What is the Holy Grail War?

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What is the Holy Grail War?

Post by Damascus on Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:19 am

The Holy Grail War is a grand battle to the death between seven competitors.  Seven people—usually proficient magi—summon powerful Heroic Spirits, legendary heroes from history or myth.  These Masters and their Servants fight to the death in the Japanese city of Fuyuki, for a chance at reaching the Holy Grail and having their dearest wish granted.

Magus

The term for human practitioners of Magecraft.  Magi are frequently, but not necessarily, descend from old magical families, as affinity to sorcery is something transmitted through blood relations.  Many major families belong to the international Mage’s Association, but the Association is prone to petty power struggles, and has little concern with the Holy Grail War.

The Holy Grail

The Holy Grail is the ultimate prize of the War.  Magi from around the world gather to participate in the world, and seven of them are chosen by the Grail itself to participate as Masters by marking them with Command Spells.  These Masters then summon their respective Servants and begin to fight.  The Grail can only be won by a single Master and Servant, after the other six Servants have been eliminated.  When touched by the winner, it will grant the dearest wish of both the winning Master and winning Servant.

The Holy Grail War itself was established by the Three Founding Families:  the Einzberns, Tohsakas, and Matous.  To date there have been four wars, none of which resulted in a victor.  In the first two wars, the fighting was so chaotic and bloody that there were no survivors, and the Church was brought in to mediate.  In the Third War, the vessel of the Grail was destroyed amidst the fighting, prematurely ending the war.

Ten years ago, the Fourth War almost had a victor, but rumor is that the Grail was once again destroyed before a wish could be granted.

The year is 2005, and the Fifth Holy Grail War is about to begin.

Masters

When an individual is marked with their Command Spells, they become a Master.  Masters are chosen by the Grail itself, usually people with a desire that they want to be granted.  The Grail favors the Einzberns and Tohsakas first, then chooses other suitable Masters.  The Matous also usually participate in the War, but currently have no magi of significant talent left in their family.

Under ordinary circumstances, a Master is always a spellcaster, usually a Magus with a Magic Circuit, who is selected by the Grail. It is possible for an ordinary person to become a Master, though this is rare.  After gaining their Spells, the Master summons their Servant in the months leading up to the war.

A Master’s role is to direct their Servant in combat and provide them with magical energy.  As Servants are unnatural entities, they must subsist off a constant supply of mana or they will vanish. A Master that is providing magical energy to a Servant will "leak" magical energy in a volume that is easily detectable to most spellcasters.

In order become a Master, a person must successfully summon a Servant through use of a specific Formal Craft ritual. Upon completion, the Master must formalize a contract with the Summoned Servant by acknowledging their respective roles.

Servants

Servants are familiars of the highest possible rank, made from Heroic Spirits.  These can be either great historical heroes, or characters from legend that have become famous.  Each of these Heroic Spirits typically has a wish they want fulfilled by the Holy Grail, and have their own motivation for seeking it, separate from their Master. The Master is their source of mana and their anchor to their world, so they have a strong incentive for following their Master’s orders.  However, the only way to force a Servant to carry out an order against their will is to use a Command Seal.

They come in seven classes, each with different skills and weaknesses:

Saber
Spoiler:

SABER is the Heroic Spirit of the Sword.  It is considered one of the three Knight classes along with Lancer and Archer.  Servants placed within this class are agile and powerful melee warriors adept at swordsmanship, boasting high ratings in all categories, and they are often heroes from the Age of Gods when magecraft was still commonplace. The qualifying conditions require the Heroic Spirits to have legends as knights of the sword, and it is the class that requires the highest levels of attributes in all but the Magic attribute.

The standard opinion is that the Saber class is best of the seven classes and the strongest of the Servants. They will generally have an overwhelming advantage over Caster-class Servants who use magecraft as their main offensive ability due to their Magic Resistance. The weakness of the class is its straightforwardness in battle, only able to attack the enemy with their sword while unable to resort to other tactics like the Presence Concealment of the Assassin Class.

Archer
Spoiler:

ARCHER is the Heroic Spirit of the Bow, and is one of the Three Knight classes along with Saber and Lancer. Servants placed within this class excel in possessing powerful Noble Phantasms, and are able to act as highly effective scouts. The qualifying condition for the Heroic Spirits is not attributes, but instead the possession of powerful projectile weapons or special abilities related to projectile weapons. They possess high Magic Resistance as a Class Skill, so most modern magi are unable to inflict damage to them. They also possess Independent Action, allowing them the ability to act independently for a length of time without an active supply of magical energy from their Master.

For Archers with high ranked Independent Action and a disposition opposite the Master, the only guaranteed way to control them is through the use of Command Spells. Servants will generally assume that the Noble Phantasm of an Archer class Servant is their bow, but any projectile weapons, even firearms or thrown weapons, can be indicative of an Archer.

Lancer
Spoiler:

LANCER is the Heroic Spirit of the Lance, and is considered one of the Three Knight classes along with Saber and Archer. Servants placed within this class, many of which are Heroic Spirits who were knights, are very agile, proficient in hit-and-run tactics that capitalize on range and speed, and skilled with long-range melee weapons such as spears and lances. The qualifying conditions to be placed within the class are second only to the Saber class, requiring overall excellent attributes and a high agility attribute. Their class abilities are Magic Resistance and Battle Continuation; the latter of which can let a Lancer briefly survive fatal wounds.

Rider
Spoiler:

RIDER is the Heroic Spirit of the Mount. Servants placed within this class are those known for riding mounts, living beasts or human constructs, during their lives. They generally have lower attributes compared to the Three Knight Classes, but the abilities of the mounts described in their legends compensate by granting them powerful Noble Phantasms or abilities. They have the class abilities of Magic Resistance and a high rank in Riding, allowing them to fully utilize the abilities of their mounts. Depending on the rank, they can take full control of everything from simple horses, modern machinery like motorcycles and planes, and even Divine Beasts. Dragons are the only exception, as the ability to ride them falls under a different skill.

Berserker
Spoiler:

BERSERKER is the Heroic Spirit of Berserker Rage. Servants placed within this class are always Heroic Spirits who have gone berserk during battle at least once in their lifetime. This trait allows them to use the special ability Mad Enhancement, which trades their consciousness and sanity for a large power boost. This class is usually for magi who have summoned Heroic Spirits with insufficient abilities and attributes, allowing them to strengthen their Servants to make up for their lower attributes and compete against stronger opponents. While it is ideal for Servants to reach the level of the Heroic Spirit, the class allows for their attributes to surpass even the original. If used on an already strong Heroic Spirit, such as Heracles, they will become empowered to truly extraordinary levels. The abuse of this to create powerful Servants has made the class referred to as the strongest of all seven classes.

This class comes at a price, as the Berserker class is the most difficult to control and a Master must expend a large amount of additional magical energy merely to maintain the Berserker, and the affected Heroic Spirit may lose access to certain abilities or even Noble Phantasms depending on how much sanity it taken away for power. Masters are unable to utilize coordination with their Servant unless gifted with superb control over them. The lack of complex rational thinking keeps them from being able to follow more than simple directions, and it may even require Command Spells to keep them from acting on their own. They generally rely on little other than brute strength and overwhelming, uncontrolled strikes to physically beat down their opponents.

Caster
Spoiler:

CASTER is the Heroic Spirit of Spells and Sorcery. Servants placed within this class are usually adept in magecraft, and the only qualifying condition is the mastery of sorceries of the highest caliber compared to the specific parameter requirements of the other classes. Servants of this Class are the only Servants able to use Magecraft. However, due to not requiring any strong statistics, they generally have low combat abilities, and due to the majority of Servants having some form of Magic Resistance, this class is thought to be the weakest of all seven. They make up for this with other means, using magecraft that no longer exists in the current age and, no matter which Heroic Spirit is of the class, possessing many possible ploys to be used against enemies. Those of the Saber class can likely challenge any Caster who uses magecraft as their main offensive ability without needing to plan due to their high Magic Resistance, while those of lesser resistance like the Rider class may require more strategy. Their class abilities are Territory Creation, altering the surrounding lands in favor of their sorcery, and Item Construction, which allows the magus to create magical items and tools.

Assassin
Spoiler:

ASSASSIN is the Heroic Spirit of Assassinations. Servants of this class are skilled at operating covertly, stealthy, and silently. This class is one of the weaker classes at fighting; as its members possess low attributes due to not having glorious legends as heroes; so it instead specializes in killing Masters rather than Servants. It is an oddity compared to the more formal knight classes who believe in fair duels and chivalry in combat; they will attack using the most unfair and favorable conditions; and with these conditions, it is possible for an Assassin to match and defeat other Servants.

Servants can switch between a Spiritual Body, which is invisible and resistant to detection and scrying, and their Material Body.  In their Spiritual Body, they can phase through objects, but they cannot carry anything with them and are limited to spiritual sensations.  Being in Spiritual form also lessens mana consumption.  Berserkers consume much more mana than the other classes, in exchange for its power.

Servants can exist without a Master for a short time, but its mana will slowly deplete.  Once a Servant is out of mana, they essentially die.  However, Servants can seek other sources of mana, with or without a Master.  They can consume human souls for extra energy, or perform tantric rituals to take extra energy from Masters or hosts.  Eventually, though, a Servant must seek out a free Master and make a new contract to have any hope of reaching the Holy Grail.

Those summoned as Servants are given the minimum information required to allow them to fit into any era. No matter how ancient the Heroic Spirit, they should understand a number of concepts that were not known in their time. The knowledge is not all-encompassing, so concepts may have to still be explained to them. They also have the same general knowledge of the Holy Grail War as the Masters themselves. They are granted some knowledge on other Heroes when summoned. Witnessing traits of other Servants can allow them to deduce their true names with the knowledge even if they are from incompatible eras.

The true name of a Servant is something vital to battle, as it can reveal much about them. They most often have their Masters refer to them solely by their class name. Though, there are Servants and Masters with extreme confidence or no filter in revealing their true names for all to hear. Their names can reveal certain traits about their abilities, allowing for specific countermeasures, and there are many famous heroes that had met untimely deaths in life.

When summoning a Servant, a catalyst can aid (or be necessary) in summoning a particular hero.  This can be a sword, a relic, or even part of the hero’s body.

Noble Phantasms

Noble Phantasms are powerful armaments made using the imagination of humans as their core, and weapons or abilities owned by Heroic Spirits. They are the embodiment of the ultimate mysteries of a hero that symbolizes his existence through historical facts and anecdotes. They can be physical weapons, such as swords, lances, and bows, or support items, such as rings and crowns. They can also be abstract concepts, like unique abilities, unique means of attack, curses, and changes to the environment and its physical properties. When summoned as Servants in the Holy Grail War, they are the trump cards of the heroes that allow them to overcome others in battle. Noble Phantasms represent the legends of Heroic Spirit. In other words, it would likely reveal their identity to other Masters if used.

There are a number of Noble Phantasms that display passive abilities that continue to function without any need to call out their names called continuously-active. For weapons that release a great attack, they only reflect their power upon having their true name called, so striking with them as regular armaments will only reflect the physical abilities of the wielder. They each possess a great amount of magical energy that show them being things "outside of normality", miracles exceeding both humanity and magecraft.

Command Spells

These spells, which appear as markings on the Master’s hand, are three claims of absolute obedience.  When used, it will force the Servant to obey a particular order, and may even warp reality slightly to allow the Servant to carry out an extraordinary task (such as teleporting to its Master, or boosting their mana necessary for a Noble Phantasm).  Once used, the Command Spell will disappear.

The Master must take careful consideration on when to use these.  Though a Contract will not end when all three are used, the Master no longer has any means of absolutely controlling their Servant—opening the possibility of their Servant turning on them.  Even if a Master forges a new contract with another Servant, they do not gain any additional Command Spells.

A Command Spell’s power can weaken if an order given is either too vague (“protect me throughout the war”,) or difficult (“win this battle”).  A command such as “Obey my every order from now on” will fail completely, but the Master will still lose their Command spell.

New Contracts

If a Master loses a Servant, they lose their Command Spells. When there is a Servant with no Master (who has died or foreited), the Grail will redistrubute Command Spells to someone that can act as a new Master. The Grail prioritizes those who were previously Masters that lost their Servants, so even Masters that have lost their Servant can still be considered part of the conflict.

A Master without a Servant can make a pact with an unclaimed Servant at will, even contracting with multiple unclaimed Servants (though this is hazardous due to magical energy consumption.) This also means that a Master can claim a new Servant regardless of the length of time since his last Servant.

Likewise, a Servant that loses their Master may still contract with a new Master as long as they remain in the world.  Without a Master giving them mana, they will quickly be drained of energy until death, so they have a narrow window of opportunity.

The Church

In order to ensure that the Holy Grail War does not become an all-out bloodbath, the Church was brought in to mediate the war and ensure strict rules are followed.  The Mediator is there to make sure citizens of the city are not made aware of the Servants and Masters, and that too much collateral damage is done to the city.

The Church—where the Mediator resides—is neutral ground, where Servants are forbidden from clashing.  The Mediator can be sought for guidance and advice regarding the nature of the Holy Grail War and its rules.  Additionally, a Master without a Servant can seek refuge at the church by forfeiting their rights to make any further contracts.

Damascus
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