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Encyclopdedia Eternica

Other Magic Issues

Talia/Jen (Talia J. Higgins)
MattDBA (Matt Gutting) quickly sent back some helpful comments and such - they are included in orange italics. Talia/Jen's response to any comments will be in dark blue italics.

last updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2001


     Magicians have developed a fairly reliable way to cast spells. They have learned to draw "runes" from their surroundings, and create specific spells through the ordering of these runes. **(Note: I am still at a loss of how to further define/develop the whole rune concept....)

Yeah, me too.  I guess a description of what runes are depends a great deal on the understanding of what magic is.  If magic is of  psychic origin, runes could be, as I hypothesized in my document, a system of images which would release the power of the psyche and allow it to exert energy through various different channels.  If magic comes from the gods, then runes would be something similar.  They would still be mental images in the spellcaster's mind, but this time they would have the effect of allowing the spellcaster to commune with a particular god or gods, holding in mind the effect the spellcaster wished to produce.  (Sort of the visual equivalent of a mantra.)

I have recently been reading a couple books by Garth Nix, Sabriel (which I stayed up until unholy hours finishing last night) and its sequel Lirael (which I started this afternoon...) in which most "good" magicians use something called Charter magic. Charter marks seem to be runes, the "Charter" is a sort of Life/Creation force. The author did a good job of refering to the Charter force throughout the book(s) without actually pinning down its exact nature... which is fine! (Heck - that's what makes it magic, no?) In said books, it seems the marks are mostly ethereal, appearing to those initiated in Charter magic as  glowing symbols. The marks can be called from the mind, usually to be also made by hand gesture, carved/engraved or magically impressed into items, or made musically (by whistling, bells, etc.)
Perhaps it is just because I like the books and all, but it almost seems this might be the sort of thing Dan/Adam were going for with the Rune idea...?

Finally, if magic is an elementary force, on a level with gravity or electricity, then runes could be something like you suggest in your Eternal Project post - a convenient way for spellcasters to refer to a force (or a particular  aspect of a force) of which they, but not others, are aware.

This tends to be my favored approach to working with magic, because it is "mechanical" by nature....
It could be that spellcasters just manipulate these forces almost instinctively, as we use gravity instinctively when we walk.

Well, I figure that in order to become a spellcaster it helps to have some instinct for the manipulation of said forces, but that skill gained through study/practice/expermentation makes a true magician - one who manipulates magic like a skilled acrobat or martial artist manipulates gravity to his/her advantage...

One problem with the first two possible interpretations is that they don't in themselves explain why, during spellcasting, the rune pool is reduced, perhaps even to the extent that casting of some spells is rendered impossible.  With the third explanation, one could simply say that one or another aspect of the magical energies present in an area is exhausted.  (Although it wouldn't explain why anyone attacking a spellcaster can see the runes he's queuing, even those who can't cast spells themselves.)  With the 'psychic force' explanation, one could hypothesize as I did that everyone in the area can see the images broadcast from a spellcaster's mind, and that this repeated exposure in a limited time can reduce the effectiveness of the image in producing psychic responses.  With the 'divine intervention' explanation, ... ??  Perhaps one could simply say that the deities responsive to particular types of runes didn't like being bothered so often :)  I don't know.  And I can't explain why any attacker (or for that matter anyone focusing on the spellcaster) could 'see' the mantras he/she was using to invoke the divine power.  I like that, but I don't feel it stands up as robustly as the other two theories.

My assumption is that if you can tell what the other guy is casting, it must be because he is gesturing, chanting, or otherwise making signs of doing a particular spell. Actually, I think it is rather unrealistic that anyone would really know what spell was being cast (or, depending on experience, even that a spell was being cast at all) until it "hits" (It is nice, as a player, I suppose, to know what's coming, but I still would probably take that feature out of the game if I knew how....)


Beliefs About Magic
     As in times far past, there are many ideas and theories about the true nature of magic, spells, and power. Various kingdoms, regions, religions, and cults have their own ideas about these things. In general, there are three main theories: psychic origin, faith/deity based, and elemental.
     I. Psychic Based
     Some people, often scholars, believe that magic is a manifestation of psychic power. Among other things, they claim that the fact that magic can be resisted by intelligent beings proves it is an illusion. They literally believe that magic is a manifestation of "mind over matter." Many believe that almost all people have some latent psychic power and that spells simply provide a means of tapping into it.
     **(Check out MattDBA's article on The Workings of Magic in Eternia. This is the type of thing he is going for, I think....)

Yes, exactly.  A problem then becomes, why do some people have spell casting ability and not others?  One could, of course, change the character templates so that all characters had the possibility of choosing magic skills at creation, but this wouldn't answer the question.  It might simply be that, while all people of Eternia have some form of psychic ability, some are more talented than others in this regard.  --MG
My theory on why only certain characters can have spellcasting abilities (at creation) is that magical abilitie, like other skills, are available to characters from a particular region simply because that is what is commonly taught/used there. Theorectically, any person could learn any skill, including magic skills, but the nation/region they came from defines their options at the time of character creation.
     II. Deity Based
     Various religious factions claim that magical power is gained by intervention of a higher being (be it a specific deity or the "spirit of the land" or whatever). They believe that the mechanics of spell casting are only a means to tap into a higher power, and that Faith in such is essential to the effectiveness of magic.

This is an alternative approach that I like as well.  One could postulate, then, that the reason characters from differing areas are restricted to particular types of spells is that the local gods (the locally most-worshipped members of the Eternia pantheon) specialize in such spells - one could go on, then, to make some stories about these gods to explain why they have such affinities, or simply to explore the consequences (either comic or perhaps very scary) of these divine magic connections.

...or, the reason certain spell-types are taught in a region is because of the focus of local religion....
(you could also, if desired, impose pemanent restrictions on certain characters because of cultural/religious background, such as "no Moreans can ever learn greedspell, because it conflicts with fundamental beliefs of their culture/religion")

One might also conceive of powerful relics (as in AD&D) that had particular magic effects because they were sacred to a particular group of gods.  I'm thinking, for example, of St. Patrick's famous Staff of Snake Killing :).

Of course, it might be that there are multiple causes for magic; that two or all three of these (and perhaps others) do in fact apply.  Or it might be less 'logical' - we have effects, and we hypothesize about the cause, but the hypothesized causes may or may not be realities: simply the simplest/easiest/most explanatory way of understanding and predicting the subject.  Experimental sciences often tend towards this structure.  --MG
Exactly! This is, after all, MAGIC!

     III. Magic as an Elemental Force
     Some scholars hold to the idea that Magic is a force in its own right, an element like fire (or electricity...). They believe that vice magic is only the beginning, and by studying magic in and of itself they may regain the magnificent powers of times past.

Have you ever read a book called Too Many Magicians?  I can't remember the author.  It's about thirty years old and has a couple jabs at Tolkien (the main academic is Sir Lyon Gandolphus Grey!).  But its idea is that, in the 13th century, a Benedictine scholar was doing (essentially) alchemy and discovered magic.  It developed into a science, like physics, and physics and chemistry themselves remained as obscure and debatable in their  twentieth century as magic is in ours.  Magic was studied, people graduated with advanced graduate degrees in it, there were theoretical and applied branches...  --MG

It sounds vaguely familiar, but I don't remember having actually read it. Another example of a world were magic has the place of science/technology, though, is the"Discworld", setting of many humorous and intelligent books by Terry Pratchett. (An example: a Discworld camera really does have a tiny gnome inside who draws very very quickly....) (These books are very funny and creative - I highly recommend them, with my favorites being "Lords and Ladies", "Pyramids", and "Feet of Clay", and and and and....)

    Well, that's it. A summation of mechanics, my take on history, and some seeds for a variety of takes on magic in the "current" era. Feel free to comment, and, if you wish, plunk your comments right into a copy of this document (in a different font/color or something) and send it back to me that way....
          - Talia/Jen