Friday, 1 May 2020

A few what ifs

(a couple of thoughts too short for their own entries)
1) What if magic – which exists to break the established order of existence, with its laws of mass, of energy conservation, of logical and immutable causality – doesn't mutilate the normal user with its corruption, spellburns or madness so common as a consequence of multiple fumbles in various systems, but it is the other way around, and magic can only take ever seed in minds (and bodies) already dissonance and broken? In this case the normalcy is sterile ground: in order to get the magic, one's sane mind and healthy body must get damaged first.

It might explain why curses of people wronged and passions of people unhinged come true in magic while mundane desires of bourgeois in pastel shirts do not; why want-to-be-wizards go through fugue, it might explain drugs and other chemicals as a tools of temporarily going off-normal, or even fully insane.

But the risk here is that, while the magic is generally attracted to broken minds by its own blind, unthinkable nature, one never can be sure it would be specifically their mind the magic going to inhabit – there are no rules on whom the occult will seed, there is no way to force it, hence intentionally going mad might amount to nothing at the end if the magic, by the irrational nature of its own existence, simply doesn't take a hold. If one has a good and comfortable place in society already, and power over others that is more reliable and predictable than occult, intentionally going mad in scant hope to get occult powers is an open opportunity to end up destitute without any powers at all.

2) What if Conan the Barbarian but in cyberpunk? Mixing fantasy and mega-urban landscape is not a new idea but the appeal here in the known names reimagined: Stygian sorcerers as servants of abyss that are old Archeronian preserved minds which, in their turn, go back to forgotten Lemurian protocols.

3) What if museum instead of gardens? The memetic beast here, instead of thorns, would be a notion to enshrine the every moment of every being into a display – the sickness starts with note-taking, shifts to obsessive journallng, into replica constructions until the whole civilization is utterly paralyzed into nothing but putting everything that moves into clear archival resin and creating displays of themselves creating displays. At the end, the museum is full of treasures, both actual, and everyday mundane, and made from trash and it grows more distorted and grotesque as one progresses through the fall of civilization. The main actual treasure probably is finding eatable food and water in the place of replicas, and the end goal is probably not something grand and mysterious but just an exit, to tear themselves off eternity as the museum recording every moment of every creature would otherwise continues endlessly, similar to Library of Babel. 

8 comments:

  1. I really like these! I think the magic one also plays into the relationship between mental "illness" and magic or the divine in certain cultures.

    In regards to cyberpunk Conan, I might argue that Judge Dredd is maybe the closest thematic equivalent to this, but I think there was a Marvel 2099 character with a similar premise. Not quite cyberpunk but I'm a big fan of Thundarr the Barbarian, and Marvel's super-underrated Killraven is a lot like Thundarr but could arguably lend itself better to a cyberpunk-esque reinterpretation.

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    1. Thank you, I am glad if it was in any way useful.

      The allure of cyberpunk Conan to me is not to create a similar world (because cyberpunk/SF x fantasy does exist), but to take specifically the world of Conan itself, and try to imagine how its lands, and people, and mysteries could translate to mega-urban technological environment. How Aquilonia would look like, how Zingara would look like, for example.

      I just imagined Conan as stubbornly not-implanted 'barbarian' in the world where civilization (i.e. connection to luxuries of All-net) could be actually corrupting, and Stygian sorcerers as biomechanical 'liches', Adeptus Mechanicus from WH40K-like.

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  2. Unknown Armies has probably the best "magic as derangement" system I've seen. Magic is powered by obsession: to power your magic, you must engage in more and more extreme, unhealthy behaviour, whether that's self-mutilation, risk-taking, hoarding, social and sexual alienation, alcoholism, etc.

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    1. In Unknown Armies you still need to escalate your obsession if you wish for more powerful magic and payoff of powerful magic is certain. I propose a setting where the person should be driven to derangement (for the lack of the better word) already, before getting any magic, and getting magic is a big uncertainty. From the mechanics point of view in DnD terms it would be willingly taking harmful mutations or corruptions with only, say, 15% chance any level to get actual spells.
      I was curious to imagine the world where magic is here and how get it is known but most people look at it and say 'it isn't worth it'.

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  3. I really like the first one (and not just because you mention the fugue!) - it's a very neat way of avoiding "well the aristocracy has all the magic forever".

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    1. I am glad you liked it. Yes, this would be the world where magic is certainly not in-blood or only available for people with enough money to afford the study. Aristocracy, being in some places, quite deprave/decadent/genetically inclined to madness _might_ get magic, but the same chances that for peasant brought to edge of the spiritual void by their tyrant latest 'benevolent program', or a slave dehumanized so much they no longer perceive themselves as something human.

      On a slightly different topic, it also strikes me how very rational most of the magic spells and powers are everywhere - even those are in trappings of mystique. Climb walls, even if the spell dislodges mage's joints and grows extra arms to make them climb as a spider, it still more of a practical tool than than an unpredictable force of unnature barely contained by remnants of the human psyche.

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  4. 1 is really good. It surprises me that this isn't already common, considering that it feels very "real" and seems it would make for excellent rpg mechanics. The closest I can think of is Miracles in Hidden Kingdom, where you fast (= decrease hp) to increase your chances of success, or self-mutilation in dcc. But your idea seems more profound, as it also speaks to the nature of magic. I like it a lot!

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    1. Thank you – feel free to use it if you want.

      From wikipedia article, it looks like Hidden Kingdoms are for Arthurian-like kind of world. I haven't read this RPG but it is interesting to me to draw parallels on how much religious fervour and things that people do unto themselves for enlightenment (such as sokushinbutsu) can be viewed as madness from the modern perspective. Once I read an article which claimed that medieval times were times of religious zeal, as if it was an actual mass madness; I don't know enough about actual history of actual Earth but I can imagine in fantasy this being true, and miracles being just more socially acceptable form of the same occult phenomenon.

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