ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN
Essay Thirteen: Scientifica Magica
Now before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, based only upon the title of this post, let me state clearly that I am not one of those gamers or writers who favor turning magic (in either game or fiction) into a mere exercise in science and technology under a different name. I am not for “scientificizing magic.”
I am not in favor of turning either game magic or fictional magic into science by another name, nor am I one of those who favor making magic operate under closely regulated and studied rules of scientific function or with mathematical precision. I like my magic wild, uncontrolled to some degree, definitely unpredictable, prone to malfunction and misfire, and in most other ways outright dangerous.
(You know, much like a woman. Now I say that half-jokingly, but only half jokingly. To me science and technology should operate like a man – with precision, with mathematical certainty, with rules, with predictability. Now am I saying all men are this way? God no, and I can only wish. I know real people as they truly are, you see, and that is merely a philosophical postulate of how male types would operate ideally, logically, and rationally. Sort of like saying all Vulcans should be like Spock.
On the other hand women should be unpredictable, without Newtonian mathematical precision, with emotional flare and passion, fuzzy and quantum at the edges, hard to pin down, and in more than one way, truly dangerous. Generalizations of course, and type generalizations as well, but they make the point. Magic to me should not be Science and science should not be magic despite all the modern Geekery in games and fiction that would have them be, in effect, merely interchangeable and fungible concepts for the same thing.)
Science should be amazing in what it can achieve but predictable in how it operates, Magic should be almost miraculous in what it achieves but largely unpredictable and untamed in both technical function and in its methods of operation. The very point of science is to be controlled and safe, reliable and commonplace, not dangerous, for a dangerous and rare science defeats the very purpose and function of being scientific. On the other hand the very essence of magic is to be rare, uncontrolled – especially in comparison to science and the mundane – and unreliable. For indeed if you have a magic that is too easy to control, utterly predictable, reliable, safe, and ubiquitous then you don’t really have Magic at all, you simply have science under the flimsy and inaccurate guise and faulty nomenclature of “magic.”)
Now all of that being said there is one way in which I favor the intersection of magic and science and that is in the analytical and detective capabilities of modern science, which often border closely upon the frontiers of what I would actually call magic. Or at least magical in effect.
Being an amateur scientist and having a near lifelong interest in physics, forensics, archaeology, medicine, chemistry and biochemistry I often keep up to date on new papers and techniques in those fields and have recently been studying several superb new and relatively new methods of analyzing, collating, detecting, examining, and understanding archaeological and forensic evidence. Such as the use of LIDAR, magnetic surface and subsurface scans, satellite imagery sweeps in the infrared, multiple data source computer modeling, etc.
In thinking on those things and what they can accomplish it has recently occurred to me that a new type of “magic” (of a kind rarely ever encountered in gaming and fiction) could easily be developed to mimic such scientific technologies without necessarily being limited to being scientific in operation.
For instance I have recently begun developing “spells” for both game and fictional use that mimic such new discovery techniques without presenting themselves in a scientific or predictable manner. I won’t specifically describe these “magics” in detail or enumerate the spells themselves as that would take too long and as one could easily develop multiple spells from these general categories in any case, but I will briefly describe a couple of these “spell types” for you to consider in developing your own magics in this regard.
1. REENLIVENING SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area or other target and can then present, in a complex still or even a moving image, the events that occurred long ago in a particular area, concerning certain bodily remains, etc. For instance the spell could take you back into time (figuratively speaking) to see events that had occurred long in the past, such as making you privy to a particular conversation, an event in the life of a person long dead, to witness a long forgotten or unrecorded (or even an historical) event so that you could view such things occurring for yourself. These would be very different spells from something like Speak with Dead because you would be an observer and witness, not a conversant, and such results would not be limited to mere third party descriptions but rather you would be a first hand, though passive, observer.
2. RECONSTRUCTION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area of building or object and that allows you to see that area or building or object as it looked at another period (of the past), say at the point of its making or shaping or construction. Via the use of such an enchantment you could see a building as it is designed and constructed, an object as it is manufactured, or perhaps even several different time periods (in sequence or simultaneously overlain against one another) and their interactions, tracing the construction or object through time to several different time-points to gain detailed information about its history.
3. REENACTMENT SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over a large area or maybe a specific person or set of remains that allows one to view, hear, feel, taste, smell, and magically touch the reenactment of a famous battle, an unknown war, the forging of a weapon, a day in the life or an individual, or even the vision, trance, or dream of another individual or creature. The emphasis here would not be merely upon the gathering of information or the witnessing of an event, but more directly upon a sort of shared (or in this case reenacted/relived) past experience. Perhaps such a spell would actually allow you to become another person, another creature, or even an inanimate (but magically aware) object for a certain period of time.
4. RECREATION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour upon a particular object, building, device, etc. that can recreate a visual, interactive image of the same. Higher levels spells of this type can actually recreate a physically real or similar mock-up of the original object based upon the information gathered from the object remains by the initial glamour. Still higher level spells can recreate usable approximations of even formerly magical objects (though the magic contained in the reconstructed objects may be limited) and the very highest level such recreation spells can even recreate working (though not necessarily magical in any way) models of previously lost artifacts and relics (assuming there are any remains left for the glamour to read).
5. PROJECTION SPELLS – One of the other types of spells would have to be enacted first, but, once that was done, and using the information or experiences gathered from that initial set of magics a spell caster could then seek to work a secondary set of spells that would allow one to project what would happen in the future regarding one’s chosen target or set of targets. For instance say you were in an existing castle, you could then use a projection spell to analyze and predict how it might fall to ruins, what part of the construction would be destroyed, what parts preserved, why, and by what agencies of destruction or even of renovation or preservation.
As I said above I will not enumerate the specific spells I have developed using these categories or ideas of magical effects because I don’t want to limit your imagination to my conceptions. I think every DM or player or writer ought to develop their own ideas regarding the specifics of this concept.
However I will say this, that when it comes to the operations of “magic” in my own milieus and worlds and writings every use of magic is at least tinged, and sometimes heavily tainted, with the possibility of danger, misdirection, and even failure and misfire. For instance considering the spell types above perhaps the information gleaned from such a spell will be entirely accurate, then again perhaps the work will be only partially accurate, or even mostly inaccurate. Perhaps the caster intends to see an image of one particular fortification or construction site and what he actually sees is an entirely different site. Perhaps the spell will fail entirely (with no discernable consequence or with great and dire consequence). Perhaps the spell will erroneously mix information from several different objects together and produce an amalgam of an object that does not really exist. Perhaps the spell will cause a “Rogue Projection” that will attempt to divine or even produce an unanticipated future rather than accurately display the past. Or perhaps the spell will draw the unwanted attention of some dangerous creature or being that is monitoring or warding the intended target.
The dangers surrounding the use of such magics, as with the use of any such game or fictional magic, could be nearly inexhaustible.
And I fully encourage such dangers, just as I encourage the dangers inherent in the use of any magic.
Magic is, after all, not science. And it should not operate like science. Even when it closely mimics the basic functions of science and technology (as in the case of the “spells” described above), it should be remain essentially separate and distinct in operational methods and in general nature.
For even if magic yields an essentially scientific purpose this does not mean that it should in any way reproduce a technological outcome or result.
It should always remain dangerous, rare, unpredictable, mysterious, and “magical.”
Otherwise it is mere science under another name
THE KITS AND THE KITS AND THE KITS
You know, it makes an awful lotta sense that, especially in the early stages of their career, and in a world in which such things were common, there would develop pre-designed “kits” for various professions. Just as existed for soldiers.
Of course such kits would vary by race certainly, likely by geographic region (terrain, weather patterns, availability to water and shelter, limes and outpost proximity, etc.), and perhaps even by nationality or economic strength or technological capability or even just by preferred design modes. Or by such factors as item or material availability.
And absolutely such kits would vary with experience and exposure. My gear and equipment kits and carries have changed considerably over time as I have learned what gear is likely to be needed, what is likely never to be needed, what is truly useful, as equipment designs have changed, as far better tools and multi-tools have developed. And in certain situations I know I will need certain kits and stocks, and in other situations I will need different kits and tools, though overlap almost always occurs with some items. (You will always need a lighter, always need binocs, always need a knife, etc.) And I have encouraged both my players (and those I have known in real life) to develop their own kits specific to their own experiences and professions and to develop complimentary kits so that people in a team avoid redundancy or over-burdening themselves to no real point. (If one or two guys carry a hatchet then not every team member need do so as long as they do indeed work as a team and remain cohesive. One machete a team is usually sufficient, but everyone carries water and a knife.)
But this is, if you ask me, as excellent idea (and I know previous versions of different games have toyed with similar ideas in other forms), basic starter kits for various professions (not just tool sets) followed by highly individualized and special function kits as one gains experience.
(For instance a Ranger’s Urban Kit, used while tracking an assassin in a city would be quite different from his Wilderness Kit while tracking foreign raiders involved in frontier skirmishes. Money would likely be plentiful in an urban kit to pay bribes and develop informant networks, money is practically useless on the frontier.)
So you could have all kinds of Kits, such as General Profession Kits (Combatant Starter Kits, Magic User Starter Kits), down to Class Kits (Paladin’s Kit and Barbarian’s Kit) to Special Function Kits (Urban versus Wilderness Kits) to Highly Specialized Specific Mission Kits of the very experienced Adventurer and Team Member and even all the way down to the Sole or Single Operative who might act as an Undercover Operative, an Agent, or a Spy.
Then again you could have Special Gear and Special Weapon Kits designed for very refined purposes, such as thieves tools, medical and first aid kits, field chemical kits, firestarting kits, business kits, inscribing kits, disguise kits, instrument kits, weapon kits, even kits to be used against specific opponents (tactical kits).
Kits like this (of all kinds and of different levels of complexity) would be extremely useful. Especially Emergency Kits deposited at known locales, at dead-drops, and at safe houses to be recovered as needed.
Continuing with the description of The Other World…
II. Briefing on the General Setting of Terra Ghanae (Earth/ Iÿarlðma) – Terra Ghanae is actually two worlds. The first is our world (Terra), where most of the gaming activity takes place. The game and campaigns themselves are set primarily in Terra (the Latin term for Earth), the time frame being around 800 AD and the geographical and national setting is the Byzantine Empire. The common base of operations is Constantinople.
Our world, Terra, is as it was in the era of 800 AD, historically, socially, militarily, and so forth. However recently several strange things have occurred which have severely concerned the Emperor and the leadership of the Eastern Orthodox Church. These strange events have prompted the Emperor and the Orthodox Church to band together to form a secret team that is charged with discovering the cause(s) of these weird and uncanny events, and to put a stop to these strange events, if possible. Most of the players play characters in this team, or in one of the related teams. This main team is called the Basilegate, or translated, the Emperor’s Legate.
At about the same time a group of Buddhist Monks (and others) in the Orient has been having visions about these same disturbances and has formed a team of their own to travel to the West and investigate the same phenomenon. That team is called the Hoshi, or The Footbridge.
What is actually occurring on our world at this moment is that our world is being invaded by beings and creatures from the other world, that world being named Ghanae (though various languages render the term differently), and the people who inhabit it. No one in our world knows how these creatures are coming here or exactly from where they originate, and this information is also hidden from the players, who must discover these events for themselves. At about the same time (slightly later in time frame actually) another group of beings from this other world are also trying to find a way into our world and eventually succeed at their efforts, and are then able to come to earth. These beings are what would normally be referred to in the game as elves, dwarves, giants and others of their kind. None of these people or creatures is indigenous to our world and no humans are indigenous to their world.
These peoples are collectively called the Eldeven peoples and consist of the Jukarn (Dwarves), Sidelh, also called the Caer (Elves), Lorahn (Eladarin), Gheriks (Halflings), Avafal (the “New Ones” or “Fallen Ones,” literally the offspring between Men and Eldevens), and so forth. These creatures are more akin to various human races in that they can all intermarry and interbreed (though the rate of intermarriage is no higher than on our world at that time period), than they are to separate species. There are also other beings who are allied with the Eldeven, such as the Adharma, who are a race of Demi-giants, and their half-brothers, the Gabar (Renown Ones, offspring of the Sidelh and the Nephili). Though the Adharma and the Gabar are not considered Eldevens.
There are two reasons that the Eldeven peoples desire to come to our world, the first is that they are seeking to hunt down and recapture or destroy most of the monsters that have escaped to our world from their world. The second I will explain later.
The Eldevens come to our world in disguise hoping to accomplish their various missions without being discovered. They encounter humans (us) however, as they must in our world, and eventually some men begin to understand that the Eldeven party is not human. There are various reactions to this discovery, some believe the Eldevens to be demons or devils come to invade our world and that they are somehow allied with the monsters who are also invading our world. Some believe them to be angelic messengers sent from God to assist mankind against the invasions of monsters, and to help stop the plagues and the disasters wracking the world at that time. Some believe them harbingers of the Apocalypse. There is a schism between both those who are in government (the Court of the Emperor), and those in the Church, with either group being divided into two camps, those who oppose the Eldevens and consider them enemies, perhaps even demons, and those who want closer relations with the Eldevens and consider them helpful, perhaps even Agents of God.
The Eldevens themselves send a scouting, expeditionary, research, and monster hunting party called the Caerkara, or the Expeditionary Force into our world. Once it is discovered that this party is composed of non-human creatures the decision is made in Constantinople to send out the Basilegate to hunt for and try to make contact with the Caerkara, and to discover the true nature and motives of this Eldeven party.
While these monster invasions are in the process of occurring and shortly before the arrival of the Eldeven team, various plagues, earthquakes, famines and other natural disasters begin to afflict our world. Some people connect these calamities directly to the monster invasions, and some directly to the arrival of the Eldeven party. Still others see the Eldeven group as possible allies with whom they can work to help combat both the monster invasions and the various natural disasters. Eventually the Court at Constantinople comes to believe that the Eldevens may be the people of the legendary Prester John. The Patriarch of Constantinople and the Church remain more skeptical.
Samarkand (The City of Samarl): The city of Samarkand sits in exactly the same geographic point as the city of Samarkand on our world, but resides in Ghanae (properly called Iÿarlðma by the Eldevens). Both cities also share the same name. However all similarities end there. Samarkand was designed by the Sidelh but was built by the Adharma. Both races share a similar view of architecture in that they encapsulate information in material objects. Books or written materials are rare among the Sidelh and completely absent among the Adharma. The giants instead are excellent masters of mnemonics, and therefore pass history thousands of years old down orally with very little variation or embellishment between transmissions. They also weave information into every building, statue, column, piece of furniture and art, and physical device they create. The entire city then is one huge library of historical, arcane, and mythological information if one knows how to read the text.
Samarkand is the capital city of Kitharia, the most populous and powerful nation known among the Eldeven peoples. Since the Sidelh are slow to reproduce they have invited many other races of Eldevens to dwell in their city and the Sidelh are actually often outnumbered by the non-Sidelh living there. Nevertheless the non-Sidelh are often granted citizenship after a time, as are their families, and so often easily integrate into Kitharian society, to become stout defenders and loyal citizens of their adopted homeland.
The ruler of the Samarkand, and by extension Kitharia, is the individual known as the Samareül. He is elected by a secret group of individuals and once elected he takes no public name other than his title of Samareül, which means Priest-King. The Samareül is elected for life, and is rarely deposed. The Samareül is the supreme judge, most influential political leader and chief priest of Kitharia, being considered the living representative of Samarl, or God. Strangely enough however the Kitharians and most Eldevens for that matter have no formal religion or religious beliefs, and most seek no relationship with God at all. Instead the relationship between Samarl and the Eldevens is considered the de-facto representative relationship and chief obligation of the Samareül. (The current Samareül is looking to change this state of affairs wishing to make a religious and spiritual relationship among the Kitharians and eventually all Eldevens to be a matter of personal relation between the individual and Samarl. This has led to strained cultural, societal, political, and in some cases racial [such as between the Sidelh and the Lorahn] relationships among some parties, and to the establishment of a strange interlinked alliance between the courts of Samarkand and Constantinople on religious and spiritual matters. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later posting.)
The city is dominated by an acropolis into which is carved (in the fashion of the Adharma who carve their homes into mountainsides) the Palace and administrative houses of the Samareül. The acropolis is also said to contain numerous secret passages into which the Samareül and his officials keep stored many ancient and secret artifacts and devices, including weird machines which are said to be able to peer into other worlds and through time. This acropolis is called the Jlæthÿlîrel. There is also a rumor that the passages themselves have created a sort of scrying channel and that the channels may be decorated with glyphs of unknown design. This acropolis is sometimes called the onŵl-Samarkando, or, Helm of Samarkand
The city also has numerous districts in which various Eldeven races mix rather freely, but it also has segregated districts. These are most evident between the Sidelh (the elves) and the small enclave of Adharma (who rarely take citizenship) who prefer to live there for periods of time as trusted resident aliens. Politically the situation is stable at most times, except during periods of war. There is a large public gathering area called the Msýthariørl where public elections, entertainments, athletic events, public rites, demonstrations of arcane force and skill, and debated counsels are held. It can hold nearly one-half of the entire population of the city at any given time.
There are also a number of industrial and manufacturing districts to produce and market goods, the Eldarik Houses, the Armories and Internal Towers, the Plarshoel (or, Walking Houses – the giants built the city so that certain buildings can move around the city on tracks, allowing the city to be reconfigured for both ease of trade and transport, and for periods of war and self-defense – unknown to most the city walls can likewise move allowing them to be “interlocked” in various defensive configurations as needed), the sa-Elturaere (the Temple for the study and practice of Elturgy and Elturael – Arcane magic), various markets and domestic areas, the Jmyatŗ Skella (the Crafting District), the Tĕna (Quarters of the Peace Officers), the Nhil (the Warband Quarterings), and the newly created Praşklyřt (the Hall of Investigation – to study and counteract the creation of monsters, discussed later).
As mentioned above the entire city is also a sort of architectural library. However many believe that actual Elturgy was used by the Sidelh to recast the work of the giants so that a secret code now also lies hidden within the structure of the city foundations. To what purpose no-one is really sure.
The River Qira runs through the city (including partially underground) and the river Qala now runs completely around the city in a near perfect circular moat, and then runs away through artificial channels so that the river approaches the city from the East and leaves by routes facing due West, South, and North.
The city is composed of seven plateaus, or levels, the highest being the Jlæthÿlîrel, and the lowest section being an underground area of hot springs and baths called the Myņil.