The magic of Winter is old, hungry and cruel but also wise - it has seen all the horror the world has to offer, and it has triumphed over it. Winter magic is dangerous to the wielder and the world, but its power cannot be denied and it is honest about the harm it may cause. It is not evil in a human sense - it simply wells up from dark places that have little regard for the weakness of humans.
When most people think of Winter magic, they think of curses. The realm is adept at bringing harm to others, and no other realm is quite so adept at weaving ironic or unspeakable punishments. It is especially adept at delivering curses that deal with concepts of extreme age (crippling, tiredness, infirmity, withering sickness, mental degradation and even death), hunger (hunger and thirst for food and drink that cannot be allayed, robbing something of its joy or meaning, or more unpleasant urges such as a drive to commit cannibalism) and fear (everything from full-blown feelings of crippling fear to nagging doubts and uncertainties, an infestation of nightmares, or the slow eroding of hope into despair). These curses can also become blights that affect larger areas, or they can become contagious effects that spread through a bloodline or town.
The realm is also hungry, a hunger that can manifest in the form of rituals that prey on other people or on binding ravenous spirits into mortal flesh. Stealing someone’s youth to prolong your own life, or consuming their power to gain a little of it yourself both resonate with Winter. These rituals are never an even trade – a large portion of whatever energy they deal with is bled off into Winter – and they often come with other dreadful downsides (they might be addictive, for example, or need to be repeated regularly to avoid a painful and messy death). There is often a sacrifice with Winter magic - but it is the sacrifice of the self for others not the sacrifice of others for the self.
At its heart, this realm is old and it understands the power that fear and death have over the living. Yet from this understanding grows wisdom - and from wisdom comes a very different form of power. No realm approaches the potency of Winter when it comes to creating wards, bindings or oaths.
There are of course mystics and scholars say that the magic of Winter is innately dangerous. They claim that each magical effect ended, each portion of energy consumed, and each incident of destruction somehow “feeds” the Wasteland. The energies it consumes are gone forever, and eventually all the magic in the world will be swallowed up by Winter, bringing an end to creation. Another group disagree – they claim that by using the magic of Winter the magician steals power from the Realm, postponing the eventual death of creation. Magicians who work powerful Winter rituals often speak of the magic as being dangerous - predatory or watchful. They must wield it without fear, without showing the slightest weakness, because if they do they can sense that the cold, cruel magic will take advantage and turn against the practitioner.
Winter magic is the most powerful because it is honest - it is power stripped of deception - and because it deals with the inevitable powers of death and decay. Those who wield Winter magic can become powerful protectors - or devastating villains.
The Winter Realm is preoccupied with ageing and especially with the weakness and infirmity that comes from old age and the realm resonates strongly with any rituals that produce similar effects. All manner of mortal ailments, even simple exhaustion, are likewise strongly favoured by the realm. Magics that weaken need not be limited to the body; Winter magic excels at weakening objects and structures, causing metals to corrode, wood to rot, and stone to erode. It can even be used to blight the land, however, the more powerful Winter destruction is, the slower and more insidious it tends to be.
Examples: the weakness spell, Withering Touch of Frost, Crumbling Flesh and Withering Limbs, Hungry Grasp of Despair, Naeve's Twisting Blight, Inevitable Collapse into Ruin, Howling Despite of the Yawning Maw, and The Grave's Treacherous Edge.
Winter magic likes to bring things to things to an end. For many objects and buildings, this means their destruction, but Winter magic can be used in different ways to cause things to end. There is no generic "dispel magic" effect in Empire, but Winter is far and away the best the realm to use to bring magic that is ongoing and active to an end.
The physical needs of the body are a common theme of the realm, but this resonance incorporates more than just physical needs - it includes hunger in the metaphorical sense as well. Desires such as the hunger for power or for wealth are all claimed by Winter. Eating or consuming things, especially consuming something to gain strength by sating your hunger, are all powerful forces in Winter magic, as are any rituals that involve empowering yourself at the expense of others.
Fear is a powerful emotion throughout the Winter Realm and Winter rituals that create fear are especially potent. Almost any fear resonates in Winter: fear of death, fear of loss, or just fear of being hurt. This resonance also spans some of the things that help to feed fear, especially uncertainty and doubt. Strangely, fear is often seen as a positive force by many Winter eternals, who believe that it serves as a warning, helping individuals to realise when they are in danger.
Examples: Dreamscape of the Endless Hunt.
Rituals that embrace wisdom and long memories, that provide the understanding that comes from experience, are all resonant with Winter magic. Traditions, especially traditional lore passed down from one generation to another, are considered precious by the realm, as is any wisdom inherited from the past. Lore about death, curses, and mortal threats are especially important, as are rituals that involve the preservation or recall of lost memories.
Oaths and Wards
Both Autumn and Winter magic take a strong interest in statements of intent; while Autumn favours deals, pacts, and accords, Winter is most concerned with sworn oaths and geas. Winter magic wants to hold people to the words they speak, punishing those who break solemn vows. This binding nature of the Winter realm can also physically constrain people, creating wards that punish those who cross them.
To mortal eyes, the Winter Realm often appears cruel or heartless. Winter magic often comes with a price to be paid; the more powerful the magic, the more terrible the price. When questioned on such matters, Winter eternals do not deny that Winter magic can exact a cruel toll on its caster, but they claim it reflects the true nature of the world - that things cannot be achieved without sacrifice.
Winter magic deals with many rituals that administer punishment. The Realm delights in punishing those who have transgressed with suitable consequences for their actions, but magicians are advised to use such power carefully. Those who use the curses and punishments of Winter magic indiscriminately may soon find their enemies wielding the same power on them in turn.
The urge to survive is a powerful instinct of the Winter Realm, making rituals that draw on this resonance especially powerful. Winter magic can allow the beneficiary to endure pain or even resist death in the short term.
Winter magic has a predilection for preserving things. It naturally seeks to oppose change, wanting things to remain as they are, even if this leads to stagnation.
Death and the bodies of the dead are an obsession for many inhabitants of the Winter realm. Winter magic can speak to those who have recently departed and the realm includes divinations that can be performed on the bodies of the dead. Although there are no magics that can bring a person back from the dead, some of the most powerful Winter rituals allow the magician to summon drudges from the Winter Realm to occupy the bodies of the fallen, making them march at their command.
Although Winter magic can grant unnatural ability to survive, it is near powerless to heal those who have been harmed. Winter magic almost seems to prefer that the wounded suffer rather than recover swiftly. The realm takes no interest in rituals to provide good health and it would be desperately unwise to attempt to use the magic to improve fertility.
The Winter realm is strongly dissonant with any rituals that attempt to create. A skilled magician can use the Winter realm in constructive ways by destroying unwanted things allowing what remains to prosper, but the realm fiercely opposes any attempt to use it to construct or conceive new things.
There is no mercy in the Winter Realm; at best it can provide a sombre sympathy for the pain that life brings, at worst it takes a delight in the cruel and capricious nature of the mortal experience. The realm's inhabitants consider forgiveness to be foolish and weak and happiness to be the refuge of ignorant fools. Rituals cannot use Winter magic to create uplifting or positive feelings.
Winter does not strengthen or empower. It is extremely difficult for Winter magic to grant enhanced health, endurance or mighty blows. While a magician might shatter a shield with a touch of their rod, Winter cannot grant a warrior the supernatural strength needed to smash such a shield with their two-handed weapon. The personal enchantments that Winter creates are about resisting death through increased fortitude, or about enhancing personal power with a price (in the manner of rituals such as Sorin's Rite of Agony).
Winter ends where Autumn magic begins. It does not take for granted the idea that someone will be alive tomorrow in the way Autumn does. It is concerned with survival, not wealth. Winter does not work well with enchantments that deal with wealth, trade, commerce or creature comforts. It focuses towards the bottom end of the hierarchy of needs.
Winter encourages selfishness. Sometimes, hard choices are needed to provide security for oneself and the people one is responsible for. Winter magic works well with small groups, but the larger a group becomes the more likely Winter is to break that community down into several smaller groups. It often promotes an "us and them" attitude that makes complex, large-scale beneficial effects increasingly difficult.