A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #9: Shaping

The third, last, and hardest of the drucraft disciplines, shaping is also the rarest.  Channellers aren’t exactly common, but they’re not that hard to find;  learning to channel is slow and difficult, but anybody who works at it long enough and hard enough can become a channeller eventually, and at the higher ranks of Houses and drucraft corporations, basically everyone can channel.  Shaping is a totally different story.

There are two reasons that shapers are so rare.  First, going from channelling to shaping requires a drucrafter to pick up a new skill;  the ability to manipulate and work with free essentia.  “Free essentia” is just the drucraft term for regular essentia – the kind that isn’t attuned to anyone, but is floating around in the air or resting in Wells.  A drucrafter can attune it by taking it into their body, but shaping even the weakest of sigls requires vastly more essentia than any living creature’s body could possibly hold.  This means that the only way to shape a sigl is to learn to use free essentia . . . which is a problem, since directly controlling essentia that hasn’t been attuned to you is impossible.

The way shapers get around this problem is to use indirect control instead.  They learn to use their personal essentia to set up currents, causing the free essentia to be drawn in and concentrated.  Shapers sometimes describe this as ‘painting’, where the shaper’s personal essentia is the paintbrush, or as a ‘whirlpool’, where the free essentia is visualised as a vortex, or even as ‘birds following a leader’ or ‘flock of sheep and a sheepdog’.  The fact that they have to come up with such weird metaphors to explain it is a hint as to the inherent difficulty of the task.  Most channellers find it mind-bendingly impossible at first, and it doesn’t help that most drucrafters are rather bad at sensing, having skipped those parts of the drucraft curriculum to get to that part where they can use magic as quickly as possible.  A drucrafter can get away with this as long as they stick to basic channelling – if all you’re ever planning to do is use not-too-complicated sigls that other people have made for you, then an understanding of your own personal essentia is all you really need.  But it’s woefully inadequate for shaping.

Assuming that a channeller can get past this first hurdle, the next step is to learn to shape an essentia construct.  A construct is basically a blueprint for a sigl, created out of thin strands of essentia, and if you can make a construct for a sigl, you can make the sigl . . . in theory.  In practice it’s quite a lot more difficult than that, partly because making an actual sigl is much more stressful and demanding on one’s shaping skills, and partly because it’s actually quite difficult to know whether you’ve made the construct correctly.  Analysing an essentia construct requires very good sensing skills, so it’s easy to create a construct with a giant flaw that you’re totally unaware of until you try to shape it for real.  This is where a good teacher is enormously helpful – a shaping tutor can analyse a student’s essentia construct and identify such flaws, speeding up the process massively.

Once a would-be shaper has learnt to manipulate free essentia, and can reliably make an essentia construct, the next step is to scale things up.  At this point, paths split.  The “traditional” approach is for a shaper to continue to practise with constructs, making them larger and denser, until they start to work directly with Wells.  This process, however, is quite slow and demanding, and in recent decades it has become more and more common for shapers to focus on training with limiters instead.  Limiters greatly simplify the shaping process by offloading most of the hard work onto the drucrafter who created the limiter.  It does mean that you can’t make a sigl without having the right limiter, but nowadays most Houses and virtually all corporations use this method exclusively, considering the loss in flexibility an acceptable trade-off for the reduced cost and difficulty of training the shaper in the first place.

But even with the limiter method, these costs and difficulties are not small.  The unfortunate fact is that no matter how much they train and practise, every shaper fails their first real shaping attempt.  Most fail their second, third, fourth, and fifth attempts, too.  And this is a problem, because shaping a sigl requires Wells, and Wells cost money.  The easiest way to learn to shape sigls is to practise on a powerful, stable, permanent Well, with a lot of time to try things out and make mistakes . . . but the sort of people who own such Wells are very unlikely indeed to be happy about some newbie messing with them, particularly since it’s entirely possible to damage a Well if you misuse it badly enough.  The most likely way a novice shaper is going to get access to such a Well is if it’s one that their family (or sponsor) owns already.

All of this is a long way of saying that learning to become a shaper is typically very expensive;  training a shaper has a high up-front cost, and someone is going to have to pay it.  Typically that someone is going to be a sponsoring organisation, whether a House or a corporation.  It’s possible to learn shaping without the backing of such an organisation . . . it’s just significantly harder.

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5 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #9: Shaping

  1. Bill says:

    I hope that with this article it means that you are over your illness and back to writing in earnest?
    If Shaping is this difficult I guess that it makes Stephan very special which I hadn’t fully appreciated, even more so since most shapers would have had tutors and instructions/support in learning the methodology. It also means, perhaps, that the Sigls available from the Exchange are ‘known’ ones and that ones with new and innovative powers are pretty scarce and (?) kept secret to give the developer’s house or corporation an edge.

  2. Benedict says:

    Bill: Yes, I’m in good shape again. And yes, Stephen’s shaping skill is very unusual for his age (there are lots of young channellers, not many young shapers).

  3. Bill says:

    Very pleased that you’ve beaten the bug and are back to writing again!
    Given that most Sigls are developed from a template as to what has been made successfully before, I’m assuming that Stephen’s will be (perhaps) slightly different in the construction and effects as he has had to design them from first principals; maybe with a little guidance from what he knows is possible from the Exchange catalogue and, if he can, study of Sigls worn by people he’s met…

  4. Benedict says:

    Yes, that’s true. Stephen’s early sigls have been relatively standard, partly because he’s been basing them off existing ones, and partly because if you’re designing something to do something very basic (like emit light) there are only so many ways to make it. However, the more practice he gets and the more he experiments, the more his designs are going to diverge. Most drucrafters wouldn’t have a good enough grasp on sigl theory to notice the difference, but another shaper would.

  5. Celia says:

    Glad you’re feeling better. It’d be interesting sometime to have an article on how limiters are made and work. Like are they a plastic mold you just pour essentia into? 😉

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