A brief exercise in in-universe writing: An excerpt from the fictional textbook "Paths of Wisdom: an introduction to the magcial arts".
If you just want an overview of the rules click here.
Chapter 5: Practical Applications of Magic
Paragraph 1: The brief history of magic
1.1: Oswald's Slab
Somewhere in the Swirling Downs, on the top of an otherwise unremarkable hill, stands Oswald's Slab. This is generally considered to be the first account of the workings of magic, placed there at least over a century ago (though some speculate it was placed as far back as two or even three centuries). Its author is not known with any certainty, though graffiti near the bottom of the slab reads: "Oswald". Accounts on the material of the Slab differ, but the Downs being what they are, we cannot use this to discredit these stories. What all accounts agree on is the content of the Slab, Oswald's Five Tenets:
The Gods are Order, Sameness, Repetition. They ARE the Law.
They fight Chaos, Difference, Exception. It has many names, but you know it as: FREEDOM.
Call it in its native tongue, and it will show itself, but never the same!
It is an affront to the Gods, the LAW, the ultimate expression of FREEDOM.
Come together in FREEDOM, together we are stronger than even the Gods.
Clearly, the last line is heresy. However, experience has shown that the first four of Oswald's Tenets must have some truth to it. Any practising miracle worker will affirm that if the Gods have the ability to create exceptions, they have yet to show it; they are ostensibly very orderly beings. And as practising mages we can assure you that is not smart to call upon the God's if you've performed any magic within the last day. However, these could be mere coincidence. What gives credit to Oswald's Slab as pertaining to the actual practice of magic is the third tenet. This is a clear reference to the necessity of chanting in the Magical Word and the shifting nature of this language. Really, it is the third tenet only that cements the Five Tenets as the first study on the workings of magic
A Brief Summary of Chapter 4 The Workings of Magic in Theory: To cast a spell yo uhave to chant it in the Magical Word, sometimes just called the Tongue of Chaos. It is not advised to memorize this language, as prolonged exposure to it has some unpredictable effects. Instead, most of us read aloud from a book or scroll, though it could feasibly be written on any surface. Due to the chaotic nature of the Tongue of Chaos, the meaning of the words shift whith every spell casting, i.e. the chances of casting the same spell twice are almost zero. For more on the nature of the Tongue of Chaos see Language of the world by Deribell et al.
1.2: Persecution of the art of Magic
If we have to credit Oswald's Slab as the first attempt to outline the workings of magic, we should also acknowledge that it started the tradition of the persecution of the magical arts. The very first of the Divine Conquests was an attempt to destroy the Slab for its heretical claims. Due to its usefulness most temple orders are otherwise quite tolerant of magic. They warn against the dangers of magic, in the same vain in which they warn against the evils of murder or the desecration of graves: The Gods do not favor those who commit such acts. This is a self-evident act. The reason we do not see practitioners of magic offer much to the Gods, is because the Gods tend to return such tribute with their fury. The Steward's Parable is the most famous example of this:
However, Oswald's Slab is often used to argue that underlying all magic is a heretical desire: to become greater than the Gods. Hence, the First Divine Conquest was only the beginning, and since then we have seen two more. The Second was a declaration of war on Onderburg, to stop the heretical uses of magic that it is infamous for: deliberately disturbing the resting places of the dead to create undead forces. The Third, which is raging at the time of writing this book, is aimed at the city of Vliegveen, renowned for being ruled by those with the best understanding of the magical arts. The accusation being that if one esteems those that possess the largest amount of magic, you are in effect either saying that the Gods use magic, or that they are not held in high esteem.
Outside of the Divine Conquests there is of course the very legitimate fear of the dangers that accompany all magical practice. As all well versed mages know there are in essence two ways to cast magic: One is to just chant the words without any precautions or method, which we have dubbed 'Desperation Magic' (see chapter 4 paragraph 2.4), which has a high risk of terrible fallout. However, the second way of casting ('Methodical Magic') also has its risks. While it is true that proper preparation makes magic more predictable, disruption of that preparation has guaranteed dire consequences. Hence, some communities persecute users of magic out of the simple fear of losing their lives (though these fears are often overblown due to ignorance).
Finally, in several city states, magic is persecuted not because of its supposed herecy or inherent risk, but because of its revolutionary potential. Remember that, as we outlined in chapter 4 paragraph 3.1, the more people contribute to the chant, the stronger the spell becomes. Imagine the king of Guldenhal trying to quell a peasants revolt if those peasants are armed with a magical tome. Even if a spell of that scale will be easy to disrupt, the magical mishap will likely be of such a scale that it probably isn't preferable to the original spell (for more on magical mishaps, see chapter 4 paragraph 3.3).
1.3: The discovery of Rhyme and Reason
It is unknown who first came to the conclusion that we could bring some semblance of order to the art of weaving chaos. The oldest known record of spell recipes dates back to about 70 years ago. A small pamphlet credited to a Ada Bladdewijs describes some ways to make spells more stable, last longer and affect more specific targets:
Recipes like this seemingly started to pop up at various places around the same time. Initially, the response to this was to find other such functional formula's, hopefully enough to fit all possible spells in. But all of this came to a stop when Agnas and spouse Yuliah started to collect and bundle these recipes. They found out that there were many different recipes to bring about a similar effect. What seemed to be a highly specific practice turned out to be way more flexible or, pardon the pun, chaotic than was initially thought.
A rendering of Agnas an Yuliah at work
Agnas and Yuliah published their findings in the revolutionary book Rhyme and Reason, in which they argue that for Methodical Magic to work, one doesn't require highly specific recipes but just the titular rhyme and reason. As long as it intuitively makes sense why a certain method would work it will probably have the desired effect. Their advice to see if your method has rhyme and reason is as obvious as it is ingenious: ask others if they think it makes sense. For a more elaborate discussion on the Principle of Rhyme and Reason see chapter 4 paragraph 4.2.
The amount of lives the Principle of Rhyme and Reason must have saved can only be enormous. We now only have to rely upon Desperation Magic in, well desperate situations. And though disrupting the method a mage uses to cast their spell can have terrible consequences, the same can be said for disrupting a smelter or woodworker during their craft.
1.4: Distribution of magical labour
One topic Rhyme and Reason overlooked is that of collaborative casting. There is evidence that the practice of collaborative casting must have predated the first scholarly work on the subject by a few decennia. In the report of the Battle of the Flies, dated 32 years before the publication of The conquest of magic, there are multiple allusions to a distribution of magical labour, though this one is the most obvious:
It was found to be more effective to send volleys to the circle drawers and incense throwers than attempt to hit the well protected chanters. The results of disrupting spells was devastating on both sides, but against an opponent with superior magical capabilities such losses are a prerequisite for victory.
Collaborative casting is still hotly debated, as there is little consensus on if it is theoretically even supposed to work, let alone how it would work. What is particularly puzzling is the fact that multiple people can contribute to different aspects of the same ritual. There are basically three schools of thought on why this works:
- The Young School believes that all people share in a collective subconscious. Thus, they argue, this is really only one utterance of the Word, which would explain why different people can say the same thing in the Chaotic Tongue. This position is highly contested, as there is no further evidence of such a subconscious existing.
- The School of Michael and Jilles believes that rather than a collective subconscious, it is Chaos as primordial voice, that speaks through the mouths of the participants. This is a slightly more nuanced position. They stress that the same people aren't sharing in a single utterance, but that rather the utterance is a multiplicity, i.e. simultaneously one and many.
- The Sensible School is quite banal about it. They ask: how does the spell know that separate actions are part of a ritual? Well, by whatever means it knows that, it must also know that all these separate participants are contributing to the same spell. The Sensible School doesn't so much answer the question, as they downplay its unicity within the field of magic.
We will elaborate on these and other schools of magic in chapter 7.