Tag: magic


Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

 We return this week with, well, a few more magic systems. And to round them out, here’s a link to an old story of mine, which is as much overview of a magic system as it is creation myth: A Legend of Creation.

  1. The Multitudinous Way

The financial astrologers are not the only power in their world. In some opposition to them (not so much morally but ideologically, for their respective magics depend on wildly variant world-views) are those that consider themselves Icewalkers, or Driven, or Joktanists, or the followers of Ishmael’s Way, or nomad-princes.

There are three tools through which a Joktanist wields zir magic: wine, bowl, and dust. No cup will do to hold the wine, which may be of any quality, nor a deep plate, but only a bowl. The dust is tossed in (the more you put in, the more you get out) to fuel the spell, and once the bowl is struck or swirled to achieve movement the dust dissolves and the spell takes effect through the medium of the wine.

What exactly is done depends upon what kind of dust is used. Salt, for example, will imbue the wine with protective properties. It shields against harm such that, if placed on the doors of a house, it will make the building impregnable for a time. Ash-charged wine will ignite. Common earth will heal or repair.

Just as the financial astrologers lose something in return for their powers, though, so too do the Driven. Each of the nomad-princes has become what ze is because ze wanted freedom and wonder. In a dream ze pursued zir quarry— deer, man, RC car, or something else entirely— until it was caught and revealed itself to be the Dream of Kings (no accidental switching of order there) and granted zem power. As consequence, however, the Joktanists can never rest their heads in the same place more than once. No bed, cot, or sleeping bag can serve the same man again, nor building, lest the offender suffer nightmares all through zir sleep, and when ze stays in the same city for a full lunar month zir powers— but not the required nomadism— are lost until ze moves again.

Generally, financial astrologers want bigger cities and Icewalkers want smaller ones. Larger cities lend themselves to easier manipulation through ley lines, while smaller cities make things more flexible for the Icewalkers. Nevertheless, it is not unheard of for a financial astrologer to hire an Icewalker for some task.

  1. Stars and Sun

There are those who have sought out the power of the stars and made bargains with them upon the mountain-tops. To each of them a star comes. They speak, and deal one with another, and make their contract. To one that has made a stellar-pact there is given a small power. Through one star may be granted the power to relieve exhaustion, through another the power to turn steel back to untreated iron, and through a third the power to speak with mice. The number of powers and stellar-pacts to be had is as great as the stars themselves, for no star will refuse to come down and deal with the children of men.

But there is one cost that is ever the same, no matter the terms of the pact. The usage of this magic hollows out memories, emotions, and other aspects of the mind, leaving space for them to be infested with parasites of a spiritual nature. These parasites, perhaps proto-stars, are not malevolent, but neither are they benign; by natural consequence of their presence they warp their habitation, altering the mind of their host in ways that are small at first but grow greater in the course of time.

The sun, chief emperor among the stars, does not take part in these pacts, and neither have the stars ever been permitted to remain in the land except for the space of a few minutes. But there are those whose blood goes back to those times when the sun itself came down and tarried long, making merry with the sons of men, and the daughters of men. It bore children to the sons of men, and begot children by the daughters of men, and some of these lines have continued true to this day.

The power of these bloodlines is tied to the sun, coming with its rise and departing with its setting. Because of the rising and setting of their forebear they have internal clocks precise to a thousandth of a second, being able to tell time by the waxing or waning of their power. When the sun is risen they have not so much great strength as they do the ability to make other things weak, and simply by so choosing they can interact with matter as though it were warm butter, no matter whether it is granite, flesh, or steel. This power is theirs from birth but it does not affect others with the same heritage.

  1. Morospicy

This magic is as simply as it is horrific: the murder of a human being, under the right conditions, can give the killer a glimpse of another point in time and space. The more removed this point is in either time or space, the more deaths that are required, and changing both has a disproportionate effect. Viewing another location in the present is about as easy as viewing one’s present location in the past, though just a handful of deaths are necessary to glimpse a few minutes of one’s present location ten years hence.

It is possible, in theory, to glimpse everything, past, present and future. The number of deaths that would be required is unknown, but must surely be immense. It is possible that the population is not even large enough to accommodate make it possible yet. It is just as possible that a group of morospexes are patiently waiting through the centuries for the time when their order may make the necessary sacrifice or, if life extension is possible in the setting, that a single long-lived morospex has been killing through the centuries and saving zir charges in preparation for the day of revelation.

Each morospex has zir own necessary conditions, which can be anything from intoning a certain chant or to using a weapon inscribed with the right runes. These conditions can be discovered either by accident or by the intervention of another morospex using zir own conditions to view the future and see under what conditions someone is practicing morospicy.

R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available herefor free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction, and writes The Culture Column, an RPG.net column with cultures ready for you to drop into your setting. 

Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

Like everything, these ideas are free for the taking. Consider them to be public domain. Just… grab them, and use them, and stuff. That’s what they’re there for.

  1. Financial Astrology

Developed in the throes of the Great Depression, financial astrology is the art of using magic to make money, and using money to make magic. To those that have sworn the oaths, the signs of the stars unfold to their understanding. They are able to decipher the currents of the future, at least so far as it pertains to currency. The stock market becomes child’s play to them that have sold their eyes and their hearts to the great god Pluto, and the more learned among them can predict its changes to the minute.

What they do next is based upon a principle that everyone knows: Wealth shapes the world. Only the merchant-kings know how true that statement is, however. Currency has an effect on the ley lines of the world, which themselves have subtle effects on the environment when “plucked” by the presence of money. Where a ley line is plucked, and how strongly (that is, how much money is affecting it) determines what happens, so that the right amount in the right place can lead to decreased social stability in another city.

With the right plucks nearly anything can be done, with the caveat that ley lines influence only living organisms and not natural systems like the weather, and so the financial astrologers carefully manipulate the flow of money to get the changes that they want (which is not to say that others want it— they are not a unified lot). With enough money, ley lines can be plucked so severely that they actually shift in place.

The one thing about their condition that makes life difficult is that they cannot physically handle money. Credit cards and checks are okay, but actual money catches fire or melts in their hands, leaving them with dross (and burned hands).

  1. Orthosurgy

A system of magic based upon the principle of sympathy, using teeth and nails as foci. While teeth are reasonably potent and retain their power until destroyed, a single full nail is useful for no more than a couple of weak spells, to say nothing of a mere clipping. They may, however, be used for reanimation, whereas teeth can do nothing to one that has died (including those that have suffered death temporarily), and reanimation is not a terribly powerful spell. Full resurrection may require years of clippings, but to turn a corpse into a shambling walker bound to one’s will for a few weeks requires only a few nails.

However, whether they be teeth or nails foci must be taken, not given. This is why children leave offerings for the tooth fairy. It robs the leavings of their power by explicitly giving them out to anyone who would be interested in taking them.

The power of orthosurgy is a gift, however, twisted, and it must be passed on to another in order to persist. Without a declared heir, the death of an orthosurgeost permanently reduces their number by one. Heirs may not be replaced except in the case of premature death, so orthosurgeosts are careful about speaking the “naming words.” Orthosurgeosts become more inhuman as time goes on, first in mind and eventually in body. Among other things they are prone to developing slight kleptomaniacal tendencies, long fingers, and in some cases fingers without nails. Their teeth may change shape and their stomachs change, both in response to whichever diet the orthosurgeost prefers.

  1. Lychery

A kind of ritual magic that makes you the temporary channel for a Power, timeless things from outside existence. The exact ritual sets bounds on the Power and guides its actions toward the desired result: healing, transformation of the body, the unleashing of fire, or whatever other effect is desired.

Lyches know how to use preexisting magical patterns easily enough but experimentation is dangerous. The slightest error can give the Power summoned too much free reign or, if the binding is successful, force it to take an undesired action. Accordingly, innovation is very slow.

Another limitation is tied to candles, which are necessary to strengthen the invoked Power— it might be said that a Power is like a hole of a certain shape which supplies nothing of itself but determines the shape of whatever is put through it. Each candle adds to the potency at hand to make the spell 1.05 times greater than before.

Repeated channeling of Powers affects the body, most principally granting longevity. A lych’s mind is not equipped for this, however, and the weight of memory proves an eventual but inevitable strain. Suicide among very old lyches is common, as senility begins to settle in over the course of centuries. On the bright side, however, senility within the context of a conventional lifespan is far rarer, due to the efforts of lyches to ward off the effects of aging wherever they can, for as long as they can.

If you want some quick figures: 15 candles are necessary to make a spell 2.078 times as powerful as with one candle. 33 to reach 5.003x potency, 50 candles gives it a potency of 11.467x, and 93 candles before the potency overtakes the number of candles at a potency of 93.455x. 100 candles gives a potency of 131.501x and 200 gives a potency of 17,292.58x.

  1. Greensinging

In the earliest days of Man, he was taught language. The language that was taught him was the language of the world— of life and death, or connection and destruction, of bonds and the severing thereof— and Man’s teachers were the birds. But Man’s first act was to sever the bonds that were between him and the birds, so that they would hold no power over him, and ever since that time the birds have spoken no word that can be understood.

Or so goes the story of the langua verde, a peculiar tongue consisting of whistles and other sounds in marked similarity to bird song. Greensingers, or Green Men, sing songs of empathy and decay. The songs allow them to feel what others are feeling and transmit the same. Skilled Greensingers can learn how to feel falsely, to give fear when they are calm, or to calm the crowd though they have also been roused to anger. The songs also allow them to accelerate the natural processes of destruction by spying weaknesses, magnifying flaws, weakening strengths, and instilling, nurturing, and hastening all rot.

Your turn: What’s your favorite system of magic, and what do you like so much about it?

R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available herefor free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction, and writes The Culture Column, an RPG.net column with cultures ready for you to drop into your setting. 

Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

  1. Magic means that everyone is armed

You may recall that there is something of a debate going on in America about gun control. Imagine that this couldn’t even be a debate. Everybody had laser eyes and a third arm with rocket-propelled knife fingers. You could, conceivably, rip those eyes out and amputate that arm, but a lot of people would complain about that and you’d have a much harder time justifying it. Especially since this wouldn’t be seen as an abnormal state of affairs. (more…)

Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

Harry Potter, Night Watch, The Dresden Files… There are more than a few worlds with a society of wizards hiding in the shadows. Throw in masquerades of any supernatural sort, not just wizards, and you have most of the urban fantasy genre. (more…)

Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

This post originally appeared at The Oak Wheel on August 28th, 2014.

I’ll come right and say it: I’m tired of elemental systems that shamelessly rip from the Greek, Chinese, or Japanese, especially when they do so without really understanding what these people were getting at. Like, if you’re going to go with Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, would it kill you to read a little Empedocles, and maybe Aristotle or Proclus or something? Just doing that would give your system a blast of fresh air to differentiate it from the rest of the crowd.

But all this, it’s been done already. Like I want to say to every fantasy author who refuses to move beyond Tolkien, can we do something else now? I’m sure that somebody can play the old hat and make it look like new, but Sturgeon’s Law applies doubly-well when it comes to beating dead horses: most of it is sheer, undiluted crap.

The second half of this article will discuss some lesser-used elemental systems but first I want to discuss, you know, making your own. Discard your assumptions and everything you know or think you know about the universe. Get into the mindset of the culture that this system is embedded in, whether it’s magical or purely philosophical, and ask yourself “What would make sense to these people?”

Not everyone used the same elements. That’s why we have different systems to begin with. And— this cannot be emphasized enough— question all your assumptions. “Would they really think that this thing was fundamental or important, or is that just an idea that I’m bringing to the table?”

Limyaael gives a few examples of this philosophy in action: “Perhaps your own imaginary culture is very heaven-oriented, and chooses as the elements sun, stars, moons, and cloud. Perhaps the sky, earth, and sea are considered elements, and nothing else is, because nothing else is a place that humans can travel through. Perhaps snow and ice are important to northern cultures, but not to southern ones.”

But remember: “If you’re trying for a serious tone, the twee addition to elemental magic ruins it, especially when it has nothing in common with the other elements. Restrain yourself.”

Limyaael, incidentally, was (I think) referencing the Babylonian system in that second example of hers: it also included “wind,” for a total of four elements, and “sky” was analogous to the aether in the Greek system. It was non-terrestrial stuff (in one of my projects, where elementals seem to be partly influenced by cultural perceptions of their element, Sky elementals kind of resemble astronaut zombie things whose suits may only be “suits”).

There are three systems that I’ve dabbled notably in. The first is based on the Chinese Bagua or trigrams:  Heaven, Wind, Water, Metal, Earth, Thunder, Fire, and Wood. The second was written for an entry in my Culture Column series: Absence, (three-dimensional) Space, Sky, Fire, Earth, Water, and Flesh. As the article explains each one was thought to lead to the next, and the thought process manages to be both logical for the culture and pretty unlike anything else that I’ve seen before.

The third, which doesn’t have a good presence anywhere on the web, was very biocentric and based on Bone (inanimate substance), blood (animating force), flesh (animate substance), fear (the compulsion away from things), and desire (the compulsion toward things). The latter two come into play because, in a possibly materialistic twist on the concept, the mind was considered to be just as much a part of the world as anything else, and it was decided that everything could ultimately be understood as either “wanting to get something” or “wanting to avoid something.”

Flesh, or animate substance, could exist without an animating substance, as demonstrated by the existence of things like earthworms and jellyfish, which apparently didn’t have any blood to speak of. On the other hand, things that did have blood could be counted on to become inanimate if they lost too much, so obviously there were some beings that needed an animating substance and some that were solely Flesh.

(I’ve said it before, but feel free to take any of the ideas that I drop in public)

If you’d like some homework then here’s a project for you: Figure out a system used by a people who reasoned that if the universe was born from chaos or void, then the real fundamental elements were absences, not presences. Before fire there was cold. Before light, darkness.

What else would there be in this system?

IRL elemental systems

The classic (and Classical) elemental system is Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. Aether was added by Aristotle, who reasoned that because the first four elements were corruptible but no change had ever been observed in the Heavens, the universe beyond must be made of another, incorruptible “quintessence.”

Aristotle assigned as well special qualities to the basic four: Air and Fire were hot, Air and Water were wet, Earth and Fire were dry, and Earth and Water were cold. Proclus thought that the elements had special qualities but gave his own system: Fire was sharp, subtle, and mobile and Earth was blunt, dense, and immobile. These could be considered “more fundamental” than the other two because they were fully opposed and shared no qualities. Air and Water were almost transitional: Air was mostly like Fire but lost sharpness in exchange for bluntness and Water went one step further, losing subtlety to denseness.

Jābir ibn Hayyān left out Aether and added “the stone which burns,” sulphur (representing combustibility) and mercury (metallic properties). Paracelsus built upon Hayyān’s additions and discarded the original system entirely in favor of sulphur (flammability), mercury (volatility), and salt (solidity). In burning wood, mercury/cohesion left in the form of smoke, the fire was the manifestation of flammability (which acted upon the mercury/volatility in the wood), and what remained in the form of ash was the salt, or solidity, of the wood.

In some astrological systems, the opposing forces were Air/Water and Earth/Fire. The Tibetan system was like the Classical but the fifth element was (three-dimensional) Space.

The Japanese Godai, which were broader and more symbolic than the Classical: Earth was solid things, Water was all liquid, Fire was that which destroyed, Air was moving things, and Void was things that were outside of normal experience.

The Chinese Wu Xing were also symbolic, more steps in a process than ever-distinct substances, and they are often translated as “movements” or “phases.” Wood fed Fire, which created Earth, which held Metal, which was used to hold Water, which nourished Wood. On the other side, Wood (roots) divided the Earth, which absorbed Water, which quenched Fire, which melted Metal, which chopped Wood.

If you base your system off of either of these then see what you create when you keep in mind that they’re not just the Classical Greek system with an element or two added on or switched out.

What else could you draw on? Howabout:

  • The four (or five) humors: Sanguine/Blood, Melancholic/Black Bile, Phlegmatic/Phlegm, and Choleric/Yellow Bile (with the optional “Leukine,” associated with white blood cells). If you’re going for some kind of magic system, emotional powers based on the humors haven’t been overdone yet.
  • The four (or five) cardinal directions: North, East, South, and West (with the optional “Center”). This may seem weird but if you’re inspired by the Tibetan emphasis on Space then you can be assured of having fresh territory to trod if you figure out how to base the elements entirely on Space.
  • The seven chakras: Time/Space, Dark/Death, Aether/Light/Life/Lightning, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.

“My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance. But that all changed when the Nitrogen Republic attacked…”

Your turn: What’s another elemental system that you’ve found or made yourself?

Posted on by Steven Savage

(Steve here – one of our regulars, “Solarius Scorch,” aka Michal, and I talked about him doing a little writing for the Sanctum.  He’s got a killer discussion here of magic and economics, and writes both fiction and fanfic.  Get ready to see your worldbuilding a bit differently . . .)

“Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed have followed us to the stars, and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.”

– Nwabudike Morgan, „The Ethics of Greed” [Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri]


As we know, humans (and human-like beings) are not rational in their decisions and actions. This irrationality means their choices are not always correct nor optimal, as defined by whatever measure we apply: wealth, happiness, reason or anything else. This is because we have various goals of different natures: we have material needs, emotional needs, preconceptions and simple desires, which often conflict with one another. Thus, people aren’t always rational… but they are always economical. (more…)

Posted on by Steven Savage

Magic And Technology

[Way With Worlds appears at Seventh Sanctum and at MuseHack]

Last column, I looked at writing magic and technology for your setting – and noted that in many ways for the sake of world building they could be treated the same.  I still believe that, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the differences as well.  Or perhaps  I should say “areas of variance,” as it gets complicated, but more on that shortly.

I believe it’s important to loo at differences, as in too many cases creating the magic and/or technology for a setting treats them as the same for all the wrong reason – as opposed to the right ones.  Technology easily becomes hand-woven neutron particle miracle rays, a mythology with lab tools and circuit boards.  Magic can get systematized or explained in such a way it either is technology, or is really just magic wearing technologies clothes and wandering around looking out of place.

So, having suggested that you have to look at them as similar for the sake of worldbuilding, I now want to deal with when you have to look at them differently.  Yes, this may produce writing whiplash, but who said worldbuilding was going to be boring and straightforward?  I certainly didn’t promise that.

Think of it as general and specifics.  In general, they’re the ways people change and affect the world.  In specifics, well . . . (more…)

Posted on by Steven Savage

Magic And Technology

[Way With Worlds appears at Seventh Sanctum at at MuseHack]

We’ve all heard the saying that goes “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” made by the incomparable Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

I would ad a corollary, especially in the worlds of world building (and perhaps in an age of mind hacking and psychological techniques, our own).  “Any sufficiently organized magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

Because when you world build, you’re getting things organized in your head to explain how they work.  In the case of Magic and Technology, they’re really the same thing most of the time. Not entirely, but mostly.

Now you may wish to argue with this, but for the sake of building a setting, magic and technology are no different.  I would state that magic and technology are the ways characters manipulate themselves and the elements of their settings to achieve results fitting a specific goal – and thus really no different.

Vaccum tubes and potions, ethereal forces and electrical energy, it’s all about Making Stuff Happen.  So for the rest of this essay, I’ll just call it MaT since I can’t figure any other word to encompass the two of them, and I won’t call it MT as it invites innumerable jokes.

As a world builder, you just have to figure out what it all means.  That’s when it gets complicated. (more…)

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