Midian: Dark Fantasy Role Playing Game Wiki

What is the nature of Magic?

Designer's Notes: Magic shouldn't be explained. If it made sense, it would be science. Magic is mysterious. Indeed, it may even be said that magic is mystery itself.

The Midian Dark Fantasy Role-playing Game makes no attempt to explain the inner workings of magic. To do so would subtract from what makes it so intriguing. This is one of the reasons that some of the mystical effects in Midian are based on real-world occult beliefs. By taking the inspiration for spells from medieval manuscripts and modern occult books (but not relying upon them overmuch), we keep magic from becoming the cheesy bullshit that it is in so many games. Magic in Midian is developed the way it is in thaumaturgical belief structures: things work simply because they work. For example, someone way back noticed that keeping a lock of hair from the one that you desire seemed to help gain their affection. Certain symbols and exclamations seemed to cause certain things to be more likely to occur. A process of trial-and-error has collated these findings collated into more reliable magic.

There are no rules in Midian for number-of-spells-per-day, or for Willpower costs for using magic. Having such rules makes even less sense than having magic work, well, magically. I can understand game designers wanting to work in rules for game balance. They don't want everyone who plays their game to always take the wizard class & fireball everything in their path. By removing any artificial game balance from Midian, we have placed total control of the scope & power of magic (and the players) in the Game Masters' hands. (Right where it fucking belongs.)

Within the game, there are many theories among loremasters about how magic works: influence from the divine or infernal, psionics, 'mana,' unknown laws-of-physics, or extra-planar energies. Whether any of these are true (possibly none, possibly all), will be quite difficult to determine for the inhabitants of the game world.

Much of magic, if not all, is inherently non sequitor. Mystic effects use the same internal logic as "I'm the mommy and I say so, that's why." Using an associative/sympathetic effect, that logic becomes "becase I'm the wizard and I cast spells, that's why."

Magic being the fickle thing that it is, the Game Master has total control over the exact result of a magical attempt. No rules are given for this, as that subtracts from both the mysterious nature of magic, and from the Game Master's control over his or her individual game. That is, even if performed correctly, a ritual simply might fail to work. Given the lack of flashy-or even obvious-spell effects, a wizard might not know that his or her spell did not work. Similarly, a spell can have a modified, reduced, or even negligible effect, as determined by the Game Master.

Runes and Sorcery[]

Both Rune Magic and Sorcery have similar elements. Both utilise symbols to create magical effects. These symbols are the same for both forms of magic, and a clever wizard who knows both can convert a spell learned as one method to another. Runes are the written/carved forms of spells, and sorcery is the spoken/gestured form.

Runes are created from basic glyphs that are combined to form a much more complicated character that creates a magical effect. The simple characters are essentially nouns, verbs, or modifiers that form a sort of magical sentence. These simpler are 'stacked' onto each other [similar to how the Futhark language combined letter-runes into a name-rune]. It is possible for a mage to learn just the simple runes—and combine them as needed, or learn ready-made effects (or both). There are various languages for runes—Lunaruen being the Elven example. Different rune-languages are usually incompatible.

Sorcery in its simplest form is simply tracing runes in the air while invoking their names. The simple word-components of runes and sorcerous spells have shorter descriptive names that are usually the first syllable or two of their true name. The longer true names are often called power words. By combining the power words with the appropriate gestures (such as drawing the symbols in the air), the spell-effect is created. As with runes, there are different magical languages.

Both forms of magic are performed by ritual. Without the ritual, there is no magic. In other words, you can draw a magical symbol in a spell book for reference, but it will not be inherently magical. Lunaruen is a notable exception in that any spell inscribed in this language will be magical—this makes writing instructional texts difficult. Rituals may include other words or gestures, require specific materials, or nearly anything else—even a sacrifice. There are many theories about how magic works. One of them is that the ritual (including the spoken/words or gestures) enables the wizard to perform the mental gymnastics that actually accomplish the magic that affects reality.

Other Magics[]

Though rituals involving some combination of the spoken and written word are the most common, there are other forms of magic. For example, an alchemist works her crafts in a laboratory, as does a herbalist. In another example, a magic wand that is needed to control a technomantic crystal ball is operated by precise repetition of touching certain glyphs on the wand while reciting the incantation "ain'tnevernothin'goodon". The creation of that wand is an even more arcane process, but one that seems to involve neither speech nor written text. The rituals of a mind mage seem to occur only in the psychic's mind, and are forms of mental exercise, much as with the Wayfarer spell. A beast mage may be both mute and illiterate, and yet his animalistic magic still works. Many an elementalist casts magic not by forcing the Elementals to do her bidding by any sorcery, but simply by asking them politely in their own language. Summoners do likewise, but without the politeness. There are any number of ways to perform magical acts, certainly many more that this humble researcher has never known. If an effect works, someone will find a way to make it work again.

Mystic Laws[]

Different thaumaturgical truisms have been postulated over the centuries. These basically codify & describe the components of a magical ritual. The more of these laws that are utilised in a ritual, the more effective the magic tends to be. [Game Masters should reward clever players who use one or more of these mystic laws, and incorporate them into their rituals, with enhanced effects. These rituals can be ornate and elaborately described affairs, or something as simple as "I cast the spell."]

  • The Law of Alchemy
    —The attributes without mirror the powers within
    Magical power is derived from natural associations: feathers for flight, fish scales for breathing water, or glass for sight enhancement.
  • The Law of Assistance
    —The world is the shared dream of all
    Having additional helpers, chanters, or other participants provide a stronger collective will.
  • The Law of Association
    —As above, so below
    This is perhaps the most important law, being reflected in most of the others. The ritual showing the association between different items creates magical effects. For example, drawing a smile on a love-poppet to ensure that the resulting relationship will be a happy one.
  • The Law of Contagion
    —Once together, always together
    This law means that things 'remember' their associations to others. For example an object favoured by someone could be used to cast a spell on that person. Continuing with the love-poppet, placing the desired person's hair or nail-clippings in the doll creates a bond between the poppet and the actual person.
  • The Law of the Sun
    —The sun shines down on all
    This is simply that any source of energy—even kinetic, as with a waterfall—can provide the power that fuels a magical effect. Fire is used in many rituals, but any source of energy can be—such as the tying action of a knot to 'bind' the wind.
  • The Law of Intent
    —Desire fuels all actions
    Without an active will to affect the world, no magic will happen. In other words, a computer program could not cast spells.
  • The Law of Names
    —To Name a thing is to own a thing
    Naming something is to define it and gain a form of control over it. This is what knowing a demon's true name is all about. The more you know about the target of your magic, the greater chance that you can affect it.
  • The Law of Rule
    —Dominance or submission
    When two or more wills are attempting to assert the same influence in different ways, one of them must dominate the other before any magical effect can occur. This makes direct-influence spells more problematic than those with an indirect effect. For example, if you want to stop someone from pursuing you, casting a spell that paralyzes their legs would be more difficult than causing their bootlaces to tie themselves together.
  • The Law of Sacrifice
    —Greater loss is greater gain
    Simply put, the greater personal loss to the mage, the greater the magical effect. For example, burning a blank page from a spellbook would have less of an effect than burning one that had a favoured spell written on it.
  • The Law of Sympathy
    —Like produces like
    This is the association of a small action with a larger one. For example breaking a twig as part of a spell to cause someone's bones to shatter.


A familiar is a helper and companion of a wizard. There is a unique bond shared, far greater than even the most beloved pet. So great is this bond, that no magic can replace a lost familiar for at least one year and one day. The emotional distress of a lost familiar may last far longer, and some mages may go into mourning and never again form a bond with a new familiar. It is fortunate then, that a familiar will not die from advanced age as long as the bonded wizard lives. The lifespan of a familiar is extended to match the rate of their wizard, thus when the mage is old, so too is the familiar.

Some magical traditions are strongly associated with specific variations of the standard familiar. These are often symbolic of the mystical path that the wizard follows, and as such are very common among these mages, being literally viewed as a living symbol of their power. [Some traditions grant a special familiar as a bonus, other mages must rely upon the more common types, or do without one.]

In addition to the normal and potentially beneficial behaviours of the animal type, the familiar may assist the wizard in his or her mystical endeavours. While a familiar of any sort cannot actually cast spells (unless the familiar, such as some Demons, could already use magic), the familiar acts as competent help for the wizard. They seem to instinctively know the wizard's entire magical repertoire for the purposes of assisting in rituals or other spellcrafting. While it may not seem that, for example, a black cat can aid in the creation and activation of a protective circle, nevertheless the familiar does provide some mystic support to the wizard. [The familiar acts as a skilled and competent aide, thus granting a +3 bonus on a skill check, or effectively increasing an apprenticeship skill by one level.]

There are essentially three types of familiars: normal animals (which may be magically augmented), demonic familiars, and demonically-possessed familiars (which is actually an option for either of the other two varieties—you may find a body for your demon to inhabit, or conjure a demon to augment—by possession—your normal familiar. Some magical traditions have variations of these, such as a necromancer's Undead pet, but these are unique to those select arts.

Familiars are gained either by forming a special bond with an animal-and casting the appropriate rituals, by summoning and binding a Demon, or by the various specialised occult methods of certain magical traditions. As a general rule, a mage may only have one familiar at a time. This is certainly true of a "standard" mage who employs a binding ritual for their animal compainion. It is possible, though uncommon, for a wizard to have more than one familiar, provided that they are from separate sources, e.g. a normal animal familiar and two more gained from having two magical traditions that grant additional familiars. [The familiars gained as a function of a level bonus for certain traditions superceed the "only one" rule. That is, a necromancer may bind a normal animal as her familiar, then slays-&-reanimates it when she becomes third level, and gains an additional familiar (this time an enchanted blade) when she cross-trains to become a sword mage.]

Demonic familiars are usually bound servants. Rarely will one offer its services to a mage. [Faust & Mephistopheles is a good cautionary tale there—another is the Elric saga with its anti-hero & demonic blade.] With these the phrase "nothing for nothing" definitely applies. A Demon may be tasked to manifest for itself a physical body. or it may be bound into—thus possessing—an animal body. The act of possession may be either to more suitably house an already-bound demonic familiar, or it may be used to augment one's normal familiar with the power and cunning of the Demon. These Demons are summoned and bound in the usual ritual manner before a special form of binding-similar to that for normal animal familiars-may be used.

Normal familiars are by far the most common. This variety involves a minimum of spellworking, but requires the most time, in order to form a proper bond with the animal. It must be noted that a mage must already have formed a social bond with the animal before the mystic one can be forged. These are normal—but special—animals that are linked to a wizard by a ritual similar to the Blood Bonding Ritual. Like that rite, the process works both ways—the mage is also linked to the familiar. The linking magic allows both to understand each other; just bear in mind the differences in thought processes between animal and sentient—your toad cannot carry on much of a conversation. The communication is on a very primitive level—think guide-dog. This is not telepathy, but rather the animal can understand the mage's speech, and the mage can understand the animal as though it had the ability to speak. These familiars are certainly more intelligent than their normal animal counterparts, but they are not truly sentient. For example, a raven familiar will be noticeably more intelligent than a common raven, but it is still just a bird.

Another benefit of linking to an animal familiar is that its normal senses are mystically augmented, allowing it to sense supernatural evil [gains that trait]. Each will feel great discomfort experienced by the other, albeit at a greatly reduced level. Despite popular myth, a familiar's master cannot see through its eyes, without the addition of other strong magic. [Familiars also automatically gain a level whenever their wizard does (thus you do not have to track a familiar's experience separately).]

Familiars (of all varieties) may be enhanced by various rituals & spells. These may allow the familiar to speak, assist with magic, share sensory information, or convey magical effects to the wizard's victims.

Familiar animals are special; it is said that the familiar chooses the mage at least as much as the wizard chooses the animal. The primary benefit that a familiar brings is companionship.

Ritual Differences in Magical Traditions[]

Different magical traditions can use the same spells, [with the same game mechanics,] with very different rituals. A prime example of this is the Mushroom Fear spell. Originally this was created by the witchdoctors in the wild lands of central Osterre. As such only one specific species of fungus was intended, with the mystical components greatly augmenting and rapidly delivering a natural chemical. As these tribal magic-users travelled to distant lands, and as foreign spell-workers came and studied the native arts, knowledge of this spell broadened geographically. The particular variety of mushroom used for the spell is not found outside of Osterre, and is not particularly easy to cultivate elsewhere. As a matter of necessity, the travelling witchdoctors found alternatives to the native mushroom. Foreign mages who spread knowledge of this spell altered and translated its effects into the trappings that they were familiar with, based on their favoured traditions. For example a necromancer may brew the tea with ashes burned from a coffin that once contained someone who was buried alive. The entombment victim's fear becomes the tea drinker's. The effects [and game mechanics] are still the same, but the rituals crafting those effects differ.

For a grander example, a local marquis is having a bridge built to span a raging river. As this bridge is to be quite large, and will become a major access way, the marquis hires a mage to enhance the construction. Four different wizards of four different traditions using the same spell, Strength of the Stolen Soul, will have very different means to that end. In each case, the unfortunate who is to power the spell is a workman who drowned setting piles for the foundations.

The geomancer carefully measures the span of the river & the size of the proposed bridge, and gathers as much information as she can about the deceased. This wizard uses measuring tape & rulers, specialised compasses, hundreds of feet of string, an astrolabe, an abacus, and copious amounts of ink and paper. To the measurements, she factors in the time of death, the numeric value of the workman's name, and the latitude of both ends of the bridge. This is compared to the number of days since the last eclipse and the height of the tallest point of the structure. To this growing esoteric equation, she adds the workman's birthday and divides the result by the number of men assembling the structure. This determines the auspicious number of spirals for the geomancer to draw to bind the workman's spirit to the structure & ensure its lasting performance.

The mind mage doesn't seem to be doing as much, at least to an outside observer. To one whose mind's eye is open however, his endeavours are at least as rigorous. After meeting those who bore witness to the fatal accident & learning the victim's name, he finds a quiet spot to sit & meditate. Using a piece of clothing recovered from the body, the mind mage lights some rare incense. Clearing his mind of worldly distractions, he forms a complete mental image of the workman's spirit. He assists the image of the spirit in releasing its emotional baggage—it isn't needed for this particular mystic effect and can only weaken the bridge. Telepathically linking the spirit image to the torn cloth & the visualisation of the completed structure, the mind mage carefully binds the spirit to the bridge. The spirit image is stretched into long shafts that form its own cage around the visualisation of the bridge. This is then smoothed out into a blanket over the structure that is carefully massaged into the very wood and stone.

The necromancer takes a much darker approach. She gets the dead man's body if possible. She will also need a working space. A sturdy table or bench is preferable, but the stack of bricks will do. Black candles are lit, and foul-smelling powders are sprinkled into the flames. A circle of white chalk circumscribes the body or remnants thereof. Bone rattles accompany her perusal through an arcane tome for dark names of power to summon. Dirt from a graveyard is cast about the area the bridge is to fill, mumbling her chants the whole while. The chant builds to a crescendo, the final unholy Nocturne syllables are shouted out, and with a thunderous voice, she commands the spirit to do her bidding & inhabit the bridge as a final resting place. As a sort of reincarnation, she rechristens the new bridge with a secret name, bids it live long and healthy, and threatens it with an even worse fate than being twice-dead should it ever fall.

Consider the humble elementalist. He doesn't seem to need as much as the rest: the very environment provides him with his magical needs. He doesn't even seem to need as much information as the others, as what he really needs to know is provided by the stones on the shore, the wind in the trees, and the spirits who swam about the workman as he struggled for his last breath. His attire more closely matches that of the others working on the bridge; only a lightning-blackened staff indicates his mystical authority. He climbs to the top of the highest yet-assembled point and seems only to be breathing deeply. By taking in the air, and letting it out again into the world, he is asking the elements to listen to his request. He asks the stones of the rapids that ended the workman's life to share with him the spirit they took. He lights a large fire & asks the cinders shooting out to eat any flames that might appear which would otherwise damage the bridge. Finally he asks the river itself to watch out for its new adornment, as a favour to both mage & workman.

In each case, the end result is the same: the dead workman's tenacity and strength [saving throw bonuses (and retests, if he had any)] are added to the completed bridge. All four mages require trappings & different ritual components, some expended but most reusable. In all cases it takes several hours for them to work their magic. Each wizard goes a little bit insane (or a bit more) during the casting ritual—thus the exact steps aren't sufficient to replicate; the strange & unnatural mindset involved in spellcasting is just as vital. To an outside (non-magically trained) observer, only the mage's rituals can be seen, whether it is the necromancer's creepy alter, the geomancer's frantic measurement, or the mentalist's seemingly very lazy approach. Most magic is only observable by such ritual trappings, or the effect the magic has, such as the bridge not collapsing with the first heavy rain. Such is the mysterious nature of magecraft.

Interchangeability of Magical Terms[]

There may be some confusion about the terminology used to describe users of magic. The various terms are often used interchangeably with one another. Much of this is intentional. Wizards & other magic-users do not want those not of their profession to gather too much information on things magical. They have even less of a desire to share information with those that actually are wizards. The following should help clear things up a bit.

  • Alchemist: this is perhaps the most popular wizard, one who crafts many useful substances, fabrics, items, and potions.
  • Conjurer: This term is typically synonymous with 'summoner', but can be equally applied to a trickster/stage magician type of magic-user.
  • Elementalist: Those that control the elements and speak with & summon Elementals.
  • Enchanter: This term may refer to either one who places enchantments on objects-much like an alchemist or technomancer, or it may refer to one who enchants people, and causes them to do the wizard's bidding-or simply to feel fond of him.
  • Herbalist: Not always referring to a true mage, this is often simply someone who knows which teas and tinctures have medicinal effects.
  • Mage or Wizard: these terms are universal for all serious users of magic. The two words are essentially synonymous, although the title of Wizard more properly denotes one with great power.
  • Necromancer: These greatly feared sorcerers traffic with the dead.
  • Nethermancer: Pronounced with either a long or short initial 'E', these mages are a type of summoner who deals specifically with Demons & other sentients from alternate realities. This is also sometimes spelled "neithermancer"
  • Summoner: this refers to someone who specializes in conjuring up spirits, entities, demons, or other helpers.
  • Technomancer: Not truly a mage at all, as the technomancer is an artificer and worker of the bizarre science of technology. While the technomancers themselves are often considered even stranger than the nethermancers, their wondrous devices are often welcomed.

How to create your own spells for Midian[]

New spells may be created by simple trial-and-error. For simple effects, creating a spell 'on the fly' has a lessened chance of going awry (assuming the mage knows the appropriate simple symbols). Complicated or powerful effects should be worked out before hand and learned as a definite effect. For example, knowing the symbols for altering, appearance, and colours, might allow a mage to change the colour of her outfit by creating the effect without knowing a 'change the colour of clothes' spell. However, a spell that would allow her to alter her height could be disastrous if done without being first worked on during controlled circumstances.

Just as you cannot put too much water in a nuclear reactor, a role-playing game cannot have too much magic.

  1. Get an actual book on rituals (support those poor blokes that are trying to market something that the mass-market doesn't approve of; just try to get something published, much less sold)
  2. Find a spell that you want to use & write it up with any needed description & game mechanics
  3. Convince your Game Master to allow it
  4. Repeat steps 1—3 as needed
  5. Realize that the only book on magic worth reading is "The Cat in the Hat"
  6. Realize that you wasted several years of your life getting a degree in thaumaturgy

Ok, so steps 5 & 6 are optional, but you can easily increase your wizard's repertoire. As an added plus, you have abilities that are unique to your character.

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