Note: Some of you may recognize this series from my old blog, "Whispers in the Earthquake." I'm working on a novel at the moment and have decided to repost some older stuff for the next four weeks to give myself more time with it. I think it still holds up. In fact, I guarantee you'll love it, or your money back.
In my last post, I argued (very well and persuasively I think, with just the right amount of subtle humor) that we need a better definition of the wizard character, that there are, in fact, entirely too many people claiming the title, and that, as a rule, I spend way too much time every day thinking about this.
But now that we've settled the question of what a wizard is, we can ask ourselves the next question: What makes a wizard awesome? To answer that question, I present to you a new ranking scale, bound to take the geek world by storm…
The MERLINS system is designed to account for all of the things that we love about wizards, from the tops of their peaked wool hats to the tips of their holly-wood wands. It is a rubric by which we can compare wizards across multiple books, movies, and T.V. shows. (OK, fine, graphic novels as well. Nerd.)
It also has the benefit of appearing to be more objective, though of course I'm making everything up based on my own personal preference. But I think you'll agree with me on most of it.
Here's how it works. There are seven categories representing the seven most important characteristics of any given wizard (the number seven being, as Tom Riddle points out, the most powerful magical number). Competing wizards can score 5-15 points in each category, depending on how important that category is and how awesome they are in that category. There are a total of 70 points possible.
- A "perfect" wizard would score 70 points on the MERLINS scale
- An "average" wizard would score 35 points
- A level 85 Mage in World of Warcraft would score -18 points
I should also note that, come hell or high water, I was set on calling this system MERLINS from the get go, and I spent a long, long time trying to get the abbreviations to work. So yes, I know some of them are a stretch, but it was totally worth it. Trust me, you'll talk yourself into it eventually.
OK, one last note before we get started: I noticed while writing this that I kept awkwardly referring to "a wizard" to describe things, and then I wouldn't know what pronoun to use after that (because, as I noted in the last piece, wizards can be female). This led me to write sentences like, "If a wizard is hungry, then a wizard could conjure up a delicious Subway chicken breast on hot and toasty flatbread to enjoy while on a wizard's picnic."
So in order to avoid terrible sentences like that, I'll be using a hypothetical wizard named Hyp O. Thetical. (You see what I did there?) Hyp is a vigorous, balding gentleman from the low hills of southern Italy. When he's not out helping young heroes complete their quests, he spends most of his time drinking copious amounts of red wine and shooting fireworks out of his ears. I'll be subjecting Hyp to each of the following MERLINS categories, just so we can all see how things play out in practice. We good with that?
Excellent! Then let's dive right into the wonderful world of...
15 points possible
Magic is the measure of a wizard's supernatural power. There are two subcategories within Magic: Raw Power and Relative Power. The total Magic score is simply the sum of the two subcategories, like this:
Magic = Raw Power + Relative Power
12 points possible
Raw Power is worth 12 of the 15 points in the Magic category. We will be judging wizards in this sub-category based entirely on the absolute awesomeness of their magic. The more awesome their power, the more points we award. The precise amount of awesomeness is determined by the Theodorus Scale, named after my favorite character in Heroes of Might and Magic III, because it's my system and I get to do whatever I want.
Below you'll see nine different categories of Raw Power. Wizards earn points in a category by being able to do something within that category. Any one thing will do. There's no need to do multiple things, nor do we award any bonus points for being able to do multiple things.
Why not? Because I've fiddled with different scoring systems for an hour now, and this is the simplest. Also, it's impossible to list all of the things that might fit within a category. Magic, after all, is bound only by the limits of the imagination.
Remember also that you can only score 12 points in Raw Power, so any wizard that would otherwise go over 12 points will have their score reduced. Again, this is entirely because I'm tired of trying to make the numbers work out.
The Theodorus Scale is as follows, from lamest powers to coolest powers:
Party Tricks - 1 point
This category includes all of the following:
- Lights: Abilities that create or remove light - fireworks, mage-lights, the Deluminator, etc.
- Sounds: Abilities that create or deaden sound - snaps, crackles, pops, etc.
- Tricks: Minor abilities that make life easier - cooking, cleaning , opening locks, starting fires, etc.
- Jokes: Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. 'Nuff said.
Martial Arts - 1 point
This category includes any form of power that improves a wizard's strength, speed, endurance, quickness, skill, aim, stamina, jumping ability, hand-eye coordination, tap-dancing, Frisbee throwing, or Kan Jamming. Basically, wizards get points here for kicking ass on a regular basis with anything other than their magic.
This also includes what most video game players would call "buffs," where a wizard uses his/her magic to increase the strength, speed, stamina, etc of somebody else, usually before an important battle or something. I love it when Martial Arts get invoked, since they often lead to some pretty sweet sequences where old men rip through hordes of evil creatures with staff and sword. See also: Lord of the Rings, Gandalf.
Plants and Animals - 1 point
Potions, potions, potions! Also includes powers that help wizards talk with animals, improve crop yields, and encourage the local male and female goats to get friendly.
These kinds of powers are very useful to have around when you're in a tight spot and need something to move the plot forward. Looking for a quick update on the latest evil doings of the Dark Prince? Just grab a quick chat with the local raven! They always seem to know everything. It's like a magical version of Twitter.
Second Sight - 2 points
I'm afraid Professor Trelawny did quite a bit of harm to the reputation of Second Sight, being such a hopeless, owl-eyed fraud (well, a quasi-fraud at any rate). Future predicting is old news in the wizard world, however, so luckily there's a large tradition of awesomeness to fall back on when old owl-eyes fails us. Also included in this category are certain "far seeing" forms of magic that can look on current people and events at great distances.
If this power worked perfectly all of the time, however, there often wouldn't be much of a story to tell, so Second Sight is notoriously finicky and unreliable. ("Always in motion is the future," says a wise little green man.) This probably has something to do with our distaste for the idea that our choices don't matter. In spite of much evidence to the contrary, we like to think we are in control of our lives. See also: The Matrix, NE0.
Elemental Spells - 2 points
Almost everyone is familiar with Elemental Spells in some form? Here's a quick review for those of you who don't - a good, clean, elemental wizard duel.
The men faced each other across ten grim yards of broken flagstones, the two masters of Gramarye, last workers of the ancient magic of the Old Times. The ruins of the once-mighty palace stood around them like onlookers, hidden in the shadows &em; silent witnesses to this, the final battle of the Twelfth Cycle.
Then Old Maelk gestured sharply with his oaken staff, and lightning burst from its tip with a terrifying shriek, hurtling toward the heart of The Heron-Prince. With a roar the Prince struck down with his sword, turning the bolt from his heart, flinging it back to the earth.
The light broke on the ground beneath his feet, and the earth trembled as if in pain from the great blow. Then with a shudder the earth split in front of the Prince and yawned away from him like an arrow, flagstones flying into the air in its wake. But ere it swallowed up Old Maelk, it broke and passed around the old man's steady staff, washing away like a wave around the rocks on a granite shore.
Undaunted, the Heron-Prince lifted his sapphire ring into the sky, and called upon the spirits of the wind in a strange and fell tongue, which no mortal man can speak and yet live. The blue of his sapphire burned bright in the gathering gloom, and the powers of the whirlwind spun above him. Faster and faster the darkness spun, and faster and darker, until a great tornado of black wind twisted to the ground between the two masters, dwarfing them with its howling malevolence. Again the prince called, and flung his arm toward Maelk, as if to pierce him with a javelin, and at his command the whirlwind attacked, snarling like a lioness eager for her prey.
Maelk again held his staff before him, his lined face grimacing in pain and effort. But though he stood in the midst of a black power which would have uprooted a mighty oak tree, yet still his body stood as if in a dead calm, untouched, and not a hair on his head was moved. Then the tip of his staff blazed red as if alight with flame, growing and burning, until it's fiery light matched the icy radiance of the Prince's sapphire. A red serpent of flame blazed forth, hissing through the black wind, shattering its power, twisting up into the sky. Then down the serpent struck, mighty as a comet, red fangs tipped with a fire so hot that they burned white.
The Prince called aloud again, desperation twisting his face. With a rushing roar came a solid wall of water, surging out of the earth, still cracked before his feet. Water and flame met in a great crash, and steam billowed forth in rolling waves, obscuring Old Maelk and the Heron-Prince, enveloping, indeed, the whole palace, so that even the silent stone watchers could not have seen how the battle fared.
Though many years later, some old women still swore that one could look on that great battle of the elemental powers from a distance, and see in the rolling steam clouds two great and terrible shapes, throwing lightning back and forth like a child's ball...
Mind Control - 2 points
The two uses of mind control that stick in my memory the most are:
- Obi-Wan Kenobi talking to the Storm Troopers in Mos Eisley. ("These aren't the droids you're looking for...")
- Mad-Eye Moody jerking a spider around like a puppet in Harry Potter. ("Think it's funny do you?" he growled. "You'd like it, would you, if I did it to you?")
The weird part is that one is the action of a good guy, and the other is supposed to demonstrate the incredible evil of the exact same action. Mind control is both a Jedi trick and an Unforgivable curse, and somehow I manage to hold both of these contradictory characterizations in my head at the same time. Thus it's awesomeness is tempered by the dangers of it, and the fear we all have that our choices are not our own.
Transfiguration - 3 points
I'm thinking more about human transfiguration here. Turning a porcupine into a pincushion is closer to a Party Trick than an awesome power. But turning yourself into a wolf or a bear or a penguin? Pretty awesome.
Space and Time - 3 points
Space and Time powers help wizards bend the laws of physics to suit their purposes. We're talking Apparition, Traveling, super-speed, stopping time, traveling through time, and confusing people by traveling through time.
One of my favorite Space and Time powers is in The Wheel of Time series, where magic wielders can use a fearsome (and forbidden) weapon called balefire. Balefire looks like liquid light and destroys everything it touches. The unique part is that this destruction occurs backwards through time, so that a very strong beam of balefire can undo a person's life for hours, days, or sometimes even weeks. Thus anything that person had done within that erased time period is undone, people they kill become unkilled, sandwiches they eat become uneaten, etc.
Light or Darkness - 3 points
There are a lot of really awesome powers that don't seem to fit into any particular category except what I'm calling Light or Darkness. Some examples include:
- Necromancy - Communicating with the dead or raising undead servants like zombies, Inferi, skeleton warriors, Cauldron-Born, etc.
- Demonology - Calling on demons, Satan, or evil spirits.
- Corruption - Causing disease, pain, or madness.
- Unmaking - Killing or destroying with dark magic.
- Protection - Defending or shielding someone from evil, like a Patronus charm or Gandalf's last stand on the Bridge of Khazad-dum.
- Brilliance - Hard to describe, it's basically anytime you see a beam of white light shooting at a bad guy
3 points possible
So that's all for Raw Power. Not all magical worlds are created equal, however, so I wanted to build in a small correction that recognizes wizards who are stuck in less powerful worlds. We'll call it Relative Power.
Relative Power = Power of a wizard relative to all other magical beings within a given world.
For example, I think we'd all agree that if Hyp (remember him?) could do everything on our Magic list, he'd be pretty awesome. But I'd also say that even with all those cool abilities, Hyp would become a lot less awesome if there were fifty other characters in his world who could do exactly the same things that he could do, since all those marvelous wonders would suddenly be rather commonplace. It would still be a pretty sweet common place, but not as sweet.
The Relative Power scale (often called the Einstein Scale by absolutely no one) is pretty simple.
- 3 points - for being the most powerful being in your fictional universe
- 2 points - for being in the top three
- 1 point - for being in the top twelve
- 0 points - for being below the top twelve
Hyp's Score: Unfortunately, the only supernatural thing that Hyp can do is shoot sparks out of his ears (the ability to drink copious amounts of red wine being, of course, quite common). So he's stuck in "Party Tricks" category and scores only 1 point in Raw Power. However, since he hypothetically lives in our hypothetically real world, which (as far as we hypothetically know) does not contain any other person with magical powers, Hyp would score 3 points on the Relative Power scale.
So his total Magic score would be:
1RAP + 3REP = 4 points
10 points possible
This is not "exploits" the verb, as in "That greasy oil tycoon regularly exploits Nature for his own gain." This is "exploits" the noun as in, "The court bards sang songs of his exploits for three ages of men."
Exploits refer to adventures, deeds, and other risky and unexpected undertakings. This category is basically a list of everything cool that a wizard has ever done. Harry Potter lovers can think of this as very similar to Chocolate Frog Cards. Wizards receive points based on the number, nature, and importance of their Exploits. So the more things you do, the cooler those things are, and the more important those things are to the history of your world, the more points you get.
This is a highly subjective category, and a really fun one, since we basically have to make impossible decisions.
For example, tell me which of these famous wizard Exploits should receive more points:
- Dumbledore's defeat of the Dark Wizard Grindewald.
- Gandlaf's defeat of the Balrog of Moria.
I'd personally go with Gandalf. The gigantic Balrog is more badass and terrifying than the blond, blue-eyed, second-most powerful Dark Wizard of all time; the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog actually appears in the books and movies (and is satisfyingly epic); and the stakes of that battle were higher. It's a bigger deal if Gandalf loses that fight, since there's a good chance the Balrog would have gotten it's demonic claws on the One Ring. I don't think that would've ended too well for Middle Earth.
But you could make arguments against it, so this can lead to some fun debates.
Hyp's Score: Hyp doesn't have a whole lot to go on in this category. He is regionally famous for allegedly breaking the world speed record for drinking a yard of ale, but that's never been confirmed. Other than that, old Hyp O. strikes out.
(By the way, isn't it great that something like the yard of ale exists? Thanks 17th century England!)
10 points possible
Word of the day! Raillery is defined by the internet as "good-natured banter or teasing." As a category, it's basically a measure of how funny a wizard is. Everyone likes funny people, especially old funny people, and the best wizards offer plenty of quips, jokes, and well-pointed sarcasm.
Some good ones:
- Brides are radiant. Bridegrooms are nervous. Does that give you any inclination as to who really runs this world?" - Belgarath the Sorcerer
- "What do you mean, ["good morning"]? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?" - Gandalf
- "Now I think I'll have a nice cup of tea, or a large brandy." - Dumbledore
- "People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything." - Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander
Hyp's Score: Big points here! Hyp is a natural clown, and a blast at parties. He's spent much of his two hundred years of life collecting a growing assortment of dirty jokes, and is currently the six-time defending champion of the annual O'Henry Pun-Off in Austin, Texas. There's not a whole lot of wisdom in Hyp's jokes though, so we'll dock him a few points for that, as well as another point for getting pretty cruel around 2:00 AM most nights.
5 points possible
No fake scoring system would be complete without taking into account the visual appeal of a wizard, so here it is. This category is pretty wide open, but some common point scorers include:
- Hats, especially pointed, wool ones in solid colors
- Spectacles, especially if the story refers to them as "spectacles," instead of glasses. (Isn't it odd that wizards can move space and time and the minds of men, but they're still a bit behind the Muggles when it comes to laser corrective surgery?)
- Sandals or boots
- Long robes
- "Active" eyes. If they twinkle at you, penetrate you, or swallow you up, then they score. Also, that last sentence sounded vaguely dirty.
- Rope belts
- Unusual height, either tall or short
- White hair, especially if it is "wild" or "unruly"
- Staffs, wands, rings, or other magical items
I'm usually not one for style (cut to my wife Madelyn nodding vigorously), but I've always loved the traditional wizard look, as well as all of the various permutations and combinations of that look. It marks a wizard out as a unique being, with a unique purpose. It's fairly easy to fake or mimic though, so it's not worth as much as some of our other categories.
Hyp's Score: Points here for Hyp's wine gut and red-face, as well as his distinctly mismatched Wellington boots. Hyp is also often spotted wearing the unused celebratory T-shirts for Super Bowl runner-ups, particularly the 2007 Patriots. Hyp is severely short-sighted, but, alas, he wears contacts.
5 points possible
Yeah, I know, I'm really stretching for this one.
Intellectum is a Latin word that means "to understand." This category basically measures a wizard's wisdom. I could have just called this "Intelligence," but that doesn't have quite the same connotation as "understanding," and "I" was the only letter left. Also Intellectum looks more wizard-ish.
Wisdom is one half of Wizard Rule #2, so you might think it would be worth more than five points. But it's actually worth less because it is so necessary. All wizards have wisdom; if one didn't, he would cease to be a wizard. Therefore there's not really as much range in the amount or quality of wisdom among wizards. They're all fairly equal.
We'll score this one simply by adding up the number of wise things that a wizard says or does, scoring one point for every instance of wisdom, up to a maximum of five. We can expect that most wizards will score four or five.
Hyp's Score: Hmm...Well not all wizards. Let's just move on.
10 points possible
Yeah, I know, I'm really really stretching on this one.
Normalishness is a nonsense word that I made up. It is defined, roughly, as "the extent to which you think you would enjoy yourself if you split six beers with this guy/gal over a ballgame." Sure it's great to be stoic and somber and serious and unruffled and phelgmatic and imperturbable and halycon. (Thanks thesaurus.com!) But I also want to know that my wizard is a real person, with actual human emotions. I want to know that he could still exist outside the world of dangerous adventures and epic battles, even if I never get to witness him actually living in that world.
Ask yourself the following ten questions about whatever wizard you are scoring. If you can answer "Yes" to a question, then give your wizard a point for that question, up to the maximum of ten. Just be sure to replace the word "Hyp" with the name of your wizard, OK? And remember to breathe... (OK I'm running out of jokes, need to wrap this one up)
- If you went to a ball game with Hyp, would you enjoy yourself? +1
- Would you let Hyp babysit your kids? +0
- Would Hyp go with you to a sports bar and buy a pitcher for the table? +1
- Would Hyp ever fart in a crowded elevator? +1
- Would he admit it? +1
- Would Hyp ever consent to letting a five year old girl ride him like an imaginary pony? +1
- If Hyp made a mistake, would he apologize for it? +1
- Would Hyp cry from watching any of the following movies: Old Yeller, Titanic, E.T., It's a Wonderful Life, or Ghost? +1
- Does Hyp ever seem worried about anything? +0
- Has Hyp ever been in love? +0
15 points possible
In this category we award wizards points for the quality of the story in which they appear. This is one of the most subjective and personal categories, and thus is likely to see the largest swings from one judge to the next, and the most contentious debates.
Here's how you score. Think of every story you've ever read or seen in a movie that has a wizard in it. Every single one. OK got it? Now rank them 1-15. You don't have to do it exactly if you don't want to, just get an approximation. Some of you, n fact, may be struggling to come up with fifteen, in which case I say, God bless you for reading this whole damn thing.
Now, where does the wizard in question appear? Wherever he/she is, give him/her a corresponding number of points such that number one on the list receives 15 points, number two receives 14, number three 13 and so on until number 15, which receives one point. If the wizard in question does not appear on your list, than give them 0 points.
For me, Lord of the Rings still holds the title belt in this category, and probably always will. It's really not even very close. I'm not going to get into all of the reasons why in this post (cut to Madelyn weeping with relief), but I've got a lot of them.
The big problem with this category is that it's almost totally dependent on everything else that you've read. For example, I hear that The Mists of Avalon is a really good book, but I've never read it. I have no idea how it compares to Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Same goes for Discworld and Xanth and a hundred other fantasy series. So if you've never read Lord of the Rings, I can't really fault you for picking Harry Potter as your number one and giving Dumbledore a full 15 points in this one. Though if you've read both and you still think Harry Potter is better then you are crazy.
Hyps Score: Since Hyp doesn't really have a story yet, and never will, he gets a fat goose egg in this final category.
So that's it! The MERLINS scoring system for ranking all wizards. Hyp ended up with the following score:
That gives Hyp a grand total of 22 points, a significantly below average score. But I'm sure a few cases of wine will cheer him up.
And now we're finally there! A yard of ale for all of you who read everything up to this point. Next week, on to the list!
Jordan Jeffers apologizes for continuing to forget to post these on Friday and asks for your forgiveness, whoever you are. Probably his sister-in-law. Feel free to give him electronic encouragement via the little Facebook and Twitter buttons below. It means more to him than you might think.