[Runequest] The language of sorcery?

David Cake dave at difference.com.au
Wed Aug 10 13:20:04 EST 2011

On 10/08/2011, at 9:54 AM, royce at efn.org wrote:

> Hi, Guys,
>   What is the language of sorcery?  Or, am I wrong in assuming that
> sorcery is written and cast in a mode that we would call language? 
> (That'd be hard to explain.)

It is dependent on your game universe (in Glorantha, it is not clear if there is a single tongue of sorcery, but all the Western languages use the same ideographic script, so there is a single sorcerous written form). 

>   In a Fantasy Medieval Europe settings, what would be the historically
> logical linguistic choices for sorcery?  I had a few ideas, mentioned
> below, but I'd be more interested in your opinions -- especially where
> they disagree with my superficial notions.
> A few superficial notions:
>   One could argue that sorcery is handed down from the Babylonians and
> Egyptians, and is therefore recorded in one or both of these
> pre-classical tongues.  Or one could argue that the classical Greeks
> would've been the ones to systematize sorcery; presumably through the
> Library of Alexandria.  And there is Latin, which was the language of
> the Empire, and then of the Church.

All could be considered appropriate. You could probably get into which particular magical traditions equate to 'sorcery'. Latin is certainly a contender, though a lot of historical magical texts in Latin are about demon summoning etc rather than direct spell casting (might be either spirit magic or ritual sorcery in RQ terms). 
There isn't really a magical tradition that comes across as very much 'sorcery' like in Medieval Europe, you may have to somewhat invent one (the way Ars Magica has with Hermetic magic). 

>   Further, if one were to assume that the Church worships the Greco-Roman
> pantheon (with a dozen altars in every Church), then Latin and Greek
> would be the languages of Church divine magic, as well.

Ah, so it sounds as if you aren't going with a historically accurate Europe anyway. In that case, you can more or less decide which magical tradition sounds like sorcery to you. You could go the same route as Ars Magica, and assume that sorcerous style magic is something that grew out of the magical traditions of the cult of Hermes/Mercury, and so uses Latin. Or you could assume it grew out of any other magical tradition you like. Greek witches who worship Hecate are another good magical tradition to use as background, but they might better fit spirit magic. Norse Runes? Druidic magic? 

A rule of thumb seems to be that a single culture generally focusses on a single form of magic. If, for your dominant Greco-Roman culture, that form of magic is Divine (which seems appropriate), then sorcerers should probably be at least partly foreign in origin. Though that doesn't mean it is considered foreign now - especially as Roman culture was quite syncretic. Quite possibly sorcery is Egyptian in origin, but the worshippers of Hermes recognise Thoth as a form of Hermes ('Hermes Trismegistus') and have adopted sorcery?

Or you could say sorcery derives from the magical techniques written down in the (mythical) Egyptian Book of Thoth, and uses Egyptian exclusively. Or you could assume the Kabbalists are right, and Hebrew really is the most magical language in the world. 

I'd just say use whichever one works best for your campaign feel. Are sorcerers principled good guys or bad guys? Weird followers of foreign ways, or respected professionals? 

>   Anyways, all thoughts are welcome.
>   Sincerely,
> Asher
> P.S.  It just now occurred to me that a GM could go in plenty of other
> interesting directions.  Perhaps sorcery could be written in a language
> from fabled Atlantis -- or even from Neanderthals.  Talk about a dead
> language!

Absolutely. Or the language of Adam, the language God taught Adam. 

> P.P.P.S.  Not that anybody really cares, but I decided to simplify my RQ
> sorcery rules by eliminating the manipulation skills and simply limiting
> the magic points that can be allocated to manipulating a spell (intensity,
> duration, & range) to 20% of the spell skill level.  In other words, if my
> wizard has 53% in Erectile Enhancement, then he can spend up to 10.6, or
> 11 magic points to manipulate the spell.  He rolls to cast the spell, but
> need not make a roll to manipulate the spell.  Sound practical?

The way they do it in MRQ2 is make the strength of the spell dependent on skill this way, and make manipulation a separate skill. 
 I think it is worth noting that simple rules don't always equate to simple play, and simple play is presumably your goal. If everyone can use the full range of manipulations, players will, and that can make casting quite complex. If you go the MRQ2 route, and only a few people (mostly specialist magicians) can use Manipulation as a skill, then it might make sorcery simpler in play.



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