Magic Monday – Hearing is believing

Mouth of Baen

Even the most upright of wizards is tempted at times to use this persuasive device. The caster must make a hand sign and speak in a certain tone of voice while pronouncing a short sentence or phrase. All those affected by the spell assume the phrase to be true without considering the source of their assurance, as if it were some common-sense bit of knowledge they had already possessed. Some examples of use might be “I am the new magistrate,” “She’s clearly innocent,” or “These are not the droids you are looking for.” Wise magicians will conceal the gesture in an attempt to make the spell undetectable to those not well acquainted with its use. Those affected cannot notice the spell.

The base cost of this spell is 1 strain, and the base difficulty, d8. In addition to the normal skill check, the spell also calls for a challenge roll: the caster rolls Presence and everyone within earshot must make an opposing roll with Intuition against the caster or be affected. The caster may single out specific targets (while leaving all others unaffected) by increasing the difficulty by a step, and take more strain to increase their Presence roll result on a 1-for-1 basis (this should be done before any opposing rolls are made). If a given target also knows this spell, they may choose Intuition or Intellect to resist it with, and also take strain to increase their roll (before the caster’s Presence result is revealed to them).

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What if you have your back to the future?

Today’s kotowaza, in English terms, is more of a set phrase than a “saying,” but it’s a kotowaza in Japanese none the less.

(Haisui no jin; “An army with its back to the water”)


Having your back to the wall. Being backed into a corner. A tight spot without room to maneuver in. A situation where, if you mess up or fail, there are no second chances: you can’t regroup and try again.


The nouns (“back,” in the compound pronounced with the Chinese-based reading hai) and (“water,” similarly pronounced sui) make what is effectively a compound noun. The associative particle (no) connects it with the noun (jin), a military camp or formation. So 背水の陣 depicts an army drawn up for battle with its back to a river, lake, sea, or other body of water.


Like so many others, this phrase comes from Chinese antiquity – specifically the Battle of Jingxing, in which the Han general Han Xin purposefully arrayed his forces with their backs to a river so that they would fight more fiercely.

Example sentence:


(“Kotoshi goukaku shinai to, chokin ga soko wo tsuite shimau nda. Konkai no nyuugaku shiken wa haisui no jin no tsumori de ganbaru!”)

[“If I don’t pass this year, my savings are going to run out. I’m going to work on the next entrance exam like it’s victory or death.”]

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Three weeks until the semester ends. How are you doing?


Literally: surplus/extra – abundant – lenient/loose – [doubling mark]

Alternately: Calm; unhurried; unphased.

Notes: The symbol is not in and of itself a kanji. Rather, it indicates that the previous kanji is used a second time – an especially valuable shortcut back when everything was written out by hand or carved into a wood block for printing. Naturally, writing 綽綽 is perfectly acceptable.

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Magic Monday: Double illumination

– Two for the price of one this week! Variations on the basic “light spell” theme. The second owes a pretty obvious debt to Gandalf’s staff in Lord of the Rings.


The caster summons a small ball of light approximately as bright as a normal candle (enough to read by or to dimly illuminate a three-meter radius). Its color can be changed at will, and it will drift about within arm’s reach of the caster, usually around head level. A werelight can be maintained with minimal concentration, so it is possible to read, talk, eat, mend, and so on while the light remains active, but not sleep or perform any action that requires a Concentration roll. This spell inflicts one point of strain, and standard difficulty is d4. Extra werelights can be called, and assigned to follow people other than the caster, by increasing the difficulty by one step for each extra light.

Torch of the Magi

The caster causes the tip of a staff, or some similar part of some inanimate object, to glow brightly. The light typically illuminates a nine-meter radius. The light is cold, but the caster may strike the object against something else and command it to produce sparks sufficient to light a fire in dry tinder or cause one point of damage to a struck target. Like a werelight, the magic can be maintained with minimal concentration, but only while the object is in hand. If the caster puts it down or passes it off to another, it slowly dims, losing about one meter of radius every ten minutes or so.

This spell inflicts three points of strain. Using an enchanted staff or other specially-prepared object reduces the cost of casting to one and produces light that can illuminate up to a twelve-meter radius. Each command to produce sparks costs another point of strain. The standard difficulty is d4, but the light radius can be increased in three-meter steps by either doubling the cost in strain or increasing the difficulty by one step.

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Has your son married a mouse?

Sorry for the late kotowaza post this week! Things are getting busy, and I had a heck of a time trying to come up with an example usage. Anyway, here’s a beautiful example of folk etymology run amok.

(Akinasubi yome ni kuwasu na; “Don’t let brides eat autumn eggplant.”)


There are three possible meanings attributed to this saying.

  1. Eggplant harvested in early autumn is especially good. If you’re a mother-in-law, don’t waste it on that woman your son brought home; you could be enjoying it yourself. Don’t let her eat it.
  2. Autumn eggplant is a “cold”-type food (think of European humors), and could make your son’s precious wife sick. What’s worse, it has few seeds, so eating it might hinder her ability to bear you grandchildren. Don’t let her eat it.
  3. Surprise! (nezumi, meaning “rat” or “mouse”) is a taboo word for the first three days of a new year. Let’s use 嫁が君 (yome ga kimi, something like “honored bride”) as a euphemism for those animals. Also, don’t let them eat your delicious autumn eggplants; put your food up on a shelf where the rodents can’t reach it. Who could possibly fail to understand that this is what we meant?


茄子 (here nasubi, often simply nasu in modern usage) is an eggplant, especially the Japanese eggplant, which is relatively long and thin compared to the rounder varieties that gave the plant its English name. (aki, “autumn”) is another noun, compounded on to let us know when the vegetable was harvested. Here you might want the topic marker (wa) or even the direct-object marker (wo), but most versions of the proverb don’t use a particle at all.

Topic taken care of, we now get to a meatier sentence-part. (yome) is a noun meaning “bride,” or by extension “wife” or “daughter-in-law.” And as it turns out, it’s also a contraction of the euphemism for mice or rats. To this noun we attach the directional marker (ni). And then comes the verb. 食う (kuu) has quite a range of meanings, but the most relevant one at the moment is “to eat.” Note also that in contemporary usage, kuu is pretty coarse, so the more neutral and more food-specific verb 食べる (taberu) is generally preferred.

In older grammar, the change from kuu to kuwa signals 未然形 (mizenkei, “the imperfective aspect”), and allows it to take the causative suffix (su) in sentence-final form. (In Japanese, grammatical causatives can be equivalent to the English “let” as well as “make.”) And to the sentence-final form we attach the negative imperative (na). So kuwasu na is either “don’t let ~ eat ~” or “don’t make ~ eat ~,” leading to the ambivalence we see in the saying’s interpretation.


Some versions do include the particle wa after nasubi or nasu; this is fine. A number of variations on the theme replace the eggplant with something else appropriate, especially fish – saba or kamasu for the “good thing to be hoarded” version; ishimochi for the “bad thing to be avoided” version.

Example sentence:


(“Kaasan, tana ni tappaa takusan naranderu ne. Douka shita?” “Oyatsu wo mamoru tame yo. Akinasubi yome ni kuwasu na tte iu shi.” “Kaasan!” “’Yome’ tte nezumi yo. Sachiko-san ni wa chanto ageru kara, sonna komatta kao shinaide.”)

[“Mom, that’s a lot of Tupperware on the shelf there. What’s up?” “It’s to protect the snacks. Like they say, ‘Don’t let brides eat autumn eggplant.’” “Mom!” “’Bride’ means mice! I’ll still let Sachiko have some, so don’t make that face at me.”]

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You can lead a field to water, but you can’t… hang on.


Literally: I/self – (rice) field – pull – water

Alternately: “Drawing water for one’s own field.” Serving only your own interests. Saying and doing what’s best for your convenience without consideration for others.

Notes: In Japan, where wet rice farming is a key agricultural activity, getting water to your fields is a major concern. When water is scarce, this can lead to conflict; when the community is full of people who try to keep their own fields flooded at their neighbors’ expense, you get the tragedy of the commons.

Dinosaur Comics

Source: The irreproducible Dinosaur Comics! By Ryan North!

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Magic Monday: Finally, a spell!

Sight from Darkness

Three hundred and nine number the words of Ekarmadedgon’s Whisper. Eleven of them, recited slowly, will bend the caster’s eyes: they will catch the light, not of this world, but of its Shadow, and see all things in their true form for so long as the chant lasts. (It can be drawn out to eleven rounds by prolonging each syllable, but during this time the caster is concentrating and can only perform simple actions such as walking.)

Using this spell reveals illusions to be false, discovers the invisible, and discloses the original form of shape-shifters and the penumbrae of supernatural beings. The magician can see enchantments, lines of power, dormant portals, and other lingering magical or spiritual phenomena.

This spell inflicts only one point of strain the first time it is used in a given day. But the second time it inflicts two, and the next, four, and so on, as the mind struggles to assimilate the information it receives. A skilled caster can convert part of the cost (equal to their skill level in the rote) from strain to fatigue , or halve the cost (round up) by increasing the difficulty. Standard difficulty is d6.

– And that’s our first spell! Here’s where we begin the long haul of building up content. At some point I’ll probably come back and do more rules-tweak posts, but for the time being I’m going to focus on providing magic things for magic people to do, with emphasis shifted away from the usual kill-it-with-fire combat focus. In the meantime, please let me know if there’s any important information you feel is missing, or other factors I didn’t take into account.

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