Monday, April 24, 2017

What is Magic?

Draven Lyndholm
On the Misrepresentation of Magic

If you travel around Requiem, asking various people what magic is, they will give you vastly different answers. 

A mud farmer in Styssios, wiping his brow with a blackreed hat while balancing on his dirtpoles, will tell you very seriously that magic is the way that souls reproduce: the mental ejaculate of a wizard or cleric, floating through the ethereal until it bumps up against a clot of ephemeral matter and infuses it with energy, creating yet another soul that is sucked into the biological vacuum of a baby as it is born, giving the child a personality. Druidic souls will instill a connection with nature, or perhaps eel-like tendencies. Clerical souls might infuse a natural skill with healing, or maybe a really good eye for detailed symbol carving.

Of course, the people of Styssios are all biologically sterile, due to a very common, extremely transmissible, and otherwise harmless parasite that proves extremely difficult to cure and renders a person's skin immune to the effects of sun. Travelers use dirtpoles to walk the length of the Styssian Flats, and burn or purge their equipment afterwards, washing themselves down with diluted acid. You can tell if a person has traversed the Flats on "foot" recently, because their skin is usually red and peeling. It's not a sunburn.

The point of the above is that Styssians must use druidical magic to physically concieve children. To them, magic births.

A learned wartorts in Bblyns will tug on their elongated earlobes, perhaps absentmindedly spinning the disk inside, and explain the physical stamina and mental fortitude needed to will a howling spell into your head and keep it there, chained up like a rabid dog, until you see fit to unleash it. He or she will explain how arcane energy is shaped by the power of the mind and translated into effects by another mind.

Bblyns wizards hold that a spell does not take effect until the people whom the spell is targeting hear and see the words and gestures happen. When a silence spell is cast, the silence does not prevent the spellcaster from intoning the spell, but rather prevents the intended targets from comprehending it.

Language, to the dominant school of wizardly thought in Bblyns, especially the distinct combinations of syllables, tones, and intonations particular to "spellcasting", triggers a biological response from some primeval part of the brain that is subservient to these ancient magical impulses, resulting in the effects of the spell. Magic is not necessarily magical in the sense that we traditionally think of it. Rather, "arcane energy", especially the "arcane" part, is a mantra, one that the mind holds on to. When a word that is synonymous with "magic" is intoned and heard by a wizard it, triggers the concentration necessary to memorize or use these controlling formulas. Wizardry, in short, is hypnosis of others, hijacking their mental processes to manipulate their chemistry. Bblyns on the street will say that just because we don't understand the processes behind it, we shouldn't pass it off as "magical."

That is why all spells cast by Bblyns wizards start with "arcana". Even the cantrips. That is also why they can apparently cast spells in a magical zone of silence.

In game terms, if your passive perception (if you even use that) or your Wis is 14+, you can lipread, and can be affected by the spells of Bblyns wizards even if you or they are standing in the area of a silence spell, as long as you can see their lips and their hands. Note that if you look away inside a silence spell, they can't affect you and their spells work just fine when you're not watching them sans silence.

Since the wartorts of Bblyns have managed to figure out how to get around a silence spell, they think that magic is a form of hypnosis, and defeating a magical effect simply requires enough concentration.  To them, magic is not "magical".

A cleric of the Thriai or a warlock of Parnassus will happily expound on how magic is obtained by worshiping or pacting with an extraplanar entity that gives you arcane power in exchange for service. They will walk you through a ritual designed to influence you to accept their god/patron that also simply explains their definition of magic.

Never do anything ritualistic or assist a cleric/warlock with a process, because you may be drawn to worship a god or forced into a pact.

Magic, to them, also comes from focus words, like it does for the Bblyns wartorts.

There the agreement stops.

For clerical/warlockian magic, the prevailing philosophy says that the words they chant or the names they invoke at the start/end of a specific time period (usually dawn for clerics, as the start of day, and midnight for warlocks, as the end of day) contain special frequencies, expressed as tone, that are modulated to cross the planes and be received by the servants of their deity, or, in some cases, the deity themselves. The holy words must be pronounced just so, and all young initiates of both magical groups go through years of rigorous schooling to mold their vocal cords into the exact shapes necessary to pronounce a fraction of the transliterated, incomprehensible name of Ak-shar-agath the Enlightener (for example).

However, clerics and warlocks hold that magic is indeed magical, and not a byproduct of filthy human chemistry. They scorn the notion that words have some innate control over archival bodily functions even as their patrons control them.

Clerics and warlocks must invoke rituals and prayers to draw the magic into themselves. They will freely admit that some have a gift for it, but, in the case of sorcerers, they (along with wizards) note that even if sorcerers truly do generate magic within the deepest crevices of their souls, they still use words to control it, and is it even possible to prove that magic comes from within? Are not the harsh syllables that sorcerers bark out pleas to help them channel the magic, pleas that are answered by an yet-unnamed entity, or perhaps a desperate bargain with a powerful patron, or perhaps instinctive intonations to focus their energy, springing forth from some ancient vault of tissue?

It is well known that if sorcerers are prevented from casting spells, they will eventually conflagrate in a magical catastrophe, ripping apart into an inferno of unrestrained magery.

Only one of those experiments has been conducted, and the clerical order that undertook it was wiped out. Now, clerics try to prove their point less directly, and some are even willing to concede that magic may not be the monopoly of gods.

However, their definition of "god" is vague. Debating the nature of divinity with clerics lends itself to all sorts of a priori clusterfucks.

Magic, to clerics and warlocks, comes from without and is channeled from within, as an extended expression of a patron. Due to the communal influence of the local cleric or acolyte, this tends to be the most widely held view.

All of the above showcases people who define magic based on how they practice it. The farmer who needs it to have a kid thinks of it as conception, the wartort who can affect those silenced thinks that magic is not an aetherial "arcane energy" but a form of primal command, and the ritualists who must sing their practiced chants each day think that magic is obtained from gods and other mighty beings as a form of special energy.

Bards all have varying opinions, but bards have varying opinions on everything. Druids think that magic comes from nature, but they're willing to let the clerics misinterpret nature into a godly force.

Besides, druids always win.

What everyone doesn't know, what only a few monks and extremely powerful sorcerers have figured out, is that magic is none of the above. Mostly.

Sorcerers are grotesque, crippled beings, usually deformed by a lifetime of magical accidents. An old sorcerer that can still walk and that looks human is either of no consequence or a master who can slaughter villages with a word, bring death to heel, or topple castles. Most sorcerers don't walk. They slither, hop, or trot.

The monkish condition is, in some respects, the antithesis of sorcery. Instead of simply letting out and controlling energy, they undergo extreme physical duress to find their energy. To monks, like wizards, power is something that must be worked for, something that has to be reached towards. Anyone can be a monk, just like anyone can be a wizard.

But mustering up the mental detachment to lobotomize yourself is one thing, and mustering up the mental power necessary to cram a spell into your brain is another.

That is why there are more wizards than monks.

Monks and sorcerers, due to the largely insular life they lead, one because of self-imposed exile, the other to not accidentally fuck people up, have plenty to time to think. They muse on the big questions. Sorcerers are philosophers, and sometimes have a following of disciples (that always keep a respectful distance). Monks deliver lectures and engage in dialogues with whoever wants to listen, but except for the few mendicant orders, they stay put. Therefore, the opinion of sorcerers is more widely spread, and hailed by the fringes of society as the unified theory of magic, so to speak.

It is, quite simply, this: Magic is whatever you want it to be.

Such a broad answer is regarded as wishy-washy, and dismissed by all conventional casting orders. But the evidence stacks up.

Wizards and clerics are said to be unable to cast the same spells, but clerics exist who worship gods of magic, and gain arcane knowledge along with their healing lore. With enough study, wizards have successfully demonstrated that they can cast healing spells, though with some side effects (the dragon-pig, it is said, produced excellent bacon).

Druids are thought to be exclusively associated with nature, but there are orders of urban druids who recognize the city as their ecosystem, who have demonstrated powerful control over concrete, stone, and metal in the same way that forest druids shape dirt, water, and life.

Clerics have been forced to cast spells without their rituals in times of great duress.

It is well documented how a powerful sorcerer proceeded to demonstrate in front of a group of spellcasters her ability to cast any spell from any class's spell casting list. She was then lynched by an angry group of apprentices and acolytes, and subsequently exploded upon death, laying waste to half a city.

The established hierarchies are extremely sensitive to any mention of unified spell theory. It pays them to remain apart, to convince people that they must devote their entire lives to whatever cause the recruiting organization espouses.

Almost always, high-level wizards, clerics, warlocks, and bards do not send their children to any school resembling those they attended. This indicates to me how untenable the current system is, and how crucial a discussion of radical theory might be towards setting wizardly schools (indeed, all magical schools) back on the path of nurturing students, and not profit.

So, what is magic?

Whatever you want it to be. The evidence is there, and my case has been made. I urge you, if you prize intellectual freedom, to discuss this with your casting friends. Ideas, as Rindick the Befuddled once said, are harder to pin down than a greased, horny toad-eel-pig that sees a potential mate.

I wish you luck, in magic as in life.

Inquisitorial Note: This manuscript, as found in draft form right next to a printing press, is damning evidence against the accused. We will find out how he learned these things after the trial. Please send this by courier to Beyblick Arron, c-e Quarter 12, Const. 0128, Farthern Wing. 

Inquisitor Arlen Lyndholm