Fluid Philosophies of Magic

Obviously I’m stuck on this in some weird way, so I figured it was time to just write it out and figure out how various disciplines of magic create potions. This may be Mazes & Perils specific but more likely it’s just my own view on this – so take it for what it’s worth.

alchemy-potion-chrisThere are three broad disciplines of magic that can create potions: Alchemy, Herbalism, and Clerics. Each has a slightly different take on it.

Alchemy is the art of pushing magic into fluids, solids, and plasmas. It’s all about efficiency. What’s the best medium to contain a potion of Invisibility? What’s the best way to not only create, but preserve potions for the long haul? How does one consume a potion? But ultimately it’s about finding the most efficient way to stash magical energy from a wizard (i.e. a spell) in a medium for later use – whether that’s a potion, powder, or item.

Herbalism on the other hand is the art of finding energy that is in the natural world already and harnessing it to make oils, potions, and poultices. Herbalists are all about the discovery of new ingredients while also ensuring that those ingredients don’t disappear through overuse. Harvest is as important as ensuring that those same resources are replenished.

Then there are the priests. The clerics. The shamans. These folks ask for divine energy from their patrons (gods, spirits, whatever) and channel it into materials easily used by the faithful. The forms are usually oils and ointments, potions, and poultices.

Let’s go through a few different examples to illustrate these methods:

  • An alchemist finds the perfect neutral medium (water?) for a potion and places it into a vial. He then asks his friend  and captures a Magic-User’s Invisibility spell with it. This is a multi-step process and the Alchemist is laser focused on ensuring that all of the spell is captured perfectly in the final product.
  • An herbalist is creating a Cure Light Wounds potion. She finds the right ingredients (nasturtium, yarrow, plantain, red clover) and infuses them into a light oil-based concoction over an open flame, placing the final product in a small vial for use later. She carefully writes the date on the label so that it isn’t consumed after it loses its effectiveness. After she is done, she makes sure that her garden plot is continuing to grow with the ingredients she used.
  • A priest is creating a potion of Bless (essentially Holy Water). In the sanctity of the temple, he takes a vat of pure spring water and casts Bless, asking for his deity to infuse the water with a portion of his holy spirit. When his prayers are complete, he bottles the water in a few vials to take along on his next adventure.

Now let’s look at how a few different variations might be applied:

  • dustPotions can be consumed the usual way, through drinking. Each potion has the full potency of whatever effect it is trying to achieve, so if it’s a normal Invisibility spell – the consumer would become invisible to all creatures and beings that cannot naturally see invisible objects. The consumer stays invisible until the spell is dispelled or he makes an attack. Pretty straightforward.
  • An oil can be applied to a person or object. For instance, an oil of Bless applied directly to a weapon would give it a +1 bonus to hit for 6 turns. Or an oil of Cure Light Wounds applied to an injury would heal 1d6+1 HP.
  • A powder is a bit more interesting. It could be inhaled, which I think is problematic for the consumer. Generally you’d only get a portion of the dust into yourself and probably choke to death if it has to be consumed. But perhaps it could be scattered over an object or in an area. A powder of Detect Invisible would work to make invisible objects or individuals visible again I think. Perhaps this is a little more hit or miss than a direct application.
  • A poultice would work similar to an oil. It would be applied for a particular purpose to a part of the body. For instance, an herbalist might create a poultice of Neutralize Poison and lay it on the area bitten or stung to have it draw out the toxins.
  • And an item works as all magic items do. Either it’s a permanent ability (like Infravision on the pommel of a sword granting the wielder the ability to see in the dark) or has charges like a Wand of Magic Missile or a ring of Invisibility to turn the wearer invisible) – but these are known effects and can be easily described.

But that brings up an interesting point. Each of these different approaches could work the same way. Let’s go with a Cure Light Wounds.

  • A potion of Cure Light Wounds would heal when imbibed.
  • An oil of Cure Light Wounds could be rubbed on the affected area. Perhaps a dose of oil would work the same as a wand with charges. Otherwise we’re dealing with a very small amount of liquid or far too much.
  • A poultice of Cure Light Wounds could be placed on the damaged area.
  • A powder of Cure Light Wounds might need to be turned into a paste and applied to an affected area for use.
  • A wand of Cure Light Wounds could just fire off a charge to be used.

Wizard-SilhouetteThey all have roughly the same effect, but in-game the roleplaying experience could be vastly different for each. Time might also be tracked differently.

Let’s go one step further to talk about the potency of the magic in one of these consumable or usable items.

What happens if the ingredients are corrupted? Perhaps a blight has affected all plants in an herbalist’s garden or the local water supply has been affected. What happens then?

Or what about the faith of the priest making the potions? Consider a seminary where creation potions for sale is a part of the regular tasks done by priests-in-training. A priest with little faith can create a potion and a priest who is a true believer can create a potion – which do you think is going to be more effective?

Anyway… Just wanted to put down a few thoughts on this topic while I had a chance. I’ve opened many cans of worms here, so I’m hoping to start a discussion. Pick one angle and let me know why you think I’m on the right track or completely crazy! Leave notes in the comments or link back to this post and let me know what you think.

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