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Elemental magic: Yea or nay?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Nimue, Dec 17, 2014.

  1. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Not to argue with you or anything but it seems like divine, life, death, order and chaos would all be a great deal more powerful than the four classical elements. I mean, that stuff is control of the basic elements of reality - way bigger than just the four states of matter.
    Chakra is also an interesting choice. I assume that's like yoga, something like empathetic magic. I got something like that in my system as well. Cool idea.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2014
  2. Tantalumbismuth

    Tantalumbismuth Dreamer

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    Basically it works like this.

    You are born with Fire, earth, Water, or Air.
    The path you choose in life can give you Order, Chaos, Arcane, Divine,
    For example, a Priest could be Water, Divine, a Mage Fire, Arcane.
    Those who choose to devote years of their life to studying specific magics can gain a third element
    Life, Death, Chakra, Psionic
    Like a Monk, Air, Order, Chakra.

    The elements each have three categories that there is a point system for.. Experience is basically points, You put points in different combinations of categories to create different types of magic.
     
  3. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Ah, I didn't get that it was an rpg thing. Ok, I get it it. That's pretty cool
     
  4. Tantalumbismuth

    Tantalumbismuth Dreamer

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    I found this forum searching for Forum Roleplaying, World building resources, but I'm realizing it's more about solo story writing.
     
  5. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    It seems like your system encompasses so many different kinds of magic? What are all the different spheres, if you don't mind sharing? Is it possible to do something like enchant a staff with fire magic, without the rare occasion of someone who can practice in multiple spheres?

    Oh, that sounds cool! How would you describe the distinction between Divine and Chakra, say, or Arcane and Divine? Is it that they're tied to different abilities?
     
  6. Tantalumbismuth

    Tantalumbismuth Dreamer

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    Magic is the manipulation of energy. And there's three main ways to proccess the energy. Natural (order and chaos) works by pulling energy from things the surround you (a water mage can pull water energy out of water in the air or our of water on the ground.) Divine casters receive energy from their gods. Arcane manipulate their own personal magic energy (their life force/soul)

    Chakra is kind of like super arcane. Its complex mind, body, and soul magics. ... For instance.. You could use divine magic to ask your god to give you the power to levitate. You could be an air mage and use the winds energy create a forcefeild to levitate upon. You could be an arcane mage and use your own energy to magnatize yourself against the earth to levitate. Or,chakra, you could dedicate your self to learning the true magic behind levitation and learn to do it with more brain power then magic. So it becomes as second nature a moment as waving or skipping.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2014
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  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    to clarify my magic a touch, I'd have to really look back into years of research. I remember there's Enchanting, Element, Life, and I think I have something like beast control that elves can do, but their magic is different, based upon ritual and dealing with natural things like plants, animals, and even shadows or weather. Anyways, for humans, the magic spheres I remember are the ones I mentioned. Life magic is practiced by temple healers (usually women), who have been selected from the clergy to be healers because of their natural abilities. See, in my world, anyone could learn magic, but it's the same thing as painting or playing guitar. You have a certain amount of potential and for some folks it comes easy whereas for others, they appear hopeless.

    So enchanting works two ways:
    • If I wanted to make an amulet that protected against magical fire spells, there is a symbol component and an energy component. If I'm a tier one caster, I might make a relatively weak amulet because the energy component isn't as well developed as with mages who have the capacity to cast "bigger" spells. It isn't about the spell itself, it's how much magical energy I have personally to put into it.

    If I wanted to enchant a general protection spell, I might enchant a gem to absorb sunlight during the day and at night, it emits a halo of protection in a ten yard radius, that creates a ward. I know this sounds pretty advanced, but I assure you, my magic is low level.

    It cannot do everything. Certain people have certain gifts, but they wear out after a few uses because they do not have infinite power sources. Very few mages exist, and they don't spend their hard won educations enchanting useless crap for peasants to use to make their lives easier.

    For those who can work in multiple spheres (late in the series, from book seven to ten), they were sort of discovered because one woman showed signs of life magic, when she'd never been to a temple. She was descended from a very prominent healer, though. So that's when it became clear to a very small group of people that clerics weren't the only ones capable of healing magic (or the reverse, harming), because before her, it was thought only a god could heal people through clerics.

    My enchanters have a set of skills though. One of my main characters is descended from an enchanter but she and her brother mainly study elemental magic, because it's what they wanted to pursue. But her grandfather taught her the basics of enchanting: how to "see" a magical item's aura and know it's magical, how to place a ward on herself for protection against weak magical spells, and a few other things. But her power level is low, so she can't do real elemental magic like fire that burns. She gets into a situation where her guard walks into an ambush set for him and she raises her hands and shoots some exploding fireballs at his assailants to frighten them off. He tells her she was a fool for casting that kind of magic (for reasons I don't want to bore you with) and she laughs it off, saying, "I can cast those silly little spells all day long. It's just light. It can't actually burn someone." Well that's sort of an example of the progression.

    Elements incorporate the natural things we see, but the magic is simple. I tried to keep it that way like physics, where I was tweaking reality, but not breaking it entirely. One may be able to "push" something off a table, but he can't teleport it. A mage of the highest caliber can't make it rain if there are no clouds, he must find a way to pull in clouds or manipulate the water around in a nearby source. I try to stick with the fundamentals of Full Metal Alchemist (though I began writing this series in 2001). You cannot make something into nothing, and you cannot make something out of nothing.

    SO my magic is simple and it follows a sort of rule. With more spiritual things, like wards or protection, I draw from modern paganism I guess. Circles of protection, an amulet that's enchanted, or in the case of the MC mentioned above, her grandfather puts very powerful magical protection spells on her and her brother when they leave for their journey. The glyphs are carved into their shoulders. Blood magic like that is illegal and a serious offense, but the mage disagrees with the council's stand on the subject and does what he wants to. Blood magic is much stronger and so feared by a council that regulates magic for everyone's safety.
     
  8. Logos&Eidos

    Logos&Eidos Sage

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    I've also been considering a one element system, that soul element begin Aether. It's use would then be split into a number of paths or ways, all based around the properties associated with the fifth Element, so far I've got the pathes of Destruction,Radiance,Void,Force,Spirit,Form.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    To jump into this discussion addressing the subject of elemental magic in general...

    I have a love/hate relationship with elemental magic. There is something about the idea that resonates with people on a wide scale, even me. However, I find that most of the time when it is implemented in a story world it feels superficial to me. Often, it just doesn't feel fully integrated into the story world. One theory I have for why that is, is that authors in this day and age tend to look at even a fantasy world from a worldview steeped in modern science. Long ago the four or five elements were a legitimate theory about what basic elements composed the world. Now that we modern educated people know better, we have difficulty realizing a world in which that remains a legitimate way to view reality. Thus the elements end up, much of the time, feeling tacked on over a world mostly viewed from a modern mindset. A very good counter example of this problem is Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's the best recent example of elemental magic used in worldbuilding that I can think of.

    I'm also skeptical about magic systems that include the traditional elements and then throw in a bunch of others that often just feel like the author was getting them off a random fantasy element generator. I mean, who else can remember Captain Planet and how silly "Heart" was? It's another area where the elements often aren't well integrated into the worldbuilding. And when this stuff is used as part of a "magic system" it often feels more or less just tacked onto the surface of the world because it sounds cool.

    I can't help having a weakness for the idea of elemental magic, but I so very seldom see it done well.
     
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  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I think the problem comes more from people approaching the four elements and magic in general as a video game mechanic. Blame the widespread influence of rpgs on fantasy, I guess.
    I think the reason why it worked on Avatar was because there was more to it then just the elements. The creators wanted to have kung-fu. The elements were added later to avoid the show becoming too violent. As such, the elements were built into the martial arts and defined by Taoism-inspired philosophies. There's more to it than just throwing fireballs and that's why it's interesting.

    My big gimmick was that I went out of my way to include a modern way of looking at element magic. Hence why instead of the four classical Greek elements, I used the modern elements of physics (time, energy and so forth) in addition to other similar elements - I don't feel like listing them. "Magic" in this setting is treated as a fictional science/metaphysics rather than a type of mysticism or a video game mechanic.

    To summarize: I don't think a modern view on elements or magic is really to blame, it's more that writers just need to get comfortable with playing around with them.
     
  11. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    This mirrors my initial thoughts on the subject, and why I was hesitant about an elemental system in the first place (but then got attached to it, as you do...). Often it feels like elemental magic is just there because "it has to be"--just because mages need to be able to throw fire, you know? I think this is a particular problem in amateur fantasy, because it's an ingrained, familiar concept that readers can fill in the gaps with without needing too much worldbuilding. But when it's only given a surface treatment--all of the elements match up to the most obvious properties and effects, there are spunky red-headed fire-mages and calm healer water-mages--or when things are just tossed in willy-nilly like "Heart" or "Spirit!" it can be exceptionally grating.

    I think the most obvious solution to that, though, is to spend a lot of time and try to inject original concepts seamlessly into it, to build up this system as though it is an actual belief, like the ancient elements and humours and all of that. And maybe the modern belief system would be better divided into elements like time, matter, energy, entropy... Certainly wouldn't fit with the setting I'm working in, though P:
     
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    When I was a much younger writer I automatically went for the elemental magic route with the standard nature quartet and added on to it with a few (I forget how many) powers that were based on human characteristics. So the idea was to divide the elemental powers between the inanimate powers of nature and the powers of animate, sentient humanity. I actually think for someone only recently coming off of horribly derivative, Tolkien imitation writing, it wasn't that bad. lol
     
  13. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

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    For me it's not unlike other well-known fantasy elements (No pun intended) such as Elves. They can be used well, have been used well but if someone simply chooses to use them because of the reasons Nimue stated, it will seem shallow and leave more demanding readers dissatisfied.
    Personally, I have trouble taking additions like "spirit", "heart" etc. seriously and often things that don't work that way at all are chosen (Such as poison). Others like death or time don't work because they would overpower the mage if they could be truly controlled with disasterous results for the story.

    I actually like the approach Jim Butcher has taken in Codex Alera. I didn't continue past the first book but it wasn't due to the magic which worked very well and adding metal and wood made sense and also exist in other cultures if I'm not completely wrong. A lesser known example I really like is the self-published Elemental Magic-series by Angela Wallace which I've enjoyed greatly. It's a contemporary setting where classical elemental mages work in fields such as research centres, storm warning and the like and she blends her magic and science really well. The story does have some other flaws including the author repeatedly reminding the readers that the powers have been given by God for the sake of protecting creation. Probably she's trying to reconcile being Christian and writing about magic this way. (She never calls it that either but keeps finding other terms.) Mentioning it once would do though.
    She achieves a nice balance between making the powers interesting but not strong enough to endanger the plot as well though.
    So it's quite possible to use it well in very different fantasy settings.
    As a final note, I'm using chemical elements myself and I'd be happy if more people did because I'd love to read about it. ;)
     
  14. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    In defense of "spirit"...

    I agree, throwing "heart" into an elemental system usually looks silly. Then again:
    • Many classical European systems actually did treat Spirit as a fifth "element." It made a place for the nonphysical forces, for the idea of the divine, and especially for the spellcaster himself as the person who balanced the other four elements to work magic. (Hence the pentacle, five points for five elements.)
    • If you don't have Spirit, you've limited your magic to something purely physical; suddenly there's no such thing as a mind-reading spell, or a way to work with ghosts. (You're also missing out on some other aspects of magic, like divination and gates. Even Healing always felt shoehorned in to me: flesh isn't the same as the Water that usually provides healing spells) If you only want "hard" magic that can blast enemies, or you aren't comfortable with all the sneakier implications of the other spells, maybe that's what you want. But consider all the possibilities first.

    Then again, if you like the elements, you can also use them as a base for forming more subtle or complex spells beyond commanding the physical. (Eg fire= passion= courage or lust spells.) They make good building blocks.
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    That's awesome! I'm way too much of a dunce when it comes to science to do something like that. But I was just wondering the other day whether there was anyone out there who would try to do the elements as we now understand them in elemental magic.
     
  16. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Wow, how does that work?? Can they create the elements or only manipulate them? If the former, I'd say stay the hell away from anyone who can control Uranium and Plutonium...

    Thanks for reminding me about that! It was sometimes called ether or aether, right? The second part is why I don't really like "straight" elemental systems, because if it's really just fire and water and such you're limiting magic drastically. That's pretty much the reason why my magic system isn't just about manipulating fire, it's about using the essence of fire and light to achieve other things through instruments like candles and firestrikers. Something does have to be added, or reasonable extrapolations have to be made. The only really good "straight" elemental magic system I can think of is Avatar tLA, and even then they added powers and really played with the ideas sometimes.
     
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I'm going to do a devil's advocate-y thing and argue that "aether" is a terrible fifth element and "heart" is a good one.

    First off, using aether as a fifth element is unoriginal. It's the most common "fifth" element you're likely to find. Usually, aether seems to be used as an alternate name to a vital essence. But why would you call it "aether" of all things.

    "Heart" makes more sense as an element. Captain Planet is the only time that I can think of when "heart" was used as an element so I'm talking about that cartoon's interpretation of "heart". If you define element as "the things that nature is composed of", shouldn't you acknowledge plant and animal life? If I remember correctly, the cartoon had multiple episodes where they said that "heart" was the most important element. Who would care about "nature" if it didn't include life.
    I think people get thrown-off by the element being called "heart" but really it's a fine name. The heart is the organ associated with sustaining life plus its association with love can give the user empathetic powers.

    Overall - and on a slightly unrelated note - I don't think elemental magic is anymore cliche than most other forms of fictional magic since most fictional magic systems take after the Aleister Crowley-type occultism with spells, runes, incantations, grimoires and so forth. I guess you could argue that's a more realistic take on magic...but why would you want a "realistic" magic system.

    I'm using physics. That's close enough.
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2014
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    This is not true. Aether was theorized by the Greek philosophers to be a type of matter which filled the region of the celestial bodies and which caused the stars to turn across the sky.

    This is not really true either. True that Plato mentions aether as a kind of air. However, it wasn't Plato that made aether one of the classical elements. That was Aristotle and Aristotle viewed aether differently than Plato. He did not think of it as just a type of air, but as a different type of matter than any other terrestrial matter.
     
  19. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Ok, I edited my post.
    Also, I don't think any magic system is likely to use Aristotle's definition of aether. The word has a new meaning in the context of an elemental magic system.
     
  20. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I'm surprised no one has mentioned the oriental 5-element system that has water, earth, fire, wood, and metal, but leaves out air for reasons that have always been unclear to me.
     
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