11
$\begingroup$

Various forms of magic exist, and they are used in different ways for different effects. One involves scribing runes onto an object to provide it with magical properties. This allows for enhancement of this o jets in ways that would not be normally possible. A sword that lights on fire for example, or a ring that places a protective barrier around the wearer when activated. This runes are infused with their own power when they were created, with a range of quality. Some are made to last for long periods of time while others fade away after a certain amount of use, in which case they would have to be reapplied or the object replaced completely. In essence, they are like batteries that last for a certain length, and lose power with use.

This extends to magic clothing, specifically made from the materials of animals. Dragon boots and handbags made from creatures can be outfitted with runes to enhance their effects. A handbag that can hold more than it should naturally, or can withstand certain conditions or hold particular powerful magic artifacts without disintegrating. Entire clothing lines have been built which focuses on this for of rune magic.

However, the skin of living things is not suitable for runes. Individuals wishing to power themselves up or give themselves other properties will be disappointed, because living skin is not a good conductor for magic. This sounds like a contradiction.

Why would this be the case?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It might be important to clarify whether this should only be a property of skin, or if it applies to all (human?) living matter. Unless you aren't committed to one or the other, and will decide based on which explanation you find best, in which case that's probably also worth making explicit. $\endgroup$ – Unrelated String May 21 at 7:09

13 Answers 13

24
$\begingroup$

The body’s natural flow of Chi/life force/spirit energy precludes the addition of further magical effects, somewhat like it being very difficult to build buildings in flowing streams. Any artificial rune will either fail to take or, possibly, disrupt the flow of Chi (with awful side-effects).

This does mean corpses can be rune-ified, as they have no chi.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ I would add a short description of what you call Chi. As it stands, it gives the universe a slight chinese-inspired vibe to the universe. The Q gave me more of a western-fantasy vibe. The answer itself was what I had in mind while reading thought. So enjoy the +1! $\endgroup$ – 3C273 May 21 at 1:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @3C273 I’ve added in some alternatives for other settings. I think the gist comes across. :-) $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 21 at 6:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If you don't like the idea of corpses being rune-ified, you could say there are still streams in a dead body, but they are empty, like a dry riverbed. So while they don't have any chi in them, if you start trying to add your own rune-made river routes etc. over the top of it you will get rather mixed results.... So to use once-living material for runes, you would need to put some work in to it to remove any existing chi flows, possibly with a process quite similar to tanning leather... $\endgroup$ – Azrantha May 21 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Had the same idea, but with a disrupted aura instead. $\endgroup$ – Sebastian Sep 3 at 19:22
17
$\begingroup$

Animal Material is Magically Processed

One explanation is the animal material needs to be processed in order to make it suitable to be inscribed by a rune, much like how hide is processed to make it into leather. You would have a hard time making boots or handbags out of raw, unprocessed animal hide. The hide may be too weak or too flexible or too uneven or an incorrect shape to be used straight off the animal. In order to make it more useable, animal hide is tanned and processed to make it easier to work with.

In a similar sense, animal material needs to undergo a magical processing, enhancing the material to allow magic to flow through it more easily. For an analogy, think of ice and water, ice being the unprocessed material, water being the processed version:

Its far easier to push your hand into water than it is to push it into a solid block of ice. Heating up the ice turns it into water, allowing your hand to pass through it easily.

By processing the material (heating up the ice) the magic of the rune (your hand) can flow through the material more easily (the animal hide). This magical processing can’t be done on living tissue - it is impossible as, by magically processing the material, you are killing it.

Whilst you might be able to have runes on your body, the process would be a very grisly one. You’d have to have part of your living skin turned into leather and then magically processed before carving a rune into this dead flesh. Not only would this be extremely impractical, it would be an excruciatingly painful process and possibly could be fatal, causing shock in the person or severely damaging vital organs, nerves or arteries.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Gruesome. I like it. +1 $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs May 21 at 6:22
8
$\begingroup$

I think the best explanation would be somewhere in the area of autoimmune reaction. Fundamentally, when you enchant something, you change it. In the case of non-living things it wouldn't matter, and there is not much difference whether it is non-organic or organic.

When you try to apply this fundamental change to the part of the living organism, it stops being recognised as a part of itself. Best comparison to the effect of a runic enchantment on the skin would be a failed skin graft at the very least. Inflammation, allergic reactions, the patch of the skin with the runes falling of - that will be the best case scenario. In case of more widely applied runes it would, most likely, result in the death of the subject from toxins.

That means that it can be done in a pinch, for a temporary advantage, but the price of such self-mutilation is too high. Alternatively, it can be used as a particularly gruesome punishment.

Additionally, it means that you would be able to do enchantment on the parts of the organism that are not connected by nerve tissue and blood vessels. Nails, claws and horns on animals, perhaps teeth? Hair would qualify, although I'm at loss how you would be able to make magic patterns on something so thin.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

The human skin is impermeable to magic. If it weren't, we'd catch fire whenever we approached a fire magic source, drown whenever we approached a water magic source etc.

Magical creatures such as dragons have skins that allow one type of mana to pass through, but not all kinds of mana.

Humans, being humans, cannot be trusted to handle magic safely. They have therefore naturally eliminated the mana-permeable epidermis genes from the gene pool through the Darwin Awards.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Magic is stored in the crystal structures like those found in metallic bonds and cation-anion bounds like those salt forms.

enter image description here enter image description here

These structures can hold magic very well and more perfect the structures are the better the magic storage.

Organic molecules still have structure, but they are much more chaotic than crystal and metal structures.

enter image description here enter image description here

Thus magic can´t be retained by materials based on them so easily. As you want to know why living things cause a lot of o trouble, organic molecules in still living things are a lot more active, thus making the magic drain unsustainably high.

Concluding everything metals and crystals hold magic best due to their structure. Dead organic molecules work better because they are less active, thus can retain more magic.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ To be sure, the first part of your explanation implies that runes require a chemical structure not found (or not much) in organic matter. Is that right? By that logic, organic matter (even dead) wouldn't work. $\endgroup$ – 3C273 May 21 at 1:29
3
$\begingroup$

Generally its not the case. Wizards (of various flavours) have been using themselves as magic conduits for millenia - whether its tattoos or scarring, or even simply using hand gestures that counts as magic being performed using the practictioner's own body.

Wizards have also been enchanting themselves for millenia, symbols tattooed on bodyparts are commonplace for most genres, even David Blaine had an evil eye drawn on his palm to ward off interviewers he didn't like ;)

If you do not want that, the simplest explanation to prevent enchantments on people from working (or lasting long) is water, running water has traditionally an "earthing" effect on magic energies so all the blood in a body can be treated as running water, making enchantments on people very tricky and short-term. Which is why, if you wanted to harm a person, you counjure a fireball and let it hurt them instead.

You can also say that some materiels hold enchantments better, ro amplify them - such as dragon skin armour, and this is why you spend the effort to enchant them rather than yourself. Same effort expended for greater effect.

Of course, if you have a magically enchanted amulet, you can give it to someone else. Tattoos are awkward to share.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

A rune changes the essence and purpose of the object its inscribed onto.

This is a property of the magic itself that makes it unsuitable. Each of the inanimate objects has an unchanging essence and purpose - a sword will be a sword forever. Or until it breaks. Changing a sword from "it cuts things" to "it burns and cuts things" is simple matter of slightly altering the mystical definition an object has.

Humans, however, have an ever changing purpose and essence. A woodcutter today can become a soldier tomorrow and later on a general or might retire to become a merchant. Moreover, each person has many purposes at one time, too - the woodcutter could also be a son, a father, a brother, a friend, maybe he also sings in the choir, too.

Living things, and humans in particular, are vastly more complex than a simple inanimate object, hence why magic runes cannot alter them. It's like trying make a lasting inscription with chalk on a flowing river.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like this, I find it more creative than current highly voted answers. Also, more magical than just transcribing rudimentary science/technology onto magic, while still creating sense of consistency. $\endgroup$ – M i ech May 21 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea a lot. You could also maybe use this to get some temporary handwavy effect, but its weak and unreliable and so not useful, that could be the source of fun failures and plotpoints. For example, the runes add strength... people would instinctively hold back to have the control they're used to, and hurt themselves if they did manage to push past the body's limits. And, well, strength, muscles, that aren't used atrophy, so the body uses magic strength because its lazy, the muscle and bone waste away, and one ends up the same, or weaker, than if they never used the strength-runes. $\endgroup$ – Megha Sep 2 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Megha oh, this could be a great way to drive plots. Because of the everchanging nature of people, you could have the magic work but not how the wizard expected. The magic could do exactly what you asked of it but not what you intended. Maybe you enchant somebody with "strength" but that strengthens the relationship with their estranged brother. Or makes their body odor stronger. For really weird results, the magic could "float" around different meanings, as the nature of a person changes. Maybe they are get muscles for a while then they get strong BO. And so on. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Sep 2 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ - exactly, it just works wrong, or skews sideways into something that ends up working with the person not working with the intention of the runes, and human-folk are good at compensating around stuff and may not even notice they do so if its easier or less painful than learning how to deal with it head on. $\endgroup$ – Megha Sep 3 at 1:00
1
$\begingroup$

Some animal skin has magical properties

The skin of animals, such as dragons, may have magical properties which make it more suitable for inscribing runes onto. Their skin conducts magic in a way that human skin or the skin of many domesticated animals simply don’t.

This is like how certain elements on the periodic table conduct electricity extremely well but others do not. A dragon could theoretically have a rune carved into its skin as it better conducts magic than human skin would. However, i doubt a dragon would be willing to let you start slicing into its flesh.

Other mythical creatures may also have magically conductive skin, you may have guilds of hunters who specifically go out to gather the hides of magical monsters to turn into leather to be inscribed with runes. Or, you may have a “dragon ranch” where dragons are raised simply for their meats and hides.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

https://youtu.be/ap_mEm8m0HU?t=10

However, the skin of living things is not suitable for runes. Individuals wishing to power themselves up or give themselves other properties will be disappointed, because living skin is not a good conductor for magic. This sounds like a contradiction.

Perhaps re-frame that a little bit, living skin is too good of a conductor, and therefore will "burn" off any appendage that the runes are inscribed upon. This can allow for very powerful creatures to have runes on their skin, but mere mortals can't have it. You can explain why something like a "magic missile" will cause damage to people on contact. Non-living objects don't normally cause the magic to be used; it takes a living creature to channel the magic. The energy stored in a battery isn't used until it's channeled by something after all, (at least, not a great portion of it anyways).

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Skin Flexes

Runes requires very precise line and curve work, and must be reproduced exactly or they simply don't work. But living skin is constantly growing, and this deforms the skin continually. Whenever the person moves around, the skin moves with them, scrunching up and stretching out constantly. And there isn't anywhere on the human body that's perfectly flat, which most runes require (and the ones that involve tracing lines in 3d space require quite particular geometric shapes).

So the runes simply can't be carved with enough precision to take effect. It just doesn't work. You could maybe, if you were crazy desperate, insert an iron plate just under someone's skin, to hold the skin taut enough to runescribe on it. But without really good medical attention, anyone you do that to will die from massive infection in short order.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Several possibilities:

1) The magic is sensitive to temperature. (living) Human skin is at about 34°C. Let's say magic deteriorates somewhere over 30°C. Yes, that means during warm summer days magic-inscribed hides stop being functional. It also means the skin of living snakes or lizards is OK, and inscribing runes on your face during winter might work when outside.

2) In fact, it is possible, but the runes have to be inscribed with a specific depth (they are 3-dimensional grooves). While possible, cutting runes into your skin is very unpleasant. And the bleeding fills the runes and stops the magic. When the bleeding stops, healing processes start and destroy the (sensitive) depth profile very soon.

3) Magic is somehow related to electricity, and the runes need non-conductive substrates. Human skin resistance is maybe around 50kΩ, rather high, but still enough to destroy any magic. Side effect: magic stops when the hide gets wet.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Skin grows.

If you're carving a rune into an object, and imbuing that rune with magic power, destroying the rune should also break the enchantment.

While you can create scars on your body, even scars are tissue that's regenerating.

When your skin is removed from your body and turned into leather, it no longer regenerates, so it would be suitable for marking with runes just like any other animal.

Even tattoos are not stable - macrophages in your body eat at the pigment in the tattoo, that's why they fade over time.

Depending on your magic system, any rune based enchantment will either quickly fade or completely be broken once the body starts healing itself.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

It would make sense to me that if living skin is used, the magic tries to neutralize it to make it a better conductor for the magic. Some ways to get around this could be specially trained monks, or other things like that, but over all it seems like this could be a easy way to explain it. Tl;dr Dead things conduct magic, live ones don’t.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.