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Let us define enchanting as binding a magical effect to or channeling it through a physical form.

Background:
Magic is an "energy," or exotic matter/energy perhaps, that exists essentially as an invisible cloud that does not directly interact with normal matter of its own volition. It can be coaxed to interact, such as the standard fireball or "Force push," or as a source of energy. It is not directly limited by standard physical laws so a bit (or a lot) of extra energy popping up out of nowhere is fine.

You may assume that, when used for enchanting, it can take on a property that allows it to bind and interact with the material if given additional energy, based on the material's physical properties (I.E. Photoelectric Effect). You may assume that sufficient energy to cause an effect is available, as if a special battery were plugged in when needed.

There is to be a group with glowing weapons or other trinkets, enchanted to emit even brighter light on command with an energy input. These objects will be made of metal, and/or perhaps some form of crystal1. Consider this an example application. Other effects may be applying forces on impact, creating heat/fire around the object, or cooling the object noticeably. Use your imagination for additional effects, if you wish.


Question:
What sort of explanation could be given as to how these effects are stored/applied for metals2 often used in pre-powder weapons, or jewelry, due to the physical properties of those materials?


1: Consider crystals a bonus, if you know how to extend your answer to cover them.
2: Bronze, iron, steel, etc. Consider Earth c. 800-1100.

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    $\begingroup$ They use magic to apply the enchantment. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Dec 15 '14 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ Magic cannot be scientifically explained. Whatever rules are in your magical world, those are the rules you have. Don's ask me :-) $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Dec 15 '14 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ No, magic is magical. Is orthogonal to matter or energy. Or so I think, I never seen any real magician, all were frauds. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Dec 15 '14 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Good question, though it is a little hard to answer based on absolute science. Some of your own rules will also be needed. $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Dec 15 '14 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ Magic is either something that is supernatural, or something that is natural in a way that is different from the way the real world is and which resembles supernatural ideas of "magic" in some way. You seem to be after the latter. To get that you just need to be internally consistent. Magic does what magic does and as long as it follows its own rules, we can do science on it. You can make those rules whatever you want as long as you don't set up any contradictions. Consistency with the real world is pointless as you are already necessarily inconsistent with it. $\endgroup$ – smithkm Dec 15 '14 at 22:36

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Magic, almost by definition, is something that isn't explained by science. You can literally have magic applied to your weapon however you want it to be. That being said, there's a few ways that have shown up in multiple fantasy settings:

Runes

Magic could be applied by carving runes into the enchanted item. Different rune words would have different magical effects and appearances.

Forged with magic

In many settings, magic blades are simply forged with some sort of magic used in the crafting process. This can lead to an item that doesn't necessarily look any different, or it can lead to one that glows/hums/burns with violet flames.

Imbued with magic gems

Lastly, including magic gems and jewels can be the source of magic for an enchanted weapon. Similarly, dark magics could be bound to a weapon using pieces of bone carved with runes.

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This question is a little difficult to answer based on hard science, so I'm going to stick to focusing on the methods of bonding things together (in this case, magic and metal).


The main (best?) way to do this is chemically. You say it can take on a property that allows it to bind and interact with the material, so perhaps that property is a chemical 'surface' that allows it to bind with the metal. This may be in the form of raw chemical compounds which would react on contact with compounds on the surface of the item; however, it is more likely to be in the form of some adhesive.
There are plenty of strong adhesives designed to bond things together permanently; look, for example, at Araldite, among other epoxy resins. From the article:

Araldite sets by the interaction of a resin with a hardener. Heat is not necessary although warming will reduce the curing time and improve the strength of the bond.

So, if the magic's 'surface' was the resin, and the metal coated with the relevant hardener, then when the two interact they will stick together. Perhaps, if you want to really increase the strength of the bond, you might add some chemicals which react exothermically to each surface as well, to provide the heat to strengthen the bond. However, many implementations of enchantments have a limited time duration, so perhaps leaving the heat out would give this part.


As for the effects of the enchantments, this is impossible to define within the boundaries of science. However, since your magic does not operate on a closed system, it makes it a touch easier, so the basic principle goes like this:

  • Effect is chosen (either by some telepathy or by predefined enchantment type)
  • Energy is required -> draw some in / create some
  • Use energy to create effect (fire, ice etc)
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  • $\begingroup$ That's about what I was expecting after thinking it over after asking the question, answer-wise. Very different angle than I was expecting, but I like it. $\endgroup$ – Crabgor Dec 15 '14 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of thing were you expecting? I'll see if I can edit a bit $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Dec 15 '14 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ I was more thinking an "inside" the material thing, but I really like the "outside" idea. No need to change! :) $\endgroup$ – Crabgor Dec 16 '14 at 1:09
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Considering your wording, "It can be coaxed to interact," I would consider a psychology solution rather than a chemistry solution. The goal does not need to be to permanently chemically bond the magic to the item, but simply to keep them together.

Consider the human ideal version of "marriage." There are no physical bindings tying the two individuals together, and yet we traditionally treat it as binding them together tighter than any cord could ever manage. They want to stay together.

I would rely on a ceremony that works along those lines, but slightly weaker: make the ceremony give the magic a home. The concept of home is also very powerful, binding a living thing to an inanimate object or space. Once one has a home, one can reach out more forcefully, knowing there is always a place to retreat to, allowing small magics to become great.

A few traits I find worthwhile:

  • Magic could literally "grow into" a home, starting off in a very well constructed item and connecting to it as it grows.
  • In magical combat, magic could run away, diving into the object, leaving it as though it was unimbued.
  • Different materials would have different affinities for magics, just as different individuals like different styles of rooms in a house.
  • It would not be unreasonable for a tiny shard of magic to find refuge in a powerful weapon, and slowly grow into greatness. This would allow for swords that seem to acquire magic through combat, even though they never actually met an enchanter.
  • The wielder would qualify as a next-door neighbor. This offers tremendous options for magic to influence its wielder just through casual interaction.
  • Effects, like the heat and cold and glowing you mention, could be seen as side effects of the magic. If the magic is living inside the house, you will see the side-efects of it leaking out around the object. A glow might be seen as magical-waste that happens when a magic is not fully trimmed (the idea being a perfectly tuned magic would not waste anything like glowing when it is at work). Glow also might be seen as the magic boasting.
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Maybe the magic isn't stored IN the weapon. Perhaps the weapon is simply changed to make it easier to naturally direct the ambient magic (mana) in a specific way. Then the user of the weapon/item can channel power into it to activate the effect. The power flows through the user the same way that a regular magic spell would, but since the weapon has been constructed and designed to channel the mana in a specific way the 'spell' can be cast easily, without the training a mage would have. Using a magically enchanted item is as easy as turning on a light switch, casing a spell without an enchanted item is like building a computer from scratch, one takes an expert, one anyone can do.

This would allow someone using an enchanted item to decide when to power it. It would also put a limit on using an enchanted item, maybe it's easy to use a sword that glows, but using a sword that makes everyone around explode is still a strain on someone since they have to fuel some of the power.

As to how to make magic work, If you used the crystal idea it's easy to suggest that crystals are constructed in such a way that they channel ambient mana through them. Much as how you could cut a crystal to reflect or refract light into specific patterns if you wanted to it's possible to cause crystals to reflect magic energy in specific pattern which causes an effect. Perhaps it's the ACT of swinging a sword which causes a magic effect to happen, as you swing you sword through the air it's also flowing through all the ambient magic energy, causing some to flow through crystals in the sword to cause the magical effect to happen.

Of course you don't have to use crystals, the same effect could be done with any item, but crystals seem mystical and I think would likely feel more 'natural' as a catalysit for magic, larger items could have crystals built into them that hold the actual enchantments. Plus this could regulate how rare/powerful an enchanted item is. Perhaps certain spells need certain type of crystals because of how they channel magic. Maybe the higher quality the crystal the easier it is to forge into a spell, thus the more powerful the enchantment the more/better quality the crystal. You have a natural way to regulate power levels of items such that people don't ask why everything isn't enchanted. This could even set up a plot point of people fighting over crystal mines or sources of high quality crystals for the magical potential they offer.

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

That said, lets dig deep into this.

Method 1 : Bending Reality

Magic is a way to bend reality itself, allowing imagination to take corporeal form, this is where the "coaxing to interact" part comes into play. If you can imagine it, it can "be", that is to say, magic allows the user to liberate himself from the bonds of physical laws. What would limit you from becoming god-like, would be the laws which govern magic itself.

Now if we take this view, "enchantment" becomes quite simple. There are limited things we can do to items when we enchant them (limited by our imagination!), we can make things sharper, or lighter, or harder, or sentient (so that a weapon fights with its own will), we can make it ignite or freeze whatever it touches, we can also alter its dimensions, making it longer or shorter, thicker or thinner at will. The role of magic is to provide some sort of bridge between imagination and reality; once the "enchantment" is finished, reality simply adjusts itself to accommodate whatever change has been induced. The key here, is that this adjustment need not be known to the enchanter. Maybe there are molecular changes or the introduction of exotic matter or crystal rearrangement due to the creation of a novel alloy, but all of these details are lost on the enchanter, who sees it, quite simply, as magic.

Now the limitation of this system could be some sort of conservation law. Perhaps there is an asymptotic limit to how far reality can be bent (is it dependent on position in space (magic hotspots)? or time(age of magic)? or something else? Who knows?) or perhaps instead, there is some sort of exchange whenever magic is done, perhaps the enchanter loses his imagination/mind. Or even better (and more realistic, if that word can even be used in such a discussion), perhaps it is the item which the limiter. Certainly, I would imagine enchanting a suit of steel mail to be harder, or an iron blade to be sharper, an easier task than enchanting a pair of shoes to compress space-time.

The point is: there is real science going on behind the scenes (which reality takes care of) but the enchanter need not know about any of it. It's sort of a like a magic trick where even the magician is not in on it, and reality is the guy in the back pulling all the levers and working the smoke machines.

Method 2: The Magical Method

In this scenario, magic is simply another kind of ordinary physical phenomena (like the reflective properties of light, or the catalytic activity of certain peptide sequences arranged in a specific 3-dimensional structure (enzymes). In that case, magic is just a name for yet another observable phenomena (YAOP). As YAOP, magic can be subjected to the cold and iron scrutiny of the scientific method. Experiments can be done, theories devised and disproved, careers ruined, geniuses born, ignored, and than later hailed as geniuses, giants used as stepladders, in short, all the chaos and clarity that is science.

Where enchantment comes in, would perhaps be "Applied Magic" (as opposed to theoretical magic), where this YAOP can be harnessed and manipulated to do useful things. The more pervasive it is in the universe, the more useful things we can do. If, for instance, magic is an intrinsic part of everything so that all physical phenomena are connected to it, then its manipulation suddenly becomes quite useful (to say the least). For example, if magic is some sort of fundamental particle then perhaps we can change the properties of an object by manipulating this fundamental particle. How? Well perhaps, the particle can interact with other phenomena (like light, or heat or leptons). In this case, we do need to know what the science is, because the science is the magic.

Anyway, its late, I have a few more, but it will have to wait till tomorrow.

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As Oldcat says "use magic to apply the enchantment."

Specifically, use magic to modify atoms to be able to receive power (for always-on effects that derive power from the magic around them), to modify atoms into a brain (to make switches and mind-reading effects (ie: if you can will your swords on/off; or for sentient swords)), and into batteries (for charges/charged effects that don't replenish themselves, eg: ring of three-wishes (which also needs a brain to interpret wishes, or a bound demon or something)).

Doesn't have to take any time either - if you want instant magic items :)

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Okay, I'm assuming that since you have magic, you have people that can utilize magic. Perhaps there are mages, wizards, or whatever that are capable of casting spells such as making glowing lights, or fireballs, or whatever you like.

You can have them enchant any particular item that has significance to them at the cost of putting a piece of themselves (perhaps their lifeforce, soul, or generic energy/power) into the item. This diminishes the abilities of the enchanter without the object, but enhances their abilities with the object, and allows others to use the object with the enchantment as well. (This is almost a straight rip-off of the One Ring from the Lord of the Rings at this point, but you can work on this to make it your own without too much trouble).

Let's say you have a mage that puts a fireball spell into a sword. Now when someone wields the sword it is a flaming sword. But from this point on that mage can no longer cast a fireball spell.

Also, your enchanted object may have properties related to how much of this power they can store. This would ultimately become a capacity for the power. Say a shield being large holds a higher capacity of stored magic than a small ring. I'd like to think that ceramic items which are porous would work better than say most metals. Crystals would also work well here where a larger crystal lattice would have more space to hold onto whatever powerful particles you are using. Metals can be forged to work this way too, but wouldn't have this property by default. Think basically like steel. Carbon is infused into the iron to add strength to the iron. Whatever particles impart power on your enchantments could similarly be infused to other metals. Finally, keep in mind it is not magic stored in the enchanted items, but rather some aspect of the mage being stored in the items which is what enables the item to utilize magic in much the same way that the mage would have been able to do.

I would expect somewhat porous materials like various ceramics, to work best as they have the most room to hold the enchantment (though they are brittle and easiest to destroy with explosive consequences). I would expect crystals to be next best, and they'd be at least a bit less brittle then the ceramics, making them the material of choice for enchantment. I'd expect plant matter including wood to also work reasonably well, again for it's porous nature. Metals would be the least enchantable, and would require a rigorous forging ritual to be involved, but they would be the most stable and hardest to destroy or disenchant. Metal alloys would be almost impossible to enchant because there is simply no room for the enchantment to fit with the additional material. Steel in particular would be all but impossible to enchant with anything useful.

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My starting point for thinking about magic in this way would be magnets ( how do they work??? ) in that magnetism is a quality that certain metals can be imbued with and when they are, they respond to energy in the form of a magnetic field. As a fringe benefit you also get the possibility that a metal that can carry magic might interact with a thaumaturgical field even if it is not itself magical.

I might think of it like this: When an item is imbued with magic, perhaps by subjecting it to a sufficiently strong magical field, the atoms in the metal are aligned with a magical energy source in such a way that a magical "charge" can be used to manipulate them.

The basic manipulations that you could apply at this kind of low level within a vaguely scientific framework would be fairly limited- changing their rate of vibration would allow them to be heated or cooled, it might be viable to create a potential difference between different parts of the metal, causing a shock effect if both parts came into contact with someone. If it allowed electromagnetic manipulation you might also be able to attract or push other metals or to induce current or heat in them even without making contact. A magic sword that caused enemies armour or weapons to heat up would confer some advantages. Given that our magic source behaves a lot like magnetism it would be reasonable to suggest that the magical field could perhaps be manipulated too. Alternatively, magical objects would be the only things that couldn't be manipulated through a magical object.

As for the energy source, that is more tricky and likely to head into the lands of handwavium - which is fine, as long as it makes sense.

I would have the source of energy as being something that comes from a person or, if you want to make things more interesting, perhaps from all living things. It can only be directed consciously and you might choose to have the facility to direct it either being a talent displayed by different people to different degrees or requiring a lot of training and focus to be able to draw the energy into an implement to make it useful. This gives it a non-deterministic quality which makes it harder to investigate scientifically and prevents it from simply being "yet another energy source." Where the field exists and someone trained in directing it exists and they have an implement through which they can direct magic, they can operate.

It may be that the way the first magical items were created was very iterative- it started with simple objects picking up a magical field and then by bringing those together with the appropriate direction, a stronger field could be created to make stronger items possible. This creates the interesting idea that maybe the places where magic weapons are created are ancient, carefully constructed and maintained, because it takes a long time to build the strongest locations. If it then takes a long time for the charge to be picked up by objects, you have a reason for them to be rare and interesting. There is also an interesting potential role for mage-smiths, shaping the magic-bearing metals to maximise their effectiveness.

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Let's start with a working definition of magic. Imagine a parallel dimension without material substance as we understand it. Forge a channel between our world and this dimension, embedding the channel's material opening into the blade of the soon to be enchanted short sword.

The laws of physics in the immaterial dimension do not allow for matter to exist no matter what. The laws of physics in ours insist that matter exists whenever the underlying causal conditions for its existence are present.

The point where the two dimensions interact is a no-man's land... Not a matter/anti-matter conflagration, not the mutual destruction of opposing particles under a single all-encompassing set of rules. Something deeper than that. The intersection point is where the rules themselves bend, a point where anything is possible.

Now add carefully crafted crystals as a flow-control valve between the two opposing rule sets. The crystal wraps around the intersection on our side and its shadow, an immaterial equivalent of the crystal covers the intersection on the other side. How wide the channel opens is controlled by the proximity of the crystal to the intersection. Leave it at rest and only a trickle gets through; just enough to express itself in the spontaneous generation of the lowest massed pseudo-material, light.

Thus the blade glows.

Pull the crystal back away from the intersection by a millimeter or so, and more anti-material rules leak into our world, creating more light.

Pull it back even further and a field of dis-corporializing energy pours forth, swallowing the blade, its wielder and everyone else within 20 feet. A big flash of light and a lot of screams. Then the crystal snaps back into place and falls, rolling to the bottom of the newly created crater. Glowing faintly with the intersection once again safely contained, it waits for the next would-be magic user to come along and find it.

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Whilst physical elements do not impinge on the magical dimension, when 'magical force' mana or whatever, is brought into the physical world, it has the potential to bond with molecules.

It doesn't take the form of additional particles or affect the normal physical fields in any way, but has a one-sided reaction to them, overlaying bonds, being 'squeezed' or caught between nuclear fields, the surrounding fields and their molecular nature determining the form the mana is 'caught in' or applied to a device or object.

For this reason magical material may exist 'naturally' where mana has been drawn regularly or with particular intensity, but in general it is a matter of deliberate regular application of mana to a desired object to impart a given property.

One might say for instance that pure copper has an extremely poor ability to retain a mana 'coat' and that mana is inclined to escape swiftly, typically producing photon emission as it depletes (which it does 'automatically' & continuously)

bonding mana-imbued copper with mana-imbued tin can prolong the duration of the emission, or imbuing pre-formed bronze with mana will emit long duration heat emissions.

Whilst the mana itself might not be directly affected by other materials, the interaction between those materials upon an already imbued device or material naturally changes the state of the mana, causing release, slowing release, intensifying it or altering it's expression in some other way. (polarizing imbued iron for instance, or applying any other active chemical effect to the material. perhaps bringing two imbued devices into contact might have some logical effect also (imbued copper into contact with imbued photoreactive substance) imbued wood into contact with imbued bronze.. whatevs.

Most elements & alloys have some sort of association with an 'mythical' element, overlay real world chemical effects & reactions, bonds & processes for einstein approved magic.

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