Magic in Earthdawn and the Mayan calendar

Some of you might immediately get the connection between magic in Earthdawn and the Mayan calendar. Nevertheless I want to give you a small insight on how the magical circle in the Earthdawn universe works and what this all got to do with the Mayan calendar.

So did you ever wonder why there is a Mayan calendar as a background on the 3rd edition sourcebooks covers?

ed3_players_guide_previewMaya Calendar

That is because this calendar is strongly connected to the world and the age of Earthdawn, also known as the “Age of Legends”.

But to provide a complete overview we got to remember that Earthdawn is/was not alone since it was “invented” in 1992. It was Shadowrun that existed first and Earthdawn was intentionally developed as a preceding world of Shadowrun. Earthdawn plays in the same universe as Shadowrun but a long time earlier whereas Equinox is taking place a long time after Shadowrun. Depending on the level of magic, the world is formed and influenced differently. At a high magic cycle for example, horrors can enter the world.

The magic, in all those settings is in a permanent flow as the tides are. But the cycles of these “ups” and “downs” of magic are not measured in days, weeks or months……..guess it…….yes they are measured in “Ages” and that’s the point where the Mayan calendar comes into play.

The Mayan calendar works this way*:

Short Count calendar: The Short Count was used for measuring short periods of time. It consisted of 260 days, divided into 13 periods (20 days each).

Long Count calendar: The Long Count calendar was used mainly for measuring longer periods of time and events that happened a very long time ago, or will happen very far into the future.

Maybe a this video explains the functional principle of the Mayan calendar better.

* the Mayan calendar works in a more complex way as I described here. For more have a look at wikipedia or at howstuffworks.

Flow of magic and the magic level

Strongly connected to the Ages is the magic flow and for Earthdawn this had tremendous consequences. Earthdawn, the 4th age, the Age of Legends or the 4th world (as some Shadowrunners call this age) has to deal with the rise and fall of the magic level. The rise of magic allowed horrors to enter the world at the peak of the magic level (and even before). The scourge started and the horrors “ruled” the earth and the Namegivers hid from the world. After 300 to 400 years (to be exact in 1415 Throalic time = TH) the level of magic stopped to decrease. Look at “In-game measuring of the magic level” to read about how the Namegivers knew that magic stopped decreasing.

Real time of Earthdawn and Shadowrun

Some of you might already see what you can do when you got a “real-time” calendar and fictional magic levels that depend on the system of that calendar. Exactly, you could calculate the real time dates of Earthdawns, Shadowruns and Equinox’ ages:

The Mayan calendar starts at the 11th August 3114 BC and one cycle of the Mayan calendar takes about 5200 years. That’s why a lot of doomsters and conspiracy theorists predict the end of our world as we know it for the 21st or 23rd December 2012, when the long term cycle of the Mayan calendar ends. Which is also called the 2012 phenomenon.

This means for Earthdawn that we can almost exactly date back to the start of the plague or get the real time dates of the Throalic timetable.

Let’s see if I get it right here:

The Sixth World (Shadowrun) starts on December 23rd 2012, with a rise of magic. Dating back to the end of the 5th World we land at 3114 BC, the start of the Mayan calendar. The plague in Earthdawn started when the level of magic was at its peak: ∼5200 : 2 = 2600 –> 3114+2600 = ∼5714 BC. The Namegivers hid for about ∼450 years (for example Throal was closed from 1050 TH until 1420 TH) in their Kaers, so we subtract 450 years from 5714 BC = 5264 BC. The opening of the Throal gates in 1420 TH would be equal to the real time date of ∼5264 BC.

NOTE: All that subtracting/dividing of numbers and so on is based on rounded, not exact dates. I just want to provide a calculation that is easier to understand.

Overview of the Ages and their magical level (↑,↓):

↓ The Age of Night

↑ The Age of Dragons

↑ The Age of Legends (Earthdawn)

↓ 5th World (current age)

↑ The Sixths World (Shadowrun)

↑ The Eights World (Equinox)

And again a picture or a graphic says more than a thousand words


(thx to taysal)

In-game measuring of the magic level

Between the Age of Dragons, Age of Legends and the Sixth World was a long time of a down cycle when magic decreased. The magic in Earthdawn for example reached its peak at the time of the scourge. Often questioned in some forums: “How were the Namegivers in Earthdawn able to find out when the scourge ended?”. They had something that was called the “Elemental Clock” or “Dish of Water”. This device allowed to see if the magic level had dropped.

Description of the Elemental Clock in Classic Edition:

During the Scourge, kaers with copies of the Book of Tomorrow knew to place a ball of True earth over a bowl of True water, so that when the two touched and turned to mud they’d know the level of magic in the world had fallen low enough to end the Scourge. Well, we all know the level of magic has held steady at just above that mark, and even we Elementalists don’t completely understand why. (EPC p. 93, Classic Edition)


The Third Edition Gamemaster’s Guide states the following about the device that the Namegivers used to see if the magical level had decreased enough:

Those kaers that hold copies of the Throalic Book of Tomorrow know the magic ritual that will tell them when they may safely re-enter the world. Those lacking this ritual must guess and hope. The magic itself is basic: a simple ball of True earth is enchanted and placed over a dish of True water. The magics of the ritual keep the ball suspended over the water. As the strength of the world’s magical aura wanes, and the Horrors are forced to retreat, the ball of True earth descends until it finally touches the True water and the two mix.
All across Barsaive, the people in the kaers watch the ball descend. Slowly, ever so slowly, it drops toward the water. Finally, in the fourteen hundred and fifteenth year of the Throalic Calendar the ball stops falling, hanging an inch above water. Shocked scholars and magicians watch in wonder and dread. It is too soon by hundreds of years for the Scourge to have abated. And why had the ball stopped? No one knew the answer then, and no one knows to this day.

A lot of tales and myths are told amongst fans, developers and I guess even most magicians of Barsaive, speculating about that weird issue. Forum discussions can be found here.



This article provides just a small insight into the discussions about the Ages, the Mayan calendar and the magic flow of those RPGs. For all those who are interested in more of that topic and want to read which theories others came up with, have a look at these pages or forum discussions:


Unfortunately is the offline, the page with the best Earthdawn – Shadowrun crossover information. So if anybody saved some information of, please contact me. But as Drucifer told me there is a way back in time:

5 Response to "Magic in Earthdawn and the Mayan calendar"

  1. thalion says:


    It's really a good article to know about the Magic Cycle theory.

    I translated this to Japanese to tell how great this text is.

    If you interested in this, please visit

    Thank you.

    I believe that LRG(the 2E guys in the US) presented one possibility, but how "official" it actually is nobody knows. To my knowledge, FASA and Lou Prosperi never weighed in on it, so it may or may not be what was originally intended.

    Anyway, the answer LRG gave was that the Therans used their huge reserves of orichalcum to create giant artifacts that they then spread throughout the world. These artifacts artificially stabilized the magic level on the planet(Equinox reveals that the magic cycle affects at least the entire solar system, not just one planet).

    Eventually something(they never revealed what) goes wrong, and the artifacts fail or are destroyed or something. This causes a "crash" down to where the magic cycle is supposed to be at the time the artifacts stop working.

    If you think about how drastic the changes were in SR's 2012 and during the SURGE event, imagine the changes in reverse and nearly instantaneous. Yikes!

    What(if anything) RedBrick will develop concerning this aspect of the setting is anyone's guess. I hope they reveal something official, though, even if it's just to say "yeah, LRG got it right" so we can know for sure that's what was intended to be.

    Mordom says:

    Hey Shep, in which books did LRG come up with this Theran Orichalcum theory? Never read about it.

    I think some things don't need to be revealed and I like the aspect that the Namegivers don't know about why exactly the magic level stopped to decrease. It gives room for a lot of speculation and fresh ideas.

    But still I am curious about what LRG came up with.

    arma says:

    The "Therans stabilized the cycle with Orichalcum thingies" is in a couple of places of FASA's The Theran Empire sourcebook.

    Yeah, I think something was mentioned in the Theran Empire book like arma said. But I never had that book myself. I heard about the orichalcum stabilizer thingies back when I used to visit the LRG forums(years before Classic and 3e).

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