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New WoB: Roshar’s Three (Plus) Magic Systems


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At the February 25 Austin signing for Calamity, a questioner asked Brandon, “How many magic systems are in The Stormlight Archives, and how many of them [have been seen?]” Brandon’s answer:


I would say the only major one you haven’t seen is Voidbinding, it depends on how you count them.  I count fabrials as one, Surgebinding as one, and Voidbinding as one.  And then the Old Magic is kind of its own weird thing.


This is Brandon’s most definitive statement (that I’ve seen) regarding Roshar’s magic systems. Let’s look more closely at what the three systems have in common and why the “weird” Old Magic doesn’t fit with the other three. I’ll then address the peculiar features of each system.


Common Features


Each of these magics (other than the older non-spren fabrials) rely on spren for their efficacy, including the Old Magic. The three “systems” all use the same “powers of creation” in some fashion. They differ from one another only in how the system gives access to and expresses the powers. The Old Magic in contrast seems to use only a few of the powers of creation, if any, which differentiates it from the “systems.”


Brandon has said the powers of creation are just “tools” (emphasis added):


[T]he powers granted by all of the metals—even the two divine ones—are not themselves of either [Ruin or Preservation]. They are simply tools. And so, it's possible that one COULD have found a way to reproduce an ability like atium's while using Preservation's power, but it wouldn't be as natural or as easy as using Preservation to fuel Allomancy.


The means of getting powers—Ruin stealing, Preservation gifting—are related to the Shards, but not the powers themselves.


I interpret this statement to mean that magic systems wherever located differ only in “the means of getting powers” and how the powers express themselves. How do each of Roshar’s magic systems differ?




We know that the essence of Surgebinding is the Nahel bond. That is the “means” by which Surgebinders “get” the ability to use the powers of creation, which on Roshar are called “Surges.”


Q: The ten Surges on Roshar, I think you said are basically a different set of laws of physics.

A: Yeah.

Q: Are those laws of physics consistent throughout the Cosmere?

A: Um, y-y-yes, to an extent. You would consider, like - it's kind of weird because I based them on the idea of the fundamental forces, but this is kind of like a human construction. Like you could say that physics is pure and natural, but we're still putting things in boxes. And the scientists on Roshar would for instance consider being able to travel between the Cognitive and Physical Realms as a force, the thing that pulls people back and forth between that, as a fundamental force. I don't know if it would fit our definition of a fundamental force.


That statement is also from the 2/25 Signing.


IMO the reason the Nahel bond gives a Surgebinder access to the Surges is because the bonded spren is cognitive investiture. The bonded spren uses its mind to direct the Surges it controls as the Surgebinder requests. The Surgebinder thinks what he/she wants to do and the spren does it.


Forum consensus (but not canon) is that Honor and Cultivation combined their investiture to create the Surgebinding system. This is an example of what Moogle calls “intent-meshing,” but what I call “mandate-meshing” since I think “mandate” is the textually proper word for what we’ve been calling “intent.” (See the HoA Chapter 79 Epigraph.)


Honor’s mandate is “to bind,” as Syl tells us. Honor’s investiture creates the Nahel bond. But the bonded spren are a mix of Honor’s and Cultivation’s investiture. The two exceptions IMO are Bondsmiths’ spren (the Stormfather, Honor’s Cognitive Shadow comprised of pure Honor investiture); and Truthwatchers’ spren (pure Cultivation investiture, though connected to their KR’s SpiritWeb by Honor’s Nahel bond). I base my conjecture on the fact that these are the only two Orders “inside” the KR Order Chart (what I call the “Round Table”) that appears on the front endsheet of WoK.


Argent has asked the question, “out of the potentially hundreds, if not thousands of spren types, why do the Radiants bind with only ten?” I believe the answer is that the ten spren types who became Radiantspren imitated the Honorblades. Each Honorblade is capable of two Surges. Only spren capable of exercising the same two Surges as each Honorblade - IMO the right mix of Honor's and Cultivation's investiture - would bond with KR. Other spren would have a different mix or be something else entirely. Those spren couldn't exercise the same Surges as the Honorblades. They cannot be Radiantspren.




There are two broad types of fabrials – the modern fabrials mentioned in the WoK and WoR Ars Arcana and ancient fabrials that seem not to rely on spren at all. We’ve seen two examples of ancient fabrials – ones that enable Soulcasting and Regrowth (the Transformation and Progression Surges). We don’t know whether the fabrial “magic system” includes both modern and ancient fabrials or one or the other. Brandon has said that “Fabrials can replicate all of the Surgebinding abilities.”


Arguably the Honorblades themselves are non-spren fabrials that grant the ten Surges. The Oathgates are another ancient fabrial, but they require a “living” Shardblade – a spren; these may be more akin to modern fabrials, but maybe not. All fabrials of whatever kind require Stormlight to operate.


The WoR Ars Arcanum author, believed to be Khriss, is “more and more convinced that [modern fabrial creation] requires forced enslavement of transformative cognitive entities, known as ‘spren’ to the local communities.” Note that Khriss confirms that spren are comprised of cognitive investiture. Modern fabrials lock the spren into specific types of gems. The color, cut and size of the gems appear responsible for attracting the spren, its imprisonment, the amount and “wavelength” of Stormlight the spren gain access to, and/or the type of magical output the fabrial creates.


Khriss categorizes fabrials into five “groupings”: Altering (Augmenters and Diminishers), Pairing (Conjoiners and Reversers), and Warning.  Fabrials “appear to be the work of dedicated scientists, as opposed to the more mystical Surgebindings once performed by the Knights Radiant.” While Khriss seems to write the Ars Arcanum contemporaneously with WoR events – she knows of the Jah Keved half-Shards, a recent development – she seems ignorant of the KR’s re-emergence.


IMO the two distinguishing features of modern fabrials are the use of gemstones to capture spren and reliance on merely sentient spren. Surgebinding uses the more heavily invested sapient Radiantspren for its magic. “Altering fabrials,” for example, “seem to work best with forces, emotions or sensations” like heat, pain or wind. We know that sentient spren have access to the Surges too: windspren, for example, can use Adhesion to trip people. I also believe that whatever spren is imprisoned in spanreeds gives the users access to the Transportation Surge: the writing is “transported” over distance.




There’s been some excellent speculation about Voidbringer magic, most notably on this thread begun by Argent. Brandon’s 2/25/16 statement clarifies, however, that listener Stormform cannot be “voidbinding,” since we HAVE seen that magic.


Lightflame in that thread suggests that listener Stormform is Voidbringing, since that form enables the listeners to summon the Everstorm, the phenomenon that will “bring the Void.” Lightflame distinguishes Stormform from the “Voidish Forms” that Argent lists as the believed counterparts of the KR Orders: Nightform, Decayform and Smokeform. As Lightflame notes, these forms are mentioned in the listeners' Song of Secrets. Stormform by contrast is mentioned in the listeners Song of Winds. Stormspren’s ability to cause lightning and violent winds appears innate, like windspren’s Adhesion ability. Neither seems to require Stormlight.


There's no need to replicate the discussion on Argent’s thread, linked above. Instead, if you’re interested I suggest you read the entire thread, since the posters there have helpful insights.


It’s clear (to me) that Voidbinding resembles Endowment’s reincarnation of the Returned more than any other magic system we’ve seen. Voidbinding in all its known forms relies on the powers granted to/by the Unmade, the listener “gods.” These former listeners are remade by Odium’s investiture.


  • Nightform: “as the gods did leave, the nightform whispered…” (WoR Chapter 23 Epigraph).
  • Decayform: “a form of gods to avoid, it seems…” (WoR Chapter 24 Epigraph).
  • Smokeform: “Crafted of gods, this form we fear. / By Unmade touch its curse to bear…” (WoR Chapter 31 Epigraph).


Oh well, all my theories about “Voidbinding” being a combination of Honor’s and Odium’s investiture – Honor “binding the Void” – are now out the window…


The Old Magic


But I still have hope for this one. Also at the 2/25/16 Event, Brandon and a questioner had the following exchange:


Questioner: I kind of envision the Old Magic working a little bit like Hemalurgy, where some[one] takes a part of the Physical DNA of the person and transmutes it onto the Cognitive DNA because everything seems to be a Cognitive shift for the person. Am I thinking along the right lines?


Brandon: You are thinking along very-- Yes you are thinking along the right lines.  I won’t tell you exactly but you are thinking along the right lines.


I hesitate to infer anything from such a squishy answer. (And PLEASE future questioners, do not invite such an answer by building it into your question, as this person did. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but it’s best not to provide Brandon with an “out” in advance.)


I’ll assume that the “right lines” the questioner was “thinking along” refers to a quasi-hemalurgical connection between two entities affecting one’s Cognitive capacity. Brandon’s answer conveniently parallels my theory that the Nightwatcher – purveyor of the Old Magic – is a combination spren consisting of the Cognitive investiture of each of Cultivation and Odium bound to one another by Honor: Cultivation boons and Odium Cognitive curses. As Brandon says in the opening quote of this post, the Old Magic is “weird.”


You can read my theory and its many detractors, so I won’t repeat it here. In summary, the Nightwatcher is the Cognitive element of Odium’s imprisonment in Greater Roshar.




That’s all, Folks! Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Edited by Confused
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Good analysis. Two quick questions:


1) You say that ancient fabrials don't bind spren. That's a new one for me; was that mentioned anywhere in the books or in a WoB? (It's possible I just may have missed it, but I'd like to find out where it came from.)


2) Do you fit Ryshadium in there anywhere? That's where my mind went when I saw that that original WoB you posted; that Surgbinding is a "Bonding Spren" system, while the different "Capturing Spren" systems like Ryshadium (and Purelake fish, possibly), fabrials, and Parshendi forms operate on a different way of getting spren.

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Good analysis. Two quick questions:


1) You say that ancient fabrials don't bind spren. That's a new one for me; was that mentioned anywhere in the books or in a WoB? (It's possible I just may have missed it, but I'd like to find out where it came from.)


2) Do you fit Ryshadium in there anywhere? That's where my mind went when I saw that that original WoB you posted; that Surgbinding is a "Bonding Spren" system, while the different "Capturing Spren" systems like Ryshadium (and Purelake fish, possibly), fabrials, and Parshendi forms operate on a different way of getting spren.


Soulcasters don't have spren in them, as far as we know.  Of course, that could be wrong, seeing as the grand majority of the ones we've seen are broken.  

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I thinknyou mean Oathgates. Which do need Stormlight.

I think he meant a truthless's Oathstone.


But we don't know if there is something other than honor and law to made a truthless follows his people's traditions

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I thought Brandon had confirmed there was no magic involved in the Oathstone. I'm on my phone so I can't search right now.


I remember a RAFO, but I may be wrong or it's possible there is a more recent WoB

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The way I see it, the 3 main types manipulate the cognitive aspect of a force or an item, while the old magic tends to manipulate the cognitive aspect of a human or creature. These all (obviously) act via investiture, but the 3 main types seem to rely on the cognitive investiture found in spren/voidspren as well as the environmental investiture of stormlight/everstormlight, while the old magic relies on spiritual sources provided by Honor, Cultivation, or Odium

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Would you consider the natural way that the some of the Listeners and some of the Fauna of Rishar naturally Bond with spren (i.e. Sky-eels, Chasamfiend etc..) as a different magic system than the ones listed?

This is the magic system that Odium has co-opted as far as we can tell(Stormform) but it seems like it was also the pre-shardic magic system native to Roshar. I belive that this is the Old Magic that is referred to. Idk what the Nightwatcher could be, but it doesn't seem large enough to be its own magic system. 

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Pagerunner and TwelfthOfSnackTime: I would not consider the “natural way” spren bond with certain fauna and flora on Roshar to be a separate magic system. (IMO Ryshadium are an example of this “natural way.”)


First, Brandon didn’t identify this “natural way” as a separate magic system. Second, there’s this WoB, also from the 2/25/16 signing:


Questioner: What can you tell me about where spren come from?

Brandon: Spren come from where everything in the world of Roshar comes from. The[y] are a natural part of life there.  They come from the same place rocks and the wind and all of that...


In a sense, the entire Cosmere is “magical,” since it all began as Adonalsium’s investiture. (Brandon has said it is “commonly assumed” that Adonalsium created the Cosmere – not exactly confirmation, but I’ll go with it.) This investiture changed state into matter and/or energy to form planets, etc. (This is Spinoza’s “the universe is one substance” idea that Brandon has explicitly adopted.) Roshar, which bears Adonalsium’s “touch and design” (the Second Letter from WoR), is an example.


Being “magical,” however, does not make something into a “magic system.” I think Brandon uses that phrase to refer to the ability of “magicians” on Shardworlds to use magic themselves. Ryshadium, Purelake fish and other “natural” phenomena may BE magic, but they don’t use the powers of creation to MAKE magic. It’s the same difference we see between Shardworlds and non-Shardworlds like the planet in Sixth of the Dusk. In the latter, magic is present on the planet, but no one creates magic there.


Bugsy6912: That’s an interesting way to look at the differences among the three magic systems. I do view the Transformation Surge, as Shallan uses it, as a manipulation of the “cognitive aspect of a humans.” That’s why Gaz and the slave wagon driver (whose name I can’t remember) changed themselves to reflect how Shallan saw them. Shallan herself, when she assumes her Veil identity, seems to change how she views herself; at the end of WoR, Mraize certainly thinks Veil is more than a mere disguise. Sh3nahz wrote an interesting post positing that the Transformation Surge changes a person’s Identity attribute, much like Forgery.


We haven’t seen all of the Surges yet, so it’s possible others have an impact on the Cognitive aspect of humans and creatures. Just from their name, “Willshapers” seem to impact people’s Cognitive aspect. Like Elsecallers, they too can use the Transportation Surge to enter and exit Shadesmar “in the flesh.” Also, from what little we know the Voidbinding system seems to manipulate the Cognitive aspect of the listeners.


More to the point, since the powers of creation are simply “tools” available to every magic system, then all systems on every Shardworld share this ability. The in-world Words of Radiance states as follows regarding Lightweaver abilities: "Yet, were the orders not disheartened by so great a defeat, for the Lightweavers provided spiritual sustenance; they were enticed by those glorious creations to venture on a second assault." (WoR Chapter 47 Epigraph.) This sounds a lot like Allomantic “rioting.”


I have long advocated that ALL magic begins with a Cognitive act of some kind, causing the changes in Spiritual Realm Connections between souls and essences. A mind is necessary to direct the power. You are right that the Old Magic “relies on spiritual sources provided” by one or more of the Shards. But so does every magic system IMO. The question is in what Realm does the magical effect manifest. The Nightwatcher’s curses all seem Cognitive.

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