Of grimoires and glyphs: the history behind RPG magic

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Imagine you’re on a quest for a powerful artefact in Divinity: Original Sin 2. Perhaps you conversed with a ghost who pointed you in the right direction. Now you see demons close by. You cast Chameleon Cloak to try to sneak by, but alas! you are spotted. The fight begins. You draw your weapons, inscribed with runes. You weave protective spells. You summon your cat familiar to enter the fray and confound your enemies. A fireball scroll sets a puddle of oil ablaze, but you misjudged and now you’re on fire as well! But a potion you concocted earlier heals your wounds just in time.

It’s a typical scenario for D:OS2 and similar fantasy RPGs. Magic is everywhere, and you could barely swing your cat familiar by the tail without hitting a fellow Sorcerer (don’t do that though, it’s cruel). But where do these spells, demons and artefacts come from? Games have so inundated us with magic that it’s easy to forget that even the most outlandish, videogamey spectacles have their Source-drenched roots in historical beliefs and practices. (more…)

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