A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #15:  Limit of Creation

You can’t change a sigl after it’s made. 

The Limit of Creation states that sigls can not be modified or redesigned.  Once they’re created, that’s it – if you want them to do something different, you have to get a new sigl.

Although this restriction might seem uncontroversial, it has been the focus of quite intensive study.  In fact, the Limit of Creation is probably the second-most-heavily researched of all of the five, outmatched only by the Blood Limit.  This is unsurprising, as the two are closely related.

The Sunk Cost of Sigls

A sigl represents an enormous amount of time and resources.  This is particularly extreme once you go up the ranks;  while D-class sigls are relatively cheap, a single A-rank sigl costs millions.  Of course, for those wealthy enough to afford it, that can actually be quite a good investment – while a high-grade, professionally made solid sigl comes at a fantastic cost, it’s a one-time cost.  Since such a sigl can be expected to last for its wielder’s entire lifetime, in practice the benefits it gives, spread out over thirty or forty years, can easily outweigh its price tag.  But what about afterwards?

Inevitably, sigls outlast their wielders.  Sometimes the wielder dies from old age.  Sometimes they perish unexpectedly, from accident or illness.  And sometimes they’re relieved of their sigl involuntarily.  However it happens, those who inherit the wielder’s property (legally or otherwise) are left with a sigl – potentially a very valuable sigl – that they can’t use.  An incredible amount of value and power, right there in the palm of one’s hand, yet totally inaccessible.  It’s intensely frustrating, and quite naturally, drucrafters have spent enormous amounts of time and effort trying to solve it.

Unfortunately, solving it is easier said than done.

Difficulties in Modification

The first problem with modifying a sigl is that shaping a sigl is less like assembling a machine, and more like sculpting a piece of pottery, where the clay can be easily moulded when wet, but becomes hard and rigid once fired.  In the same way, essentia can be freely sculpted while in its natural state, but becomes hard and unyielding once transformed into aurum.  Modifying a sigl thus requires the targeted section (and only the targeted section) to be first transformed into free essentia, then altered, and then turned back into aurum again.

While doing any of these three things on their own is not particularly difficult, doing them together, in order, and without damaging the rest of the sigl in the process, is very, very hard.  What makes the problem worse is that, as mentioned in the previous chapter, sigls have three layers:  the shell, the outer core, and the kernel . . . and the part of a sigl that drucrafters generally care most about is the kernel.  This means that before you can start on any modifications, you have to get through the sigl’s shell and outer core first, and you have to do so without doing irreparable damage to the sigl along the way.  This is so difficult as to be, in many cases, functionally impossible.


Despite all these problems, the twentieth century saw a vast amount of research poured into circumventing the Limit of Creation.  The prospect of taking the same A-class or S-class sigl and using it over and over again was simply too tempting to resist.  Finding a practical solution to the problem would effectively nullify the Blood Limit and break the drucraft economy wide open.

Although many avenues were explored, the most promising one, and the one upon which research eventually came to focus, was “modular sigls”.  The idea was to design a sigl with a removable kernel, where the kernel could be extracted and replaced.  Thus, by “swapping out” kernels, the same sigl could be used by different people.

Modular sigls worked.  Their development caused great excitement in the drucraft community, and many predicted that they would become the new industry standard.  However, more than fifty years on, this has not happened.  In fact, modular sigls have almost entirely fallen out of production, for several reasons.

First, the modular approach required various compromises in the sigl’s design.  Since the kernel couldn’t be fully integrated with the body, much of the sigl had to be built in a less efficient manner.  Second, despite their best efforts, the researchers into modular sigls were never able to make them as stable as solid ones.  The “sealed sphere” design for sigls is the standard for a reason – it’s exceptionally durable.  Modular sigls thus had a shorter lifespan than traditional ones, negating much of the benefit to building them in the first place.

But the biggest reason for the failure of modular sigls was that they were never a true workaround.  You can’t convert a standard sigl into a modular one – for it to work, the sigl has to be created as a modular sigl in the first place.  This means accepting substandard performance in exchange for the (not at all guaranteed) possibility that someone else will be able to use the sigl in the future.  Unsurprisingly, most drucrafters were unwilling to make this tradeoff.

As such, modular sigls fell out of favour, and are nowadays only used as curiosities or for certain very specific purposes.

Starting Afresh

The final “workaround” to the Limit of Creation is simply to remake the entire sigl from scratch.  You sublimate the sigl into free essentia, then use that essentia to make a new sigl – essentially the same process that shapers use to create a sigl out of pre-existing aurum.  However, this is subject to the same inefficiencies as creating a sigl from aurum, and in any case is basically the equivalent of melting something down for raw materials.  Most people would consider this “destroying”, rather than “changing”.

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10 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #15:  Limit of Creation

  1. Andrew says:

    The starting-afresh option seems financially worthwhile if someone has got millions of pounds worth of existing non-longer-usable sigls. What sort of efficiencies would be common for the process? 10%, 50%, 90%?

    • Benedict says:

      Depends on (a) the skill of the operator, (b) attunement levels, and (c) the level of infrastructure being used. Corporations build ‘shaping chambers’ to reduce essentia loss in this process, but they’re expensive.

    • Allan says:

      Let’s do some napkin math with some totally made-up numbers, just to get a feel for things.

      Let us assume you have $10 million worth of otherwise-useless sigls (for simplicity we’ll say they’re all of the same type). Let us further assume you can get, best-case (skilled operator attuned to that type, good environment to work in, etc), 50% efficiencies. In addition, we’ll assume the operator costs $100,000 per project which takes an average of 1 month, and the environment etc costs $2 million to set up. Let us further assume there are no further operating costs, or that they can be lumped under the setup costs for our purpose. Let us assume that the person who set this up has access to an A-class Well, which refills once per year, and an A-class sigl of that type is worth $1 million to them. (Again, these numbers are entirely pulled out of the air – I have zero basis for any of them. I just find sometimes this process can be helpful in getting a feel for a process.)

      So, best case, you’ll end up with $5 million worth of now-useful (ideal case) sigls, which cost you $2.1 million to get, so a net ‘profit’ of $2.9 million. Not awful, by any means, but as a percentage I’m not exactly overwhelmed. Compare this to a fresh-made sigl which costs (let’s say) $500,000 to have made (I can’t put my hands on my copy of Inheritance to check numbers on this, so I’m running off vague memory of ‘expensive’.) – a ‘profit’ of $500,000 once per year.

      If we assume best-case conversion efficiencies of 10%, then the numbers look much worse. If they’re 90%, they look substantially better, depending on the amount of otherwise-useless sigls you have rattling around.

      The vibe I’ve gotten from Benedict’s comment is these numbers are probably overly optimistic as well. He said conversion chambers are ‘expensive’, which given we’re talking about large corporations here may well be several times my estimation. In addition, if you haven’t set one up yourself you’re probably paying to use one owned by someone else, which I can’t imagine comes cheap.

  2. Bill says:

    It sounds as if changing the ‘owner’ of an item would be very difficult and would need Primal Drucraft skill. I think that you said the resale value of sigls is low and acquiring an ownerless sigl could be very useful to Stephen for study and maybe make one of his own based on the design (compensating from his lack of a magical education)?
    Having the Primal skill, spare time & able to ‘see’ essentia for this process would be a big plus in reworking an old sigl, so perhaps a possibility for Stephen (if he can find a ‘spare’ Sigl and a powerful well to replace any ‘lost’ essentia).

    • Celia says:

      I wonder if just having an ownerless sigl would let Stephen study it, though, or would he need the owner to demonstrate how it works, so he can see the essentia flow? Otherwise it might just look like any other gem to him?

      • Bill says:

        You could be right but Father Hawk seemed quite surprised that Stephan could make sigls without being taught or even having studied similar ones. I think Stephan might have some form of intuition about how essentia flows work to create the effects. Having a sigl that could work might give him the extra nudge to get it right or maybe reduce the number of failures?
        before a success?

      • Benedict says:

        Yes, as you say, it’s a lot easier to figure out how a sigl works if you can see it actually working (which generally means having the owner using it).

  3. Nick says:

    ***Off Topic ***
    I notice that on Good Reads there are already ratings for An Instruction in Shadow. There are also some reviews that look as if they may be based on reading it! (Perhaps?)
    Are these real and maybe teasers for October or completely spurious? ((And can I get a copy))

    • Benedict says:

      The book’s now at proof stage, so yes, there’s a good chance that the reviewer in question had a real copy. My publishers start distributing proof copies for review months before the book’s release, sending them out to review distributors like NetGalley.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Very interesting topic-
    How do sigls and essentia connect? If a user wills an effect their essentia activates the sigl. But is there a shaping to the essentia, like a fingerprint?
    I would try at least two possible ways to hack this- one is to manipulate one’s essentia to copy the person to whom the sigl is attuned, like picking a lock, or to construct a general use sigl by blending many people’s essentia. Actually, I would include even essentia from animals to get the broadest possible mix.
    I’m enjoying the new series quite a bit- thanks for all the work!

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