The 20-level classes presented in books other than the Player's Handbook have become popular choices for players and DMs. Earlier articles in this series discussed how to import the classes from the Player's Handbook 2, the Complete series, the Miniatures Handbook, and Heroes of Horror. This installment focuses on incarnum as outlined in Magic of Incarnum, as a lead-in to our examination of Incarnates, Soulborn, and Totemists.
As presented in Magic of Incarnum, incarnum is misty, radiant blue energy made up of the souls of all beings -- living, dead, and even those yet unborn. It is found within all beings. Most, however, are unaware of its existence, leaving them incapable of shaping it into a usable form. In the Realms, incarnum is raw magic, mystical energy that permeates the world at all levels. Mortals can access incarnum only by making use of the wisps of raw energy that are shed during powerful magical occurrences such as the Time of Troubles or other events that damage or alter the Weave in significant ways.
Incarnum may be raw magic, but it is not divorced from the Weave. Rather, meldshapers use the Weave to craft simple magical constructs from incarnum. Incarnum is more unrefined than the Art and the Power (arcane and divine magic respectively), but it still is a form of magic like any other. Wise scholars of magic are aware that magic manifests in the Realms in numerous ways. Incarnum -- like binding magic, truename magic, shadow magic, invocation, and other heretofore undiscovered forms of drawing on the Weave -- may be a radically different form from traditional wizardry, sorcery, or prayer, but it is no less tied to the Weave.
Incarnum has always existed, but incarnum-wielders have not always been plentiful. There have always been some totemists who derived their powers from wisps of energy that were leaked in the creation of magical beasts by gods and wizards. Acting as tribal shamans among the primitive human, orc, giant, and goblinoid populations, these meldshapers probably were unaware that they were different from other magic-users.
There have always been a small number of soulborn, warriors who -- like paladins -- have a supernatural connection to their belief system. Soulborn tap into raw magic by exulting in their moral extremity. Because incarnum is a rawer and more physical magic, some form of mental extremity is necessary in order to shape it. Most soulborn -- at least prior to the Time of Troubles -- were unaware that they used unusual magic, believing instead that they were similar to paladins. Where soulborn differ from paladins and blackguards is in their devotion to a single ideal of morality as opposed to the belief system of a deity. Their role in the world is similar to paladins, though they fight as champions of an ideal, not a god.
Until recently, there were few incarnates in the world. In the past, few were aware that raw magic could be shaped into magical constructs. During the Time of Troubles, when deities walked the earth and their moral compasses were visible to any who cared to look, the amount of incarnum in the world increased dramatically. As the most magically powerful beings in the Realms, the very presence of so many divine avatars shook the Weave and ripped loose fragments of raw magic.
As gods walked the earth, many mortals joined with their causes, feeling a thrill from their association with divine beings of unimaginable power. Some became meldshapers when they absorbed raw magical energy and became aware of their ability to channel this energy into dramatic effects. Many of these people continued to support their deities, but others experienced a significant change when they were affected. Some of these new meld-shapers gravitated to one extreme of their deity's alignment, forsaking all other principles. As such, they were not welcome in their faiths or became uninterested in the convoluted dogma that detracted from what they felt should be their deity's message. These former followers went off on their own, channeling their heresies in different ways depending on their paths in life.
While the majority of meldshapers that emerged from the Time of Troubles were incarnates -- users who, like clerics, embodied their principals in their magic -- some also went down the path of soulborn or totemists. Warriors were more likely to choose the path of the soulborn, because they could the power to fight for their moral vision. Those coming from rustic or uncivilized backgrounds were more likely to see incarnum as ancient spiritual energy. They tended to choose the path of the totemist, shaping incarnum into primal, animalistic forms.
The Time of Troubles is not the only source of newly awakened meldshapers. Encountering deities, exposure to wild magic, and experiencing powerful magics can all lead to the development of meldshaping abilities. Because they are mortal and cannot directly shape raw magic without the aid of the Weave, meldshapers can only shape incarnum into limited forms. They use incarnum to create semi-physical items that are tied to the chakra of the physical body. Only the most powerful meldshapers can affect their own hearts and minds with incarnum. None can utilize it in the reality-altering manner in which it might be used by the gods.
Incarnum and Heavy Magic
Among the few scholars who have devoted their lives to the study of incarnum, a theory circulates suggesting that meldshaping is actually a primitive form of "heavy magic" manipulation. Heavy magic is a tangible, more concentrated form of magic that can achieve dramatic results with even the smallest quantity. It resembles dollops of clear honey that can be dabbed on objects and combined with spells to create a variety of effects. Little is known about heavy magic because its foremost expert -- the arcanist Karsus -- died in his attempt to steal the divinity of the goddess Mystryl. The few existing scholars of incarnum believe that the propensity for manipulating heavy magic may have been passed down from Karsus to his numerous descendants and bloodlines. This talent doesn't appear in every generation and is extremely rare. Sometimes it skips several generations only to re-emerge for no apparent reason.
The most frequent exposure to heavy magic occurred among visitors to Karsus's enclave, Eileanar. Heavy magic achieved everyday use in Eileanar through the creation of a gallery of "spell art." Regular visitors and residents of the enclave who experienced prolonged exposure to the gallery were prone to absorbing the magic and transferring it to their descendants. This had many similarities to birth defects caused by lead poisoning or carcinogens, though in many cases, heavy magic mutations are beneficial. Because the enclave was visited by people from both High and Low Netheril, meldshaping ability can be found virtually anywhere.
While the descendants of Karsus have spread throughout the world, making it possible for meld-shapers to appear nearly anywhere in the Realms, the greatest concentrations of meldshaping characters (those descended from Karsus) are found in areas populated by the direct descendants of Netheril. There are four small groups of pureblooded Netherese descendants in the Realms -- the marsh drovers of the Farsea Marches, the Tunlar barbarians of the Plains of Tun, the nomadic barbarians of the Ride, and citizens of Shade. Among the first three groups, meldshapers are almost exclusively of the totemist class, though it's possible a few soulborn exist. While most Shadovar are interested in wizard magic, the shadow weave, and illusions, a small minority are meldshapers of the soulborn and incarnate classes. It's likely that the oldest among them are at least tangentially aware of their connection to heavy magic, but the youngest probably have no knowledge of this.
The Netherese had numerous colonies throughout the world, some of which have probably been lost in the annals of history. The descendants of Netherese settlers and governors occasionally exhibit meldshaping ability. More frequently, however, meldshapers are found among the survivors of the three floating Netherese cities. These cities were saved by Mystra and most of their inhabitants migrated into Cormyr and the Moonsea region, following a number of catastrophes. Many of their descendants were absorbed into the growing Chondathan culture of the eastern Heartlands and are now dispersed among northern Chondathans and Vaasans.
The Netherese diaspora also includes half-blooded Illuskans and Halruaans who occasionally display meldshaping abilities. A few meldshapers have even shown up among the human and half-drow of Sshamath, results of interbreeding with Netherese from a lost fourth survivor state. The ruins of this state are found to the west of Sshamath in what was once Philock but is now known as the Netherese Caverns. Few venture into the caverns for fear of a malevolent entity that preys on those who plunder the rich graves of the Netherese dead.
The Tome of Magic presents a race known as the karsites -- hearty, magic-resistant descendants of Karsus. Most can trace some direct or indirect line to Karsus, but many are also the result of mutation from exposure to the spell art galleries of Eileanar. Like meldshapers, the appearance of karsites often skips a generation. Like the karsites in the Tome of Magic, those in the Realms hate magic but for completely different reasons. They are born with an inherent distrust of wielders of magic, but most do not know where this comes from. They are unaware that their hatred stems from Karsus's last moments of fury directed at Mystryl, the goddess responsible for his death. Those few who are aware of heavy magic grow to believe that all other magic pales in comparison. While many karsites are warriors and binders, a substantial number are also soulborn -- warriors who fight (usually for the lawful evil alignment) against magic as a corrupting influence. Some are also incarnates (typically neutral evil) who fight to combat Mystra's minions and creations.
(The lore presented above can be used instead of or in addition to that which is presented in the rest of the entry. Incarnum can be accessed in the Realms via the descendants of heavy magic, the manipulation of the wisps of energy cast off from major magical disturbances, or by other, heretofore unforeseen sources. Regardless of the source of their power, the moral fervor of incarnates and soulborn allows for the ability to channel incarnum/heavy magic, something that most mortals cannot do. Among totemists, belief in ancient spirits allows for the channeling of incarnum in a primitive but unique manner. Even among those whose bloodline can be traced directly back to Karsus, the manipulation of incarnum does not come easily.)
Next installment -- Incarnates, Soulborn, and Totemists
About the Author
Eytan Bernstein hails from exotic Long Island and spends his days writing and editing projects for numerous game companies. In addition to his work on Dragons of Faerûn, the Magic Item Compendium, and numerous other projects, Eytan serves as a partner and PR & Marketing Manager for Silven Publishing. Eytan enjoys hunting for gems and minerals in rock quarries, studying religion and theology, composing music, and playing with his many pets. For more information about Eytan, check out www.eytanbernstein.com. Send questions and comments for Eytan here.