Mystic Links and Sympathetic Magic, Part I

Today it’s a question about Mystic Links in fantasy games. This particular article has been on the back burner for some time since it just seemed DETERMINED to wander all over the place – but it has been long enough that I think that I will just let it wander and see if it runs across anything interesting.

A number of spells in Eclipse (and Paths of Power, and Practical Enchanter, etc.) rely on mystic link effects, whether links sustained purely by a spell, or by utilizing a link between the target and something with its own link to them (e.g. a piece of their body, a blood relative, their (true) name, etc.).

What sort of spell would be able to defend against these sorts of links? Presumably it wouldn’t be that difficult to set up some sort of temporary shielding between the caster and some kind of outside link. but a permanent severance between the target and something intrinsically linked to them seems like it’d be more difficult (severing the link between the target and a lock of their hair is one thing, but between them and their kin, or even their name, is something else altogether).

Since the 10’th-level spell Cleanse the Soul seems like the ultimate version of such a severance, is it safe to presume that all such magic in this regard would be sub-epic level?

-Alzrius

The ideas are ancient, although they were only really stated formally in the late 1800’s when formal statements were becoming the rule rather than the exception.

  • Contagion: Things that were once in contact remain connected after separation. The basic strength of that link depends on how direct and important that contact was. Contagion is the basis of Sympathetic Magic – channeling power over that link to affect the original thing or drawing power from that thing to use yourself.
  • Sympathy: Effects resemble Causes. Thus sprinkling water on the ground will make it more likely to rain. The better the model or imitation of the desired result, the greater the effect of your magical ritual.
  • Correspondence. Properties are linked to appearances and things that happen to one corresponding item will be reflected in the others. Coals are red, and so things that are colored red have fiery properties. Thus the Doctrine Of Signatures tells you plants that look like parts of the body are good for treating disorders of that part of the body. (These ideas have poisoned a lot of people and done a lot of other damage over the years).

You can combine these. If you have a link (Contagion), and you embed it in something that more closely resembles the target (Sympathy), then you have much more power over said target. Thus a Voodoo Doll, made to look like the target, is a better link than the nail clippings or hairs incorporated into it. Sticking it with a pin will cause the target to experience a similar attack (Correspondence). Similarly, a picture is linked to the original thing, if only through the creators intent – and the better the picture, the better the link.

Now, the idea of Contagion is valid enough, at least in Quantum Mechanics. The problem there is that the linked – or Entangled – properties cannot transmit anything. Nothing known to physics can travel over those links. Fortunately for us, we’re talking about magic, which presumably can both create and travel over normally undetectable and unusable links.

Class-0 Links:

Even a quick sketch of something is a link to it – but such a sketch will be far more strongly linked to the tree the paper came from, and the artist, and the factory that made the pen, and the rest of the ink, then to the creature so sketched. Similarly, an item that the target has handled casually a few times is a link too, but certainly not much of one. A truly great mage using powerful magic to upgrade links on top of whatever he or she actually wants to do might manage something using a mere sketch or a book someone once read or some such – but no lesser mage will.

  • Class-0 Links are fairly useless. A skilled psychic or diviner can use them to tell if something actually exists (as in “I think she’s still alive…” or “I think there might be something to it…”), but that’s about it. You can detect that Class-0 links exist, but they simply aren’t strong enough to transmit anything over or determine a direction from unless they’re enhanced. Thus this is the sort of thing you see in TV shows when the skeptical-but-desperate-cop takes a photo of a missing person to a psychic (who will then, of course, want better links to work with).

For a standard d20 example… The Scry spell includes Will save modifiers for Knowledge Of The Target (None +10, Secondhand +5, Having Met +0, and Know Well -5) as well as Connection – having a Picture (-2), having a Possession or Garment (-4), and having a Body Part (-10). And while “picture” is undefined, I, at least, assume that it means a recognizable picture – not a stick figure or quick sketch.

  • Blocking the use of Class-0 links requires a first level effect, and is generally good for a full day. In addition, any attempt to create new Class-0 links – perhaps by making a new sketch – while the target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking Class-0 links is actually fairly hard. Unless you’re extremely careful, whatever you use to do it is going to leave stronger traces behind. Ceremonial Magic can do it by substituting new links for yours, Ritual Magic can perform a cleansing ritual at DC 10 given a half an hour or so, and various second-level effects can do the same.
  • Amplifying a Class-0 Link is also difficult, simply because they’re hard to pick out of the morass of other Class-0 links. The Scry spell does it – but even as a fourth level spell using such a link greatly increases the chance of failure – and it can only boost such a link enough to gather sensory impressions. A spell of fifth level or above can transmit a Prestidigitation level effect over a Class-0 link, but that’s the upper limit – and who wants to bother with that?

Class-1 Links:

A recent. high-quality. photograph or painting, a detailed description, or a psychological profile, is still a relatively low-quality link – but unlike sketches and items that someone has handled casually, they’re somewhat usable, although you’ll still need a pretty good mage to get very far. Unfortunately, Class-1 links degrade when used, dropping to Class-0 after 1d3 uses.

Here we have the origin of the idea that photographs can steal your soul. After all, if you die, and your soul becomes unbound from your body and should move on. But if it still linked to a picture… you soul may be captured, and at the mercy of whoever has the picture. The ka statues of ancient Egypt supposedly used the same effect to keep their owners souls safely anchored to the world. On a more modern level… throwing darts at the picture of the hated boss or cutting someone you don’t like any more out of photographs are still common behaviors. In fact, most people are aware enough of the thought process behind them to find them a bit disturbing.

Of course, even today, people are regularly burned in effigy – a magical ritual meant to focus the energy of their hatred and anger on the individual so attacked and to do him or her harm.

  • Class-1 Links can be used to determine the Targets general status and (very) genera) location (such as “cold and hungry, in the northern wilderness”) with relative ease.
  • Blocking the use of Class-1 links requires a cantrip to block incoming effects for a minute (although it’s use is an immediate action), a first level effect provides for an hour or so of safety, and a second level effect a full day. An appropriate Charm (The Practical Enchanter) can block links of Class 1 and below as well, as can appropriate ceremonies and rituals. As usual, any attempt to create new Class-0 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-1 link requires a level one effect targeting the specific link in question. Alternatively, a fifth level effect can be used to blast any or all existing Class-1 links – breaking them and (in the case of items) slightly scorching or even burning them – a magical “scorched earth” policy. It’s worth nothing that the police find it most disconcerting to have their files reduced to ash, and more magically aware organizations usually preemptively disrupt such links, preferring information retention over messing about with sympathetic magic.
  • Amplifying a Class-1 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 4+/6+/8+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Children, being fragile, weak, extremely vulnerable, and precious to their parents are preferred targets for vengeful sympathetic mages who lack the power to do much to adults. Throughout history it has thus been common to give children protective Charms or to teach them to make magically-protective gestures when they feel threatened by “the evil eye” or similar malicious magics.

Class-2 Links:

A personal use-name, a signature, a personal coat of arms, bodily wastes, and such? Slightly better. At least the link to the target is direct. Thus the notion that “A man is not dead while his name is still spoken” (since that can allow the spirit to extend its presence into the material plane) and the fact that the use of a name is enough to alert people with the right skills (such as “Ears Of The Wind”).

In medieval demonology magical glyphs and diagrams were, in fact, the personal symbols of gods and other mighty spirits. While their link with the spirit in question isn’t actually very strong, those beings are so powerful that even a bit of their might gives those symbols enough power to be useful. Thus the tradition that holy symbols can ward off evil spirits as shown in every horror movie.

In ancient Egypt, pharaohs had magicians carve the names and images of their enemies – mostly the kings of other lands – into their thresholds that they might trample them beneath their feet every day and that they might never cross their borders. So did they attempt to destroy their enemies. Later on, curses and names would be carved into slabs of lead and buried, so that – as the tablet slowly corroded away – so would the health and sanity of the victim linked to it. (Trying this sort of thing against a leader in your own country was generally treated as high treason).

While there’s no way to confirm it, the many cave paintings that show successful hunts may have been an attempt to control the animals depicted, thus bringing prosperity to painter’s tribe.

  • Class-2 Links (other than bodily wastes anyway, which are only good for 1d4 uses) can usually transmit a steady trickle of power from a sufficiently powerful source pretty much indefinitely because the links of personal symbols, coats of arms, and use-names are constantly renewed each time the target uses them. Thus class-2 links are commonly used for subtle influences and slowly cumulative curses.
  • Blocking the use of Class-2 links requires a first level effect to block a single incoming effect (although it’s use is an immediate action), a second level effect for an hour or so of safety, or a third level effect for a full day. An appropriate Talisman (The Practical Enchanter) can block links of Class-2 and below as well, as can appropriate ceremonies and rituals. As usual, any attempt to create new Class 0-2 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-2 link requires a level one effect targeting the specific link in question or a fifth level spell to temporarily disrupt them all – but this does nothing about whatever power has already passed over the link. Worse, for most such links, this is a strictly temporary measure; as long as the Target continues to use the same use-name, coat of arms, or personal symbol, the link will soon re-establish itself. Thus most important figures make regular use of protective spells or talismans to prevent indirect attacks. Providing such protection may well be a regular source of income for courtly and mercenary mages.
  • Amplifying a Class-2 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 3+/5+/7+/9+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Class-3 Links:

The glasses your target wore for years? Something they personally treasured? A piece of well-worn clothing, perhaps still bearing some sweat stains and a few dried skin cells? A bit of bone or flesh from a past member of a flock or herd? Better, but still not very good. It’s associated with them – but is also strongly associated with the people who made it or who sewed the buttons back on and mended it. Once again… the link is drowning in noise. Still, many a hopeful youngster has sought a love charm crafted from such components, and often enough the placebo effect has given them enough extra confidence to make a successful approach.

Homeopathic “Medicine” – the belief that if you dilute a compound to the point that none of is present it will become more potent – comes in here as well, with the belief that contagion and the ever-increasing self-similarity of pure water multiplies the power. Of course, if THAT worked… why isn’t everyone permanently drunk? Lots of booze has been spilled over the years, and diluted again and again. Wouldn’t that make IT more potent too?

  • Class-3 Links are usually good for 1d4+1 uses – and will allow targets to be strongly influenced. Attempts to force people to make irrational decisions, serious love charms, briefly animating a corpse, long-range communications, and similar effects are all possible with Class-3 Links.
  • Blocking the use of Class-3 links is difficult. The effects that block class-2 effects will still work, but they only degrade the link to Class-1 – so a protective Talisman will not stop sympathetic magic using a Class-3 link entirely – but Class-3 links are considerably harder to obtain than lower order links; sensible precautions will usually allow prudent Targets to avoid untoward effects. A fourth level effect will, however, suffice to block the effects of Class-3 links for a full day. As usual, any attempt to create new Class 0-3 links while the Target is so protected will fail automatically.
  • Breaking a known Class-3 link requires a level two effect targeting the specific link in question or a sixth level spell to break up to (Caster Level) such links – so if someone happens to have managed to steal your entire wardrobe or something a single casting may not be sufficient.
  • Amplifying a Class-3 Link is relatively straightforward; an effect of level 2+/4+/6+/8+ can transmit a Prestidigitation Level/Zero Level/First Level/Second Level effect over such a link, but that’s the upper limit.

Next time around on this topic it will be links of levels 4-7 and general information on using Sympathetic Magic in the game.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for taking this up! It’s quite interesting to look over, though I’m not sure how to map the various classes of links to spells and powers that rely on such effects (presumably it’s equal to the spell level, but that doesn’t seem right for spells like status).

    Also, the last sentence of the third bullet point for class two links cuts off abruptly before finishing.

    • Oh, you’re quite welcome. And I’ll admit that they don’t map very well – mostly because most of those spells are creating artificial links rather than using natural ones. Otherwise spells like Status would include notes about them working better on close friends, but poorly on people you just met, and so on – which would be really awkward.

      Secondarily, of course… Sympathetic Magic is really awkward to translate effectively into game terms for a variety of reasons, many of which appear in the second half of the article.

      I really must start letting things sit for a while before proofreading them again. There’s just too strong a tendency to fill in missing bits in your head unless you let things rest…

  2. I wonder how high such Links can go. They already seem pretty useful, so a Level 9 one must be outstanding, but in Eclipse we do also have spells of an even higher level, so how far does it go? Is there a Level 20 Link?

    • Well, that’s mostly for the second half – but no. Natural Links only really go up to Class-7. Artificial links, created by Spells or the Mystic Link ability or some other feats, don’t share most of the limitations of natural links.

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