Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Communication, Magical Regulation and Censorship Part 2

A wizard – Art by Kirsten Brown

Howdies! If you’re just rolling in for the first time, you can find the first part of this series here. Also, there’s a bit of fiction to go along with the article. Enjoy! 

Detective Zesh Bwadne knocked on the door of the house. He waited for the door to open, waited for the reaction. After a few moments the green door did open and there it was. A man with a closely trimmed beard and brown eyes answered the door, his eyes widening as they darted over him. It was the uniform, it was the number of officers that stood behind Bwadne on the man’s doorstep, their cloaks fluttering in the tropical evening air.

“Detective Bwadne,” he said. “I’m here investigating the incidents that took place yesterday afternoon on Grocery Street. Is Eriza Gedne home? We have some questions for her.” The man looked to Bwadne’s belt and the detective could see him swallow hard. The man saw the weapon in its holster. A police issued mace, fashioned of steel and magically enhanced to send charges of force on command, able to knock people to the ground with a word. Not just any officer could carry one of these. Not that it was the most powerful weapon in his arsenal.

“She’s inside,” the man said, stepping out of the doorway. “Please, come in.” Detective Bwadne nodded and entered the home, the other three officers following after him. He removed the wide brimmed, conical hat that was part of the uniform, handing it to one of his accompanying officers. The other three kept theirs on.

A woman was nursing a baby and reading from a book, her hair already tied up for the evening.  “Eriza,” the man said. She looked up from her book and now her eyes grew, surprised to see them there. “A detective is here to see you,” the man said. He sounded concerned.

“I’m sorry for the late hour, Madame Gedne,” the detective said. He meant it. They had spent the entire day interviewing the people in the report. The Gedne family happened to be last on the list, as they were the farthest from the scene of the occurrence. “But we’ve been investigating the incident that happened on Grocer Street yesterday afternoon and the grocer said that you were there. I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
“Of course,” she said. She hifted in her seat so that she faced the detective. “Any way I can help.” He looked around the house. It was a simple home, typical of the area. Her husband was obviously a farmer. His hands and the tools that leaned against the door told the detective that. His name was Rish, by all accounts. Her husband wasn’t from the city. Eriza was a younger daughter of a cloth merchant with more education than her spouse and more than a few relatives at the Spires. Right now though, she looked like any other Mizian woman getting ready for bed.

“Can you confirm you were there when the incident took place?” Detective Bwadne asked, pulling out his wax tablet and stylus. Her husband sat down on one of the cushions. He was obviously concerned about the incident but more worried about his wife. The man kept his eyes on his wife and the baby at her breast as the three officers walked about the home.

Eriza nodded. “I was there, buying supper. Did you find out what happened to those people?”

The Detective held his hand up to stop her. He had to get his questions answered. “Can you tell me in your own words what happened?”
The woman nodded, looking off to the side as she began to recollect her thoughts. The child she cradled thrust a fist into the air and she took it, playing with his small fingers as he cooed and smacked his lips. “I had just bought a papaya from Hish the grocer and was walking back towards home when I felt a cold wind,” she began. “It was so cold I started to walk faster but then people started to scream so I turned around to see what it was. That’s when I saw it.”

“Saw what, Madame Gedne?”

“A…sphere. A sphere of light and…wind was coming from it. It was so cold.” The woman shivered as she unlatched the baby and laid him across her lap, patting him on the back. “It was magic, wasn’t it?”

“Correct, Madame.” He could tell her that much. It was obvious. “What happened next?” One of the other officers was looking over their bookshelf. A decent amount of books made up the collection, of various sizes and lengths. The officer picked one up and flipped through it.

“I…watched the ball of light. I was too scared to move.” The woman looked to the side, furrowing her brows at the officers poking through their belongings. “And then it went from being a ball to an image. I saw those people. The blue ones and a woman being whipped. A woman with a child.”

“It must have been very upsetting,” Detective Bwadne said, writing her words down in shorthand on the tablet. “Did you happen to notice anything out of place or strange before the light happened? Anyone at the marketplace that shouldn’t have been there?”

The woman shook her head. “No, just people buying food. Selling.” She paused for a moment, her brow furrowing on her dark face. “There was a hairdresser there.”

“Did he have any clients?” A hairdresser. He tried to keep his voice flat, his breathing steady. The hairdresser had been mentioned by the grocer as well as two other people as being peculiar.

“Only one, I think?” she offered. The baby belched, its head jerking upward as it did. The woman cradled the baby again, her husband coming forward to take the baby from her and put him in the small hammock that was strung across their bed. The woman pulled her shawl around her tighter, as if she was cold. “The hairdresser was a woman.”

“And the client?” the detective asked, raising a brow. The officer that had been looking through the book turned their head towards them.

“A man. A….” her voice trailed off as she tried to remember. “He was getting his head shaved. A few cycles younger than me. He was wearing blue and white robes. Only two whorls on his stole.”

A student? At that age getting his head shaved? Detective Bwadne made a note. “And the hairdresser?”

“She was wearing a wig. It was…blue? It was blue.” She nodded. “Older than me, maybe a hand’s width taller?”

They had found blue hairs at the crime scene, not blown away by the wind. He glanced over at the other officers, raising his eyebrows. According to the grocer, the hairdresser had only set up shop there a few days ago. They’d get the market registrations and he’d see to her interrogation himself. He and Fowde.

“I think we’ve got everything we need, Madame Gedne,” he said. He put the cover on his tablet and tucked the stylus into his belt, keeping his face calm as he gestured for the other police to head to the door. “Thank you for your time, your city thanks you.”

“When is the Grand Council going to look into helping Frid?” She stood up and walked towards them as they headed towards the door. “I want to sit in on the hearing.”

The detective stopped in his tracks. There it was. Regardless of whether they found the violators or not, the damage had been done. That had been the point of it all. He turned around and faked a smile, bowing his head as he answered her. “I can assure you, we are doing all that we can to see that this matter is resolved, Madame Gedne.” He took his hat and left behind his fellow officers before she could ask any more questions.

The four of them walked into the alley, away from the homes. A cool breeze was blowing in from the ocean and the nighttime sounds of the residential quarter were quiet, peaceful. People were going to bed while it was cool. A stray chicken out for a walk crossed their path, pecking at the ground. Bwadne put his hat on his head before he looked to the female officer who was his partner. “Are we clear?”

She pulled off her hat and pulled the two ivory sticks out of her hair. Thick, beaded dreads spilled down and over her shoulders and she scratched at her scalp as she scanned around with dark eyes. “Yes, clear.” Bwadne smirked. It was hard keeping all that hair under the hat. But it was a dead giveaway that Arza Fowde was a magic user. In some investigations it was good to have the leverage of the magewoman on his side but for interviews, it could be intimidating and steer the answers. Asking questions and reading people was a delicate artform. It was Bwadne’s own form of magic.

“What was the status of the home?” he asked.

“Hotter than I anticipated,” she said. “But nothing illegal. Inherited items. A book of ancestral magics that was pretty interesting but I doubt she realizes what she’s got.” Fowde looked to the side as a giant moth flitted across the alley, fluttering loudly in the humid air. “Just a bystander.”

“And the hairdresser? What do you make of that?” Bwadne asked. He knew the answer Fowde would give him.

“Hairdressing isn’t illegal,” Chiwde said. He was a young officer, new to the profession and still with a lot to learn. The young man looked up to Bwadne, he knew that. Bwadne knew the force needed all the good detectives it could get and if he had anything to do with it, Chiwde would be one of them. Chiwde knew the written rules. He had a few more to learn.

“Hairdressing isn’t illegal but hair is not a spell component in Mizian magic.” Fowde started walking down the street and Bwadne fell in beside her, letting the rookies follow behind. “The hairdresser is the only peculiar part of this, the hairdresser and the student she was working on.”

“If the hairdresser is the magic user, she’s performed an unauthorized act and may have obtained forged permits to set up the fake hairdressing practice.” This came from Dwine. The country girl too clever to remain in her village, with everything to prove. She walked with her hands behind her back all the time and her eyes looked over everything intently all the time. In truth, Bwadne loved her intensity. She reminded him of a cat, staring, its tail flicking back and forth before it pounced. “At the very least once we get a hold of her we can detain her for that. The freshly shaved student’s a cover. But one of them has either access to the Classified Magic section of the Spires or would have had to have spent years out of Miz, studying other magics.” Dwine could take it all in. She knew where to strike. Her mind was a precision instrument. Her intense eyes and unsmiling mouth both narrowed. It bothered her, the betrayal of their city and customs. She would make a good mage.

“There’s another option too,” Chiwde spoke up. They all looked to him and waited. The young man gulped, obviously nervous to have so many eyes on him. “Well…what is the magic user wasn’t from Hitha? Or Miz? What if someone from Frid somehow got here?”

An illegal immigrant? Who was practicing another path of magic? Bwadne looked to Fowde. “Is it possible?”

Fowde’s face told him that it was and that she didn’t like the idea. She narrowed her dark eyes and put her hat on, not bothering to tuck her hair back under it this time. “I’ll check the records for peculiar magic surges that were never solved. We’re dealing with a big fish if they whisked in, even bigger if they got past the customs officials.” Fowde looked to Dwine. “You, come with me. You’ve an eye for detail.”

“I’ll take Chiwde about Scholar Street. Change the search a bit.” Bwadne grinned at his partner, putting his hat on his head. “I’ll make the report. You get to the Spires.”

“You heading to the bar after shift?” Fowde asked. A breeze kicked up and their cloaks fluttered in the wind. The wind smelled of heady flowers and evening fires. Bwadne shook his head.

“Nah, barracks for me. And you two, if you’re smart. This case is a big one. We’ll be up before the lantern fish go down.” He nodded in farewell to his partner and the other female officer before he and Chowde turned and headed back towards Grocer Street.

“Thanks for bringing me along, Detective Bwadne.” Bwadne laughed out loud. He saw Chiwde look down at the ground, obviously embarrassed. Bwadne slapped him on the back.

“Last I checked you were on the payroll, Chiwde,” Bwadne smiled. “And…just Bwadne.” Chiwde’s face brightened. He was so young. Just as Bwadne had been when he first joined the force. Bwadne served out of choice, like Chiwde. Not like Fowde. Fowde, as a student of the Third Spire had to fulfill her obligation. Training was traded for service. Bright eyed and eager to help, that was Chiwde. He just had to get a little self-confidence and he could be a good detective. “I want you to pay attention to the types of questions I ask and who I ask, got it. Keep an eye on their faces. I need you to take it in.”

“Why’re we going back to Scholar Street though?”

“If we’ve got an outsider, an outsider will need an insider to get things for them. They’re working with another magic user. They have to be. Someone will have noticed something unusual. It’s late, people are tired and they’ll just want to go home. All we have to do is show our faces, bring it up and they’ll keep an eye out for us. And if someone is hiding something, it’ll be harder to hide if they’re too tired to hide it. We’ll hit Sea Corner for a few questions with a man I know.” Bwadne had a flea on the dog, an informer on the inside that no one else knew about. If another outsider was making trouble with magic, Yarik the Yellow would know something. He was sure of it.

“The important thing,” Bwadne started. he narrowed his eyes and breathed in deep, inhaling the smells of Hitha, his home. “Is this. Someone is disturbing the peace of our city, our country and our homeland. We have to keep the people safe. And part of them being safe is them feeling safe. Do not forget it.” The young officer nodded somberly. Bwadne nodded and kept his eyes focused ahead of him, ready to do what he had to to protect his fellow citizens.


Dude, I know it makes me look wise but it is SO ITCHY. 😡

Magic in games is bad ass, lets face it. What’s not to love about rolling a 5 X 5 foot fireball into your enemy while you keep your back to the wall (my first character ever did this and it was very satisfying)? Systems generally scale magic or put requirements on spells to make sure that the Wizard with a BS out of Wizard University isn’t casting something akin to an atomic weapon outside the local bar.

Limits are built into the systems but what kind of checks and balances would a society or government place on magic? Who is allowed to use the magic? Is just anyone allowed to access to the simplest of spells to make life easier? How public is access to magical writings, items and those who can use magic? What qualities dispose a person to become a magic user? A great memory? An ability to make connections? Insane wealth? Tenacity?

Magic, while being awesome, is very capable of being subject to bureaucracy. If someone can make money off of or establish a hierarchy on something they will. In addition there is the issue of: fear. Knowing that there are people around who can charm, incinerate or hide in plain site can terrorize a populace and cause unrest. Not to mention the unfortunate tendency that humans have to focus on one aspect of other people and use it to stigmatize, generalize and ostracize.

Note: I am not in any way condoning the fact that this happens. I am vehemently against IRL prejudice of ANY kind and I am insanely against institutionalized oppression. However, look at the title of the article. It is a current and unfortunate fact of life. If not treated in a flippant manner and given the proper attention in the right group, this kind of issue can be a very compelling addition to any game. Do not go around putting real live magic users in ghettos. I will be super angry.

While being able to roll the fireball into the cultist unfettered by rules or laws is really fun, there are the laws of magic and the laws of man. Someone is going to try and regulate the magic missiling, regardless of how dark the times may be. And even though wizards and sorcerers are wielders of phenomenal powers, they are still human beings (or elves or kenkus or octopeople) that will have to interact with society at some point in their lives. Magic and every day life is subjected to rules. We all seek them out, even if we ourselves establish the order and routines that make up our days. When reality shifts to create the force that will put your enemies to sleep for an hour, what force will swoop in to try and make up for the disturbance?

For GMs:
-Players might not be down with being penalized for wanting to play a certain class. If you’re going to run a game where there are going to be restrictions on magic, save you and the player the headache by being upfront with the types of restrictions prevalent in this culture and give reasons why. It could be a great roleplaying opportunity and some players might be up to the challenge. In addition, you could make the restrictions play out more in social interactions rather than affect combat.
-Instead of making the restrictions apply to an entire campaign you could have the players pass through a region with regulations regarding magic. Again, be smart and don’t make the player useless.
-How do magic users learn their craft? In a lecture type setting, through apprenticeship, through a ritual/magical download into the brain or something in between?
-Are there types of magic that are endemic to the region? Consider the history of the region and what types of magic might have been cultivated and encouraged.
-Is magic something a person comes by naturally or through education? What is the proper age for a person to begin to learn/manifest magic?
-Who has the most at stake regarding magic users? The peasants? The religious organizations? The government? Someone else?
-Are their any types of magic that are outlawed? Frowned upon? Desperately sought out?
-Do magic users blend in with the rest of the citizens or do they stand out? Is there a accoutrement (such as the hairstyle in the short story) to differentiate magic users from non-magic users?
-How old is the country’s magical history? What magical establishments are there? Who were the first magic users and what did they do with their magic?
-Is there something in place to keep track of magic users, their abilities? Are they licensed, under surveillance or allowed to roam the world, not having to answer to anyone but themselves?
-What kinds of systems or organizations are set up to aid/abet magic users? Are magic users allowed to own property? Banks that help them in order to afford their spell components? Places only they are allowed/forbidden?

Plot Hooks
-The recent graduating class of the local school of magic goes missing en route to their basic training camp. Have they been kidnapped or convinced not to report to their duty station? The PCs must go out and find a group of young magic users fresh out of school who may or may not wish to be found.
-The town that the PCs are from have accumulated some money in order to pay a magic user to move to their region and help the townspeople with construction and farming projects. The PCs are charged with taking the money to wherever magic users congregate and convince one of them to go back with them.
-The senior class of the local magi university has the entire set of senior projects stolen before they have been graded. The PCs must find the stolen items and figure out who stole them and why.
-A neighboring country known for not having magic users suddenly starts seeing an outbreak in magical ability. The PCs are sent to investigate and council the government in trying to handle the new magic users but have to deal with a prophecy that seems to tie into the explosion in magical power and doesn’t seem too fond of the PCs homeland.
-The PCs work for the country’s wizard census. When several of their records are shown to be erroneous they must investigate the cause for the errors. Who messed with the records and why?
-Someone is magically minting forgeries of the local currency. The PCs must trace back the offending magic user and bring them to justice.
-A new legislation would make only the very wealthy able to pay for magical licensing. When less wealthy magic users are forced to take up menial labor to pay their debts and support their lifestyles, what happens to the local culture? How do the magic users feel about this? And what might they do to turn the legislation around?

If your PC is a magic user
-How did you come into your abilities?
-At what age did your abilities start manifesting?
-Are you on amicable terms with other magic users? Is there competition within the community?
-How did the PC pay for their schooling? Current practice? Do they have a sponsor? Did they take out loans? Are they enlisted by the government to pay for their schooling?
-How does the PC feel about magic? Still in awe of the power? Has schooling sucked out all the wonder? Do they think magic can solve all problems?
-What is a spell the PC is dying to use/learn? One they swear they would never cast, no matter the circumstance?
-Does the PC announce their magical abilities? Show their status in any way? If they are required to wear something to show their status, do they wear it with pride or shame?
-Is the PC part of any organizations related to magic?
-Do they think magic should be more/less regulated than it is now?
-Is there anything the PC feels they must do (a tic, possess a personal focus) in order to perform magic?

For PCs who don’t/can’t use magic
-How do they feel about magic?
-Do they think magic should be less/more regulated than it is now?
-Do they think magic can solve everything/anything?
-Are there any kinds of magic they think are evil?
-Have they or someone they knew been aided by magic in the past?
-How much magic has the PC been exposed to?
-What kinds of preconceived notions do they have about those with magical ability?

This all just touches the surface of magic, doesn’t it? What say you? And stay tuned for next week’s final installment!

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