Magic (Herm)

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Abstract

Muttiverse magic has some similarities to other fantasy systems, and some different elements. In Mutt's system of magic, there are two ways of performing magical manipulations: by casting a spell, which is fast, or performing a working, which is more labour-intensive and flexible.

Magic and 'science' do not oppose, repel or interfere with each other. People who understand some basic sciences are better and more efficient magicians.

This article deals with the specifics of how magical processes work in all Muttiverse worlds. It does not deal with how much individual cultures understand about magic at any time in their development.

This page has a 'roleplaying' section, containing minimal information for interacting with the character or concept.

Contents

1. Meta
1.1. Definition of magic
1.2. Definition of terms
1.3. Spelling of magic(k)
2. Magical processes
2.1. Working
2.2. Spell
2.3. Creating spells
2.4. Hybrid
3. Sensing magic
3.1. What magical processes look like
3.2. Magic senses
4. Ways of manipulating magic
5. Material focus
6. Material-mindedness
7. Magic without consciousness
8. Magic in Muttiverse worlds
8.1. Shade
8.2. Instar
9. Roleplaying
9.1. What you need to know to interact with a Muttiverse magician
9.1.1. Helpful information to give
9.2. What you need to know to write a Muttiverse magician
9.2.1. What magic 'looks' like
9.2.2. How your character understands magic
9.2.3. How your character performs magic manipulations
9.2.4. Would you use a spell or a working for...?
10. Footnote: Aether, similarities, differences

1. Meta

1.1. Definition of magic

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 indirectly 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.

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

Magic is not directly detectable, but it is nevertheless 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). These are large areas, on the order of solar systems or stellar neighbourhoods.

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

1.2. Definition of terms

Spell
a magic process that is automated - you set it going, expending energy up-front, then it goes until it finishes (or you cancel it). Example: treacle shield.
Working (noun)
a magic process performed 'the long way', by willing every individual action, allowing finer control and requiring more energy and concentration. Example: telekinetic movement of a twig.
Cast
perform a spell
Work (verb)
perform a working

A caster casts spells; a worker performs workings. "Cast" can be an objectless verb, as "work" is in this context.

References to 'energy', unless otherwise stated, are talking about biological energy (what you get from food) and not mental or 'psychic' energy. In this system psychic energy doesn't exist, and mental energy is an idiom for mental effort or concentration.

1.3. Spelling of magic(k)

Some people use "magick" to mean casting-magic, as distinct from sleight-of-hand and stage magic. The Muttiverse system uses no such spelling convention, but does have other specific terms.

2. Magical processes

If we're speaking very correctly, a magical process is anything at all that is catalysed by magic. It doesn't always require conscious effort from an intelligent being, though to happen by chance otherwise generally requires some strange coincidences.

An active magical process has a location in space. The location is 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, though no 'string' connecting them.

A magical process has a physical size. A more complicated process is physically bigger.

2.1. Working

A working an improvised magical manipulation.

Workings are 'performed', not 'worked'. People who perform workings are 'magic-workers'.

Performing a working is comparatively slow, labour-intensive and flexible. They require more energy and concentration than a spell. Magic-workers are limited mainly by their personal capabilities and imagination.

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

However, most magic-workers (whether or not they understand post-Newtonian science) do not think of it in this abstract, theoretical way. They will approach it on a more instinctive, intuitive level.

Most magic-workers use individual mental techniques (see Ways of manipulating magic) depending on how they were taught, the particular things they're good at, the way in which they sense magical processes (see Magic senses) and their understanding of the principles involved. There are generally benefits and drawbacks to any such technique. Some may use it in a similar way to telekinesis; people with a material focus (see that section) can work in ways resembling photokinesis, thermokinesis and so on. Of course, there is a lot more to magic-working than moving things around; it is possible to change temperatures, shape light, create sound, manipulate friction, have knock-down whizz-bang magical firefights and even, for people with the talent, affect the basic principles of life enough to make things heal or grow.

2.2. Spell

A spell is a pre-written magic process.

Spells are 'cast'. People who cast spells are 'spellcasters'.

Casting a spell is comparatively fast. They require less energy than workings. A single spell always does the same thing when it is cast. Spells can be written down and taught to other people.

Spells can do the same things workings can, but the caster can't change what they do, only set them going (and stop them, if they don't stop by themselves).

All spells are cast on a location (or object or creature). Some spells need to be given specific instructions at the time of casting, like "for three seconds". Some don't need any instructions, like a simple firelighting spell. Some don't accept instructions when they really should, and are consequently pretty inflexible or useless. As this implies, a spell is only as good as its creator.

2.3. Creating spells

Some people can both cast spells and perform workings. There is not necessarily any overlap between these two skills.

Turning a working into a spell is a separate, and rarer, skill. People who can create new spells like this are 'spellwriters', occasionally called 'mages' (though note that various cultures use the term 'mage' to mean different things).

Unmaking a spell to tinker with it is possible but time-consuming and painfully complicated. Not all spell-writers possess the aptitude.

2.4. Hybrid

Where magical study has developed to a sophisticated level, it is possible to combine prewritten spell components with improvisation. A well-designed combination has the potential for a superb balance of flexibility, adaptability and power.

For very advanced spells/spell-hybrids developed after the Worlds War, see MI.

3. Sensing magic

3.1. What magical processes look like

To someone without a magic sense (see that subsection) a magical process is as visible or invisible as any other force. That is, all you see is whatever the process is causing to happen, if it's something noticeable like starting fires or creating light.

Many magical processes, particularly spells, do have perceivable effects associated with them. These are sometimes accidental if the magic-user is sloppy or unskilled, such that some light, colour, noise etc 'spills over'. Often, though, magical effects are deliberate. The reasons for them are various: they may be intended as a courtesy, a warning sign, a 'trademark' for a particular spellwriter (one famous Shaded mage caused all her spells to be accompanied by the smell of fresh mint) or simple showing-off. There are occasional fads for particular magic effects, such as flashy lightning bolts, sparks and one short-lived, generally unmourned craze for a particularly annoying "woccawoccawocca" noise.

An individual magic-user's unconscious visible magical effects (the accidental sort) tend to look the same - the same colour light, and so on. This has sparked a few pseudo-scientific beliefs, including chromatic theory.

3.2. Magic senses

Magic-users with a certain degree of skill develop the ability to sense magical processes - their own and, in due course, other people's.

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 the sensor to sense more fine detail than others. All magical senses become more sophisticated with experience.

While typical magic-users can sense that there is a magic effect and usually pinpoint where, that doesn't mean they can tell what it is doing. If it's something obvious (like flying around or sudden combustion) anyone can put two and two together. If the magic-user is familiar with the style involved - if it's a particular person or school de knows well - it will be easier to tell what is going on.

A Muttiverse magician might miss continuous low-level effects, or only notice them subconsciously. If there's something with an inactive enchantment on it, not currently doing anything, the magician's magic sense may not pick it up at all.

Illusions are seen as they are designed to be seen, but will also be obviously magical.

Magical effects can sometimes be masked from magical senses, given enough know-how.

4. Ways of manipulating magic

Manipulating magic is done in ways as varied and individualistic as sensing it. 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. Nobody manipulates magic 'just by thinking about it'.

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.

5. Material focus

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.) A material focus is only a knack, not a special power or a reflection of the magic-user's personality. Material foci don't conform to the 'classical elements' (earth, fire...) because Mutt's universes don't use those.

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 (see next section).

6. Material-mindedness

Can be seen (simplified) as an extreme kind of material focus, but with drawbacks. Material-mindedness is a major difference in mental function, not just a knack, and is generally a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the world as other people see it.

Full article: Material-mindedness

7. Magic without consciousness

Magic processes can occur without conscious effort from an intelligent being. Some magic-catalysed effects may conceivably happen by chance, but usually such magic processes are deliberately but indirectly caused.

It is possible to embed spells into objects. (Working requires conscious prompting from start to finish, so workings by definition cannot be embedded.)

Spells cannot be put into preexisting objects, but must be added while the materials are being shaped or formed. The range of materials that can take spells is extremely limited.

The energy cost of the spell must be provided by an outside source (magician, battery, solar cell...). It cannot be 'embedded' using the same method by which the spell is stored.

8. Magic in Muttiverse worlds

This article has laid out the basic specification for this magic system. Different worlds, different species, have varying implementations: for example, some worlds may not have discovered how to make spells, and so on.

8.1. Shade

Shade has relatively many magic-users of widely varying skill and technique, and a tradition of research and teaching.

Main article: see Shade's Magic.

8.2. Instar

The inhabitants of Offwhite City have very little magic capability and use it only for ceremonial purposes. Spells are outlawed.

Main article: see Magic (Instar)

9. Roleplaying

9.1. What you need to know to interact with a Muttiverse magician

Not all that much; I ought to give all relevant information in my posts, as long as I'm writing well. Other than that, it depends how much of the preceding you want your character to understand.

9.1.1. Helpful information to give

When a character is causing active magic effects (casting spells, etc) around someone who conforms to the Muttiverse magic system, the latter will probably detect them and so the writer will need some information: who is causing the magic effect, what de is affecting and (although the Muttiverse magician won't necessarily be able to identify this) what the magic effect is doing.

If something is causing a continuous low-level effect, and the magician did not witness it being 'turned on', the magician may overlook it or only notice it subconsciously. If there's something with an enchantment on it but it isn't doing anything (for example, something that needs a specific trigger before it activates) the magician may not notice it at all. Even so, it's helpful if you mention them to the writer.

9.2. What you need to know to write a Muttiverse magician

Not all magic-users understand fully what they're doing, just as you don't need to know what an Achilles tendon is to climb the stairs. Make your character's understanding reasonable for the time period, level of education and your character's age and experience. The pre-War magic-using community does not understand the nature of magic-as-catalyst and individual magicians would not use all this jargon comfortably or understand the science in depth.

9.2.1. What magic 'looks' like

First of all, strictly speaking you are detecting active magic effects, not magic itself (which, remember, is just that background stuff), which means you see spells and workings. Your character doesn't need to understand this, but you do.

How you interpret magic depends on your magic sense. The most common sense is visual, but synaesthetic magic senses (ones that seem like a mixture of two or more senses) are extremely common. Thus, for example, you might have a combination of visual and auditory senses and detect magic traces as a mixture of monochrome blobs and notes of varying pitch. Even two people's visual senses can also differ; you might differentiate a magic effect by its 'texture', its colour, its opacity or a mixture of those, and an auditory person might hear musical notes, white noise, humming and whistling or even syllables that sound like speech.

The nature of your magic sense makes a practical difference if it's a sense you can turn off - for example, visual senses don't work if your eyes are closed. The nature of your sense also makes a difference to its sensitivity: hearing and sight can give far more information than a 'gravity' or 'balance' sense. (But the latter two can be fun to write.)

Choose a magic sense that makes, er, sense for your character. A visual artist is likely to be visually biased; a werewolf, if a world contains such things, would be likely to use des nose.

9.2.2. How your character understands magic

The time period and your character's level of education determines how much of the theory your character understands. Your character's magical sense, material focus (if any) and personal history determine how de thinks about magic. At any time pre-War, expect your character's ideas to involve a lot of bad science and superstition, based on what has worked for den in the past.

Sort out your method of magic-manipulation first - does your character sing it, dance it, clap it or use some mental technique? Does de have a particular material focus? All of this will determine des understanding of what magic is. For example, imagine being an uneducated magic-worker with a material focus for gases; perhaps you would think of it as "my secret game with the wind". Or, alternatively, "I can blow out a candle from across the room, which really impresses girls". Or "I'll tell you a secret. I can make things happen. When I got really angry with that man, I wanted to squeeze him... next thing I knew, he was on the floor - he had stopped breathing for most of a minute."

9.2.3. How your character performs magic manipulations

Caster, worker or both?

Casting: this requires memory and a source of spells - someone needs to have taught you them, or you found them in a book, etc. Spells are not 'forgotten' once cast, but can be forgotten from disuse or bad memory. They can be partially forgotten or misremembered (they will probably not work at all). The basics of casting boil down to 'twist the magic-interacting part of your mind in this sequence', but your character will do this indirectly and symbolically by des chosen method. Material focus, if any, has little effect on casting.

Working: this is improvised and can be methodical or instinctive. Practising a certain sequence of working will help a character get faster, but it will never be as fast or effortless as a spell. Your character's material focus, if any, has a large effect on working, in that manipulating that material will come more naturally and seem to be less tiring (though any actual difference in energy outlay is probably insignificant).

Choose a method of manipulating magic. You cannot do this 'just by thinking about it'; there has to be some kind of action.

9.2.4. Would you use a spell or a working for...?

If your character can both cast and work, de will have from experience a good understanding of which technique to use for which situation. Here are examples:


10. 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 effect on mass and so no bearing on the movement of planets. Unlike aether, magic (merely by its presence) makes it possible to find 'shortcuts' to cause some 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 could be possible, but we haven't yet come across any.


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Edited May 10, 2008 1:13 pm by Mutt
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