June 27th, 2012 | Add a Comment
Magic Part 2 – Meta Magic
Meta magic is one of my favorite aspects of a magic-rich fantasy world. Imagine naval warfare without submarines and sonar. Imagine cyberpunk without netrunners.
That’s how I see fantasy without meta-magic.
I’m paraphrasing and borrowing the term from Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS. In there magic system is a college of magic called “meta-spells.” These are, simply put, spells about magic.
The simplest example would be a dispel magic spell — a mage equivalent of disarming a trap. But meta magic can go much deeper than that, and it should.
If magic is pervasive in your setting, and the stakes are high enough, it should be routine to make sure certain magical countermeasures are in place. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical scenario: a king is hiring the party to assassinate another noble, who the king suspects to be a usurper.
Note: this article assumes a robust magic system.
The king calls the party to his privy chamber. Because many delicate conversations occur here, security measure have long been in place to protect the confidentiality of this chamber. Perhaps an anti scrying spell is in place. Perhaps the very stone has been enchanted to ward against undue eavesdropping.
Enchantments alerting the room to invisible (or very small) creatures or persons would also be in place. Perhaps the chamber is windowless, so that someone with far vision and a good lip-reading skill can’t look in and spoil the surprise.
The door would be magically sound-proofed, or at least there would be some sort of alarm if an ear was pressed to the keyhole.
For every magical method that exists to eavesdrop on a conversation, it stands to reason that demand would cause the invention or creation of a countermeasure — especially if the stakes are high.
If mind control or telepathy exist as magical disciplines, then so should protections against them. Not only would such a thing be in high demand (assuming practitioners of mind control allow others to know of its existence), it’s damn near necessary for any sort of viable game world.
Imagine being a shopkeeper if everyone with mind control spells could compel a discount out of you? Imagine being captain of the guard of a major city — could you trust anyone as an eye witness — even your own men? Imagine the poor tax collector!
Espionage would become obsolete.
Not only is it necessary for mind magic countermeasures to exist, but there’s good reason why they should be artful and subtle. What good would it do to protect your assassin’s mind from probing, only to have the duke’s archmage say, “nope, sorry, your grace, I can’t read his mind to see if he’s loyal — someone’s cast a pretty awesome blocking spell on his mind — no reason to be suspicious of that though…”
Matters of mind control magic should feature the subtlety of any good courtly political machination: the goal is not just to get what you want, but to make sure no one knows what you want and (ideally) make sure no one knows that they gave you what you want.
Did you see what he did to that guy!?
Combat mages can, depending on the system, be awfully effective. It is not uncommon for the mage in a party to eliminate or otherwise neutralize multiple combatants while everyone else has to slug away at them one at a time. This can make for a disgruntled party or at the very least make it difficult for a GM to present challenging encounters.
If word starts to spread that there’s a powerful fire mage who accompanies merchant caravans, the local brigands might seek to have their armor magically fireproofed.
Any bandit who’s been knocked out and had all this stuff stole, because of a sleep spell is going to look for a countermeasure or some item that provides magical resistance.
These sorts of things make sense in any world where magic is known to exist, and you shouldn’t discount the use of meta-magic. It is a perfectly logical result of the existence of magic. Such countermeasures might not be affordable to the average person, but they would exist, and those with the means would have them.
Written by Stu
Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.
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