Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Gaming the Kingkiller's Chronicles (some mild spoilers)

I got a job with a very fucked up schedule (cook at a restaurant, morning and evening) so reading is the only hobby I can afford right now. I've re-readed the whole two Kingkiller Chronicles books (no release date for the third one yet!) and the more I readed, the more I realized how much gameable this setting was.

The world itself is not something too alien: All-human fantasy world with kingdoms and that, the most advanced weapons being ballistas; though the science levels at the University (the most civilized city on the land) reach XIX - XX century levels on the fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, philosophy, etc.

As a surprising twist in an otherwise sober setting, there is a parallel Fae World in which stray wanderers can step on moonless nights. This fae world (which is, in Kvothe's words, as different of ours like an empty room feels different from a room where someone else is sleeping) is summed in a strange stasis where there are day zones, dusk zones and night zones, and hints of stranger things.

The nice things come mainly from the magic system; which is, in fact, a compendium of many different arts, each one with their own set of rules (some of them are better fleshed out than others, but their rules are very clear and make perfect sense through the books). As far as I can remember, the list goes:

1. Sympathy: This is the main "magic" used by Kvothe and his pals through the books, and is constantly regarded by him as being "not magical" at all, but a complex way of manipulating energy. Sympathy consists in using one's power of belief (called Alar in the books) to "link" two similar things together, in a way that whatever you do to one thing happens to the other (you have also to speak a verbal gibberish for it to work, never explained why, but it sounds like magic to me). All kinds of energy can be transferred this way: heat, movement, illumination, even magnetical propierties. Expert arcanists can even transform movement into heat and viceversa. This magic obeys three basic rules:

The Doctrine of Correspondence: Similarity enhances sympathy. Linking similar things like two coins works better than linking a coin and a piece of chalk: the efficiency of the link is increased.
The Principle of Consanguinity: A piece of a thing can represent the whole of a thing: take a leaf of the tree and burn it, and you can burst the whole tree in flames. Thats why you should never let an arcanist get a drop of your blood.
The Law of Conservation: Energy cannot be destroyed nor created: If you link two coins and lift one of them, the other will float accordingly in the air, but the coin you have in your hand will weight like both of them because you're actually lifting both.On weaker links (like coins and chalk) the link is weak like a pipe with leakages, so the coin will weight ten times more. The extra energy consumed dissipates both in the air, the objects and the arcanist's body, so making bad links can have very dangerous consequences.

Taking this to game terms, what I love about sympathy is that the rules are simple enough to anyone to understand, but the effects rely on the player's wits: You want to burn that sentinel alive? well, you might take a fiber of wool and link it to his clothes, then set it alight on a candle... but that would not be very harmful. Maybe you'll need a bonfire. Maybe it would be safer to get some of his blood first and throw it to the fire. You want to light your cigarette and you're out of lighters? just take some heat from your body and concentrate it on the cigarrette tip, though this can leave you with a severe case of hypotermia (happens several times on the books).

The thing is: you can do almost everything providing you have a good idea, a good link and a reliable source of energy, or you're desperate enough to try desperate means. This is the kind of things I enjoy to do as a player, and puts all the thinking work into the hands of the magician (just like in the real life man!)

2. Sygaldry

Sygaldry is Sympathy made solid: Instead of the Alar, it uses a set of 197 runes that, through word chains, apply sympathic powers to objects. Examples are the ubiquitous sympathic lamps that transform the heat of the wielder's hand into light (until the metal is too hot and ceases working until refreshed) or Kvothe's arrowcatcher (a modified beartrap that sets off and repels an arrow flying on a 6 meter radius). Worn out runes have strange effects (like the cooler on the Anker's tavern). You can also make yourself a personal gram, an device to repel all sympathy done against you as long as you press it against your skin.

3. Alchemy:

Not fully explained, but we are constantly reminded that alchemy is TOTALLY NOT like chemistry, but they are instead two different things. Alchemical compounds are totally radical and their effects are strangely harrypotteresque (like turning piss to candy, or dissolving one's bones without hurting the skin and the clothes)

4. Naming

Regarded by the characters as "true magic from the myths", this discipline is about finding the true name of something (the wind, the fire, the stone, a person) and compelling it to do your bidding. In fact, the names are everchanging, so the thing is not knowing the name but achieving the ability to find it when you're in need of it. This seems easier to do on "edge" moments, when you're between life and death or something like that. Is very exceptional for an arcanist to know a single name, let alone more than one, and to do so one must feel a natural affinity for that thing; to be able to appreciate every possible aspect of it's nature. Elodin, the master namer, states that one can not explain it all much better than one can explain the colors to the blind, or music for the deaf.

5. Knacks

Some people are born with them. Like that man at the beggining who always rolls seven in every dice, even if he stumbles with a table with dice on them, they mark always seven. Or the odd ability for a woman to always grow giant fruits on her yard. You just roll for them at character creation, yo!

6. Grammarie and Glammourie

These seem to be both fae arts (and this means that they're considered arts more than magic), though is hinted by Bast that humans can do them too, most of the time unwillingly.
Glammourie is the art of making things seem. Like when a fae makes his hooves look like a nice pair of boots (book 1). Subtle changes are easier than drastic ones. Is easier to make an orange look like a lemon than like a car, for example. As Bast (a fae) explains, "when one plays a role must be careful not to believe it too much, or will become the role. If one tells an ugly woman that she's pretty, and convinces her not only with words, but with your acts, she'll become pretty and everyone will see it"

Grammarie is the art of making things be. Like when a fae weaves a shadow into a cloak form, and gives you a cloak made of pure shadow (book 2). As in Glammourie, certain traits must be assumed from the raw material for the final product to be made: a Cloak must conceal you, so you make if from shadows (because they conceal you). You have a knife that is very dear for you because sentimental reasons; well, grammarie makes that knife actually better for everyone because it was better for you (+1 to hit!). That's what happens when you make a gift to someone in good will, with a good intention: you charge it with a little grammarie. If a fae gives you a crown of flowers filled with grammarie, they will stay fresh and alive longer than if you find them on the road, because they put their heart in it.

So this is all as far as I remember. I'm thinking on taking this magic system (and the fae dimension thing: I have a strange love for the idea taking the wrong road at the turn and getting inside another world) and shoehorning it into a new, blank world. Or maybe mix it with my Twin Peaks-western idea. But that will be on next post.

Until then, I'd like to recommend this saga to any fantasy lovers, go read it RIGHT NOW, because there is a TV series in the making, and you should enjoy the reading before it's contaminated with hollywood actor's faces and tons of merchandising for hipsters! The book is about a guy who is good at everything, but strangely you get to love him. Seriously, is amazing.

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