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Alphatian Magicby Markus Olavi Montola
[This train of thought begun on my mail with Ohad Shaham, who invented the poetically beautiful spells like Brannart's Well Kept Secret and Innocenti's Bells of Warning, so try to keep on my track.]
I like to treat Alphatian Magic as monumental and massive ritualistic art and science -- Genevieve's Emotional Terrain sounds Alphatian-like to me.
IMC I declared that extensive study and optimisation allows a spell to be cast on lower levels. For example, the very basic Fireball is greatly optimised by generations of magic-use, and if a PC would research a spell of equal effect, it would be lvl 5 or something. (It is overpowered spell IMHO)
Alphatians have three vast advantages over Glantrians.
1. Alphatians research magic collectively. As Glantrian mages fight against one another and bicker for their spells and restrict magic teaching mostly to the Great School, Alphatians are like free scholars trading their science publicly. Though everyone has their own special spells, the prestige for publishing journals of arcane science and releasing a spectacular (high-level) spell is so great, that even the masters do it.
2. Alphatia is huge. There are millions of people more than in Glantri. Though there are a greater proportion of mages in Glantri, in Alphatia there are masses and masses of mages, whom are respectively richer. As slaves and lower castes do the menial labour and fighting and that, the true aristocrats eat grapes and master their art.
3. Alphatia is old. Therefore Alphatia is practically filled with ancient texts and grimoires full of miracles for the daring who dare to open the ancient books. But, for example, the dynasties (the Imperial dynasty, but also the royal families of the kingdoms) often hold their books accessible to their heirs -- the rightful heir of Eriadna (Zandor, that is) would not be blown up by her grimoire's wardings, though anyone else would.
This brings me to the metaphysics of High Magic. This is little like the idea of Alphatian Air Wizards someone brought up.
Low Magic -- Spells making certain single effects. ESP, Meteor Swarm, Force Field, Statue, Animate Dead, Geas (Meta Magic -- Spells targeted on magic).
Middle Magic -- Spells tapping their power from metaphysical forces and artifact sources. Power Words, Discharge, Transcend Life Force, Call Upon Radiance
High Magic -- Spells with free effects or monumental specific effects. Mordenkainen's Disjunction, Cantrip, Wish, Mylsibis' Arcane Contention, Duel Shield, Sleep Curse
Rule of thumb: Every spell is Low Magic (or it's subclass Meta Magic) unless it taps it's power from some extraordinary source, or creates a free effect, or creates a truly monumental effect or an effect surpassing the limits of magic.
Now the catch is, that Glantrians are experts and masters of low magic. The Seven Secret Crafts would be strongly despised by Alphatian Masters, for they are even lower magic, very restricted in effects and their powers are comparatively weak even in their zenith. Most Glantrians practice low magic for they don't know of better, as even the strongest Glantrians focus on the greatly-hush-hush Radiance Magic, which is 'just' Middle Magic. Alphatian masters, however, consider Low Magic only a step to High Magic, and in the end they research a new spell for every effect they want to take place in their Kingdom, casting it once and being happy.
Ar spent centuries to refine a High-Magic spell to make his kingdom float - -- High Magic is the right path for a Paragon. Creating TRULY unique Magic Items, transforming lands, and teaching apprentices so they really learn things to the level 12 and stay alive after that making deeds that honour their master.
Glantrians are petty magicians bickering on the secrets in their lust of power, Alphatian arch-magi know that masters come from patience, ambition and deep pondering on the greatest mysteries of magic.
Low Magic costs 1000dc/level to research and takes 7 days plus a day per level to research, giving 1500xp/level experience (new spell, ordinary spell gives only 1000xp/lvl).
Middle Magic can be researched only by name-level Wizards. It costs double or triple, and takes double or triple time. That is 2000-3000dc/lvl, 2*(7+lvl) to 3*(7+lvl) days. Chances of success are halved -- however, Middle Magic gives the diligent researcher quadruple or even quintuple experience.
High Magic can be researched only by master wizards (20+ levels). It costs five times as much money, and takes ten times longer time. That is 5000dc/lvl, and 10*(7+lvl) days. Chances of success are only one-third the normal.
NOTHING says that High Magic would be more effective than Middle or Low Magic. Sleep is far stronger than Cantrip, and ignorant mages consider Disjunction more a problem than show of ingenuity. Specifically designed High Magics can cross boundaries of magic (like Wish and Disjunction do), but there often is a price (like Disjunction has). They are often non-dispellable or non-counterable, and have weird conditions of use (Sleep Curse) or material components. But who dares to laugh when Alphatian Master turns his companions to huge gold dragons -- permanently?
Power comes to the patient.