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Magic in Barnaynia

Dated: 14 Oct, 2020

The big thing that makes any FRPG world different from our everyday world is magic.  Even the races are perhaps just extreme developments of the variations in culture and race we already have (without or without all the current differences of opinion about this) - they are nothing compared to the wonder of Real Magic.  When we are deciding on our setting we are faced with the fundamental properties of our world based around a high or low fantasy setting – the question of just how prevalent is Magic in normal life?

In Barnaynia, this fundamental property is confused by the spectacular cosmology of the banana-shaped world.  The whole setting is very High Fantasy, there’s lots of things we would be boggled by, but the prevalence of magic on the mundane lives of the folks in Barnaynia is less High and more Mid-Fantasy.  Sure, there are wizards and magical swords and magical creatures everywhere but the average Joe Peasant in the street would not have access to it: it is special, it is possessed by an elite.  So how does this work?  Well, I have a nice Simile I am going to torture to try and clarify how it works…

Magic is like swimming in the sea:

The Sea is always there.  It is big and powerful but very few people have anything to do with it.  Some people work with it or rely on it in other ways.  We also use it, a little bit of it anyway, for entertainment, or we have simple skills in dealing with it, like being able to swim.  But it is a huge thing and very, very few people have ever been deep into it…

Some people can deal with it naturally – the ones who can swim from birth, who never lived without water.  Fishing communities, Pearl Divers, that kind of thing.  These are like Witches, Shamans and Witch Doctors.  They have a natural talent that lets them play at the edges, dive to places other people can’t see, do simple things that boggle the mind.

Some people are given magical instruction and taught to read and write Arcana, the language of magic.  This is like being taught to hold your breath and to swim.  It is necessary to any kind of magical practice of a learned rather than natural variety, but doesn’t in of itself grant the power to do magic.  You can hold your breath whether you are in the sea or not.  You can swim in swimming pools and ponds; you can read about spells and learn the steps of the Semantic components without being able to cast a single spell; without ever having salt-water touch your skin.

Then you go to college and they teach you Magical Skills; they show you how to use a snorkel and free-dive.  Suddenly, with a simple tool, you are elevated almost to the level of a Pearl-Diver.  The magic flows around you, you can immerse yourself in it and do some of the cool things that the other wizards can, see the hidden things that lie below the surface.  But you can also see the deeps.  You are a first level Magic-User.  You can peer over the side of the reef and see the light rays dancing into the distant, black depths, and wonder…

As you rise in levels then the art of Scuba Diving is taught to you or learned by you.  Suddenly you are not limited by the capacity of your lungs.  This is perhaps 5th or 6th level – a level of skill beyond the reach of the naturally talented ones without some form or tutelage or old crone showing them The Way.  Now you can go much deeper, stay down for longer, know and explore things that you have only been told about before.  You can encounter and understand creatures, entities, which no one on the surface has ever seen, other than a shadow in the deep, sliding, silently under their flimsy boat.  But it is tiring, dangerous and you must rest afterwards.  You can’t stay too long and if you push it you will die.

Getting beyond this, perhaps 12th to 15th level, requires a much greater investment of time and effort.  Specialist skills known only to some must be sought out, learned and practiced.  Key equipment, expensive and cumbersome, has to be obtained.  Strange devices that seem ridiculous but can only come into their own in the depths of the magical world that is now your obsession, if it wasn’t already.

And so it goes on; your learn more, realise there is so much more to know.  Scuba is still a delight but it is mundane, easy, simple, although still requiring respect in case a stupid mistake might cost you your life.  You use your new knowledge, skill and equipment to go deeper, deeper and for longer than you ever thought possible.  You see things, glimpses of the strangest possible worlds.  Whole ecosystems of creatures no surface dweller ever even remotely dreamt might exist.  You have knowledge far beyond the mundane experience of mere mortals.  You have seen things others couldn’t imagine.

And yet, and yet, these are only glimpses.  You shine a light into the darkness and you see a small zone of illuminated wonder.  You drift through the depths agog at everything you see, fascinated by the processes you see, in awe of everything.  But who can say what lies beyond your light?  What strangeness might have seen the glow of your approach and calmly moved out of the way, invisible and unknown in the darkness?

The mystery just gets deeper, more unreachable and even more magnificent.  The blue around you still goes black in the distance and keeps its deepest secrets from you.

But look at what you have achieved!  Out of all the souls in the world you have visited places only a handful of similarly powerful beings have been.  You have powers and knowledge you couldn’t even start to explain.  And yet you are frustrated.

You have also seen the greater creatures down there, or some of them at least.  Happy in that habit.  Breathing and moving in the impossible deeps as easily as you move about your house at home; safe and warm, without a fear in the world.  You are terrified there.  Every moment is a challenge, annihilation a breath away, and yet to them it is their common experience.  To them this impossibility is normality.  Your miracles are mundane.

There is yet more to know, more to discover, and there always will be…

Check out SM05 The World Guide to Barnaynia for more fascinating detail about the Cosmology of the banana-shaped world.