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Old 01-08-2013, 06:09 AM   #54
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Default Campaign Specific Metaphysics and What This Means in Practice

Metaphysics of Magical Languages.

A language where there are many living speakers appears to dilute the impact of words spoken by any one user, possibly due to the enormous levels of mutual contradictory belief, statements and wishes that are channeled through mental pathways shaped by the linguistic elements available to it.

As such, trying to perform any form of magic with an element of language, whether that's a ritual chant, a written formula or a poetical spoken curse, using any of the 12-20 most commonly spoken languages in the world today carries a penalty of -5. Less common languages range from -4 (Polish, Burmese or Nepali) to -2 (Endangered dialects of larger language groups, most languages with less than 500,000 total speakers). Most forms of Arabic, despite their popularity, enjoy at worst a -2 penalty, with scholarly Classical Arabic being only -1, equal to modern Icelandic for well-educated speakers. Languages with a similar or lower number of speakers as Icelandic might also impose only a -1 penalty, particularly if they are not closely related to other living languages, and a few almost extinct languages in areas of the world where there is still a thriving faith in a consistent magical tradition have a modifier of 0 when used within that tradition.

Languages that are not currently living languages for any significant number of people usually carry no modifier, at least if fairly widely known or easy to learn. This includes such standbyes as Latin (various forms), Ancient Greek (ditto) and Old Norse, but also the purer forms of Gaelic (Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic), Classical Hebrew and Classical Tibetan*, at least if care is taken to avoid neologisms from closely related popular and living languages. In addition, many other archaic and pure form languages still in common use might rate a modifier of 0. A few, particularly if there exists a significant amount of material on paranormal subjects in it, may even grant a bonus, as suggested below.

With increasing rarity and the influence of some other murky factors (sometimes taken to yield clues about the origins of magic), obscure or ancient languages may grant a bonus of +1 (Modern Sanskrit, Middle Irish, Archaic Chinese) to +3 (Avestan, Sumerian, Vedic Sanskrit, Archaic Egyptian). Some reconstructed or revealed (sometimes through contact with spirits) languages may even grant +4 to +5, such as the Enochian language known to the magicians of the Queen's Shadow Court and the Proto-Sumeric used by a terrifying magician encountered by my PCs in one campaign.

In all cases, using a language known only at Accented level is grounds for a -1 penalty and Broken causes a -3 penalty. This can be reduced or eliminated for individual rituals with enough research, through use of the Research and Linguistics skills. Lack of Cultural Familiarity with the culture where the language which forms the intended ritual effect was used is good for another -3.** This penalty can in turn be reduced or eliminated by a roll against a relevant skill, usually Research in combination with one or more of Archeology, Anthropology, Area Knowledge, History, Theology or similar skills.

This means that unless one is an expert on the culture and language of the magical tradition in use, the penalty from incanting rituals in a dead language might be greater than doing so in a modern one. Of course, that assumes that functioning rituals even exist in the modern language in question. Untrained people have essentially no chance of successfully accomplishing any supernatural stuff at all, unless aided by spirits (usually malignant). Even competent wizards probably could not reliably perform their magic in front of skeptical witnesses in controlled circumstances, especially not since most laboratories would be No Mana or Very Low Mana -10 at the very best.

One interesting side effect of the language issue is that the ability to apply magical knowledge is disproportionally concentrated in small societies at the margins of the modern world, where the spoken language is still closely related to an ancient language, and there is a strong tradition of magical theory. If many people within that culture combine a belief in some form of the supernatural with the study of a dead language as a liturgical language, it is possible for a very high proportion of their religious leaders to have the ability to dabble in the paranormal. Some marginal societies that are still at mostly Stone Age in technology (or very so within only a couple of generations), as well as esoteric religious societies in East, Southeast and Central Asia, India and the Near East, may have systems where elders, priests or other special caste or class learn a very rare language with a strong magical tradition and also have a body of rituals that are effective as magic without any changes, once the magic has returned.

By 2010 or so, the senior people in these societies will have successfully adapted their ancient rituals in order to get rid of any accidental corruptions over the time while magic did not work and have fairly impressive abilities. Their acolytes who will have had almost twenty years living in a world with magical potential will have become full-fledged magicians, shamans or monks with supernatural powers. Any such religious order effectively functions as a powerful paranormal society that can affect things on a global scale if they choose.

Take Tibetan monks in a very old temple that has seen constant use for hundreds of years, originally built using the local version of Sacred Architecture, and they operate at local Mana of -5, at worst, with a +3 or more for Sacred Architecture and +3 or more for the long history of use, both of which apply to uses of the magical tradition to which the monks belong. Furthermore, their daily language is worth a +0 modifier, with the Sanskrit that their chants are usually composed in offering the potential for a further +1 to +3, depending on what variety is used as a liturgical language there. What this means is that instead of the -8 to -16 that Western magicians have to start with before they start accumulating bonuses, these monks might have a +3 or more to ritual use or other supernatural abilities while in their temple. Of course, when they leave it, they might find that their magic doesn't work any more, but properly prepared, they ought to be able to bring their impressive supernatural abilities to bear somehow.

Adventuring Magic

Trying to use magic anywhere but in a prepared ritual space located somewhere with decent local mana would have an average penalty of -13 to -14 (mana level + the penalty for lack of ritual space). Trying to do the magic on the fly adds a -5 penalty for near-instant use and a -2 for trying to do it on a time-scale of minutes. A quickly prepared area that's either outside in a natural area or in a very old building and is not completely filled with technological artifacts might squeek by at a -10. Finally, a fairly well chosen sanctum, maybe a room in an old house located on a ley line where the mage has spent a week on preparing it properly might net him only a -7 to -8 penalty.

The best possible sanctums might be Low Mana for a -5 locally, grant a +3 to +5 for Sacred Architecture to certain types of magic and have up to +5 in bonuses for having been used all through history during the periods of magical activity, most of them probably also Aspected toward certain magic types. For the right type of magic, they could give a bonus of up to +5 or so. On the other hand, these would be historical monuments of immense importance and not all that easy to gain access to in order to perform strange and time-consuming rituals.

A dabbler in magic who has a single 'magical' language at Broken or Accented and maybe reduces the CF penalty by 1 will have a -3 to -4 penalty to his magic use in addition to mana, technological and skeptic penalties. Combined with the -5 he has if he doesn't have Magery 0***, this leads to most dabbling being as fruitless as it is in our real world, even if someone had plenty of time, had collected a bunch of magical materials, was willing to sacrifice heavily and was at a fairly good magical location. A scholar-mage with Magery 0 and Latin at Accented (Spoken) and Native (Written) as well as a couple of points spent on appropriate CF for the period during which his grimoires were composed would have only -2 as a further penalty, as long as he took care to avoid too much technology. The same would apply to someone who used a rare language in the modern world which he happened to speak at Native level and had CF with the culture at the time of composition of the rituals he used. Anyone with less than -2 penalty for language would probably be a highly knowledgable scholar of a fairly esoteric subject or a person from a primitive culture still existing in the modern day.

All in all, in order to use magic at all, massive situational bonuses from the Mandatory and Significant Modifier chapter in Thaumatology are neccessary and it will neither be quick nor very powerful. About the only exceptions are those willing to be assisted by spirits and sacrifice living, intelligent beings, but they still have to have the knowledge to do either in a way that actually helps them accomplish their rituals.

*Comparatively greater effectiveness of some languages beyond their rarity level are hotly debated by scholars, some of whom assume that these are descendants of 'original' languages of magic.
**Cultural Familitarity is a levelled trait, 1/level to reduce penalties. Defaults between related cultures, spatially and temporally.
***Which he's unlikely to have unless he is an enormously powerful natural talent, one-in-a-million type of thing, or he's been instructed by someone who really understands magic.
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Last edited by Icelander; 01-08-2013 at 09:05 AM.
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