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Saturday, 10 April 2010

Abraxas: curiosities and ancient artifacts

Having run through our lightning survey of the land of Abraxas in the last few weeks, this is a good point to give proper credit to Russ Nicholson, who drew stacks of fabulous concept art for the project. I've said before that working with Russ is not just a question of briefing him to do drawings. He's a true creative collaborator, feeding back ideas at least as fast as Jamie and I send them to him. Many of the nice cultural touches in these pictures were dreamed up entirely by Russ.

I only wish we could have turned it into the amazing MMOG it would have been, but unfortunately Eidos closed down their internal game development in early 2000 and that was the end of the Abraxas project. Luckily we recovered the rights, so we may yet find something to do with it all.

Anyway, today's feature is a look at some of the "magical" oddities of Earth circa 38,000 BC.


Powerful automata, usually bipedal, that a medieval observer would describe as an iron golem and to the 20th century eye might resemble a robot. Although entirely mechanical, daedalanths have a microscopic symbiote integrated into their metal lattice. This symbiote metabolizes minerals and metal from the local environment to maintain the daedalanth. Daedalanths are therefore enormously resilient and even "heal" if damaged - albeit very slowly.

Individual daedalanths vary considerably in appearance, according to the whims of their creators. A daedalanth built as an ancient potentate's bodyguard might be fantastically decorated and gilded, with a face like a mythological mask, while one built to quarry rock might not be even vaguely humanoid.

Daedalanths can sometimes be brought under control by wizards who know the magic words to alter their programming; otherwise they remain steadfast to whatever order they were originally given.


Sometimes also known as "gnarls", these are wooden automata, the result of a mutation in the micro-organism designed to structure daedalanths. Hydraulic muscles provide xoanons with great strength but sluggish reflexes. They are not living creatures any more than daedalanths themselves are, the wood recycled to construct them being dead. However, sometimes flowers and fungi take root in the xoanon's "bark" giving it a bizarrely organic look.


Human-like androids constructed right down to the cellular level from life-simulating nanomachines. Emulants are not truly alive in the sense that individual cells are just tiny machines containing no DNA blueprint for the whole. Nonetheless the creature's metabolism parallels that of a truly living organism burning food for energy which is circulated to all parts of the body by means of fluids, etc. Emulants are often beautiful and can pass for human, except for tell-tale signs like the too-regular tint to the iris, the lack of perspiration, the absence of any blemish or callus on the skin, and so forth.

Living armor

Using the same organometallic microbe that sustains daedalanths, the wizards of ancient times created armor that conformed to the wearer's body and could self-repair any damage it took. The usual form of such armor is of a breastplate with neck flanges and articulated arms, one of which (often the left) ends in a blade weapon or long claws. Despite being organometallic, living armor suits are very regular, almost machine-tooled, in appearance and do not display the asymmetry customary to living things. (This results from the very precise non-mutable makeup of the sustaining microorganism, which comprises very large but stable spherical nucleotides. Not that even the most accomplished modern wizard would have a clue about such things.)

Advantages of living armor are that the blade weapon never needs sharpening and the protection afforded by the suit is far greater than normal steel. The armor augments the wearer's strength and, in those cases where it includes a helmet and visor, also gives enhanced vision and hearing.

On the downside, any other metal the wearer carries will gradually be digested to sustain the living armor. Moreover, these suits always leave the back unprotected - perhaps because the genetically modified soldiers for whom they were designed were never intended to flee from their enemies.

Not everyone can use living armor. It seems necessary for the wearer to attune the suit for it to function properly. In some cases the attunement takes so well that the armor cannot be removed. This is random (presumably geared to some dormant gene in the wearer) and not associated with any attribute such as strength or psyche.

Energy weapons

Weapons of the distant past which, by reason of their technology having been kept secret, are regarded now as magic wands. Various types exist: neural batons, photonic staves with lasing crystals, actinic and plasma lances that can be hand-held or mounted, larger ion cannon, and huge orbiting neutron-beam weapons. In most cases the weapon's power cell is inert, but some still have enough charge remaining for a few precious shots, and a few are rechargable by wizards who know how to channel cosmic vril energy into them.


Functioning fliers are very rare today but were previously in common use by nobles throughout Abraxas. The styles are as diverse as the natures of the men who used them. Some are sky-yachts, often of wood or light metal. Others take the form of flying arks or palanquins. Some are even more fanciful: a circular terrace complete with plants and banks of seats around the rail; a glass-like floating bubble; a canopied bed borne aloft by cherubic mechanicae; a giant cupped hand of ebonite.

Controls also differ, so that the man who is adept in piloting one flier may have no idea how to operate another. The most convenient control systems involve an interlocutor - essentially an inbuilt neural net that pilots the craft according to spoken commands. Others use an assembly of globes, rods or dials that the pilot must learn to operate. (Item of interest: the current fashion in Argistillum is for wizards to acquire an autistic idiot savant to operate their flier, the functioning of the controls apparently coming naturally to such unfortunates.)

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