. A small gift of money from one merchant prince to another is of little note - but a steel ring from their third finger has powerful meaning for both of them. Gifts given in this way may gain power or significance out of proportion to their value. It is very rare for a gift to gain magical powers as a direct result, but the act of giving it up may change it in some way. It is an observable fact that many notable items in Imperial history were at some point significant gifts. Much more common is that the gift will prove crucial at some future time, changing the fate of those who are tied to it.
While other nations often view cession in material terms, the Urizeni understand that knowledge is often the most significant thing one person can give another. Urizeni teachers shared their knowledge of ritual magic with every nation when their joined the Empire, and they did so again when the Imperial Orcs were admitted. Knowledge is only rarely seen as a gift in other nations, because the naive assume that nothing is given up by sharing it. But knowledge is power - those who give knowledge away choose to give up that power. It is one thing to be the only coven in the world with mastery of a given ritual - it is quite another for it to be a part of the common knowledge of Imperial lore. Choosing which knowledge to conserve and which knowledge to give up is a dilemma faced by many Urizeni
Gifts must be given freely to work their magic though - cession cannot be compelled or obligated. Stealing something of significance can bring hearth magic consequences - there are plenty of stories in the Empire of how the theft of an important item or secret lore backfired on the thief. In particular, stolen artefacts or magical knowledge can twist and distort when used, bringing fitting curses on the one who stole them. The strength of this hearth magic appears to require an element of betrayal - stealing from someone who is your friend or ally is much more likely to have a bad result than stealing from an enemy. As with the giving of gifts, there is an element of significance here - the more the parties involved consider the theft to be a betrayal the more backlash there is.
Gifts are usually important and significant - but they are not always beneficial. A gift given in malice or treachery can be dangerous if accepted. It is wise to consider carefully the provenance of any gift as well as who it comes from. If it is truly a gift - then it can be declined without consequence - but it cannot be accepted without consequence.
Cession in Play
If you want to influence an important character - someone connected to you in the net of the heavens - then think about a gift you might give them. You might try and find out as much as you can about their character to seek out a gift that is particularly fitting. A present doesn't need to be in-character or out-of-character expensive - the best gifts are things that have a credible but interesting story. Giving a quill that was once owned by the founder of your spire is a rare gift that a character might realistically be able to acquire that doesn't need a ribbon or an expensive phys-rep. In some ways the roleplaying that surrounds the actual gift-giving is more important than the physical item itself.
If you accept a gift, then look for ways to make it meaningful in a way that adds to your character's story. Use the gifted quill to address your winged messengers. Carry the sword into battle. Wear the gifted sash when you go to the Senate. Leaning in to the idea that gifts are important can lead to all kinds of emergent narrative as well as reflecting the roleplaying of the person who gave it to you. When recounting stories, it can be fun to assign any success or good fortune to the influence of a significant gift.
Bear in mind that not all gifts bode well for those who accept them - both the white elephant and the trojan horse represent gifts that are intended to bring harm to the receiver. It is entirely appropriate to ask after the provenance of the gift, where is it from, who made it, what purpose is it intended for., and more importantly why someone is giving it to your. It is also perfectly acceptable to refuse a gift, and finding a way to do so politely or without giving away your distrust of the gift or the giver can be a fun roleplaying challenge.
An important idea in formal magic and hearth magic is the principle that everything has an intrinsic essence, a fundamental set of characteristics that make it what it is. The essence of something is irreducible; it literally represents the qualities which are essential. If you remove an essential part of something then the thing ceases to be what it was and becomes something else.
The essential nature of a thing is much more than just its physical essence. A suit of armour worn by a hero might endure unchanged for centuries. Over time parts of the armour might become damaged beyond repair and need to be replaced by an equally skilled smith. But if is treated well, it is still the same suit of armour even if every part of it is replaced, because its essential nature endures untouched.
The use of symbols is the most common way to employ the hearth magic of essence. For example certain animals and birds are understood to be connected to the virtues, so an association with the appropriate creature will work to make someone more virtuous. Of course most people don't carry a bird with them but art that depicts a bird still works, because it shares many of the essential qualities of the bird itself. Such art might painstaking attempt to faithfully depict the bird in question or, as with Wintermark drawings of birds, but is equally effective to reduce the image to something more essential. These symbolic forms are just as effective because they capture the immutable nature of the bird in question.
For the Urizen, the purest expression of these symbolic forms are to be found in the astronomantic constellations. A door that is marked with a faithful image of the the Lock becomes harder to open without the key. A garden planted in the shape of the Fountain will grown lush and wholesome plants. The hearth magic can be invoked by laying things out in the shape made of the constellation, or by employing an image of the thing the stars represent. For example, the Urizen banner that hangs in the Senate uses both an image of a bird with bright plumage and a depiction of the stars themselves to invoke the symbolic power of the Phoenix.
Essence in Play
The easiest way to evoke essence is by including images and sigils on your costume, using them to decorate your tent, or painting them on your body. You might try to reduce something down to its barest essentials - four circles in a lopsided rectangle to evoke the Door. You might lean toward something more geometric - painstakingly drawing lines to connect the nodes of a constellation at just the right angle. You might go the other way, and evoke the Phoenix by creating representative or abstract paintings to hang in your tent to impart the idea of learning and seeking perfection to anyone who spends time in your tent.
Another way to invoke this hearth magic is to be constantly alert for symbols and signs, and draw attention to them. It can be tricky to do effectively, but finding a symbol, talking about what it means, and using it to guide your roleplaying can lead in very interesting directions. Simply saying "that Jotun has a wolf head cloak, so we should expect them to act like a wolf, and we can weaken them by separating them from their friends" may go horribly wrong or it may lead to a great emergent narrative.
Talking to people about the symbols they surround themselves with is also a way to start a conversation - either by making assumptions about them based on the essential nature of those symbols or by simple enquiring as to their meaning.
The notorious Urizeni insistence on personal boundaries is not just a matter of etiquette, it is informed by their understanding of the magic of boundaries. Many people are aware that spellcasting requires touch to be effective, that a pronouncement of doom can only be delivered by someone who is close enough to touch you, but the truth runs much deeper than this. Contact between people creates associations between them which can have unforeseen consequences. Such consequences might be minor, an interruption that disturbs your arete or your poise, but the risks are potentially much higher. Letting another person into your personal space, lowers your defences and leaves you vulnerable, so it is only prudent to be careful.
Urizeni often set their personal space based on three fundamental boundaries. The first boundary is the limits of the human body, the point at which another being physically touches you. The second boundary is the point at which a person enters your personal space, the point at which they come close enough to touch you. The final boundary is when a person enters your property, where someone enters the physical space over which you claim dominion. For most Urizeni that is their personal rooms, but an arbiter might well see their entire spire in such terms, and a senator might see their entire territory that way.
Space in Play
The Urizeni understanding of space complements the nation's social customs and provides a metaphysical basis for their approach. If a character asks why the Urizen are so stand-offish about personal contact you can explain the dangers involved in allowing another person to cross one of your personal boundaries.
This hearth magic is about much more than simply justifying an insistence on personal space. Using the hearth magic to mark out a space over which you can claim dominion allows you to determine who enters and who doesn't - and creates opportunities for conflict with people who trespass on a place you have claimed for yourself. The obvious place to do this at Anvil is with your tent or your camp - but you don't have to restrict it to this. If you are part of a coven that uses the Imperial regio for example, then you might take steps to claim it as your own by marking the boundaries in an appropriate fashion or by otherwise stamping your coven's identity onto the area for the duration of your ritual. When visiting someone else's camp or tent, waiting until you are invited to enter and insisting on an invitation can emphasise the idea that you are passing through someones' outer boundary and evoke this hearth magic.
The importance of space also gives you a basis to make issues about your personal space significant. Allowing someone to pass one of your boundaries without comment, or inviting them to do so, can create a powerful character moment. You can invest emotional weight in a scene simply by inviting someone to take a seat next to you - or simply by accepting a hand outstretched in greeting. Equally you can make your feelings clear about someone by pointedly refusing such a gesture, or by moving yourself so that they are no longer close.
Deeds become more consequential when people witness them. They gain meaning and significance - and in the right circumstances they gain power. An oath sworn alone may be important, but a ceremonial oath pledged in front of an audience assembled to hear it is far more potent. Urizen ritual groups sometimes invite people to act as witnesses to their rituals for this reason.
A witness need not be living for to be effective. A human statue looking out from a fountain is still a witness, even if it is forever mute to what it has seen. Many people across the Empire will carve gargoyles and other watchers onto buildings, gables and lintels, with little true understanding of what they are doing other than the knowledge that such things can help to keep the occupants safe some how. The more sophisticated approach employed in Urizen, is to reduce the power of witness to its essential form, the eye. This is one of the reasons that the eye is such an effective symbol of vigilance. In Urizen, eyes are often carved or painted onto surfaces to give additional significance to events that take place near them, and to remind those present that their deeds are seen. The sun and the moon are sometimes used to symbolise the “Eyes of the Heavens.” Events performed when the sun is clearly visible in the sky are “witnessed” by the sun. At night the moon, especially the full moon, observes events. If one truly wishes to act in secrecy then one should act under the new moon, or when the moon is not visible in the sky.
A carved eye cannot be controlled, it stares unblinking, witnessing all - but you can always control where your own eyes fall. What this hearth magic shows is that there can be no impartial witness, standing on in mute testimony to events. Merely to observe something is to empower it - simply watching someone act is lending them your support.
Witness in Play
Using this hearth magic is often about being generous with other people's roleplaying. If someone is swearing an important oath - then the best way to make that moment significant is for an audience to gather to witness it. By working with other players, you can make important roleplaying moments be crucial for the game just by choosing to be there to see them happen. And you don't have to be silent throughout - while it's best not to detract from a dramatic moment - it's not a breach of poise to applaud, cheer, or salute when the time comes.
If you're careful, you can also use this hearth magic in reverse. If there are ignominious deeds taking place of which your character does not approve, then you might proclaim your refusal to stand witness to such things and turn on your heel and walk away. Doing so at the right time can add to the drama of the moment for everyone - especially if others follow your lead.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Light dispels darkness and allows one to witness deeds that might otherwise go unseen. It drives away confusion and mystery, and exposes poisonous secrets. Natural light is potent, but artificial light - light harnessed with mirrors or lenses, or produced by lightstones - is much more effective in this regard. People in well lit rooms find it easier to concentrate or focus. It can have a calming effect, dispelling confusion and bringing clarity. It's easier to learn, and easier to teach, in brightly lit environments.
The heliopticon is an example of the Urizen skill with manipulating light, while the magical lightstones they invented are another. A common light in Urizen homes is a single lightstone or brazier surrounded by mirrors and lenses that focus and direct the light into all corners of a chamber. In enclosed environments such as Urizen spires and mines, fire is less than ideal. Consequently they prefer to light these places with either natural light, luminescent plants and crystals, or the reflected light of the sun or a single beacon.
Light can reveal falsehoods, or hidden details. Divinations performed in illuminated areas may sometimes prove more effective, while liars often turn their face away from a source of light before they utter a falsehood. It can also penetrate disguises - there is a common element to Urizen stories that the shadow cast by a shapechanger will match its true form or otherwise betray its sinister nature. Many unnatural creatures - especially malignant ghosts, spiteful tulpas, and malicious heralds find it difficult to enter well-lit areas and may in some cases actually be harmed by a bright, clear light.
The other side to this hearth magic is that events that take place in complete darkness often acquire a sinister overtone. Some groups actively exploit this. Conspirators for example might do well to meet under cover of total darkness - apart from the obvious advantages in concealing people's identities, there is some evidence that it makes it much harder to uncover details about such a meeting with magic. Eternals such as Kimus and the Whisper Gallery in particular are known to struggle to learn about things that happen in pitch blackness. There is a common belief in Urizen that things that happen in dark or shadowy environments naturally tend toward the nefarious and underhand.
Illumination in Play
More than any other characters, an Urizen is likely to ensure they have a personal light source if they go out in the dark. Lightstones were created specifically to give Urizen players in particular options to use more modern lighting solutions that also have the feel of being magical.
Illumination can't provide a source of spiritual strength by itself - although for an Urizen it makes sense to create consecration or magically enchanted areas such as Chimes of Pallas in areas that are well lit. Rather, when you are in a place with good illumination, you are free to change your roleplaying slightly. To feel more focused, or to master confusion, pain, or negative emotions to some degree. It's obvious that one requires light to read something, but its entirely natural for an Urizen to want the best light available before they will read anything on the understanding that the better the light the easier it will be for them to take in. Insisting on taking a letter or a book to a well lit area - where coincidentally there are a number of other Urizen - can also be a way to involve other people in your roleplaying.
Light is not a truth spell - nothing in Empire can compel you to be honest. But if you're roleplaying an emotional scene, especially one with another Urizeni, and you want to give away the fact that your character is being deceptive, subversive, or holding something back, then turning your face away from the light when you speak is a great way to dramatically signal what you're doing. If you want to be more subtle, you might put your hand briefly between you and the light to cast your mouth in shadow when you speak. Alternatively, if you've decided that the moment has come to confess something, then entering a brightly lit area might be the final justification your character needs to spill their darkest secret.
The belief that conspirators and schemers meet in darkness can be flipped over such that an Urizen character might insist on having all significant meetings in areas that are as brightly lit, and being suspicious of anything that is done in darkness or shadow. People who go about without lights, for example, are often up to no good in the eyes of many Urizen.
Truth has a way of making itself known. Deception is fragile and can shatter at any moment, as the truth reveals itself. All mortal beings feel a desire to tell the truth - though some are more practised at resisting that urge. People have an instinctive ear for truth - they know it when they hear it - and speak of words having the "ring of truth" to them. All of these things are a reflection of the fact that the truth strives constantly to be discovered.
Reams of philosophy have been written in Urizen about the power of truth. A common Urizeni view is that the world is divided into those things which are truth, and those which are only supposed or imagined. As a result, some Urizen devote themselves to personal quest for truth, whether that be self-knowledge, gnosis, or political or historical truths like those pursued by many torchbearers. This pursuit of truth exacerbates conflict between Urizen scholars who insist that the quest for unvarnished truth is the only correct way to proceed, and the more popular Highborn approach that truth is different to fact and that inspirational fiction is more valuable than unvirtuous fact. Others adopt a more nuanced interpretation, claiming that truth is a quality that an idea or a thing might possess to a greater or lesser extent. After-all, the most effective lies are those that contain a kernel of truth.
Wisdom teaches that all knowledge is incomplete. Truth is a powerful hearth magic; plans based on truth will succeed where others fail, but it is not necessary for every assumption to be correct. The key to effective action is to know one thing truthfully - and to make that the keystone of your actions. The truer the foundations, the stronger the building you will erect.
Revealing the truth can be destructive. The truth destroys falsehoods, tearing them apart, shattering the lives of people or communities whose foundations are built on those lies. Despite this, Urizen scholars largely agree that there is no truth that "humans were not meant to know". The truth wants to be known - that is its essential quality. A truth may be unsettling or upsetting - it might even harm people when it comes to light - but these effects come from the destruction of comfortable lies not from the truth itself. The idea that simply knowing a fact might somehow harm the mind, or drive someone mad, is laughable.
Truth is also a requirement for any magic to function at all. Only a fool would imagine that you can deceive the law of presence by falsely claiming to be in the presence of something when you are not. But nor can you fool the law of dominion by claiming to have authority over something when you do not. The laws of magic only work on the quintessential truth of something. So an army can be enchanted by targeting the general who has authority over it, or by targeting the egregore who has a bond with it, but it can't be enchanted by targeting the adjunct, because their authority lacks the fundamental truth of dominion.
Truth in Play
Seeking out the truth can be a character calling, but regularly asking "Is that true?" or "What actually happened?" can lead to interesting roleplaying moments. Likewise, questioning the provenance of information you receive from another character, or examining truths people take for granted, can lead your character in unexpected directions. Be careful not to take this too far - there is no value in questioning the information presented in winds of war and winds of fortune - but it can be interesting to challenge people when they put forward their character's opinions and views on things.
You can practice this hearth magic simply by sticking to the truth and the facts as much as possible. This can be especially true when you are writing things down, in a journal or report, or when you are presenting something to a group of people. The Urizen don't believe that truth is subjective or relative - something is either true or it isn't - and taking this slightly adversarial stance can also lead to interesting roleplaying moments for you and the people you deal with.
This hearth magic concerns important truths - the facts that people base their decisions on. It doesn't preclude the kind of social falsehoods we all practice day to day - the Urizen do not believe it is dangerous to tell someone they look nice if that's not entirely true for example. Urizen writers are no less likely to use poetic language than anyone else - everyone understands that metaphors are not meant to be taken as literal fact. But they do believe that truth should be the basis for action. Attempting to build a magical ritual on a false premise is to invite disaster; Urizen characters would argue that this applies to everything in all levels of Imperial life.
Finally, when the truth does come out, or something built on a foundation of lies collapses, it is entirely appropriate for Urizen characters to be the ones to say "I told you so" and point out the many ways in which avoiding the truth has lead to disaster.