A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #21:  Sigl Creation (Tracing)

Tracing means creating a sigl with the aid of a limiter.  It was a niche and rarely-used technique through most of human history, but advances made in the 19th and 20th centuries caused its popularity to soar.  Nowadays, the vast majority of sigls are made via tracing.

Limiters

A limiter is a tool made to assist shapers in the creation of one particular model of sigl.  There are many different designs of limiter, with varying levels of size, cost, complexity, and portability, but the most common types, used by Houses and corporations for the mass-production of low- to medium-power sigls, are about the size of a small backpack.

Although limiters can be (and are) built so as to look quite different from one another, they all work in basically the same way.  A limiter uses low-grade aurum inlaid into a framework to create a warding field that shapes any essentia channelled into it, ‘limiting’ the possible configurations by forcing the essentia to take a specific form.  If manifestation is like drawing freehand, a limiter is like using a stencil – so long as the shaper uses the limiter correctly, the sigl should always form exactly the same pattern.  Using a limiter is thus much more consistent than free manifestation.  If the same shaper uses the same limiter at 10 different Wells, you can reasonably expect to get 10 almost-identical sigls.

Comparing a limiter to a stencil makes it sound easier than it actually is.  The shaper still has to gather the essentia from the Well and channel it into the limiter for the limiter to do its job.  Also, a limiter can’t help much with the final stage of the shaping progress, where the shaper condenses the essentia construct to form the actual sigl.  A limiter is thus a very useful tool, but still demands a certain minimum amount of shaping skill.

However, a limiter does make it much easier to shape and reinforce the initial essentia construct, and this is important since the construct is the most common place for things to go wrong.  Usually, if a sigl doesn’t work, it’s because the shaper made some sort of mistake at the construct stage – either they got the design wrong, or they got the design right but didn’t reproduce it correctly.  By guiding the shaper in such a way as to create exactly the same construct every time, limiters prevent this from happening.  As a result, the failure rate from traced sigls is vanishingly low – usually no more than 1 or 2 percent, which is vastly smaller than the failure rate of free manifestation.

Creating a Limiter

Limiters consist of three parts:  the frame, the receptacle, and the tracing.  The frame provides the structure of the limiter, and is typically made from metal or plastic (wood is sometimes used for some higher-quality designs).  The receptacle’s purpose is to hold the wielder’s sample (usually blood) – since limiters are intended for mass production, they’re almost always designed on the assumption that the shaper and wielder will be different people.

The tracing on a limiter is the most important part, as well as the most expensive.  It’s made out of low-grade aurum, shaped by the framework into a pattern of lines that direct essentia flows.  These lines are typically very thin, but even so, the amount of aurum required to make a full-sized limiter is significant.  It was for this reason that, for most of human history, limiters were seen as unviable.  Yes, they could make it easier to make a sigl, but if you had to drain two full-sized Wells (or a dozen smaller ones) to make the limiter, it was hardly worth it.  In the nineteenth century, however, new techniques were developed that changed the equation.  Drucraft researchers discovered ways to make a limiter without using Well-grade essentia – you could make one patchwork, out of lesser Wells and free essentia, and it could work just as well.

The amount of aurum that can be extracted from lesser Wells and from free essentia, though, is very small.  This makes limiters slow to create, which in turn makes them expensive – shapers aren’t as rare as manifesters, but they’re not common, either, and if you need a team of shapers to put in a collective 1,000 hours of work to make a limiter, there’s really no way to do that on the cheap.  In practice, the cost to create a limiter to make a particular sigl is usually quite a bit higher than the cost of just buying that sigl on the open market.  Limiters are thus only worth it if you’re planning to make a lot of copies of that particular sigl.  And, like all aurum, the tracing in limiters sublimates over time, meaning that once you’ve got your very expensive limiter, you’d better get going and start making use of it, because you’ve only got a certain number of years before it stops working.

Limiters in the Modern Day

Despite these drawbacks, limiters in the 20th century experienced a surge in popularity, eventually eclipsing manifestation.  Before, only manifesters could create sigls – now, anyone with enough skill to use a limiter could do it, and the second group was many times bigger than the first.  The result was a sharp growth in sigl production.  Instead of having to negotiate with a manifester to get a sigl custom-made, you could order one out of a catalogue and be confident in what you were getting.  Nowadays, bespoke products are often considered luxury items, but this is largely an artifact of mass production – ‘custom-made’ can also mean ‘made very badly’.  As it turned out, most people prefer the security of knowing for sure that their new, very expensive purchase is actually going to work.

Manifestation never completely went away, though, and almost certainly never will.  Some people still want custom-made sigls, either because the type of sigl they’re looking for is rare, or because they want every bit of performance they can get.  Mass production doesn’t make sense for all things.

Advantages of Tracing

  • Reliability:  Traced sigls almost always work.  Unless the shaper makes some catastrophic mistake at the final stage, there’s basically no way for a traced sigl to come out nonfunctional.
  • Consistency:  Traced sigls are very predictable, without the variation and quirks of manifested sigls.
  • Economies of scale:  It’s much cheaper to mass-produce traced sigls than manifested ones.
  • Ease of use:  A shaper doesn’t actually need to know how a limiter works to use it, meaning that it’s much, much quicker to train a shaper to the point where they can use a limiter than it is to train them up to the point where they can manifest a sigl on their own.

Disadvantages of Tracing

  • Inflexibility:  A traced sigl is always exactly the same.  If the customer wants something slightly different from the stock model, then they’re out of luck.
  • Lower average power:  Traced sigls are never quite as strong as they could be.  For example, if your limiter is designed to produce sigls with a carat weight of exactly 3.0, but the Well you’re using has enough essentia to make a sigl with a carat weight of 3.5, then those last 0.5 carats are getting wasted.  It’s possible to modify a traced sigl as you’re making it, altering its parameters to better suit the resources available to you, but this requires a level of skill not much below being a manifester.
  • Requires a limiter:  You can’t trace without a limiter, and making limiters is difficult and expensive.  In practice, this makes tracing out of reach for most private individuals – almost all limiters are owned by drucraft organisations that reserve them for their own exclusive use.  In addition, not all sigl designs have limiters in active circulation.  If you want a specific type of traced sigl that no-one’s currently making limiters for (probably because there’s not enough demand for it at the moment), or if the only people who happen to own those particular limiters aren’t willing to let you use them . . . then too bad.
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12 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to Drucraft #21:  Sigl Creation (Tracing)

  1. Bill says:

    Does this mean that Limiters (once bought) continue in service almost indefinitely? I can see that you might want to ‘retire’ one, if a better version became available. So once you have recovered the high initial capital cost, you could (assuming that you had the well capacity & semi-skilled shaper) you could go into mass-production. I wounder if the Limiters so produced have both function and capacity limitations, so you would need another super-limiter to produce a more powerful Sigl

  2. Alicia W. says:

    Working with that Motion well was a nightmare for Stephen, so I can’t imagine he’ll be doing that very often unless he has a strong need for one. Which makes me wonder…

    If Stephen got hold of a limiter (maybe if someone loaned him one?), would that make it easier for him to work with essentia for which he has a strong disaffinity?

    Of course, since he’s creating custom sigls for his own use (and not standardized ones for sale to the sigl-loving public), making a limiter for himself wouldn’t be worth the time & effort (much less the essentia cost).

    • Kevin says:

      Paradoxically I don’t think it would, partly do to him being a manifester, which I think Maria was downplaying so he wouldn’t become competition and because of his essentia sight, I think already has that ability and it would be like glasses over contacts.

      And I wonder if his essentia sight would make it over time easier to make sigls that he does not have a strong affinity for. By that time I don’t think he will have much use for his family being self sufficient and all, maybe that is why Charles told him what was going on as a way to keep the door open. Will be interesting to see what his Mother’s reaction to all of this I don’t think she likes her family much either.

  3. Kevin says:

    Interesting seems like Steven being a manifester and having his essentia sight he has the best of both worlds should be interesting to see how he develops in the next book.

    But quick question do you need to use all of a Well’s power to create a sigl or can skilled manifesters or limiters create them with 2/3rds, half or even lower energy? For example would you need to use all of S+/A+ or S/A Well power to create the corresponding rank sigl or can they reduce the power requirements by a skilled Drucrafter so the Well doesn’t get drained as fast and they could make more sigls?

    • Benedict says:

      A good shaper can use as much or as little of a Well’s essentia as they want. However, more powerful sigls are worth much more than less powerful ones, so it’s considered a bit wasteful to use a high-power Well to make a low-power sigl.

      • Kevin says:

        I was trying to say that a skilled shaper could get the same effects as what a corresponding sigl that uses the typical power output, they could just do it with less, that is what Steven seem to do with his invisibility sigl but perhaps that is because he had his essentia sight and I am overthinking it.

        Do higher permanent wells such as S, A, or B, class wells fill up quicker so they can produce them in a reasonable amount of time or can they only create a sigl that uses a certain percentage of the well? For example if you used all of the Bishop’s Well power to create a A+ sigl would that destroy it and thus they can only create A sigls? Or can it create an A+ sigl as long as they leave enough to recharge like 5 percent of its original capacity?

        Thanks for these articles look forward to reading about the six affinities!

  4. Alex says:

    But who is designing new limiters? And who is making new limiters? Are they manifesters or specially trained shapers?

    • Benedict says:

      Both. Making a limiter is time-consuming and requires you to have a good understanding of the sigl in question, but it’s not incredibly difficult. If you have an old limiter of the same type that you can use as a model, most of the really hard work has already done for you. Designing one of your own, though, or improving on someone else’s design, requires a similar skillset to that of a manifester.

  5. Edward J Sackman says:

    Are limiters user specific like sigils? In other words, are they essentially sigils built to make other sigils?

  6. Andrew W says:

    Does using a limiter mean the shaper tends to take less time to create sigl? As they could just throw essentia into the limiter without having to concentrate on getting the design right like a manifester would? (I assume a competent manifester who had made the same sigl many times could get their creation speed close to a person using a limiter though?)

    What sort of sigl creation speed could an expert achieve? 10 minutes? 10 seconds?

    • Benedict says:

      Using a limiter makes sigl creation easier, which usually does translate to faster sigl creation time in practice, yes. The exact time depends on a lot of factors.

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