Tuesday 19 September 2023

False Equivalent Exchange

 So in this week’s Dandadan an 18th century alchemist who might be organising an alien invasion got a train across Tokyo to enrol as a high school teacher, which doesn’t even break the top 50 most bonkers things to happen in that manga but I digress

On the train, we get a like 1-page silent scene, a few panels illustrating his journey. At one point he offers his seat up to an older woman with a cane, and stands the rest of the way. Then when he arrives at the school, he comes in and just kind of takes a chair by a computer in the office, talking as if he’s always been there as he infiltrates the school right there in front of everyone. And while his new coworkers seem a little confused, they accept it. Something’s off… but it’s not this guy, we know that he works here, that’s his seat.

And it’s not confirmed or even particularly highlighted, but I’m pretty sure the train journey was a spell. Like, it’s made clear he’s using some kind of magic to alter peoples’ perception of him, but I’m fairly certain the innocuous train scene was him casting that magic, that giving up a seat allowed him to take a seat. The law of equivalent exchange is pretty well known esotericism, used to great effect in Hirofumi Arakawa’s classic Fullmetal Alchemist, but what’s happening here a bit different.

And i think it’s cool so let’s steal it 👍

The Law of False Equivalent Exchange is an FKR-style magic system that works thusly: Any character who can Do Magic may attempt a ritual. They must accomplish three tasks of their choosing which affect the material world in opposition* to their desired goal, represented by three “sub-“goals. If the GM agrees and they are able to perform the tasks, their goal is magically achieved.

*but not exactly. For example:

A character wants to become queen of a small kingdom. Instead of staging a coup or using some mundane trickery with the line of succession, they set out to achieve this via a magic ritual. The player proposes the following sub-goals and their “opposite” tasks:

- I will take the throne: I will give up a “throne”, a valuable seat.

- I will wear the crown: I will remove something precious from my head.

- I will rule the land: I will allow the earth to do what it will with me.

The player character takes a horse and cart to the current king’s castle, paying the fare of an elderly traveller and giving up their seat, opting to ride in the back. By night, in a storm in the fields outside the castle, they remove their own eye with a knife, dig a hole and lay in the dirt, allowing the soil and rain to smother them (GM probably calls for a save or something here).

The GM rules the ritual complete and accepts the exchange - when they wake in the morning, choking on dirt and blood, they clamber out of the earth and walk into the castle, where they are greeted as queen.

This could get boring if it’s too easy so I’d set limits - not silly once-a-day stuff, more like some overall larger price to messing with the material world like this. You’d be immediately set apart, visible by spirits and fairies, or maybe you’d have to reckon with the ghosts of the world you undid. Or just give it a bigger material cost, some specific magical ingredients that must be spent to finish the ritual, unicorn’s blood etc.

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