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Author Topic: How beliefs, geography and events shape the magical world - aka, Ars Magica  (Read 215 times)

saharo

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Here’s one more thread wanting to inspire the Magic release.
Please note that this is not another praise of the Ars Magica famous magic system. That’s something I won't touch at all. It's how the magical world is intended in the setting that I'll talk about.
I’m fully conscious of how much is already on the plate but I strongly believe that this particular view on Magic can be of great inspiration for Dwarf Fortress. Reading through the AM materials (official and fun based) also feels like reading through medieval manuscripts, so I wonder if ThreeToe ever got his eyes on it :)

I’ll try to put a whole lot of material (several books) in as few words as possible, and format it for improved readability. I hope you appreciate the effort from an italian whose Super Mario accent goes even into his prose...  :P
But enough with the rant and preludes. Here we go :D

Realms of existence.
The world we live in, the mundane world, is barely the only one. It overlaps and interacts with other worlds - aka realms - who lack its substantiality and concreteness and find their essence in something else: ideas, beliefs, thoughts, Gods... These realms interact each with the other and with the mundane, and their manifestation in our world is - in a single word - Magic.
AM defines 4 Realms: Magical, Fairy, Divine and Infernal. The Divine and Infernal are heavily inspired by the Christian/Catholic view of the world in medieval Europe, and I won’t talk about them in this post, as the other two are much more…Dwarf-Fortress-Fantasy-Multiverse related.

The Nature of Magic and the Magic of Nature.
The Magic realm takes inspiration from the Platonic Hyperuranion: a world of pure ideas, whose material non-perfect copies are the consituents of our world. Though inherently imperfect, a particularly fine example of something can hint us to that perfection, radiate magic and acquire a Magical aura.
Quote
A perfect mountain, spectacular and ancient forest, and a vigorous active volcano might all acquire a weak Magical aura.CR

In the current language we often label such places as magical and in AM they indeed are.
Combinations of multiple of such fine examples and/or other natural phenomena (e.g austrological alignments, recurring or powerful weather or geological conditions), can give place to stronger auras.
Quote
[...]a coastal valley hemmed in by mountains, in which great storms often happen and which faces the midsummer sunrise.CR

Magical activities work the same way: the presence of magical creatures or the magic operated by magicians, are activities that will increase the Magical aura of a place over time.
Finally, sudden powerful event might do the same overnight.
Quote
[...]a spectacular magical fight between two powerful magical creatures in which one of the creatures was killed, or the creation of a magical effect worthy of legend [...] can push it [the Magical aura] to the highest levels.CR
note: The book Realms of Power - Magic, chapter 2, has MANY beautiful examples as the ones quoted above.

The power of beliefs and folklore
There's always some truth to the fables we tell our children...since is believing in them that makes them true.
Quote
Faeries are creatures drawn in some way from the imagination of the human race. They are thus as varied and diverse as the human imagination, and can be found anywhere from the depths of the wilderness to the centers of cities, from ancient pagan temples to the newest cathedral.
The realm of Faerie is as diverse and strange as those who inhabit it, and as with all faerie things, appearances can be deceiving. After dawn breaks, a pile of gold may prove nothing more than old leaves, while a single oak leaf can hold within it more magical power than the enchanted staff of a mighty magus.CR

Conflicting believes will work against each other in the regard of creating a Faerie aura, that's why fairies tend to inhabit remote wilderness areas, that in turn will grow "stranger" over time, and more whispered about.
Quote
Faeries in an area tend to inspire stories about the area, which in turn raise the aura and attract, or create, more and more powerful faeries, who in turn inspire more stories.CR


The feedback loop of the fantastic
As stories create fairies and fairies generate stories, the magical has similar mechanism. For example, a magical forest will attract magical creature whose presence will, in return, increase the aura of the forest. Its trees will also manifest such magic, blossoming flowers with magical properties, and mages will want to come to such a forest to gather such flowers and weave the forest magic into their own trappings etc...
The fantastic realms grow in a feedback loop. If left to themselves, or better if nurtured, they grow over time...until the mundane arrive, destroy the land with always more powerful technologies, pray to God (or another god who openly dislikes Magic and wishes all witches to be burned at least...).
For a real history examples of this, you can get into stories like the fell of the Donar's Oak from Saint Boniface, to get a feeling of how much effort took to the europian civilization to conquer and colonize the forests in central europe. Some wikipedia references for a quick start:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donar%27s_Oak
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_trees_and_groves_in_Germanic_paganism_and_mythology
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercynian_Forest



Magic stuff
A central concept in the AM setting (and system) is Vis.
Quote
The power of magic touches inanimate objects as often as it touches the living. Sometimes that power becomes concentrated as raw vis.
[...]Vis is the physical embodiment of magic, essentially raw magical power. Within vis, magic exists in its most concentrated form [...]RPM
Typical examples of what might contain Vis:
  • a flower that blooms once a year and withers overnight
  • crystals formations in a cave, that crumble if touched (a mage can etract its vis
  • the blood of a dead devil, flowing with a single hearthbeat at every death annyversary
There's plenty of examples online:
I won't go into any of the details of how Vis works in AM. I just wanted to list here this concept, to give an idea of how Magic can naturally infuse objects without any intervention of sort. It would be very interesting to see procedurally generated magical objects, the same as Forgotten Beasts.

So much more
There's so much more in the AM settings that could serve as ispiration for Dwarf Fortress, like Regions, pocket realities that mostly result from auras increasing but not having physical space to expand. The whole magic theory, how magical research and laboratories work. The idea that magic is this unknown thing, explored from many different traditions, none of which fully understands it, and how much a single invention (Magical Resistance - Parma Magic, in AM terms) shaped society, allowing for Mages gathering in communities. All these concepts to me resonate so much with what I've heard Toady One say on the theme.

Conclusion: The Dwarf Fortress connection
Dwarf Fortress has in place procedural generation for landscapes, believes, thoughts, and soon an expanded Gods and Magical system. What I just outlined, just fits perfectly in the current Dwarf Fortress frame.

I can see how at world generation, a particularly huge forest gets more and more magical at its core with the centuries going by, repelling all tentatives of colonization from the initial mundane races.
And I imagine these fishes, granted magical properties by the powerful Spirit living in the same pristine lake, feeding unaware Dwarves, that will become blue skinned overtime and feverishly pray to the lake Spirit.
And I can see how the most mighty magical being will inhabit the biggest mountain, generate metals and gems of incredible properties, and unleash its rage to the greedy dwarves mining and exploting it, in an escalation of FUN, where the being itself is caged a legendary achievement of dwarven SCIENCE.
I might go on with the examples but I'll leave to you patient reader, who read until here, to let your imagination do its thing.

Thank you so much for reading
for any feedback you'll want to add.

Acronyms used:
AM Ars Magica
CR (AM 5th Edition, Core Rulebook)
RPM (Realms of Power: Magic)
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KittyTac

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Sounds nice, the concepts from this may end up in the mix.

PlumpHelmetMan

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I like this idea too. Fits in nicely with ideas I had on how to incorporate randomly-generated subraces into certain worlds (e.g. isolated populations of elves or dwarves exposed to a certain kind of corrupting magic or that spend too long worshiping some evil force might eventually evolve into DF equivalents of drow and duergar).
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GoblinCookie

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This idea seems mechanically very, very complex to implement faithfully.  The only bit that is actually problematic however is this bit in general and the bolded part in general. 

Quote from: saharo
The feedback loop of the fantastic
As stories create fairies and fairies generate stories, the magical has similar mechanism. For example, a magical forest will attract magical creature whose presence will, in return, increase the aura of the forest. Its trees will also manifest such magic, blossoming flowers with magical properties, and mages will want to come to such a forest to gather such flowers and weave the forest magic into their own trappings etc...
The fantastic realms grow in a feedback loop. If left to themselves, or better if nurtured, they grow over time...until the mundane arrive, destroy the land with always more powerful technologies, pray to God (or another god who openly dislikes Magic and wishes all witches to be burned at least...).
For a real history examples of this, you can get into stories like the fell of the Donar's Oak from Saint Boniface, to get a feeling of how much effort took to the europian civilization to conquer and colonize the forests in central europe. Some wikipedia references for a quick start:

The general problem here is that while a feedback loop may make sense as an abstract concept, it really means statis in effect since the strongest feedback loop in the world will simply dominate everything.  Magical creatures spread magic, but magic spreads magical creatures, by the looks of things the reverse applies in that the mundane arrive and counteract the feedback loop, except that there *are* no mundane without a mundane *place* to base from.  Since the magical has spread to everywhere, owing to the ability of the magical creatures to create more of their own environment, there is no mundane element to counteract their influence. 

Real history examples? What does some saint chopping down a specific oak tree has to do with the 'colonisation of the forests of central europe'?  Which by the way never happened unless we are talking all the way back at the end of the last Ice Age. 
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saharo

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Hey GoblinCookie, thanks for reading through my whole post to begin :)
Let me answer to your points.
The general problem here is that while a feedback loop may make sense as an abstract concept, it really means statis in effect since the strongest feedback loop in the world will simply dominate everything.  Magical creatures spread magic, but magic spreads magical creatures, by the looks of things the reverse applies in that the mundane arrive and counteract the feedback loop, except that there *are* no mundane without a mundane *place* to base from.  Since the magical has spread to everywhere, owing to the ability of the magical creatures to create more of their own environment, there is no mundane element to counteract their influence. 
I think I have an answer for your "except that there *are* no mundane without a mundane *place* to base from". It looks to me that you picture a world where, by definition, the only scenario is the one where the magical realms grows and grows until engulfing 100% of it. But that's not necessarly the case, as there's multiple agents evolving on the map. First, depending on how much Magic there's at world creation, the starting scenario could vary very much, from a very mundane to a very magical starting world. Second, mundane civilizations eventually appear on the map, and then expand, and their activities will start having an impact on the system.

I give you a Dwarf Fortress example why two forces in opposition don't create necessarly stasis. A world with a dwarven and a goblin civilization, each will expand and grow and, when at war, will try to neutralize each the other. This doesn't necessarly create either a world of only goblins, one of only dwarves, or one with goblin and dwarves civilization locked in a stalemate. It's two system that evolve and interact, leading to potentially innumerable possibilities. If you run worl gen for a long time, you'll eventually get world with only one civilization, or even worlds without any. All are possible scenarios!!! ( and that's one of the things that make Dwarf Fortress so damn cool :D )

Picture a rat infestation. Given enough food, the rat colony will expand and expand. The moment that you'll try to get rid of it, if you get rid of them completely or not, depends on how more efficient you are at extermination than they are at reproduction. You could wipe all the rats, the rats could one day overrun you, or you could keep their population in check.... or you'll capture and train part of them and send them back to fight, or you'll put op a rat meat restaurant, or find the secret of life and dead and fight the rats with an army of undead rats or....ahaha sorry, i think I made my point :)

Real history examples? What does some saint chopping down a specific oak tree has to do with the 'colonisation of the forests of central europe'?  Which by the way never happened unless we are talking all the way back at the end of the last Ice Age.
To my knowledge, so much of central Europe was covered in forest in pre-roman times. The Hercynian Forest included the current Black Forest in Germany and extended ot the east as far as current day Romania at least. There are historical accounts, about how the romans attempts to estabilish colonies, and failing at deforestating (is that a word?) faster than the forest was growing back.
With that, I just meant to give some resources - to whom could be interested in some reading - how much hardship and technological advancements were needed to claim portions of the forest and make villages and cities. Also, the references point to how much magical the forest was considered, and - about Saint Boniface - how much propaganda was put into place to convince people that the "magic" of the forest had been definitely conquered. Pretty cool legends! A saint goes cutting the biggest and most sacred tree, and builds a church out of it. If felling such tree is FUN, then could Saint Boniface in a dwarven expedition :D
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ShinyandKittens

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I hope you appreciate the effort from an italian whose Super Mario accent goes even into his prose...  :P

Darn it now I’m reading it in Super Mario’s voice
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GoblinCookie

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I think I have an answer for your "except that there *are* no mundane without a mundane *place* to base from". It looks to me that you picture a world where, by definition, the only scenario is the one where the magical realms grows and grows until engulfing 100% of it. But that's not necessarly the case, as there's multiple agents evolving on the map. First, depending on how much Magic there's at world creation, the starting scenario could vary very much, from a very mundane to a very magical starting world. Second, mundane civilizations eventually appear on the map, and then expand, and their activities will start having an impact on the system.

I give you a Dwarf Fortress example why two forces in opposition don't create necessarly stasis. A world with a dwarven and a goblin civilization, each will expand and grow and, when at war, will try to neutralize each the other. This doesn't necessarly create either a world of only goblins, one of only dwarves, or one with goblin and dwarves civilization locked in a stalemate. It's two system that evolve and interact, leading to potentially innumerable possibilities. If you run worl gen for a long time, you'll eventually get world with only one civilization, or even worlds without any. All are possible scenarios!!! ( and that's one of the things that make Dwarf Fortress so damn cool :D )

Picture a rat infestation. Given enough food, the rat colony will expand and expand. The moment that you'll try to get rid of it, if you get rid of them completely or not, depends on how more efficient you are at extermination than they are at reproduction. You could wipe all the rats, the rats could one day overrun you, or you could keep their population in check.... or you'll capture and train part of them and send them back to fight, or you'll put op a rat meat restaurant, or find the secret of life and dead and fight the rats with an army of undead rats or....ahaha sorry, i think I made my point :)

I did not object to us having opposing fundamental forces, it is just that when you have a feedback loop between the forces and their creatures then you will necessarily end up with a state of static uniformity.  If magical forests simply make unicorns then the situation is fine because the unicorn population is controlled by the extent of the magical forests.  If unicorns make forests magical then the situation also works, because the supply of unicorns controls the extent of magical forests.  The problem is when the magical forest makes unicorns and the unicorns make magical forests; or to return to your above example, it is as if the amount of rat-food was determined by the number of rats.

The reason why goblins would not end up eliminating dwarves or vica versa is that fundamentally they are of equivalent strength and if one side wins it is only because fortune presently favours them, but they don't have any ability to create that fortune to order.  If the mundane eliminates magic and vica versa, what follows is that low-magical worlds will end up with NO magic and high-magic worlds end up with EVERYTHING being magical.  The only way to ultimately have both magic and not-magic in the same world is to make them either of equal strength, or make them not in inherent conflict. 

To my knowledge, so much of central Europe was covered in forest in pre-roman times. The Hercynian Forest included the current Black Forest in Germany and extended ot the east as far as current day Romania at least. There are historical accounts, about how the romans attempts to estabilish colonies, and failing at deforestating (is that a word?) faster than the forest was growing back.
With that, I just meant to give some resources - to whom could be interested in some reading - how much hardship and technological advancements were needed to claim portions of the forest and make villages and cities. Also, the references point to how much magical the forest was considered, and - about Saint Boniface - how much propaganda was put into place to convince people that the "magic" of the forest had been definitely conquered. Pretty cool legends! A saint goes cutting the biggest and most sacred tree, and builds a church out of it. If felling such tree is FUN, then could Saint Boniface in a dwarven expedition :D

I don't consider cutting down sacred trees to be cool.  I consider it to be a rather sad example of trying to prove your imaginary sacred things superior to real sacred things by demonstrating that real things can be destroyed. 

You said the European civilisation, not the Roman one.  European people called Germans already lived quite happily in that whole area and fought the Romans, going on to not only defeat them but eventually to conquer half of the Roman Empire.  It was not just the trees that stopped the Romans, it was the people that already lived there, who presumably did in fact live in houses of some sort within the 'magical' forest that advanced technology was supposed to be needed to 'conquer'. 
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saharo

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Thanks again for the critics, I see better and better how I explained myself with too little care.
it is just that when you have a feedback loop between the forces and their creatures then you will necessarily end up with a state of static uniformity.  If magical forests simply make unicorns then the situation is fine because the unicorn population is controlled by the extent of the magical forests.  If unicorns make forests magical then the situation also works, because the supply of unicorns controls the extent of magical forests.
I fear we're stuck in our individual interpretation of my initial post. And I would not like our discussion to get out of hands :)
To make my view a bit more clear, I can say that the feedback loop does not work in a sort of instantaneous fashion, but it's a process, whose speed depends on multiple factor. If, as in your example, a magical forest spanws a unicorn who in turn increase the strenght of magic in the forest, this is a process with his own speed, I mean...it is slow, decades slow. The beautiful forest, maybe will take 2 hundred years to develop the slightest traces of magic, then centuries more of slighly magical animals being initially rare and slowly more numerous. Before something as wonderful as a unicorn arrives, it could take a thousand year and more, and the unicorn would feel safe only in the innermost, most magical part of the forest. His own presence also instantly skyrocket the magical aura of the forest, nor the whole forest, but mostly his surroundings, the places where he goes. Again, it's a slow process.

To give some depth to this view, I'll also add something. Let's say that the unicorn, for any reason, leaves the forest. Maybe some dwarves cage it, and stuck it into a museum for everyone to admire. On one side, the unicorn presence, will make magical it's surrounding: the wooden cage blooming flowers, the vermins visiting the unicorn acquiring some intelligence, dwarves beloving the unicorn and open the cage and so on....
In turn, given dwarves might get annoyed by all this FUN, and decide to place the animal in a place it can't hurt anyone, deep in a ugly dungeon, distant from anything but plain rock. I can see the unicorn slowly loosing its magic, the mantle getting darker, the corn breaking and then withering to dust, and eventually becoming just a horse, or even dying. Now that I picture this, I realize how much this was the destiny of the last Dragons in "A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones", chained to the ground, unable to fly, in a world slowly loosing magic to the expansion of the human civilization.

Mechanically the concept is also much more than just an idea: the Ars Magica community is alive and active since the 80s. It's not a videogame, but should serve as hint - if not proof - that the concept is solid ;)
I see more and more how it could inspire the future mechanics of Dwarf Fortress "magical" things. Currently the surroundings of a region is determined by the combination of Good/Evil and Benign/Savage values (http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2014:Surroundings#Combinations_of_surroundings). With the magic release, this chart could get more complex for example, with more than 2 dimensions. For example, Toady might decide to have an index of how much a place is attuned to a certain powerful entity. An area might be for any reason highly attuned with Ikkusgrat, a God associated with Fire and Jewels, and would have many fire related creatures spawning, as higher jewels than most, or whatever procedural beast and object out of fire and jewels. And wether these entities are aggressive or peaceful, might depend on the values of Benigh/Savage still, or something else.... but now I'll stop, or start another 10 thousnds lines post :)

And about the historical part of my post, sorry if I have been unprecise and approximate. I find those stories very inspiring and I wanted point them out, keeping my considerations general and deliberately inaccurate. My bad.
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GoblinCookie

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I fear we're stuck in our individual interpretation of my initial post. And I would not like our discussion to get out of hands :)
To make my view a bit more clear, I can say that the feedback loop does not work in a sort of instantaneous fashion, but it's a process, whose speed depends on multiple factor. If, as in your example, a magical forest spanws a unicorn who in turn increase the strenght of magic in the forest, this is a process with his own speed, I mean...it is slow, decades slow. The beautiful forest, maybe will take 2 hundred years to develop the slightest traces of magic, then centuries more of slighly magical animals being initially rare and slowly more numerous. Before something as wonderful as a unicorn arrives, it could take a thousand year and more, and the unicorn would feel safe only in the innermost, most magical part of the forest. His own presence also instantly skyrocket the magical aura of the forest, nor the whole forest, but mostly his surroundings, the places where he goes. Again, it's a slow process.

It does not matter how slow it is.  There is millions of years for this happen and the speed of the process increases exponentially, since every increase in unicorn population increases the amount of magic, which in turn increases the amount of unicorns.  If it takes a million years for 10 unicorns to become 100 unicorns and then another million years for it to become 1000 unicorns, then the linear increase of unicorn population has been reduced to in effect to 100,000 years.  Then when it become 10,000 unicorns, the speed of unicorn spread has been in effect reduced to 10,000 years.  Then when it becomes 100,000 unicorns, it is now 1000 years and once we reach 1,000,000 unicorns we are talking 100 years.  Once we are talking 10,000,000 unicorns we are talking 10 years and once we get to 100,000,000 unicorns we are talking a single year. 

Also when we are talking about conflicting forces, the speed of the spread of something is a major factor in it's relative strength.  We really don't have to worry about anything that spreads immensely slowly if there are other things which conflict with it that spread faster.  If humans spread anti-magic, then we don't have to worry about unicorns spreading, since the humans will have colonised the earth in a few thousand years and the humans eliminate the unicorns.

To give some depth to this view, I'll also add something. Let's say that the unicorn, for any reason, leaves the forest. Maybe some dwarves cage it, and stuck it into a museum for everyone to admire. On one side, the unicorn presence, will make magical it's surrounding: the wooden cage blooming flowers, the vermins visiting the unicorn acquiring some intelligence, dwarves beloving the unicorn and open the cage and so on....
In turn, given dwarves might get annoyed by all this FUN, and decide to place the animal in a place it can't hurt anyone, deep in a ugly dungeon, distant from anything but plain rock. I can see the unicorn slowly loosing its magic, the mantle getting darker, the corn breaking and then withering to dust, and eventually becoming just a horse, or even dying. Now that I picture this, I realize how much this was the destiny of the last Dragons in "A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones", chained to the ground, unable to fly, in a world slowly loosing magic to the expansion of the human civilization.

I don't know why why you are doubling down on a concept which is the sole flaw in your idea.  The idea works if the unicorns cause magic, the idea also works if the magic causes unicorns but the concept DOES NOT WORK if both are true simultaneously about unicorns.  Since this is DF, the devs can easily make it random which relationship applies but they should make sure the two are mutually contradictory.

If magic causes unicorns then when we take unicorns out of their magical environment they will perish or stop being unicorns.  If unicorns cause magic then the unicorns will be fine if we take them out of their magical environment then they will spread that environment to wherever we put them.

Mechanically the concept is also much more than just an idea: the Ars Magica community is alive and active since the 80s. It's not a videogame, but should serve as hint - if not proof - that the concept is solid ;)
I see more and more how it could inspire the future mechanics of Dwarf Fortress "magical" things. Currently the surroundings of a region is determined by the combination of Good/Evil and Benign/Savage values (http://dwarffortresswiki.org/index.php/DF2014:Surroundings#Combinations_of_surroundings). With the magic release, this chart could get more complex for example, with more than 2 dimensions. For example, Toady might decide to have an index of how much a place is attuned to a certain powerful entity. An area might be for any reason highly attuned with Ikkusgrat, a God associated with Fire and Jewels, and would have many fire related creatures spawning, as higher jewels than most, or whatever procedural beast and object out of fire and jewels. And wether these entities are aggressive or peaceful, might depend on the values of Benigh/Savage still, or something else.... but now I'll stop, or start another 10 thousnds lines post :)

And about the historical part of my post, sorry if I have been unprecise and approximate. I find those stories very inspiring and I wanted point them out, keeping my considerations general and deliberately inaccurate. My bad.

The popularity of an idea is not proof that it works.
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