1879: A Discussion on Magic Theory

I’m going to cheat just a little bit here, and drop in a discussion I had on Discord last night as a blog entry. We went over some material and aspects of the game world that I thought were interesting, and worthy of further distribution. Forthwith, and with the tangents and extranea edited out, a discussion on magic theory.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 1:37 PM
I have a more specific question related to your magic system : Class (i.e. Discipline based) or Varied but Skill Based and the class being more guild oriented or is it something in a different line of progress?

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 1:41 PM
OK, spellcasting is Skill-based, you have to have the Spellcasting Skill. It’s Lodge oriented, where Lodge is defined as Order (Mages), Faith (Priests and Shamans), or School (Weird Science). Mages are straight up casters. Priests are casters with spirit working abilities. Shamans are spirit workers with casting ability. Weird Scientists are enchanters.
Examples: The Galvanic Order applies late 19th century physics to the study of magic, resulting in Heinrich Hertz being a spellcaster as well as a physicist. The Anglican Church now has a training school for theurges at Oxford University. The Saurids get advice from their ancestors, summon elementals in combat, and cover their refusal to use advanced technology with a few spells. The Heron School builds amazing clockwork devices that nobody else can replicate, while the Newtonian School has taken alchemy to whole new levels.

The various Orders of Mages have a complex relationship. Some trade information, others don’t. Some compare their research and try to avoid duplicating effort, others would rather invent their own method.
Faiths can borrow from each other if the Faith itself allows it. For example, Hindus and Khemetics could easily trade spells, but Anglicans would have problems trading spells with Catholics, never mind with non-Christians.

Did that answer the question?

Graymayne-Yesterday at 1:49 PM
pretty much

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 1:50 PM
Mechanically, the balance on spellcasting is Strain. With no spell matrix, the magician has to route the energies themselves. It works kind of like Drain in Shadowrun, except that there’s no Test to avoid it. The magician can cast until they exhaust themselves.

Eventually, someone will reinvent (or reintroduce) the spell matrix, but that can’t happen until the mana level on Earth rises a bit further.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 2:00 PM
Nethermancers or Necromancers : are they more in the priest category or kinda split up?

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 2:04 PM
Necromancers are more or less split up. The Prometheans, a School of Weird Science that delved a little too far into biology, got themselves in serious trouble, among other things bringing back the term “burking” into the vernacular. There’s a Faith or two that also do stuff with raising the dead and such.

Nethermancy is a strictly Earthdawn concept. You won’t see Nethermancers in 1879, probably ever, as the cycle of legend that arises in the 5th/6th Worlds will repeat the fundamental patterns but in new interpretations.

For example, Wilhelm Wundt invented the mental illusion, the kind that can be disbelieved, but Illusionism as it exists in Earthdawn partly depends on the existence of Horrors in the world and a need for people to question their perceptions.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 2:25 PM
I’ve never viewed that change in each “cycle” of magic that way, a core fundamental pattern that changes.

Magic has returned and with it new interpretations whether because of scientific advancements, religious doctrines, or arcane inspiration …. can’t figure out the rest of it right now

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 2:34 PM
The core patterns that I was speaking of are more cultural in nature. The Great Stories are told and retold, each time a little differently. Kind of a Joseph Campbell thing.

How mana gets used varies to some extent based on the culture that it rises in, but it’s a natural force, and there’s only so many ways to use it that actually work.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 2:37 PM
hmmm, its not making sense to me that way but I’ll keep trying

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 2:42 PM
OK, let’s try tackling it from another direction. Are you looking at the cycles of the Worlds, or at the cycles of magic that align with the Worlds, or how magic works from insid the fiction?

Graymayne-Yesterday at 2:43 PM
the last two in combination sounds most accurate

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 2:47 PM
OK. So in the Fourth World, magic is complex, requiring understanding of threads, matrices, and so forth. This is partly due to the Fourth World being in a high-mana state at the time of Earthdawn‘s game setting. You could cast raw, but you’d be taking a tremendous risk, partly due to the ongoing presence of Horrors, partly due to the damage astral space suffered during the Scourge, and partly due to the basic nature of channeling astral energies through yourself instead of through a buffer.

So: in the game world of 1879, the mana level is still very low. Astral space has had millennia to heal from the damage suffered back in the Fourth World. The Horrors are long gone, forced from the world by the fall of the mana level at the end of the Fourth World. Two of the dangers are no longer present.

The mana level has risen far enough to support spellcasting, but not far enough to support complex astral constructs like the spell matrix.
Casting raw is dangerous, because of the Strain that channeling the energies causes, but not as dangerous as it would be in Earthdawn, because there’s no Horrors and no astral warping.

The cycle of mana causes the magic level to rise and fall over hundreds and thousands of years. That cycle aligns with the cycle of the Worlds, being one of the defining markers of the boundary between one World and the next.

Each time the cycle repeats, it manifests a little differently. Think of it as following a recipe to make a complicated dish. There’s variables, such as the freshness of the ingredients, the weather (humidity hates baking), and so forth, that determine whether the result is average, or the best ratatouille you’ve ever made, or if you’re ordering pizza.

The conditions of a World determine to some extent how the magic will manifest.

The Players Companion will introduce some new magical techniques that are becoming possible as the mana level rises, including fetishes and foci. We’ll also have the mechanics for creating new Base Spells and KAVs.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 3:48 PM
it helps alot, but … I still feel like I’m missing something. I love the complexity in Earthdawn, it makes sense to me and did from the beginning. I can accept some limitations due to mana, but then I want to know the stages of mana at what level do dragons awaken, and how about the necessary mana to do x, y and z. I can understand variables affect some of that, other worlds changing when the cycle repeats. The separations of magic, okay, orders have more of an effect, I can see that as a precursor to the original disciplines, even if these won’t be like the disciplines in Earthdawn, I can see a pattern of creation there. What I don’t understand is the statement you made: “How mana gets used varies to some extent based on the culture that it rises in”

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 3:52 PM
Paradigm, then mage. How mana gets used varies in Earthdawn according to Discipline. Swordmasters use it to better their combat abilities. Nethermancers use it to summon spirits and cast spells.
Magic in Barsaive is a bit different from magic in Cathay or Indrisa. The Passions are different. In Barsaive, mana gets used in the service of Thystonius, Passion of Conflict and Valor, but in Cathay, it gets used in pursuit of Shurr, Passion of Knowledge and Scholarship.

How a Galvanic Order mage casts Bolt varies from how a Priest of the Anglican Church casts it. The Galvanic would create a Galvanic Discharge, effectively casting Lightning Bolt, while the Priest would invoke his deity to Smite the enemy.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:08 PM
I think I get what isn’t making sense. All these “orders” you have, is magic restricted to just spellcasters (which it seems you have a multitude of vs Barsaive’s 5) or do you also have essentially your own variant of “swordmaster (as an example)” as well?

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:12 PM
OK, I see the question. In Earthdawn, all Adepts have access to magic, some using it for Talents, some using it for spellcasting. In 1879, most people do not have access to magic. There are no Disciplines; there are only Professions, which are essentially career paths. Magic is restricted to spellcasters, enchanters, and mediums.

Weird Scientists don’t cast spells. They create devices, or brew alchemical potions, or bring strange creatures to life. Mechanically, they’re enchanters.

Mediums have psychic powers.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:14 PM
so then the question is: why not? There would be legends to support such, Hercules, The 300 Spartans, Jonathan and his shield bearer, Ninja’s (yes they weren’t magical in reality, but the legend is beyond the reality) hence the example

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:15 PM
The magic level isn’t high enough yet to give power to legend.
In order for legend to create Disciplines, you need a high mana level.
Just like in Shadowrun, where you have physical adepts who are the precursors of the fighting Disciplines, in 1879 there eventually will be a Profession that turns magic to physical ends. But not for a while. The mana level has to rise.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:17 PM
you are misunderstanding, let me rephrase: Why can’t you use magic to boost a sword ability when you could use it to cast a spell? See that’s the part I don’t see. Magic as spellcasting to me, is more difficult than say using it to make one naturally “more silent” to sneak up on your target, etc

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:19 PM
Yes, you can in fact use magic to boost your Melee Weapons Skill. However, nobody has learned how to do that in an ongoing fashion just yet. There’s an Improve Skill spell. What would have to happen is for someone to take Improve Skill as a Skill, the way Mediums take sensory spells as Skills.

Mediums set the mechanic for how these things will eventually arise.
For someone who has not studied magic formally to use mana to boost their Skills takes a mindset that generally does not exist in 1879.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:21 PM
No one’s done it obviously, anyway.
There are probably monks in Tibet doing it all the time.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:21 PM
Disciples of Kali, ninjas, and the like, who pursue mystic paths, may eventually learn how to channel mana into their Skills.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:21 PM
Fakirs in India.
And so forth.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:22 PM
I can accept the “obvious factor” at this point

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:22 PM
that part makes more sense than not having it until later

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:23 PM
Part of it is that the mindset doesn’t exist, part of it is that Disciplines simply can’t arise yet. Anyone who does develop a mystic ability to boost themselves is going to be as rare as a spellcaster, possibly more rare. They’re going to have to have spent considerable time developing the mental discipline and focus required to channel mana.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:23 PM
I can just see French Musketeers or the 300 Spartans due to the training and natural mentality that kind of dedication to training requires and throwing someone with magic into it, and viola they just start doing it without understanding what they are doing.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:24 PM
That could happen, but that would be a one-off. It would take a number of one-offs to convince people that this was possible, and then you could start to develop the belief and mindset that’s required to have non spellcasting adepts in the general population. Most likely, the first appearance of such would be from a reclusive mystic order, like the Tibetan monks JGray cited. Someone messes with some obscure group of mystics and gets their heads handed to them.

There’s also a game balance issue. Once you bring in Skill boosting with mana, it has to become available widely, or the players will find themselves outmatched.

etherial-Yesterday at 4:26 PM
They consulted oracles and trained full time.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:26 PM
Also, keep in mind the theme.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:26 PM
just using the “mentality” for martial dedication in their case specifically

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:26 PM
The white man who gets trained to become a mystical fighter is more a pulp idea than a Victorian one.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:26 PM
JGray has a point. The pulp dial is set to 6.5 in 1879, along with the steampunk and weirdness dials. While there is pulp adventure in the game, it’s not predominant.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:27 PM
pulp to me is more Detective novels, not sure how you mean it.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:27 PM
We’re actually working on developing the technological advances a bit more, and looking at the various genres possible with the game world.

Pulp generally involves square-jawed heroes who never suffer more than a flesh wound unless they die heroically

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:28 PM
Pulp, in this case, refers to the rise of cheap magazines printed on “wood pulp” paper which told lurid stories of adventure and low-level super heroics. Tarzan, Jon Carter, Warlord of Mars, Buck Rogers, the Shadow… all early pulp. Detectives are sort of pulp but they’re where pulp meets noir. Pulp evolved out of the serials of Victorian times and eventually evolved into comics and noir.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:31 PM
I’m not even just referring to the white man becoming a hero part. There were a few stories, Beowulf, would have been a melee based hero, he broke the jaw of Grendel the monster with his hands.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:31 PM
Yes, he did. In a time of high magic.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:32 PM
There’s certainly stories. But the mana level of the world has to be high enough for legend to drive magicalprowess, and to create True Patterns that support Disciplines. Earthdawn is all about the power of legend. 1879 is about ingenuity in a low magic world.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:32 PM
1879 is, what, less then a decade after the return of magic?

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:33 PM
Well, we’ll just have to disagree on how possible it is lol.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:33 PM
1879 is two years after.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:33 PM
But at least I understand the world a bit better.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:33 PM
The Grosvenor Experiment was in 1877.
The London sourcebook, coming out in December, advances the game year to 1880.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:34 PM
So, compare that to, say, Shadowrun.
Where the first spike baby was born in the late… I want to say 80s? 90s?
And the first edition begins in 2050.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:34 PM
Part of it, Graymayne, is game theme. We already have a game that handles the power of legend, using magic to augment your fighting abilities, etc.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:34 PM
So, that’s 50 years of getting stuff going and rising magic levels.
And as the rise of computers has shown us, a LOT can evolve in 50 years.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:35 PM
Things are moving a lot faster in 1879 than in Shadowrun because of the Rabbit Hole.
In Shadowrun, you had spike babies, and then the Day of the Dragons in 2011, and then goblinization in 2021. In 1879, the Rabbit Hole opened, and you had elves and dwarves in London the next day, and in Paris a week later. Snarks and trolls started appearing just a few days later.
By the end of the first month, Boojums were popping up in major cities all over the world.

etherial-Yesterday at 4:37 PM
Shadowrun also had over 100 years of natural magical growth on 1879, which is why Spike Babies were possible in the first place.

JGrayGaming-Yesterday at 4:37 PM
Right. But actual techniques take longer.
Its one thing to have magic. Another to know what to do with it.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:37 PM
Not just that. The mana level between Earth and the Gruv have about equalized. Earth will have to wait for its mana level to rise on its own from here on out.

A quick point – spellcasting is advancing fairly rapidly on Earth for three major reasons. One, the Galvanic Order. Led by Heinrich Hertz, William Wundt, and Max Planck, the Galvanics have been studying magic with late 19th century physics, and publishing their work like good scientists do, which has put a lot of useful info out where people can get to it. Two, the Saurids, who have allowed some Terrestrials to observe their magic, and learn from it. Three, the Victorian obsession with the occult. The Theosophical Society, the spiritualists, etc., all have made major contributions to the rapid testing of ideas about magic and promulgation of what works and what doesn’t.

Graymayne-Yesterday at 4:46 PM
That makes more sense to why you don’t have a more melee oriented setup. Thank You.

Andrew1879-Yesterday at 4:47 PM
Also, firearms. When you have Maxim guns, why do you need to spend years training in mystic fighting techniques?
You want weird ideas about past civilizations, look up Edward Bulwer-Lytton. I’ve yet to do anything with the Vril
Thank you all for your time and I will be back later tonight.

Tally Ho!