A Windbag on Elemental Changes

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5 years 10 months
Submitted by SuperSayu on Wed, 02/19/2020 - 15:21

Okay, look, if you didn't come to this site specifically to read this blog article, you probably won't understand it or care. In the fiction I'm currently posting on RoyalRoad.com, I had to make a few specific retcons due to a couple specific changes to magical canon that are quite frankly so absurdly minor that if I didn't go into such stupid depth in the first place nobody would ever notice.

So, okay. First to explain the way the magic system is laid out in the first place, and understand that most of this is not well explained anywhere and certainly not in the main story: the elements are, in theory, supposed to be a way of dividing all magic up into basic principles. Every element is associated with a school of magic, which helps explain the element to other people in brief: so for instance Fire is associated with Destruction, naturally, and Wind element is associated with Motion. So if I said that Red Essence was the essence of Fire Magic and you threw Red Essence at something, you would expect what? Destruction. If Sky Essence is the essence of Wind Magic and you threw it at something, you would expect what? Motion.

Great. Except that's the most surface-level understanding of how things are laid out and has nothing to do with the retcon. In fact, the school of magic for Wind and Light, the other affected element, remain the same. So what did change?

The whole magic system is based on a rule of three, and that rule of three can be described a number of ways. Believe me I could give you a headache like you wouldn't believe trying to explain it, but suffice it to say, there are three fundamentals: Power, Form, and Soul, also known as Outer, Barrier, and Inner, or Fire, Earth, and Wild magic. Power manipulates energy, including motion, light, heat, etc; Form manipulates bonds and is responsible for abstract magical structures. Soul is concerned with information and things that exist "inside"--a concept I cannot easily explain unless you recognize either the word "animism" or the term "brane theory". Basically, things have insides, and that is where spiritual energy resides, which is something very different from "outer energy" like heat and light.

For our purposes, though, just consider the terms to be Power, Form, and Soul. In the old system Wind was Power+Barrier, which meant that you basically constructed temporary constructs in the air and changed those constructs with your will; imagine creating a giant fan in order to push air around. Under those rules, Light was Power+Inner; as a school of magic, you took something inside and you radiated it outwards, hence it was the school of illusion and enchantment. With me so far? Wind magic meant connecting wind together, light meant expressing that which was within. That was the old system.

For reasons best described as "I forget why", I decided that wasn't appropriate. The images in my head didn't line up with the mechanical categorization of the elements. In my head, a wind mage is not creating structures, they are simply doing a whole lot of releasing energy. They might pattern and control the energy, but all they're doing is releasing energy. Form doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to do with that image. Similarly, this concept of Light wasn't actually very good at creating illusions, because an illusion does need form. If Light was radiating magic at other people without form, sure you can enchant them, but you can't create a real illusion. If someone was immune to enchantment they simply wouldn't see the thing you created, and that's no good.

So now they're switched. Wind magic is now a way to release energy anywhere within your magical domain--specifically motion energy. This changes the domain rules slightly, but not enough for most people to really notice. The "soul" type of magic contains a domain rule that lets you remain connected to something you were connected to in the past, whereas "form" type magic requires a constant connection, which in the old version of Wind Magic was a thread from the caster to the effect. In both cases, you can't control huge volumes of air, but for different reasons; for now, it suffices to say that you spend energy constantly to keep the link open, which naturally limits your ability to do magic, because you can't do more once your energy runs out.

As for Light, which takes Wind Magic's place as Power/Form... this puts more restrictions on the use of illusions, but then, most useful illusions were higher forms of magic that bend the laws of domain anyway. It also leaves one with some restrictions on the use of conjured, light-based weaponry... but eh, okay. The biggest problem is Darkness Magic, which made perfect sense from a Power/Soul type element because it was corrosive to souls... but if it isn't connected to Soul type magic, then that influence has to come from elsewhere. Fortunately, there are two good candidates for explaining why that particular problem exists...

Anyway, that's the basics of that. The other part of it is a simple change to the Wind-style Martial Arts... which, again, bears giving a little bit of background to.

First of all, when I make (and for now I use the word "make" very loosely) an elemental martial art, I am basically deciding three images: two apparently contradictory images that combine to form one final, grander image. So for instance the element of Light as I described before contains the contradictory images of Source and Shadow--a light source is unaware of shadow, because by definition it never touches that shadow, and a shadow knows nothing of a light source for the same reason. And yet together, these two concepts form a whole concept of light. Without going into reflections, absorption, and bending of light, there are things that give off light, and there are things that never see it, and we live our lives in between, seeing the whole world through light but staring at neither the source nor the shadow.

The "image" of Wind Arts is tricky to pin down given Wind's status as the element of Motion. I already have a very firm idea in my head about the defensive abilities of Wind Artists, one that I've had in mind for years, but frankly it's difficult to summarize. The old version of the image, Sound and Stillness, was... honestly I just wasn't happy with it. I don't remember why I changed to that form of it from something else, but I suppose it came down to a specific image of Stillness Arts that involved... pretty much the whole of Wind Arts, with Sound being an unwanted addition of illusion for some reason. I don't know.

For now, the image of Wind Arts is Gale and Stillness, where Gale is projecting energy and Stillness lets you make it easier or harder to move things. I'm not great at explaining it, which may just be proof that I need to rework it again, but Stillness Arts is a mostly defensive art where although someone tries to "disturb your stillness", they fail; if they put power into an attack, you let that power move you, harmlessly.

The problem with a lot of my simply-defined martial arts is that when I sit down and try to write it out, it doesn't feel like a whole martial arts discipline can be made around it. If I make a whole art defensive, how do you start a person with no martial arts training and have them come out the other side with a usable art? One that lets them win fights, by both attacking and defending? If Stillness arts is just about defense, then it still has to have some kind of basic attack art for beginners, and why would you not apply the same principles to that side of it? Of course you would. Labeling it in my mind by one feature isn't enough.

In the end, I also can't take my mind off of the final product--although I have faith in my reconciliatory abilities. Gale and Stillness have to be all part of a grander vision, one that is more than the two combined. It goes beyond attack and defense; the two methods themselves have to complement each other, which for Wind magic is already a given. One method controls momentum and impact, while the other releases energy and enables mobility; the two are halves of a single whole, control over force and motion itself, at least within your reach. That is the idea, the hope, the ambition. Whether or not I am good enough... well, perhaps not.

But it's worth striving for, at least.