Dec 20, 2018

Organising the Senses in Mythras Sorcery

Mythras sorcery has a number of spells - Mystic Sense, Phantom Sense, Perceive (Sense Type), Project Sense - which are broken down into individual spells by which sense they affect. Only Phantom Sense explicitly lists the folk taxonomy of five senses and how each can be altered by the spell, but I think the default assumption for all of them except Perceive (Sense Type) is that the folk taxonomy is fine, and Perceive mainly involves augmenting the existing senses, so that one can e.g. see infrared or smell fear and the like.

I, along with modern science, think the folk taxonomy of five senses leaves out a lot of actual senses that humans have, let alone weird creatures that might exist in a fantasy setting. I thought it might be worth reorganising and categorising senses that sorcerers can affect with a single spell. Such a catalogue would hopefully help spur the imagination and make some of the selections more desirable than relying on the folk taxonomy alone would.

Here's that catalogue, along with the explanations for each. Each line is a single sense-type for spell purposes.

Sense Types
Electroception & Magnetoreception
Sight (Visual, Infrared, Thermovision, Ultraviolet, X-rays) & Chronoception
Sound & Echolocation
Smell, Taste, & Chemoreception (Flavour)
Touch, Proprioception, Nociception, Balance, Mechanoception, & Thermoception (Feeling)

Electroception and magnetoception are the abilities to sense electro-magnetic fields. The difference in the two tends to be whether it involves active pulses (most electroception) or not (magnetoception). These senses are especially common in insects, birds and fish, and extremely useful for navigation (humans use compasses to similar ends). This is an unusual set of sensory modes, but I could see it being kind of cool for Mystic Sense in particular - you feel yourself in a rippling field of magical energy that conveys information through prickling feelings. Scientifically sophisticated sorcerers could do all sorts of interesting things with the ability to sense and measure paramagnetism, diamagnetism, ferrimagnetism, antiferro- and antiferrimagnetism etc.

Sight's domain is obvious, but I do think it should explicitly cover sight beyond the ordinary visual spectrum. I'd include chronoception (the sensation of the passage of time) with it not because they're tightly linked (they're not) but because I think the most obvious way to mess with, fool, or manifest altered chronoception involves vision. If suddenly everything you can see is moving in a blur, or like molasses, your chronoception is going to fool you.

Sound and echolocation are similar to electroception and magnetoception in that one is a passive sensation and the other involves actively pulses which are received and processed. I think this is a fairly obvious combination of senses. I would allow Phantom Sound to produce fake speech, something that's not explicit in the spell description but that extends its usefulness while not cleanly being covered by another spell.

Smell, taste and chemoception are all variations on the same sensory mode, coming in through different organs. I would let Phantom Smell /  Taste / Chemoception include faking the effects of poisons and other drugs, albeit these effects would be illusions. Great for psychedelic purposes or for making someone feel like they've been cured of an ailment. I would also allow the Phantom version of this spell to trigger allergies. Taste on its own is one of the weaker and less useful sense types to associate with a spell, so combining it with smell boosts the desirability of taking it. For shorthand, I'd call it "Flavour", a word that (at least in my dialect of English) refers to both smell and taste.

Touch, again, has an obvious domain. Proprioception is being able to feel the movement of your body, including locating where your limbs are (Octopi, oddly, lack this sense and use visual cues). Nociception is feeling pain. Thermoception is feeling heat and cold, though strangely, it's a separate sense from feeling burnt (which uses nociceptors) which is why you can feel like your mouth is one fire from eating a chili without being confused about the actual temperature your mouth is. Mechanoception is feeling and interpreting vibrations in the medium around you (with its finest and most powerful expression being the Earth Sense ability on page 215 of Mythras). Balance (and feeling the force of gravity more generally) is distinct from proprioception. I will admit to a slight inconsistency here, in that smell, taste and chemoception are related senses performed by different organs, while this collection of senses is mainly the range of senses performed by a single organ (the skin), combined with proprioception and balance. I think English, which uses the verb "to feel" to cover all of these, provides a verbal-conceptual nexus by which players can get a handle on the collection. In fact, to avoid having such a large list, I would recommend calling this "Feeling" for labelling purposes - Phantom Feeling, Mystic Feeling, Project Feeling, etc.

Thaumoception would be the ability to detect magic. This is already a sensory mode some monsters have in Mythras (using the "Magic Sense" ability on Mythras p. 216), and including it as a sense allow one to use Phantum Sense to replicate something like "Nystul's Magic Aura" and other misdirection spells from D&D - hiding the aura of magic, making a non-magical item seem magical, or changing what kind of magic seems to be behind an effect.

Bioception and Thanatoception are the abilities to sense the presence of life and death / undeath respectively, as covered by the abilities "Life Sense" (Mythras, p. 216) and "Death Sense" (Mythras, p. 215) respectively. No real creature has these, but they exist as senses in Mythras, so spells that manipulate them or that allow one to adopt them briefly (Perceive) should be possible. At first I thought these should be expressions of a single underlying sense, but they're mechanicall and thematically distinct enough to make sense as different senses.

Anyhow, I hope this catalogue is useful and encourages players of sorcerers in Mythras to learn or develop spells involve some of the more unusual sensory possibilities. Just to be clear, this isn't the only way of carving these up - many people (e.g. neuroscientists using a categorisation based on nerve-functions) would probably treat thermoception, nociception, chemoception, and proprioception as distinct from touch but integrally related to one another.