Silver Insanity

Precious, Valuable Madness
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:49 pm 
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Prismatic Pangolin

Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2007 8:50 pm
Posts: 2283
There are (roughly) two basic types of magic: Innate powers, such as those exhibited by a werewolf or "savant" mage. And ritual magic - magical formulae that can, at least in theory, be practiced by literally anyone.

Innate powers tend to be at least somewhat hereditary; these (aside from occasional special cases such as vampires) represent powers you were born with. The scope, limitations, and strength of an innate power can vary widely; the weakest powers simply manifest as knacks or affinities or just plain luck - easily explained away or ignored, while the strongest powers (roughly one every two hundred years) can manifest obvious power even while surrounded by nulls.

Many innate powers also come with associated drawbacks; for example, your average werewolf finds silver uncomfortable to touch - often likening it to a mild electric current, or something that's just a bit too hot or too cold to hold onto for long.

Ritual magic, on the other hand, is largely learned - though there are certainly people with a related innate talent. In its most basic state, a ritual is a recipe: Do these things, in this order, and you'll get that result. A typical ritual involves drawing some sort of specific pattern - often using a very particular form of ink, some chanted words and accompanying gestures, and often a set of other physical components placed within the confines of the pattern. Those with a bit of skill at it can cut corners somewhat - typically substituting less expensive components, or using a simplified pattern that takes less time to draw. Those with a lot of skill at it can start with a desired effect and research a usable ritual (assuming access to a library of existing rituals that they can crib bits off of.) And those with an absurd amount of skill - typically people with an innate talent for ritual magic and far too much practice - can flat out invent new rituals.

One common ritual at SU is the ritual of the sleepless night - a ritual that temporarily puts off any need for sleep. It's usually performed with a number two pencil, two sheets of blank paper, and a fully charged nine volt battery. The casting takes about five minutes, and the effects last for about 24 hours. Repeated castings can be chained together, though each further repeat has subsequently less effect - and subsequently more consequence when it finally does wear off. A few students have invented a stronger version that actually removes the need for sleep instead of merely delaying it, but that version is both more expensive, and rather more difficult to successfully cast.

Ritual magic also includes most forms of magic item creation, and, at the higher levels of it, "hanging" spell effects that are cast in advance and then triggered later - usually by a word and a gesture, though other triggers are certainly possible.
Major rituals (with casting times measured in weeks or months) can also do things like grant (or change, or remove) an innate power - though such things must usually be customized to the target of the effect. Another common example is the ritual of the darkened sun: an exacting ritual that, quite simply, blocks out the sun. It requires (among other components) a hundred pounds of gold dust, thirteen perfect diamonds (of exactly the right set of sizes and cuts), a forty-one year old (to the second) white elephant, and seven dedicated casters working non-stop for a year - without breaks for food or rest. Nobody has ever cast it. Nobody is quite sure if it would even work - it's suspected that the mage who wrote it down tweaked the ritual a little to render it non-functional. But the design certainly looks good on paper...


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 Post subject: Re: Some stuff on magic
PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 3:40 pm 
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Prismatic Pangolin

Joined: Tue Apr 17, 2007 8:50 pm
Posts: 2283
Some effects are, to all practical intents, impossible, regardless of what combination of innate power and ritual magic you bring to bear. These include things like putting out the sun, resurrecting the dead (or absolutely preventing death in the first place), proving (or disproving) the existence of an omnipotent god, and - for reasons that no-one has been able to explain - finding lost socks.

Some effects are merely very difficult - doable by archmage types, but not without serious investments or consequences. These include things like large scale weather manipulation, preventing death by a single specific cause (such as aging), ripping a house out of the ground and holding it in midair even when thousands of nulls start showing up to gawk, or detecting or classifying the innate power of a person who's not actively using magic. (In fact, detecting magic in general is pretty hard; a fair number of people can manage a general "There's something magical somewhere nearby," but precise detection of even just active magic is a rare and exceptionally valuable talent.)

Speaking of which, some tips on working magic around nulls: Stuff that doesn't get anyone's attention is only going to have to fight general area resistance; subtle magic has a chance of working in places where a thrown fireball would fizzle out within a few yards of travel. (Unlike the Mage setting, it doesn't matter how believable the magic is - what matters is whether or not it will get noticed. Pulling an illusory gun from a pocket will fail just as soon as a few nulls start to really pay attention to the "fact" that you're waving a gun around - whereas a personal illusion that makes you look human won't fail unless you also do something [like pulling a gun from your pocket] that would make people pay attention to you.)

It's also worth noting that people - especially nulls - have a tendency to justify or forget anything particularly strange that they see. Run down main street throwing fireballs at a werewolf, and witnesses will swear they saw you throwing grenades at some guy in a fursuit. Some people believe that this effect is being reinforced by a world-wide mind-altering spell - but the ritual you'd need to create such an effect falls squarely into the "practically impossible" category - especially when you count in that it affects nulls, and would still have to be subtle enough to avoid direct detection by today's archmages. In general, this effect does not apply to people with an actual understanding of magic or an actual magical talent - making it one of the best ways to test for the presence of magical talent (even if it doesn't tell you anything about what that talent is) - though someone with a talent, but who doesn't know about magic, will (humans being humans) probably try to justify it anyway, making the test an iffy one at best.

Of course, obvious use of magic does not come recommended anyway - even if you can get it to work. There are several varieties of supernatural monster that prefer to prey on magic users, there's at least one government agency known to take an interest in such "anomalies", and if you get arrested for reckless use of explosives, the judge won't care that you were "really using magic and there was no chance I'd accidentally hurt a bystander, honest, sir."


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