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Theory on how guardian magic works


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Here are my thoughts on what guardian magic really is. I wrote it a while back on the german rp forum, heavily edited and translated.

It's hard to define what magic really is. Therefore I'll just start by describing the guardian's school of magic by highlighting differences to other disciplines.

It is easiest to see when compairing guardians to elementalists. Elementalists look outward and source their power from their surroundings, the destructive or restorative powers of the elements. The guardian's source of power however is found within the practitioners themselves, within their souls, within their faith. Guardian spellcraft is a spiritual but not a necessarily intellectual discipline. Albeit traditionally religious (monk, paragon, ritualist) the derivated new form doesn't need to be that anymore, as one can see with 'atheist' asuran and charr guardians. When I speak of spirituality I primarily mean wisdom and awareness of and mastery over one's mind and beliefs, at the very least it's utilization.This power prioritizes willpower, dicipline and self-control over intellect, if latter contributes to the equation at all. Neither Logan Thackeray, nor Braham, nor the charr companion Dinky can be called intellectual powerhouses after all.

'External' and 'internal' is of no concern to the necromancer. He uses life force wherever he finds it. He collects the life force of surrounding beings - preferably his enemies' - or he taps into his own reservoir. To spite those who wronged him (spite); to spread pestilence, satisfying the hunger of lesser lifeforms; to negotiate, even rule over life, death and entities of the afterworld as a dark pact maker (death magic); to cling to immortality (blood) or to accept death and be the tool and envoy of the reaper.Thematically I fancy drawing up the following opposite archetypes: The necromancer is a materialistic, nihilist egomaniac who calls upon darkness, coldness and concentrates on the body's life force - standing in stark contrast to the spiritual, moralist servant of the common good, who wields divine fire and radiant light constructs, only ever interested in honing the virtues of his spirit in order to fulfill his responsibilities.While that may work, there are many more archetypes hidden in the profession of the necromancer, one of which (the grenth priest who speaks to dead souls for example) has mastery over spectral skills. There is a partial overlap, it's true nature still eludes me.

Both - guardians and mesmers - use their spirit as a tool. However, whereas the guardian strives for sheer, unshakable willpower, forging and tempering his soul into a mighty hammer with which he smites people, the mesmer uses trickery, sleight of hand and arcane knowledge, honing his spirit into a sharp razor with which he sticks and prods cleverly into whatever opportunity, be it the mind of the opponent (domination) or vulnerabilities in his defenses (dueling), weakpoints in the fabric of reality (chaos), take inspiration and adapt phantasms or confound onlookers with mesmerizing illusions.Guardian and mesmer overlap thematically with their light and mental aspects. However the guardian looks inward, achieving mastery over his soul via dicipline and faith, enforcing order, stability and structure in the world and upholding truth with his voice, whereas the mesmer has his attention outward, achieving control over the situation with intellect and instinct, playfully deploying controlled chaos and unraveling entropy, finding, interpreting and conveying unorthodox truth by way of deceit, fiction and imagination.

I summarize: The archetypal guardian is a disciplined, introspective, moralist soldier wih average intellect who learned magic sourced from his soul, his faith, using sheer willpower, casting spectral light and fire spells, guided by higher values called virtues.

The guardian finds himself in a different situation than most casters. While other disciplines have the option to opt for melee, the guardian in its core is pre-defined as a frontline combatant. He has to physically and mentally react to opponents offending him with strikes and spells which occupies concentration, making casting complex spells rather difficult. Casting spells was once likened to playing a music instrument. Imagine playing a piano with your left hand, trying not to mess up beat and sequence while you had to keep your eyes on the enemy, maintain enough situational awareness so you won't get flanked and fence with your right sword hand. Casting spells therefore had to be intuitive. Maybe another reason why the spells have names that hint at (religious) rituals and concepts, why belief is so central. Ritualized practices, early morning recitations, passages learned by heart, associative battlecries, (religious) symbolism, the footing in one's convictions, all of a sudden those things have a more practical, rooted meaning. Necessity.

Speaking of necessity. The guardian has two types of weapons. One of steel and one of spirit. The difference between them being, that steel is reliable whereas an untempered spirit is not. Pain, fear, indecision, distraction, complacency. The spirit is fleeting and bends. A guardian needs to be trained accordingly, putting focus on the tempering of the soul. Make it as reliable as steel.

Lastly a few thoughts on how exactly guardian spellcasting works. Everyone needs to orient themselves in the world, valuing some things over others while on the other hand ignoring matters, that are deemed irrelevant. Everyone has to make hard decisions based on that, everyone has a world view. However the guardian is the sole discipline that furthermore also gains strength when his convictions align with his decisions, when he believes he has made the right judgement call and is resolved to carry it out to the end, which places exceptional meaning on the guardian's decision-making and his perceptions. While this generally orients him to truth, it also leaves some leeway for (willfully) blind guardians with rigid thinking, who want to remain 'pure', secluded from corrupting thought and effects. I think its at this point virtues carry significance. We see exactly those virtues we see ingame because they carry him through this decision-making process.

  • perception and justification: The Virtue of Justice feeds his worldview, telling him what is right from wrong. A radar that tells him where he should intervene.
  • conviction: When he notices a robbery for example and the guardian finds justification for acting out, the Virtue of Resolve will lock him into this self-imposed responsibility, giving him energy and tolerance to see it through.
  • action: Finally it is the Virtue of Courage that enables him to actually act out in the first place, despite dangers to life and safety.
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Five guardian examples I conjured up using the 5 core trait lines adding my own spin. At times I steered off to accomodate for the races. This is to flesh out the explanation, make it more comprehensible and also highlight how personality can make the guardian vary from the archetypal guardian. A few thoughts on spell categories thrown in for good measure.

… Zeal – "Purpose"

Faith – The cleric is fueled by zeal and exhibits the Virtue of Resolve. He has absolute trust in the teachings of the Six, absolute devotion. Indecision and doubt is unacceptable. It shows, not only in his personality but his unyielding soul affects his spellcraft as well.

Weapon – He wields Scepter and Focus into battle. He hurls spheres of iron and rays of light, he defends himself with a radiant shield shrieking with wrath and rightous indignation. Out of all the guardians he resembles the image of a battlemage the most. Each spell carries the weight of his unrelenting will, each spectral projectile amounts to a direct intervention from deep within his soul. He carries the symbol of punishment.

Spirit Weapons – He calls upon mighty spirit weapons in combat. The Virtues of unerring Wisdom and unrelenting Justice... as he sees it, given form, harbouring a fragment of his soul, acting on his behalf but on its own like judges of his conscience. Parts of him he can't deceive nor bend, only loose the right to use if he deviates.

His magecraft is heavy and vast, like an unmoving mountain defying his enemies. A mountain on which his enemies shatter, that is, if they don't already crumble under his tremendous aura.

…. Radiance – "Persecution"

Faith – The krytan persecutor emits his presence, not to his allies and friends, but to those he intends to judge. He lacks the iron steadiness of the cleric, however he calls quick-tempered passion and the Virtue of Justice his own. As far as the sun reaches, as far does he endeavor to maintain the law of the crown, as its upholder and royal servant.

Weapon – He bears an elegant blade, a torch and the emblems of royal order. His torch seeks out the hideouts of the judged, the shining tip of his blade demanding retribution. He is a fencer who relies on krytan swordplay, therefore he only has access to a limited collection of spells. Those he does possess however accentuate his impulsive, flamboyant nature. Hungry flames and blinding light, wherever he goes, heralding doom to the scum and the corrupt alike. He carries the symbol of blades.

Signets – Each time before he goes on a mission he checks the royal signets he requisitions from a court magician. They shall bless him with the queen's trust, protect him from malice and deceit and cover for his weaknesses.

His magic is impulsive and diverting. Out of all the possible guardians he possesses the least self-control, he forces himself unto his opponents. The inquisitorial lights and flames, only ever satisfied when Justice's demand has been met with punishment and the refuge of shadows lit ablaze, leaving rogues no place to hide.

… Courage – "Legend" ...

Faith – The battlemaiden is the flipside of the persecutor. She, like all norn, is a free spirit. She has no need of a restrictive doctrine, instead she treads on her own path, trusts only her own decisions, guided by the Virtue of Courage, seeking to carve out her own spot in world history.

Weapon – Her mace embodies her boldness, smashing down on her opponents with devastating blows, her shield embodies her merciless and freezing disregard, keeping an impenetrable wall between her and her opponent. If she chooses to fight, then as a ruthless storm of ice and iron. She carries the symbol of faith.

Meditations – She has no need of the assurances that a restrictive doctrine brings. She will muddle through like she always did. Pain, coldness and desire have no influence on her. Her long journeys past white, icy deserts and awe-instilling waterfalls revealed to her the way of meditation. She has learned to blank out sensory input and deep-freeze her longings. In it's stead she can summon a mental state of her choosing, be it to smite, to cleanse or to carry out her will in far away places.

Her magic is inconspicuous and deceptive, as she directs her magical prowess inwards. This complete control over herself enables her to embody the stillness of the eye of the storm, while her enemies crumble beneath the unrelenting assault of her attacks.

… Honor – "Glory"

Faith – The charismatic centurio has no paramount virtue. His pragmatism demands, that he accomodates to his men. He is a ressourceful and far-sighted mind with peerless social competence. He knows how to make rebellious people his, either by disciplining, baiting or convincing them, when to uphold authority and when to turn a blind eye. Honor is loyalty, perfected.

Weapon – He carries great weapons of splendid quality into battle, leading his men from the front and directing the flow of battle as a conductor clad in steel. He is a decent fighter, but he is a leader at heart. He carries the symbols of wrath and swiftness.

Shouts – His shouts empower his charr in many different ways. He conveys strategy and tactics to his men with his words, while his enhanced voice carries said words far and wide, impossible to mishear. The centurio can inspire courage and rightous fury just as easy as he can impose discipline and steadiness with a simple tonal shift. It is unclear if there is a magical component to his battle shouts, or if its mere psychology and placebo. Only the centurio knows this for sure, but he won't tell you if you ask. It is also a foolish thing to risk.

Symbols (and shouts) – Day in and day out. Constant barrages of stimuli. After years of service his men know each battle song, each vow, each motto by heart. The centurio has very early on learned of the merits, tapping into Black Citadel propaganda and the latent, primordial intricacies, that symbolism brings as a narrative tool. It maintains morale, triggers the last reserves of energy as zealous contempt or calls upon the best, the hero, that slumbers deep within the heart of each and everyone of his soldiers, hidden, and only waiting to be lured out and be rewarded with victory, honor and glory.It is then, when a shining symbol appears on the ground, when all of the above is called into action, adding a magical benefit the centurio bestows upon his men. The spell and its effect is witchery, something that is looked down on amongst his people. Be it as it may. Victory at any cost.

The magic of the centurio is potentially the mightiest of all the guardians but it also highly depends on the circumstances. This magecraft is the result, when the guardian exhausts his communicative and empowering options. He is a coefficient. The more hearts he reaches, the greater his power.

… Virtues – "Teachings"

Faith – She returned with a wealth of knowledge. Ever since then the young saplings harkened to her stories, learning the lessons that lay hidden within. The sage memorized and internalized everything written on Ventari's Tablet and followed each virtue known to her as good as possible when she began her own journey. Now having brought home what she saw, heard and learned from the other peoples of the world, she now teaches, not only so her brothers and sisters are armed with wisdom and prepared for any danger, but she also actively works towards mutual understanding in the world.

Weapon – Her old walking cane is a trusted companion of hers during the old days of her journey. And if necessary, it will do that still, as walking aid or as bludgeoning tool. Out of all the guardians the sage stands furthest away from her opponents. She maintains an overview of the battlefield and intervenes where she is needed most. Doing that gives her the time she needs to prepare more complex spells. She carries the symbol of protection.

Consecration (and wards) – She seems frail, but she is courageous. In those dark moments where allies lie on the ground, beaten, she will rise and stand before them, enchanting the ground with purpose and her will, shielding her comrades from harm and giving them sanctuary, going as far as to buy them time to retreat while she herself remains behind, keeping a ward that halts the chase, exposing herself to danger. An iron sorceress appealing to reason, projecting walls of reflection, maybe the enemies can be brought to reason?

The Sage focuses on the very essence of the guardian, possessing all of his virtues. She harbours the occasional spark of rightous zeal in her heart, upholds iron resolve at all times and proves to everyone each time anew, that she has the courage to face all terrors.

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This is golden ! A great read for any Guardian main :) Well done: i enjoyed every single word. I am also excited to see what you can make out of the elite specializations.

Not with an intent to disagree, but to promote discussion on the topic:

To me, the Zeal Guardian is far from the sorts of a war mage, but a wrathful fighter. He is the most aggressive of all Guardians. Capable of standing his ground with a relentless will to fight and crush enemies with fiery wrath. He wields a greatsword to defend Kryta and understands that the best defense is offense. He draws from within his spirit the ability to summon weapons to aid his blade to defeat enemies he cannot reach with steel. Carrier of the iron will, zealous with his purpose. He is the Guardian that walks the thin line between his inner balance and the pit that is chaos, the darkness within, the rage, the madness. Though he lives in line accordingly to his virtues, he does not deny the fire of his soul, but instead accepts it and uses it to diminish anyone who dares to challenge the ground that he defends.

His weapon of choice is the greatsword, a giant blade that represents his might and how he does not fear tapping into anger and despise to summon his power. A heavy burden that can be powerful weapon.

His symbols provide him the power to defend what is sacred to him through offense. The zealous guardian, carrier of purpose, has the ability to summon the most devastating symbols among those who share his magic, thus defeating any who dare to enter them. Anyone who decides to challenge him must have the courage to walk within his symbols and fight. Those who regret the decision and decide to run will will be bound by chain and have a taste of the whirlwind, the storm that is his zealous blade.

PS: A small translation correction: the traitline you mentioned as Courage is actually named Valor in the english version of the game.

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Guardian magic seems like it might be related to Revenant magic -- however, where Revenants and Ritualists draw on the power of legends regarding specific beings which are well-defined, Guardians draw on broad, abstract principles that still resonate strongly within the spiritual medium of the Mists. As a result, the specific convictions of the Guardian himself are needed to gives these vague concepts a more concrete shape. The ghostly nature of Guardian fire reflects its origin in the power of the Mists. Well, that's my theory, anyway.

It does suggest that you could just as easily have anti-guardians who draw on the power of evil principles. Going into even more speculative territory, given that the gods are out of the picture (or, in some cases, dead) but human prayer abilities still work, human divine magic might have a similar basis -- tied to the principles represented by the respective deity rather than the 3 Guardian virtues (which I think are more a question of game mechanics at any rate -- NPC guardians might well have different virtues and abilities.)

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My Sylvari Guardian is a noon bloom, member of the Vigil, man of action, zealous defender of Tyria and the Pale Tree. His magic is driven by his ideals, which are based fully on Ventari's Tablet, and his sense of greater purpose derived from that. His willingness to go headlong into a fight just because it's the right thing to do, would impress even the Norn.

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