The Color of Magic
Previous posts have discussed the types of magic users on Ados, from the arcane (wizards and sorcerers) to the divine. Because magic is so prevalent on Ados, and thus in our writing, I wanted to discuss magic in some more detail and to highlight some of the decisions we have made to integrate magic into our world.
When we started thinking about setting a story in the world of Ados we knew we would need to come up with good explanations about the magic system. Ados was created as a setting for playing Dungeons & Dragons (specifically 3rd and 3.5 editions). But we knew that we couldn’t just lift the D&D magic system and plop it into our fictional world. There needed to be context, history, rules, and reasons for why and how the magic system worked. At the same time, we wanted to tell stories that involved fighting crime. Detective stories. Geoff summed up the concept with one sentence, “In a world filled with magic and monsters, how do the police solve crimes?”
We knew we wanted to have a character who would be the quintessential detective. This became Reva Lunaria, our main character. She’s a non-nonsense cop who doesn’t stand for a lot of the BS from other people. She has been known to bend the truth and break the rules when that suits her, but she can’t stand it when others are not truthful with her. She’s strong willed and a good fighter. But she is not a magic user. So, we knew that Reva would need a partner, somebody who would be a magic user. In the novels, this is Ansee Carya. Ansee is a sorcerer – a magic user who can tap into the natural magical aether of Ados to cast his spells. He is a bit naïve and trusting but has a strong moral and ethical center that is the foundation of who he is. In this setting Geoff wanted the magic user to play the part of a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) but for magic. That meant that we need to have rules for the magic so that our magical CSI could be a part of, and have an impact to, our stories. Magic needed to leave a residue, something that our Seekers (the magic using partners in the Constabulary) to be able to find. This also played well with one of the most basic spells in D&D (and generally overlooked or underplayed in our opinion), detect magic.
In D&D, detect magic allows the spellcaster to sense the presence of magic within a certain range. Useful, but we needed more for our stories. So, one of the first things we did was to identify different realms of magic and then assign them colors. (Assigning colors to the different kinds of magic also has an in world historical context. Like Earth, the northern and southern poles on Ados have strong aurora. The play of light and color in the night sky in these areas have long been associated with Qurna, the goddess of magic. Auros Academy, the wizard school in Tenyl, is named after the aurora.) After we’d assigned these colors it was decided that magic must leave an aura behind when it is cast that is tied to these different magical realms. (Note that the aura can also be seen when a spell is cast. We often use color to help describe the spell in the story, and by tying the spell to a color, we tie it to a realm, so the reader can learn something about a spell in that way.) The final piece to making the magic in our stories be useful was to determine how long a magical aura lasts after a spell has been cast.
With these basic concepts in mind we could give our crime-fighting magic users a useful tool to help catch criminals that use magic. Here are the different realms of magic, their associated colors, and the decay rate for a magical aura.
Magical Realms and Colors:
Orange – Elemental: magic of the elements (fire, water, earth, wind, etc.)
Red – Enchantment: magic that is applied to people or objects to give them enhancements or protection.
Blue – Transformation: magic that changes matter or energy into something else.
Green – Alteration: magic that alters a person’s abilities, skills, or type.
Gold – Divination: all magic that comes from the gods or gives the caster information.
Black – Necromancy: the magic of death and the dead.
Yellow – Gate/Teleportation: magic of transporting from one place to another, or to different planes of existence.
Violet – Summon/Conjuration: magic used to call a creature or person, or to create a thing.
An aura shows a spells power – the complexity of the spell or the strength and skill of the spellcaster. This aura decays at a known and predictable rate, losing half of its strength every three hours. While this means that an aura never fully disappears, after 24 hours (8 half-lives) there is so little of the aura left (only 1/256 of its original strength) that only the most powerful of magic (usually from artifacts, or from spells cast by the strongest of spellcasters) is still visible. A basic detect magic spell, taught to all wizards, and the one used by the Seekers in the Constabulary, are effective at showing an aura down to 1/16 of its power, or about 12 hours.
Now all of this information is good but combined together it could give a spellcaster too much information. When playing a game that’s not too big of a deal, but when writing mysteries and crime dramas, some uncertainty is necessary to tell the story. So, we created a handicap for the detect magic spell and couched it within a plausible in story reason:
Ketoralac’s Uncertainty Principle: An aura will convey to the caster the strength of the magic, or the power of the magic user, or the time since casting with great accuracy, but to know any two properties reduces the accuracy by half, and to know all three properties reduces the accuracy to zero.
With these rules in place for our magic not only have we created plausible in world reasons for how the magic can be seen and interpreted, we have also given ourselves a useful writing tool to make sure our stories maintain consistency without making magic too powerful.