1879: Magic Theory, the Fourth World, and the Fifth

FASA’s cosmology has a highly developed theory of how magic works. This started out with a solid basis from Earthdawn First Edition, with its ideas about patterns, True Patterns, threads, and so forth, and has evolved organically over the years through a bookshelf of publications across four editions. Now we’re looking at how that same magic theory applies to later worlds. When we wrote Shadowrun, we didn’t have the Earthdawn theories, and so the Sixth World was very different in how magic worked. But here, with 1879, we’re postulating that magic is essentially another set of physical laws, like thermodynamics and gravity. This leads to looking at late Victorian science, at the methodologies developed for investigating what was starting to be called physics, and how those methods might apply to the study of the arcane. It also leads into how to introduce True Patterns and thread magic to a world that simply doesn’t have them.

Let’s start off by dealing with a couple of elephants in the room. The Gruv has the basic ideas, but doesn’t generally use them because they’re in a lower magic level than the Earthdawn world. Thread magic really kicks in when you’re dealing with the sort of high mana world that puts you in peril of Horror incursions. The Gruv had been in a steady state at a medium to medium-low level of mana for thousands of years. It doesn’t have a mana cycle.

Aside: No, the Rabbit Hole isn’t going to put the Gruv into a mana cycle like Earth has. It’s a temporary drain, not the sort of world-breaking catastrophe that started Earth’s cycle running. Once Earth reaches mana-level equilibrium with the Gruv, both will rise in level until the Gruv maxes out at its pre-Portal level. At that point, the flow through the Rabbit Hole will reverse, with mana flowing from Earth to the Gruv. That in turn will unbalance things, but that’s something we will address in future products.

So in the Gruv, weaving threads is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort to bundle up that much mana. There’s also not the astral corruption and high-tension power levels that require having spell matrices to protect you from the nasty side effects of channeling raw magic. People may develop technology they don’t have a need for, but they won’t use it unless it becomes profitable for them to do so. Magical techniques are just another form of tool, another type of technology, and in the Gruv, there’s no real profit in going to all those lengths of buffering the spell pattern in a matrix and weaving threads to complete the casting. This means that Earth will not learn the deeper techniques from the Gruv.

The immortal elves and the dragons don’t have much of a reason to share out their knowledge of how serious magic works. Again, profit motive. If you have a massive advantage against the majority of the population, why would you give that up? Yes, this presumes the immortal elves and the dragons to be a lot of greedy callous self centered jerks. You’ve met them, right? The occasional tidbit doled out doesn’t compensate for five thousand years of I’ve Got Mine Nuts To You, and the one or two who try to share out the secrets to the general populace will probably be messily assassinated to Set An Example. Elephants addressed.

We’ve already established the use of late 19th Century scientific methods for the investigation of the arcane, with the Galvanic Order, published in the 1879 Players Guide. Heinrich Hertz, Wilhelm Wundt, and Max Planck have set a standard that others can and will follow. The deeper implications of this will have far reaching consequences throughout the worlds of science and the arcane, and in the big Venn overlap between them. The course of history has been changed. What will Roentgen discover besides X-Rays? Might the Curies survive their experiments by noting the astral impact of their samples?

Beyond the scientific community, there are already mystical traditions looking into this sort of thing. The time period was a hotbed of arcane experimentation. This was the era of Helena Blavatsky, Eliphas Levi, and many other great figures of theurgical and thaumaturgical practice. The Theosophical Society has been formed, and therein lies a considerable potential.

I’ve already revealed that the Theosophical Society will be included in the forthcoming 1879 Players Companion. What I have not revealed until now is that they will be one of the ways we will introduce the deeper mysteries of the arcane. Their ultimate goal, to find the deeper truths of reality in the commonalities between the world’s great religions and mystical traditions, aligns directly with the exploration of the arcane required to understand the potential of True Patterns. At the same time, the Galvanics are making terrific progress. What happens when Planck meets the young Nikola Tesla, fresh off his S-Bahn project and looking for something more complex to set his mind to? What other groups are out there exploring the mysteries of the world, through scientific rigor, arcane practice, or a mishmosh of both? Rumours have been heard of a Sisterhood that is seeking the Third Grand Unification – what might they uncover, if they exist?

We’ve laid a lot of pipe. We have multiple ways in-game to bring in the heavier practices, as time in the game world passes, experiments are done, insights are gained, and papers are published. Our end goal, to bring in Earthdawn-style magic as the mana level rises and the Fifth World gives way to the Sixth, as we play through effectively the early days of the Fourth World, justified in the fiction and incorporated into the mechanics, can and will be achieved by many routes all arriving at the same destination. The Age of Invention is far from over.

If you’d like to discuss this with us, come over to the forum and check out the Product Line General Discussion section under 1879.

Tally Ho!