All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Gunshot Pain

How much does getting shot actually hurt? I’ve heard lots of anecdotes about it just feeling like a punch, or the person not even noticing it, but that probably has a lot to do with adrenaline, I imagine. It almost certainly varies by Caliber, but in general how much does it really hurt?

ride-ai

Mercifully, I can’t speak from personal experience. I’ve had guns pointed at me, but I’ve never been shot.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to vary much based on caliber. The body doesn’t know what to do with a bullet wound, so the victim will feel the impact, they know they’ve been hit by something, but may not realize they’ve been shot.

Adrenaline does mute the experience of pain, I can speak from personal experience there. However, with gunshots this seems to reduce the burning sensation. So, a bullet in flight is going to be quite hot. This is also true with spent shell casings. Again, I’ve never felt a bullet in flight, but fresh shell casings are unpleasant. If you’re putting a lot of rounds down range, it’s possible to burn yourself on the weapon. (We could do an entire discussion on the engineering to managing heat in firearms. It’s a real challenge in firearms design.)

The testimony I’m looking at, frequently equates the injury with either being struck by a large blunt object (baseball bat, hammer, ect.), a sharp jabbing pain, comparable to a bee or wasp sting, a burning sensation or some combination of the three. This appears to be (at least partially) agnostic of whether they were experiencing an adrenaline rush at the time. (This is a little tricky to quantify, because I’m having to make educated guesses.) My suspicion is that the exact point of contact determines which you’ll experience, but I do not know.

So, the short answer to, “how much does it hurt?” seems to be, “not much,” with a lot of caveats.

If a bullet hits a nerve, things can go really wrong. This can result in paralysis, numbness, or constant pain (ranging from a mild annoyance, to perpetual agony.) This damage can be persistent and the victim will continue to experience it for the rest of their life. Nerve hits can also result in an electrical (or tingling) sensation from the wound. (Though, I haven’t seen one of these as a persistent wound, it’s probably possible.)

Shrapnel is worse. If the bullet ricochets and carves up the skin, it will hurt quite a bit. (Incidentally, this also applies to explosives.) The testimonial I’m seeing meshes with my experience from knife wounds. There’s little to no pain in the moment, but it’s starts seriously hurting shortly afterwards. (Again, this is not the result of adrenaline muting the sensation. It simply takes a little while for the body to catch up and start yelling at you.)

Shrapnel can also present a long-term complication. It is possible to end up with shrapnel that cannot be safely extracted. This can result in a persistent pain from the embedded chunk of metal.

Ironically, in some cases, the stippling hurts more than the gunshot itself. This is the unburned powder ejected from the muzzle when firing. Gunpowder burns at around 2700 Fahrenheit. I don’t know the exact temperature of the stippling after it leaves the barrel, but it’s going to cause burns at close range. (Postmortem, this can be useful to estimate the distance between the shooter and victim.) These won’t cause serious injuries in most cases. You’re dealing with flaming particles. However, it will hurt. Heavy clothing can soak that, though it will be damaged.

There’s a related situation. I don’t have any victim testimony on this one, but I’ve seen it enough times in autopsy photos and medical reference. When the muzzle of a firearm is pressed into the victim, the burning gasses are forced into the wound. This will form a bubble just under the skin, tearing in a star shaped pattern. Again, I can’t find anyone explaining what this feels like, but, I’m willing to bet it’s singularly unpleasant.

Long term, any lasting damage is something the victim will have to live with. Damage to bones or nerves can result in lifelong impairment and pain. Even in the short term, gunshot wounds need to be carefully managed to heal properly.

Every gunshot wound, and victim, is unique. I’m also fully willing to admit, the number of reports I could find is limited. (I’m also rather annoyed because one collection I read was a shameless repost from an r/AskReddit thread.) This isn’t a topic people like to talk about openly, so when I’m talking about, “why,” that’s semi-educated guesses.

I hope this helps, and if anyone has some personal experiences they’d like to share, I’ll collect those in a follow-up.

-Starke

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Q&A: Wrestling Rules

I was wondering how you’d go about writing a wrestling match. If you could help that would be great. To be more specific, I need to know what the common body types are and whether it’s all grappling or if punching and kicking are involved. Appreciate it.

Both of the questions you’re focusing on will depend on the organization overseeing the match.

Any competitive sport will require a (theoretically) impartial organization overseeing each match. They need to establish and enforce a uniform set of rules on all participants. The organization doesn’t need to be solely focused on governing one specific sport.

Things get tricky because what one organization may consider entirely acceptable could be disqualifying in another. This goes directly to your question of whether it’s all grappling or if direct strikes are permitted. This question is simultaneously, “yes, and no.” Some forms of wrestling strictly forbid direct strikes during matches. However, some grappling martial arts include striking techniques, and competitive matches based on them would permit strikes. Though, there would likely be restrictions on the specific strikes.

Normally, I’d just look at the dominant organization, and tell what their rules are, but there’s a problem here. Because of a number of factors, competitive wrestling at a professional level is basically non-existent as a professional sport in the US. Instead we have the unholy lovechild of soap operas and Saturday morning cartoons dominating Pay-Per-View.

There is an organizational body, United World Wrestling. They oversee multiple wrestling styles internationally. Greco-Roman and Freestyle are two specific wrestling forms that are Olympic sports. In both cases, direct strikes are prohibited. Greco-Roman also prohibits hold below the waist.

As for body type, Wrestling as a martial art places a premium on physical strength. This results in fighters with very developed muscles. Things get a little weird in the US, because a lot of people are probably thinking of Scholastic or Collegiate Wrestling. In the former case, you’re dealing with teenagers, so you’re going to get teenagers. In the later case, you’re dealing with amateurs, so it’s while it will affect their body type, it’s going to be less pronounced than if they’re competing professionally, or at an Olympic level. (Assuming they’re not training to go into the Olympics.)

As for general advice on writing a wrestling match? Watch competitive matches. Read up on it. Do your research.

-Starke

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I hope it doesn’t show in the post above, but I’m still not at 100%, and Michi’s tied up dealing with work at the moment. I am sorry about the short hiatus, and I’m not entirely certain when regular posting will begin again.

Espionage Posts

Can you do some information on espionage please? 😁

hehehe-4321

It’s been a little bit, but we’ve written extensively on spies and assassins in the past. Technically, there is also an espionage tag, but that completely overlaps with spies. We have a history of slightly inconsistent formatting, so there’s also tags for writing spies and writing assassins.

I’m providing the Tumblr tags because the old asks didn’t cleanly migrate to the website. I’ve been trying to clean up the backlog and streamline the site to make it easier to navigate old content. Unfortunately, I’ve had to stick a pin in that for the moment.

I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, so I’m sorry I can’t offer a more coherent answer than linking some existing posts. I hope that covers what you’re looking for, but if you have a more specific question, please feel free to send it our way.

-Starke

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Q&A: Stabbed in the Neck

What are the chances of survival if you get stabbed in the neck? For instance, by a six-inch knife? Where is the worst spot to take a wound like that, and where does it offer the highest chance of survival?

candelantern

The chances of survival are not great.

So, normally, the rule of thumb is: Three inches of penetration anywhere on the body is enough to kill. The thought process is that, if you’re going that deep, you’re going to hit something that’s either necessary, or that will cause the victim to bleed to death. When we’re talking about the neck, everything is a lot closer to the surface.

You need your spinal column. That’s pretty well armored, but it’s still vulnerable. Hit it with enough force, and you can knock the third or fourth vertebra out of position, severing the spinal chord, and killing them on the spot. Run a blade horizontally between those two, and you should be able to do the same with slightly more finesse (for whatever that’s worth.)

You need your arteries. That’s the carotid which is mirrored on each side. Sever either, and your life will be over in minutes.

There’s the trachea and larynx. You need those to breathe. They’re protected by a layer of cartilage, but that’s it. If it gets carved up, you’ll asphyxiate. This is survivable with immediate medical attention. But, this is well beyond normal first aid training. You someone with actual medical training on site.

There’s the upper esophagus which is important, though not immediately life threatening, but that’s shielded between the trachea and vertebrae.

There’s no place to get stabbed in the neck that isn’t immediately life threatening, everything’s either muscle or vitally important to your survival. Six inches of penetration will go all the way through, probably damaging multiple vitals.

Stabbing someone in the neck is a fantastic way to kill them. You’re almost guaranteed to hit something that will quickly end their life.

The most survivable neck injuries would be superficial slashes that don’t actually get deep enough to damage anything important.

Damage to the trachea is survivable if they can get immediate medical attention. But, again, you need a paramedic or doctor right there. This isn’t a case where, “I passed my first aid cert,” will cut it.

The worst, is a toss up. Anything that severs the carotid will kill them. Someone who knows what they’re doing could execute this pretty efficiently. They just need to drive a blade through the artery and open it up.

Running a blade into the spinal chord will also get the job done. That requires more precision, but this isn’t better. And if they’re striking from behind, aiming for the base of the skull is going to be easier and more reliable.

These are both really lethal outcomes, but realistically, if you’re running a six inch blade through someone’s neck, they’re dead.

-Starke

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Getting Help

what you said about pain is beautiful and encouraging thank you! i did want to just say that i do think there are certain times when pain is not a choice between wallowing/hoping it’ll go away vs getting up despite how much it hurts. especially w/ mental illness there are some instances where there’s a threshold(in my experience) that you can pass and no amount of willpower will pull you back(being severely suicidal). sorry if this comes off the wrong way i just wanted to share my thoughts xx

Far too often, serious mental health issues are disregarded with trivial platitudes.

If you need help, get it. Don’t worry about how others will view that choice. It is none of their business. There is no shame in being honest and telling someone, “I have a problem, and I need help with it.”

If your friends or family willfully contribute to your psychological deterioration, cut them out. There’s no virtue in letting someone harm you because they’re “supposed” to be your friend. And yes, if someone in your social circle mocks you for getting the help you need, they can kick rocks.

If you’re feeling suicidal, there are hotlines with people trained to help. I can’t really offer any informed advice on how to select one, but the help is there if you’re willing to reach out.

-Starke

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Q&A: Duel Structure and Weapons

I had this idea about having a rule for certain duals in my world being use your opponent’s weapon/skill (with agreed time for practise). A recent post you had was talking about how no one can be experts at everything, which means unless all are impossible experts like that, one may be severely disadvantageous or both look like sloppy amateurs who can’t fully use the weapon/skill especially if it’s very different. So.. is my idea good or not?

No, not as stated. Let’s talk about why, because there is something adjacent that, the best of my recollection, was a practice.

In real history (and in your world) dueling was a highly ritualized activity. There was an entire process that was necessary to “legitimize,” a duel. The exact steps varied through history and between cultures. The goal was to provide a form of dispute resolution, but the rituals evolved to minimize the risk of bloodshed without taking the option entirely off the table. If the process was skipped, then you just had two people trying to murder each other.

Generally speaking, you do not want someone planning to kill you handling your weapon. There are far too many ways to covertly sabotage it when you have it in hand, and are appearing to, “practice.” If you’re not above poison, you could even booby trap your foe’s weapon if given the opportunity.

There’s a few things about dueling worth discussing.

First are the seconds. The second was a personal friend who served a critical role in dueling process. I’m unsure exactly when the process started, though it was well established by the 19th century.

Seconds had a number of responsibilities, including: Coordinating the duel’s schedule (usually the duelist who accepted the challenge could dictate this, within reason, and it fell to the seconds to lock down the details.) Making any necessary preparations. Procuring, inspecting, and providing the weapons. (Depending on the culture, this might include examining In the case of pistol duels, the seconds were responsible for loading their duelist’s weapon. Finally, they were tasked with talking their friends out of killing each other.

Dueling sometimes had very specific rules regarding the kind of weapons used. This changes based on when and where you are. In some cases, the duelists would have some freedom, (as with the location, if there was a choice, the responding duelist would usually be allowed to make this decision, within reason.)

The important takeaway is, while one of your duelists may have a significant skill advantage, their weapons should be evenly matched, if not outright identical. There’d be no benefit to, “practicing,” with your foe’s weapon, because you already, effectively, have a copy.

All of this is distinct from, “dueling,” in narrative. This has nothing to do with dueling rituals; dueling in fiction refers to a specific, small scale (usually one on one), combat cadence. The fight occurs with alternating flurries of violence, interspersed with quiet lulls. In some cases, those lulls will include dialog, where the characters verbally spar, though in others, it will feature downtime while the characters reposition, or while the focus cuts away to other characters. This structure works very well on film, and is extremely popular in screenwriting.

Because of their structure, duels can extend far beyond a single scene. While you can have a simple single fight duel, like Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope, you can also drag this out over an extended period of time, moving between different environments, such as Luke’s duel with Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

Narrative duels can also extend beyond a single character. Many nautical novels include dueling ships. Each ship is (functionally) a single participant in the overall combat. Science Fiction often takes inspiration from nautical sources, alternately patterning starship combat off of sea combat, submarines, or, sometimes, modern aircraft support. For example of this, the majority of Wrath of Khan can be described as a protracted duel between the Enterprise and the Reliant (or between Kirk and Khan as the respective captains), while drawing heavy influence from both submarine combat and the Horatio Hornblower novels.

The identifying characteristic to identify a duel like this is if the combatants remain under threat of immediate violence from one another, even when they’re moving through different spaces. I realize this is a little subjective. If you want a more definitive set of thresholds, if either character is defeated or fully escapes, the duel is over.

If you’re working within the narrative structure, it’s entirely possible that one character will end up with the other’s weapon via some means. They may have simply disarmed their foe and are now pursuing with both weapons in hand. As far as tension goes, this is a good idea, as it forces your character to find a replacement under pressure.

-Starke

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Pain, Pain, and a German Existentialist

I mostly agree. Here’s the part I think needs to be emphasized, pain from working out is different from injury pain. My pain however is not making me stronger. My lupus makes things hurt for no reason while my body is trying to destroy itself. I have a limit to how strong I can be and that limit goes down as time goes on and there’s nothing I can do about that. I love the pain from working out, it makes me feel good. The pain from my intestines not working? Not so much.

So as much as I agree with most of your response, I also agree with the person asking. It romanticizes pain and I hate it. It is the absolute worse thing to say when I feel like my bones are breaking every other night. You can recover from a broken leg. You can’t recover from lupus

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There’s two things here, first pain, and second is Friedrich Nietzsche.

Usually we say there’s to kinds of pain: Discomfort, and actual pain, the kind of pain that tells you something’s gone seriously wrong. However, you’re illustrating a third kind; chronic pain.

Discomfort is the kind of pain you should, probably, learn to push through. It’s your body saying, “something’s wrong,” But, it’s not being honest with you. There are valid reasons for it to do this. It’s trying to stop you from engaging in behavior that endangers you. However, it is an artificial barrier. I dislike calling this, “pain,” because it’s not. Your body is telling you, “this hurts,” but it’s not really pain. However, that’s the term that people understand, and it’s where we get meat-headed axioms like, “no pain, no gain.”

Actual pain is not something that should be ignored. If you’ve been injured, “rub some dirt in it and push on,” is not valid advice. Ignoring actual injuries can aggravate them, and can cause further harm. Sometimes you may find yourself in situations where you must push on; where the risk of increased injury is the least dangerous option. However, leaving wounds untreated, or trying to, “walk it off,” is rarely a viable option.

Learning to differentiate between these two experiences is important. Especially if you’re engaging in strenuous, physical activity. This is the line between discomfort, which you may want to ignore, and pain that you should not ignore.

Chronic pain is an entirely separate beast. It is a sign that something has gone seriously wrong, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s simply there. It’s also corrosive over time. It is difficult for people who’ve never experienced chronic pain to understand how it wears on you over time. There is nothing to do about chronic pain except endure it. It sucks.

There’s nothing romantic about pain. A lot of the romanticism seems to stem from discomfort, and people who don’t understand that discomfort is distinct from pain. I also blame the English language for conflating both together as, simply, “pain.” The reality is that sometimes, “it hurts,” is not the same as, “it hurts.”

Conflating things brings us around to the Nietzsche axiom that started all of this. “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.” Generally, the accepted English translation is, “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Nietzche wasn’t writing a universal truth about human nature. This isn’t Descartes trying to prove the existence of God by running out of things he can be suspicious of. This is a declaration.

Facing adversity requires strength. Sometimes, that strength is physical, but far more often it’s not. Facing challenges requires a strength of spirit. It requires a force of will. It requires you to look within and find the power to say, “not today, motherfucker.”

This may sound hollow, but I commend you. As you said, there is no cure for Lupus. Your body is, quite literally, tearing itself apart. And based on your comments, you have refused to let that break you. That is strength. That is the kind of strength that Nietzsche was describing. It doesn’t mean that every day will be a good one. It doesn’t mean that you’re somehow immune to pain. Pulling yourself through hell doesn’t grant you superpowers. This is, in no way, a fair trade. However, you are still here. You are still alive.

You’re living, day to day, with a serious medical condition, which will be there for the rest of your life. You’ve done that without letting it destroy who you are. Which leads me to believe, you are far stronger than you give yourself credit for.

-Starke

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Q&A: Low DPS

I have a fanfic where a character has a whip as a weapon for Evil Overlord Aesthetics. She thinks she’s in a video game, and when she realizes she’s actually in a dangerous situation she ditches the whip for an improvised weapon (sharpened rebar) that’s easier to kill with. Is this a plausible change, or is it easier to kill with a whip than I assume? While fear is affecting her judgment, if you can kill with a whip and she knows how at least in principle, maybe this isn’t a leap she’d make.

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You don’t need to justify a character taking a poor weapon choice into an encounter in a video game. There’s plenty of reasons you might take garbage gear into an encounter. Achievements, grinding unlocks, because individual weapons and attacks level up from use. This is before we get into novelty, thematic, and RP builds, which is what you’re talking about.

There’s a legitimate point in games, where you can start screwing around with non-optimal setups. You’ve gotten comfortable enough with the mechanics and the game cannot punish you for abusing it. Usually, this is due to system knowledge, it’s not just, “my reflexes are so good.” When you know how a game will behave, you gain a lot of freedom.

This should be obvious, but, the rules of a game do not have to mimic reality. In many cases, they won’t. What did you find was the most realistic element of Skyrim? The ability to yell at people so hard they’d vaporize? Being immune to hypothermia? Becoming a vampire? The ability to recover from near fatal wounds by freezing time and instantaneously consuming one-hundred-and-forty-five carrots. Owning your own house? Games operate under their own rules; rules which can get away with barely paying lip service to the real world. When you’re writing in a game world it is very important to create (or understand) how those rules work, and the effects they’ll have on player behavior. After that, the real world doesn’t matter.

This is part of why the, “she’s in the real world but doesn’t realize it,” doesn’t play for me. Something like Star Trek‘s holodecks not withstanding, video games are nothing like the real world. Even hardcore simulation games tend to have weird idiosyncrasies. Before we talk about graphics or the interface.

Because the rules are artificial, new players will try things that don’t work, but look viable. The technical term for this is a, “noob trap.” Generally speaking, these are regarded as poor design, but they still happen, and experienced players learn to navigate around them.

Some games will actively encourage you to swap out your gear, sometime for less optimal choices. The logic is fairly straightforward: If you let a player simply run the same loadout for 20-60 hours, they’ll get bored. To quote Soren Johnson, lead designer on Civilization 4 and Offworld Trading Company, “Given the opportunity, Players will optimize the fun out of a game.” Players will take the most risk averse, tedious, approach to a game, and then blame the game for their choice to play it that way.

There’s a number of ways you can counter this: Including gradually aging out existing items (either by providing a drip feed of better gear or by causing existing gear to decay), a focus on situational weapons. This can result in situations where you’re best option is use something that would normally be sub-optimal, because it’s the best option in the moment. In the right circumstances, that could include your character’s whip.

Developers will also implement mechanics designed specifically to counter this kind of play. An example close to Johnson would be the Firaxis reboot of XCOM, and it’s eventual sequel. Players used overwatch, inching forward with soldiers covering one another as they moved up. This somewhat mimics a real military tactic called a staggered advance, where soldiers will cover each other as they move forward. However, it also slows the game down and trivializes a major risk; charging into a pack of aliens you didn’t see. XCOM2 addressed this by using mission timers aggressively. You couldn’t advance slowly and methodically, because you only had X turns before very bad things happened. Similarly, the spiritual successor, Phoenix Point, tied its overwatch mechanic to a depleting resource. Again, invalidating the optimized strategy.

Here’s the problem: Low damage isn’t fun. As a concrete example: This is the problem with high level combat in Fallout 4. Enemies continue to level with you. Your level is uncapped. But your maximum damage output caps off at level 49. You, and the enemies, continue to get tankier, as your health pools grow, but you will never hit harder than you could have at 49.

Why do I bring this up? Few things in video games kill the fun like low outgoing damage.

Few players would choose to take a very low damage weapon simply for the aesthetic. (Note: “Very” is the operational word here. Everyone has slightly different tolerances for what they’ll accept. However, if the character is considering using an improvised weapon, clearly the whip is well below what they’re happy with.)

Either their whip is a valid weapon choice, or your character’s decisions leading up to this moment don’t make a lot of sense (even from the perspective of being in a video game.) There are whips in games that are legitimate options. For example: Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane, or the Vampire Killer from Castlevania. If it’s something like that, then the whip will still do its job. (Unless, the real version is nothing like the game counterpart.) However, if that’s not the case, your character is taking fetish gear into a fight. That’s going to be messy and unpleasant for her.

If you have the room to use it, the whip is a good defensive tool when dealing with unarmored opponents. So long as your character doesn’t need to kill their foe in this scene, the whip gives them a lot of options to create an opening so they can break and run, or buy time for reinforcements to arrive.

If she wanted to kill people, she would have brought a weapon to achieve that. If she’s using a whip is for fun, bringing it to a fight won’t be. I would think she’d have learned this before now.

-Starke

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Q&A: How to Catch a Bullet

Is it possible to actually catch a bullet in your teeth? Or would that just ruin your mouth?

Most handgun cartridges can still punch through a thin layer of steel. Your teeth wouldn’t do much. The bullet would pass through your mouth striking the brain stem. It wouldn’t just ruin your mouth, it would kill you.

This is also a popular magic trick, so let’s explain that. You have the magician, and their assistant. One of them has a pistol loaded with blanks. Sometimes it’s a starter pistol, but really could be whatever. A particularly ambitious magician could have a live round loaded to demonstrate that, “no, really, it’s a real gun,” though this creates a very real risk of a catastrophic failure.

If you see them load the bullet, they’ll probably use a dummy round for safety. This will look like a live bullet, but without powder or primer, so it’s effectively, “safe,” if an error occurs. They’ll palm the dummy replacing it with a blank during the loading process. This is slight of hand, but that’s about as tricky as this illusion gets.

At some point, the magician will conceal a bullet in their mouth. Under the tongue or in the cheek will work, and it can stay there for awhile. If they’re smart, they won’t actually use a lead round. Lead poisoning is not a joke, and if this is a standard part of their act, it can result in health issues later in life.

The assistant will stand at least 2 to 3 meters from the magician, aim for their mouth and fire. The magician will then produce the bullet placing it between their teeth before opening their mouth to reveal the bullet they’ve, “caught.”

Because you’re dealing with a blank cartridge, this is an act where you really do not want an audience volunteer for your assistant. That is still an option, but the magician can still be seriously injured by powder burns if the blank is fired too close to them.

Catching a bullet with your hand is a very similar illusion. You simply palm the bullet in your hand when you load the blank, and then reveal it at the appropriate prompt.

So, there’s your explanation for how professional magicians do this. Please don’t try it at home, because if anything goes wrong, the results are catastrophic.

-Starke

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Q&A: Magic to Power

So I’m writing a story where magic exists. But it’s not exactly outlawed In the kingdom. But there’s a bunch of superstitions involved that they don’t use it. And the king actively encourages those super stations albeit not blatantly. My question is the king still employes people with magic from a group or some sort of organisation that trains these people in secret. How would I go about forming that? Would they work better as spies or independent contractors? This is set in roughly about 1700.

They’re not going to be, “independent contractors.” I’d say, “not in the eighteenth century,” but, given the circumstances, no, not at all. So, let’s talk about how these things would have to function.

For mages to be independent of their government, one of two things has to be true. They must either be powerless, meaning the magic they perform is trivial and ineffectual, or they must be more powerful (either individually or collectively) than the governments that seek to control them.

If their magic is utterly powerless, there’s no reason to pay attention to them. They’re irrelevant. If your world’s mages struggle light a candle with their magic, they may be scapegoated by groups, but governments wouldn’t care unless they wanted to get in on that.

Basically, if magic works as advertised, that’s going to be an asset to any ruler. It doesn’t matter if someone is a soothsayer, a healer, or able to throw fireballs around, their powers are useful.

If you are an eighteenth century noble, you do not want the peasantry to have that kind of power. Inevitably, they will use it to kill you. This is before you consider the kind of damage a single disgruntled mage could cause to your kingdom. The ability to project fire (or any other element) could completely destroy your agricultural base. Fire in particular opens up the possibility of remote detonating gunpowder stores. Prescience or clairvoyance could be used to sabotage your economy. Simply put, having a rogue mage out there could wreck your domain.

So what do you do? You make them work for you, or kill them if they refuse. If you need to, you can justify a public execution by pointing to all the harm they could have caused, and whatever harm other mages had inflicted in the past.

At this point, the way people learn magic and gain magical power, becomes really important. I’m mostly interested in two categories, and grouping everything else in.

The first group gain their powers spontaneously. It could be random, exposure to something in the world, demonic possession, really, whatever. The end result is the magic user gains magical powers intuitively and they can pop up anywhere.

If you’re dealing with this group, your goal will be to find and shut them down before they become a problem. It’s also an issue because you could potentially get a rogue mage in your peasantry. So, this needs to be quickly dealt with. Given the time frame we’re talking about, it’s not out of the question that one of The Holy Inquisitions is specifically rooting out magic users.

The second group gain their powers predictably. You know who will become a mage before they gain their powers. This could be the traditional academic wizard, who learns magic through study, and finding hidden lore, it could be your superhuman martial arts masters, it could be people that gain magical powers through their bloodlines. The short version is, you don’t have to worry about a surprise peasant mage, and any rogue mages are an espionage problem.

If it’s academic, it’s very likely that court wizard is an established position. Similarly, if superhuman martial artists are part of your world, they may also have a permanent court position. If it’s a bloodline, then those are probably very powerful families who have a lot of political influence, if not outright control.

Depending on which group your mages fall into will determine how your ruler needs to worry about magic. If it’s completely random, then it’s more about damage control; securing (and recruiting or eliminating) mages before they can become a problem. Mages become an incredibly valuable asset in dealing with other rulers, because you don’t know if they have mages. Tipping your hand about your resources to other nobles becomes very dangerous.

Further, if magical talent manifests randomly, it is extremely likely that any unified control over them would rest with the governing religious bodies, not with your king. It’s entirely possible a single mage is powerful enough to kill your ruler, but to take on a continent wide religion that’s been in power for over a thousand years? They’ll know how to deal with an inexperienced spellcaster.

Note: This also applies if you’re dealing with a large, well established, empire, like Rome at the height of its power. They would also have the capacity to locate and detain new mages.

If we’re talking about religion, then we have a perfect justification for magic being good when the organization needs it to be and evil when someone does it else does it. When a member of the church casts a spell, “it’s a miracle,” “it’s a holy act,” “an implement of divine will.” When a heretic does it, “it’s witchcraft.” Church affiliated mages might even look at the aggressive use of magic as, “fighting fire with fire,” or “turning The Devil’s tools against his own.”

It’s also distinctly possible that you have multiple kinds of spellcasters. So it could be your church affiliated mages are using entirely different spells from the ones used by rogue mages.

This is the problem with, “superstition.” It needs to be based on something. For people to shun a mage, the magic they use has to be dangerous, unpredictable, or both. For example: If there was no, “beneficial,” magic, just curses, people would be a little circumspect about interacting with a mage. Or, if magic required the intervention of a demon, and you could never be completely certain it would do what it was told, same result.

How would a king form a secret organization of mages? With the stroke of a pen. He may simply hire from registered guild mages, offering them a job. He might form a covert group of witchhunters, possibly even hiring veteran inquisitors, with the task of finding willing, unaffiliated recruits. The options are open. What he can’t do is, have a secret cabal.

If you live in a world where magic is real, you’re going to become attuned to the idea that people use it to advance themselves. Even if you can’t, even if no one you know can, you know people can and do. A king propped up by a hidden cadre of mages will stand out. Even if this is standard practice. Even if magic is subtle. You may not be able to prove that your king is in power because of mages secretly backing him, but if the mages are helping him in a meaningful way will be somewhat obvious: Things go too well.

At the same time, if magic is subtle, it would be a boon for any court spymaster. Either directly or by employing their own mages. This isn’t a problem your king would be dealing with directly. That’s what his spymaster is for. As to a question of whether mages make good spies, it depends on your magic. Even if your magic is overt, an individual mage may make a good spy simply from their non-magical talents, and being a mage may get them access to places that a non-mage wouldn’t. Conversely, if magic is persecuted, it would also be a liability for any spy. Get caught practicing magic, and they’ll kill you for that, without even realizing you’re a spy.

Ironically, forming good relations with a magical power base is a vital skill for a king in a magically active world. He needs mages that are at least friendly enough that they won’t wipe him out for a rival. It would also, significantly alter the balance of power from what we saw in the real world, where, by the 18th century, the Catholic church was dealing with losing power in much of Europe, and the modern nation states were on the rise. For a religion empowered by spellcasters who can inflict religious edicts directly, the results would be considerably different.

When we’re talking about alternate histories with fantasy elements, there are a lot of historical events that could go very differently, which I couldn’t even begin to list here. The big thing I’d suggest considering is that if mages were aligned with multiple groups, you could easily see a “cold war” type situation, with proxy wars playing out, or a even a magical, nuclear detente.

What you have here digs pretty deeply in your world building. It’s not simply, “1700s, but with mages,” or at least, shouldn’t be. You need to reevaluate history up to that moment, and try to figure out what would have happened with those changes.

-Starke

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