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blog Elemental Magic: Trope Reboot

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Aug 30, 2020.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    DevorDevor submitted a new blog post:

    Elemental Magic: Trope Reboot
    by Brian DeLeonard

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    Sometimes magic systems fail. Instead of wonder they cause confusion. Instead of building conflict they create plot holes. And instead of deepening our characters’ struggles they enable the dreaded deus ex machina. But we can avoid these issues by turning to a classic, well defined system.

    It’s a trope to streamline spells. Let’s reboot Elemental Magic.

    Mastery of the Elemental Arts

    Most magic systems deliver the wonder. Fireballs, incantations, glowing wands and old people full of wisdom help to build a sense of mystery and power over the impossible. The arcane arts break that impossible boundary and open the door to magic without limits.

    So why can’t they solve the plot already?

    Magic sometimes does too much. But an elemental magic system tosses out mastery of the arcane arts, whatever that means, in favor of an elemental throughline. Earth, fire, wind and water – once believed by alchemists to lead us to the elixir of life – have always felt like magic. And in an elemental system, each of those elements, and often others, becomes a magic system of its own.

    But alchemy wasn’t about magic. Alchemy, with its elements, behaved like science.

    And so do elemental magic systems.

    Fire behaves in a way that we understand. It burns, destroys, shoots out smoke, spreads on its own, and is doused by water. Magic based on an element like fire is a magic...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
     
  2. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Sage

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    This was a fun read! I really enjoyed how you showed ways that elemental magic could go awry and ideas for how it could be tied to disasters. That's something I'll have to consider for my story setting, or, rather, consider more. I've already been giving such things some thought.

    In my story setting, Elemental Magic is a part of Arcane Magic, not separate from it. All Arcane Magic is powered by an energy called Aethyr. In it's base state, you can use it to do a lot of different things, including things that are part of Elemental Magic. By contrast, Elemental Magic is also powered by Aethyr, but it's Aethyr that's been "tuned" to a particular "frequency." Elemental Energy can only be used to affect certain things, so it's applications are more narrow than regular Aethyr. However, that's also something of an advantage, because you don't have to "tune" Elemental Energy toward a specific frequency. It's already tuned. As long as you're using it within its range of applications, you can cast certain kinds of Spells using Elemental Energy a lot faster than you could using regular Aethyr. Additionally, Elemental Energy tends to be easier to control within its range of applications, so it can also be safer and more reliable than regular Aethyr. Half the work is already done, so more of a magic users concentration can be dedicated to using the Elemental Energy with greater precision.

    I have nine types of Elemental Energy: Earth, Water, Air, Frost/Flame, Electric, Light, Shadow, Corrosion, and Force.
    Earth, Water, and Air Energy affect matter in the solid, liquid, and gaseous states, respectively, though materials in higher or lower temperature ranges can be more difficult to manipulate without the addition of Frost/Flame Energy.

    Frost/Flame Energy (which is sometimes treated as two separate things by ignorant novices who haven't done their homework) manipulates heat and combustion. It can be used to freeze as well as burn. It freezes by either drawing heat out of an object or by converting the heat into another kind of energy, usually light. It burns by... well, I think we know how burning works.

    Electric Energy affects and creates electrical currents, magnetic fields, and (as some Mages have recently begun to discover) some forms of matter in its plasma state. Why does Electric Energy affect plasma instead of Flame Energy, you may be wondering? Because lightning is a form of plasma. Fire only becomes a plasma if it's hot enough for the flames to become ionized. Thus, Flame Energy only affects fires that have not become ionized while Electric Energy affects flames that have become ionized (that is, are actually in the plasma state.) Electric Energy is one of the more dangerous Elemental Energies to use because it's a lot easier for things to go awry, and it's propensity for "friendly fire" means it's mostly avoided in combative situations unless none of your allies are at risk of getting electrocuted.

    Light Energy affects the entire electromagnetic spectrum. It can be used to turn invisible, making things brighter or dimmer, or shoot beams of thermal energy that incinerate flammable materials. Mages have discovered that some frequencies can be used in a fashion similar to radar... and that the higher frequencies are best avoided because cancer. (This is also how they can detect if an area has dangerous forms of radiation and protect people from it, though, so while they don't understand why higher frequencies are bad, they do understand that they are bad.) Light Energy is also able to manipulate Light Stuff, which is a form of matter that mostly comes from the Light Realm. This is how you can make solid objects made of light, in a manner similar to how Green Lanterns use their rings. Light Stuff can also be conjured using Light Energy, but it only exists for a limited amount of time.

    Shadow Energy affects Shadow Stuff, a material that mostly comes from the Shadow Realm. It can also be used to block electromagnetic waves (including gamma,) so it's also a great way to protect yourself against radiation, thermal beams, and lasers. Shadow Stuff is similar to Light Stuff in some regards, but different in that it can be made into a fluid that is either incredibly viscous or incredibly sticky. In other words, a puddle of Shadow Stuff will either be slicker than the smoothest oil or more adhesive than the strongest glue. And, of course, you can use Shadow Energy to cloak yourself in shadows and do your best Batman impression.

    Corrosion Energy behaves as either a powerful acid or a powerful base, depending on what it's targeting. It's another Elemental Energy that's dangerous to use, especially in combat situations, but for disposing of dangerous materials, making precise cuts through wood, stone, or metal, or neutralizing acids or bases that have come into contact with your skin, Corrosion Energy is really useful. It's best left in the hands of experts, though.

    Force Energy is, well, kind of complicated. What it does is determined by the skill (and knowledge) of the user. It can be used to give objects kinetic energy, perform fetes of telekinesis, levitate, fly, and do a bunch of other things related to movement. However, Force Energy can also be used to manipulate (or negate) gravity, adjust the passage of time (but not reverse it,) teleport, and move between Planes. It can be really powerful and precise in the right hands... or pathetically weak and unpredictable in the wrong hands. Force Energy is mostly used for shielding against physical threats as a result. If you can get good with it, bully for you, but most Mages (without a good grasp of physics) can't do much with it beyond defensive applications or telekinesis.

    So, those are the forms of Elemental Energy I have. I'm still working out all the ways they're used, but I do know that there are limiting factors involved, such as how much Elemental Energy you actually have available, if you have a good Focus or conduit to channel it properly, and your skill level. I'm thinking a majority of the time, Elemental Energy is used for some pretty basic stuff. It's only in the hands of powerful magic users that it can be pretty amazing stuff.
     
  3. That is, needless to say, both complicated and interesting.
     
  4. Akira444

    Akira444 Scribe

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    I've recently started taking a shine to elemental magic, especially ones that take it a different step. Avatar is one of the most famous examples of how magic can be used in society. Not to mention that elemental magic doesn't even have to differ all that much from the norm. It can be enhanced through symbolism or philosophy, or have ties to religion.

    I like an elemental magic system that has a fifth or sixth element that's well thought out, like aether. If done correctly, you can even have an element to handle the more "mystical" abilities that are usually common in magic. Aether can either be displayed as the rarest or most powerful element, or it can be negated with nether, aether's opposing element.

    I've designed my elemental magic system as the main system in my world, a fusion of common magic abilities and standard elemental powers. Magic is the manipulation of the elements, and all magic in the world draws from the six elements: air, water, earth, fire, aether and void. These six elements also have numerous subtypes that can be learned after mastering the core types. Aether and Void both have abilities and powers that are mystical and lend some variety and flare to the system itself. A mage can learn how to control one element, or multiple elements, and they can learn one subtype or multiple subtypes. Magic is only limited by the mage's willpower, talent, and resources at their disposal. It's a system that's varied but restrained so that nothing's too "out there".
     
    Patrick-Leigh likes this.
  5. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Sage

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    Oh, you have nether, too? Neat! In my setting, Nethyr (as I call it) is what powers Anti-Magic. It doesn't usually exist naturally. Instead, an Anti-Mage is able to invert the harmonics of Aethyr to convert it into Nethyr, then use the Nethyr to interfere or negate Arcane Magic. Anti-Mages are part of a newly emerging class of magic users, so there's a lot about their abilities that even they are still figuring out. I'm still sorting out the details, but I know that some of them (such as my protagonist) are also able to "hack" other people's Spells, either sabotaging them so they backfire, changing their target to something else, or just scrambling their parameters so much that they don't work. I'm thinking that they can also boost other people's Arcane Spells through a similar technique - instead of sabotaging, they enhance. However, Anti-Mages are usually unable to cast Arcane Spells of their own, or at least the more complicated varieties. The idea is that they're great at either sabotaging or supporting Mages, but pretty crappy Mages on their own. I'm still not sure how Anti-Magic relates to Elemental Energy, though. Perhaps they create Anti-Elemental Energy or something. I'll have to mull that over.

    Anyway, it's neat to see that I'm not the only one who thought of aether being countered by nether.
     
    Akira444 likes this.
  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I like the example in the article, but I think giving each element more than one concept tied to it needs more love.

    Fire can be destructive, but it can also be the creative flame of Hephaestus' forge, the comforting hearth flame of Hestia, the primal tribal flame warding away the beasts of the night or a phoenix's healing flame.
     
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  7. Patrick-Leigh

    Patrick-Leigh Sage

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    Not to mention fire's illuminating properties. Flames can light your way, reveal dangers in your path, and allow you to read texts containing wisdom that will enable you to navigate the obstacles of life.
     
  8. Akira444

    Akira444 Scribe

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    Yeah, every element has a good side and a bad side. Fire often gets a lo of crap for being naturally destructive, but it's no different from a tornado, a flood or a landslide. The elements by themselves are neutral, but it's how they are used in magic that paints a person's viewpoint on them.
     
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  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The next Trope Reboot is going to be on Ancient Artifacts. If you'd like to nominate a trope for a future reboot please let me know in the comments.
     
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