Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Communication, Magical Regulation and Censorship

The TV casts an enchantment on the family. There is no save.

I started writing this article and it got too big for one post. So I am posting it piece by piece over the next three weeks. In addition, I’m doing something a little different and throwing in a bit of fiction to go up with the write up. Hope you enjoy it. 

 

Eriza picked up the papaya and brought it to her nose, inhaling its sweet fragrance. It was ripe, perfect for tonight’s supper. Rish loved papaya. Eriza would serve it with honey and the crushed seeds after the main course was eaten. She would save some of the seeds for tomorrow’s stew to take to the temple. The baby strapped to her back cooed as she paid for the fruit, dropping the metal coins into the merchant’s hand. Like his father, the Rishin had a fondness for fruits and sweets that was endearing.

After placing the papaya in her basket Eriza continued down the street, unfazed by the humid, tropical air. The Port of Hitha was her home and the capitol of Miz. A bustling port city, the Eye of the Islands, she enjoyed the amenities the city allowed her. The streets were clean and well kept, lit even at night. The people were well protected by the well trained and efficient Hithan Police Force. And from this street she could see the towering spires of the School of St. Bariz. One day Rishin would have his baby hair shaved and he would be allowed to walk through the carved arches, learn from the white and blue robed teachers. If he was a good student he would be allowed to take on the role of one of The Braided, his thick, wooly locks plaited in the designs of those who have devoted their adolescence to learning. It was what she and her husband both hoped for their son.

For now Rishin wiggled at her back and made the sounds he did when he was hungry so Eriza saved her happy daydreams for after supper. The sun was heading into the Goddess’ Bag, to be reborn the next day and food had to be made. Eriza tightened the kerchief about her head and walked down the street, singing to herself quietly as thoughts of home drifted through her head. Other merchants and a hairdresser worked in the dwindling sunlight, almost ready to close up for the day.

A cold breeze ruffled her kerchief and her dress, the coldest breeze she had ever felt. That was strange, she thought, frowning as another gust came from behind her. She shivered as she walked but a scream made her turn around, her eyes growing wide before she threw up a hand to shield them.

In the middle of the street a light was glowing, icy blue and undulating, sending gusts of cold air through the market. Paper scattered and tent flaps shook as people shouted and watched, waiting to see what was happening. The icy blue light flashed and flashed again, almost dazzling Eriza. And then it grew.

A group of blue skinned people appeared suddenly, dressed in white furs. They seemed to be walking in place, something white and fluffy blowing past them as the frigid wind rubbed against her skin. One of the blue skinned ones turned and set its eyes on Eriza. They were icy blue and colder than a winter sea. In the person’s hand was a whip of black leather. Turning its face  away, Eriza saw what walked before them. Not animals but people. Half naked, chained with silver shackles, their skin was as white as seashells. Their faces were miserable, and scarred. The wind grew colder and Eriza dropped her basket to the ground, clutching her arms around her.

And then she heard it. The cry, the cry of an infant, shrill and almost drowned out by the howling wind. A pale baby cried at the chest of its mother. As the baby cried, Eriza’s own baby cried and she saw the mother clutch the baby tighter to her chest, her face screwed with fear. The figure with the black whip approached her and raised its arm. Black leather left a trail of scarlet on the mother’s white skin. The mother’s cries joined the high shriek of the wind.

Her blood was red.

The image froze but the cold wind still blew. Eriza pulled Rishin out of his carrier to comfort him, his beautiful brown face covered in tears. She held him to her chest, shielding him from the bright light and the cold wind.

”What you have seen here is real,” came a voice from the image of the bedraggled woman and child, the cold blue figure standing over them. “The image has been transported here from the cold lands of Frid. This woman is real. Her child is real. The giant is real. Her blood is real. Please, help us.”

The image shimmered and then blinked out, a final burst of ice cold wind shooting through the marketplace, evoking screams from those who were frozen with amazement. And then it was gone. But Eriza couldn’t help but shiver as she clutched her child. More than the cold, the image had cut her to the bone.

****

Unless you only read this blog and nothing else, I would imagine that you are aware various groups of people on the internet who are using it to get various things done. Political, economic, bureaucratic, technological, with the wonders of things like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook people are able to connect, share information and share compelling, terrifying or enraging images, stories or content. When local powers tried to crack down and ‘stop the signal,’ it was circumvented and messaged were still able to get through. The world was able to watch as people on the other side of the world banded together and fought for their freedom.

Of course, Twitter doesn’t exist in (insert typical Medieval based fantasy setting here). If one was to attempt a tongue-in-cheek replication of Twitter, you could use an actual bird and hope it wasn’t intercepted by forces nefarious or natural along the way. Communication up until these last two centuries moved horrendously slow (and I say horrendously because I am a product of our ‘check the email every 5 seconds’ culture). And getting mail internationally? Good luck. Add to this the fact that the slower the mail the easier it potentially is to control and you’ve got a choke-hold on the information passed around the world.

In lieu of not having wires or fiberoptics, in many campaigns the quick answer to ‘How am I going to let the High Priest of Tacoland know we are out of tortillas?” is going to be ‘With magic.’ And if there is a way to do magic, there is going to be a way to undo magic

But what kind of magic is used? Depending on the system there might be a school ascribed to the type of magic, a theory behind it. As you think about your next game or campaign consider the magic of communication. The foundation and why of how it works can in turn dictate how one could get it to not work. Note: I am not a scientist of anything. So feel free to research this further. I’m hoping you will.

Scientifically speaking, sound travels via compression waves through mediums (though according to Wikipedia it can move transversely through solids, but I’ll leave that matter to you). We all know in vacuums there is no sound (which causes us to scrutinize space battles and throw our hands in the air) and that different mediums can affect the wave and therefore the sound. If you tap on a table with your finger and then put your ear on the table and tap it, it sounds different. The sound waves then have to reach an ear where they stimulate the eardrum, the cranial nerve and get sent to the brain so you can say, ‘HEY, THAT EXPLODING SPACESHIP IS MAKING A SOUND, WTF?’ Sound can be changed and bounced off of things, even if a duck is making the sound.

Light on the other hand is more bad ass. Way faster than sound and made of waves and particles, it has the added awesome factor of being able to travel through vacuums. It can be bent by passing through various surfaces, broken and absorbed. Beyond the spectrum of visible light which our eyes can see there are all kinds of light that are generally used by creepy people in bushes to spy on other people , as well as animals. Light can be used to see things, and lets not forget its warming properties. Light travels into a greenhouse, passes through the glass and is absorbed and let off by the plants as heat energy, which at its lower frequency has a harder time penetrating the glass (I learned that on Bill Nye the Science Guy). All kinds of mechanical things can create light and waves can be sent to mechanical things outfitted with special lights to produce moving images.

Heat travels in waves. Hey now.

How can both players and GMs use this information to work with magic? Well, lets consider this:

The human brain itself produces waves
People are giving off all kinds of waves all the time (not just stink ones)
Many types of waves can travel through people
Various types of waves can interfere with each other
Wands, scepters, clothing items and more can be made to receive or block transmissions
Various substances such as metals, fluids (like air), crystaline structures (gemstones) can affect how light and sound travel, resonate or disrupt
Cases of mass hysteria have been reported throughout history
The power of suggestion is a very powerful thing
Energy has to come from somewhere.

Of course, the easy thing would be to say, ‘It works because it’s magic! Ta-da! When you’re trying to kill wererats you don’t stop to think about the physical and biological implications of being able to summon heat energy with a thought into your hands and then channel it in one direction far enough to hit a solid object and sustain it long enough to destroy it or at least slow it down long enough for the guy with the sword to stab it. But at some point in your magical career, maybe you did? Went to school for it? Meditated over it?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ponder these things. Hope you enjoyed the fiction.

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