[ASH] Info: Magic Items - A Menagerie

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sun Oct 15 16:49:48 PDT 2006

                         Magic Items - A Menagerie
               An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Info File
                     copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

     Magic items in the ASH setting have not been studied in nearly as much
depth as supertech has been, largely due to the nature of those doing the
studying.  Scientists are more likely to bend their efforts towards things
that seem amenable to scientific inquiry, and they figure they'd be wasting
their time on magic, assuming magic is chaotic and lawless.
     However, in the ASH setting, there are certain rules to magic as well,
or at least discernable patterns.  That few study these patterns in the 20th
and 21st Centuries, and fewer still will share that knowledge means that much
of the information contained in this file is only held in snippets and
fragments.  And it's certainly not organized in anything resembling a multi-
tiered taxonomy.
     Still, when looking at things that are identified as magical items
rather than supertech, most fall into one of three categories: power
applications, personal extensions, and spirit engineering.  Given that magic
isn't science, of course, there will be some blurring of the lines, and it
may not always be possible to tell how a particular item was created unless
it is studied extensively.

Power Applications:

     This could also be labeled the "miscellaneous" category.  In essence,
some supernaturals have powers that let them create items that are "magic
items" in effect, even if they could be explained using Violation Physics.
Such items cannot be replicated by trained mages, or at the least cannot be
replicated trivially.
     For instance, the mage Labyrinthe specializes in violating the Law of
Space, folding things in upon themselves or stretching them out.  He could
"fold" a boulder down until it was the size and weight of a pebble, but
arrange it so that it would expand again if struck sharply.  This would
functionally be a magic sling stone, although it is dependent on a specific
supernatural's power.
     Another example might be a fire mage who can bind flames up into a
sword, so that the sword could heat up upon the user's command.
     Magic items of this nature tend to be one-shot or limited use in nature,
as they are essentially delayed releases of the mage's own power.  They can
be used by any non-Anchor who knows the proper command or procedure, but are
dangerous to carry around, as an Anchor's presence may undo the spell in an
unpleasant way.  i.e. that bag of pebbles Labyrinthe gave you is now a pile
of car-sized boulders on top of you.

Personal Extensions:

     The most common sort of magic item of this variety is simply a crutch,
much like level 5 supertech.  It may be purely psychosomatic, or it could be
something mundane that nonetheless helps the mage better wield their power.
In either case, the "magic item" won't work for anyone who doesn't already
have the relevant power or ability, and requires they believe in its efficacy
in some way.  Traditional mages (of which there are very few in the 20th and
21st Centuries) call such an item a "focus" when they know of its true
     Many magical rituals involve temporary foci, such as mandalas, rings or
other patterns, or particular items like athames, crystal balls or
cauldrons.  The ritual itself is a focus, helping the mage's thoughts assume
the right "shape" for the desired effect.  
     Spirit engineering can create superior foci, although the better the
engineered focus, the more restrictions are placed on its use.  For instance,
any crystal ball can help with scrying, but one might be tailored to offer
superior scrying...but only against a particular class of person.

     Far rarer and more potent are items into which the mage has placed a
portion of their spirit.  Once the item has been "charged", the mage is able
to rest and recover their spent power, while also retaining access to the
external power.  Such batteries may only be usable for certain effects, such
as a ruby that empowers flame magics, or may be a source of power for
anything the user wishes.  Spirit batteries can be made either intuitively by
those with the right talent for it, or learned via spirit engineering.
     Like foci, these spiritual batteries can only be used by those who
already have magical abilities.  Unlike foci, the power they contain is real,
and can turn a mediocre mage into a terrifying power to behold...if only for
as long as the battery lasts.  Many of Peregryn's more powerful magic items
are batteries left behind by powerful mages who died of natural causes...or
of unnatural ones while separated from their means of support.
     Anchors have no effect on foci, for obvious reasons.  Batteries function
as spirit engineering items for purposes of Anchoring, see below.

Spirit Engineering

     The Third Pillar states that all things have a spirit, and that this
spirit is unchangeable, indestructable, and so forth.  Magic, of course,
ignores this rule.  Almost all of the objects that fit the common concept of
"magic items" are created by some sort of spirit engineering.
     Spirit engineering falls into three basic categories.  Enhancement,
replacement, and imbuement.  There are established methods to all three sorts
of engineering, passed down in ancient tomes or from master to apprentice.  A
broadly powered mage (as opposed to the usual "spiked" Tesla Index
superhuman) can learn how to create magic items in any of these ways with
proper training or a willingness to experiment.  Power applications and
personal extensions tend to be more idiosyncratic, instinctive uses of power,
rather something a mage can learn.

     Enhancement improves upon some useful quality of the spirit inhabiting
an object.  A sword's quality of sharpness, or a shield's quality of hardness
may be improved upon by a skilled magical artificer.  A potion of healing may
be created by taking some healthful fluid and turning the quality of "health-
giving" up as high as possible.  It is necessary to know the deep nature of
the spirit in order to make permanent and useful changes, so an artificer
spends a great deal of time meditating on the nature of the object to be
enchanted.  Some wild talents can take shortcuts, but usually only with
specific things, such as a swordmage who can bring out the best in any edged
weapon with but a whim.
     One interesting aspect of enhancement is that a corpse has a spirit of
its own, independent of the higher spirit that drove it while alive.  This
spirit is normally no more active than the spirit of a stone, but it can be
fanned into a flame of undead life by a necromancer, a mage who specializes
in enhancement of the corpse-spirit.  
     Anchors tend to return the spirit of a thing to the way it should be,
and disenchant enhanced items permanently.  This also "turns" the simpler

     Replacement takes the spirit of something useful and places it into a
foreign container, where it can work its effects at the bidding of whoever
holds the container.  For instance, Peregryn wears an amulet that has several
wind spirits bound to it.  They can manipulate the air around him to defend
him from projectiles and certain elemental effects, and even emerge a short
     Elemental spirits are common targets for replacement, as they are semi-
intelligent embodiments of their substances.  As long as the object they are
bound to survives, the item can be used again and again.  Some think that
elemental spirits are actually extradimensional in nature, lifeforms from
realities that are dominated by pure forms of some material, such as air or
metal or ice.
     Higher forms of undead servants and other constructs can be formed by
placing the spirit of an intelligent being into a corpse or statue or
whatnot.  Cleverer mages will avoid putting an entire spirit into any one
servitor, and often split a single spirit among several forms.  This makes it
less likely the servitor will rebel, as it is scattered, confused and easier
to manipulate.  The ability to threaten another fragment of the spirit can
also be used to keep such servitors in line.
     The transplantation of spirits into computerized systems results in a
sort of machine intelligence that can easily pass as a living mind, as it
once was one.  However, these intelligences are not the result of code and
circuitry, and cannot be teased apart by normal programmers interested in
replicating them.  They also cannot generally make copies of themselves,
since they are more than the sum of their code...something exists parallel to
the processors, something that cannot be copied by science.
     Because the foreign spirit is generally far from its original host
(presuming that host hasn't been destroyed), an Anchor will not normally
expel them, since that would result in the destruction of a spirit, also
against natural law.  However, the spirit may be trapped within the item,
unable to act or even indicate its existence, so long as the Anchor is
present.  However, an Anchor who knows that the item contains a foreign
spirit, and has some training with their abilities, can exorcise the spirit,
effectively disenchanting the item.
     Enhancement and replacement are frequently used on the same item, either
making the item a better container, or improving the spirit being contained.

     Imbuement involves the mage placing part of their own spirit into an
object.  An unrecoverable part.  Unlike the spirit batteries mentioned above,
the committment of an imbuement is far more significant.  Not only is energy
placed into the item, a certain facet of the mage's self resides in the item
as well.  That facet may eventually recover to where it had been initially,
but it takes a great deal more time and dedication.  Consider a spirit
battery to be akin to removing some blood and setting it aside (for later
reinjecting when the user has recovered, as some athletes do), while
imbuement requires sacrifice of a body part.  Sometimes literally.
     Sometimes, imbuement is used to rid the mage of inconvenient aspects of
their self.  The Wanderer, for instance, placed his mortality into a talisman
created from the last joint of his left little finger.  He could not die so
long as that talisman was whole...but break it and he would die instantly.
Other mages might displace their rage into a weapon, so that they could be
calm and collected under normal circumstances, but then attack a foe with
utter fury when necessary.  In any case, the imbued "shard" of spirit tends
to be fairly one-dimensional, representing only one or two aspects of the
mage's personality.
     Imbued items are tightly bound to their creators, and generally can only
be used by another with the permission of the creator.  However, once the
creator is dead, anyone other than an Anchor can potentially use the item.
This can be dangerous, though, as the creator's spirit fragment may be
stronger than the entire spirit of the user, and overwhelm the user.  Also,
if the purpose of the item isn't obvious, it may take a powerful mage simply
to discern it.  Imbued items may also simply refuse to work, if too much of
their creator's spirit is in them, and that fragment doesn't like the user.
     As with spirit replacement, an imbued object has some resistance to
Anchors, and generally just stops being able to create any active effects (if
it had any to begin with) while the Anchor is present.  Disenchanting them is
significantly harder than with replacement items, as the creator immediately
knows of the effort and can fight it, presuming the creator is still alive.
Even when the creator is dead, it can be very difficult for any but the
strongest Anchors to permanently disenchant an imbued item.

     Perhaps the most powerful examples of spirit engineering combine all
three types.  An imbued piece of spirit forms the core of the item, with
other spirits bound to it as servants or a form of spiritual cybernetics,
replacing the aspects missing from the imbued shard.  Finally, enhancement
strengthens all aspects and makes the physical form of the item better.
Usually, such items are made as indestructible as possible, lest all the
effort of crafting them be lost to some jerk with a hammer.

Final Notes:

     Some magic items just can't be created exactly in the ASH Universe.
Despite the wide range of what CAN be made, some things are just the stuff of
legends or the creations of Hollywood (or Vancouver, in the 2020s).  A clever
enough artificer may be able to get pretty close to whatever you want, but
there aren't many of those around anymore.

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