Master of the dark arts Paul Daniels, why aren’t you as cool as him?

Apparently i come across as a bit grumpy, I really have no idea why. So i will be converting my Eastern European LARP paradise into a tax exempt religious retreat, the razor wire stays though. So i thought with that in mind i would speak briefly on this new and positive religions first prophet.

Paul Daniels is in fact the reincarnation of Merlin. Where as some stage magicians use trickery and mirrors. Daniels used real magic, seriously he is actually filled with arcane powers beyond the ken of us mere mortals. He can genuinely manifest rabbits from head wear.  His familiar Wizbit is a Fel creature from beyond time and space, a cone shaped elder god only held in check by the mighty Daniels powers.

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You wanna mock the Daniels? Your gonna get a curse on yah, Oh yes you will be cursed.

Curses are cool, unless your a ref, then curses are awful, keep them the hell away from me thank you very much. Unless it’s a yellow coned head curs,e I can get behind being Wizbit for a bit. Just for a bit mind, i have a loathing of prosthetics, especially when it’s hot.

Magic, the arcane, spell slingers, and men in dresses. Yep magic is a big part of your basic fantasy larp. Now most systems of magic work around a token economy and shouting bang bang your fireballed etc. Magic could be described as a little silly. If you think that dressing up as a mighty warrior is silly, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Yep Magic in LARP is one part ‘Bang, bang your dead’ and one part shouting contest. Some systems use thrown balls for targeting, others rely on the old favorite of shouting and pointing. Most use a system of tokens to limit the amount of mojo you can throw around so you don’t turn into some sort of demented evil tv turning caterpillars into tea pots every five seconds just ’cause you can.

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So you want to be a LARP mage? Well there is a list of things you need to know. One of the things i wont be covering is ritual magic, thats a whole other kettle of magic fish.

First up learn your vocals. I once tried to have a book to keep my spells in. Ever tried to find the correct bit of poetry in a book to read to a charging axe murder? No well it’s like that. You need to know your vocals so you can use the damn things. Not a mage? learn the damn vocals so when someone casts at you you know what to do (failing that just fall over).

So you know your vocals, you have practiced them in the mirror in your kit and your ready to cast in anger, wrong.Yes shouting random words and pointing is cool, but you wont catch the maestros Daniels doing that. No, there’s a bit more show to it than that. You have to put a show on for the punters. Now much as i would like to have mage’s assistants added to games i’m pretty sure we are not ready to see mage’s followed around by some fella all oiled up in sequined pants waving their arms every time someone casts.

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Nope what i’m talking about is a bit of arm waving and arcane gestures rather than having a dove on hand. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of ‘yadda, yadda, yadda, cheese strike’ followed by pointing. Maybe add some interpretative dance to the proceedings?  Also while we are at it saying the vocals as fast as possible and then shouting cheese strike. It’s a bit crap, you wouldn’t catch Gandolf doing that. One of the coolest systems for  magic to stop that sort of thing was Frail Realities. You had to bind power with bits of string to objects and when you wanted to cast you had to unbind it. To be fair the spells where also a bit more hefty than your average magic missile, but it meant you had to put a bit more effort into getting your spells off and had to have the correct items about your self to bind to. All very flavorful.

So you know your vocals and your going to put on a show, all good? Nope magic is more tricky than that. Nope there is magic etiquette. Now in your mind you may have epic long curses that rhyme, but most magic, once you have said the vocals, descend into  ‘you, fall over, no not you the guy next to you, i cast a magic…oh shit he got shot with an arrow’. You still rip up/eat/set fire to your magic token/mushroom/chicken that represents your spells per day. She may not have heard you, be immune or be cheating, it doesn’t matter. You do the bit your where meant to do. Anything else is for refs to deal with and it isn’t the end of the world. It will happen a lot, especially on a busy battlefield. If your gonna cast make sure you make it as easy as possible to to identify your target. ‘Yadda, yadda, yadda, cheese strike, you with the disturbingly ugly face in the middle’ whilst gesturing at him the entire time. Oh and scream it, don’t merely shout it. You want to be popping ear drums.

This can all be very intimidating, i remember the first time i cast, it was mumbled, a bit crap and ended with me getting shived up. If there was ever a cure for public speaking it is some loon with a rubber sword running at you and a few words are needed to save you from a twatting.

As part of magic you need to know how it works. not the mechanics of it, nope. You are, if you want to be Archmage of goober land, going to be able to talk the talk. Find out what the metaphysics of magic is in your system so you can get your beard stroke on. If your in CP, try and find out how magic works in the world. You can say the magic turnip in your arse gives you powers, but if you make the effort to find out before time you can get involved in all those stimulating roleplay conversations about how magic works…actually that turnip sounds mighty tempting right now.

The point is that if you know this how your world works and use it as part of your magic, the world and your roleplay is richer for it. Unless your a corporalist, in which case yes your healing comes from your god, nothing to see, please move on ;).

Also magic I always feel should have a bit of awe around it. One of the problems in LARP, much like items, magic seems to float around a lot. This can make magic feel a little, well un-magical. Now there are various ways to make magic magical again.

Now i have been warned under punishment of having to talk to people if i reveal details of the following, but CP has a VERY in depth cosmology. There are player written books on it, seriously Dave Brown has actually written a goddamn book on it. Another player wrote a book so dangerous it could really do damage to the world if read by to many people! The cosmology is so tightly written it actually has an effect on everything in the system and i mean everything! From magic, to why players can only learn x many skills the cosmology effects everything. Again this gives the CP a dark feeling of a world on the edge of renascence as i have said before.  Dark secrets of secret societies, shadow wars and ancient evils lurk as you research spells and how to summon. Yep you can research new stuff the cosmology is so tight. Now this lends mage’s a real sense of scholarly lore or in the case of one lady necromancer an air of insane, power crazed, lack of limits that I found genuinely unsettling. You know who you are and there are times when i look at you in Empire and i still see scary necromancer. Of course the addition of mixed magics is very cool such as Thaumetergy, Necromancy and Demonology…sorry elementalism 😉 I remember a friend of mine asking me which one he should go for in character. I told him that Thaumerergy  was nerdy, Necromancy was unsanitary, but if he wanted to pull demonology was the way to go. I wont mention his choice here…..

On the subject of scholarly magic, one of the base concepts of Frail Realities was one of the more abstract magics, Mathamagics. Mathamagics was used to influence the reality of the world and is what the french magi used to break the world. if you could write it as a Mathamagical expression you could alter reality. If you made a mistake though the forces of entropy and the wasteland would come a knocking. Making a mistake was akin to slapping a polar bear in the face with your genitalia and waiting to see what would happen next. It was elegant, worked well and anyone using it tended to sweat a lot before using an equation, checking and double checking. Where as the more traditional elemental magic i mentioned earlier had you searching through bushes for elementals to bind and led to some very strange one sided conversations with things that weren’t there.  There was other magics such as necromancy, but their systems were all flavorful and made you want to role play your magic more.

PD’s magic has an almost fairy tale feel to it when you think about it. Strange realms filled with unknowable entities with thier own agendas that mage’s tap into for their power. A long way from the standard model of your elemental magus, rather a wise women manipulating primal forces through ritual or implements. On that implements, hurrah for you PD. Finally a reason for wizards to have staffs!The trappings of magic are cool and having a game reason to have them and mage armour is also inspired. The idea that a mage has woven spells of protection into amulets and fetishes to protect themselves allows a player to customise their appearance to fit with their view of their craft.

The problem is magic is common place. CP can be reduced to healing, attacking and Jedi mind tricks. PD could be reduced to a lightly armoured class that can call special calls with their LARP weapons. In fact any magic system can be rendered pretty mundane through repetition, casual use and excessive use of the telekinesis spell. (By the way CP refs love that spell, especially if you excessively use it to summon your drink to your hand, just sayin’)

When ever i think of magic i think of Clive barkers Imagica. In it one of the protagonists is taught that magic comes from breath and yourself. So when cornered he makes a fist breathes in and spits and breaths though the gap in his fist blowing the person hunting him’s head off. In another scene he frees dead goddesses by breathing into his fist and slamming the magic and fist into the ice trapping them. They are evocative scenes that not only are magical and have an internal constancy, but also has a visceral organic feel. I highly recommend it as a book too with Pie’oh’pah being probably one of my favorite characters in any book. The book also had a huge influence on me as a kid and i think if anything has influenced my view of fantasy, the magical and the strange it’s that book. Seriously go read it now, it’s really good. If you don’t like it feel free to complain to yourself about it after, but very good.

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When i think of magic I either get a Lovecraftian vibe or Starlight, scary or beautiful. I remember being around seven exploring the wasteland up the road from with friends on hot, sunny, dusty days that lasted forever and thinking how strange, scary and cool it was. In the sun the green of the leaves were vibrant, but in the shadows it was icy cold. We would run around hiding form pretend monsters or Nazi’s fighting back with imaginary guns and bows. Magic should have a vibe like that to it. I blame D&D for taking the wow factor out of magic and turning it into fantasy guided missiles and uzi’s. It took all the flavor out of it.

So how do we recapture the magic of magic? I’m not sure that you can through rules and i’m pretty sure that most people are bitter enough that embracing their inner child will probably just end up with extensive counseling.

If you look at the cool spellslingers in fiction, they don’t tend to chuck spells around. They tend to be steeped in mystery, in having strange symbols and appearances. They tend to speak about how dangerous magic is and how it should be respected. There is almost a weird taking for granted that magic does stuff in larp by non-mages, that healers are there to pick you up, rather than being people who wield strange and powerful forces beyond your ken. I think fiction is also the best place to get your inspiration from. This is for many reasons. One reason is that most ‘real world magic systems’ are based in religion and could genuinely offend someone. Seriously you wouldn’t, well some of you, adapt the holy communion for a ritual circle, it’s best not to potentially offend other people. The other reason is far more important. Ever tried to read Aggripa? Don’t unless you have a real interest in number squares…. Real world magical systems are kinda dull, well shamanism’s cool it’s got drugs, but as a rule quite dull. Certainly they arn’t going to be covering anything to make you look cool when you fling a fireball. I humbly suggest a few magic styles that may make you think about your casting.

The Lovecraft. The Lovecraft is the idea that magic is much like a long term heroin addiction and it will get you. Your constantly trying to avoid going mad, being your magics bitch or  getting eaten by a thing from beyond. This style emphisises that magic is dangerous and shouldn’t be used flippantly. Some times also know as the Constantine. This is a good route to go if you want to scare the shite out of people, do long considered spells and lecture people on the madness that will befall them.

The Scholar. For the hermetic around town, you know the truths of the universe and they are quantifiable. You write stuff down, spout theories at people if they like it or not and generally act like an arrogant twat who thinks they are better than everyone else. This also includes your magic as science types. I have a character like this and he is a total tool with no redeeming features, however don’t forget Indiana Jones was a scholar which brings us onto the…

The John McClane, sometimes known as the flying Fir Cruthern wounding monkey or Jedi. Action mage. Yes you know your spells and your theory, but damn it your going to go toe to toe with a shield wall with no Armour. The important thing is to keep it mystical. The Jedi would be fellas with laser swords without the force and flyin’ Cruthern would be silly without the very cool Fir Cruthern beliefs to discuss when not launching themselves at high speed at some poor shmuck in plate.

The where the wild things are. Your wise nutter in the forest, three lasses with cauldrons or the shaman speaking with spirits whilst off her head on LSD. Mixing magic with earthy, natural themes, can work well with elements of the Lovecraft. It’s cool as long as you don’t go full on ewok and start talking to trees. This of course covers you tree molesting elves, wild people etc.

So lets bring a bit more magic back to magic. Grab your robes, whip your implements out and start mumbling incoherently. Just remember to ham it up a bit, wave your arms around in a dramatic manner and that the opposite sex are not interested that you know touch of death when your trying to pull down the pub.

**Oh on a an unrelated note are there any good Sci-Fi/Steam-punk/Cyber punk/alternate history LARPs in the south east? Preferably within walking distance of my house, but i’m not to fussy. I’m more than happy for them to come to me if its too far to walk** 

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