Witchcraft and Magic

Most Novans have an unshakeable belief in the supernatural. This belief extends not only to the daemons that the white priests warn of, but also to human practitioners of the supernatural.

Witchcraft and Witches

All Novans are taught from birth to hate and fear the witch. A witch is a person (human or alien) who channels the fell powers of the Empyrean itself to affect the real world. To willingly expose oneself to the Empyrean smacks of heresy; worse, doing so may attract the attentions of the daemons who live there.

The talent for witchcraft is a mutation; witches are born, not made. Witchery typically manifests in adolescence, though many witches remain hidden into adulthood. Few witches have visible mutations, and though the practice of witchcraft is often associated with visible or audible otherworldly side effects, a careful witch can go undetected for years.

The faithful are charged to detain known or suspected witches until they can be examined by the Black Sisters, an itinerant all-female order of the Ecclesiarchy. These grim women train their bodies and souls through chastity and deprivation to resist the corrupting influence of the witch, and are responsible for identifying actual witches throughout Nova. Those wretches in whom the taint is confirmed are taken by the Sisters to the Spire, where they may be “sanctified” by secret rites – though none have ever returned from such sanctification. If a witch poses too great a danger to its captors, however, he or she may be purified by flame for the safety of the community.


Magic, as taught and practiced by the red priests, stands in sharp contrast to witchcraft. While witchcraft derives its power from the unnatural hell of the Empyrean, magic derives its power from the fundamental forces of the natural world.

For those uninitiated in the mysteries of the machine or the secrets of the Black Sisters, several rules of thumb exist to differentiate magic and witchcraft. Seemingly unintended side effects are a hallmark of witchcraft, though they do not accompany every manifestation. By contrast, the use of a spell, or tangible object, is a hallmark of magic – though some witches use objects as focuses, which the layman may mistake for a spell. Perhaps the safest rule of thumb is that witchcraft is inherently repulsive to the pious, inducing nausea, disorientation, or unease.

Magical spells do not function automatically. Each is associated with one or more rituals, some to use the spell itself, and others to use before or after use. The details and underlying lore of the rituals are the province of the red priests, though anybody can perform them properly with proper attention to detail. This is another important differentiator between magic and witchcraft (although it rarely helps to distinguish between a magician and a witch, unless a red priest can testify that a given phenomenon could not be achieved through magic).


Sorcery is the manipulation of empyreal energies by those not born with the curse of witchcraft, achieved through physical objects. The physical accoutrements of sorcery are easily distinguished from those of magic by those trained in one discipline or the other, but can be difficult for the uninitiated to discern. The presence of a ritual circle, sacrificial altar, or obviously profane objects can distinguish a sorcerer’s workshop, but these easily identifiable objects are not always necessary or present.

Like the arts of magic taught by the red priests, sorcery must be learned through extensive study and practice. As sorcery manipulates the powers of the Empyrean by definition, this study is vigorously suppressed by the Ecclesiarchy. As a result, a great deal of sorcerous lore is either lost or simply fraudulent.

Sorcery is a far greater crime than witchcraft. A person born with the taint of witchcraft is cursed from birth, but at least in principle can refrain from using his dark powers. Sorcery, on the other hand, is a deliberate choice by one with no such curse. A sorcerer is not conveyed by the Black Sisters to the Spire for purification. Such wretches are fit only to be slain with fire and steel.

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