Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-17: Mind Games

In a magical horror setting the spell casters need to deal with the same sorts of logistical details in covering their tracks and maintaining a facade of a normal life, as do the empowered in a psychic horror setting. They share more of the strategic considerations beyond that though. In some cases, with the use of certain spells, they share the same abilities of control over others. The first case in point is controlling the minds of others. The magic user’s control over others comes in different forms with different levels of malleability. They can put people into trances where the individual stands or is recumbent and does nothing, not even think. They can make the individual do their bidding. This greater control involves anything from puppeting the person to possessing them.

The first step to most of these forms of controls is snatching the person, or otherwise getting them into the caster’s possession, so that they can work their magic upon them. Once the abduction is achieved, by whatever means, then comes the actual spell or ritual. These spells are just like any other, with any and all of the same requirements. The result of the spell is that the target person falls under the thrall of the caster. A prime example is similar to the control of hypnotic suggestion from the psychics where instructions need to be given to the enthralled. Then a trigger is needed to set off the execution of those instructions, unless what the controlled is supposed to be doing is ongoing. This trigger does not necessarily need to be implanted in the enchanted individual’s mind.

Spell casters have at their disposal spells in the limited, but exceeding useful, category of scrying. Here as with the psychic’s ability to astrally project within the material world, the caster can watch anything they want, anywhere that is not specifically protected from scrying. Since the magic user is watching they can trigger the hypnotic suggestions remotely. This forms a great layer of protection between the caster, the suggestions, and those who might otherwise easily see the influence under which that person is enthralled. This protection comes with some costs attached to it. The caster may not be able to scry at the appropriate time, the amount of control is limited, and the up front planning is heavy. One obvious alternative is to turn to a form of total control such as possession.

Mood: harried.
Music: Bestrafe Mich by Rammstein and Of All The Gin Joints In All The World by Fall Out Boy.

Rammstein: Sehnsucht
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Fall Out Boy: From Under The Cork Tree

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-16: Everything in its Place

There are many classic spells that can be cast when the setting is one of fantasy. In comparison, with a horror setting there is no basic set. Many of the fantasy spells need to be modified for a horror setting, if the specific spell even fits the mood and the grit of the setting. Some categorisations are needed first off. At the least, a good look at the purpose of the spell is needed, both from the view of the character using it, and from the greater view of the author, screenwriter, game designer, etc. The caster will want some spells that can be used in situations where it would be difficult or impossible to bring in equipment and gear to pull off the same feat. A spell caster might also want, and learn spells that are used to theatrical effect, which in turn can be used for intimidation.

Maybe the most ubiquitous fantasy spell is the fireball. The threat of using a fireball can be it own advantage. Spells to call down or fire lightning bolts are popular and fill the same niche as the fireball. Spells like these are used for intimidation and theatrical purposes in horror settings. Their destructive capabilities range from sub par to comparable with conventional means. Science and technology is destructive enough. However, the spell gains an advantage with its physical components. It can have no components, or at least none that make any scientific sense. Coupled with this lack of conclusive evidence they can be cast anywhere at anytime. Likewise, before the fact, the person cannot be caught red-handed, such as with someone carrying explosives or a weapon.

Spells that create darkness, or blinding flashes, or smoke can be great for escapes, to show off, and for a distraction. These simple spells have the additional advantage that they are readily dismissible as parlour tricks or stemming from other reasonable and scientific explanations. Some people who can cast spells may even use mundane means for such effects as these. It lends them plausible deniability. It also lends deniability to the reality of magic. Like all disinformation this is another tool in the character’s repertoire. In this case the disinformation helps them to get away with the things that they need to do that are frowned upon by the law. This leads back to the sorts of issues that came up in the psychic horror setting, dealing with deflecting blame.

Mood: dull.
Music: Bad Boy by Quiet Riot and Sharp Dressed Man by ZZ Top.

Quiet Riot: Condition Critical
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ZZ Top: Eliminator

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-15: In All Things Balance, Or Not

The presupposition has been put forward that in a horrific magical setting there will be a moderate to great discrepancy in the quantity of evil versus that of good. This is especially true as it pertains to non-human beings. What has not been discussed yet is a matter of balance in the quality of power between good and evil, and to a lesser degree human and non-human. In the psychic horror setting there was frequent discussion about the balance of power. The power between the two moral sides was equal for the most part--there were no non-humans, negating that issue. Balance was something considered at practically every stage due to the great flexibility of the powers. This begs the following question. Why is there no talk of balance in the magical horror setting?

Magic is essentially an unbalancing thing. This is especially true of a world where the rules of science and physics hold sway. Since magic is an external force its limitations are not all that limited in terms of what it can accomplish. The actual limitations it has tend to be in knowledge, rather than power--though need not always be. For the sake of drama and conflict there are times of greater power upon which great miracles of light or darkness can be enacted, even when power is normally an issue. These high times of magic are used more often for evil. Good and beneficial acts mostly have low power requirements, or they are geared toward undoing evil magic. The horror nature of the setting also predicates that greater amounts of good energy are required to undo evil things.

The inclusion of non-human beings in a magic horror setting also needs to be inherently unbalanced overall. For them to be less powerful than humans, in the realms of magic specifically, puts them in a role as minion. This has its place, and numbers can make up for a lack of ability. When they are more powerful, such as when they are full-fledged devils, it puts them in the role of lead threat if not actually lead villain. These powerful positions call for them to be powerful, obviously, but beyond that can even require them to be a named individual. This means they are a renowned and specific creature, at least beyond the Earth. This renown on the surface may be as little as the being’s name appearing in an earthly magical tome, or that its name is whispered among those of power.

Mood: relaxed.
Music: Trouble by Material Issue and Lightning Strikes Twice by Iron Maiden.

Material Issue: International Pop Overthrow
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Iron Maiden: Virtual XI

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #2-14: Of Good and Evil

The last section of the previous discussion about things from beyond presupposes that the morality of otherworldly creatures is evil. This is certainly advantageous to the creation of horror, but by no means is it a necessity. Inhuman beings can be starkly good or evil, or they can be more like humans and exist within the grey areas in between to the two. Likewise, horror also can have a distinct preponderance of evil in general. This goes beyond the usual narrative conflict of person versus person, or in many of these cases, person versus the supernatural. In the magical horror setting, more so than the psychic horror setting, the question of morality applies more directly to both the schools of magic as well as to the spells and rituals themselves.

Magic can be thought of as a force of super-nature--beyond nature as we understand it. If magic is such a thing then like gravity or magnetism it is neither inherently good nor evil. In such a framework the morality of magic, and of the spells cast using it, is entirely dependent upon the intent of the being bending the force to his, her, or its will. This need not be the way that magic is approached in a horror setting though. Magic can be something integral to the force of some being’s wills, which doesn’t change its moral dependency on the user. Alternatively magic can be directly a force of evil. It may be born of evil supernatural beings, or is an expression of chaos or entropy, or it may come about because evil is a distinct commodity or force all its own.

Magic need not be a singular force either. It is entirely possible to work with a world/setting view where there are two magical energies, good and evil energies. In such a case it is even more important to consider the power of setting up kinds of resonance between the energy being used, the modes and methods of the rituals, and the emotional state and intent of those harnessing the magic. A physical component such as a ritual sacrifice is then something more than just tapping into a battery. The sacrifice now imparts its qualities to more than just the formula of the spell; it infuses the entirety of the process. This in turn affects other parts of the setting. Following the theory that like attracts like leads to a need for some kind of balance, if only for the safety of the spell caster.

Mood: heavy.
Music: Power and the Glory by Twisted Sister and Children of the Damned by Iron Maiden.

Twisted Sister: You Can't Stop Rock and Roll
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Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast

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