Campaign of the Month: January 2015
Skies of Glass
Black is one of the five colors of mana in the universe. It is drawn from the power of swamps and embodies the principles of parasitism and amorality (though not necessarily immorality). The mana symbol for Black is represented by a skull. Black mana is generally the ally of Blue and Red, and the enemy of White and Green. Exceptions to this rule are not unusual.
To detail emotions and beliefs typically associated with those who use black mana, I’ll simply refer to a black mana users in general as Black. The same will be true for all other capitalized colors.
For those who appreciate brevity, Black can be summarized with a well-known phrase: Look out for number one. Black looks on the world and sees just a plain reality: Power controls. Power says who rules, and who dies. And whether the weak can see it or not, they are no more than slaves for the powerful. The essence of Black is to see one’s own ego as so supremely invaluable, that this prospect of enslavement, of subordinating that ego to another, is utterly inadmissible. So, to be in accord with its perceptions and beliefs, Black simply must discard all obligations but to acquire power for itself. It can be no less than the one supreme being who is subordinate to no other, the possessor of all power in the universe —it must become omnipotent.
In order to reach omnipotence, Black’s rule is simply to follow no rule. Life is hard enough without putting limitations on oneself. Black looks for opportunities to get ahead, and seizes them without mercy and without shame. Greed and ambition are the largest players in Black’s internal psychology —greed counters shame, always demanding more; ambition counters humility, never permitting compromise. And of course, killing is no trouble for the color sometimes portrayed as “obsessed with death.” It is fortunate for Black how much the Planes are populated with living things (not necessarily true in the multiverse). Living things are naturally subject to terror and despair, weaknesses on which Black thrives mercilessly.
There are essentially two pillars to Black’s efforts, which play out in mechanics roughly as follows: Parasitism, which is Black’s readiness to steal power, and amorality, which provides Black direct access to its desires, provided it can pay the price.
Before proceeding, it is worth noting that Black cannot create something out of nothing. Recall that Black’s world-view is very unflattering. Black cannot imagine into existence what isn’t there. Instead, Black uses liquidation and nullification. These are explained under ‘amorality’ below.
Also, while Black does not limit itself, the world still says power cedes to greater power. As such, the power itself of an adversary cannot be confronted by Black. If such were possible, then power wouldn’t be power. Thus, any power consolidated in something irreducible, (with no weak pieces to decay internally) cannot be attacked by Black. This is the reason Black magic has no influence over artifacts and enchantments. Both are just permanent magic (one more worldly than the other), and so Black magic can attack no part of it.
It could be said that Black acts more from fear than anything. Black sees the prospect of being controlled, and of actually dying, as one and the same —the compromise of the ego. Further, Black cannot understand trust. Black cannot imagine depending on another, and Black will not sacrifice itself for another. These conditions force Black, truly, into its position: Defending itself from a terrifying, unforgiving world completely alone. If one can say he understands the terror of seeing death in everything but knowing trust in nothing, he can say he understands Black.
Black can take what it doesn’t have, for keeps. If this does not rouse surprise, the reader is already understanding. All manner of mundane resources are for Black’s taking; so much should be clear. With the power of Black magic, life itself is just pocket money, stolen as easily. That includes life-force like the strength of a creature, and willpower won by corruption, terror, or other horrors.
A Black individual is focused on self. He is not a proper person, unless he finds that personally useful, in which case he is the most proper person you will ever know. He is not a kind person, unless he finds that personally useful, in which case he makes the average White individual look like a moneygrubbing miser. Black is all about the self. This gives Black a curious sort of freedom, perhaps the ultimate freedom. Black does not care how he acquires power, so long as he does. This is why Black is so excellent at infiltration; Black has no personal predilections except for power, and that is a goal broad enough to include almost any philosophy or idea that Black wants to have.
Black is also the most unashamed color. Whereas White has a long list of what is “proper”, Black is free, open, and honest about what he does. Perhaps this is the great virtue of Black that no one really sees — Black is honest. Black is about power and the self, but he’s extremely truthful about its pursuit of these goals. Just look at any handful of Black cards: One sees horror, teeth, blood, fangs. Black never once even pretends to lie about what it is that it seeks nor cover it up behind any other facade. No other color is this open. As an example, many of White’s creatures hide their bigotry and zealotry behind the mask of righteousness, that what they do is good, but Black, no matter what he does, will freely admit that he seeks his own goals.
Misconceptions and Controversies
Perhaps the most common misconception is that Black represents Evil. Put bluntly, Black is the most likely color to do open, honest evil. It is the element of Sauron, of Dark Lords everywhere, the blunt and the open and the honest. If Black decides to go evil, he will be the most noticeable evil in the world.
However, this also means that, in a way, Black is the least effective color to go evil. Yes, it’s open and honest about it. Yes, it’s often got the raw power and lack of morality to back up its evil. But Black is so open and honest about his evil that every single creature on the planet interested in preserving its own life will direct their attentions toward him —and that includes other Black characters, as they would see his gathered power as a major threat to their own attempts to gain power, and try to bring him down. Against such odds, even Black’s open use of horrible magics cannot stand. A villain of a different color, Blue in particular but White and Green as well, who was more subtle, would avoid bringing all this firepower down on their head, and thus do more damage in the long run. Black is the color of open evil, but also the color of dumb evil.
Instead, Black represents concern for the self above anyone else. Keeping in mind that any person is going to be less a “perfect” version of their color’s ideas and more someone who leans towards them, it’s easy to see a Black-aligned character being a great hero. Black may be self-centered in the end, focused on himself, but that doesn’t mean he never feels sympathy and that he lacks all kindness. He simply leans toward himself and a certain honesty. If he believes that by helping you he can help himself, then you’ve gained a powerful ally who will stop at nothing to get the job done and who will not be caught up with silly rules and regulations that could tie up a more hide-bound person.
Black is selfish, but it is also honest, and in the end, a character’s evil is a personal choice that is beyond the scope of the colors or their alignments.
Interactions with other colors
Black and Red: In Red, Black sees a color that knows that the only way to live is in one’s own interest. Red’s desire to do what it wants and Black’s desire to get what it wants lead to a color pair that is the purest form of hedonism; do whatever you want, and damn the consequences or laws. Black/Red demolishes any rule or regulation that gets in the way of what they want, which directly opposes their common enemy, White, who is determined to have a lawful society at any cost.
Black and Blue: In Blue, Black sees a color that doesn’t shy away from how ugly the world is. Blue’s quest for omniscience coincides perfectly with Black’s desire for omnipotence, leading to a color pair who wants absolute knowledge and absolute power. Blue/Black also subverts the status quo at any cost in its quest for unlimited power and knowledge, which puts them at odds with their common enemy, Green, who wants to preserve it.
Black and White: When White and Black agree, it’s usually on more practical details. White and Black both understand the need for sacrifice (even if Black sacrifices others for its own good and White sacrifices itself for the common good), and both are the most affiliated with religion (hence Black and White getting the most clerics, and the Orzhov Syndicate being a religious organization on its face). Whenever Black and White cooperate, it’s usually in the creation of laws (White) made to benefit a few at the expense of the many (Black).
Black and Green: When Black and Green agree, it’s usually on a fundamental, natural scale. Even though Black and Green conflict on the Death vs. Life debate, both colors understand the need for death to prune excess life (even if Black uses death proactively, and Green lets death happen naturally). Similarly, both colors are firm believers in “survival of the fittest.” Black and Green manipulate the graveyard more than any other color pair, being able to use the cycle of life and death to its advantage during the moments that the two cooperate.
Black and White: In White, Black sees a color that is held back by a set of morals. Naturally, the main debate between White and Black is that of morality vs. amorality. Black sees no universal set of morals to which life conforms, and thus acts without morals (note that this does not always lead to evil). White’s moral system is, to Black, archaic and outmoded, and only serves to get in the way of what’s best for oneself. Black also sees White as overprotective of society’s weakest members. A purely Black system ensures that the strong excel (an example being capitalism), while a purely White system ensures that all are treated equally (an example being socialism). White enforces laws to create equality, while Black exploits laws to benefit itself.
Black and Green: In Green, Black sees a color that is naive to the basics of life; that the world is an ugly place and that letting life happen unhindered only leads to more and more problems. The main debate between Black and Green is parasitism (death) vs. interdependency (life). Black believes that the masses only exist to be exploited by the strong and will use death as a tool to cull the weak. Green’s belief in the masses being essential to maintaining synergy through nature makes no sense to Black.
Black and Red: Occasionally, Black sees Red as being far too chaotic in its search for freedom. While Black certainly supports destruction for a belief (creature removal, for example), Red can sometimes be far too reckless, destroying things because they can be destroyed. Also, since Black rarely lets its emotions get in the way of its plans, Red’s intense focus on emotion is seen as foolish by Black. When they both get their hands on a new toy or weapon, Black is at least willing to read the instructions first.
Black and Blue: Occasionally, Black sees Blue as being too focused on how things are accomplished. For Black, while the means can certainly be important, the ends are much more so, and the process itself is secondary to the goal. Black also detests Blue’s excess subtlety, which allows other colors to gain the initiative while Blue is still planning. To Black, getting rid of threats and planning for a goal’s achievement don’t need to be at odds.