Advanced Magicks for the unwary
This post was written in response to a question (thread) on the LeCraft Updates Facebook group.
“What do the Magi actually *do* in the game?”
This question is much like the real-life everyday example of the uninitiated asking what does a scientist or an academic actually do? For the outsider (in both cases) it seems as if very little is being done, for they only see the results or the outgoing costs of the processes but not what the activity itself consists in. It may not even be the case that these processes are obscure or occult, but that the effort to learn about them is beyond the interest of the uninitiated questioner. To be sure (in both cases) to actually learn about the real depth of the work done requires a personal experience with the process itself, something that is not a possibility for the majority. Indeed, this is something that ‘pop science’ does not help either, because although the number of popular scientific commentators might help improve the general scientific knowledge of the otherwise uninitiated (specifically knowledge of the outcome, i.e. what science has accomplished) it doesn’t detail the arduousness of the endeavour, understandably perhaps, as long stories about why something did not work probably aren’t all that interesting for the common non-expert listener. In my own setting the ‘common’ knowledge of magick is not helped by the increasing pressure on the regulation of magick. What we might refer to as ‘specialisation’ in academia would be an equivalent to the focus upon magickal studies in LeCraft. Some of this is driven by the decrease in magickal power in the world, that is, its influence and/or the strength to control magick is lessening. However, this is not treated as a loss or catastrophe or in any way seen as a devolution to something more primitive. Instead it is seen as the world becoming less dependent on a dangerous source of power. So, the institutes accept less magus adepts each year and the rules governing intuitives are becoming harsher, while magick use in general is more restricted in everyday life, reserved, as it is, for the trained specialist only. There are still those born as sensitive to magickal energy, but without training they merely experience weird phenomena; having prophetic dreams, objects move or disappear, and so forth, they are also generally attractive to the denizens of the Down Below as hosts or food. Indeed, as magick fades, so do the protective barriers between the everyday realm of LeCraft and its dark ‘mirror’ dimension.
What then is the practice of magick like for the magus themselves? They are involved with the investigation on the control and understanding of magick much like science attempts to further understand processes. Thus, only those doing research magick, we might say, are experimenting with magick. There are recorded successful practices much like any sort of research is basis on prior investigations. We have and use certain formula in our scientific experiments, which may later be corrected. This is how magick can be thought of working. So, there exist basic 'tricks' that every student of magick learns, which are signposts for how learned they are as a practitioner, but the aim of most of the magi is to understand one thread of the complex magickal tapestry they all study with the hope that this fragmentary knowledge can be combined into some sort of holistic understanding.
Perhaps you are still seeing this magick as research to help create better fireballs, or typical fantasy D&D fodder. If so, the best manner to describe it would be to say that sometimes the outcome of a magickal procedure (spell being outdated, not all magick is linguistic) might manifest as the creation of new matter or the transformation of existing matter and many other more outrageous effects, but the focus of the magick itself was to detail the complex interaction of forces in an effort to understand how this power source might be reapplied.
My motive for the game and the difference from traditional D&D fantasy, is to compare preternatural and supernatural, it is a world bent against mythical heroic figures and towards the everyday horrors of existence, albeit in a fantastical world that nevertheless still operates under similar laws of reality despite its alien nature.
Supernatural: Beyond or above the laws of nature. Something outwith ordinary existence. A transcendent being that defies normal laws, i.e. a divine capacity à la God.
Preternatural: Something that is apparently inexplicable by natural means. Unexplained and uncanny, but of this world. Exceeding the natural but not exceeding the laws of nature itself.
So, the laws of physics are not being broken or ignored, such as paradoxical magic might. Instead, the influence of those laws are being manipulated into extension. For many fantasy settings physical problems such as “how could a dragon fly?” are explained by “because magic.” This is not enough for the preternatural world of LeCraft.
A second question, initiated by the first, goes something like, “how does the practice of magick affect everyday life for the non-magi majority?”
The experiments of the magi are not without application. Indeed, some believe that the magi have not gone far enough with this activity and they have developed various systems for incorporating magicks into everyday LeCraft life. Albeit with mixed (normally dangerous/fatal) results. The Battle-Mage and the Techno-Mage (better names pending) are two such examples of ‘reality engineers’. They are considered dangerous amateurs by the magi and are discredited by the institutes at every opportunity. However, they have managed to replicate the process to create automatons, design moving platforms (“you might call them transport, but we think ‘moving platform’ just sounds better!” – a reality engineer), and manufacture weaponry to defend people from alien creatures. It’s just that sometimes these inventions also open gates to the ‘Down Below’ or explode, killing dozens, or just flat-out break…
Finally, the full question was specifically about what the magi do when they are not “doing magick.” The answer is pretty straightforward. What do scientists do when not researching? Well, that depends on the scientist. Remember, however, that as exceptional as each player character will be, they are not mythic heroes. They are ‘normal’ people who are being drawn into (willingly or not) a dangerous adventure/mystery. Typically, our player characters will have some obsession with a particular secret or so forth that dominates their lives anyway, but some of them will have all the usual sorts of distractions.