Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Alternate Backstory for D&D Magic (Version 1.0)

I came up with this idea only several years back and posted it on the Hero Boards somewhere: the Vance-derived spell system in D&D is the only surviving system of magic in the world and has been trying to shoehorn all new spells into its somewhat restrictive framework.

Are there older systems of magic? Of course. Do they suffer the same restrictions as the default system (limited number of pre-prepared spells per day, bulky spellbooks, etc.)? Of course not, but they are restricted in other ways for the mortal races. Let's take a look at some of them:

Creation Magic

Urizen in William Blake's
"The Ancient of Days"
One of the oldest types of magic is creation magic -- the magic of the gods / godhead. In the stories of the oldest gods (we ain't talking Old Ones here) but the pantheons of beings that were in existence at the dawn of creation, we don't see them blasting one another with raw power. Instead we see them creating weapons -- artifacts of power and reflections of their identity -- that were used to slay the spawnlings of Chaos and often each other. We also see gods creating other implements of power, used to reshape reality, used to to control reality, and used to monitor reality.

All rituals and complicated sequences of spells that are used to create magical artifacts draw on this ancient tradition, and it is said that the more unique the item or artifact, the closer it is to this oldest of magics. The main difference is that the gods did not have to perform these steps in sequence as mortals do, but rather -- through innate abilities and divine fiat -- performed the primordial imprint and essence of these rituals when they created their earliest godly instruments.

It is said that material components symbolically echo the gods and their earliest instruments.

Chaos magic

An opposing type of magic is chaos magic, a wild, unpredictable, corrupting sort of magic that wields its users more than its users wield it. It seeks to break the laws of reality that the gods and their artifacts and creations reinforce.

Most agree it is strongest at the edges of reality, and in people that have been tainted at the level of primary matter by a desire to return to the roiling chaos that existed before everything.

This is the magic of the Old Ones, whose followers seek nothing less than the destruction of all that is -- even if their erratic nature makes it difficult to carry out organized efforts.

Other ancient types of godly magic:
  • Wordcraft: a variant of implements and identity, this reflects the ability of gods to define things through words spoken (wyrdspeak) or written (runescribe), and is rumored the basis for all verbal components in spell casting and the written language of spells
  • Willcraft: an early, but taxing necessity for the gods who needed to fill in the gaps that Creation Magic and Wordcraft left due to gaps or loopholes in definition. Intent is as critical as the clarity of thought in this type of godly magic -- which is useful as it prevented them from having to define every little thing, but also allowed biases and preferences and imbalances to creep in based on their personalities. Psionics is a reflection of this type of magic.
I think it's important to point out that the gods used all these magics together at the same time, with creation magic coming a little bit before the others as the Ur-gods struggled to reinforce their identity and come up with Words and Will fresh from their break with Chaos.

Chaos magic didn't exist until the gods effected Creation -- the concept of corrupting Creation didn't exist until Creation itself existed, you see.

Okay, that's it for now. Will tackle the magic of the angels, demons, devils, and elementals next post.

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That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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