Finally, I’m going to hone what I came up with in the previous posts. Not really wrapping any mechanics around it just yet, since I really want to have a basic understanding of how magic works as I continue plugging away at the overall worldbuilding.
The study of magic in Cradle is commonly called arcanology, and skilled practitioners arcanologists (side note: when I stumbled upon the term “arcanology” I really liked it). Arcanology encompasses the theory, study and practical use of the material known in arche, or more colloquially as “Stone”. Arche is a semi-translucent stone found in deposits throughout Cradle. The most accepted theory is that it is a primal essence, the left over “building blocks” from creation. Arche serves as both a conductor of arcane energy and the source, generating a pervasive energy field that can be manipulated through forcing the energy into specific patterns, similar to circuits in modern electronics.
Patterns can be etched, inlaid, drawn, tattooed, woven, etc., and themselves are made from a variety of metals including gold, silver, iron, and mercury. These metals are typically alloyed or otherwise infused with arche to enhance their innate properties, with different materials being used to help direct a Pattern’s effects. The same Pattern created with different materials will yield subtly different effects. There are a handful of base Patterns (called Primes) that serve as the foundation of all Patterns; the Pattern for a specific effect will be a mix of Primes with additions to the base Pattern. In general, the more complex or powerful the effect, the larger and more complicated the overall Pattern will be. Anyone can create a Pattern if they know it – the trick is activating it to get the effect.
To this end, the Pattern requires a power source just like a modern electronic device. The basic measure of arcane energy is the mote, which is roughly the amount of energy stored within a pure arche sphere about the size of a marble. Single use Patterns will have enough arche embedded within them to power them; others will have a dedicated store of arche to provide motes. The motes within the arche are tapped through the use of a specific Prime (the first one nearly every arcanology student learns).
The complexity of the effects attainable by arcanology is limited only by the materials and size of the Pattern, the supply of arche available, and the skill of the arcanologist(s) engineering it. Simple things like generating heat or light can be attained by nearly anyone, while more complicated mechanisms can require teams of engineers and large amounts of time and research to perfect. Some things, such as teleportation or time travel, are theoretically possible but have yet to be achieved (not through lack of trying…some of the largest disasters in arcanology are the results of failed experiments along those lines).
A very small percentage of people can create Patterns using body movements – typically tracing them in mid-air using fingers and hands – to manipulate the ambient arcanological field. This ability manifests more in populations that live near significant arche deposits, and the prevailing theory is that they have a higher concentration of arche in their blood compared to the rest of the populace. The complexity of the Patterns they can create is limited, though casters have been shown to be able to cooperate to build more complex Patterns than they could individually create. Additionally, having contact with the basic Prime that unlocks arcanological energy is required – either a tattoo, amulet or similar talisman against the skin, or even a held object such as a staff. Many casters will often carry some small amount of pure arche to provide power, since the arcanological field’s strength drops off sharply the further it is away from a source of arche. This arche can take a multitude of forms from worn jewelry to powder that can be inhaled or imbibed. There’s also nothing that prevents a caster from using more traditional arcanological techniques – more than one well-known caster has used a staff that serves as both conduit and power source.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but arcanology can and does fail. The vast majority of failures are simple – it just doesn’t work – but overly complex Patterns that fail can have unintended side effects, including failing explosively. There are a handful of regions in Cradle that have been permanently marred by particularly horrendous failures.
At some point, I’m going to get the actual mechanics figured out (I have some ideas that I alluded to in previous posts). But at least for the time being I feel like I have enough of a grasp of the look and feel of arcanology to press forward with some of the other bits of worldbuilding I want to get done. As always, any comments, criticisms or suggestions are more than welcome!