Saturday, 25 February 2017

StormHack: Metaphysics of Magic

This is part of my forthcoming game StormHack which mashes up Stormbringer 1e, Whitehack, Everway and Over the Edge. The character sheet is in revision in preparation for Concrete Cow but there’s an early version here.

This is entirely fluff, written for some ideas. There are no mechanics in this chapter. Magic works the same way irrespective of what the sorcerer calls themselves.

In StormHack DEMONS are the metagame explanation for any supernatural, superhuman or extraordinary talent beyond what is considered the “normal” scope of human ability. This is an objective truth for the players and the GM, filtered to each PC through cultural heuristics and biases, prejudice and superstition.

6.1 Two Worlds

There are two worlds:

  • the natural world of physical being
  • the supernatural world of consciousness or psychic being.

The latter may be called magical, spiritual, the realm of the soul or of the dead, the god consciousness, or otherworld depending on philosophical and cultural leanings. These different perspectives give reasons for why we see and feel what we do in the natural and supernatural realms; why we perceive order, why we exist beyond physical bodies, and so forth. These are subjective, but as far as this game goes the dual nature of reality is an objective truth.

This duality is reflected in the six ability scores; three for the phsyical body (STR/CON/DEX) and three for the spiritual body (INT/WIS/CHA). The human form is a circle which overlaps two worlds; other beings may be more strongly embedded in the physical world or the psychic world. Animals are almost wholly located within the physical world but retain intelligence and intuition within the psychic world. At the other end of the scale demons are psychic beings with mutable and often immature or incomplete presence in the physical world.

The human psychic form is immature: it is rarely aware of itself or its psychic surroundings. Thus comes anxiety and uncertainty at death, promises of an afterlife, and so on.

Conflict

The duality of ability scores is reflected in a duality of conflict:

  • physical conflict happens in the physical realm is intended to inflict wounds on, subdue, restrain or otherwise physically dominate an opponent
  • psychic conflict happens in the social or psychic realm and is an attempt to cause emotional harm, to mentally dominate, to control or restrain thoughts or arguments, to inflict injuries upon the non-physical self.

The psychic body may be harmed, temporarily or permanently, just as a physical body may be harmed. But the immaturity of the human psychic form means that most humans are limited in their ability to initiate psychic combat or the kinds of damage they can do. The exceptions are magicians and their increased psychic awareness makes them both aware of their own spiritual self and also able to combat and dominate demons.

Demons

Demons are the opposite of humans in that their psychic selves are mature but their bodies are immature; not necessarily weak as demon forms tend to be unusually strong, but they are unsubtle and limited in scope or finesse. The heartstrings of Demons are uncommonly difficult to sever and must be cut one at a time; but still, destroying the demon’s physical form does nothing to its psychic form, and humans cannot dominate demons physically other than by totally destroying their physical bodies.

Technically, demons are conjured by dominating them in psychic combat, and forcing them into a particular form. That form may be consciously or sub-consciously defined by the conjurer; indeed, some conjurers do not consciously conjure their own demons but self-actualise them unconsciously, with all kinds of explanations for the demon’s existence — a preternatural talent, prodigious discipline or learning, etc.

Demons are conjured in one of four ways:

  • A Magician ventures into the Otherworld and dominates a demon, forcing it into a form and a service
  • A Priest who has already secured the services of a demon bequeaths it to a disciple
  • The demon is transferred by inheritance, often through a bloodline — thus when the old Master dies, the new one gains the demon
  • The human self-actualises their own demon (q.v.). In this case the demon may not even have a physical form, and the Master may be unaware that they have conjured a demon in the first place.

6.2 The Three Pillars

Magic is an objective truth, but different cultures have their own explanations for magic.

The Shaman

The Otherworld is the realm of spirits, which is separate from and exists in harmony with the physical realm. Most beings are ignorant of the Otherworld even though they make contact with it at all times. When they die a portion of their own spirit lives on in the Otherworld, remaining in that realm until it completes its cycle by travelling to the Far Shores and re-entering the natural realm. Some spirits persist in the Otherworld, and how much they remember depends on how aware they were of their spiritual self in life — this determines how well memory and consciousness survives passing between the two realms.

The Otherworld contains many spirits which may be called ghosts, wraiths, demons, devils, angels, djinni and by other names. A few of these are the souls of mortals hanging onto the spirit and growing fat and wise by devouring other spirits. Many more are the gods of things great and small, some of which have an earthly representation and others which have been long forgotten by earth.

Demons may be “good” or “evil”, which is to say they may care for and be interested in life, or they may be inimical to it. These are terms we may ascribe to them but very few can actually be trusted.

A Shaman is one who walks between worlds and has developed a maturity such that they can visit the Otherworld as a conscious whole, to walk among spirits and learn about the Greater World. Some say our physical world is a crystal floating in a fluid spirit, and those who make the transition consciously can arrive at different worlds.

When the Shaman summons a spirit or demon to do their bidding they face the spirit in the Otherworld and engage in combat, or else tempt the spirit to become their servant with promises. Gifts are advisable. Once the spirit is convinced, coerced, lured or dominated it is drawn through a little way into the body the Shaman has prepared for it. The Shaman names their new spirit and tells it of its new purpose.

The Priest is like us, but they seek to make order of the Otherworld where there is none. Worse, they seek to impose their earthly order on the spirit, which is doomed to fail.

The Magician is self-serving; they are powerful but they don not seek to share or to elevate others save through cruel trials that confirm their own cleverness. If you seek the wicked, look for them.

The Priest

Beyond our world lies the God Realm of many Heavens and Hells. This is the dwelling place of higher beings that form the great chain that runs from God through his Angels to Humans and finally animals, which have no soul to speak of.

Demons are creatures of Hell. Heretics may claim that Demons were once mortal souls gone to Hell for their wicked ways, but and where found are rightly put to death for this notion. For truly there is an emination from Hell just as their is from Heaven that mirrors the great Chain; God suffers the existence of demons as a test for mortals. Nonetheless demons may be made to do God’s work. With righteous preparation, suitable devotions and oaths, a believer may take on a demon and be unharmed, and use its magic for good purpose.

The Priest exists on earth to guide lesser mortals to the truth that is beyond this life, to steer the righteous and the wicked alike onto the correct path. The Priest hears the Divine Whisper repeated from God through His mouthpiece, His archangels and finally His angels who advise the Priest directly.

Demons may be bound to the service of the righteous by the Priest and made to do their bidding. Heretics will say likewise of Angels, and be flayed. Angels advise the Priest out of Love, whereas Demons obey out of Fear. A demon may be bequeathed to a righteous warrior of the temple or as a test for the wayward. Thus the temple sorts wheat from chaff.

The Shaman is wise and powerful and in her own way serves God, but to her all is chaos. The Divine Whisper is a rumour, and she will never find herself in God’s grace.

The Magician denies God and seeks the power to elevate herself to what she things is the Godhead, and it will be her undoing.

The Magician

The Magical Self is a reflection of the mundane, and the Magical World is the diffusion of expanded consciousness of every human dreamer. This place connects all minds, and the properly awakened can walk in this world and gain new knowledge, even find and construct new worlds.

Demons occupy this bewildering plane of existence. Some of them have manifestations in our world, others exist wholly in the Magical World; some are the product of one imagination, others are a composite of many. They are the self-actualisation of the mortals that dreamt them; they can grow and shift over time, morphing into other forms, conquering other demons and even carving out their own realms, calling themselves gods. Then are a mass of self-aware psychic energy that has partially or wholly detatched from a host. Perhaps they were once alive; now dead, they may deteriorate or they may find a way to survive, through force of will, often by eating their peers.

Demons may display the virtues and foibles of humans since they originate from that source. As such they are considered “evil”, but able to aspire to “goodness”. But since demons rarely have vision beyond their own self-interest they are normally considered evil. Demons are not part of a great demonic heirarchy though they may pretend to be so, even forming courts of their own in the Magical World.

The Magician is a human who has learned to enter the Magical World consciously, and can separate and find meaning in that place. They can find, divine and access the truth of many repeating patterns within the Magic World, knit them, extract the code, and turn it to useful purpose.

Magicians summon demons through acts of concentration, devotion and introspection. A demon is formed by a specific order of thoughts in an act of self-actualisation. Some mortals — savants — conjure demons spontaneously and unconscious or ignorant of what they are doing.

The Shaman interprets the dream state allegorically as past lives, dream places, representational images and so on. this is the earliest form of natural magic.

The Priest takes this allegory and makes it dogma, losing much of its original mystery. Many religions have both exoteric and esoteric faces; the exoteric involves an absence of any real power and a genuine fear of what the esoteric knows and can achieve. This is a necessary method of control and essential to the Church’s artificial hierarchy.

6.3 The Four Ages

There are four Magical Ages:

  1. Age of Fear
  2. Magic Ascendent
  3. The Golden Age
  4. Decline and Fall

These form a cyclic system. The names of the ages have no moral component; they do not say whether the Golden Age is good or bad for all, only that it represents an age of integration of Magic into society.

Age of Fear

A time of ignorance, characterised by superstition, denial and reclusive sorcerers. Magic is jealously guarded not because it is a means to power but because it is a curse, and makes enemies of those who remember the previous Decline. Fear comes from the previous Cycle when magic is part of — or responsible for — the decline into wickedness and loss of connection. The sorcerer is reticent to tutor a student for this reason, where the old structures remain intent on purging magic.

The Shaman: persecuted The Priest: in denial The Magician: in hiding

Magic Ascendant

A time of wonder, itinerant magicians, and folk magic. Mortals have overcome some of their fears and coexist with the Otherworld and its denizens, who exist just beyond the wall of civilisation in wild places. Small communities have their Wise Woman and Cunning Man who intercede with the Otherworld on the village’s behalf. Pagan beliefs coexist with and are adopted by burgeoning religions (which are really collections of humans seeking answers).

The Shaman: integrated into village unit The Priest: leading a new flock The Magician: curious

The Golden Age

Magic at its height, where some or all of society is capable of making use of and imagining the benefits of a magical society. But while this is the height of magical understanding and acceptance Magic may be the cornerstone of a despotic regime; it may be regulated, closed off to those of the wrong caste, race or gender, or deliberately masked in confusing symbolism that can only be unlocked by members of a cabal.

The Shaman: no longer relevant, driven out The Priest: organised, powerful The Magician: known, revered, feared

Decline and Fall

Second and third generation sorcerers learn by rote and accept dogma, failing to grasp the full meaning of ceremony. Society advances and is no longer satisfied by the wonders of magic; magic becomes a commodity as people fail to imagine and use it for convenience. Magical singularity, weaponised magic, technocracy, stagnation and decline.

The Shaman: a myth The Priest: in control The Magician: withdrawing