Thursday, 28 April 2022

The Rest of All Possible Worlds: The Great Bifurcation

The Rest of All Possible Worlds is intended to detail the possible steps of an analogue to the eighteenth century Enlightenment in a fantasy realm. Which means I have been discussing it in terms of magical theory and practice (see: the last few posts on this topic). But this is also an Early Modern setting (meaning everyone can have muskets and coffee and tobacco and printed books and telescopes and....) - further, as some of my locations imply, I don't intend every player to be a student of magic. Nor do I intend that the print-works and gunsmiths to require magic to function (even if magic can assist them). Indeed, I would suggest that having magic within such a setting possess a fairly limited set of practical applications is entirely in keeping with the nature of the Enlightenment (see the passage here starting 'I'm going to tangent for a moment...'). 

Moreover, there's clearly some technological progress going on: soldiers have gone from matchlocks to flintlocks in living memory. Oceans have been crossed and trade between continents is fairly frequent. I don't want to outline a full 'Renaissance' and 'Reformation' for the continent of Calliste. But all the same, there was clearly a moment of change. One of those nebulous 'Turning Points' of history. 

Once upon a time, the line between 'mage' and 'mundane scholar' was not at all clear. A wizard devoted to pyromancy would write as much upon fire and combustable materials as spark-charms and the proper etiquette for addressing Balrogs. Even if a student at a hall of learning would go onto to enter an entirely mundane trade in the law courts or the chancellery, that student would have in all likeliness learnt some little theory of magic and attempted a charm. Of course, those with a great deal of magical talent might well have been taken up by one of the traditional colleges of magic - but the notion that a learned individual is able to prepare and fire off a cantrip would remain.

What changed? Several things.

  1. The printing press is invented. Learning can spread (as can many others things). The School of Malicarn's response to breakaway groups goes from contemptuous neutrality ("Yeah? Good luck with that.") to parachuting in an Overseer of the Faithful with sweeping powers. Division between Schools of the Majestic Vision rises. Civil strife ensues. 
  2. Mundane achievements occur. The press is one - but then the New World is reached by ship, apparently without magical aid. (The worn-out journeyman mage purifying the water casks doesn't count.) Even if later trips and expeditions are made with significant magical assistance (notably, the breaching of Qacenoit by Tsymrikane expeditionaries), it is very clear you need a mundane core to such an enterprise. The aristocrat with his court, synthesising authority, legal knowledge, martial prowess and magical advice is supplanted by the practical gentleman with a sufficiency of learning mastering the elements. 
  3. There is a change from private traditions to public institutions. Naturally, kings and nobles founded academies in the past. But there in the moment of change, new foundations begin with more specific remits - "Produce lawyers for the courts", "Produce surgeons", "Produce mages". Newly emerged Schools of the Majestic Vision also want Readers for the communities they preach to.*
  4. 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' is not among the Words of Procophon. But the nonconformist and schismatic sects in Calliste have evolved a set of doctrines that spurn wizardry as a misuse of time and talent - "A field of good turnips would serve us better than this rose garden." Moreover, the egalitarianism that some of them profess make them suspicoius of people who can fly and chuck around fireballs. Of course, given the controls that rulers place (or attempt to place) upon magecraft, which Archmages must make shows of obedience to, anyone trying to start a school of magic serving a given minority sect would have the odds stacked against them (at least in Calliste....).

Thus, the divergance of the magic-user and the mundane scholar. Nevertheless, there is something like a mundane Enlightenment going on 'out of focus' in TRoAPW. Experiments are being carried out, the earth and heavens mapped, laws reformed. But the presence of magic users, wizarding institutions, &c warp attention from these things as often as they help them. Social changes also follow a different path: anyone proposing a new theory of government or more egalitarian model of society must accept within it magic users; those opposing such a thing can point to magical ability as a portion of the hierarchies of this world (the technique of Pneumametrics is often cited for such a purpose). There are writers that grumble of an 'invisible society of mages' putting the brotherhood of mystics over the good of their neighbours.

Revolution, naturally, becomes difficult when the current ruler can call upon not only an army but wizards - and proponents of social change have already spurned the old customs of limited magical engagement with politics. The citizens and burghers of the Republic of Datravia will tell you that freedom from tyranny is quite possible: the mercenaries and exiles that were once Captains of the Ascendancy will tell you bitterly of the price.


*Those public-spirited souls hoping to encourage magical learning among adolescents would, in this period, found a number of gramarye schools.  

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