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Infinite Worlds


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 108
The galaxy spins in magic. Species manifest this truth in various ways, from bizarre supernatural powers to spellcasting to magic-infused objects. This pervasive field of eldritch energy ebbs and flows in regions and even on entire worlds. Though magic manifests in near-infinite ways, its underlying functions seldom vary in such extremes as to change the way it works from the expected norm. Exceptions exist, though they’re difficult to explain or predict in general terms.
Magic gives way to altered possibilities. It’s not only an expression of manifestation through will, but also a force of potential, creation, and destruction. Magic can define reality in some places, but its presence isn’t usually necessary for life. A world that varies from the magical norm might look like any other. Changes in magic don’t always manifest in obvious ways, but when the change is noticeable, it can be spectacular and dangerous, especially in high-magic locations. The galaxy has many such places of wild magic, often inhabited by creatures to match.
In the physical universe, magic allows the seemingly impossible not only to be conceivable, but also to occur and to endure. The mightiest spells and magic items act as proof, but plenty other evidence exists. In some places, magic alone holds entire shattered planets together, allowing them to remain viable for their native species. Elsewhere, beings use supernatural power to survive in improbable conditions, including in the void of space or within the depths of a star. Magic underpins features that defy typical understanding of reality. There exist entire dead worlds with undead inhabitants created by magical means as well as resplendent cities that somehow sit within stars.
Only imagination limits the forms magic takes in the galaxy. The explanation of “it’s magic” makes room for all sorts of creatures, locations, events, and—through these elements— adventures. Magic offers the weird and wondrous, allowing the exploration of inhospitable places and providing a means of transport to distant parts of the multiverse. With magic, there can be worlds that exist only in a dream dimension, paired with Material Plane worlds whose inhabitants visit only in their sleep.
The broad scope and freedom magic provides can enhance any Starfinder game, adding a constant dash of the unexpected. Magic can underpin an alien environment or make an extraterrestrial place even more peculiar. Magical life occurs in defiance of scientific laws, and a species might use magic to perform tasks for which others use technology—to deal with challenges and create happy, stable, safe living conditions. Conversely, leaders might use or control magic to gain and maintain influence and power. They might hide this magical tyranny from the populace or practice it in the open, steeped in tradition or menace. A world might be low-magic by custom and design, whether to keep a magically-inclined populace under control or to avoid the problems caused by uncontrolled magical energies.
It’s all too easy to think of a world’s magic as what spells people cast, yet the ambient magic levels in the environment and society can shape so much more. Life in magical realms evolves to withstand, avoid, or consume that magic, giving rise to mystical beasts that fill traditionally animal niches: squirrels that hoard loose magic after the latest arcane monsoons, cephalopods that escape in a burst of magical darkness, migratory grazers that disappear into other realities when their seasonal foods go dormant, and predators whose enchantment-laden roars create ensorcelling eddies in the nighttime skies as they vocally reaffirm their respective territories.
Not only could magical abilities evolve naturally among a world’s intelligent inhabitants (such is the case with the magically-adept lashuntas of Castrovel), but the presence of magic can shape their cultures in extraordinary ways that can amaze and confound visitors. Start with the most physically apparent manifestations: a species with considerable magic might not have certain technologies simply because magical solutions were abundant, easier to develop, or lionized over their strictly scientific counterparts. Devices like comm units, vehicles, and indoor climate control become curiosities in a culture where the accessible norm includes long-range telepathy, practical teleportation, and primal magic that maintains comfortable conditions.
Also consider less immediately apparent factors like language. Telepathically adept inhabitants might never vocalize, creating eerily silent yet bustling cityscapes. Perhaps magic manifests so easily to citizens that their speech includes tiny eldritch highlights like puffs of color, brief buzzes, or empathic nudges that collectively function as crucial syntax or punctuation. Strangers who can’t keep up with arcane diphthongs appear oafishly inarticulate. On the other hand, lower-magic worlds might be so insulated from spellcasting that inhabitants process the same linguistic flourishes as painful static, much like being exposed to blinding light after an eternity of darkness.
Magic can combine with other randomizing elements to create juxtapositions and synergies. Magic might interact with low gravity to form floating continents or seas. Valuable materials might be found only where magic interacted with natural resources. Magical bubbles of life-sustaining biosphere could persist on an otherwise hostile or barren world. Life on a planet might thrive because of magical interactions or suffer because of them. One planet’s aerial reptiles wait for the yearly psychic storms, for only during these thought-dense clouds do their eggs incubate and hatch out of reach of terrestrial predators. Elsewhere, divinely-created parasites are all that keep lumbering herbivores in check, swiftly devastating their numbers when herds grow too vast. A seemingly lifeless moon might sustain a thriving culture because millennia ago they harnessed local energies to pray food into existence.
Of course, magic can prove dangerous as well; levels of eldritch energy, whether planet-wide or regional, could be a hazard rather than an advantage. Raw magic rarely endangers life directly, but it can produce conditions that do. Such paranormal forces might come from natural concentrations or from planar forces. Extraplanar influence can create magical anomalies or conversely arise as a symptom of such oddities— for example, an elemental plane’s interaction with a magical world produces especially powerful spell gems.
Magic is change, whether defying the natural order or enhancing it, and can be used in a science fantasy setting to justify the improbable or strange. The right magic can protect something ancient from decay; it might allow beings and objects to remain hidden or, by that merit, uncover them. Changes in magic can explain the emergence or reemergence of certain forces, or the powers that once suppressed them. Adventurers wielding magic or magic items who visit a world untouched by magic might find themselves in positions of inordinate power and responsibility.

High Magic

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 110
The presence of high magic can have profound effects on culture. It might lead to more magic in practice, which changes the way society operates. High magic can also be a source of harm, chaos, or both. This danger could come from magical creatures, interactions of magical fields, and more. Even if an abundance of magic isn’t actively harmful, it can still cause erratic, unpredictable results upon using magic.
Magic might be enhanced (see the Enhanced Or Impeded Magic sidebar on page 111), making it easier to learn and perform. In such areas, spellcasters become more common and far mightier, though remember that a world need not treat all forms of magic equally. Fields of magical energy could be divided in ways that enhance or impede specific schools or types of magic, with one planet bolstering abjuration effects and another augmenting any magic drawn directly from a deity (which might be the case for some mystics). A magical society might also carry biases that artificially restrict spellcasting by treating some types as sacred but others as taboo, such as by idolizing technomancers’ talents while simultaneously ostracizing those who dabble in the magic of alternate realities.
Where spellcasters are stronger magically, their political and social statuses often rise as well. More benevolent societies might develop benign magocracies where spellcasters harness their power and supernatural insights for the benefit of society as a whole. Crueler worlds could, just as easily, develop magically‑enforced tyrannies, and any magocracy risks developing harmful class divisions with the magically adept lording over comparable mundane second-class citizens. Divisions might even form along schools of magic if nation states espouse only a few types of magic in opposition to their neighbors’ arcane traditions.
Just having more magic available can mean more reliance on magic. In such places, enchanted objects likely replace or augment technology. Magical travel, including space travel, might replace technological analogs. While a society over-reliant on magic might be behind in faster-than-light Drift technology, they also could have alternative means of rapid interstellar transit, as suggested by the existence of portal networks in the Pact Worlds and magical interstellar drives. High magic makes such powerful magic artifacts more possible. A mighty magic item or items could even be the source of a world’s high magic, and control over these objects a source of political influence.
Another possible source of high magic comes from the influence of other planes. Extraplanar traits can be inherently magical. When they intrude on the Material Plane, their magical influences and inhabitants might intrude, too. Such incursions likely won’t be beneficial for Material Plane inhabitants.
High magic also makes for magical beings without planar influences. People, plants, and beasts with spell-like and supernatural abilities are more common. A magical population can make a world more stable. More often, though, a variety of magical beings can create a hostile environment with monsters that menace civilization. For such creatures, high magic could be like how oxygen is on some worlds, providing fuel for incredible growth and power. To live on or even explore such a world can present a constant struggle against overwhelming odds.

High-Magic Adventure Hooks

D20Adventure Hook
1 Rebels claim that a government uses magic to pacify the populace.
2 The magic holding this improbable world together starts to fade.
3 Xenodruids seek to merge with a verdant planet’s world-mind.
4 A world that once created pleasurable illusions for tourists has gone bad, trapping people beneath the surface.
5 When an oracle used to choose government ministers picks a pariah, officials want to suppress the truth.
6 A crime syndicate hides on a mystical world that erases their enemies’ memories. The devoured memories feed a supernatural evil.
7 Efforts to extract a magic ore are disrupting the world’s magical balance.
8 Intense magical fields disrupt advanced technology, causing them to cease functioning—even in orbit—and endangering visiting starships.
9 Smugglers actively defy a magocracy’s restrictions on magical exports.
10 On a planet tied to the First World, a bizarre stairway leads into an extradimensional space of unknown depth.
11 Xenobiologists believe the world they’re surveying is a bundle of eggs of a massive magical beast and seek to preserve this new life.
12 A vengeful exile has unleashed an extraplanar bioagent that burns out spellcasters’ nerves.
13 Genies war over a world at a nexus of the Elemental Planes.
14 A world’s people live out of phase with the Material Plane. They believe recent arrivals are ghosts.
15 Unpredictable magical effects on an uninhabited world call for surveying and taming before colonization.
16 A malevolent entity is drawn to a world that spawns planar portals.
17 Diminutive, hive-minded sapient creatures magically manipulate their world in misguided, dangerous attempts to communicate with visitors.
18 A grieving mystic uses enchanted bombs to ignite magical currents and turn back time, releasing unintended effects.
19 When a notorious raider snatches a magic stone from a remote world, a curse follows their flight across the galaxy.
20 A mighty being, such as a void dragon, consumes magical creatures, forces, and items to become a “death god.” They have a loyal cult.

Medium Magic

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 110
One might assume a medium-magic world is like any other planet in the galaxy: a mix of magic and technology. That’s widely true. However, as the Pact Worlds show, variation exists even at this level of “normal” magic.
Minor magic is an everyday experience in a locale that has long had medium magic, making it a part of the culture. People use magic like any other tool, allowing them to gain and protect the things that they value, like power, wealth, and pleasure. If society is low-technology, even a modicum of magic likely serves an important role in government, religion, and other cultural mores. Spellcasters are aptly held in high esteem. Even a small amount of magical talent or training earns one a place of respect, from a village wise-person to an archmage. As the level of technology meets or exceeds magic’s capabilities, magic might fade in importance or be relegated to traditional situations. However, skill with eldritch arts becomes more common as training grows widespread, and magic use can become more specialized and individualized. With this social shift, the status of spellcasters could diminish except for those in time-honored positions, such as priests.
Instead of being a homogeneous zone, a medium-magic world might have access to higher magic in some regions and lower magic in others, such as a world governed by powerful leylines accessible only to those within a few miles of the conduit. This division could result from how magic works on the planet or in that sector of space, where the ebb and flow of magical energies are perceptible in pockets of magic. On some worlds, this imbalance might produce profound differences among cultures, such as a low-magic society developing technology faster to keep up with their magically-powerful neighbors. On worlds with smaller magical sites, the people likely designate such areas as holy or otherwise culturally significant, and fiercely guard these fonts of potential.
Perhaps the world was once high in magic, but the magic was throttled somehow. The main question is: why? Secondary questions are: what, who, and how? What would be the consequences of these fonts being uncapped? Various factions might want to encourage or oppose the release of magic. Such a situation could lead to a whole campaign, especially if characters must deal with initial consequences (for example, the awakening of magical creatures) before learning that the release of magic is the problem. Similarly, a spellcaster PC might have been drawn to, or even unlocked some portion of, that otherwise untapped magic.
Similar issues might emerge from natural cycles of magic diminishing or increasing a world to medium magic. Magic users could lose their places of dominance, or they might seize power long denied them. This change could herald war, political disintegration, and religious crises as well as the dissolution of age-old manifestations or uses of magic. Magical creatures might go extinct, while new ones rapidly emerge. Geographic upheaval and shifts in the biosphere can even alter the weather, breed new diseases, harm food production, and destroy living space; forced migration and other disasters could follow. Any of these changes might alter sapient species as well, costing them the magical talents they relied on or activating latent powers.

Medium-Magic Adventure Hooks

D20Adventure Hook
1 To pursue magical research, an organization needs help in establishing a planetary presence despite danger or resistance.
2 A grimoire found in an ancient ruin contains a dangerous ritual to accelerate or dampen a world’s magic.
3 An experiment in nascent emotion magic goes awry, contagiously amplifying darker emotions in the populace and threatening pandemonium.
4 Previously unknown magical creatures emerge from underground, endangering surface dwellers who might resort to weapons of mass destruction.
5 Natural leylines are shifting, causing changes in the geography of magic and heralding a return to lost glory or an oncoming doom.
6 Talavet’s followers find sealed legendary gates on several worlds. The locks require the help of Nyarlathotep’s faithful to open.
7 Entertainers enhance performances with minor magic, hoping to strike it rich before the damage the magic inflicts catches up with them.
8 Several murderous rampages and premature deaths can be traced to a magic item merchant whose wares empower a ghastly artifact.
9 A patron needs to transport an antique blade that has healing powers and attracts unwanted attention from across the galaxy.
10 Priests of non-good deities have fallen prey to something. Is it a divine punisher, an enemy god’s avenger, or a creature feeding on magic?
11A faction of witchwarpers wants to meld realities on a planetary scale.
12 Despite a cover-up, investigation reveals a serial killer’s targets are government agents mutated by magic.
13 A corporation wants to raid another’s magical research facility, claiming ethical violations. The magic could afford either corporation a monopoly.
14 Infants are being born with magical powers. Does this new pattern suggest a change in magic, sinister meddling, or both?
15 A shapechanger invents magical identity verification, which some shapechangers violently oppose and authorities threaten to abuse.
16 A recent spate of supernatural disasters can be traced to a secret site tapped into the world’s magical energies.
17 Entitled magnates fund studies of transferring magic powers. A breakthrough comes at the cost of innocent lives.
18 Warlords or powerful monsters vie for a rare place of power or an artifact, unconcerned for who or what they harm.
19 The guardian of a magical place wants to discover why a starship crashed there, unleashing magical radiation.
20 An acolyte disappears after claiming the priesthood’s traditional power comes from a source other than their god.

Low Magic

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 111
Causes of low magic can vary. In some cases, a region simply undergoes a temporary downturn in available magic, such as a star system whose magic comes from a comet that passes through only once every few decades. Rather than a lack of magic, low magic in a world might instead result from some force that actively consumes or warps magic so that it doesn’t function as reliably or powerfully as expected, such as a planet whose moon is an immense creature parasitizing the world’s otherwise ambient energies. In any case with an irregular or diminished magical supply, inhabitants evolve and learn to deal without magic. Even if the environment experiences a periodic glut of supernatural power, that magic functions as a luxury more than as a necessity.
For visitors, these worlds can seem utterly vexing because magic doesn’t work as expected. Unlike the enhanced effects of high-magic areas, this form of low magic impedes spellcasting and spell-like abilities (see the sidebar below). In extreme forms, low magic might even hinder supernatural abilities, although that effect appears less common since such traits can be more reliant on a creature’s personal power. As with planes beyond the Material Plane, some regions experience restricted magic only for certain schools of magic. This situation happens more often when something, such as a planar intrusion, warps the magical field on a planet. In exceptional circumstances—and any galaxy is full of exciting exceptions— different combinations of magic might be impeded and enhanced. Consider the case of a sapient gas giant planet that longs to be a rocky planet; it thus enhances earth-themed spells while impeding air- and flight-themed spells out of a sense of self-loathing. Mix and match to create something unique.
For some low-magic societies, however, culture limits magical use. Past catastrophes could instill rhabdophobia that lasts generations, even becoming incorporated into a society’s laws and legends as a forbidden art. Religious dogma might have demonized magic long ago, and a low-magic world might have only recently rediscovered ancient spellcasting traditions and created new techniques. Magic could even be a lost art, as the world’s arcane potential survives only in a dwindling supply of magic items.
Whatever the case, a world’s inhabitants likely consider magic some combination of alien, fascinating, and frightening. In instances where magic works but is rarely seen or used, visitors possessing magic might find themselves in trouble for using it. Few worlds are so limited in their magic that a typical person is completely unfamiliar with it, even if that familiarity takes the form of fanciful cautionary tales that contain a kernel of truth.
Magic could also be a tradition so prestigious that it’s closely guarded by elites. Alternatively, magic might be considered so hazardous or corrupting that the society recruits pariahs to train as mages in service to the comparably pure populace. Wherever magic potential exists, though, there’s inevitably someone willing, able, or conscripted to practice it.
This control can stem from authorities—whether the government, the priesthood, or otherwise—such as an ancient, traditional order of mage hunters or wizards who hoard these powers. Any of these groups might suppress magic in an artificial but overarching way, using edifices, policies, or devices devoted to keeping magic from everyday life, much like the fonts mentioned for medium-magic worlds. These places or tools make obvious targets for dissidents who want to make magic free, resulting in a conflict like a cold war, a secret insurgency, or an open rebellion.

Low-Magic Adventure Hooks

D20Adventure Hook
1 Legend says magic is locked in leylines that also imprison a powerful entity. A radical group decides to test this theory.
2 Explorers discover natural features that keep magic low on an inhabited world. Some want magic set free; others fear this change.
3 Fugitives manipulate magic and the beliefs of a world’s people to hide and keep their enemies at bay.
4Archaeologists uncover evidence that magic wasn’t always low.
5Conspiracy theorists ambush leaders that they suspect hoard magic.
6 All of a world’s magic goes to protect it from a nearby black hole. A greedy conqueror threatens this stability.
7 Histories claim that the use of magic attracts fiendish attention, but heretics want to test the doctrine.
8 The world absorbs magic without diminishing the effects, making learning (though not using) it difficult. Where’s this energy going?
9 Members of an age-old order hunt mages and suppress magic use. Enemies and the authorities believe the order hides a secret.
10 The first spellcasters have appeared among low-magic people. This “sign” has been interpreted in more bad ways than good.
11 A potent, spacefaring extraterrestrial tours low-magic worlds. Some say it’s searching, and others claim it’s changing things. Why?
12Magic-starved monsters prey upon a planet’s population.
13 Infamous warriors who carry eldritch heirlooms have answered a psychic call to gather on a low-magic world.
14 A scrupulous authority figure wants help freeing a prisoner to aid them in uncovering the shocking reasons for the world’s low magic.
15 Eco- and mago-fascists believe low magic is a state of imbalance and releases a transmutation agent to set magic free.
16 Those suffering from magical maladies flock to a facility that suppresses magic.
17 A wealthy expatriate wants to recover cultural relics from a planet ravaged by nonmagical war and full of environmental hazards.
18 Leaders have duped a world’s people for generations with fake magical displays.
19Extraplanar forces have begun to gather on a low-magic world.
20 An astrophysicist has discovered the world’s magic is being siphoned into a local star.

Enhanced or Impeded Magic

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 111
The easiest way to simulate variable magic in your game is to treat magic as enhanced or impeded. Enhanced magic functions at a higher caster level, typically 2 higher. Much higher than that could become too powerful for the PCs’ level. Impeded magic can function with unexpected side effects, or even opposite than intended. Particularly impeded magic might require a spellcaster to succeed at a caster level check (DC = 15 + the spell’s level) to cast the spell at all. Failure results in the spell failing while the spell slot used is still consumed. For spells cast from magic items, instead use a Will saving throw (DC = 10 + twice the spell level).
Similar to some planes, entire worlds, regions, or locales might enhance or impede magic of specific schools or descriptors. Such changes to magic help reinforce the character of a place. For example, the Shadow Plane enhances shadow magic and impedes spells that use or produce fire or light.
Another option for unstable high magic is an environment where magic triggers uncontrolled reactions. To create this situation, you might have a creature using a spell or a spell-like ability attempt a Will saving throw (DC = 10 + twice the spell level). On a failure, roll on the table for the wonder warp spell, but you, the GM, control the results.
Impede magic only rarely. Doing so restricts the capabilities of some characters, making the game less fun for their players. Be doubly careful with the absence of magic. Impeded or absent magic might serve as a challenge for a short while, but it can feel frustrating or even punitive if prolonged.