Beyond the abilities of the physical body is another aspect of the drow that is equally important: mana. Through the channeling of this mysterious force the drow and other fae races can affect the world around them in a neigh-endless number of ways. With the mere application of their will a fae can set some kindling alight, affect the personality of another or open gates to other universes. All of these numerous applications and more fall under the catchall term of “Mana Arts.”
This section will cover some common terms associated with mana usage.
The basic energy necessary for any form of mana art is mana itself. Mana is an immaterial substance that saturates the world. Though it can be found present in all things it is inherently ethereal and invisible to the untrained eye. Goblins, Ferals and other non-fae races have no hope of interacting with mana to any degree, and many who haven’t seen its application can even deny its very existence. Only those races in possession of auras can even hope to harness it.
Though naturally ubiquitous, mana can interact to a limited degree with the physical world. It is naturally drawn to fae and other aura-bearing creatures, with centers of fae civilization attracting abundant sums of the substance. Certain kinds of mineral and organic material (such as gems and certain plant saps) can also be used as foci, receptacles capable of storing and transporting mana. A fae merely needs to direct the mana around them into the foci in order to store it.
Creatures capable of harnessing mana must by virtue of their talent possess an aura. An aura is a metaphysical receptacle that all fae and many other creatures possess which draws mana to them, allowing them to store it within themselves for modified expenditure in the use of mana arts. An aura is a vital part of any mana-bearing creature; just like food or air, one must possess mana within their aura to survive, making it akin to a life force or “soul.” The auras of other creatures can even interact and sustain each other, empowering individuals and suspending aging processes. Over exerting oneself in their spellcraft occasionally depletes too much of their mana supply, denying their aura enough gravity to replenish itself by pulling more from the environment. Without help from another fae these individuals can quickly burn through what little mana their aura still contains before dying.
Though all mana-bearing creatures possess an aura their capabilities can vary greatly. The power of one’s spells is determined largely by the capacity of one’s aura and just how much of their own mana they are willing to invest. Even among drow there are vast differences in potential dictated primarily by heredity. Much like exercise does for one’s body however there are numerous ways that an individual can expand their aura, and it is a major goal of drow born into higher stations in life to actively study and practice, strengthening their own capabilities.
Though many other creatures of simpler minds possess auras, most lack the intelligence needed to competently harness it. Evolution however has favored some of these creatures, providing them with instinctive ways to produce specific effects in order to survive in their natural habitats. More often than not these mana-bearing plants and animals are exotic in appearance as their bodies have adapted to maximize what few methods they have of utilizing their auras.
The various forms of magic in Drowtales come in a number of disciplines.
Raw Mana Arts
We can’t all be Picasso, but most anyone can draw lines on a piece of paper. Likewise, all drow possess at least the simplest talent at manipulating mana in its raw state. By forming mana into a concentrated form one can bestow upon it the capability to produce an effect in the physical world. The most basic of these cantrips involve the creation of artificial lights, candles that burn off the wick of the manifester’s own mana reserves, a trick nearly every drow knows.
The principles of manipulating raw mana go beyond small flashlights. Missiles and bolts of force are common sights on battlegrounds, as are the formations of barriers to block such attacks. A skilled artist can wreck just as much havoc with pure mana than he could with walls of fire or tsunamis of wind. The difference lies in the simplicity of such manifestations; the manipulation of raw mana requires little knowledge pertaining to its interactions with natural forces and can be thus tapped nearly instinctively.
Everything in the world can be broken down into elements, primal forces present to varying degrees in any object; Blood, fire, water, wood, earth, and darkness are only a few of these numerous elements. In the right combinations and formations these forces compose everything, and each is the plaything for the drow. Each drow possess an innate affinity for one element; tis natural connection combined with adequate training permits them to perform sorcery, manipulating their aligned force at will much like basic mana.
Though the capability to perform sorcery is inherent in most drow its initial potency is usually very weak. In most cases an aptitude test is required to uncover any such talent, performed either by instructors at Orthorbbae or under the tutelage of private teachers. In most of these cases the discovered affinity matches that of one of the student's parents, but exceptions do occur with notable frequency. Even then it takes a sizable amount of training to harness one’s element to any formidable degree. As a result few commoners learn to use sorcery effectively and many don’t even know that they possess the talent at all.
One of the greatest limitations of sorcery, and indeed the manipulation of primal forces in general, is that the element is modified as opposed to created and thus must be present. The relevance of this stipulation differs wildly between the elements; air can be found nearly anywhere for a wind sorcerer, but someone adept at fire sorcery must have at least a spark to work with.
While sorcery is instinctual and limited to one element per individual, the high arts offer a method by which an artist can learn to harness a whole menagerie of elements. The process of performing high mana art boils down to infusing the primal force that the artist wishes to modify with their own mana and using it as a control by which to manipulate the subject. Through this process the manifester can control forces that fall outside of their affinity in sorcery, or even combine different elemental forces to create combined effects (a frequent example being a tornado of flame.)
The price to pay for this versatility is the intense investment of time needed to perform such feats. A high arts user cannot innately affect the elements he bends to his will and thus must understand the very nature of the forces he wishes to control and how to exert it. He does not determine the size and shape of the cyclone and cut it loose; his mind must understand every aspect of that tornado and set it into motion with care to each meticulous detail lest it all fall apart. To control the features of each phenomena one must have detailed knowledge of every aspect of it and clearly understand how they interact.
With such a dominating necessity for scholarly study it is no surprise that most high artists are males of noble birth. Unable to exert any real power in the female dominated drow society yet financially supported by the citizens under their clan’s control, few but they have the necessary time needed to undertake the years of study and practice this discipline requires.
Summoning is the art of separating a fae’s aura from its body and storing it in a special receptacle, usually a gem, and then calling upon this soul to manifest at their behest. This process of aura extraction, storage and evocation can be performed using the essence of any mana-bearing creature, and the resultant summon possesses the same aura as the being that was once used (whether the original creature’s mind remains fully intact however has yet to be proven.) The body that they may be summoned to inhabit need not be biological, and in most cases they are prepared either an elaborate form of armor or an elemental substance to occupy.
Not all summoners use strictly terrestrial subjects in their art; for many years the Vloz'ress have practiced their own variation using demons. In this derivative process the summoner temporarily opens a demonic gate and draws forth a single demon, using it instead as the base aura with which to infuse into an artificial body. This practice can carry with it an incredible hazard; demons are notoriously unpredictable, and a summoner who is inexperienced or untainted runs the very real risk of possession by the same creature they attempted to control. If successful the summoner has under their command a minion of power superior in nearly every way to a traditional summon. Until more recent times this practice was rare and considered nearly taboo, practiced almost exclusively by the Vloz'ress.
The advent of the Nidraa'chal and subsequent revival of the demonic arts in mainstream society has had a drastic effect on the implementation of the summoning arts. The weaknesses of traditional summons became apparent during the uprising; the older summons simply could not stand up to the power of their demonic counterparts and those that were not destroyed were quickly tainted and turned against their creators. Traditional summoning has faded rapidly from widespread use as a result. The rare few that remain are usually kept as novelties and carted out only on rare occasions of celebration.
Summoning is arguably the most difficult form of mana art to perform, and thus the most worthy of respect and status. The practice is currently taught only in its demonic form at Orthorbbae, and any willing to learn the art must first undergo a tainting ritual. Because of the traditionally sacred prestige surrounding summoning it is formerly taught only to females of noble birth, though a male may be able to find an outside tutor.
On rare occasions an individual is born with a specific, powerful capability that they can utilize spontaneously. These skills can come in a neigh-infinite variety and run the gamut from incredibly powerful to hilariously trivial, mailable to specific. These forms of complex spontaneous mana manipulation are known collectively under the heading of high sorcery.
The science of high sorcery is little understood as its occurrence is rare. Any form of high sorcery is a complex and intricate process of multiple forms of sorcery, all executed in a spontaneous manner with little knowledge of its functioning necessary to the user. There is evidence that the gift can be passed down from parent to child, but there is also evidence that it can appear seemingly at random. The sheer variety of ways in which it manifests also requires individual attention for each case; some can harness their full potential immediately (often to disastrous results), while others need to hone their talent if they wish to use it safely.
Empathy is a double-edged sword to those lucky (or unlucky) enough to be born with the talent. At its most basic level an empath can detect the feelings and well-being of anyone around them. Though not a method to read the mind of another by any means, an empath instead picks up on their emotional spectrum and gets hints as to what thought processes are functioning behind the faces of those they observe. The process can also be reversed; an empath can force emotions upon others, inciting an animal into a rage or improving the attitude that a stranger may have towards them.
The powers of empathy are innately wild and untamed. An untrained empath does not actively use their ability, the world instead pours its information into their head. They cannot select what to sense nor block out the noise. Without proper training or a calm environment in which to spend their life an empath can easily go mad through overexposure. They may also unconsciously lash out with their powers during times of intense duress, inciting others into murderous frenzies or even destroying their minds altogether. When an empath’s powers begin to manifest it is of utmost importance that they receive the training they need to control it.
When properly trained in the full use of their gift however an empath can become incredibly powerful. A skilled empath can filter the sounds of the world around them, pinpointing an individual in a room crowded with auras or from a mile or more away. They can easily call out another on a lie or influence them into telling the truth. They can sense the physical ails of others, making them superb healers. Those with complete mastery over their powers can even mentally dissect the brains of others, brainwashing their victims by permanently altering their minds or destroying it altogether.
Empathy is almost always inherited from a parent, and the trait runs strong within the Val'Kyorl'solenurn and Val'Sullisin'rune. Most every clan however can claim to possess at least several empaths among their ranks.
The art of the spellsong is an unusual one. By infusing mana with carefully-controlled sound waves, a spellsong artist can combine audible effects with a plethora of potent magical powers. The applications of this unique form of mana art are numerous and varied, ranging from calming monologues and inspiring songs to incapacitating whistles and screams that knock foes about like rag dolls.
The exact nature of the spellsong is hard to pin down due to the sheer variety of effects that the art can produce. Many of its more forceful effects are reminiscent of sound and pressure sorcery. Other capabilities of the art manipulate emotion and mood by bending the mana of others directly, much like empathy, but the user of the spellsong lacks the detection capabilities and threatening powers that reside in the arsenal of a true empath. The most notable restriction on the spellsong regardless of its effect is its complete reliance on the artist’s voice; spellsongs must be spoken, sung, yelled or otherwise combined with the user’s own vocal emanations in order to function.
Spellsongs are the iconic ability of the Val'Illhar'dro, and proficiency with the art runs strong within them. This is not particularly surprising given how highly the clan values the many forms of artistic expression, music notwithstanding, and it can easily be assumed (though not yet proven) that they were responsible for the creation of this form of mana manipulation. Beyond the Illhar'dro however the use of spellsongs is incredibly rare.
Prescience is by and far the rarest and least understood of the mana arts, if it can even be called such. The central mechanism behind prescience is that an individual possessing the gift would on occasion receive visions of future events, presumably endowed by a deity. These visions are uncontrolled, can occur spontaneously and are often presented in allegory.
Because of its incredible scarcity and lack of visual effect beyond the mind of the recipient of the visions many refuse to accept the very existence of prescience. Others with more liberal views who decide to study the phenomena can only determine its validity by tracking the disturbing accuracy and consistency by which the predictions are made and then come to pass. Even then there are doubtlessly dozens of frauds and con men for every true seer.
Nobody, including those who possess the gift, know where the visions come from. There seems to be a general belief that they are bestowed by the goddess Sharess, yet despite these dogmatic assertions of the Val'Kyorl'solenurn there is not a shred of tangible evidence to support such a claim. It is noteworthy however that two individuals possessing prescience can interact to a degree, disabling the reception of visions when within modest proximity. The cause of such an occurrence is entirely unknown, but conjecture can be posited that this may be a result of interference should the two receive visions from separate, conflicting deities.