SFWA World Building Questions
Part Three - Magic and Magicians
Well, one of the first things to identify is that this section is oft-times the most contentious. The where, how and why for of magic use within any particular fantasy novel or series is likely going to make or break a lot of readers. Is the magic system Hard Magic, with its rigid rules and laws that define the people who use magic and what they are capable, or more importantly, not capable of executing? Is it a Soft Magic, where the mystery of the source and the limits of the powers wielded by these mystical creatures and beings are as much an element of the story? There are a plethora of sources out there that postulate for one or the other, many of them returning with the "do what works for you" answer, which is likely the truest answer anyone can give a prospective author.
Myself, I prefer the Soft Magic system. I played AD&D, Rifts, Legend of the Five Rings, GURPS and other systems that clearly defined the margins and requirements for magic use. As the Game Master more often than not this gave me the tools to reign in my players more times than not. Ever the story-teller, I was more interested in the conduct of the adventure and the excitement engendered in good role-playing, as opposed to sticking our noses into the book to find out what specific costs or requirements we needed to meet.
Rules of Magic
When we look at the SFWA list for magic, which is daunting, I realize that a lot of these I answered intuitively to a Soft Magic system. I haven't specifically limited what magic can and cannot do, nor do I particularly plan to. The difference between miracle and magic is clear enough, insofar that everyone knows there are magicians, sorcerers, clerics/priests and a few select other "classes" (to use the AD&D terminology) can cast these spells and do wired and wonderful things.
The source of power is not definitively endorsed. Mages and sorcerers draw from an undercurrent of power from the All Father Ihr's creative efforts in making the realms. Mages are more restrictive in their aptitude, limited to spoken spells and rituals, which syphon the energy in a constructed format, with predictable results; sorcerers on the other hand use an innate focus to grab on and shape the power mages. Mages can combine their powers in rituals to have greater effect, whereas sorcerers may not. Clerics and priests draw their powers from the essence of their gods, who have all been limited in their contact with the physical realms. Because they draw powers from their respective gods, they may not execute a ritual. The one exception are the druids, who draw their powers from Ihr, the Mother Goddess who gives powers to the elements.
As the Realms of Ihr'Vessen purport to a Soft Magic system, the rules in any detail further than those described herein are largely neither required nor desired. If the magic can help advance the story, without becoming any kind of deus ex machine, then the magic shall occur, in moderation.
I suppose this would include my mages, sorcerers and the like. From the perspective of the J'in Empire, mages are ordered into various colleges, the details I have yet to bother addressing. It is thus far a background detail that has no place in the story; my hope is to somehow introduce a mechanism or pot line to get into this detail. Most of the questions in this section are directed to any author purporting to the Hard Magic system.
In a general set of terms, magicians in my world are a mysterious enough bunch; the only ones we see are samurai, which poses an interesting challenge I addressed in the previous chapter of this topic. What is a peasant was born with the ability to tap into this mystical power? Again, an interesting question, yet not one addressed in my plot points. My first blush at the answer is to say that they are recruited and the families moved to cover up the fact a peasant born has been brought in among the samurai. This doesn't answer a number of cultural issues, particularly in how does a peasant-born adapt to the new way of life and the secrecy he must bear; the birthright of a samurai is important to the culture, ergo a movement up into another class brings with it some complications. That said, I've based the J'in Empire's customs on the Sengoku Period of Japan, whereas the result of some major upheavals and conflicts, there was some upward/downward mobility.
The language of magic on the other hand is something I have committed to. The few times that spells are invoked, a certain form of gibberish is said. The specifics about levels of power increasing with age or experience, whether spell components are required and the other tropes typically derived from AD&D, I have yet to bother addressing, yet I doubt I will go there.
Magic and Technology
When I first saw this heading I actually just skipped right over it. My initial thoughts were, 'this must deal with steampunk.' Well, sort of, kind of, but not exactly. The idea of magic transport and communications make me think of magic carpets, pumpkin to carriage and the like. Not my baileywick. There are, of course, magic weapons of a variety of forms. Magic wands, staves, swords and other weapons with magical upgrades, et cetera. They aren't as prevalent as one would imagine. This is something I am sure anyone having played AD&D or whatnot would be entirely frustrated at; I blame the adventure modules that sprinkle magic weapons and trinkets around like Skittles at a candy store.
Magic weapons of Ihr'Vessen requires a fair investment of power and material. Certainly the more powerful require the rarest of materials. There certainly isn't any mass production of these artifacts. In fact, they are very much like a finely crafted katana; they take a long and arduous process to create. Once completed, they are literally, functional works of art.
Miscellaneous Magic Questions
This section really kind of diverted from the previous ones; the questions deal more within a socio-historical context. Magic fist in with the regular laws of nature, can manipulate and be manipulated by it as well.
Magical beasts are certainly a trope I've decided to include. Dragons, Ents, Dryads, giant spider-like creatures, a myriad of others in a background way. The ecology and biology of each I won't get too far into unless it has some place within the storyline. Like Soft Magic, I don't find the details as pertinent as how they can be employed within the plot.
Questions on civilization seemed a bit odd herein. It's been largely addressed already - in the case of Ihr'Vessen, the elves emigrated from the region to allow the other species the chance to develop. This, by extension, makes the elven civilization incredibly old, as well as the most powerful, the most culturally renowned, the race with the most powerful mages and other spell casters The humans are a 'new' race, the new kids on the block, and they are only just making a place for themselves. They know the basics, but humans have only just scratched the surface. I liken the comparison to Tiger Woods (in his hey day) compared to an amateur golfer. The humans have figured out the rules of the game and sometimes hit the line drive or the clutch putt, whereas the elves have all the tools and tricks in the book and consistently outshine their competition.
Why we suddenly discuss political factions in a section magic is beyond me. That said, there are various races, each with their own macro-level endeavours. The elves maintain a position of power and overwatch over the lands in the name of Ihr; dwarves, rat men, humanity in its three major kingdoms and scattered independent communities, the orcs and of course the goblin herds. The main protagonists come from the J'in Empire, as previously described as based on Sengoku period Japan with a smattering of Korean and Chinese cultural references; it is a hodge lodge of Oriental societies for a number of reasons. Primarily, and this I freely admit to, I am neither a native speaker to any Asian language or dialect, nor have I actually lived in the societies I base it off of. This can lead to some dangerous ground, particularly when depicting cultural norms and linguistics paradigms. For this reason, i have blatantly departed for a purely Japan-referenced culture. One aspect I did try to maintain is the truly ferocious political manoeuvring involved in the courts and between the families therein. Under a relatively recently established Imperial line, the provincial daimyos (governors, if you will) still maintain their own provinces as they see fit, under the auspices of the Emperor. They each vie for favour and control over their political enemies and allies alike. Truly too daunting an aspect for this post, I may have to come back to it to try and give an idea of what's involved and at stake within the Imperial Courts as book one closes out.
Surprisingly, a large part of this post dealt with things other than magic; perhaps these are just the questions I keyed off on the most. Given a different slant on a work, these questions can really provide a writer with the tools to spur the imagination and discover parts of the story they never even knew existed.