Magic (Herm)

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Magic in Mutt's worlds is generally a parallel, complementary system to science. Magical and scientific devices do not naturally repel or interfere with each other. Science and magic can be used in combination. The adjective for referring to magic and science, or their combination, is magoscientific.

1. Definition
1.1. Spelling
2. But what is magic?
3. What is a magical process?
4. Types of magical process
4.1. Spell
4.2. Working
4.3. Working vs spell
4.4. Hybrid
4.5. 'Pure' magic
4.6. Wizardry
5. Understanding spells
6. Sensing magic
7. Ways of manipulating magic
8. Material focus
9. Material-mindedness
10. Magic in Muttiverse worlds
10.1. Shade
10.2. Weftworld
11. Glossary/quick reference
12. See also

1. Definition

In Mutt's worlds, magic is defined as:

  1. A medium of great elasticity that pervades all space, the interior of solid bodies not excepted, and is detectable and manipulable by some individuals.
  2. The observation, theoretical explanation and experimental investigation of this medium.
  3. The manipulation of this medium in order to produce observable effect in the physical world ("doing magic", or more accurately "manipulating magic"). The medium is not changed or used up as a result of this manipulation.

1.1. Spelling

Some people use "magick" to mean casting-magic, as distinct from conjuring and stage magic. The Muttiverse system uses no such spelling convention, instead using more specific terms (see below, also Shade).

2. But what is magic?

Magic in muttiverses is an omnipresent, fundamental background stuff. In some respects it is like aether [*].

The difference from aether is that instead of being undetectable and therefore arguably irrelevant, magic is manipulable by some individuals and methods. It's like a catalyst - it isn't changed or used up in magic-workings or spells, but its presence makes processes possible which otherwise would not be (they would require vast amounts of energy). The energy cost for magic-catalysed processes is reduced, but the energy must be provided by the practitioner or some other power source, not the magic itself.

But if it's the same everywhere and can't be directly detected, how do we know magic's really there? Is there any reason to assume its existence? Perhaps there's another explanation for the reduced energy cost? Well, actually, magic isn't the same everywhere. In a very few locations, it is 'thinner' (processes run more slowly) or 'concentrated' (processes run more easily/quickly).

Think of the old rubber-sheet analogy, where lead weights representing objects with high mass can distort space-time with their gravity. Magic can be 'warped' around things or places with enough 'magic density' (for lack of a better term).

There are entire worlds in the Muttiverse with no (or very little) magic. This is why.

3. What is a magical process?

Anything at all that is catalysed by magic. It takes someone's conscious effort, or some major freak coincidences, to start a magical process happening.

What a magical process looks like is nothing, unless there is some kind of visual effect associated with it. If someone's making magical light, you'll see light. If someone's using a process with impressive effects like sparks or lightning flashes, that's what you'll see. And lot of shielding processes, for example, show up faintly so other people can tell they're turned on.

What a magical process looks like to someone with an ability to see magic is some kind of visible pattern of shape, colour, texture and/or movement - depending what the process is doing, if anything. (see Sensing Magic below) A running magical process has a location in space: wherever the process is producing its effect. (If that's not inside or next to the magic-user, there will also be visible signs of magic manipulation on the magic-user.) A magical process has a physical size. A more complicated process is physically bigger: it is running off (being catalysed by) a larger volume of background magic.

4. Types of magical process

Accomplishing things through magic can be done in two basic ways.

4.1. Spell

A spell is a magic process that you learn, then cast. It does what it's supposed to do then it finishes.

The advantage of spells is that you can write them down, teach them to other people, cast them again and again and they will always do the same thing.

All spells are cast on a thing or location, but depending on how the spell was written and what it's meant to do, you may be able to give it additional 'instructions' when you cast it (like "cast for three seconds"). Some spells don't need any input, like a firelighting spell. Some badly-written spells don't accept any input when they really should, and are consequently pretty inflexible or useless.

If this is all gibberish, or for more detailed information, please see Understanding Spells below.

For very advanced spells developed after the Worlds War, see MI.

4.2. Working

A working is something improvised. It means manipulating things, either through something similar to telekinesis or by various different techniques. (See 'Pure' Magic, below.)

Workings take more energy and concentration - not a huge amount more, it's just that you're controlling every aspect of the process as you do it, instead of letting something preprogrammed run its course.

4.3. Working vs spell

Neither is 'better'; it's more a difference of which one would be more useful in which situation.

Suitov, a caster and worker, would use a working to stop someone's wagon wheel getting stuck in a pothole because there's no way you can prepare a spell for a random eventuality like that. He'd use a working to lift and move a tree trunk and put it onto a pile because that would allow him to react faster if some kid ran into the way or something. He would use a spell to find the position of the sun and tell him the time because it'd be such a boring, laborious task to do the calculation himself. He'd use a spell to start a campfire because it's such a quick, common job requiring no innovation - a spell is like flicking a lighter vs working by rubbing two sticks together.

4.4. Hybrid

Where the real powerhouses come in, of course, is in the combination of prewritten spell components with improvisation. On Shade, a few mages are starting to work out this sort of technique during the Worlds War, but the awesomely complicated stuff only begins to emerge a few years after peace.

4.5. 'Pure' magic

At its most basic, a magic working is like telekinesis - more specifically, it is the manipulation of a force (a push, a pull or a twist - eg gravity, electromagnetism, friction).

But not everybody does things that way, or even thinks of them that way. What you'll normally find is that a magic-user has an affinity for some particular technique or material - for example, someone might be instinctively good at manipulating water, or they might understand and work magical processes through their sense of rhythm. (See Ways of Manipulating Magic below.)

When contrasted to 'pure' magic, this is known as 'complex' magic, but these terms aren't in general use until after the Twine Wars era.

(Hydrokinesis etc. is not the same as material-mindedness. See also Sensing Magic below.)

4.6. Wizardry

Wizardry is completely different from the other types of magical manipulation. Wizardry does not require any innate magical skill; it's purely mechanical.

Wizardry is performed using physical tools instead of mental manipulation, and its reliability depends only on the accuracy of the equipment and setup.

"To be a successful wizard, one need know only two things - what question one is really asking, and how to break it down."

5. Understanding spells

What a spell is not:

What I, as a spellcaster, have in my brain is a set of instructions for Making Something Happen. So far it's just like a magic-worker remembering a sequence of things to do, but compared to his list, mine's shorter and I don't, myself, understand it. But we'll get to that shortly.

Imperfect analogy #1

Imagine you have a set procedure for doing some kind of task: open kettle, hold under tap, partially fill kettle with water... etc.

Unless you do this in a different, innovative way each time, adding a pirouette or two and shaking the box of teabags around like a maraca, it's probably safe to say you'll end up doing the procedure on autopilot, not really thinking about it.

A compiled spell is sorta like doing things on autopilot, a little bit. Instead of 'reading out' every instruction in your head, what you read is a kind of abbreviated list.

You're still in some sense controlling what's going on - you're still providing the energy and if you wanted to you could go "whoa hey stop", but it's slightly like zoning out for most of the process. So it takes up less of your mental energy, meaning you're more able to concentrate on other things. But another difference is that it takes up less of your actual, biological energy.

Workings need practice too and magic-workers can get to the stage where they perform a common task almost on auto-pilot, but it will always require more concentration and energy than a well-practised spell would.

How can you learn and cast something you don't understand?

Anke: /me just has great difficulties understanding how someone could memorise something that is smarter than they are.
Mutt: Hmm, that's like saying my digital watch is smarter than I am. It's damned good at doing something I can't, but it's not alive, it can't write haikus and it can't perform any function that wasn't designed into it when it was a baby watch.

The spell instructions aren't smarter than the caster - it's a question of learning "do this then this then this" - but they are in a sort of code. You're learning what amounts to you, perhaps, to a bit of a foreign language.

So you'll go "OK, I know I need to press this key then this one then this" (or "sing this note then this one", or more generically "twist with the magic-interacting part of my brain in this sequence") "but I don't understand how it works, but it somehow does..."

Imperfect analogy #2

Or try it this way: you're a computer end user opening up a letter with VerbPerfect and clicking print, and somehow, lo, paper cometh out of the printer. You've no idea why, but at least you're not like those magic-worker geeks who have to sit there typing into a system prompt, manually sending each byte of data to the printer.

I could also have said there: at least you're not like those magic-worker geeks who have to write their letters out by hand. There are better and worse points to either version of the analogy.

But either way, a spellcaster could print as many copies as she wants of her letter just by clicking the button again, whereas someone with a pen has to do it the long way each time, barely getting any faster and more efficient at the process no matter how many times he does it.

But someone with a pen can also knock out a sketch of Weft wearing kitty ears in a few seconds flat, and just try asking VerbPerfect to do that.

Why more efficient?

Anke: But how is a spell different from a well-practised working? ... Why would a spell creating a glowing ball two inches across need less energy than a working creating a glowing ball the same size and brightness?

Technically - a spell more efficiently uses background magic as a catalyst.

You can think of it as a spell doing its job much more quickly and deftly than a working (because a working is only as quick as the person working it) and so the spell ends up requiring less energy, and that will give you a roughly correct idea of things.

(For the rest of this section I use vague language and magotechnobabble because I only have a rough conceptual image of, and can't easily articulate, exactly how it works.)

Partly, a spell is more energy-efficient because it relies less on the mind of the magic-user. It's more independent of the person's mode of thought, how skilled they are, whether they're concentrating hard and so on.

I could say a spell presents instructions in a form more suited to the background magic (though that suggests that the magic is an active participant, which is wrong!) or, perhaps, that it is better adapted to latch onto and use background magic to do its job (though that suggests that a spell is somehow alive or sentient, which is wrong!).

6. Sensing magic

Every magic-user has a different way of sensing and controlling magical processes. Some magic-users 'see' processes, some 'hear' them, some experience them as heat or texture or rhythm. It can depend on other talents the magic-user possesses: natural musical ability, for example, means an aural bias is likely. Most people are visually biased. There are quite a few aurals, and some people who 'feel' it as something like static, or an attractive gravitational force, or just describe it as a general sensation of 'power', etc.

Some of these obviously allow you to sense more fine detail than others. All magical senses become more sophisticated with experience.

7. Ways of manipulating magic

When it comes to manipulating magic, the same thing applies. There are aurals who cast or work through music - eg whistlers and singers - and people who use magic by physical gesture (handwaving, dancing, drumming), and so on, and so on.

If you happen to work magic by whistling, not everything you whistle will be a working. Just because whistling is how you activate the magic-manipulating part of your brain, that doesn't mean you might not just be whistling a tune for the fun of it. But then again, if you're an absent-minded sort, you could most definitely work something by accident.

8. Material focus

Like the different ways of sensing magic, many magic users have one or two types of thing, generally physical substances, to which they're most 'attuned' or which they're intuitively better at manipulating. (This makes more practical difference to workers than to casters).

Your material focus might be gases if you're a particular whizz with weather patterns and manipulating air pressures, or metals if you find you've got a talent for magically-aided blacksmithing and finding stress points... and so on.

Though many have a material focus, most magic-users are not material-minded (material-mindedness is a major difference in mental function, not just a knack, and is generally a disadvantage in most aspects of life - see next section).

9. Material-mindedness

Can be seen (simplified) as an extreme kind of material focus, but with disadvantages.

Full article: Material-mindedness

10. Magic in Muttiverse worlds

10.1. Shade

Main article: see Shade's Magic.

10.2. Weftworld

Main article: see Magic (Instar)

11. Glossary/quick reference

Magic
(background magic): the catalyst, not detectable or manipulable but makes magical processes possible
Process
any work done using magic
including
Spell
precompiled set of instructions
Working
improvised manipulation
Magic-user
anyone who performs magical processes
Manipulation
using a process to make something happen
Cast
(successfully) activate and use a spell
Work
manipulate magic as a working
Wizard
ritual magician, no innate magic
Material focus
the particular thing you're best at controlling, like gas or metal
Material-mindedness
drastic difference in mental process, see full article

12. See also


Footnote: Aether, similarities, differences

* [Wikipedia] describes aether thus:

The aether was believed to be the substance which filled the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere ...
In Aristotle's system aether had no qualities (was neither hot, cold, wet, nor dry), was incapable of change (with the exception of change of place), and by its nature moved in circles. Medieval scholastic philosophers granted aether changes of density, in which the bodies of the planets were considered to be denser than the medium which filled the rest of the universe.

Like aether, Muttiverse magic has no measurable qualities and is incapable of change. Unlike aether it has no bearing on the movement of planets (unless you're a ridiculously powerful magic-worker... no, forget I said that). Unlike aether, it (merely by its presence) causes certain physical processes to require less energy than they otherwise would. Like aether it has variances in density, but unlike aether these aren't related to physical matter - certain regions of the universe, much larger than planets or even solar systems, just naturally have denser or less dense magic. Much more localised effects are possible, but we haven't yet come across any.


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Edited December 13, 2006 3:45 pm by Mutt
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