The Kobold Guide to Magic is written by a star-studded cast of designers and authors. In this preview, award-winning author Tim Pratt uses examples from his own fiction to help us remember to keep it weird. Pre-order the Kobold Guide to Magic at the Kobold Store!
My broad-spectrum approach to magic gives me a lot of opportunities to do fun weird stuff in my books, sometimes drawing on existing magical systems, sometimes just making up my own. Most sorcerers in my fictional world specialize, and that’s where a lot of the amusement comes in—creating areas of excellence and limitation. Limitations are crucial in roleplaying games, too, of course. Characters love getting godlike powers, but then the person running the game has to throw problems at them that even godlike powers can’t trivially solve, and then you’re stuck in a loop of power inflation. It’s much better, and more fun, to have great magic come paired with terrible costs.
Among the specialties I’ve played with in my fiction are technomancers, who use magic as a way to bridge the gap between real science and science-fantasy—mad-scientist types who don’t let things like the limitations of physics stop them from accomplishing amazing feats. One technomancer in my novel Blood Engines believes that our entire world is basically a computer simulation—as the philosopher Nick Bostrom has proposed—being run in the far future by our own descendants, who are interested in watching our history develop. We were real people, once, long ago, but now we’re just emulations of those long-dead originals, running in a simulated world so realistic we can’t tell the difference.
Since the world is just a program, my technomancer believes he can alter reality by hacking the simulation, and he does ritual magic to achieve those effects. The simulation theory is the only explanation for “magic” that he’ll accept, and he utterly rejects any notion of the supernatural. Whether he’s right or not doesn’t matter, ultimately. He believes in his worldview utterly, his will is strong, and he works his magic accordingly. He also gets results.
There are also a few pornomancers in my books: sorcerers who get their power from sexual energy. That’s hardly an original idea, from Tantra to Crowley, but there’s still fun stuff to be done with it. One of my sorcerers hosts elaborate sex parties, filling the house with magical aphrodisiacs and stimulants to build everyone up to a frenzy, funneling all the energy his guests release up via architectural magic to the attic room of his house, where the power gathers to be tapped and used as he desires.
Another pornomancer goes in the opposite direction, making his own penis disappear—a la the persistent superstition in some African nations about wicked magical penis thieves—and surrounding himself with sexual imagery and situations, gaining power from his own frustration and repression. Sitting in a strip club, frustrated beyond endurance, he turns all those energies inward and uses them to power his magic. (Every professional athlete who’s refused sex before a big game to keep from “spending his energy” was trying to work the same kind of ritual.)
I once wrote about a witch who ran a secret subway train on a closed loop deep underground, the tracks laid out in a pattern of occult significance so the train endlessly traced out a sigil of power, the energy of its motion serving to intensify the magical effects. That same witch was a consensual cannibal, luring people to her lair, where they agreed willingly to be consumed, convinced they were worthless compared to her majesty, and that their greatest service to the world would be to render themselves human sacrifices for her glory. Eating other humans turned that witch into an ultimate apex predator—so badass she could eat humans, the creatures that eat everything else—and she didn’t even have to bother to hunt them, just win them over with the strength of personality and will. Exercising her power gave her more power.
The full essay is found in the Kobold Guide to Magic.