In some settings magic is treated as an inherited or natural ability. What if we took this idea further and called ‘magical ability’ a mutation? In X-Men: First Class, Xavier talks about Neanderthals who saw Homosapiens as mutants but were wiped out by these more evolved kin. Accurate or not, this idea intrigued me. Much like the mutants in X-Men, spellcasters and mages are often feared for their power and because they are ‘other’. Let’s look at a fantasy world where mages are not just the ‘other’ but are the next step in human evolution.
In this world magic is a mutation and it carries with it a heavy stigma. Mages usually develop their abilities, often a single supernatural trait or a related set of powers, at a young age. Unless brought up with other mages – which is uncommon, as the inheritance of these powers is not predictable – a developing mage has nothing to work with, no indication that anyone else in the world is like them.
Parents often disown children showing the mutation and sometimes young mages accidentally kill their parents while trying to come to grips with their powers. Even those with non-destructive powers often unnerve their family, friends and neighbours enough that they can never stay in the same place for long.
Mages often use their powers to make a hard living, stealing and intimidating others, leading low lives scraping to survive. In this world there are no established magic academies, magical tomes or magical weapons. There are mythic stories, but there is no true heritage or history of magic.
“Normal” humans don’t understand these powers or their wielders. Regular folk usually react with fear, anger or both when confronted with a mage’s power. Mages are ostracised and most feel very much alone. Governments and high-level organisations see mages as living weapons and incredible threats… or tools. Mages are hunted and killed, all discreetly, while useful mages that appear controllable are used to fight wars and capture and kill their own: one of the only times mages realise there are others like themselves out there.
Mages sometimes become aware of the existence of others of their kind. In some instances this leads to rivalries: short and violent or long and smouldering. In some rare cases the mages band together and rise up against the humans that fear them and have made them outcasts.
One way to begin a campaign in this world is to start on the precipice of the rise of mages. Some intelligent, charismatic individual has discovered other mages and has seen the injustice that their superior kind is relegated to a hunted second class forced into hiding. This leader speaks of an uprising, speaks of mages not as abominations but as the next step in human evolution. What happens when humans realise that evolution is leaving them behind?
Another idea, that could go hand-in-hand with the above, is the first Mage Academy. Operating in secret this school is intended to bring mages together and help them harness their power to be used for good, with the ultimate goal of coexistence with regular humans.
Can these mages struggle against the oppressive, fearful governments and people who mark them as demons. Can these heroes painted as villains save those who would see them wiped off the face of the world? Can they change the hearts and minds of humanity? And can they do it while the other faction of mages who speak of progress and evolution tarnishes their good works with their acts of terrorism and leads some of their most powerful members astray?
Can homo arcanum and homo sapiens co-exist? Or is one destined to disappear forever?