Darrell J. Pursiful

Home » Design Notes » Design Notes: Magic in Saynim 3

Design Notes: Magic in Saynim 3

So far, I’ve described how I took certain cues from Paracelsus’s speculations about elementals in developing the way magic works in Saynim. Everybody in Saynim has a connection to one of the classical elements, though not everyone can bring their elemental chaos to bear to produce dramatic effects.

How hard is it to do magic? Though it never makes it into the story, I thought it would be helpful to classify some basic difficulty tiers for magic. In general, the more “wrong” a working seems, the harder it is to do:

  • First Tier: Spooky. Is it truly magic at all or is it the result of subtle misdirection, hypnosis, dumb luck, or an amazing coincidence?
  • Second Tier: Unearthly. Supernatural effects that manipulate features already present in the environment: subtle illusions; accelerated healing; remarkable feats of strength, insight, persuasion, and so forth. Skeptics in the mortal realm will still dismiss these effects as “smoke and mirrors,” untapped powers of the mind, etc.
  • Third Tier: Legendary. The stuff of legends: lightning bolts, shapeshifting, true invisibility, etc. In the mortal realm, eyewitnesses tend to experience emotional turmoil when observing this level of magic, and skeptics struggle to find rational explanations.
  • Fourth Tier: Cosmic. Reality-ripping effects that defy all rational explanation. Virtually anything is possible: floating castles, dimensional portals, stopping time, meteor storms, summoning armies of demons, etc.

All of my Saynim folk characters use magic on a particular tier. Most of them operate somewhere in the second or third tier, which makes them above average. The most powerful individuals in Saynim, the Gentry, are all at the fourth tier and are almost literally forces of nature.

Of course, using harder magic puts you in the fast lane to losing your free will and becoming a living embodiment of your elemental chaos, so even if you can do higher-tier magic, you’ll probably want to try something subtler first.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the powers of the classical elements can be metaphorical as well as prosaic. Over the centuries, all the elements have accumulated cultural associations with particular mental states, cultural aspirations, or transformations. Books and websites that describe the symbolism of these elements (in astrology or what have you) have proven to be a goldmine of jumping-off points for how different characters might use their powers in creative ways.

So part of what Rune can do as a weaver of the airy chaos is to stir up breezes and even “fly” for short distances (and at great cost!) by riding the wind. But he can also influence thought, perception, communication, and rapid movement generally. Similarly, Rune’s sidekick Brack is a metal-weaver, which makes him accomplished at enhancing or changing the properties of metals but it also gives him a degree of control over such spheres as warfare, wealth and prosperity, technology, and strength.

I find this gives the magic a bit more personality that just slamming each other with fireballs or whirlwinds or what have you. The magical practitioners of Saynim have many tools at their disposal. It’s just a matter of what creative ways they can think to use them.



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