October 17, 2017, 09:32:41 PM

Author Topic: The Force is strong with this one  (Read 321 times)

Online Yora

The Force is strong with this one
« on: August 14, 2017, 10:04:07 PM »
I am warming up for another effort at writing some fantasy in a type of world that I wish I could read about. Though I spend the last two years working on RPG material and not at all on story, I realized how much my perception of fantasy worlds is shaped by games that made their world grow around mechanics that are fun for playing.
Not only did this help me in understanding how my concepts of adventures and plots had been keeping me from finding stories worth writing, it also made me see clearer how much more room I really have in comceptualizing magic in a way that best supports the kinds of interactions with the supernatural that most fascinate and entertain me.

While me plan is still to write about Bronze Age elves and beastmen riding dinosaurs and sneaking through the halls of fey castles, I want to work with a completely new magic system. One that doesn't really much fit the image of what comes to mind at the term "magic system".

My main idea is that Magic constitutes the entire sphere of supernatural influences on the ordinary world. But what is noticably absent from this is any explicit form of "spellcasting". Words or gestures can not control supernatural forces, nor do sorcerer, witches, and shamans have any internal reserves of magical energy they can release. Instead their magic craft consists of knowing the right ways to talk with spirits, how to interpret signs and visions, and the right substances and preparations to restrain and coerce spirits. This seems easy and straightforward enough.

But there is another aspect that I want to include, on which I am much less certain how to deal with it in practice. I want for important characters to have a certain special Heroic Quality. Significantly hightened reflexes and resilience and an ability to escape dangers and defy odds.

Exhibit A: Indiana Jones. He is not presented as a great shoter or fencer, nor as particularly athletic or tough. But against all odds he survives, pushes on, and eventually perseveres.

In other settings this could be described as a charater being destined for greatness, blessed by the spirits, or favored by the gods. But for the world I am envisioning, I see it as important that this power does not come from an outside source beyond the characters' control, but is something that grows with "exercise". By being daring and taking risks and persevering against great obstacles, characters can grow to heroic proportions, even if they are lacking in much explicit skills. A lack of personal destiny or a greater divine plan are quite central to the kind of philosophy I want to create stories around.
However, I don't want this to be merely implied, but to make it an explicit element of the world and an important part of the cultures of its people. I want other characters to recognize this quality in heroes and to treat them differently because of it.

My biggest problem with this is how to find terms for it so characters could discuss it. Are there any words in the English language that would lend itself to be included in such a vocabulary? I'd prefer to avoid the use of completely made up names.

And are there any similar elements in existing fiction? There's of course the Force in Star Wars and chi in wuxia, but these regularly take the outward expression of something like magic spells, like making characters fly through the air, act with superhuman speed or accuracy, or disable opponents.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2017, 10:33:48 PM »
A long time ago, I think it was a Piers Anthony book? Anyway, a long time ago I read a book where people had Luck, like, real luck. That sounds like what you're talking about. You fall, and though most people would have broken ribs and a punctured lung, you ... don't. You flex and bounce.

Another example that comes to mind is the film Unbreakable, where the character has superior strength and endurance, but it's subtle, and comes with a key weakness.

Many works take the 'developed' route, attributing magical attributes to people if they study Kung-Fu long and hard enough, a la Crouching Tiger Hidden Excalibur
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Offline cupiscent

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2017, 04:35:06 AM »
My first thought is the Amber Diceless RPG system, where any points you don't spend on attributes or gear can be held onto as "Good Stuff", which can tilt game decisions your way a tiny but critical amount. (Similarly, you can overspend and be encumbered with "Bad Stuff".)

My second thought, similarly related to role-playing, is the term "PC Halo". ;) (This is what I would attribute to Indiana Jones.)

Thinking a little deeper... Cory Doctorow wrote a book called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom about a near-future earth where reputation was both a social indicator and actual spending currency - I think it was called "whuffy" in the book? And it's constantly visible because everyone has in-built social media that offers a HUD of info on the world and everyone you run into. But I think I've wandered away from what you had in mind, Yora. :)

You might do best to just call it Honour, or something like that, and give it the Significant Noun Capitalisation. How it's used and described and referred to within the text will provide the differentiation.

Offline ultamentkiller

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2017, 05:18:35 PM »
I just call it plot armor, though that explanation can't be used in your book world so... :P

Offline Peat

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2017, 06:03:10 PM »
Isn't significantly heightened reflexes and resilience a form of athleticism? With the latter, combined with the ability to push on and persevere against amazing odds, also being a product of incredible mental strength/discipline/fortitude?
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Online Yora

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2017, 06:46:58 PM »
I want it to be supernatural in origin. Not as an excuse for improbable scenes, but to make it part of how the inhabitants of the setting see the world and make sense of their experiences.

The problem with luck is that it's an external force outside the character's control and somewhat arbitrary. That it's an internal quality that grows with the hero's deeds is quite important for the social role I have in mind.

Now that I think of it, the idea seems to be basically mana. But I don't want to call it mana because most people would think of magic fuel that comes in blue bottles and those who recognize it as polynesian might consider it inappropriate for a non-polynesian setting.

"Having a strong spirit" might work, but I think that sounds a bit clunky.
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Offline Peat

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2017, 07:14:02 PM »
I see. Well... looking at RPGs for inspiration, maybe look at Scion's system of Legend? The more well known a character's deeds are, the most powerful they grow.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2017, 07:38:20 PM »
Might be a silly idea, but what about taking a cue from the Borg (ST:TNG) and their adaption?

In the show, the Borg just basically march forward getting shot by phasers. Each Borg who dies teaches them something about the phaser frequency. Once you've shot 2 or 3 Borg with a phaser, the rest of the Borg adapt and are therefore immune to phasers.

So if you're basing your magic on the actions of spirits, and want it to be based on those spirits, maybe spirits have respect for people who repeatedly survive difficult situations, and demonstrate that respect by making those situations easier in the future?

Example: Fall and break your leg. You live and recover, spirits notice. Fall and break your leg again, but since the spirits remember, it's less bad. You recover. Fall and break your leg a third time, spirits are like "Damn, this person is really good at breaking their leg and surviving it". Then maybe the fourth time you fall, you don't break your leg, because you've proven to the spirits you can survive it, and they aid you so you don't.

It's a relatively silly idea, but it does have an associated cost (you can't not break your leg until you've broken your leg a few times and survived, impressing the spirits who then aid you) but maybe it'll inspire something better.
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Online Yora

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2017, 07:54:17 PM »
That specific implementation is a bit too finely detailed for my specific ideas. I like magic to be considerably mushy and loosely defined.* But I do very much like the idea of supernatural beings being able to instantly recognize the inner strength of a person and react accordingly.

Spirits having different perceptions of who looks important than people do and adressing or giving favors to unexpected people could be a nice source of social conflict as it puts established social roles and hierarchies into question.

What do you think of the term Inner Fire. Equating energy and determination with fire is already established within the cultural language of my setting. A person "showing fire" or others "sensing fire" in someone come quite easily when writing in English (and also German) without feeling stilted and I think readers should instinctively get a general idea what the characters are talking about. That it's a specific deeper developed concept within the culture and not just a figure of speech is something that can gradually be revealed through the way characters keep using it and giving it significance.

*I'm still an adherant of Sanderson's First Law. Mushy magic means that it doesn't work well as a problem solving devices for the protagonist. Which does line up with the highly limited uses of magic I outlined.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2017, 08:09:06 PM by Yora »
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2017, 10:07:48 PM »
What do you think of the term Inner Fire. Equating energy and determination with fire is already established within the cultural language of my setting. A person "showing fire" or others "sensing fire" in someone come quite easily when writing in English (and also German) without feeling stilted and I think readers should instinctively get a general idea what the characters are talking about. That it's a specific deeper developed concept within the culture and not just a figure of speech is something that can gradually be revealed through the way characters keep using it and giving it significance.

It sounds neat. It might give you something equivalent to the dark side and light side of the force, but without the moral baggage, and with more sides?

Maybe different spirits reward different types of inner fire, based on their whims or preferences. For example, someone who is exceptionally bloodthirsty might demonstrate fire to spirits who appreciate their desire for combat, and make them better at combat (they fatigue slower, hit harder, ignore pain better, etc). By comparison, someone who is exceptionally focused on the welfare of others (displaying "the fire of compassion") might be slightly better at defusing tense arguments and bringing people together.

So your spirits could latch onto exceptionally strong emotions or beliefs in mortals and enhance their traits in response, making people better at what they are truly passionate about. Not enough to solve a problem, but enough to give the person an edge someone who isn't passionate might not have.

So someone who truly enjoys combat would have an advantage, in combat, against someone who does not, but that advantage wouldn't be insurmountable or grant them an automatic win - just give them an edge, along the lines of edges granted to "Force sensitive" folks in the Star Wars EU who weren't actually Jedi or Sith.
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Online Yora

Re: The Force is strong with this one
« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2017, 11:37:18 PM »
This actually does connect very neatly to two earlier concepts I had a year or so back, which I came up with for a non-objective code of morality that allows characters to call others evil without having a universal force of Evil. Red Hearts and Black Hearts.

A red heart is the trait of instinctively relying on causing pain and destruction. Such people are inherently violent and a danger and source of suffering for all around them. They certainly have great fire, but in a rather unhealthy way.

A black heart means that a person thinks nothing about causing pain and damage when pursuing his own goals. Not quite sure if that should also be connected to the imagery of fire, but I could see an association with their hearts having been burned to coal by the fire of their ambition.
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