TaleSlinger: Coherent Magic Systems pt.2
How is magic viewed and used?
Hi folks, welcome back to TaleSlinger, where I take my three decades of writing and distill it down into advice.
We’re still talking about magic, so if you missed the first one, go take a look here!
Last time I laid out the beginnings of a dive into the magic systems in James Barclay’s Raven books, with some background and universe information. This time, we’re going to start building a picture of how, where, and why magic is used in Balaian society.
One of the reasons this is a great system, is that magic is bound into the very fabric of the universe, and everything that people do. From shoring up walls, to healing major wounds, to acting as defensive shields and artillery in battle, to helping crops (and grapevines—wine is very important). Magic and mages are a part of everything in daily life.
I'm going to start with the Raven themselves. They're a group of mercenaries consisting of warriors and mages—how many of what changes, but we get three mages as part of the regular core of the group: Ilkar, Denser, and Erienne.
Today I'm going to focus on Ilkar and Denser. So let's start with introductions!
An elf from Calaius, the rainforest across the ocean mostly populated by elves. He studied at Julatsa, which was built by elves from Calaius, to give those amongst them with magic a place to train. Because it was built much later than the others, Julatsa had to fight in the beginning to ensure its survival and acceptance as part of the balance of magic on Balaia.
Not every elf studies at Julatsa, and not every mage at Julatsa is an elf, but it's known as the elven college, and Ilkar, like most mages with their colleges, is fiercely loyal to it.
He chose to remain on Balaia after completing his training, rather than return home, and doesn't want to discuss that side of things. When he is left with no choice but to return to his home village, it turns out there are issues with his brother, Rebraal, who expected him to return and join the sacred warriors who protect the temples and the rainforest.
He's a very powerful defensive mage. His HardShields and SpellShields are legendary for never breaking, and he uses this skill to keep his people safe, while they do what they need to do.
That's not to say he can't also attack, because he can. He's also well known for his ForceCones, which are a wall of mana, capable of blocking streets or being slammed into someone to send them flying. He knows other offensive spells like HotRain (rain of fire), FlameOrbs, and IceWind, and puts them to good use when needed, but his primary role is support. He's the backbone of the Raven, keeping them bolstered so they can attack without fear.
Ilkar and Hirad have a close relationship where they love to snipe at one another. Sarcasm and insults are what get them up in the morning, and their affection for each other is clear even through all that. He, Hirad and Unknown are what remains of the core group of original Raven.
A human from Xetesk, known as the Dark College for their history of using the non-mages in their city for experiments, human sacrifice, and their army of Protectors.
Quick sidebar: Protectors are humans whose soul has been placed in the care of what they call “demons”—beings from another dimension. They share a hivemind, which they use to fight as one mind and one force, which, coupled with their strength, dual greataxe and two-handed sword wielding (yep, one in each hand), ebony masks which they can’t remove where any non-Protector might see, and innate magical protection, makes them a deadly and terrifying force. Though they aren't supposed to be making anymore, certain people are still marked from the time when they were. End sidebar!
Denser has a Familiar, which is a small demon, who is bonded to him. They share basic telepathy, a close friendship, and real feeling for each other. The demon can fly, has what’s basically the Terrifying Visage skill, can do some basic shapeshifting (they often like to appear as cats) and is strong enough to use its fists to literally smash someone's head like an egg. It lives on blood from its bonded mage, and, like all demons, cannot survive without mana.
Their bond is such that should their mage die, the demon will too. And should their demon die, the mage will be struck down in agony and may never mentally recover. And if you decide its a good idea to do something like, say, capture a familiar and put it into a cage which is shielded against mana—you’ve pretty much forfeited your life. The mage will come and free their demon, and the demon will end you.
Denser is a powerful offensive mage. Like Ilkar, he can hold shields no problem, but he is an efficient and very destructive attacker. HotRain, IceWind, and a Xetesk special: HellFire (soul-seeking fireballs), are all well within his range. And he likes to use ShadowWings to get around, or carry another mage up in the sky for better vision while they attack.
He smokes a pipe, and likes to pretend he's inscrutable. He and Ilkar often squabble about their colleges and different ways of doing things, and Hirad regularly gets angry at Denser for not telling them things, especially given how they met in the first place.
But, as always, they're a team, and when battle comes, they fall into place.
When it’s time to fight in-line, the mages take up position behind the warriors, who form into a chevron, and when one of them yells “duck!”, the line hits the ground and stays there until whatever’s coming is done, then steps back in to take advantage of the chaos.
If they’re ambushed, which mostly happens at night, then whoever is on watch alerts the sleepers and everyone takes whatever position they can, but it’s the same essential idea—mages head towards the centre as much as possible, where they can be guarded by the warriors.
Without shields, the warriors would be vulnerable to spells and arrows, but with them they can safely ignore anything except what's in front of them. And they’re the Raven, so they know they'll always win.
Of course, they come up against other mages fairly regularly. But with Ilkar holding a shield, and Denser (and Erienne) casting at them, the shields on the other side tend to not last very long.
Without a casting mage that balance is a little trickier, so when Denser joins them, despite the circumstances of that happening, they improve as a whole. Which is good, because they’re about to switch from a mercenary band, to people that save the world. A lot.
Alright! That covers this bit of the system, and hopefully it’s starting to take shape for you now.
Next time, we’ll be taking a look at how magic is integrated into the military. Be it a skirmish, or a full-fledged war, offensive and defensive magic is essential to military tactics—so much so, that when there isn’t any, things tend to fall apart.
So that’s all for this one, I’ll see you next time!
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