I don’t know why I’m so captivated by the idea of leylines.
Too facile: “hey asshole, you played too much Rifts as a kid!”
Likely true: “hey asshole, you played too much Rifts as a kid!”
I think it’s probably because there’s always this feeling that magic has to come from somewhere. The idea that it’s just floating around like oxygen, freely available to anyone who wants to draw upon it, requiring little effort and no specialness, just a part of the world’s normalcy—that’s tough. Magic should be special. Last I saw, there’s nothing f-word about the world,1 and life doesn’t allocate a pool of ability points. Some people get to be brilliant and strong and gorgeous. And some people get to be stupid and ugly and unpleasant and poor and sick.
I like the idea of leylines because they are a resource to exploit. One way to think about them is like any other fixed-site resource, a port or a river or a vein of gold or patch of oil. That is, someone will come to exploit it, and in doing so exclude others from it.2 Magic is valuable—it can either do things doable in no other way, or can do mundane things in an easier way than is traditional, or both—and so now you have conflict. Someone has it and wants to keep it; someone doesn’t have it, and wants it. Conflict is storystuff.
I also like the idea that some places are just deeply weird. Two-headed goats get born; bloodsqualls fill trackfurrows; people forget who they are. Stones speak wisdom and rivers flow the other way. The sun winks at you—just you—and babies take up apple-knives. If there were some demon behind these things, some bloody-bone or hellwain, these things would suck, but at least make sense. There’s a motive, if only to fuck with you. Weirdness comes from the lack of conscious motive.
But if weirdness happens everywhere, is diffuse, no work gets done. Weird shit happens when you get close to a leyline, but those who seek power have never learned from moths or flames.
Where else does magic come from? It infuses everything and you need some mystical beardy wisdom to know that we really are just all one? Bleh. I’ll take Carrie any day.3 Extremes of emotion work what look like miracles. Or hellfire.
Maybe necromancy isn’t a thing, it’s the thing. In a world where gods are indisputably, Zeus-fucked-my-hot-sister, everyone’s seen one for realsies, completely real, calling down and using a portion of their powers isn’t much of a reach. But maybe actual magic only comes from pacts with the dead, and necromancy isn’t necromancy because necromancy is just magic.
Maybe there’s only so much magic in the world, and when it’s used up it’s gone. Of course, all those assholes in that “golden age” so long ago made it golden by using up all the easily available stuff, leaving you to scrabble about trying to pluck up the remnants, or seek far-off wildernesses where it just wasn’t economical to extract.
In a pinch, I’ll even take “there is magic, some weirdo three counties over can do it, but you never will.” Maybe the gift is really just that rare, and no, the PCs will only ever see the stabby flamey I’m-dead-now side of it.