Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fifth World Magic

I can't find a lot of things I still like about v. 0.2. The one thing that does stand out in that regard lies in the magic system. We based the magic system on the way magic works in actual, animist societies. The mechanics will have to change, of course, but that basic concept will stay.

  1. Spells. The English word "spell" comes from the German for "bird song." Characters sing spells in the Fifth World. They learn spells from specific spirits, so each spell ties into a specific relationship, so the effectiveness of the spell derives from the strength of your relationship. Spells can summon allies of that spirit (for instance, learn the Howling spell from Wolf, and you might find yourself able to summon the local wolf pack to your aid), or communicate with those spirits in other ways; they might also help the singer fortify himself or his friends, by inspiration or even by psychological trick (for example, chanting "om" creates a frequency of vibration that plays on the back of your brain). For ethnographic examples, also see icaros in South America.
  2. Trance. The best part about trance in v. 0.2 came from how deadly it seemed. You could easily get yourself killed, and that worked exactly the way it should. Trance gives you access to the axis mundi, and the ability to go into the Overworld or the Underworld, or move about in the spirit world. That access does not come easily. Trance techniques give that kind of access precisely because they so closely emulate death. The !Kung concept of n/um parallels other cultural ideas like chakras and Kundalini, and even Pentacostal notions of the Holy Spirit, so well that I can hardly resist playing with them. But trance will remain the main way to gain access to the spirit world, and it will remain a harrowing adventure in its own right.
  3. Entheogens. When I thought of what made v. 0.2 unique, the entheogen rules came up first. They probably still need a lot of tweaking, and will definitely need work with new mechanics, but yes, The Fifth World will still offer a magic system based entirely on the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Set and setting will continue to play crucial roles in how that works. And these rules will still emphasize your relationship with the plant spirit you've asked to escort you into the spirit world, so abusing that relationship will just put you in a very vulnerable position towards an angered plant spirit, right when you move onto his turf. Like trance, using entheogens will involve no small amount of mortal danger. Some entheogens form addictions. Others nearly kill you when you use them. All in all, you don't see a lot of recreational drug use in the Fifth World for precisely these reasons.
  4. Shapeshifting. Shape-shifting acts like a trance in many ways. It takes role-playing to its most psychological extreme, where empathy and ecstatic experience converge to so completely align human perspective with other-than-human experience that the human shapeshifter experiences the projection of his consciousness into another form. Observers might simply see him collapse after a frenzied dance mimicking the motions of an eagle, but the shape-shifter returns with tales of how he flew high above, and saw things only an eagle could see.

2 comments:

Jordan said...

One of the things that I got from Abram's book was that spelling, that is, written words, is not in itself an evil. Letters are just a very, very powerful form of magic. So a character could choose to go down this path, summoning the wind with simply written characters, and such, but at what cost to themselves?

And with the entheogens, there also exists that "is it worth it" vibe. Eating plant A may make you strong as a bear, but it also makes you slow as a one-legged deer.

Jason Godesky said...

One of the things that I got from Abram's book was that spelling, that is, written words, is not in itself an evil. Letters are just a very, very powerful form of magic. So a character could choose to go down this path, summoning the wind with simply written characters, and such, but at what cost to themselves?

You got it exactly. I loved that in Abram's work, too; literacy as simply this incredibly intoxicating kind of magic, and I think the word "intoxicating" fits best. So how does literacy fit in with the game? Right now, I have an idea that you could have a relationship with "Writing," and that would determine your ability to both read and write. Then, build in some inconsistencies with Writing vs. other spirits, so the more relationship points you put into Writing, it somehow drains or limits the relationship points you can make with spirits. Or, perhaps set up a mechanic that sucks an inattentive player into feeding more and more relationship points into Writing, at the expense of everything else. Something like that.

And with the entheogens, there also exists that "is it worth it" vibe. Eating plant A may make you strong as a bear, but it also makes you slow as a one-legged deer.

We really try to base the effects on the actual plants. If the plant causes addiction, then the plant afflicts the "Addiction" curse, things like that. So it all depends on the plant in question.