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Thursday, 16 February 2017

Game Day: LeCraft - Magick and the Magus

Introduction to Magick

Magick* is a powerful form of power that is seemingly both matter and energy, sometimes one, sometimes neither, and sometimes both. This force can be harnessed and controlled at will by magickally attuned and correctly trained people. Utilising this source, the magus is able to enact change upon other existent matter and energy. It is seemingly also able to transform itself into 'normal' matter or energy under correct conditions. It is considered the radix of all life energies and therefore the source of existence itself. Basically, it is the malleable, although highly dangerous, 'building blocks' of reality and can therefore be used to change existing structures, forms, and reactions.

The 'tides of magick'

Almost all sapient creatures in LeCraft have the capability to utilise magick (all except the Kuôn and, to an extent, the automatons, but most don't consider them sapient anyway). However, this is dependent on the individual being 'attuned' to the flow of magickal power. It is possible for someone non-attuned to become attuned, f.e. being exposed to a large dose of magickal energy and so forth.

It is believed, and is possible, that the level of attunement was much higher years ago (the amount of years is disputed) and that the strength of magickal power is fading in the world. However, this has not been properly measured (although many are working on it) and cannot be confirmed, but it is  still widely believed that in the early days, i.e. during the Untold War, that everyone was a magus!

For the most part, the only place one can go to receive training in magick is in one of the magus schools. Fortunately, there is a magus school prominently within every one of the nine city states. Indeed, it is most likely that the schools are the reason for each of the city states existence, location, and so forth. Although all magus schools cover all the techniques of magick use, still each has a specialisation or has a particular focus of studies. Simply put, I see the magus schools as representing an idealised academia! However, rather than running with a straight analogy of university departments (Terry Pratchett) or school subjects (J.K. Rowling), instead I wish to create with LeCraft something believably 'other'. Recognisable as a method of study and practice, but not created for the needs of satire, something that seems like a 'fourth science' or new art-form.

Few, if any, know of the true origins of magick. Although the speculation upon this forms the basis of what is called 'meta-magicks', which is the theoretical study of magickal power and is typically the beginning point of a magus' career.

Systemising Magick

I'd started creating this depiction of magick in a fairly traditional manner, with a variety of 'schools' of magick each with a specific form or focus, i.e. something like alchemy, a school that focuses upon mind control and trickery, and so forth. I might post this list later on, but as suggested above, I've come to see this system as lending too much of an 'earthly' sensibility about it. So, I started thinking about the basics of how the system might work.

With so many potential 'types' of magick it would have been a ridiculous task (but not unusual) to list all the available spells particular to a form magick that are possible, but with around ten or more schools of magick this would have required mountains of research and writing, not least to make sure nothing is copied from another system, accidental or not.

Instead of that, I intend to keep it more open-ended, adaptable, and with the emphasis on creative engagement. Certainly I will list the sorts of things that can be done; offer outlines for power-level limits, note that these can be broken in certain circumstances, give certain well-known or famous examples of feats of magick and so forth.

So, that's a game mechanics comment. This is more concept. Magick as science is not a new idea, nor do I intend to provide something brand new. In a sense, the idea is to show magick fitting into a realistic (but fantastical) setting. The more I think about technological progress and its influence upon our lives, I can't help but imagine how a source of power as great as magick (in your typical high-magick fantasy setting) would shape the development of humanity in other ways. As technology is so pervasive in our lives, so magick is a component part of these 'others' existence. In this world, magick corrupts and drawing from it too frequently eventually damages and weakens the user, but the promise of immediate power is (as we know) just too tempting for most. I don't want to draw it too close to addiction parallels, but rather highlight the inherent shortsightedness of those in power and the seemingly inability we have to break away from our technological 'crutches'.

The use of Magick

This might give some idea of how I see magick being used 'in game'. It is to be less of the casual throw-away powers of D&D magic users or the unlimited usage of Harry Potter and his Wizarding World. The invocation of magick costs the user and I don't just mean in terms of points of spell allowance or in any game system manner, rather, there is a tremendous personal risk and potential physical and mental price to be paid.

Magick needs study, needs knowledge, but most importantly needs a reason to be used. It is dangerous, fatal even, to throw around magickal 'spells' without proper care. This is a very flimsy metaphorical description for how I envisage 'proper' academic or creative endeavour. That is, I think we go wrong when we rush through something without care. I'm not saying that there aren't 'happy accidents' in art or even science for that matter, but that comes about from constant diligent work. There is no 'fairy dust' magic (without the k!) of creativity.

This, unfortunately, means that the magick of LeCraft is likely to be less 'flashy' than in typical fantasy games, but I hope it can prove to be more resonate and thrilling because of its needful focus. Casting a 'spell' in LeCraft can therefore be a very slow, labourious process, potentially taking many hours or days of dedicated research.

How Magick is learned and controlled

I won't go into detailing the differences between the magick schools yet, mainly because this will come about as part of each city states description as well. Also, because despite their focal differences their formation and general running remains fairly similar, this is also because the schools keep in contact with each other (somewhat unwillingly, it must be said). They are important sociopolitical centres, whether they like it or not, and although the banal day-to-day running of society bores them, they are concerned with the overall development of the world that they are all part of. As such, each head of school, the prime, is considered a major player in their local politics. Also, the various heads of schools elected one of themselves to be the supreme magus for certain magick-based decisions concerning the ethics of studies and such like. It should be noted that this arrangement is mostly administrative and the role changes hands every few years. The role of prime magus within a school is dependant on that school's historic arrangements, typically this also changes after a certain time, but some primes have been in charge of their school for decades.

Each magick school is a learned society, with a variety of specialists teaching their own area of expertise and leading research in said area. These subjects are divided into discipline or sections based on the area of study and research and each section has a lead magus, and the school run by a prime magus, whom the section leaders report to. The leaders of their discipline probably do the most to organise the daily schedule of study, research and training throughout their sections, however, as the prime is ultimately responsible they tend to be kept rather busy with constant requests and inquiries. Each specialist represents many years of study and is an expert in their particular field of investigation. Each school's own curriculum is different, being based on the style of the prime magus in charge, with some taking a very linear progression and others being rather more care-free or tailored to the individual. Initially, however, the early study at all schools focus upon meta-magick, as this forms the basis for all magickal understanding.

Structure, Forms, and Focus

The unnatural sciences of the magickal world take various levels of detail, from abstract to practical. Starting with meta-magicks, which attempts to describe the theoretical basis for magickal power, the ethics of its use, and detailing magickal formula.

  • Structure = Channeling (matter, energy, interactions)
  • Forms = Enacting (methods of use; art, linguistics, movements, numerology, will)
  • Focus = Effect (outcome desired, these are manifold and included but are not limited to; artefacts, control, creation, destruction, divination, healing, manipulating physical forces, protection, summoning, transformation, travelling, and etc.

In game terms, meta-magick, structure, forms, and focus would be rated abilities or characteristics, possibly between 0/1-9, indicating levels of knowledge or strength. As a nexus discipline, meta-magick, should always be of equal or higher value than the other disciplines being used, even if meta-magick itself is not part of the required casting, without this the magick becomes 'unbalanced' and adds a greater risk to the attempt. (cf. 'the use of magick')

In terms of organisation at the schools, this means that the different disciplines; theoretical, structural, formal, and focal are part of separate areas of research, but that a specific research project will tend to be multi-disciplinary and incorporate several specialist magi working in collaboration. Although this only comes about once each specialist magus has made extensive advances in their own disciplinary area. Indeed, the idea of a magus been a 'generalist' is traditionally frowned upon, although there is an increasing movement among the young magi towards this approach. This is also motivated by the increasing prominence of the 'intuitives', those who can cast magick without the traditional training or apparent concern about the ramifications.

Trained and Intuitive magick users

Not all those that use magick have been trained at one of the magus schools, in the wilds there are those that are called 'intuitives' who can shape and use magick at will. This type of magickal practice had been made illegal in most city states and, depending on the ruler, can result in the harshest of punishments.

Although considered a new and dangerous (and much feared) phenomenon, intuitives have been around as long as magick has been utilised by sapient species. I'll go into this in greater detail at a later date, but the idea behind how the intuitive 'works' is via a bond with a type of magickal structure (to use the magi term). There are three classes of intuitive related to their respective bonds.

  • Materiality (natural) = fundamental elements of matter, in LeCraft there are considered to be six; earth, air, fire, water, aether, and void. Someone with this bond is called a Wildward or Elemental and has a link to the natural world. They are guardians of wild remote places, despise cities and conventional society, and live in isolated cultish communities. They are rumoured to partake of hideous blood rituals, sapient sacrifice, inbreeding, and cannibalism.
  • Psychical = relating to the totality of sapient minds, conscious and unconscious. There is also a belief, among these intuitives and their supporters, in their connection with an immortal energy field connected to the living being, also known as the soul and the realm of the afterlife. These intuitives are seers and healers, that live among and are popular with country folk, who call them Augurs.
  • Unnatural =  somehow bound to the Down Below, which is a form of hidden or mirror reality to LeCraft's own and a 'shadowy' mirror at that. Occultist is normally the kindest term used to describe these wretches. Those who have willing bonded with unknown dark forces are rightly considered the enemies of all other sapient species, they have traded their dignity for power and have betrayed all that is good in the world. Some, however, find they have this link unwillingly. These unluckiest of beings must struggle to control the literal beast within them.

Mage, Mágos, and other names

*Firstly, why magick and not magic? Well, I've also considered majik... but basically this naming convention is because of real-life Lovecraft character Aleister Crowley, who used the term to distinguish his brand of occultism (i.e. the cult of thelema) from the 'usual' kind. I suppose I'm grabbing some of this cachet.

I've also settled on Magus/Magi rather than the simpler term Mage(s) because it is so familiar and well-used in fantasy fiction and gaming. Magus comes from Persian and Latin and is closer related to the ancient Greek word than the modern Mage (see the title for the Greek term). It adds, I hope, an antiquarian feel to the name and the world.

Next time: Sapient species in LeCraft

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