Welcome to another installment of the project that never
ends. I've decided to change my
organization style a little bit to take on "magicians" all at once
instead of spread out over Magic of the Lower Air and Magic of the
Underworld. For one thing, I realized
there was still more Magic of the Land that didn't quite fit the mold of the
earlier article. For another thing, I'm
hideously disorganized, so that's just the way I roll.
Ways of Magic
The Land provides power to kings. The Stars provide destiny to Men. But there are other powers and principalities
in Creation, and those who learn their secrets can become powerful, or go
mad. Men call them wizards and witches,
sorcerers and shamans, or sometimes darker names.
Wizards, by whatever name, are set apart from other men by
knowledge. They know secrets, both
arcane and mundane. They seek out
knowledge known to no other. Their
knowledge is their power and often their downfall, because there are things Man
should not ken.
Not all wizards have the same secrets, and not all men who
know any secrets would choose to call themselves wizards. The smith who sings the songs of fire and
iron and blood as he hammers ore into a blade has found a secret, likely taught
to him by his master long ago, but he may very well know no others and would
never think to learn them.
The bow bends as your back must bend.
The string holds, as your will must hold.
The shaft is straight, as your sight must see.
The fletchings are of falcon's feather, better to hunt.
The falcon strikes not where the rabbit is, but where he
You do also.
-- A huntsman's rhyme.
The simplest magic, used by practically everyone, is the
magic of harmony.
The Spirits of Land
and Lower Air follow patterns and forms.
Even without knowing their languages, it is possible to interact with
them in minor ways.
In fact, it is
impossible not to.
The spirits are
everywhere, suffusing everything.
magic of the common man is built upon harmony with the spirits.
The Smith knows how to appeal to fire and
The farmer knows how to appease
the spirits of the Land and those of his crops.
The mother is familiar with the spirits of the hearth and asks them to
keep her barins healthy.
Gamespeak: Common magic is just skills, at least at
the beginning. There will be some sort
of mechanism for really magical uses of skills.
A normal smith can make a sword.
A magical smith (or a wizard) can make a sword that can slay a dragon.
When we talk about the Starborn later on, we'll see
something similar with them, I think.
The main thing for now is to get the idea that the way this
world works is that spirits are part of everything. A fish really does participate in the
category of "fish," as Socrates would have said. So when people manipulate their environment,
they're doing "magic" in a small sense.
Hedge MagicThe bitter draught cures many ills
-- Old proverb
Somewhere near every village is a hermit's hut or a witch's
cottage. Here, the small folk may go to
intercede for help with the spirit world.
So-called "hedge wizards" are often not very powerful, as the
mighty masters of magic reckon such things, but they can heal simple hurts and
prepare minor charms and potions.
Hedge magic is often drawn from local Spirits of the Land
rather than any spirits of the lower Air.
It is sometimes drawn from no spirits at all. A wise old woman can dispense advice that seems
supernatural, but is really nothing more than the benefit of years of
experience. That same woman probably
knows every plant in the nearby forest, and which will cure a fever or cause a
Most often, hedge wizards have no power to compel spirits. They can bargain with those they can see, and
they know what those spirits want and what they fear. Some of this knowledge is useful everywhere,
but much of it is strictly local. As
such, hedge wizards are often rooted to one spot, a locus of power where they
have struck pacts with local powers and learned the simple secrets of the
people around them.
The Hedge Wizard's tricks:
- Healing craft and herb lore, and natural knowledge.
- Gossip: Often,
Hedge wizards have spirits of one sort or another to collect intelligence for
them. This is generally passive
watching, rather than active spying.
Besides that, the hedge wizard is often someone respected for wisdom, so
people tell him things.
- Spiritual favors:
Anyone can learn to bargain with the local Spirits of the Land, and most
people at least learn to live with them.
Hedge magicians learn their habits and manners, and can interact with
them more easily than other people. This
primarily involves learning what minor Spirits want, what they fear, and where
they can be found. If the local mischievous
sprites can't abide the presence of iron, then a Hedge magician who knows this
fact can ward his home against the faeries for the price of a sack of old
nails. If he knows they can be trapped
in wicker baskets when they're drunk, and that they can't resist the lure of honey
mead, then he has a way to force them to do his bidding. That could be dangerous, but useful. Bribery can also be efficacious.
- Minor powers: In
their truck with Spirits of the Land, some hedge wizards earn or buy
supernatural abilities. These will vary
widely depending on what the local Spirits of the Land have to offer.
- Speech with the dead: Hedge wizards probably pick up a
little about how to deal with Spirits of the Underworld, particularly those
that manifest without being summoned.
Gamespeak: Hedge magic is minor magic that just
about anyone might know a little bit of.
In fact, the real keys are perfectly mundane skills with supernatural,
or seemingly supernatural, applications.
A hedge wizard is likely to use his Etiquette (Barrowmen) skill to do
stuff like bargain with the Barrowmen to find lost sheep or to fight
enemies. Anybody else in the village
could do the same thing, but they're prevented because (a) they're afraid of
the Barrowmen, or (b) they don't know what they can use to curry the
Barrowmen's favor. Mechanically, this
isn't stuff the hedge wizard has on his sheet, but to any superstitious
peasant, it's plenty magic enough.
Hedge wizards are likely to have hit up any local spirits
for supernatural abilities, if such things are available. For instance, if there were a Spirit of the
Land who could convey the power of true seeing by kissing one's eyes, a hedge
wizard is the person in the area who's likely to know that, and know how to ask
the Spirit for the power without getting cursed or killed for his trouble.
Those powers will probably be some kind of
Advantages/Disadvantages with pretty straight-forward rules, and would be available
to anyone who took the correct actions.
It's just that a hedge wizard is more likely than anyone else to know
what the correct actions are.
High WizardryJared Dun was the seventh of seven brothers. When each of his brothers had reached his
naming day and asked the village god for a gift, they had asked for strength of
arm; sharpness of eye; for swords that would not blunt; for courage that would
not quit; for limbs that would not tire; for fortunes that would not fail. But Jared Dun asked "May I always know
what I need to know." His brothers
mocked him for his weak gift.
In the neighboring valley, there was a king who's daughter
had come under a curse, and together with her the whole valley. Everyone slept in endless sleep, circled
round by great thorn vines. Thus it had
been for all of Jared's life. And
practically every young man tried his luck to enter the enchanted wood to free
the princess. But no matter how strong
their arms or sharp their eyes or swords, no matter how tireless their limbs or
their courage, they could not pass the thorns.
After Jared Dun was named, he took up his staff with a
bundle of his meager possessions and assayed the dark wood. Although there was little movement, he could
hear the songs of birds, and Jared Dun reasoned that if the birds could move through
sleep and thorny vines, might he not as well?
Whistling the song of the birds, he entered the wood, which parted
There came he to the castle gates, which were locked. But Jared Dun reasoned that all locks opened
with a key, and if he had one key, might it not be persuaded to open many
locks? He took an old iron key from his
pack and whispered to it "Open," and the key opened the ancient lock.
Onward, Jared Dun walked, whistling his birdsong, and the
vines parted before him. Where they
parted, they revealed rich hangings, piles of coin, and the possessions of a
wealthy king. At last, Jared found the
princess, who slept on in a bower, perfectly preserved except for a wound on
her finger where she'd pricked it on a spindle.
Jared reasoned that the wound was magical, and if it were treated, she
might awaken, and with her all the others.
But then did Jared Dun reason further. He knew this magical wood must have been the
work of a powerful Lord or Lady of the Fey, who would likely be offended to see
his work undone. So Jared Dun left the
princess to sleep, with naught but a kiss.
He filled his pack with coins and jewels and returned from whence he
came, and at the edge of the wood, he buried three coins as payment to the lord
of the wood.
So-called "High Wizardry" is only a few short
steps from simpler hedge wizardry. They
are steps that few people take, though.
Much that magic can accomplish can be accomplished more easily by
strength or human cunning. The rewards
of wizardry are long in coming.
"Wizardry" itself is a difficult term to pin down. Wizards learn to deal with all manner of
spirits, and thus no single wizard knows more than a fraction of all the
Spirits of the Lower Air: Wizards who learn the secrets of
the Lower Air master the powers of the physical world. They can call down fire, dissolve into
clouds, heal wounds, and the like. This
is accomplished through knowledge, rather than supernatural will. A wizard learns the ways of different
spirits, and ultimately their special languages, which he may divine through
meditation, study of ancient texts and natural philosophy, and the revelations
of the stars. At the last, a wizard
transcends mere mortal knowledge and can understand things as the spirits do. Then, he can call upon spirits, compel them,
bind them, and use them for his own ends.
Such arts have limits.
A spirit can not be summoned where none exist. Nor can one be commanded to do things beyond
its personal ken. Thus, a wizard of fire
might need a raging bonfire o're which to work his arts, and he could bend a
spirit of flame to the task of burning something, but not to the task of
knitting wool into cloth. If a true
example of a Spirit's bailiwick cannot be produced, a symbolic representation
will suffice, but the true thing is almost always to be preferred.
A wizard can command a spirit in almost any way inside these
limits. Classically, the commands
wizards give fall into these groups:
- Banishment: forcing a spirit to leave an area. Banishing a spirit ends that spirit's
influence. If the Spirit of a fire is
banished, the fire will flicker and die, although it might catch again and have
a new spirit. If the Spirit of a city is
somehow banished (no easy feat), then the city would die. In time, no stone would be stacked upon another. Although it is far more likely that the
banishment would end before the city fell.
For a banishment to be permanent, the wizard would have to find some way
to make his pronouncement permanent as well.
- Binding: trapping a spirit in a place, person, or
object. Spirits do not always object to
this treatment. Binding by itself is a
useful way to trap a spirit that has become hostile or dangerous, but it is
more often used in the creation of magical tools. Spirits can be most easily bound into objects
similar to their own natures. Thus, a
fire spirit might be bound into a lamp easily, an iron sword with a bit more
effort, but only into a milk pail with the greatest of difficulties.
- Service: forcing a spirit to do something. A spirit can exert influence directly over
its bailiwick. It can control, aid,
change, or harm that bailiwick. Powerful
spirits can create or destroy their bailiwicks.
Spirits can also scry on things at a distance, after a fashion. They are only really aware of their environments
in the most basic ways, though. A cloud
spirit can see all the Land beneath its cloud, but it doesn't really
/recognize/ that land in the way a human would, so asking a cloud spirit to
describe what it sees is like to be an exercise in frustration.
- Summoning: Calls a spirit to the fore. Normally, spirits of the Lower Air are
content to follow their functions without notice of human activity. A spirit must be Summoned before it can be
interacted with in any other way.
- Warding: Warding prevents spirits of a given kind from
entering an area, person, or object.
Warding is a useful way to provide defense. However, Wards have limited strength. A wizard would have to expend great effort to
ward the bottom of a lake against water, likely far more than any one wizard
(or even a dozen) could muster.
The practice of the magic of the Lower Air always requires
at least speaking, and sometimes a great deal more. The more complex or powerful a command, the
more difficult it is to communicate.
Thus, a wizard who wanted to create a castle out of empty air might need
to appeal to spirits of stone through a lengthy ritual in which he invokes
symbols, makes sacrifices, dances, and chants for days. The duration of a spirit's command depends on
how permanently it is invoked. Spoken
words will compel weak spirits for days and strong ones for only hours or
minutes. Written runes last longer, and
carving in stone or metal lasts longer yet.
Wizards of different lands use different methods and trappings, but the
end effects are generally the same.
Gamespeak: This is the bones of a freeform magic
system. I am very fond of the one from
Buffy, and if I end up building this, mine will be similar. A wizard can generate any effect he can think
of, but he'll need three things.
- He'll have to know the right language. In a system with a lot of skills, each kind
of spirit could have a different language skill. In a lighter system, there will still have to
be some kind of limit for that.
- He'll have to have the time and resources to do the
necessary spell. The bigger, more
powerful, or more complex the effect, the more effort it will take to
"explain" to the spirit.
- He'll have to be able to scribe the spell in a way that
will last long enough. There are some
options here: carving in stone, repeating endlessly, etc... For simple, quick effects, just a few words
and a gesture will be enough anyway.
A few classics:
- Fireball: Pretty simple.
Get a fire spirit and tell it to blow something up.
- Flight: A wind spirit can make you fly on the winds.
- Transmutation: A spirit of whatever you want to transform
something into can, with great effort, transform it. The further removed the target state is from
the original state, the harder it is.
Turning a prince into a frog until a princess kisses him is a massive
effort. The wizard who can do such a
thing is not to be trifled with.
- Scrying: essentially involves communication with a spirit
who can go where you want to see.
Sympathetic links help you scry on specific people.
- Invisibility: Pretty hard for the magic of the Lower
Air. Spirits of darkness or fog could
conceal you under limited circumstances.
Wizards who can do this might be using different magics. Spirits of the Land can turn invisible, and
might grant that power in return for some sort of favor. Spirits of the Underworld can probably also
turn invisible, or at least make people not want to notice them.
- Cursing: A curse brought about by a Wizard probably
involves placing some sort of spirit mark on the subject so that one or more
classes of spirits are hostile to him. A
sufficiently vexed Wizard could blight a town's crops, make it so that a
warrior's sword writhed in his hands unless he fought for true love, or
something similar. A really powerful one
might level all sorts of difficulties, just making every Spirit in the area
somewhat hostile to the target.
The system for Spirits of the Underworld will probably be
somewhat similar. There are just
different things Spirits of the Underworld can do.
The Underworld is the echo of the Lower Air. While the Lower Air contains what is, the
Underworld contains what was. Those who
learn its secrets are more often concerned with the past than the present. The Underworld is not inherently evil, but it
is a place of darkness. Necromancers
aren't evil by definition, either, but those who delve to the deeps of the
Underworld are certainly drawn in that direction. After all, the Underworld is between the Land
and the Deep.
In some ways, Spirits of the Underworld are easier to treat
with than Spirits of the Lower Air.
Human dead are still fundamentally human, and can be appealed to through
human reason or human vanity. They often
retain some of the goals they held in life, and can be induced to cooperate by
one who will advance those goals.
Besides, Necromancers have the most potent currency of all, the ability
to bridge the gulf between the Underworld and the Land, however briefly.
That ability is the key to Necromancy. Every person who treats with the Underworld
has touched its dark shores in some fashion.
A child born with a dead twin, it is said, will be able to see ghosts
all his life. A man who dies and returns
from the dead will hear the whispers of the dead. The only survivor of a village wiped out by
plague, or one who lived through a battle because a wound made him seem dead,
might find that some part of himself was left in stygian realms. Some pursue this path deliberately, through
self-mutilation or the drinking of poisons, or through mass sacrifices to
attract the attention of the Underworld.
There are, it is said, even less savory ways to draw up the voices of
Not all methods need to be so dire, however. Some Necromancers, particularly those who are
satisfied with lesser power, began with a very weak thread tying them to the
realms of the Dead and strengthened it through study and practice. Wizards who dabble in Necromancy are often so
empowered, and might be better prepared than some to resist the call of deeper
and deeper power.
Gamespeak: Necromancers aren't just Goth wizards. They're intimately connected to Death, and
draw power through that connection.
Necromancy is all about feeding energy into that connection and taking
power out of it. Spirits of the Dead
can't normally exist in the Land. When
they do, it's unnatural, and probably bad.
Necromancers are able to give Spirits of the Dead, even corporeal ones,
access to the Land. That power can be
used responsibly and well, but it can easily be abused.
An early thought is that a Necromancer's power will be
largely measured in how strong his connection to the Underworld is and how deep
he's willing to go into it. A simple
medium who only talks to ghosts and never even channels them into herself
doesn't need much of a connection and doesn't have to feed much energy into it
- her own personal strength is probably enough.
A terrible Dark Lord who wants to raise an army of rotting corpses to
smite his enemies probably has a very strong connection to the Underworld - to
the point that he might look like a corpse himself - and he's going to need a
lot of energy. He might get it from ritually
killing people, or from killing a powerful being like the local Genius
Locus. Or he might have some kind of
magical artifact that gives him the power.
(A black cauldron, maybe...)
Liuz was born with a dead eye. That milky white orb saw things no one else
could see, and her ears heard things no one else could hear. The people of the village feared the girl,
but they feared more to kill her and be haunted by her shade, so instead they
drove her from the village. Children
would fling stones at her, and merchants would sell her only shoddy goods at
too high prices. Everyone called her
names behind her back. The cruel spoke
them to her face. And the cruelest spat
on her shadow when she passed in the street.
Her mother and father protected her as well as they
could. They told her that even though
the villagers were her cruel and ignorant, they were her kin and she should try
to love them.
But in time, the old couple died, leaving Liuz alone. Of course the people of the village began to
whisper that the girl with the dead eye was somehow responsible, even though
both of them had been old when their daughter was born. Soon, Liuz found life in the village
intolerable and she fled into the darkenvold, where none of the villagers would
go at night, and few even in the daytime.
There were faeries in the darkenvold, but they avoided Liuz,
all except Master Wolf. He told Liuz
that he hated the villagers as much as she did, because they hunted his
children and denied them their rightful food with fence and spear. He told Liuz she would be his bride, although
she always refused him. She said she was
of the human world, not of the Spirit world, and would not leave her kin even
though they bore her no love.
One day, black ships sailed up to the village, and warriors
with black armor and black swords spilled forth to raid and slay, to plunder
Liuz watched from the shadows of the darkenvold, and Master
Wolf watched with her.
"All your kin are dead now," he said. "Come be my bride."
"I will come to your bed," she said.
When the Wolf was sated from their lovemaking, she took her
father's gutting knife and gutted him as easily as she would a fish. Then, still naked and wet with the Wolf's
blood, she took up her cloak and went back to the village. Through her living eye, she saw the black
raiders as they took their pleasures from the few survivors. Through her dead eye, she saw the pitiful
spirits of the villagers.
And with a voice long dead to human words, she bade them
rise up and have their revenge.
The black-clad men were slain, and their dead rose up
likewise until nothing but Liuz stood in the village, and only crows and flies
She still had her kin, but now she had shed her last
connection to the world of men. She took
her people into their fishing boats and the ships of the raiders, and now she
sails the seas, looking for the land of the men in black ships. Her kin are hungry, and only the flesh of Men
will feed them. They waylay such sailors
as they find, and leave the ships stripped of life, but otherwise untouched,
because Liuz is not a thief. Or so say
A Necromancer's power is proportional to his connection to
the Underworld and the energies he can bring into play.
The least power is the ability to hear or see Spirits of the
Underworld that have the power to reach the Land on their own, either by being
bound to a fetter or having found some sort of fissure up from the
Underworld. With this power, the
Necromancer can interact with Spirits, but has no power but his charisma and
wits with which to compel them. Even
this is more than most can do, and some Spirits can be turned from harmful
courses with the right words. Further,
if a Necromancer of even this minimal power has the fortune to bend a few
Spirits into allies, he can listen to their counsel and sometimes benefit from
With greater power, a Necromancer can call up Spirits from
the Underworld. He still cannot command
them, and more powerful spirits can refuse to answer. This is a dangerous power, since hostile
spirits can answer a call if it is not sufficiently specific.
Many Necromancers develop the ability to command the dead in
limited ways. One might have the ability
to shroud himself from their senses.
Another could make them flee his presence. Still another might learn to trace runes that
will turn the dead away from a living dwelling.
Others learn to borrow power from the Dead if the Dead are
willing. The spirits of the Underworld
hold the sum of the past, and some have supernatural powers as well. Without some sort of external energy source,
a Necromancer must allow the Spirit to enter his own body, or the body of
another. This is a dangerous game, since
the Spirit might not be willing to leave, and his presence exacts a toll that
will eventually be fatal.
Beyond this level, a Necromancer's own personal energies are
likely insufficient to bridge the gulf between worlds further. He needs sacrifices, gifts of power, or some
other means of supplying his Spirits.
The greatest Necromancers can summon and command more
powerful spirits. They can force Spirits
into dead bodies to animate them, or fetter Spirits into specially prepared
vessels. They can call forth armies of
shadow creatures, and they can wield the powers of the Dead. A Necromancer of this puissance needs
external sources of power, and by channeling so much of the darkness of the
Underworld begins to become like a Spirit of the Underworld himself. In fact, the ultimate fate of all who pursue
the powers of darkness for too long is to become indistinguishable from a dead
Gamespeak: Necromancers have abilities similar to Wizards,
but rather than needing a huge breadth of knowledge, they need a depth of power
to pull off the most amazing feats. The
powers a Necromancer can use fall into a hierarchy, with greater ones requiring
both a higher "Necromancy Score" and more "Fuel."
It might seem that Wizards have a better deal, and indeed
they do in some ways, but Necromancers make out well on the low end. At least some Spirits of the Underworld
understand human language and desires, and can be appealed to on that
basis. And some Necromantic powers are
passive. Everything a Wizard can do
requires conscious effort. He has to
project his psychic senses "upwards" where a Necromancer's naturally
The energy requirement is the reverse, of course. Energy naturally cascades downward, so
Wizards can call on massive power, whereas Necromancers have to find fuel for
the more outrageous things they want to do.
Will it all be balanced in practice? Who knows.
I'm still not making up real rules yet.
And that covers the two "middle realms" in the
great club sandwich that is this setting.
Next up is the Magic of the Greater Air, and possibly the Magic of the
Deep, since I'm not really sure how much of that I want to go into. Given my attempts at symmetry so far, there
should be ways that people can call on/be seduced by the Spirits of the Deep,
and special people who are their personal champions. Which is a sort of scary thought. I'm reminded of Ashitaka in Princess
Mononoke. He might have been touched by
the Deep and is now a "champion" against his will, slowly being
overcome by it even as he's forced to use it.
More generally, I've been thinking about Magic and how one
of the great complaints of many games is that it's not very
"magical." When a guy in a
robe and a pointed hat levels his staff at you and shoots out a ball of flame,
you don't think "Amazing! That man
can call flames from nothing! We're
doomed!!!" You think "He's got
at least 3rd level spells. Could be a
Some games try to get around this by making magic really
freeform, but that doesn't really solve the problem. In a system like Ars Magica, you can still
narrow down what the wizard did, so the mystery is gone. In a really loose system, you just get a host
of problems relating to exactly how much the wizard SHOULD be able to do.
You could try to conceal the inner workings from the
players, but that presents another problem - the players need to know what
their characters can do so they can properly play their characters. The guy in the funny hat isn't going to point
his stick at a hostile force unless he's pretty damn sure a ball of fire is
going to shoot out.
So I've been musing on the idea that what magic can do at
any given moment may change, but the players can see how it changes. Castle Falkenstein's magic deck is like this
in a way. You can see how much
"juice" is available within 100 miles or so, and that's all there is.
I wonder if I can think of something similar. It might not be too hard. A Wizard's training would tell him what
spirits are in the neighborhood, and he'd know generally what he can tell
spirits to do. To add a layer of
mystery, there might be some kind of arbitrary restrictions on spirits'
behavior that are based on local conditions.
The Wizard is trained to be able to figure out what these conditions are
and how they affect his powers. To other
people, they seem mysterious.
But that could just be a useless layer of rules and
I DO want magic to be mysterious in this world. This is a world of mysteries where Men face
things beyond their ken (and generally stab those things with swords). We'll have to see.
It's also about time to start thinking about a system, if
I'm ever going to use one. If I just
decide to use this setting for my writing, I don't really need rules.