Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-7: Casting About

The schools of magic have been laid out now. A number of questions have been asked and answered. There are always more questions, but now it is time to ask and answer them as they pertain to the actual casting of spells, and the performing of magic rituals. To review the casting of spells requires certain elements. First someone or something has to cast the spell. Then there are components. First and most common are verbal components. These are the magic words and the chants. Then come the somatic or movement components. These are the magic symbols drawn in the air or formed by the hands and the special dances. Lastly are material components. These are the materials to draw circles such as wax, the need for blood in a ritual, and herbs or animal parts.

The first question to be asked before getting into the details of what components are needed for which spells is, are the components required set in stone? This question asks, essentially, is magic rigid and inflexible? Must every single person meaning to cast a specific spell follow the same set of instructions? For that matter, can a spell be altered? On the other hand, can spells be made up on the spot? Can they be modified or expanded? For a horror setting the best answer is that magic is inflexible, and immutable. Magic as a changeable thing leads to a brighter view perhaps, or at least an adventurous mood. Certainly though, experimentation could be given dark complications, and frightening costs, to offset the pioneering feel of blazing new magical paths.

Now that the components are set, they can be determined. The verbal components of a spell can be in the caster's native language, in an archaic language, in Latin or Greek or Hebrew. It can even be in an inhuman language. Somatic requirements are pretty hard to nail down in writing and just glossing over them mostly is best. Material components include staples such as the blood of virgins, eye of newt, holy water, and sacrifices. The components need not be the same old same old. Some of the requirements can be dreamt up and odd. For example, a book may be required beyond being a reference on how to cast a spell. The book may be imbued with magic. The writing in it may be impossible to recreate, it may even be moving text and symbols.

Mood: lethargic.
Music: I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That) by Meat Loaf and Out of the Shadows by Iron Maiden.

Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell II
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Iron Maiden: A Matter of Life and Death

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-6: Pure Magic

Alchemy at its roots is about purity. The most famous example is the transmutation, or transforming, of base and low value metals into purer, more expensive metals such as silver, and the ultimate goal, gold. The most sought after example of alchemical excellence is the change from the corruptible and limited mortal life to the incorruptible form endowed by achieving immortality. Some Alchemists have even sought to purify the soul or essence or mind. It is in the lower hanging fruit of this school of magic and the spaces between these loftiest goals that most of the practitioners perform their magic. Their foci are chemical, metallurgical, pharmaceutical, horticultural, and enlightenment. Then there is the fusion of magic and the mundane.

Where the Conjurer might benefit from being their own kind of MacGyver, the Alchemist needs to an engineer or a doctor or a scientist. As such the Alchemist works mainly in physical components. Some of those components are of a pseudo-magical nature, others are entirely magical, but these substances and items are tools upon which the magic is focused, emanates, and acts upon other natural, non-magical materials and parts or devices. From an outside perspective, and from looking at the results the magic of, Alchemy does not seem all that magical. That can be changed the more fantastical the results are. Transmutation can be a less than full change too. Something wooden can be given characteristics of metal or stone. Even greater changes are possible.

Why limit Alchemy to changing lead into gold? The alteration of the physical properties of something can extend from density, hardness, and temperature characteristics, to swapping qualities like hot and cold, dry and wet, light and darkness, or solid, liquid, and gas. These more extreme examples can be a stepping-stone to the ultimate low-level alchemical feat, the fusion of magic and non-magic. The Alchemist can instil purity into impure things by imbuing them with magic and elevating them from their humble origins. So, where is the horror in this all? It starts in the mood of Alchemy as an almost fringe science and stems from otherworldliness. It can come from strange glowing trees or from simple incurable poisons or weird unstoppable plagues.

Mood: open.
Music: Time by Anthrax and Peace Sells by Megadeth.

Anthrax: Persistence of Time
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Megadeth: Peace Sells...But Whos Buying?

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-5: The Luckless Dead

A number of cliches fall by the wayside with the introduction of the most horrific school of magic going, Necromancy. Dead men tell no tales. They do to the Necromancer. The lucky ones are the ones who died. They don't feel that way when the Necromancer gets their hands on them. There are only two things in this world that are inevitable, death and taxes. The Necromancer can't help with your taxes, though the taxman attacked by one might wish otherwise. The Necromancer can make sure that the finality of death is anything but a certainty. Even the epitaph "Rest in Peace" holds no sway. There isn't even necessarily any respite for the cremated either. Not flesh, bone, blood, ashes, or the essence of a person is safe from this monster of a magician.

This leads to the first question asked for a setting where Necromancy will be introduced. If some other aspect hasn't already asked it for, now it must be decided, do people have souls, spirits, or similar, that live on after the death of the body? If the answer is yes then they fall under the power of this school of magic. The full repertoire of the Necromancer is available. If the answer is no, then some avenues of horror need to be set aside, but not all of them. A victim's consciousness may be used in place of a soul in many an evil binding. It just requires tighter control over the timeline. A consciousness is more fragile and decidedly fleeting in comparison to a spirit. Then, beyond the living consciousness, are their echoes, which may stand in as ghosts.

Perhaps an atypical use of Necromancy is the use of bodily materials in modifying, or enhancing the Necromancer. This begins with the comparatively innocuous imbibing of blood to gain strength, or bathing in it to maintain youth. From there the Necromancy might make personal use of an additional limb, or organ, including sensory organs. A different approach could be the creation of living dead monstrosities that will make people wish for the halcyon days of only having to deal with zombies. Then there are the undead, the vampires. Will Necromancers have any power over the children of the night? They are biologically dead, for the most part, depending on the setting. Either way, the vampires can be friend or foe, beyond just being more parts to put to use.

Music: Good To Be Bad by Whitesnake and The Golden Age Of Rock 'n' Roll by Def Leppard.

Whitesnake: Good To Be Bad
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Def Leppard: Yeah!

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