The Archmage is not a person, but an office – the most powerful mystic on Earth, blessed with sorcerous gifts surpassing all others. At the death or retirement of each Archmage, his chosen successor gains the office’s awesome power, no matter where in the Multiverse either person is at the time.
The Archmage’s chief power is an effortless facility with spells. An Archmage does not need the chants, talismans, potions, magic circles, or other paraphernalia used by most sorcerers. He casts spells by will alone. At present, only supermages such as the likes of the horrific Takofanes perform magic with such effortless ease. An Archmage also gains an extended lifespan. Archmages live for centuries, until they encounter something able to kill them or they voluntarily step down and once more age at a normal rate. (The Eternal Tulku may have become immortal before he became an Archmage.)
The Archmage wields tremendous authority over the spirit world. He may call on any power within the Inner Planes. He can invoke the light of God to burn and banish demons, or the fires of Hell to chastise angels. He can borrow a pagan god’s mastery of nature, or the urban magics of Babylon. Ghost, ghoul, and god all find the Archmage summoning the power most baneful to them. Invaders from the Outer Planes encounter an even greater threat: the Archmage can curse them through the power of Earth’s four great spirit-realms, to render the Inner Planes deadly to them.
Over the centuries, the Archmages accumulated many of Earth’s greatest mystic artifacts and relics. They employed some of these magical treasures; others, too dangerous for human use, they locked away to keep them from unwary hands. According to occult legend, a being called Thanoro Azoic initiated the line of Archmages, longer ago than anyone now can say. “Azoic” means “no life”: some mystics believe Thanoro Azoic came from another plane before life existed on Earth, and guarded the planet for eons until the first human wizards became powerful and wise enough to assume his burden. Other mystics believe the First Archmage bore some connection to the mysterious Nagas who taught mystics and heroes long ago. Most sages opine, however, that “Azoic” must be a mistranslation of some other word or name.
After Thanoro Azoic, the line of Archmages has broken twice that mystics know. The first time happened in antiquity. This interregnum lasted more than a century. The Hellenistic magus Thestor restored the line of Archmages after a quest to find Kryptos, the cosmic personification of secret knowledge. Thestor’s grimoire, The Krypticon, became the most treasured possession of succeeding Archmages.
Seven more Archmages followed Thestor: four men and three women, from all around the world. The office returned to Europe in the seventeenth century with the accession of the Russian mystic Bohdan Stanislavski. The Circle of the Scarlet Moon murdered Stanislavski in 1908 in a magical cataclysm, which destroyed most of the arcane artifacts the Archmages had collected for centuries, such as the world had not seen in millennia. Stanislavski lacked an heir as his apprentice had died fighting an Edomite horror in Africa a few years before.
Many contemporary mystics dearly want to restore the office of Archmage and regain humanity’s greatest safeguard against supernatural danger. Unfortunately, everyone who definitely knows the secret of doing so can’t or won’t talk. The serpentine Nagas, whose knowledge of the mystic arts has no equal on Earth, remain silent for their own inscrutable reasons. Perhaps they think it’s useful for humanity to lack one clear mystic authority or perhaps, as some mystics whisper, these ancient entities no longer care what happens to the world.
The retired Archmage called the Eternal Tulku once knew, but he slipped into senility long ago. Perhaps someone can learn the secret of anointing a brand-new Archmage during one of Tulku’s rare moments of lucidity. Regardless of the general mystery surrounding the process of accession to the position of Archmage, mystics know the following:
- A future Archmage shows great mystic mastery even before his anointing. Specialists and dabblers need not apply.
- Documented Archmages followed every major style of sorcery – Hermetic ritual magic, Taoist wizardry, shamanism, and more except for alchemy.
- Moral requirements seem lax. Although an Archmage’s duties include refereeing conflicts between the spirit powers and defending the Earth from supernatural invasion, not all of them have been exactly heroic. A few mystics quite seriously believe that Takofanes the Undying, considered by some the most evil and powerful villain on Earth, is an Archmage from remote antiquity who rose from the dead and reclaimed his power.
- A prospective Archmage must learn the spell that curses invaders from the Outer Planes. Any sorcerer could learn the Quaternion Banishment, but the mystic must first receive gifts of power from the gods of Faerie, Babylon, Elysium, and the Netherworld. For more than a thousand years, no one except apprentice Archmages ever filled this requirement. Mystics who hope to anoint a new Archmage – or take the office themselves – strive to rediscover the Quaternion Banishment and obtain the necessary gifts of power.
- On the other hand, a nascent Archmage may not bind himself to any single god or spirit. The Archmage speaks for all humanity in the quarrels and councils of the gods. To do this, he must remain neutral – receiving power from gods, but not becoming beholden to them.
Beyond these minimal requirements, everything else is conjecture. Skilled astral voyagers search the Upper Planes for the elusive Kryptos. Scholarly mystics seek letters from old Archmages, memoires by mystics who knew them, and any other text that might give more hints.
Originally published in The Mystic World: A Setting Book for Champions by Dean Shomshak. ™ and © Hero Games, Inc., 2004.