Magical Metaphysics

One of the reasons I love ACKS is that it is built from the ground up on a solid socioeconomic-politial basis. I try to carry this perspective through to other areas of my game, and have thus developed a framework for what I am terming "magical metaphysics" (if there's any released material on the ACKS canon for this beyond the basis of souls, reincarnation, and divine power, please let me know). Understanding how a pit trap works informs how I explain it to my players, how I run it, and how I deal with their attempts to disarm it. Similarly, understanding how magic actually functions is important to making consistent and logical adjudications of how spells work, whether something has a soul, etc. I'm happy to hear other people's take on this, but here's my thoughts if anyone is interested.

Some background metaphysics: existance is held in two realms, the physical and the metaphysical. Within each realm, a thing can have four Natures: Body, Heart, Mind, and Spirit, that is the Formative, Emotive, Cognitive, and Spiritive Aspects. 

The inanimate exists in the realm of Form, values exist in the realm of Passion, and ideas in the realm of Thought. The realm of Spirit acts as a binder, bringing together and unifying the Three Realms into discrete entities capable of action. And yet, while these things exist separately, they are ultimately the same. Matter and Energy are essentially fungible — many things consume Matter and use it for Energy. Similarly, an increase in Energy is functionally the same as an increase in the density of Space-Time; things move between set points more rapidly in both cases. Motion is the only system through which any of this makes sense — it unifies the prior Aspects. Space-Time, Energy, and Matter are each only relevant for a moving object. Similarly, Identity can only be defined in relative terms by the Connections that something has and the way in which it exists within greater Belief. Increasing Connections is fundamentally just an increase in Belief. Identity, Connection, and Belief only have meaning when under the influence of Will. Each Nature exists singularly, and yet must exist within the context of the others to have meaning.

The Four Natures



Body — Formative

Matter (Physical Substance)

Identity (Metaphysical Substance)

Heart — Emotive

Energy (Physical Potential)

Connection (Metaphysical Potential)

Mind — Cognitive

Space-Time (Physical Medium)

Belief (Metaphysical Medium)

Essence — Spiritive

Motion (Physical Change)

Will (Metaphysical Change)

All humans understand how to change their surroundings physically; we push and pull and move. At its most basic, magic is the application of Will to influence the metaphysical realm in the same manner. Just as we can impose physical forces on surrounding matter through motion, using energy, through the framework of Space-Time, we can also impose metaphysical forces on surrounding identities via Connection through the framework of Belief. A mage learns to amplify their will, and trains to strengthen it. To exert their will, different magical traditions focus on different methods, and tap into different Natures.

The Formative Nature can aid mages through ritual incantations, gestures, and foci, that collectively channel magic and focus the will. Cylinders and obelisks have excellent channeling efficiency, and are often a preferred shape. Woods are ideal for drawing magic, metals for conducting it, and stones (especially gems) for storing it. Use of gemstones can thus make an item easier to enchant due to their high specific magical capacity. Metals, especially precious metals, can also be used to make enchanting easier because of their excellent magical conductivity that contributes significantly to improved overall efficiency.

The Emotive Nature can aid mages who draw upon their passions to fuel their spells. Those who turn their wrath to violent flame or their love unto blessings are disciples of this school, as are those who draw upon the strength of ambient power. The Connections a place forms over time from exposure to powerful emotion can empower magic at that location, often functioning similarly to Places of Power, or sometimes even resulting in the formation of such.

The Cognitive Nature can aid mages who focus their minds through rational thought, precision, and intellect. By learning and memorizing complex frameworks of magic, they channel their Will tightly, and by using the same incantations as their master's before them, they tap into the collective framework of Belief that has formed around them. Mages who draw upon their rational, ordered thought can algorthmically compress the complex frameworks required for such, and prepare more spells than other mages.

The Spiritive Nature of metaphysical Will is the essence of magic that all mages draw upon, but the physical Life that quickens them can also be drawn and used to power their spells. Mages familiar with these disciplines can sacrifice their health and their very life force to cast more spells than could be achieved through Will alone.

The Magic Arts















These are the Seven Magic Arts: seven methods by which the Will can be applied to master one's surroundings. Transfiguration and Enchantment, Evocation and Thaumaturgy, Divination and Illusion, and the seventh that is by some called Auramancy and others Necromancy (and often, two classes emerge within this, a White and a Black Magic). Each interacts with the world in ]fundamentally different and unique ways. Transfiguration alters the physical form to transform the substance and semblance of objects, from rushing wind to solid stone, singing arrow to twining smoke, and mortal man to mighty beast. Enchantment alters the metaphysical form, to alter the Identity of things and thus to change their physical properties, granting flight to the wingless man, armor's strength to flimsy cloth, and an aura of flame that transforms a sword to a blazing brand. Evocation manipulates physical potential, that is Energy, to shatter blades, freeze water, and blast foes asunder with unstoppable raw force. Thaumaturgy manipulates metaphysical potential, or Connection, to bind places together, summon outsiders, and connect the motions of distant objects. Divination manipulates the physical medium, allowing for perceptions supernatural — seeing distant visions of past, future, and present, percieving the unseen, and knowing secrets. Illusion manipulates the metaphysical medium of Belief, altering how things are known and understood to edit thoughts, create phantoms real and imagined, and warp wills. Auramancy/Necromancy concerns itself with change, tied up as it is with life and the soul. Auramancy often concerns the physical aspect of life, wielded to heal wounds through positive energy and restore damaged bodies. Necromancy instead deals with the immortal soul, how to trap it and reshape its innate binding powers. Resurrection magics are acceptable because they essentially just restore the body and create a path for the soul to return, should it so choose; necromancy compels the soul and binds it. Each of these Arts uses magic and the Will to influence a different Aspect and thus to impact the world in different ways.

Identity has many parallels to mass. Notably, something's Identity directly corresponds to the difficulty of altering it via magic against its Will. Sapient creatures have greater Identity than non-sapient, and thus we can see that influencing inanimate objects is the easiest of magic, and it is generally barely more difficult to influence plants. Animals prove more challenging, especially the great beasts, as are humans, and the great monstrous creatures most difficult of all, for they are creatures of magic itself. Similarly, as a person increases in metaphysical significance (*cough* gaining levels *cough*) they grow in Identity, and better resist magic. The Law of Identity states that Identity remains unchanged unless acted upon by outside Wills. This Identity takes the form of an Aura, which generally extends itself to the possessions and worn items of an individual that they see as an extension of themselves, explaining why a fireball that singes an individual rarely burns their clothes away if the individual survives.

It worth a further note here that in truth, a fireball does not create a sphere of solid flame so much as it sends threads of intense heat into a spiralling sphere, and that one with great skill and training can learn to evade the customary patterns of these threads and avoid the vast majority of heat. Inanimate objects not warded by Identity have no such protections.

Connection is the basis of the Laws of Sympathy, as follow:

  1. The Law of Influence — magical effects are limited by the magical conduit by which Connection is formed between the origin and the destination of the effect
  2. The Proximity Principle — proximity affords Connection, and is one of the strongest easily obtained general sources of Connection; both physical and temporal proximity drop off quickly, and (especially temporal) lack of proximity can become a major barrier to establishing a Connection as most spells depend upon this
  3. The Law of Sympathy — similar things form Connection; once together, always together; thus a hair clipping provides Connection back to its originator regardless of distance, and this can enable much greater range on many spells
  4. The Sympathetic Efficiency Theorem — the stronger the Connection between origin and destination of magical effect, the more efficient the conduit, and thus the more able it is to overcome Identity inertia (in game terms, a sympathetic Connection can expand the range on a spell, or, when used at base range inflict a penalty to save)

Belief is the medium in which magic occurs and in which metaphysical actions take place — not belief as in believing in something, but the collective Belief that makes up the societal and existential zeitgeist. It yields the Law of Belief, that powerful Identities can bend the framework of Belief around them, and that potent Connections fold the framework to bridge gaps within it.

The Axiom of True Will is the Fundamental Principle of Arcana — just as physical force imparts physical change to reshape Matter, redistribute Energy, and move things through Space-Time, metaphysical force, i.e. Will, imparts metaphysical change to reshape Identity, redistribute Connection, and move things within Belief. This is the essential method by which magic functions.