WorldBuilding - Jeweled Magic

(Contrary to the title, the main idea of this world is not jewelry as magic per se: Jewelry is possible, but iron collars and cuffs work just fine as well, and are far more common.)

This at the moment is an exercise in world-building more than a story. It is possible a story will be set in this world at some point however – if I can think of one.

Magic

Magic works, but has some severe limits in scope. As a start:

  • Applied magic requires an intelligent being present to activate it. (Some animals and plants have inherent magic, but that is limited to themselves and can’t be changed.)
  • Magic effects end when there is no intelligent being present to channel/direct it. (Note that this being doesn’t need to be the same as the one who activated it.)
  • Magic is sourced from the wilderness - it becomes hard to use in heavily built-up areas.
  • While some people are better at channeling magic than others, the difference is typically not great.
  • Magic can be directed via rune patterns.
  • Flowing magic tends to strengthen living materials, and degrade dead materials. Metals last longer than non-metals, and can usefully hold rune patterns/sets for long periods.
  • Magic is limited to the vicinity of the person channeling it - typical max would be a bowshot away, within line-of-sight.
  • Humans do not naturally have magic - to channel it they absorb it from around them.
  • Magic is better at changing something that exists than creating or destroying. (Remember however all effects are temporary.)

Implications

This magic system designed to have a few straightforward implications:

  • Magic is useful on the small scale, not on the large scale.
  • Magic is not enough to get out of the pre-industrial economy.
  • Magic is widespread and ordinary.
  • Cities/Towns are limited in the size they can grow without losing access to magic.
  • Cities/Towns must be spread out.
  • Magic and clothes do not mix well.

Methods of use

Magic can be used in few separate ways, while following the above rules. Generally they fall into three categories:

Wands/devices

This is the most obvious widespread magic: Someone can pick up a carved wand (typically a metal rod with runes carved into it - though wood is also occasionally used, despite it’s short lifetime), channel magic into it, and cause whatever magical effect the wand was crafted to create to occur. This could be as simple as creating a small fire, or something more complex. The runes may decide where and how the big effect is occur, or if more complex may allow the user to choose.

Note that anyone can pick up a wand, and with only a few of minutes of training or experimentation channel magic into it. However, they may not know what the wand does unless they understand how the runes carved into it work.

Self-cast.

There are a few magicians who have studied and practiced the art of both channeling and directing the flow of magic to the point where they can channel and cast magic at will, at least with what effects they have practiced. This is a skill with a high learning curve, but in theory open to anyone.

Typically magicians are also rune-designers and vice-versa: The skills to understand how magic must be shaped and the finer intricacies on how it works are common to both. However, you can find rune designers that never mastered the skill of casting, or casters who never studied runes.

Jewelry/self-affecting

This is the most widespread magic, though not as obvious as wanded magic. A ring or other ornament that strengthens/heals/increases endurance is a very common device, and nearly everyone will either have one, or know someone who does. The more powerful the magic or the longer the affect is held the more damage the channeling will have on other items the user is wearing, of course – and everyone knows this.

Tattoos

Inscribing runes directly on yourself is an obvious advantage – however the dead ink with tattoos makes them even more temporary than most other forms of rune patterns, as the channeled magic runs directly though the runes themselves. Channeling magic will even fade other tattoos, if not as quickly.

Branding/Scarification

Brands can be healed with healing runes, however otherwise they are nearly permanent on their own – and rune sets can be built to refresh and refine themselves when used in a brand, so that they are nearly permanent.

However the abuse of self-reinforcing slave rune sets branded in by tyrant rulers has made branding much looked down on by civilized kingdoms. Many have outright outlawed the practice, and most will take rumors that their neighbors are encouraging it as enough of a reason to start a war.

Of course this hasn’t stopped the criminal element, but it can be hard to hide, especially when the runes are in use.

Examples

So, some examples of how this works:

Military

Militarily, magic is a mixed bag. You can cast destructive magics that are more lethal than a sword or bow and arrow at the same ranges – but not much more lethal, and the more powerful they are the more magic you’ll have to channel yourself. Metal armor can typically be made somewhat immune to being destroyed while you cast – but it can just as easily be made somewhat immune to magic cast at you, and any padding/straps or cloth/leather armor will quickly degrade even when attempts to protect it are made.

In general then using magic you can increase your attack power at the expense of your defense. However, an enemy can apply a defense that would nullify any magical attack if they are expecting it. In the end just falling back to swords and bows typically is as effective.

Healing

Healing wise, magic is nearly miraculous. A well-designed runeset can allow regeneration of limbs, speed healing of wounds, and boost your immune system to fight off nearly any disease.

Note however you do still need to actually heal. Magic can also create a new limb in instant upon activation – but the limb would be lost again when the runeset is deactivated. Healing runes need to speed up the body’s natural processes, not replace them. Also, while they can create the appearance of youth, they cannot create actual youth, and so cannot directly extend lives.

Also, applying a healing runeset to someone to close to death will kill them, as their body won’t be able to handle the channeling of magic. This is only a concern for the worst injured, however.

Common Rune Sets

  • Light

The mainstay of many blacksmiths and jewelers is small devices with rune sets for light. There are many variants, differing in the amount of light put out, the color, whether either can be varied by the user, and where the light emits from. (Hand, finger, some other location on the body, the whole body, etc.) Variations tend to be regional as local smiths teach each other the rune sets that they know. Generally the easiest to make and the cheapest are those that over the least choice to the user.

  • Fire

The other mainstay, though this one is typically made in a wand format, and much more strictly regulated in the size/location of the flame created. (Most larger towns only allow flame wands to be sold to create a small flame on the end of the wand.)

  • Fast Growth/Regeneration

The most common healing rune set: Can heal most cuts, wounds, broken bones, and illnesses, as well as missing limbs, given enough time. Basically forces your body to heal in hours or days what would take months, years, or decades to do normally, as well as lifting some limits on what can be healed. Many households will have a ring or other item with this rune set inscribed in it.

  • Strength

Common among many physical professions – though it should be noted that users tend to quickly learn to only use it occasionally. Still, for a farmer to have an item to allow them to lift that large rock or similar that would otherwise require a team to work on or to go around is very common.

  • Pony

Originally developed as a full set by the pony courier service, this set has leaked into the general knowledge, though it isn’t super useful outside of it’s designed purpose. It’s also a highly complex set, including stamina, strength, protection, cleaning, endurance, sustenance, and guidance all in a whole-body set, and attempts to modify it by any but the best rune designers are largely unsuccessful. The runes for guidance to a specific destination are the most fragile – many sets have broken or incomplete sets for guidance, which may or may not cause issues for the user.

However the fact that a wearer can out-preform a poor horse on many light-duty tasks has gradually made the set more common.

  • Fairy

This set is more known by reputation than actual used – some richer nobles occasionally do have night-time garden parties featuring servants using this set, but such are more a status symbol than anything else.

This is another full-body set, which shrinks the user to hand size, giving them functional butterfly wings and flight, along with a full-body light effect. Often the servants are armed with weapons to take out inconvenient insects at the same time as helping to illuminate the party. (Helped by the fact that the insects will tend to be drawn towards their light.)

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