How Magic Works in Altearth

The key thing to understand about magic in Altearth is that it is not predictable. A great many factors affect how a spell behaves, and only the most erudite of mages will be able to state with any reliability whether a cold spell, for example, will achieve anything like its intended effect.

The topic is subtle and deep, and any number of Houses will reject this picture as too simplistic, but I feel it is at least indicative, if not exactly nuanced. As much else to do with Altearth, there is really no substitute for individual investigation.

The main things that affect magic are (in no particular order):

  1. Time (of year, of month, of day)
  2. Place
  3. Weather
  4. Geography
  5. The caster (temperment, learnedness, and other characteristics)
  6. Operant humors
  7. Counter-conditions (i.e., attempts by others to thwart or change the spell
  8. Numerology
  9. Astrology

Thus, the same spell, cast by the same individual, might turn out differently in the fall than in the spring, in Gaul than in Italia, on a sunny day or a stormy night. It matters whether the caster has all the correct elements in place, whether he is ill or well, is casting the spell for the first time or the hundredth, and so on.

An experienced mage is so familiar with the many vagaries of his spells that he instinctively takes into account all variables and adjusts accordingly. Thus, to the untutored, it appears that he goes where he wills and casts what he wills with complete confidence and consistency. But such individuals are rare. Much more common are spells that are too weak or too strong, that have unexpected effects, or that fail altogether.

Magic in Altearth inherits many of the magical theories of true Earth, including astrology, numerology and the humors. Here is a handy reference chart.

Sign Season Age Element Direction Quality Substance Body Humor Color
Aries, Taurus, Gemini Spring Childhood Air South Moist heat Liquid Blood Sanguine Red
Cancer, Leo, Virgo Summer Youth Fire East Dry heat Gas Yellow bile Choleric Yellow
Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius Autumn Maturity Earth North Dry cold Dense Black bile Melancholic Black
Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces Winter Old age Water West Moist cold Solid Phlegm Phlegmatic White

History of Magic

The first magicians had no training. How could they have? Rather, they relied on their natural talents and a level of experimentation that most modern mages would consider alarmingly reckless.

Modern research [1] has produced considerable evidence that the distribution and perhaps even the nature of mana was significantly different in the Dark Ages. Speculation by Manutio and others suggests that the initial wave of invasions brought with it a corresponding “wave” of mana that both enabled the early mancers while also producing conditions not seen since. [2] The result was that the Mancers of the First Dark Age really were extraordinarily powerful, and probably every bit as colorful as legend has made them. The great work of archeomancy of the last century time and again proved that the old stories, for centuries dismissed as mere fables, had more than a kernal of truth in them.

The Rise of the Colleges

In the wake of the Battle of Hadrianopolis, the first generation of Human mages were preoccupied simply with surviving their own powers. Many died. Others, their spells having gone awry, were driven out in fear and anger. There is some indirect evidence of schools under Theodosius and again under Justinian, but in general Mancers were regarded with suspicion, resentment, and outright fear. They rarely were allowed to gather in groups, still less to tutor the young.

Then came the First Dark Age and all learning was lost.

The first House was founded around 1200 AUC by the Mancer Cassini in the Appenine Mountains south of Rome. He gathered around him fellow mages and a number of young men and women who had innate magical powers but lacked the training to use them effectively. Cassini himself never used the word "collegium" but this is generally regarded as the first College. For a very long time, it was the only one.

Cassini created regula (rules) for his followers, which is why they became known as Regula Mancers--mages who follow a Rule. The core principles were poverty, obedience, and stability. That is, a Mancer was to renounce personal wealth and power and swear not to use magical powers to gain such. A Mancer was to obey his tutor and to obey the Rules of the House. And a Mancer was to remain in the House, and not travel about.

The Cassini House had a list of about twenty specific rules to follow, but most of them elaborate on and give specificity to the guiding principles.

The Carolingian Age witnessed the foundation of Houses of magic all over the Empire. No doubt these had been being founded for some time--perhaps for a century or longer. Certainly, many of these Houses claimed to be of ancient origin. Initially scattered and quite idiosyncratic, they were organized and regularized under Carolus Magnus and were made a part of his imperial system.

It was Carolus Magnus who systematized their naming and called them all “collegia”. They had a three-fold charge: to train the young, to preserve knowledge, and to serve the Empire.

Battle Magic


Logistics have been transformed by modern warfare on Earth, but magic had little effect on Altearth warfare. Specifically, troops and supplies moved on foot or by boat. Magical transportation was possible, but was severely limited. First, moving large numbers of anything was extremely risky and the ability was extremely rare. Second, the longer the distance, the greater the risk. I could use this to explain a few extraordinary defeats (e.g., Poitiers) - a mage tried to transport and failed. This leaves the transport of single, highly-valuable objects such as a magic item. It was still very risky though, and most preferred to keep high-value items by their side.

Supply is the second element of logistics. Here again, magic could theoretically be used, but proved impractical. Magic was not strong enough to create things out of thin air, and nobody knew chemistry or biology well enough for a "purify water" spell, though if a substance had been poisoned it was possible to detect and sometimes remove the poison.

Communication is the third element. Here, telepathy and other types of communication could and did work. But use was limited. Essentially, most lords didn't command multiple armies, the trick required a mage present at every communication point, and he had to function more as a radio operator. Few mages were battle-savvy enough to recognize type of troop movements, to estimate numbers accurately, and so on. So, such arrangements were rare.

Siege Warfare

Magic could be effective in a siege because the less a target moves, the more magic can be brought to bear. Assaulting, breaking down, or undermining the walls is are obvious applications, but of course the defenders also had time for countermeasures.

One purpose of a siege is to deny supplies to the besieged, and magic could be used to seal gates, block roads, and detect movement. It was less helpful in the event of supplies delivered in force.

Style and Technique


  1. Giles Haversham, Entropy and Dystropy at the Beginning of the Dark Ages: Results from the Fifth Aetheroscopic Research Survey. University of Leeds, 2751 AUC. [return]
  2. Leo Manutio, "Encore the 'Mana Wave' Debate," Journal of Ancient Magic, Vol 59, Second Series, 2717 AUC. But contra Manutio, see V. Ilardi, "Sense and Nonsense in the Controversy over the so-called Introduction of Mana," Vierteljahrschrift für Magikforschung, v. 189, pp. 89-152. 2749 AUC. [return]