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Basic Information

Biothaumaturgy1 is the branch of magic that deals with the physical shaping and manipulation of living things. Think of it as magical biotech.

This does not include mind control and the like (that would normally be part of enchantment/charm magic), and once things are dead they become the provenance of necromancy/Thanaturgy (although many systems do place these workings into the school of necromancy, or as part of healing magic and decline to create a seperate school).Chirurgy (a primitive term for surgery) is also used to describe this sort of thing … but less commonly.

In some systems, this may be a branch of alchemy and/or related to healing magic.

Depending on the setting, biothaumaturgy may be used for good - allowing miraculous surgical cures to all kinds of ailments, or as a source of body horror. Sometimes it will be used for both.


  • In China Miellville's Bas-Lag stories, biothaumaturgy is a source of body horror as criminals are Remade into forms that the courts decide offer poetic justice for their crimes. Values dissonance is to be expected. It is noted that in this setting, biothaumaturgy can be used to benefit the recipient, but generally isn't. Especially not in New Crobuzon.
  • The Tzimice of White Wolf's old World of Darkness used the biothaumaturgy of "vissicitude" to sculpt their servants to suit their twisted aesthetics.
  • J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter stories include several instances of magic being used to achieve fairly impressive feats of healing.
  • Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest comics have a healing magic, that is later revealed to have other uses. A healer with other goals can use it to harm, inflict pain, or sculpt flesh into new forms and shapes (such as one character being given batlike wings).
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • This can be applied at a variety of levels - from magical hybridisation ("a mad wizard crossed an X with a Y and created the species of algebrae!") and surgical modifications to techniques that sculpt the subject like putty and those than generate separate organisms and/or implants that can be used for (often permanent) alterations.
  • Body horror is to be expected … recycling concepts of cyberpsychosis from cyberpunk may help.
    • That said, insanity should probably precede voluntary modifications and follow involuntary ones … you'd be mad to want your arm removed and replaced with a bunch of tentacles, and if someone did it to you without asking you'd probably suffer at least some psychological harm as a result.
  • The "white" side of this magic, on the other hand, is likely to be magical surgery (that's that chiurgy again) at least as good as real life C21 techniques, maybe even to the extent of healing broken spines, and re-growing damaged body parts. Without traditional fRPG "healing magic" this may be an extremely big deal.
  • The big tank of pink gunk (essentially magic cell culture) is a popular bit of set dressing when this is in play - often particularly useful as a growth tank for homonculi and similar horrors.
  • A suitably dungeonpunk treatment allows a lot of the weird, overspecialised dungeon dwelling critters to exist without invoking the spirit of A wizard did it (even whilst invoking the actual letter of the trope). Yes, they are magical creations, yes, they exist entirely to trap dungeon explorers. Why? Because they are biothaumaturgical security devices designed to capture and/or kill thieves and intruders. They may even be for sale in some settings. Suddenly a whole lot less dissonant…
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