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Cost of Magic

Discussion in 'World Building' started by ScrappyAuthor, Oct 21, 2020.

  1. ScrappyAuthor

    ScrappyAuthor New Member

    So I am writing this novel that uses magic. I am very familiar with Brandon Sanderson's 3 laws of writing magic and am trying to find the best cost for my magic. I really don't want to use fatigue as a cop-out either. Does anybody have an idea for what would be a good cost?

    I was thinking maybe something along the lines of a big visible something-or-other that could alert the bad guys to the characters location. Or something along those lines.

    Does this make enough sense? Or do you need more info on the specifics of the magic?
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

    Putting myself in your shoes, I would consider first the magic's nature within your worldbuilding. Is it mana-based, spiritual/soul-based, god-given, etc? Depending on what fuels the magic, then you can think on the limitations. Now, for instance, a fellow scribe used in his magic system the risk of insanity: the more you use the magic, the madder or detached from reality you'll end being over time. Other used souls: if you abuse the magic, your soul will suffer.

    If you happen to use something like mana, you could think of limiting the access to it as if it were water: when magic-capable beings are using their power, the mana flows to them and can become temporarily spent in the area they currently are. This way, other mana-sensible beings could feel that mana flow, if they're close enough, and follow it to wherever it's being concentrated. You could depict the situation in a more dramatic way if the speed and density of the mana flowing is particularly big or intense, like by giving off sparks in the air, or warming the air because of friction, a gust of wind, etc. Also, an experienced or powerful magical being could syphon mana faster and more efficiently than other beings, leaving those others temporarily without it and forcing them to wait till the area refills with mana again. Related to this mechanic, you could imagine that the distribution of mana around the world could be uneven: some places could be completely devoid of it (either naturally or by some artificial means), while others could be brimming with it (again, naturally or artificially).
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  3. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Maester

    In my work in progress the price of magic is sterility. In the Tarakanese Empire those who are sterile cannot marry because only people who can produce biological children are allowed to do so. A mage also loses the ability to inherit a title or to be awarded one unless it's in the military, the clergy or certain government agencies.

    The other price is that the mage has severe restrictions placed upon what they can do for a career as being gifted the Spark (what magic is called in my WIP) is seen as a gift of the Gods which must be used for the betterment of all humanoids. In practice, this means working either in the clergy, the military (or other law enforcement including the secret police) or in the role of healing/medical science.

    Over time the ability to perform magic declines so older mages are expected to educate mages in the mages colleges.

    Only about 0.5% of the population is gifted with the Spark. It's gifted randomly on a person's 16th birthday.

    Not sure if this answers your question but I hope it helps expand how the cost of magic doesn't necessarily have to be the purely physical but could also be social or economic.
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  4. What is your magic like? What does it do? And how does it fit into the plot? Those are the crucial things to know when designing the limitations on the magic I think.

    Alerting other magic users to your location is definitely a viable option. It's been used in different forms in various works.

    One thing to consider is the top power level of a spell, and what determines that. This is one of the reasons fatigue is common. If, say, you can throw fireballs around, how do you determine how big and powerful the fireball can get? If it's just that bigger means bad-guys from further away will see you then there is little stopping a mage from obliterating an entire army with his fireball (and then running like hell because everyone everywhere will know where he is). That's perfectly viable of course (it would make for an interesting dynamic). But it bears (? bares?) thinking about.
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  5. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

    As in...they glow? That could work depending on what you're going for. As others have said it'll be easier to brainstorm with more details about your magic system.

    In general you don't need a hard and fast rule. Even Sanderson uses the "faitgue" cop out in Mistborn (at least IIRC).
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  6. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    The cost of magic should, I think, depend on the magic being used. It's always best when the cost is vague and can be personal to the character, so a ring that gives you immense power, God like power, but you'll lose the thing you love most. A serious handicap for someone who loves. Could be loved one, a talent, their beauty, friend, freedom, anything they value. But if someone loves nothing the ring could be used without cost. Not good if it got into the hands of a heartless villain. Keep the cost vague so you can make it personal. The cost should be equal to the magic being used. Sometimes I like to use opposites. So magic magic is used to locate something but it gives away your location to anyone in the area. You just have to think and get creative with it.
    ScrappyAuthor likes this.
  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Sanity [or an approximation of normality thereof]. In HP Lovecraft's work [and even more so in the RPGs based on it] contact with the supernatural [you could read as magical] has a sanity cost. The better you get at it, the less sane you become. This could be as mild headaches, phobias, phillias and obsessions or straight in the deep end howl-at-the-moon bonkers.
  8. John Xavier

    John Xavier Acolyte

    For the world I've created, I want the consequences to be specific to the type of magic being utilized. Casting a lot of corrosive necromancy? Watch out for the physical decay that'll creep in. Engaging in prolonged psyomancy? Consider yourself warned about the lures of psychosis.

    But, in general, the relative power of the magic should produce a corresponding exhaustion. It's like, if I lift a twenty pound box I'm going to feel different afterwards compared to an eighty pound box. And this is then further modified by the aptitude of the magic user. The difference between how I feel running five laps versus a professional marathoner illustrating what I mean here.

    As others have pointed out though, it really depends on the nature of the world you're creating.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Maester

    Possible cost to magic use:
    Lose ability to do magic (must recharge)
    Lose mental capacity and could forget how to do magic or who they are if a lot of power is used
    The more used, the more it goes astray/ lose of control
    Transform slowly into another being one part at a time
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  10. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Inkling

    Giving away your location by using magic makes sense, to me, since vehicles can be detected by their heat signatures as well as by radar in the real world and sharks hunt by detecting the electrical impulses in the muscles of their prey. Magic giving off some kind of detectable signature would therefore be sensible. I'm even having that be the case in my story setting. Arcane Magic uses Aethyr, and some people (especially those who use Arcane Magic) are able to sense it. In fact, in some cases, one's Magic Sense can become linked to a physical sense, resulting in what's called Arcane Synesthesia. This is where someone will perceive magic as sensations like colors, sounds, smells, tastes, or sensations on their skin. My protagonist has Auricular Arcane Synesthesia and perceives Arcane Magic as music.

    Anyway, if your magic can be detected, the question is can it be detected by everyone, by magical devices set up to monitor for magic use, or by everyone. If you're going for something visual, then I think an aura that glows around the person would be the most logical way to go, as that would be difficult to hide and would certainly draw people's attention. Alternatively, you could go with multiple ways of magic being detected, with a visible aura being the most basic and widely used, but with devices or other magic users being the more precise and long-range means of detecting it.

    Let me put it another way: If magic is a known thing in your story setting, than a place like, say, a bank, is going to be designed with magical infiltration in mind. So, there would either be guards who are able to sense magic or devices that could set off an alarm if magic is used inside the bank. The same would go for the homes of any powerful individuals or military facilities. After all, castles were built to deal with specific kinds of threats, so if magic is a known threat to the security of a place, then that place will likely be built with ways to protect it against magic threats.

    Regarding fatigue being a cost of magic, I don't see that as a cop-out. Thinking itself can be taxing. Our brains are cognitive misers that make all kinds of shortcuts specifically because of how many calories our neurons burn. I know that mental exhaustion is something that affects me if I do any deep dives in my worldbuilding or story planning. Likewise, if magic puts any physical strain on the body, then it burns calories, even if it's only indirectly. In fact, this brings a bit from Slayers to mind. (Relevant clip starts at about 2:20)

    My point is that fatigue is NOT a cop-out when it comes to using magic because you're definitely having to use your mind and potentially putting strain on your body, both of which would result in burning calories and would wear you down. That's why I have a rule that most Mages in my story setting are not able to get morbidly obese if they're using magic on a regular basis. Casting Spells is both mentally taxing and puts stress on the body in the form of exertion, since you're channeling Aethyr while you're casting the Spell. Strong Mages have to make sure they eat a larger diet so they have fat to burn or their bodies will start to convert muscle tissue into fuel. Consequently, they are known for having large appetites but never get as fat as people who are not Mages (or were at least physically active) would eating the same amount of food. And, just like muscles can cramp when you push them to a certain point, casting Spells can cause a sort of "cramp" in the body's ability to channel Aethyr. On top of that, the mental taxation can leave the Mage feeling burnt out, potentially to the point of delirium. None of this is getting into the issue that Aethyr itself can create.

    Consequently, for your setting, I think fatigue could still be perfectly viable, as long as you handled it correctly. But being detected is also a good cost for magic, too, I think, since it is also perfectly logical and certainly something that would create obstacles for your characters to overcome. They have to be very careful in when and where they use magic since it can draw attention to their location. Getting noticed as certainly an issue that most people would find relatable. But, I think it also would open up the possibility for a more dangerous antagonist. If the antagonist is really good at detecting magic, then the characters have to be extra, extra careful using it and will need to be creative in figuring out alternatives to magic that they can use to accomplish their goals.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. I hope you find my feedback helpful. Take care!
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  11. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    Giving your position away when using magic isn't a new idea. David Eddings used it in the Belgariad, where he decided that using sorcery made a "sound" other sorcerers could "hear". Somewhere along the line the "energy" needed to power your magic must come from somewhere, and presumably the use of that source could be detected. Fatigue is also not a cop-out in my view, because no matter what source powers your magic you will be paying some form of price for your use of magic. It could be fatigue (as for Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, or Belgarath in the Belgariad), it could be your soul (or someone elses, as with Melissandre) or it could be something else. Really, the question (as Eduardo put it) is what powers magic in your world and how does this impact on the magic user and on the world around them?
  12. ScrappyAuthor

    ScrappyAuthor New Member

    This was amazing and very helpful! Thank youuu!!

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