Channelling, Spell-weave, Spell-casting, Pattern, Glamour, Rune-smithing, what does it all mean?
The magic system used is Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s tale should be familiar to most readers. I felt the book, with its match-per-chapter structure, was unusual enough without going for a overly original magic system.
Readers should be familiar with the basic ideas of the magic system. Spell-weaving is similar to parts of the magic system in the Wheel of Time and The Fionavar Tapestry. The idea of a pattern, or spell-weave is based on a game called Earthdawn, which influences much of my work, and has the best magic system of any RPG I have played. Pattern is also a nod to the Chronicles of Amber.
I call the system Power and Pattern
There is a little bit of magic in everyone and everything in the Domains of the Chosen. The Gift is the ability to sense magic. With the ability to sense magic a person can learn to Channel power, weave spells, and even manipulate the patterns of objects and creatures.
The ungifted can still use magic, but because they cannot sense magic they are extremely limited in what they can do: they can’t weave their own spells, they have little control or understanding of when they channel power, and they have absolutely no sense of the Pattern that underlies all things. However, with practice they can use magical items. With the help, and a tremendous amount of effort, they can learn very simple spells, but it would like learning to play a song on the piano perfectly without using their sense of touch, hearing, or sight.
While the Gift varies in strength from Gifted to Gifted, it can always be improved through practice and diligence. The only people who have complete freedom to develop their Gift in the Domains are the Chosen and Heretics. Even Gladiators, whose Gift is intact, have mental blocks put in place that prevent them from doing certain things. Knowledge is another limiting factor, even a Chosen learns a spell faster if someone teaches them, but since knowledge is power few are willing to share their lore.
The most important thing to note about the Gift is that it is not hereditary and it cannot be detected at birth. If the Gift was automatically passed down to one’s descendants it would quickly create Dynasties of Gifted families with breeding programs to create more powerful Gifted. It would also make it very easy for the Ungifted to identify and potentially eradicate the Gifted. While that would make an interesting story unto itself, it is not the way I wanted to go with this particular tale. Instead the Gift “manifests” between ages 3-5 and Children in the Domains are tested for the Gift before they are 8. Those with the Gift are taken from their families at ages 5-8 and educated in the basics of magic. By age 11 they must make the choice to become Gladiators or undergo the sundering and become Vassals. Many in the Domains feel that this is a rather cruel choice to force on a young teenager.
In the same way that everything has an atomic structure in real life, everything in the Domains has an underlying Pattern. This pattern informs the structure and nature of objects. The more complex the object the more complex the pattern. Where it starts to get wonky is that while a human has a Pattern the human species as a whole also has a Pattern. Water has a Pattern, and so does the ocean. These “larger” patterns are monumentally difficult to influence, but it can be done.
Pattern is the basis of most magic. Spell-weaves are the most common form of magic that the Gifted use. The Gifted “weaves” a pattern and channels power through it. This pattern acts as a set of instructions for the channeled power, guiding how it manifests in the upper levels of reality. It might be reasonable to think of the pattern as software, and channeling as hardware, and the effect of the spell as what you see on your screen and hear from your speakers. Spell-weaves are temporary, they dissipate if power is not directed through them. The effects of the spell however, might be permanent: fire created by spell-weave will still cause the same kind of burns.
Arts Rune-smithing and Artificing are an intermediary step between spell-weaving and direct alteration of Pattern. In both cases something physical is made that in turn creates a reflected pattern back down into the basic levels of reality. In this way they can create powerful permanent spell-structures that require minimal power. They do take quite a bit of skill and effort, however. This level of interaction is called Enchantment.
The Gifted can directly also alter existing patterns. Patterns tend to resist change, and always tend to return to their proper state, so it requires tremendous effort to change them. Transmutation and Body-sculpting are examples of this level of interaction with Pattern. I think I will call this level of interaction Alteration.
Larger patterns require more power (applied at once or over time). More complex changes to the pattern require a more complex spell-weave/rune/alteration.
Affinity and Schools of Magic
Gifted are often better at certain types of spell-weaves than others. Many of them specialize in specific “Schools” of magic because of this. These disciplines often come with their own theories and cosmologies, but are not actually mutually exclusive. They mostly exist for ease of teaching, like the martial schools of the Domains. Heretics and the Chosen often use magic that does not really fall under the purview of any discipline.
Spells and Spell-weaving
Spells are formulaic Spell-weaves, a spell pattern that a Gifted had memorized and practiced to the point where they can call on it without . It is easier for the Gifted to weave a spell, which is a repetition of a weave that they know already, than to make a custom spell-pattern.
Patterns can be disrupted. Permanently disrupting a pattern on the alteration level would be an exceptionally devastating way to destroy something but would require far more effort than weaving a spell that applied enough external force to destroy the object.
Disrupting a spell-weave is another matter. The relatively simple patterns of spells are far less cohesive that naturally occurring patterns and can easily be disrupted by astute Gifted. Even the ungifted can resist a spell cast on them in this way, albeit less effectively than a Gifted. It essentially comes down to a contest of will.
Glamour is a form of magic that makes uses the simplest magic to alter the very simplest of patterns. Because these changes are personal and mostly cosmetic a Gifted can create near-enchantment level changes with far less power and time investment than a regular spell. A Glamour essentially memorizes some minor aspect of a specific object and returns it to that state when re-cast. Some Glamours include instant hair-styling, eye-shadow and lip gloss effects, hair-dye, skin-dye, instant cleaning (Gifted never have to shower) or shaving, perfume, oiled-skin, wet, dry, and so on. Glamour can only be used on one’s own pattern, or a personal attuned item.
Channeling and Power
Power is the energy behind magic in the Domains. Current theories states that Power is created by the natural interaction between patterns on a lower level than even the Gifted can truly sense. This is a complex way of saying that people have no idea. While a Gifted can manipulate or even weave patterns, the can only create draw upon or direct Power in a more simple fashion. Some Gifted use the analogy of trying to direct the water in a rushing stream, hence the use of the term Channeling. It also implies that, unlike Patter, Power is dynamic and tends toward motion.
The Ungifted can only draw upon power through the use of a focus, usually an enchanted item. An Ungifted who has managed to learn a spell will still need this item to help them direct the Power the spell needs.
Most Gifted know how to Channel power from the interactions of their own pattern with those nearby. Gladiators often learn to Channel power from the arena crowds. The Chosen can channel power from just about anything if they form a bond with it.
Channeling greater amounts of power requires more concentration, more time, and too much can result in fatigue, pain, or even bliss. Heretics, who lack a proper education in the Gift, often lose control when Channelling and have been known to hurt themselves. On the other hand, this wild talent often lets them tap into a greater pool of Power.
Other Magic in the World
There are other forms of magic such as the weave warping that the Wirn use. This magic hijacks a spell-weave and turns it to the Wirn’s purpose. This process causes severe pain and damage to whomever is weaving the spell and acts as a form of feeding to the Wirn.
Some creatures have patterns that replicate spell-like abilities.
And Finally: What the Gladiators don’t know…
The Gladiators in Bloodlust do not have all of the information about magic. They don’t know how the Deliberative controls them. They don’t know how the sundering works. Very few of them get how to Channel power from the crowds early in their careers. Magic is an art, and there comes a point where each of the Gifted comes up against a threshold that no one else can help them cross.