Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-4: Deadly Conjurations, Dark Summons

For the purpose of this setting Conjuration is the creation of something out of the essence of magic, or even by translocation it via magic. On the other side of what seems to be the same coin is Summoning, the translocation of living beings, whether they hail from across the country to across the divides of realities. This is not to say that creatures cannot be fashioned, or drawn entirely from imagination and given form by magic. In fact such a thing could fall under the purview of Conjuration, however such a power might be too strong for a horror setting, despite the obvious perks that would be possible because of it. To digress a moment, a grittier approach would be to modify existing creatures to create monstrosities and other grotesqueries, though that would not be conjuring either.

What sort of things might a Conjurer conjure? Without requiring too much forethought on the part of the Conjurer the first class of things would be items such as weapons. A person conjuring such things might be some kind of assassin, making their tools appear and disappear at will. Such tools need not be processed. A knife may be nothing more than a wedge of some material with a sharp edge along part of its length. Where Conjuration might prove more advantageous in the (figurative) realms of magic is in the hands of a more technical and modernised caster. A strong understanding of chemistry and an ability to 'summon' materials is a deadly combination. Anything from acids, to toxins and poisons, to flammable and explosive compounds would be possible.

A Summoner needs to summon living things and also be able to exert some measure of control over them, at least the unintelligent ones such as insects, and animals. Summoning creatures of this world is easy, because it is easy to know the desired species, or to research them to find the right kinds of traits. To summon a person involves more effort, starting with their true name. While not as difficult to learn as in medieval times the Summoner still needs to know the person's full birth name. The level of difficulty rises again when summoning things from the great beyond. Learning the true names of devils and otherworldly beings can be difficult. Summoning random beings is always a risky business due to their otherworldly powers and--as with humans--unpredictable natures.

Mood: relyriced.
Music: South of Heaven by Quiet Riot and Cryin' by Aerosmith.

Quiet Riot: Rehab
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Aerosmith: Get A Grip

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-3: Evocative Invocations

Let's use the definition, discussed previously, that calling upon some being is Invocation, while calling upon energies is Evocation. This division can also cut a straight well defined line between the requirements for each kind of spell casting. This is a matter of preference and builds specific rules into the setting. To this end the components needed for an Invocation will be verbal components alone. Evocation will require verbal, somatic, and quite often material components. Somatic components involve movement and gesticulations. They run the gamut from inscribing shapes in the air, to specific hand formations, to full body motion like dancing. Material components are such things as wax, incense, and bodily substances ranging from hair, blood, bits of skeletons, and fluids.

If Invocations are the result of the influence of supernatural entities, the first order of business to cast spells by this method requires knowledge or acquaintance with just such a being. How this is done varies by the exact being to be invoked. The first place to look is religion, whether it is the bright spiritual kind or the belief and honouring of malevolent creatures. In a horror setting there is unlikely much of a call for angels or friendly god figures to be involved. Though it shouldn't be written off for all settings. Trucking with higher powers can be frightening even when dealing with the benign if only due to the otherworldliness. Of course also such higher powers may hold characters to difficultly high standards and as such drive the story in that manner.

Evocations on the other hand may be much more almost mundane to deal with. Putting thoughtless, and potentially moral-neutral energies, to use removes a lot of certainty and fear from the equation. This is something easily mitigated by the kinds of material components required. For instance ritual sacrifice may be required, to obtain and to prepare a material component, or as some kind of catalyst, if it isn't actual part of the energies being evoked. There may also be a less tangible material component, that being time. Many are the rituals that must be done at a certain time, whether it be a phase of the moon, the alignment of celestial bodies, or a time restriction such as before so long has passed. This is all without dealing with the horrific dimensions of what spell is cast.

Mood: indecipherable.
Music: Legions by Stratovarius and Slice of Your Pie by Motley Crue.

Stratovarius: Visions
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Motley Crue: Dr. Feelgood

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-2: No Porcine Blemishes Here

There are a number of choices when dealing with schools of magic in a horror setting. The options start with the author of the setting and move from there to the recipients of the magical skills, the characters, whether they be novel or movie character's or the characters played in a role-playing game. As previously mentioned there are some sticking points or ways in which there is some fundamental semantic confusion about where the ways in which magic is cast ends and the so-called schools of magic begin. Setting those aside, some solid examples of the kind of magic suitable for a horrific setting include Invocation, Conjuration, Summoning, Necromancy, and Alchemy or Alteration. Even among these there is some overlap and defining necessary.

For instance, Invocation is a loaded term with more than one avenue covered by its use as a name for a kind of magic. What the person is invoking can essentially be one of two things. The first is some tangible or discrete-unto-itself kind of entity or being whether it is a god or a devil, a spirit being, or the caster's ancestors. The second is to invoke just power, or the essence of magic itself, to perform the magical act. The division could be made that calling upon some being is Invocation, while calling upon energies is Evocation.

Likewise there is a connection between Conjuration and Summoning. Both involve making things appear. Conjuring something could lend itself to a physical result, or in only an intangible manifestation such a spirit depending on how those are defined. Summoning typically involves the bringing of a living creature, or some kind of being from some other level of existence, to the spell caster. Using that as an anchor, and casting aside the conjuring of spirits to the realm of the Necromancer, Conjuring should be the creation of materials and inanimate objects through the use of magic.

Necromancy--aside from conjuring, summoning, and forcing the appearance of spirits--covers such magical areas as the raising of zombies, binding spirits and entities, and gathering power from death. It is the darkest school of magic and prone to the worst atrocities committed in its pursuit. Desecration of the dead is a must, and eternal torment is their forte. In contrast to the creation of Conjuring, Alchemy is about altering existing things. The prime example of Alchemy is transmutation--turning one element into another, such as lead to gold. Alchemy basically is the chemistry of magic. It should cover magic powders, potions, ointments and anything of a direct physical nature. It would also cover the mystical arts of healing via draughts on through to converting emotional and spiritual energies.

Music: Thin Line Between Love and Hate by Iron Maiden and Ten Thousand Strong by Iced Earth.

Iron Maiden: Brave New World
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Iced Earth: Framing Armageddon - Something Wicked: Pt. 1

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-1: A New and Magical Setting

Don't let the title fool you. If the idea of a magical setting, or more precisely a setting including magic doesn't sound very horrific, then just follow the next batch of articles and see how terrifying it can be. The darkest abilities and misuses of psychic powers are in some fashions just the tip of the heinous and gruesome iceberg compared to the depravity and stark evil of horror-based magic. The magic horror setting is also a much different animal than the psychic horror setting. The rules are very different and need to be worked up right from scratch. It may be a personal bias, but the first difference is that the setting should not include innate magic abilities. They're great in the realm of fantasy, however they represent a level of power not really conducive to the mood of terror.

Level of power, especially in certain veins, can also be damaging to the horrific tenor desired in a good dark setting. The more widespread and far-reaching magics have to be handled differently to avoid turning it into something too fantastical--in this sense kind of light--or too comic-book-like. It can be a fine line to tread. All of the right elements can be there for the horror, but on which side of the line the final product will fall is all about the execution. Sometimes it comes down to putting the right kind of flourishes on things, other times it requires a heavy limiting hand. As before it requires asking a lot of questions and picking the best answers to maintain the exact mood that the setting will require to convey what the story, book, game, or movie needs to have.

Some of the questions maybe can't even be articulated as questions, they exist simply as choices. Leading the pack is which schools or archetypal forms of magic will be a part of the setting. The smaller the scale of the setting in terms of what medium it is being created for the less kinds of magic will be required. It might be untrue though that the larger the scope the more will be necessary. A setting might only need one or two styles. There is something of a tangled snarl here. Inextricably bound up in the 'schools' of magic are the process types. These types are all about the requirements and procedures of creating magical effects. It is hard to decipher where one ends and the next begins. Form follows function in some examples and in others the function stands on its own.

Mood: leering.
Music: March of the Black by Queen and Dance of Death by Iron Maiden.

Queen: II
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Iron Maiden: Dance of Death

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #20: Things Never Human

There are more things between Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That is unless you're one of the ones to dream of such things. Or such a thing comes visiting. Once ghosts come up in the setting, especially the more spiritual kind, then another door is opened. The door is a question. What else is out there? Are there demons or devils? Are there things that are neither, or less definable and outside of more religious views? The choice can be to use none, one type of thing, or several things that aren't and never were human in addition to the more human parapsychological beings. Using more than one type immediately spawns a host of questions and decisions about the interaction between the potentially disparate groups.

The author of a setting has to define the inhuman supernatural forces first before getting to the connections and the tangled skein of relationships between entities. Biblical forces of evil are the easiest to make use of since so much information has been written already. Of course literature and Hollywood have their stamps all over the subject as well. There are different tacks to take in dealing with them as story elements. Do such infernal beings act independently or are they forced to work through proxies, including possessed victims? Within possession there are two apparent lines of thought that come to mind. Sometimes there is only one force involved in the possession. In others by default there has to be more than one entity involved in a possession.

The roles played by entities--sometimes identified as their own group--and beings from beyond the realm of human understanding can be the same as spirits, or the same as the psychics. They also can represent yet another layer, or complication to the setting. This new wrinkle has the potential to really make the setting diverge in a different direction, one that the setting's creator may wish to ignore. Some of these creatures may possess magic. Magic is differentiated from psychic ability past a certain level by being able to do just about anything. With the right kind of setting focus magic might also be something available to anyone. It can be an equaliser against the power of psychics. The addition of magic certainly changes the game and maybe in unwanted ways.

Mood: tired.
Music: If That's What You Want by Twisted Sister and Climb by No Doubt.

Twisted Sister: Love is for Suckers
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No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom

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