1879: Restrictions of Magic

Possibly the biggest difference between Earthdawn and 1879, or for that matter Shadowrun 1E/2E and 1879, is the magic level of the world. Earthdawn is high fantasy. Magic is the easy way to do things. The Disciplines work by magically aligning the adept with the Patterns of the great heroes that have gone before. Shadowrun started well after the Awakening. People had two generations to come to terms with metahumanity (not that all of them did, but we’ve discussed that before), to figure out how magic worked, and for the mana level in general to rise.

1879 starts just two years after the Rabbit Hole opened and spilled enough mana into Earth’s gaiasphere to jumpstart the magic cycle, and launch the Awakening 140 years before it would have naturally happened. There’s not an elf, dwarf, snark, or troll who was born as such that’s more than two years old. Any Boojum you meet on the street was human up until the Looking Glass Fever swept across the world. They may still be coming to terms with their new form. Magic likewise is raw and new. Oh, sure, there’s a few immortals knocking about, but do you think Mr. Fairchild is going to let loose anything that’s not under the rigid control of his Knights of the Grail? Or that Y Ddraig Goch is going to teach the ancient secrets of Welsh magic to someone who didn’t grow up speaking the language? Oh, aye, there’s dozens of Lodges that have sprung up, and every one of them is reinventing the wheel, and not sharing their research reports with other (rival) Lodges.

So the spells are a bit wonky, and don’t quite have the power you might expect. Transform Self, for example, will not allow a dwarf to turn into a mouse. Well, she might be able to, but there’s no way she’s getting enough extra successes to reduce her mass down – she’s going to be a mouse the size of a malamute. Scary eh? Some of the spells can easily get away from the caster. Look at the stats for Ignite. The range is only two yards. Get a couple of extra successes, and you’re standing way too close to the petrol when you touch it off, going to lose an eyebrow there or maybe worse.

The KAVs aren’t shareable between Lodges because of all of this parallel research and lack of coordination. Think of it like this. You’re a classically trained pianist. You’ve mastered Rachmaninoff, Liszt, and Chopin. People flock to the theatre to hear your impassioned renditions of technically arduous works. Now, someone sets the sheet music for Tricky Fingers by Eubie Blake in front of you. It’s piano music, you should be able to play it, right? Except it’s ragtime, and not just ragtime, but one of the most difficult ragtime pieces ever written, that requires a thorough knowledge and years of experience playing in the style to even attempt it. All that work you’ve done in classical piano isn’t going to be worth spit here. You don’t have the foundation to even attempt the piece.

Same thing for when a Priest of the Anglican Church tries to teach a spell to a Hindu Priest. They’re both religious scholars, they’re both well accustomed to working with higher powers, but their foundations are so different the best the Anglican can do is show the Hindu the theory of how the spell works, and maybe the Hindu can find a way to get the same effect within his frame of reference. A Mage trying to teach a Priest a KAV is even harder, the equivalent of a classical pianist trying to teach something to a landscape painter. The Mage might be able to get the basic concept across, but the Priest is going to have to spend some serious time understanding how that concept might work within their own Art, and develop their own KAV from the root idea. This is why there’s penalties for trying to learn spells from other Lodges. Yes, using a grimoire will grant a bonus to developing the new KAV, but it’s still just a reference book from another discipline entirely. The landscape painter is going to have to figure out how to translate pedal technique into color and texture on canvas.

We’ve added a few bits to the Errata to cover some of this, and will be adding more. Eventually, once we get the Companions and the New York book and Akkadian Connection 2 out, there’s going to be a Magic sourcebook, that will take into account advancements in the Arcane since Rabbit Hole Day. Until then, though, part of the game world is the low power and slight unreliability of spells, the difficulty of learning new ones in a world where magic just returned, and being part of the effort to advance the Art and maybe gain some claim to fame.

Tally Ho!