Overview and History
Magic is dangerous; this adage is well known, as magic descends from the gods; each tier down from the absolute primal level is easier to handle, but also less broad in scope, until at the near-mortal level of divinity, the gods are so aspected and divided that while the power is almost safe, it is also almost useless save for a few small, limited effects. Mages are drawn to the higher sources of power, wanting the greater versatility offered by the more powerful entities, despite the risk of a magical accident killing them and likely destroying the area around them.
Sane individuals want nothing to do with these kinds of risks, but the utility of even basic magic is bit too useful to be ignored. Thaumatechnology serves as the stepping stone for the majority of the world's population. Comprised of a wide body of knowledge across several disciplines, the core knowledge is comprised of time-tested methods to tap the power of the very minor, safe spirits and godlings of the world. Composed of runes, alchemy, geomancy, astrology, and other 'little' disciplines, it makes simple mow-grade magic accessible to the populace at large.
Until relatively recently, with the rise of the Goblin race and their inspiration of new experimental efforts, thaumatechnology was a craft that advanced slowly, with each advance tested and checked in theory many times before ever being implemented, and then only being accepted grudgingly. Divided chiefly into the art of glyphs, which held mastery over runes and geomancy, and the art of alchemy, holding the crafts of the actual alchemists, astrology, herbalism, and the like. The two only casually intersected, the former concerned with semi-permanent effect, the latter with transient ones.
This changed when a few goblin glyphmakers and alchemists got together and decided that perhaps what was needed was a more synergistic approach. Building a set of alchemist's equipment enhanced by glyphs, the initial results were wildly successful, inspiring the initial crafters to widely publicize the effects and the benefits. Many others - chiefly the impulsive goblins, but also a minority of other races - quickly followed up on their efforts. Simple attempts at combining the arts were fruitful, leading the impulsive to attempt larger and more complex experiments - and in a few cases, attempts to harness larger and more versatile sources of energy than the broad lore of thaumatechnology dictated.
The results have become ingrained in the collective awareness as the very definition of 'goblin thaumatech' - often useful, but prone to accidents and unpredictable side effects. It was the birth of a new era of civilization, with the costs of simpler alchemical creations dropping sharply and the rise of the 'new' thaumatechnology.
Now, massive buildings reinforced by mazes of glyphs hold complex devices that bear only a passing resemblance to the old tools of the thaumatechnologists, working to produce the quantities of consumable items that civilization has grown addicted to, while smaller laboratories work to bring the next generation of 'improved' thaumatechnology to the world, while theoretically trying to work out the flaws of existing designs and formulae. Where once the two branches of the art stood apart, now there are at once both a single total art and manifold specializations struggling to emerge; at the moment, the safest form of address for any thaumatech specialist is 'Engineer'...
Runes, Glyphs, and Scripts
The craft of glyphmaking is based on two things: runes, and geomancy. The most basic degree of the craft, working with simple runes, is easy enough that many people know two or three helpful runes to use in day-to-day life; it is only with the more potent runes, and joining them to form Glyphs and Scripts, that knowledge of geomancy becomes important.
A Rune is the basis of the craft; it essentially serves as a circuit for a single specific low-grade magical effect, drawing on the power of a specific Mortal God - sometimes gods of such minor effect and scope that the Rune's effect is the only one that can be magically produced with the deity's power. There is a benefit to the god whose power is being tapped, however; each Rune is, essentially, a continuous prayer, invoking the god's power and making it clear to the world. Even if those observing the effect are unaware of the god, their awareness of the effect feeds a small trickle of energy to the deity, just enough to help ensure the god's existence continues and thus the effect remains in a continual positive feedback loop.
A Glyph - alternately called a 'runeword' - is several Runes bound to form a larger structure; at this point, geomancy become necessary, as the Runes need to be arranged to ensure the power flowing among them is optimal rather than conflicting; it does no good to position a rune that invokes a goddess of dampness in a way that interferes with the interaction of a god of kilns and a god of heated air, and may cause a mishap of some sort if left uncorrected, as magical pressure accumulates over time. Done correctly, however, a Glyph's component parts - generally no fewer than three and no more than five Runes - form a synergistic effect, the small individual spell-invocations blending to perform a single larger task. The best-known Glyphs are found inscribed on the structurally important points of buildings, such as the keystones of archways, enhancing the stability and durability of the structure in question.
A Script is merely a further complexification above the Glyph, combining the effects of two to four Glyphs to form an effect over a more significant area or at a greater level of power. Under standard thaumatechnology, most large buildings have a single Script worked into the entire structure, providing a measurable enhancement of durability to the whole without risking any buildup of magical energy in the area. Goblin thaumatechnology, however, often crams entire Scripts into large rooms or even on solitary machines; while the results are powerful compared to the traditional method, the risk of energy building up to the point of thaumaturgic fallout resulting is much, much higher than the older methods.
Simple alchemy has much in common with basic medicine and folklore; most people know a few quick tricks that they can use in daily life, be it the boiling of white willow bark to make a tea that helps with fevers and aches, the mixture of goblin grass into a chew for night sentries to improve their vision in the darkness, or any number of other quick little quick, helpful concoctions. Creation of greater complexity are where the true domain of alchemy begins, however, much like the art of glyphcraft.
Alchemy differs from the workings of glyphs, however, in that much of the work comes not in binding ever-more-complex layers which work together without mishap, but instead in taking the ingredients and working them through the myriad devices of the trade to produce the final result; a simple salve or potion merely requires a mortar and pestle - or in the case of goblin thaumatech, a rune-etched millstone. Alembics, simple retorts, athanors, and calcination kilns are all used to create more refined (and powerful) alchemical compounds; powders, elixirs, dusts, draughts, and more all can be produced by skilled enough application.
Goblin thaumatechnology, applied to alchemy, often involves the application of glyphs to individual parts of the process, as well as the processing of far more than a single dose at a time. In the best cases, this results in a large number of doses, some of which are enhanced by thaumaturgic resonance during the process to either a higher potency or the presence of beneficial side effects. Usually no more than one or two doses per batch of hundred or so are enhanced this way, and there is little way to distinguish them save through use. Unfortunately, just as often, something goes awry during the process; components are not mixed in the right proportions, outside energies contaminate the materials, or resonance with the process produces a weakened product or even one with significantly detrimental side effects.
Even when the process runs smoothly, there remains a significant problem, in the form of waste material - the unusable dregs of the process, which pick up sufficient magical energy to become dangerous, if left to accumulate in the equipment. Even the most prolific of goblin thaumatech production processes need to halt daily to scrub away the dregs, lest the material either contaminate future batches or build up to such a level that thaumaturgic fallout results. Given the overall toxicity and energy level of the waste, cautious thaumatech engineers handle it carefully. Unfortunately, most thaumatech engineers are goblins, who are notable more for a severe lack of that trait.
A relatively innocuous name for what is, in truth, the most dangerous result of goblin thaumatechnology, thaumaturgical fallout is what happens when a process goes awry for some reason - be it runes arranged such that they interfere rather than working together, slop piling up to critical levels, or simple contamination of the magical energy. Similar to the results of a Whisp overfeeding or a Mage failing to control a spell's energy, thaumaturgical fallout is the sudden release of all the potential magical energy in an area. There are two factors which govern this release - the nature of the energy involved, and the astrological aspect at the time of release.
If the energies involved release during a favorable aspect, the energy becomes amplified as it is released; this can, on occasion, have beneficial results. If an alchemic line is producing elixirs that speed the healing process and the astrological aspect favors healing energies, fallout can potentially produce an 'explosion' of curative energy across the contaminated area. Those thaumatech engineers who deal with such potentially beneficial energies often try to provoke fallout reactions at favorably-aspected days. Others who work with less beneficial energies tend to try to delay the fallout as long as possible, and often empty the area on neutrally aspected days while trying to provoke a fallout reaction to 'clear' the danger.
Fallout reactions on unfavorably-aspected days have a much more disastrous result; the conflict of energies results in explosions and magical backlash, often destroying everything in the area and possibly contaminating the surrounding locations with polluting energy. In worst-case scenarios, this is easily capable of destroying neighborhoods, and is one reason many thaumatech factories are relegated to the lower-class sections of the cities, or separated from the city proper.
The most pervasive of the hazards of goblin thaumatechnology, thaumaturgic pollution can result from either too high a concentration of Glyphs in an area, raising the ambient energy to hazardous levels, or from alchemical dregs being allowed to flow into the environment at large. Many unexpected effects can result from thaumaturgic pollution; these range from the harmless displays of light that flicker across open surfaces in many thaumatech facilities to the spontaneous generation of undead in a graveyard alongside a drainage channel from an alchemy facility.
Most efforts to 'solve' this problem involve attempting to ensure sufficient space between Glyphs and Scripts, and directing alchemical dregs into drainage channels that either empty into waste wells dug for the purpose (which inevitably contaminate the groundwater with magical energy) or into the lower-class areas of the cities, where the people who are too poor to afford the thaumatech products live. The former effort generally lessens the severity of the pollution without mitigating it; the latter, if insufficient diluted, can result in energy buildups and thaumaturgic fallout. In either case, those exposed to the pollution will often be negatively affected; this can range from simple sensitivity to the energy in question, causing an allergic reaction, to outright mutation and insanity.
Thaumaturgical pollution will, over time, decay into a harmless form; glyph-bearing materials corrode at an accelerated rate in polluted areas, breaking down the energy circuit, while alchemical dregs gradually decay into a non-magical sludge. Whisps can accelerate this process, as the gnome-descended creatures are capable of feeding on the toxic energy without significant harm; the chief difficulty in this situation is preventing the thaumavoric creatures from overeating and going up in a magical explosion that is likely more dangerous than the pollution they're feeding off of.
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? Responses (14)
Finally a submission with goblins as more then kill fodder. 5/5
The goblins of Kuramen are a bit of an odd species compared to 'normal' fantasy goblins in a lot of ways. They're direct descendants of the dwarves, but where dwarves are cautious, stolid, and change as slowly as the stone, goblins are impulsive, curious, and prone to doing things just to see what happens. They tend to have an overall higher fatality rate than their parent race, but they also breed more quickly. Dwarves tend to prefer areas of long-term stability; goblins, on the other hand, have found humans to be to their liking and can be found dwelling in larger cities alongside them.
Good one! All the Kuramen posts have a certain feeling or flavour that appeals to me - not unlike Bas-Lag, actually! And I love a systematiation of magic that goes beyond that of DnD. Great job! /David
Thanks! Although, actually, your posts on Locastus were a source of inspiration for the workings of Thaumatechnology; while I've read Perdido Street Station and The Scar, those are my limits of delving into that world. Siren also deserves his major share of the credit, as the workings of magic are largely his; we've been bouncing ideas around the last few days regarding Kuramen.
I'm pretty sure my next Kuramen submission will be the Whisps... They used to be gnomes. Now, they're thaumavoric addicts - and if they overeat, they tend to explode in a messy magical mishap.
I like the set up for runes, glyphs, and scripts as well as the effects of thaumaturgic fall out and contamination. Give the standard fantasy setting a touch of cyberpunk without actually having to deal with the rest of the cyberpunk genre. Thumbs up and have an HoH
"Steampunk gone wrong" was one of the defining moments of describing thaumatech while Siren and I were talking about magic in Kuramen as a whole.
I could have done without the actual goblins, but that is a minor nit-pick. Wonderfully conceived and written. Many kudos be upon you, Kasil! Great sub.
Goblins are there mainly because I didn't want it to be human-pioneered, I have a strong dislike of elves in general due to overexposure during the last several years with WotC's new-elf-race-every-supplement routine, and dwarves are more the stolid and cautious experimenters in a world where the wrong experiment can level a city; the idea of the goblin race, such as it is, descending from the dwarves also amuses me greatly, since in many settings goblins are among the top of the list for dwarven foes.
Expect to see Kuramen's take on the critters eventually, along with the orcish race, which descended from mankind.
Not sure what to say beyond that I find this to be something unique, in it's own way. I'm reminded of Ouro's magic system, which I really liked. So, good job.
Ouro had a magic system? I must've missed seeing it; I've mostly only read the piecemeal bits thrown up by Random Submissions, to be honest, but they inspired the flavor of thaumatechnology as a whole; the steampunk-gone-horribly-wrong feel was drawn off of that, what I've read of China Mieville's books, and a great deal of gibbering in the small hours after Siren shot my sanity.
Interesting idea, while it would require tweaking the system in any rules-heavy system, it could work with a rules light system.
On a purely thematic note, the idea is well done, there is a clear air of industrialization running on profit despite the risk without seeming out of place for a fantasy campaign.
This is pretty well thought out and creative and a great basis of a magic system. As others have said, the goblins and Whisps idea is cool.