Magic in Cradle (via Aria): Fundamentals

In this post I’ll be stepping through the Omnessence Fundamental section of Chapter 3. Basically, it’s just defining what actually using Torchstone looks and feels like, and what it’s capable of. This is a pretty jargon heavy chapter (what isn’t in Aria?), but I’m using more generic terms unless I’m directly referencing some concept unique to Aria.

The first part of this fundamental is what game stats govern magic use and how susceptible things are to magic, which is super specific to Aria. But its actually a good place to start to try to figure out the basics of how magic works in general from a Fate perspective. This will necessarily touch on some of the later decisions made about how magic works.

It’s pretty much established that Torchstone, in some capacity, is what actually powers magical effects. Patterns –  symbols, sigils, glyphs, etc. – are what channels and forms this energy into something that happens (as an aside, my old magic system was called Pattern magic or Patternweaving or something). It’s generally easier (and more reproducible) to create these patterns beforehand, but with skill and knowledge it can be done on the fly through gestures or whatnot.

This setup suggests different attributes needed for activating an existing pattern; creating a new static pattern; and doing it freeform. The simplest way to represent this might be the expenditure of a Fate Point and a skill roll to create an effect, with a Stunt to enable the ability to do it “free form.” Activation of an existing effect might be through a CAA action.

Up next is to define Torchstone’s “Province”.  These are a bunch of descriptors for what the magic can do and what it can affect. The “Paradigm” (i.e., spell) system allows for defining how these can be mixed and matched together. Each is, of course, defined within Aria’s own terms and are ranked from 1-5. I’m totally not going to figure these things out in Aria’s terms (there’s a lot of gnashing of teeth involved there), but I am going to use it as a springboard to explore what Torchstone can be used for and what that looks like.

Archetypes and Dominions

The Words of Power magic system from the Evil Hat website has a design pattern that looks like a decent starting point for how this would work. Each effect is determined by the complexity of the underlying pattern. Magical patterns are akin to a circuit – they channel and form the energy from Torchstone in a specific way. The more complicated the circuit, the more powerful and complex the effect – and, by extension, the more difficult it is to create the pattern. I’m not quite at the point where I want to detail each pattern, but I’m thinking there are likely a handful of base patterns, along with a number of modifying patterns that can be added on (as well as layering the base patterns). The circuit analogy also helps define the ley line-like nature of how large concentrations can connect with each other geographically, and it gives a nice hook for naturally occurring magical effects. It’s also going to allow some really cool innovations like mechanical patterns, where the pattern can be moved or rearranged to create a new one.

Image result for antikythera mechanism magic
Something like the Antikythera mechanism would feel right at home in this magic system

The next consideration in Aria is the availability of Torchstone. It’s definitely pervasive, but in a limited way. The energy is kind of a magical weak force, present in some degree everywhere but its strength drops off rapidly with distance. This gives it a variety of natural manifestations beyond the physical element, including areas where it’s completely lacking. Overall, Torchstone isn’t hard to find one form or another – the limiting factors are quantity and quality.

Related to availability is the amount…obviously Torchstone is finite, but for all intents and purposes it’s not going to run out anytime soon. That doesn’t mean the distribution is even though, and acquiring or holding on to Torchstone is an obvious source of conflict just like any other natural resource.

The last two considerations in Aria are access and storage. Torchstone
is technically freely available, but has to be gathered/prepared and then the energy released. The user needs to be in very close proximity to it in order to tap its energy. The Torchstone is either directly incorporated into the pattern (which is a great mechanism for one shot or rechargeable effects), or somehow connected to a supply of it. The weak field aspect means it doesn’t have to be direct, but for sure the distance can’t be great. It takes time to plan and create a particular pattern, but for those that semi-permanent or permanent the release of energy to be converted into an effect is pretty much instant.

Finally, we get to storage. Obviously, Torchstone can be simply gathered and stored – but the energy itself (currently) cannot be. Living things that use it – such as trees and plants that absorb it through their root systems – either effectively have a replenishable supply or have to accumulate more. It’s also possible to refine and/or concentrate Torchstone into more potent forms, as well as dilute it, alloy it, etc. This opens up the possibility of “storage” of a sort for self-powered patterns, just like how a self-contained firearm round contains propellant.

That’s about enough for this installment. Next up I’m going to wrap everything up in a summary and maybe hang a few actual mechanics off of it.

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