This is a follow-up to a previous post in which I talked about using role-playing game rules to work out a magic system for my current work-in-progress. In that post, I described a magic system that works well with my conception of faery or supernatural beings, but then my story took an unexpected detour, and I realized I needed to flesh out how the magic of mortal practitioners works.
One thing I knew I wanted was something that felt like it could be at home in the same historical era from which I drew my faery folk—namely, the Renaissance/Elizabethan era. This was the era not only of witch trials but of alchemists and esoteric philosophers who dabbled in the arcane arts.
From an RPG point of view, the mechanics work pretty much the same. A hypothetical player spends a point of Refresh to buy the Arcane Magic skill. They can then build stunts off of that skill if they so choose.
There is, however, a twist in that Arcane Magic can be divided into a number of discrete disciplines. Each of these correspond to some aspect of magic at it was understood in Europe circa 1400–1700. Our hypothetical player can learn one of these disciplines for free; after that, he can only get more by buying them as stunts. A truly versatile wizard, therefore, must allocate most if not all of his or her “character build” into magic, with little room for other pursuits.
Here are the arcane disciplines I have in mind. In terms of the Fate Core system, each discipline works in conjunction with a different “supporting” skill:
Alchemy (Crafts) involves the transmutation of substances as preparatory to the “Great Work” of personal spiritual transformation.
Divination (Lore) is a technique of magical self-analysis and a help in learning the language of symbols. Using a divinatory device (a scrying bowl, runes, tarot cards, casting bones, etc.), the diviner sees the world from a higher perspective, from which he or she examines the probabilities of what may happen next.
Goety (Provoke) involves channeling one’s primal emotions in order to manifest the power and “will” of some cosmic force or entity to which the mage is beholden. (D&D calls this kind of mage a “warlock,” but with very little linguistic justification, in my opinion.)
Healing (Empathy) uses herbs, incantations, amulets, etc., to effect healing of mind, body, and spirit.
Spirit-Riding (Investigate) employs astral projection to gather information, attack enemies, or to engage in dealings with “otherworld folk”—either to make pacts with them to gain their supernatural assistance or to battle against those who threaten others.
Theurgy (Will) involves wending elemental forces to create tangible effects in the world: what most people understand as “magic.”
Witchcraft (Various skills) uses sympathetic magic to harness the magical potentialities of herbs, minerals, incantations, gestures, animal parts, and other objects to achieve practical results in areas such as dowsing, love and marriage, fertility, money, and so forth.
And no, I haven’t forgotten about Qabbalah. I envision it not as a distinct discipline, however, but as a Lore-based stunt permitting bonuses to roles involving magical research. (And the character I had in mind when I threw these ideas together is definitely a skilled Qabbalist.)