The Magic in Thálassa (part 1): Gods and Prayers

Outlining a magic system for Thálassa proved to be more difficult than I had thought and is still giving me a hard time.

I didn’t wont just to mindlessly use the d100 spells list in Cairn, which is tightly connected with a medieval fantasy lore and it seemed to be difficult to adapt to a Ancient Greek setting.

First, I had to explore what was magic for the Ancient World.

The word “magic” itself in the Greek world was introduced later when they made contact with the Persians and their magi, their world for priest and sapient. Greeks did not thought well of this individuals (remember they were quite haughty and xenophobic) and they labelled them as charlatans or frauds. So a mágos in the Greek world was an astrologer or an alchemist rather than sapient. At this time mágos displaced goēs, the older term for such practitioner (keep the latter in mind for the second part).
Magic was the work of dishonest crooks, nothing highly considered.

So, “magic” in Thálassa can’t be a in-world term, but for gaming purpose the relevant section of the rules is such titled. I like the concept to subdivide magic in two realms: divine and arcane magic of course, but with in the context of Mythical antiquity.

What is commonly associated with magic in the Mythic world is a divine prerogative. Gods are those who grant wishes, transform mortals and objects, send signs and omens, manipulate the elements, concede apotheosis, etc.

Ancient Greeks were convinced that their prays could be effectively listed by Gods and may be a direct influence on their lives.

How to render this deep-seated conviction, which has parallels in myth and poetry, in a game mechanic?

In Thálassa Gods are real, like in Iliad or Odyssey. Not an abstract concept or just a prayer’s aim, but a real living creature, powerful and capricious.

There were, in fact, a world for this form of “magic”, theourgía:

a power higher than all human wisdom, embracing the blessings of divination, the purifying powers of initiation, and in a word all operations of divine possession – (Proclus)

This term however, like “mágos” is a later one, but fortunately, VanWinkle came to my rescue by directing me to a term more in keeping with the source material: eukhé, prayer, wish.

Eukhé is a direct divine invocation to a deity for ask intervention in a specific domain

  • Apollo: divination and healing.
  • Ares: might in battle.
  • Artemis: protection in the night and charms in the hunt.
  • Aphrodite: love charms and potions.
  • Athena: insights and strategy.
  • Hermes: thievery and trickery.
  • Hephaestus: blessing weapons and armors.
  • Hera: blessing marital unions.
  • Persephone: calling upon the souls of the dead.
  • Poseidon: control over sea and weather

Mechanically, praying a deity requires some time (1d6 turns in play) and a threshold of 16 on a 1d20 (20% probability of success).

Both types of magic use Willpower as the power source, consuming 1d6 points each time a spell, invocation, curse or divination is casted. This determines the current level of the attribute until recovered.

In the next part I will outline the arcane magic and in the third part the relics.

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