Tantra, to those who follow its philosophy, is the belief that the entire multiverse is a tangible manifestation of the divine energy that permeates everything, creates everything, and binds everything together. To a tantrist, the ultimate exercise of divine power is to use the mortal microcosm (the "universe within the self") to exert control over the macrocosm of the rest of the multiverse. Monks and psychic warriors are the major practitioners of tantra, though many physically-minded mages may also dabble in it.
History and Founder
In actuality, tantra is not a single, coherent set of philosophical beliefs, but actually several belief systems with similar ideas, all of which end with the same desire: to use mastery of the body as part of an exercise in exerting mastery over the rest of the multiverse. Just about every culture has some aspect of this style, though some are more martially-minded than others.
Through meditation and careful training of the body, a tantrist may not only use the physical body to interact with an control the rest of the universe. With enough skill and dedication of focus, a tantrist may actually become a raw manifestation of divine power, channeling it and becoming one with it. This is done through careful physical training techniques, through stretching exercises, through breathing techniques and control, through special gestures and postures, through the use of ritual mantras, and through symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the universe, such as mandalas. In some versions of tantra (commonly called "left-handed tantra"), sexual intercourse is used as a form of meditation, with similar use of postures, breathing techniques, and extreme body training and control put into use as part of these erotic meditations. Tantra itself is quite neutral in its outlook on the world - it is simply a method for drawing power into oneself from the rest of the cosmos through control of the cosmos as it connects with the body. How it is used depends on the individual practitioner. Neutral tantrists simply seek power and control for their own sakes, as a means unto themselves. Good-aligned tantrists see the presence of pain and evil in the world as an infection in the cosmic body of the multiverse, and actively seek to reduce the suffering of others, so as to bring that cosmic body into proper accord, thus allowing these practitioners to attain even greater attunement with the rest of the cosmos. Evil tantrists seek to exploit the cosmic energies of others as much as the rest of the universe for their own selfish ends.
Reactions and Reputation
Most people have heard of tantra, but only because of its reputation as training its practitioners in how to have good sex. Much of the religious scripture of tantra often uses sexual courtship as a metaphor for becoming one with the divine energies of the cosmos, even when actual sexual intercourse is not a part of that variety of tantra's normal practices. Since these scriptures are usually illustrated, this leads many to come to a misunderstanding about the style. Left-handed tantra has an even more lurid reputation, though it, as well as less sexually-oriented tantra, does produce surprising results of physical, mental, and spiritual prowess which most cannot deny after they have seen them put into action. Thus, tantrists have a reputation that is at once sordid and serious in the rest of the world, titillating and intimidating, creating an interesting duality.
Where to Receive Training
Tantra is commonly taught only in a religious setting, such as special monasteries devoted to the subject. The drow are especially fond of left-handed tantra, as are the turos of Dukeros in the Freeholds of Autumn Country. There are a few stray practitioners to be found about, but they are few and far between generally requiring a pilgrimage to a proper place of training. Once there, an aspirant must forsake all worldly goods, and then pledge complete devotion to the monastery and the practice of tantra for the duration of training, however long that might take. These monasteries are usually self-contained communities, and the influx of new students is how they maintain themselves, thus making these monasteries rather willing to accept new inductees, so long as they are willing to abide by the rules of an individual monastery or tantric community. However, since tantra is a very cerebral style, many do not complete their training, or require many years before they even begin to attain some basic understanding.
Most commonly, tantrists prefer to get in as close as possible to their opponents when they fight, so that they can better manipulate the energies of their foes with those of their own bodies. Thus, tantrists tend to excel in the grappling arts, preferring locks, submission holds, and the use of pressure points to cause disruptions in the bodies of those that they fight. Some very focused tantrists may even learn how to project their cosmic selves into distance attacks, or through weapons, so as to use these other methods to interact with the cosmic selves of their opponents. Surprisingly, however, most tantrists, even the evil ones, usually prefer not to kill their opponents if at all possible, since this causes ripples in the cosmos that can be somewhat disruptive to their efforts in achieving unity with the macrocosm of the universe. This does not prevent them from killing, but simply means that tantrists are less eager to do so than many other sorts of combatants.