Encyclopaedia Arcana #10: Time Magic

Time is one of the more common types of universal magic, though given the rarity of universal mages time mages are still vastly outnumbered by elementalists.  It’s a notoriously difficult type to master:  many time adepts give up in frustration before learning to use their powers and time mages typically take decades to become true masters of their craft.


The signature trick of time magic is seeing into the past.  While diviners have to juggle probabilities, a time mage can view the past with certainty, seeing exactly what happened.  The basic difficulty depends on how far back the time mage attempts to go – a novice can manage a few minutes, a competent mage can handle days, and real masters can go back years.  It’s not one hundred percent reliable and certain natural or artificial conditions can make timesight much more difficult, but time magic used with sufficient skill can theoretically provide a perfect depiction of any past event.

As you’d expect, this has major effects on magical society.  The fastest way to answer any question along the lines of “What happened at place X at time Y?” is usually to get a time mage to look it up.  This has the potential to trivialise a lot of investigations – instead of interviewing witnesses, combing the scene for evidence, performing forensic analysis, etc., the response is more like “Bob did it.  Go find Bob.”

Of course there’s a counter to everything, and timesight is no exception.  Time mages can screen off the area around them from temporal scrying, and items exist called shrouds that perform the same function.  More importantly, everybody in magical society knows about timesight.  Even the most sheltered of Light mages knows that in the event of a major crime, the first thing the Council does is call in a time mage to see what happened.  This means that while time mages can roll up mundane investigations with ease, they rarely catch mages so easily unless the mage is unusually stupid.

Timesight is so useful that the demand for the services of time mages far outstrips their supply.  Even a mediocre time mage has no trouble at all finding people willing to pay for his services, even if most of the requests are for the magical equivalent of finding someone’s car keys.  As always though, the power it gives has its dangerous side – time mages always run the risk of turning up the wrong secret.

Time Manipulation

The second major branch of time magic involves altering the flow of time directly.  Time mages can speed things up or slow them down in a particular area, accelerating themselves or slowing down a threat or an enemy.  Another popular trick is to temporarily boot something all the way out of the timestream, causing it to seemingly disappear then reappear shortly afterwards.  These sort of effects require concentration and are usually highly taxing, but they give options no other mage can match.

Most time mages have a natural inclination towards one of the two branches over the other – historian types prefer timesight, while the more active sorts specialise in time manipulation.  While the second group are better able to look after themselves, they don’t have anywhere near the influence the first group do.  Speeding up time might be cool, but lots of mages can affect the physical world one way or another.  It’s seeing into the past that’s really unique.

Nature and Demeanour

Personality-wise, time mages have a lot in common with diviners.  They both tend to be analytical and curious, valuing accuracy and clarity.  Where they differ is more in goals.  Diviners tend to be pragmatic:  they want to know things, but it’s usually with a view to getting something done.  For time mages, knowledge is the goal, and they don’t much care if what they learn is useful.  They’re quite happy researching historical puzzles and debating their findings with each other.

It’s common for time mages not to realise the significance of much of the information they pick up – they’re more interested in finding things out than in putting what they know to use.  Most time mages are much more comfortable dealing with the past than with the present, and they have a reputation for being ivory-tower academics as a result.  The reputation’s half true, but only half.

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