Darrell J. Pursiful

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Design Notes: Magic in Saynim 2

In the realm of Saynim, magic is an intrinsic part of every individual. As noted previously, I’m imagining Saynim as inhabited by creatures the Renaissance physician and alchemist Paracelsus described as elementals: gnomes, sylphs, salamanders, and undines. But here I diverge from Paracelsus in three particulars.

First, Saynim is a realm where all of these beings coexist in the same medium. We can imagine a “fire world,” a “water world,” and so forth, but Saynim is where all of these elements (Paracelsus most often calls them “chaoses”) blend together.

Second, the four “classical” elements of earth, air, fire, and water are only the beginning of the options available. Far Eastern alchemy has a five-element scheme. It shares earth, fire, and water with the Western system but replaces air with wood and adds metal. Drawing from Norse cosmology, I further propose ice as an important “element” in contrast to fire, with enough distinctiveness to set it apart from water. Finally, lightning, somewhere between fire and air, completes the picture, though it is very rare.

Third, though every individual in Saynim is connected to an elemental chaos on a deep, personal level, not every individual is magically accomplished. For most, the connection with one’s chaos is much subtler. It influences one’s temperament and outlook on life, but it doesn’t result in reality-ripping powers. Think of it as something like a spiritual path or religion, but one that is at least partly hard-wired into one’s essence. Connection to a given chaos will lead you to value certain things, behave in certain ways, or make certain moral choices. It will suggest that certain ways of disposing of the dead are more appropriate than others (earth/burial, fire/cremation, etc.).

Both Western and Eastern alchemy associated various psychological temperaments with each element. For example, air is associated with intellect but is also flighty and aloof; earth is “grounded” but prone to melancholy, etc.

And these associations give me my first insight into how magic works in Saynim: the cost of using magic is tied to the psychological influence of one’s elemental chaos. In simplest terms, use too much magic, and you lose a bit of free will as your elemental chaos takes over. Usually, this loss is temporary, but there is always the possibility that someone will try too much and effectively lose themself in their element.

What this means is that using magic plunges the practitioner ever deeper into the elemental chaos from which it springs. A skilled magician can do incredible feats, but may be forever changed by the effort. As you might imagine, this trade-off enters into the picture whenever Rune, my protagonist, edges up to the abyss as he uses magic to overcome his adversaries.



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