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Ages of Wisdom

by Bruce Heard

Hi there -- thought I'd take the opportunity to cross-post an idea I've been toying with. This could have some applications for Mystara-Orient.

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A campaign setting with values based on Time.

This is a place where age, wisdom, and the respect of ancestors seem to dominate, a bit like ancient China. The history and traditions of this ancient setting goes back some 5,000 years. This setting could be used in one of the Mystara regions that hasn't yet been covered (Mystara- Orient?)

This worship of Time affects nobility in a great way. Unlike other civilisations, the magical nature of nobility causes its greatest figureheads to appear as these truly ancient, mysterious rulers.

Nobility starts when the monarch, some ageless imperial figure, bestows knighthood (or oriental equivalent) upon a family. After holding its title for 300 years (i.e. the emperor/empress has not stripped the family of its title, it always had legitimate heir, etc), the family title may be elevated to that of a barony (or oriental equivalent). At 400 years, the title is elevated to that of a viscount; to a count at 500, and so on until the title of prince after 900 years of continual dynasty.

Aging Magic

The unusual thing about this nobility is its ability to almost defeat time itself. As the family title "ages", the legitimate holder of the title slows his own aging process. It is a magical ability that is imbued on the holder of the title at the time it is knighted by the emperor. It is naturally inheritable and grows in strength. It is said that the life force is drawn from the subjects on the land of the title holder.

The Ages of Wisdom (essentially in human terms) break down as follows: middle-age (45-59 human years), old-age (60-89), and venerable (90, possibly up to 130). Nobility magic does not affect the aging of young and mature adults. The chart below, however, shows how life span is affected at later ages:

Enhanced Life Span

Title Middle-Age Old-Age Venerable
Knight 1.2 1.4 1.6
Baron 1.4 1.8 2.0
Viscount 1.6 2.2 3.0
Count 1.8 2.6 4.0
Marquise 2.0 3.0 5.0
Duke 2.2 3.5 6.0
Gd Duke 2.4 4.0 7.0
Prince 2.6 5.0 8.0
Emperor 3.0 6.0 10.0

Let's look at how an empress might age as a result of this power. At 45 she was considered a middle-aged woman. Her old age would normally occur 15 years later, however, due to the slower aging rate given in the chart above, old age would instead occur 45 years later (15 x 3 = 45). By then, although the empress really looks ninety years old, biologically she is more like a sixty-year old.

A normal man reaches venerable age another 30 years later. For the empress this instead becomes 180 years (30 x 6 = 180). By then, the empress is 270 years old and appears frail and ageless, her skin parched and wrinkled by the endless worries of almost three centuries of dynastic rulership.

Assuming a natural death occurring 40 years later for a normal man, this instead leaves the empress an amazing 400 more years to live (40 x 10 = 400). By then, she has lived a grand total of 670 years, presumably the maximum possible for a human empress. By then, she looks more like a dried up husk of her former self. When moving, her mummified flesh creaks slightly like old leather. Her eyes are nearly dried out and sunken deep in their sockets. Her raspy voice is almost reduced to a whisper.

Compared to the empress, the best a knight could ever hope to achieve is a total life span of 169 years, 310 years for a count, or 423 years for a duke. This explains why it is necessary to hold a title in a family for so long before being elevated to the next. For the very old nobles, surviving long enough may allow them to gain the next title, and survive even longer as a result. For some, it becomes an end in itself.

Inheritance and Succession

Only princes can eventually hold the imperial throne, provided the empress dies heirless. The oldest family of princes normally takes the succession. This means these people would go to great lengths to keep track of genealogies. All titles are recorded in the Velvet Tome, a sacred, ancient book held by the Imperial Scribes.

When a title is first awarded, it is assumed both the head of the family, the first spouse (if any or more than one), and all past ancestors bear the title as well. Naturally, the head of the family alone benefits from the title's slow aging magic.

Inheritance is a critical issue. Gender never affects the mechanics of inheritance, age alone does. The eldest scion always comes before the others. The heir normally is the oldest direct descendant of the oldest branch -- and -- the heir must have reached the Ages of Wisdom. If not, then the first spouse of the dead noble can hold the title and receive its aging magic. The spouse effectively becomes "regent for life" -- in other words, permanently remaining the head of the family until his/her own death. If no spouse is alive at that time, the oldest sibling of the dead noble then holds the regency. If no sibling is alive, the emperor then names a regent. At the time of the regent's death, the title finally goes back to the original legitimate heir (if still alive), or the next available heir from his/her original branch. And so on.

Regency is a perceived as a bad omen -- for very good reasons. It almost certainly guarantees the legitimate heir will seek the death of the regent when reaching the Ages of Wisdom. As a result, regents tend to eliminate such heirs before their can reach the Ages of Wisdom. This naturally provokes endemic wars of succession among the nobility.

Here's an example: a baron dies at age 180, many years after his own spouse and offspring have all passed on. The heir should come from the branch of the oldest scion, which leads to an aging great, grand- daughter. She becomes the head of the barony. Should she die before her child reached 45, her spouse or her oldest sibling would then become the regent.

If the holder of a title dies heirless (no direct descendants at all, or none expected at the time), the dynasty ends and the empress seizes all of its lands, wealth assets, and armies. If a spouse is still alive, the spouse retains the title and its magical power, which is referred to as a wardenship (as opposed to a regency). All assets finally revert to the imperial crown at the time of the spouse's death, regardless of the existence of any new progeny. The latter have no right to the title, but may move to the Imperial Court and receive imperial protection. The empress may parcel out the old dynasty's land and create new knighthoods.

Throughout this process, inheritance can only be transmitted through legitimate blood ties -- the best spouses can accomplish is a regency or a wardenship. In other words, the inheritance eventually follows the strongest bloodline. The holder of a title cannot simply "choose" a successor or disinherit a direct heir. The inheritance and the passing of the aging magic is thought of as the divine order of the universe.

The Temple of the Eternal Jade Dragon

The inheritance is not in fact a divine and natural process. Far from it. There is a link here with the Nucleus of the Spheres in Glantri. The latter's goal was to assist the creation of Immortals in the Sphere of Energy. It was one of the causes of the Wrath of the Immortals -- supporters of the other spheres felt that the Nucleus supported a single philosophy at the expense of all the others. Unbeknownst to most Immortals, Immortals from the Sphere of Time therefore decided to create their own answer to the Nucleus.

They created a comparable artifact whose goal was to support the creation of Immortals of Time -- the Eternal Jade Dragon. Once completed, they moved the artifact roughly 5,000 years back in time and placed it in a land far from the Known World (presumably somewhere on Eastern Skothar). The artifact sparked the founding of a local empire, quite ancient by Known World standards.

The artifact conferred its owner an unlimited lifespan. It also allowed the owner to bestow upon others some of his/her own life-force. Over the years and centuries, the first holder of the Eternal Jade Dragon founded the present dynasty, the empire, and the first "knights" to hold together all the lands of the empire. Eventually, the artifact allowed these nobles to grow in power, age, and wisdom. Since the emperors have the ability to take back the power they once gave away, they can thus control nobility to a degree beyond that of normal imperial authority. Only the emperors and the high priests of the Temple of the Eternal Jade Dragon know of the artifact, and especially its link with the imperial throne and with the entire nobility caste. The idea behind the artifact is to allow long life to a selected few, in order for them to achieve the requirements to attain immortality in the Sphere of Time.

Naturally, all these nobles and their emperors must follow the Path of the Dynast. To become eligible, nobles who inherited their titles must "add" another 50,000 subjects to their realms. As described above, the heir must be a direct blood relative (not an adopted scion). Being a noble however, ensures a Site for a Petition (the Temple of the Eternal Jade Dragon), where any of the Immortals of Time may be sought. A petition can be presented if the candidate survives a lonely journey through the Thousand Caves of Despair, supposedly lying underneath the Temple (it is likely these caves are outer-planar in nature). The candidate's own age then improves the petition results, at the rate of +1 for every full century. Except for the effect of the artifact on the petitioner's lifespan, aging must be natural; if not, magical steps may be taken to correct the petitioner's age.

The temple is the ancient, sacred location for the artifact. There, all people may honour Immortals of Time. Its mortal protectors, the priests, are suitably well armed and trained. However, its true defence comes from the spirits of all the nobles' deceased ancestors -- of which there are many more than the priests and their mundane guards. Not to mention the occasional Immortal who just might be paying attention at the moment the temple is profaned. The ancestors' spirits also are the ones who control the Thousand Caves of Despair and devise the tests.

The ancestors of the present nobility exist through the glory of their descendants -- the more powerful a living dynasty, the more powerful the spirit of its ancestors. A dynasty dying heirless is the worst possible fate for its ancestors, as they vanish into oblivion. The priests of the temple usually endeavour to prevent such from happening. Until a noble actually attains immortality, the fate of all his/her ancestors remains tied not only to the artifact but also the survival of their original dynasty. The ancestral spirits of a defunct dynasty forever become part of the artifact. In this lies the key to the artifact's destruction -- if all nobles, including the empress, and their legitimate heirs would ever come to die, the artifact would crumble into dust and blow away forever.

Day Without Magic

The artifact's power is not affected. However, in the event it would be, the aging magic reverses. In other words, instead of slowing down the aging process, it accelerates it for the duration of the magical blackout. For example, an emperor of venerable age multiplies its remaining lifespan by 10 -- without the artifact, the remaining lifespan is divided by 10 instead.