Tag Archives: drsircaptain

I’m playing around with the idea of a world were music is magic and can manipulate the world based on genre, meter, major/minor tonality, etc. I’m having troubles describing music in action, as a physical tangible thing rather than just sound, especially in duel sequences where two musicians are facing off. I have a basic idea of what I want done with it so I’m not asking for it to be done for me (I know that’s a no-no) but any and all input is awesome and much appreciated. Thanks for your time!

Well, music isn’t really our forte so I don’t know how much help we’ll be there.

All jokes aside, one of the best series I’ve seen using music as a form of magic is L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s Spellsong Cycle, starting with The Soprano Sorceress. It’s a fantasy setting that takes place in the land of Erde and follows the adventures of Anna Marshall, a fifty year old singer taken from our world on the day of her daughter’s funeral by means of an unlucky wish. Once in Erde, she becomes a sorceress of great power. Modesitt’s work can be a bit of a slog and these aren’t his best. You might not enjoy them as a reader, but his strength is his world building and as a writer of fantasy you shouldn’t skip him.

There’s a lot of good thinking in the novel. One of them is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for sorcerers to perform together as a duet because the chance of something going wrong is too high. Multiple voices together create more power but it relies on perfect synchronization that is nearly impossible to achieve with complex melodies. However, one warlord does manage to achieve this through hundreds of voices chanting together in an army.

The magic works through a combination of lyrics, visualization, and musical accompaniment usually through a single instrument. A truely skilled Sorcerer cannot just be a singer, they must also be a songwriter and composer. However, some get by memorizing songs and melodies from hearing them. Sorcerers and Sorceress are always singers, but to achieve greater power they need the support of other musicians often in the form of an orchestra. This forces the Sorceress to put a great deal of trust in the skill of her followers because a single mistake could be catastrophic for herself and the other musicians. The result is in setting is that most Sorcerers prefer to work alone without accompaniment. Because their magic takes a great deal of concentration, they also need to be protected in combat from attacking forces.

The sorcerer is also limited by what they know or what they can remember/make up on the spot. The use of magic takes a lot of energy, a Sorceress must eat constantly or they risk burning through their own body.

The setting also used two different kinds of magic: Darksong and Clearsong. The definitions are simplistic, but become complex in application. Darksong affects things that are alive or were once alive, growing plants in a garden for example would be Darksong. However, so would raising the dead and compulsion spells that enforce loyalty. Clearsong affects the non-living or what was never alive, this includes command of the elements, but also building infrastructure like roads or castles.

Both come with their flaws because of it’s easier, Darksong’s are greater. Darksong is easy to cast in the beginning, but over time it becomes more difficult causing double vision and violent headaches. It acts a little like an allergy, the more you do it, the more violent the reaction. Eventually, it will kill the sorcerer.

The Clearsong flaw is: matter cannot be created from thin air, it has to come from somewhere. If you’re going to create roads, you need stone and if that stone is not provided then the magic will find it for you. This means it could come from somewhere safe like a quarry or take it from the ground, shifting the landscape and causing a natural disaster or from a nearby village. It’s also pure destruction, if the sorcerer wants to resolve the situation without bloodshed, they need Darksong or they have to rely on others to do the fighting.

The series covers the effects of how this can affect the socio-political factors of the world. His work also does a good job of combining feminist themes with feudal worlds and handling different ways sexism can assert itself when dealing with a powerful woman.

It’s worth taking a look at for ideas, not just for magic but in how that magic affects the politics, the environment, and the balance of power.


My character is a vigilante in the Wild West. However, he is over 300 years old, a cursed Mayan criminal doomed to wander the Earth punishing criminals for his own misdeeds. He posses superhuman strength, agility, and speed, as well as resurrects completely healed if and only if he is killed; as well as a Ghost Rider-like ability to condemn criminals like How “realistic” would it be for him to rarely if ever miss when shooting his revolver, and have mastered several different fighting styles?

About as realistic as the rest. Most of the time when people talk about “realism” in fiction, they’re butchering the term. In a world where Mayan gods stalk the earth 1500 years after the civilization that worshiped them crumbled to dust, inflicting superpowers on the unwary, it’s not unrealistic at all for you to have a character that’s freakishly accurate with handguns after 300 years of practice, and or mastered several different martial arts. It’s internally consistent, and to an extent, that’s all “realistic” means when we’re talking about fantasy.

What might not be realistic is the idea that he’s alone. That throughout human history, the Mayan gods have never “cursed” others with similar immortality.

Remember, for the nineteenth century, a lot of the modern martial arts didn’t exist, or would have fiercely protected. Your character can’t have learned any Chinese or Japanese forms in that era.

And, while martial arts like Systema have a long history, the modern form is completely different from the historical versions of the form. So, if you really want a martial arts background, you’re going to have to do some research. Also, using the term “martial arts” to refer to unarmed forms is strictly a twentieth century invention.

Really, you’re going to have to decide how much anachronism you’re willing to accept, and then do a lot of research to keep your material appropriate.

So, some a lot of recommendations:

I’m assuming you’ve already looked at the westerns with quasi supernatural protagonists. If you haven’t, I’d start with Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter, and A Fistful of Dollars. The entire “I thought we killed him” avenging hero is almost it’s own sub-genre in westerns.

Deadlands was a Comedy/Horror/Western RPG in the 90s. The setting is an alternate 1880s American west where the supernatural has broken free and the end of the world may be nigh. It includes an entire mechanic set for playing the classic returned from the grave hero.

Brimestone isn’t a western, but it’s worth looking at (if you can find it). The central character was a cop who died and went to hell in 1983. The show picks up in 1998, there’s been an escape from Hell, and the Devil (played by John Glover) sends him back to earth to hunt down the damned.

Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the American remake Last Man Standing may seem like odd recommendations, but they’re both worth watching. Neither story is supernatural, but they both deal with a lone fighter clearing a town of two competing gangs.

Millennium is an even stranger recommendation, set in the late 90s, it’s a horror/crime series that deals with a burned out ex-FBI investigator who may, or may not, posses psychic powers. The show has an ongoing supernatural element that is kept very low key until the final season. At it’s core, it’s a story about a man being forced to stand against evil by some supernatural force. Fair warning: each season shifts tone sharply, so it’s effectively three different shows; the first two should be useful for you.

The Dark Tower by Steven King is a series I still need to finish, but what I’ve read of this post apocalyptic/horror/western is good, really good. It might be off tone, but it could be very useful for you, especially in setting up a gunfighter.

The Saint of Killers from Vertigo Comics’ Preacher might be worth looking at. I could do a full article unpacking that comic, but it could be useful if you have the time and resources.

Finally, the Highlander TV series is on point. The original show follows a 400 year old immortal wandering the earth. He doesn’t have a compulsion to get involved, but it should give you some good ideas for how to handle your character. Especially if you want to have him interacting with a cadre of normal characters who follow him.