Monday, July 25, 2011

Magic and Aether

The following is a short bit of flavor that may (or may not) explain how magic works in my home-brew fantasy world of Terren. It's based on stuff I wrote here.

The Elements
The material world is comprised of five elements. The first four, called the corporeal or lower elements, are earth, air, fire, and water. These elements, combined in various pairings and ratios, are the building blocks that make up everything in the physical world. The fifth element, called aether, is sometimes known as the celestial or higher element.
Aether, like air, is invisible and largely intangible. It does not exist on its own, but instead can be found within other things. A man's body is made of flesh (earth), blood (air), bile (fire), and phlegm (water); his soul is made of aether. Without the soul, the body is just an empty husk. Therefore, aether is the spark of life.

Tied closely with the concept of aether is an invisible energy scholars call mana. In simplest terms, mana is a kind of diluted aether, distilled from the universe and drawn inside a mortal being through ritual or divine will. Once gathered, mana allows a person with the proper training to exert his will upon the world around him, casting spells that can alter the laws of reality. Thus, a wizard can cause the air to burn (fireball) or a priest can mend a deadly wound (heal).

Mortals are not gods, however, and no living man can freely alter reality via nothing but his strength of will. Magic requires specific formula, rare materials, or the intervention of divine beings.

Arcane Magic
Arcane magic is the spellcraft of the magic-user class. This sort of spell-casting relies on complex rituals that, if completed correctly, allow a caster to draw mana from the world around him and store it within himself. He does this by meditating on a written spell, letting the strange runes and magical diagrams open a metaphysical conduit between his mind and the aether. Once the ritual is complete, the spells remain within the magic-user's mind until he casts them. Once cast, the mana tied to a particular spell leaves the magic-user. In order to cast that spell again, he must rest and then repeat the preparation ritual.

A mortal can only control so much arcane power, limited mainly by his intellect and experience. Regardless of his power, a magic-user must still consult a written work in order to prepare is spells. This is partially because of the complex nature of the spells themselves, but there is another, metaphysical reason; the act of writing a spell on paper, using special runes and magical symbols, focuses the mana and makes it possible for the spell-caster to channel the proper energy.

Armor, especially metal armor, interferes with a magic-user's ability to harness mana and hinders his ability to perform the intricate gestures most spells require. Thus, magic-users prefer to wear light, loose-fitting garments and shun heavy armor.

Divine Magic
Divine magic draws mana not from the world, but from the power of a god, demi-god, or other immortal being. However, a cleric's spells do not require the active consent of a deity. Indeed, even priests who have strayed from the tenets of their faith can cast spells. Perhaps the amount of mana a single mortal can channel is too small for a god to notice, or maybe a cleric takes power from his god indirectly, as a plant gathers energy from the sun. Whatever the reason, the ability to cast spells is not an indication of a person's piety, although some clerics would like the world to believe otherwise.

Cleric spells are simpler to cast than arcane spells. They are usually short prayers that invoke the name of a god or potent spirit to achieve a desired effect. The exact wording of a given spell is not precise and often varies between faiths and sometimes even between castings. Since the prayers are not complex and come from a higher power, clerics do not need to write their spells down or use a spellbook in order to prepare them. Instead, the cleric simply prays to his god and meditates on whatever spells he wants to cast. This act, bolstered by faith, channels divine power through the cleric's mortal body and gives him the necessary mana.

Faith alone, however, is not enough to wield divine magic. Before he can cast any spells, a cleric must be undergo a ritual called ordination. The ritual's details vary depending on the cleric's religion, but all require a blessing and ceremony conducted by someone who can already cast divine spells. Most religions have strict requirements that a prospective cleric must meet before he can undergo the necessary ritual. Once ordained, however, the cleric will have a permanent connection to the divine that grants him the ability to cast cleric spells. This ability can be taken away, should the cleric's order decide he is unworthy of the ability, but excommunications are rare. Also, a deity can always deny spells to a follower, although this is also very rare.

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