If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman you might be aware that many of the fantasy elements of it—such as the gods and myths and legends that dwell between its pages—are made real simply by the fact that those around them believe they’re real. If that made you quirk your eye (as I was totally off the mark), you caught me: I never read Sandman. Regardless of that, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of beings and objects granted magical power through enough people believing in it. Through this article, I’m going to explore what it is and how you might use it in your games.
While personally I prefer calling it ‘Ideation’ or ‘Thought Collectivism,’ for the purposes of this article I’ll be borrowing a term from Toaru Majutsu no Index: Imagination Power.
“What exactly is Imagination Power?”
Imagination Power boils down to a simple idea: belief grants power.
If you’ve ever played a cleric in any fantasy tabletop RPG, you’re likely already familiar with the concept of gods in fantasy realms. In these sorts of settings, gods are granted their power through their worshippers and they, in turn, grant it back to them through divine blessing. Quite typically the setting might suggest that said godhood was formed perhaps in a bygone age—the beings have been granted power simply due to the fact they were made first. While you might have some gods born later, they—just like some humans—end up becoming elevated to godhood by the other gods or from passing some legendary trial. Gods in this manner already play at the far end of the spectrum when it comes to Imagination Power: they are granted power because they exist and people recognize them.
However Imagination Power tends to flip this on the script: instead of gods being granted power and then being worshipped for more power, what if they were worshipped first, and then granted power? What if they were only formed after they were thought about? If enough people believe in an idea, what’s really the difference from whether or not it exists? If enough people have a collective, singular idea of a concept: perhaps that’s enough for it to be made real.
Imagination Power somewhat demands that the idea of psychic power is feasible. If everyone has just a tiny bit of power and will, all the tiny waves might eventually make the water push onto the shore. You might recognize this from the Orks of Warhammer 40k. In there, Orks are psionic. If enough of them believe in an idea, the idea becomes true. This is why many of them paint their vehicles red or with speed lines; they believe it’ll go faster and then it does. If you stick enough of them on a planet, slap a steering wheel into the ground and tell them its a ship—if they believe it enough—that planet will FLY.
Essentially: thoughts and beliefs have power, so long as the concept is solid and clear.
“Alright so how do you use this?”
For me, Imagination Power is the sole reason most gods in my various settings even exist. For example: A nature goddess started as a simple girl that wanted to take care of animals. Enough animals saw her as a kind and loving figure, and people, in turn, saw her as the same. Rumors about her began to grow:
“I hear she can talk to animals!” One day, she realized she could.
“I hear even dragons bow to her!” One day, a dragon did.
“I hear rivers slow their waters for her!” One day, she walked on top of it.
Hundreds and thousands of people across the land believed in her, this sole concept of her being “greater than any normal being” spread around until one day, she stopped aging and she started to glow an ethereal glow.
And thus, the Goddess of Nature was born.
I also like to use this as a reason why some magical items exist: entirely by rumor. If enough people believed that a sword could cut through any metal, it one day did. The image of such a great weapon was carved into the hearts of the wielder’s foes. Those foes then told the story to their friends, then their friends’ friends. It didn’t happen overnight, but over many months and many years, the blade seemed to have an easier time cutting through metal. By the time it was passed on to the swordmaster’s apprentice, nearly 30 years after it was first spoken about in hushed tones, it was able to slice through steel like butter.
“But that’s stupid. What about regular magic?”
Regular magic can exist just fine in this sort of system as well! Magic systems aren’t exclusionary towards another; just because you get your powers from study, it doesn’t mean your cleric can’t get their powers from a god. The druid that gets her powers from nature doesn’t exclude the sorcerer that gets his powers from his parents having had interplanal intercourse.
What I’m getting at is that I believe in the power of collective belief and action. If enough effort is put into action, a belief, or movement, it becomes true. From my rudimentary familiarity with Greek Mythos, most of that was the result of people writing books and original characters (ie, fanfiction and OCs) until eventually, folks started worshipping them as gods. Fairy tales have such power and prevalence in the modern world entirely because they’ve been shared and rehashed until everyone has a clear idea of what they’re roughly supposed to look like. I actually would not be surprised if a random idea online suddenly took the world by storm one day and a massive religion came from it. The internet is a powerful place where ideas get shared constantly.
If thousands and thousands of people are able to agree on a single concept, and each has a vivid idea and imagination of what that concept is, what difference is that from that concept being real? Isn’t the basis of any major belief of religion rooted in the fact they can agree on it?
And now I realize where cults and conspiracy theorists come from.
~Di, signing off