Magic in Winter’s Oasis has both an in character and out of character structure. In character, Magic is known to be magic. It is not well understood. Out of character, Magic is better understood, but as it is not real, we have only principles to work from to know what the framework of magic will allow.
That is to say, Magic on Winter’s Oasis has its own rules, and these rules have some semblance of scientific basis.
The difficulty with any magic system is that it inherently introduces new ‘physics’ that, while easily controlled with one author, or in the context of a heavily scripted game, can cause problem when given to multiple writers and freeform role play. The goal of Winter’s Oasis magic system is to give more color to the world without causing an imbalance.
This article is an explanation of magic, its rationale, and its limitations.
The In Character Model of Magic
Magic in Winters Oasis is rooted in the tradition of the classical elements, with some modifications. Some clans traditionally favor a particular element in their magical practice, and produce strong users of that element, and few or weak users of the other elements. It is not known or understood whether this derives from that clan’s genetic heritage, or their magical secrets and nature of their spiritual practice.
The Adepts of the Cela, by far the paramount magical organization in Loka, see the elements in a hierarchy. Students being with study of Air, progress to Fire, and then to Lightning. Most Celan Adepts pay little attention to Water and Earth, largely see manipulating those as being subsumed by their study of Air, which allows them to manipulate those elements indirectly. Some trendy revisionists, however, believe that the tribal traditions in these areas have further crucial secrets. A few even say that water is the true “top” of the elemental hierarchy.
The most common magical abilities are “Air” manipulations: the ability to remotely move objects. Most strictly this involves moving a mass of air, but by extension includes using air to move other objects, which in turn is often blurred with applying magical force to move the object itself, with the direct application of magic.
Basic air magics are regarded as the easiest to learn. Many a swordsman with little formal education has picked up a knack to give his opponent a trip or shove at a carefully-chosen moment. More grandiose uses of air magic include weatherworking, and the power of magical flight.
Preeminent among the tribes using air magic are the Tseiqami. Many avians with relatively modest magical skills are able to fly through a mixture of their innate physical prowess and their magic. Their most powerful sorcerers dominate their mountain eyries unchallenged, shrouded in ominous thunderheads or soaring on gentle thermals, according to their whim.
Fire magic involves manipulating matter at a deep level, producing anything from a hotpaw, to spectacularly destructive fireballs. Many pasu clans regard this art as both a vital survival tool that sustained them during the White Age, and a sacred part of their religious rites.
Lightning magic has the reputation of being an “advanced”, and “modern” magical art — sometimes, indeed, as a “human” one. This is due to the elemental progression of Cela, and the lack of significant numbers of users of it among the tribal pasu. A number of mages among the Royal Guard are known to use such magics as a means of non-lethally “stunning” targets they wish to detain, and there are rumors of it being used as a means of “enhanced interrogation” in the King’s dungeons.
Among the Arcto tribe, however, there are tales of mighty white bear magicians in the Great White beyond the Whitemarch who are masters of the arts of thunder and lightning.
Earth magic is little-regarded by most in the Cela. Occasionally mentioned as the first element of the progression, more often it’s omitted entirely, manipulation of “dirt” being regarded as “undifferentiated material”, and hence subsumed under the study of Air.
Among the tribal Pasu, a wide variety of Earth magics exist, though often practiced more by hedge magicians than high-status shamans. A notable exception to this pattern is the Fara clan, where use of Earth magic is both extensive and prestigious. Their use of earth magic to support their agriculture has diffused to other traditional tribal pasu of the more peaceable persuasion, and has even become popular among some humans of a “trendy, liberal” bent.
In its simplest form, this is similar in its magical application to air. Water magic adapts are able to work large amounts of pure water much more easily than other users of Air, however. Among the Cela, the significance and place of Water is the subject of much debate.
A number of water magicians are found among the tribes. Among the most famous are the priestesses that lead the Fara rain dances, which are central to their semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Some water mystics believe that this art contains the secrets of good health, and even over life and death, as water is fundamental to all living being. However, no-one has been able to repeatably use water magic in this way, according to any reliable sources.
The Out of Character Model of Magic
Magic, from an out of character perspective, is much better understood, and easier to work with when planning plot ideas and character generation.
The ‘Source’ of Magic
While any explanation of fictional magic is going to be dubious on some level, the running explanation of how magic works is that simulations in the mind of how matter should operate if manipulated are projected into reality. If one has magical ability and can imagine and ‘feel’ a substance morphing, or air heating with particular vividness, they can often accomplish making this happen in reality.
It is understood that this ability of ‘feeling’ ones way through the way matter should behave, in an almost empathetic way, is why those who study magic tend to have very strong souls. This is also why automata are unable to cast. It is possible that an old Svargan automaton with empathy-centric features might be able to gain some magic abilities, but this has not been tested in game as of this writing.
Magic comes in a couple of different types with distinct scope.
Physical movement is telekinesis. When dealing with a substance that is generally homogenous, such as water, oil, or what have you, magic can be used to shape and move it. This means air, water, and earth magic all operate in a similar manner.
Items that are not properly homogenous, such as a person or a desk, can’t be reshaped. But they may be able to be blown around with a good gust of wind, depending on the skill of the user.
Changes in potential difference and electron excitement are possible in broader strokes. This enables someone to cause a spark between two surfaces. However, these tend to be sparks with a great deal of voltage, and relatively low amperage.
Using magic to power electric machines may be possible, but there are not many such machines to power in Loka, and it would take a greater understanding of Electricity than Lokan science currently understands— not to mention the knowledge of what any ancient Svargan machine might require for power is difficult to know at best.
Skilled mages are occasionally employed as telegraph operators, colloquially known as ‘lightning slingers’.
Electrical energy also applies to the energy of electrons— heat (and thus, cold) can be transferred. Heating up a spot of air really quickly allows one to create a fireball. These fireballs don’t sustain well on their own unless they manage to land on something flammable before the mage ceases to power the fire.
Fire Magic and Lightning magic are considered more difficult than other sorts of magic— lightning especially so.
Loka’s premiere magic school is that of the Disciples of Skanda. The mages that come from their school on the top of Cetayanti mountain are known as the Cela.
If there is a ‘cutting edge’ to magic, the Cela are thought to be it. Their studies and training are credited with discovering and refining Lightning Magic. However, it is thought that a few especially talented tribal magicians managed to discover it on their own independently.
There are smaller schools in other towns, but none of established note. Tribes often have their own internal magical traditions, shamans, and rules concerning use of magic.
When someone is going to practice magic, it cannot be done without some sort of outward action. The Cela are most known for their physical sort of dance that they teach students, but other manners of ‘focusing’ energy have been seen, such as chanting, singing, or waving a staff.
Being physically prevented in some way from doing these focusing actions would force the mage to perform some different action that /might/ allow them to cast, but they would be able to do it much less effectively. For instance, if a dancing caster broke a leg, they might attempt to focus by chanting or waving their arms, but as its not what they’re most comfortable with, they’d be hindered significantly.
Casting also requires a good deal of mental concentration and can lead to fatigue the longer, stronger, and more complex the cast. A good deal of magic training involves learning one’s limit, and learning how to cast in situations where one might be more apt to panic. Magic users who overstrain themselves may pass out and become vulnerable to attack.
Enhancing and dampening magic
Aside from a good diet and proper sleep, which are known to improve many activities, the best known transient boosters of magic are certain plants and fungi that grow around the thaw. Some of these have been distilled into drugs, which can be quite expensive.
The Cela tend to frown on such use of substances to enhance magic ability, and students who use them have been known to be expelled or given stringent punishments within the school.
Tribal shamans tend to make use of the plants in special ceremonies, often used alongside hallucinogens, and so many tribes do not have a stigma against their use (but may have hesitations about using a distilled drug form).
Substances which enhance magic ability tend to be addictive, with a pleasant high accompanying the boost. They are followed with a similar ‘crash’ afterward, that is marked by more somber moods and weakened magical ability. The severity of this up and down cycle depends on the strength of the drug and the user’s tolerance to it.
Frequent users of magic enhancing drugs can build tolerances that require higher and higher doses.
Likewise, there are some substances which are known to dampen magic ability. The most well known of these is Anticelizine.
Building upon the magic system
Players are given latitude to build within the framework of the magic system to carve their own niche into the world. Ideas will be considered if they are not game-breaking. Magic outside of the framework is not permitted— we do have to keep the scope of magic consistent and fair.
There are plenty of examples of how one could expand the system to meet their needs. For instance, healing magic is commonly inquired about. While healing flesh is outside of the bounds of the magic system, medical operations like setting a bone, cauterizing a wound, and performing a magic-enhanced Heimlich maneuver can all be done or assisted with magic.
Magic and the mechanics
In conflicts, it’s almost always appropriate to use Soul to defend against magic. Other stats may alternatively apply, depending on the nature of the magical effect being resisted, or other story-related factors. Narrators should aim to be liberal in allowing creatively described ways of reacting to magic that effects their character.