Grave Choices: The How and Why of Magic

I'm going to make something very clear and very up front.

None of what you are going to read is exactly original. I've basically picked and chosen concepts I thought were interesting as I saw fit without bothering to check source compatibility.

The idea of Thresholds: Jim Butcher's doing.
Threads and Having Six Elements that have to be woven together: Robert Jordan.
Coven/Cult of Necromancers in a set of absurdly large sewers: Everquest.
That's just the stuff I've gotten to so far in the story. Point is while none of the concepts are entirely my own I've lifted, shuffled, mixed, and added my own dash of food coloring to hopefully make something new(ish.) Any Notes, Ideas, or things that just don't look right you want to point out would be helpful.

Intro: What Is Magic
Seems somewhat silly to ask but it helps to get a clear definition of just what is considered Magic, and what would be more traditionally associated with Science and how the two co-mingle.

Magic, in this setting, is the manipulation of the six elemental forces of the world (Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Void (sometimes referred to as Spirit or Life) through non-mechanical means to achieve some sort of work (be it causing flowers to bloom, wounds to heal, people to burn, or even making a cook fire.) A more complex (and complete) definition excludes mechanical tools.

The two processes; Mechanical manipulation of the world, and Metaphysical manipulation of the forces behind the world complement eachother. It should be stated, re-stated, and beaten into everyone's heads that in this setting magic is considered another branch of science rather than a separate entity. Think of quantum physics; considered a branch of science even though it's very strange and often hard to understand. Same thing with magic.

Caster's Perception
Not every magi sees the casting process the same. For instance Marrik sees magic as a set of threads to be manipulated, trimmed, brought into existance, and the like as a way of perceiving the how of metaphysics. On the other hand Vik's Perception might be of sounds, or of sensations against the skin. There are a few basic things that go into perception. That being it's based on the physical senses rather than being an indescribable sixth sense.


Writing something indescribable is, by definition, impossible. It helps the audience get a feel for things if what's going on is something that can be visualized. Plus it gives me an excuse to have oddball situations crop up like Marrik getting bombarded by so much spellwork he either has to ignore the magical side of things or be blind to the rest of the world, or Vik hearing so much metaphysical going on it'd be like being in a crowded bar with too loud music playing and trying to hear somebody across the room.

This also means making a caster incapable of using magic tends to focus on knocking them out since you have no idea which sense their magic relies on and so either have to block them all off, or just keep 'em drugged. Most people wanting to go to the trouble would, of course, opt for drugging since repeated blows to the head are not good for continued good health.

Elemental Magic
All magic uses more than one element even if it's a plain fireball, or raising a chunk of earth up, or whatever. IN the case of a fireball one has to work water and air to help hold Fire's shape, otherwise you get something like having a lit match in front of a spraycan. Jet of flame starting from wherever the spell's origin point is. Likewise gathering Water requires trace amounts of Wind and or Earth so it stays in a set shape rater than simply flows wherever it wants. Even so-called Elementals use more than just what element they are most strongly associated with.

People who, whether they like it or not, will start using magic without any formal education end up most strongly attaching to the use of one element over others. This carries over past education even with attempts at unlearning and re-teaching. Those that follow this path are denied most of the more complex magics because almost anything requires having fine control over several of the elements rather than one.

However within their sphere of influence Elemental magi are second only to older Elemental. To make up for their lack of depth compared to Generalists Elementals are capable of doing things no other can. Examples include a fire wizard able to walk through an inferno completely unharmed, or a water magi able to pick up and shape a puddle like wet clay.

The Sixth element is unique in that it ties into a spiritual aspect of the world rather than a physical element. Healing wounds, directly causing pain, influencing emotions. These are the skill associated with Void and from Void two major schools of thought have emerged that have each spawned schools of their own. Druidism, and Necromancy.

Druidism strives to seek a balance with the natural world rather than seek domination over it. A Druid, whatever the trappings, is taught to look at the whole as more important and strive to seek harmony. This means if confronted by an animal that has been hunting people down a druid will seek to turn the animal away, lead it to another place to hunt, or cause it to sleep so that the people nearby may leave rather than kill the beast except as a last resort, or if the animal is being driven by disease and cannot be cured.

On the other hand Necromancy seeks to set oneself above the world. Harnessing Life and twisting it to your own benefit. A Necromancer, even when it was legal and an openly practiced craft, would, if faced by the same rampaging beast the druid was, either kill it or attempt to bind it to their service.

A Divide Widens
Over the decades and centuries both major Void philosophies went from simple outlook shifts to forging their own tools. Druids evolving over time to enhance and improve nature and shape it to a more beneficial shape while Necromancers evolved first into harassing the raw stuff of Life to enhance themselves, then learned how to allow even one with next to no inborn magic able to hold his own.

Both can commune with spirits, though it is, as with every other aspect, different between each branch. Druids speak into the wind, or go into vision quests. Necromancers seek out ways of drawing the spirit to them. One works as well as the other, though the Druid's Path is gentler in both warding and summoning. while the Necromancer's path holds more substance. Think causing disinterest as opposed to putting a brick wall up and looking over the top with a canon.

Even with these competing schools of thought each respected the other. Druidism taught that Necromancy held valuable insights into the nature of the Self and could provide useful aid for those that had to deal with the unquiet dead. Necromancy taught Druidism helped increase the bounty of the world and made even marginal lands that would otherwise be useful only as the homes for wild and untameable beasts productive places.

Parting of the Ways
It would only be after the Great War and the world being thrown out of balance that these competing schools of thought would lose respect for eachother. Though it was ultimately the fault of a necromancer and those fanatics that wished to follow him. it was the excuse the world needed to shun what had become a loathsome branch of magic that focused increasingly on the dead and seemed to attract selfish and or diseased minds that would use it to Harm rather than Heal.

With Necromancy removed as a legitimate school of magic Druidism started to evolve less as a means of healing and tending to the world's needs and started down the path of containment and punishing those that still wished to practice 'The Selfish Way.' This prohibition drove those that either wished to learn of the Void or started down the path on their own felt they had to hid or else be lumped in with those that thought infecting whole cities with man-made diseases while directly sucking the Life out of small children was super awesome fun.

Even with this animosity there have been examples of persons from one school meeting with the other, finding middle ground, and each walking away wiser. Yet the world at large still wishes to punish the many for the actions of a very few and it will be a very long time before a balance can be re-made.


Samuel Hart said...

I like this, you've got some good ideas going here. My favourite aspect is the elemental, that even doing what would be considered the sole domain of one element requires use of the others.

I've thought about doing this myself (I have my own in-universe magic laws) but I've been held back by the worry that if I do want to write a book out of it, anyone could "steal" my system and use it themselves.... do you think this is a legitimate concern? Did you worry about that when you posted this?

Andrew Singleton said...

See the beginning of the post man. I borrow ideas from everywhere and put in a blender. Take advantage of there being nothing strictly new under the sun and so long as you aren't blatantly copying from One source you'll be fine.

I'm only including the crunch in case anyone else wants to borrow for their own use (be it my setting or another.) I also know I need to go back and explain a few things about thresholds, but that would be it's own post. Plus I was tired when I finished this one and felt like calling it a day.

Lucifer's Lawyer said...

Andrew Singleton said...

Oh crap. I'm sorry I accidentally deleted your comment (hand slipped... and no there doesn't look like a way to recover.)

And the worst part about these rules are I'm not sure if I'm being internally consistent with 'em. Trying to be. There's not much there (intentionally so) but half the time I just write and what's there is there until editing.