I still remember writing up a bunch of really overcomplicated rules for adding ley lines to my old high school GURPS games. They’re a worldbuilding concept that has always resonated with me: the unseen architecture undergirding all the magic of your fantasy world.
As with many things Cortex, the overcomplicated rules can be tossed out and replaced with a simple mechanic or two (scene distinctions and test-created assets immediately come to mind). But the core concept is still powerfully intriguing to me, and I think it’ll be a fun toy for any Wizard PC to play with.
Here’s the entry:
Magic is as natural a phenomenon as the weather, tectonic forces, and erosion, and like these elements it tends to collect in places and flow along regular paths. These paths are ley lines: conduits of arcane power that criss-cross the map. While many ley lines follow water sources and collections of dense vegetation and can be discovered by “following the green,” other ley lines cross desert dunes or follow the spine of mountain ranges. While most known ley lines run along the surface, subterranean and even aerial ley lines have also been documented.
Ley lines interact with the landscape they cross, making the natural world around them more energetic. The seafloor of the Rushing Sea crackles with a chaotic lattice of ley lines that spill energy into the surrounding landscape, producing frequent storms and even tsunami. The quickfinch actually channels the power of ley lines to fly faster; flocks of these birds migrate along ley lines at impressive speeds.
Wizards can tap into ley lines to power their spellwork, although there are always complications to consider. Many ley lines are attuned to specific kinds of magic and are less useful for others. Particularly powerful ley lines may overload the spell or even the wizard, producing outsized and uncontrolled effects. There are also many other actors, both natural and arcane, who may feel territorial about “their” ley line being diverted for somebody else’s purposes. Settled wizards often spend a great deal of time mapping, investigating, and pacifying their local ley lines, and often restrict access out of irrational jealousy or justified caution.
Many settlements were founded at the intersection of ley lines, a practice seen as an auspicious start to a new community. The reality may be an increased frequency of sorcerous mishaps and magical threats, but the benefits of easier wizardry are hard to argue with. The chasm into which much of Granite Hold is built is circumscribed with ley lines, which the dwarven wizards have harnessed to divert magma flows away from the hold.
One notable counter-example is The Canton, tucked in northeastern corner of Loratha Forest. The ley lines of the area form a rough dodecagon around the outer perimeter of the halfling’s communities, with no ley lines crossing the intervening space. This may account for the relative scarcity of magic in The Canton, although the few wizards who do practice there are long accustomed to working without these benefits.
Ley lines are not immutable; actions both sorcerous and mundane can shift the path or alter the nature of a ley line. The Dread Tyrant channeled the ley lines of the Toriel Highlands to open his astral rift. The feedback from the haphazard tear between worlds twisted and corrupted the network of ley lines, producing mutated monsters and disturbing the spirits of the dead all across Ipeiros. While much of this corruption has been washed away with the closure of the rift, some pockets of twisted ley lines still exist, producing nests of monsters and hauntings.
For next week, we’ve got three geographical areas of varying sizes and one weird magical “beast”. Which way would you like to flip our digital gazetteer next week?