Just some background notes.
Politically, the world of Bookworm is divided into a number of small semi-independent states, ruled by a variety of different political systems. In theory, all of these states pay homage to the Empire and the Regency Council, but in practice the Regency Council’s power to influence the lesser states is limited. (Not unlike the Holy Roman Empire on Earth.) The last Emperor was killed during the Second Necromantic War, along with his heirs, and the Throne has remained empty for the following two hundred years, but no one seriously considers dismantling the Empire. They find the legal fiction too useful – besides, there are always rumours of a lost heir to the Throne flying around.
Every so often, a pretender arises and makes a bid for the Throne. The Throne, a powerful magical artefact in its own right, kills anyone who sits in it without a blood tie to the Imperial line, so the Regency Council generally allows the pretender to try to take the throne – naturally, after checking to make sure that they aren’t actually allowing a real heir to take his place. Quite what they’d do if a real heir turned up is a matter of speculation…
Practically, real power is held by the Grand Sorcerer, who heads the Regency Council. The Grand Sorcerer is the single most powerful magician in the world, who must prove his power (if not his fitness to rule) in magical combat with his peers. In practice, once a Grand Sorcerer is seated it is very difficult to remove him – which doesn’t stop his peers from plotting his death from time to time. The Grand Sorcerer, the Caretaker (the head of the family that maintains the Golden City) and the Administrator (of the Peerless School) make up the three most powerful members of the Regency Council. Below them there are the Grand Dukes, who rule vast estates in their own right, and the Clergy.
The Grand Sorcerer, among his other powers and duties, is charged with appointing Court Wizards to the various small states that make up the Empire. This gives the Grand Sorcerer a great deal of influence over those states, with the Court Wizards both serving to uphold their masters and if necessary removing them from power. In effect, the magicians – and the Senior Mages in particular – use their positions to prevent any of the smaller states from attempting to consolidate their power and form more powerful states that might pose a threat to the status quo. (As Prussia did to Europe when it managed to consolidate Germany out of the German States.) This is tolerated by most of the lesser lords and nobles because the horrors of the First and Second Necromantic Wars were terrifying – rule by magicians, even indirect rule, being preferable to the nightmares unleashed by the Witch-King and his demonic brood.
With this in mind, the Grand Sorcerer is also the head of the Tribunal – a secret service that is charged with hunting down dark magicians. The Tribunal has vast powers and a near-legendary reputation, with its membership kept hidden in the shadows. Tribunal agents carry a form of identification if they need to prove their identity to outsiders, but they prefer to remain anonymous. It is generally speculated that the Tribunal also serves as a tool for the Grand Sorcerer to keep tabs on his subordinates.
The Empire makes no claim to be a homogenous entity. Outside the Golden City, living conditions vary wildly. Some states are effectively democratic, with only a small number of hereditary noblemen. Others are effective serf-states, with the noblemen ruling the state and the peasantry toiling in the fields. Education tends to range from near-complete education to almost no education outside the upper classes. The general technological level is around 1800, although there are some odd points. Magic gives the savants more understanding of the natural world than our version of 1800.
Unsurprisingly, the position of women (outside the magicians and clergy) is not generally regarded as equal to men. Some states have women with the right to own property, have a say in their own affairs and the right to divorce their husbands, other states regard women as effectively chattel – first belonging to their father, and then to their husband. Such states tend to kill female magicians as soon as their power manifests, or sell them into slavery.
There is no monotheistic religion. Instead, there are over nine thousand recognised gods, ranging from some known across the entire Empire to gods that belong to one city and town exclusively. Worshippers tend to worship two or three gods throughout their lives – clergy devote themselves to a single god and serve at his temples. Some magicians believe that ‘gods’ are really immensely powerful magical beings, but generally keep it to themselves. Believers can sometimes call upon the power of their gods to aid them.
Imps, goblins, and demons exist and can be summoned into the world. It is possible to make bargains with them, but they are tricky and generally seek to twist words to manipulate the magician who summoned them into compromising themselves.
There are also werewolves, vampires and other magical creatures. Many of them were pressed into service by the Witch-King, corrupted by his magic and exterminated in the wars, leaving only a handful of survivors in isolated states. They are generally treated as outcasts from human society, although a handful have managed to carve out places for themselves in the wider world. A werewolf can often get work as a bodyguard, or a blade for hire.
Children with magical talent, if discovered at a young age, are either taught by nearby teachers (hedge-wizards or witches) or sent to the Golden City’s Peerless School. There, they are educated and taught how to use their talent, setting themselves on the first step of a ladder that could reach all the way up to Grand Sorcerer. (In theory, the Senior Mages have the authority to dismiss a Grand Sorcerer, but the incumbent might not take kindly to being disposed. Once they have a new Grand Sorcerer, they’re stuck with him.) Once they graduate, most trained magicians will serve a term as a Court Wizard, Alchemist (researcher) or one of several other duties that repay the Peerless School for the expense in educating them.
Peerless School graduates swear the Mage’s Oath when they graduate, binding themselves to uphold the system that selects the Grand Sorcerer and keeps the peace within the Empire. Non-magicians swear oaths to their teachers, or simply don’t swear any at all. Notably, there are no provisions against using magic for darker purposes. It isn’t uncommon for magicians to use magic to harm, enslave or kill non-magicians. Those affected have little recourse, apart from peer pressure from their fellows.
The early magicians didn’t fully understand the workings of magic, accounting for a number of unpleasant warning stories passed down from generation to generation. Later magicians produced a domesticated form of magic that focused on developing one’s own natural potential to the highest possible level. This helped solve the problem of magical accidents where untrained magicians would harm themselves or others, as well as creating a common basis for spells that allowed the development of more powerful and focused spells (as opposed to instinctive magic worked by someone who didn’t really know what they were doing.)
In training, magicians learn the building blocks of spells, then how to create their own spells within their own minds. Some magicians never grasp how to create their own spells, permanently limiting their potential. Others push the boundaries too far and end up harming themselves. Once they master their magical abilities, they learn how to infuse magic into objects, prepare magic potions and other skills. A handful tend to be taken away by the Tribunal to work for it as investigators and trouble-shooters.
Certain kinds of magic are permanently banned. These generally revolve around necromancy, demons and attempting to boost one’s own magic potential, either through altering one’s brain or absorbing magic from willing or unwilling donors.
The Peerless School also plays host to the Great Library, the central repository for books relating to magic and magicians, including a number of tomes that have been banned (as relating to necromancy and other forbidden magic.) Most of the library is open to students and graduates of the Peerless School, but the forbidden tomes are locked away and can only be accessed with the permission of the Regency Council.