Thursday 18 November 2021

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: The Anti-Grimoirean Thesis

Another 'problem post' detailing debates and questions confronting the community of magic-users in TRoAPW


A wizard needs a spellbook. Spells must be initially recorded and re-memorised for use regularly; the best means to do so is a compact volume. Mages must inscribe these themselves in one of the languages of magic using the shorthands, syntax, cyphers and symbols particular to them. They are things far too specific to be printed.

But what if spellbooks were unnecessary? What if mages could cast freely? This is the line of thought followed by the Anti-Grimoireans

The State of the Art

While there are legends of hermit mystics and certain Schoolmen casting spells without the paraphernalia of wizardry, to follow such a course would be rather contrary to the mood of the times. It would not be the thing at all for an inquiring, modern wizard. 

Widely speaking, two methods are in use among the Anti-Grimoireans. Firstly, there is an examination of ancient magically-associated relics and artefacts seeking for an older pictorial language of magic, where the carvings on a staff or paintings in a cave are memetic spell-triggers to allow the magician to re-memorise instantly. This field of study has extended to the examination of traditions outside the continent of Calliste. 

Some application has been made of these ideas in the form of so-called Savant-Mages. Apprentices (usually from a less-than wealthy background) are taught in the methods of rote memorisation and strict mental focus to cast a spell without a spellbook. It is noted, however, that there are very few confirmed Savant-Mages, that those that exist have a rather limited repertoire and that their livelihoods are rather dependant on one Anti-Grimoirean patron.

Opponents of the Anti-Grimoirean Thesis

The opponents of the Anti-Grimoireans do not regard them as deceivers, merely as fools. If we can cast spells successfully from a grimoire, why should we not continue to do so? Our research efforts are better spent in other fields - developing new and better spells, creating taxonomies of magic, and so forth.  A certain amount of hay is also made out of Anti-Grimoireans seeking after foreign artefacts and magics.

The Anti-Grimoireans Divided

The Anti-Grimoireans may be divided between the 'Hard' Anti-Grimoireans who contend that spellbooks will in time be completely unnecessary (and who get all the publicity and wide-eyed fans) - and the 'Soft' Anti-Grimoireans who suggest spellbooks will always be around one way or the other (and who have burnt far fewer bridges and have far quieter lives. You'd like to think this would mean they get more research done).

Beyond this fairly elementary division, there are the Ante-Grimoireans. These are those of a romantic cast of mind who believe that there was a golden age of magic where magic-users could manipulate the world around them freely with no need for spellbooks or the study of arcane languages. Anti-Grimoireans dislike them, partly for tainting Anti-Grimoireans by association and partly for the constant tone of adolescence.


What if the Anti-Grimoireans manage to produce a method of grimoire-less magic equal to or surpassing the existing model? 

To begin with, there is a mass change in magical training as the new methods are propagating. If the wizard was once an 'Antiquarian', mages now become 'Artists'. The change-over of methods also would spread a wave of new spells being taught and disseminated through the magical world. The disruption to existing magical institutions should be mentioned as well; the opportunities for Anti-Grimoireans sky-rocket. There is a real difference in the culture of magic, replacing rule-bound sects with personal cliques. 

As the Antiquarian-Artist comparison may imply, the business of actually teaching magic by the Anti-Grimoirean method may be troublesome. Potential mages may go unnoticed or undeveloped by the new method. 

New spells are likely to be taught by Anti-Grimoireans; a new group of 'set texts'. Of course, certain useful functions are likely to be kept or imitated: a fireball by any other name may scorch as much. Nevertheless, there is a potential for variation in the new method that exceeds the old as magical focus, mental imagery and personal disposition vary: at a minor level, the passage, shape, size and colour of a fireball could change. In a greater display of variation, the fireball could manifest as a rocketing salamander or flaming sword. 

The above presents frustrations to the mundane world, but fewer problems than might be expected. Bookish bewildering magecraft is replaced or supplemented with symbolic bewildering magecraft. In the short term, there going to be some important people disappointed by wizardly disputes, but the wise statesman does not put all his geopolitical eggs into one pointy hat. 

Comments, nitpicks, &c welcome - I'd rather work out the problems now than later.


  1. This is the (or at least a) way to take the implications of Vancian magic seriously! Spell levels might be another point to consider. Are they simply a question of actually increasing complexity and/or effort? Or just the hand-me-downs and/or traces of lost institutions?

    Really enjoyed this post & the prior one.

    1. Glad you're enjoying these! Given they form the distinctive backbone of TRoAPW (the Early Modern setting has been done more thoroughly elsewhere), that's encouraging. I may have to go back to my Vance before too long, just to remind myself how he does it.

      I hadn't though too much about spell levels yet (next post is TRoAPW, but not that), but that's certainly one to tackle. Parts write themselves: "Dumbledore, you deceitful pig, you deliberately made these spells overcomplex so that I wouldn't learn Lightning Bolt too early!" "Yes."

    2. Yeah, spell levels is a gygaxian (I guess?) innovation, and perhaps a bit at odds with the great mathesis hinted at in the Dying Earth stories. But it leans into scholastics in a way that has its own charm.