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Explain Your Magic System

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Mar 18, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    Personally, I am not a fan of overly complex magic systems in fantasy novels. I think that the best systems (if you even have a system) are simple ones, that can be easily explained.

    So, let's try an exercise in worldbuilding. In this thread, explain your magic system in 5 sentences or less. If you can explain it succinctly, it's likely that the reader will have no difficulty grasping it.

    If you find this impossible, do you plan to simplify your system, or leave it as is?
  2. In five sentences...hmm...what about run on sentences? Just joking.
    Okay. I'm up for the challenge.

    1) In my stories, the main characters, four celestial beings called the Eternal Ones, created the setting, the OmniCosmos, as a sort of playground, to have fun.
    2) Each Eternal One has a Sphere, which is basically their heart, and each one is filled with wild, chaotic magic attuned to the concept they personify: Dream, Life, Reflection, and Awakening.
    3) The Eternal Ones invited many newborn souls to incarnate in the OmniCosmos, and Reflection gave each new being a Heartstone, which are exactly what the title says.
    4) Each being can cast magic from their Heartstone, and the Eternal Ones created twenty-two Glyphs,
    5) The Glyphs are used by the incarnated beings to provide themselves with basic necessities, and are used only for that purpose, and nothing else.

    I think that sums it up, but how about everyone else? Is it clear and concise enough?
    Black Dragon likes this.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Magic is powered by phlogiston, which operates by way of the aether.
    But people did not always understand this, so they came up with a variety of "systems" to explain how magic worked.
    These systems gave us alchemy, astrology, wizardry, and even partial systems such as fortune telling by cards, mesmerism, or patent medicines.
    In a more modern age, "scientific magic" gave us Steam and, eventually, faster-than-light travel via the aether.
    There that's four. Now it's five. Oh, wait, that's six!
  4. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    For most of my worlds I can do you one better and explain it in 5 words.

    1. They
    2. Have
    3. No
    4. Magic
    5. System

    Now that's a little cheeky of course. The last true magic system I ever developed was when I started out worldbuilding so let me explain that instead.

    The specific magic one could learn in that world was tied to the land, meaning that a magically gifted person born in one land might learn pyromancy while another person born in another land might be able to learn cryomancy or nature magic. Once learned, the individual could use that magic wherever they were. Magic was furthermore performed by drawing magical energy from one's environment and channeling it into a spell. The availability of such energy was determined by one's proximity to magical wells and other sources of magic.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    The magic system in my world is extremely complex, so I can't do it. But the story turns around only a piece of the magic system, which looks like this:

    Fairies are born with their own magic and can draw extra magic from their connection to the last stones of their fallen home, Falina Cairn. One of the main characters can sense whenever a fairy in the city draws magic from the stones. The other main character uses magic to jinx a target, forcing the target into an unlucky accident. After a victim is struck by three jinxes, the character can use the Hapea curse, sealing away the victim's pride and transforming it into a Seelie Crystal, or condensed "fairy dust," full of magical power. Seelie crystals are used for lots of magical things, but mostly to enchant little magical items, recharge Falina Cairn's stones, or reopen the gateway into the fairy realm.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I intentionally avoided RPG style rules and mechanics in my system. Magic is all about a character imposing their Will unto reality. The characters create their own symbols and metaphors for the story and setting and then that dictates how the world happens. They often influence other characters motives and personalities via magic.
    The most notable spell in the story takes the form of a dance party magic ritual at a nightclub for the purpose of generating energy so the people partying don’t need to sleep or eat - like a perpetual-motion party.
  7. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Active and passive glyphs. Active glyphs require life force in real time to cause an effect, the more you use, the more powerful the effect. Passive glyphs needs only the initial cost of lifeforce when the glyph is drawn and will affect anyone who triggers it.

    Active glyphs are any spells that function at a distance, passive glyphs affect via touch or upon the person it is written upon.
  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    So, if I'm reading this right, could a magician kill themselves if they pump too much time and effort into an active glyph?
    Saigonnus and Black Dragon like this.
  9. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

    1. Caveman finds and uses Phlogiston Stone that strengthens his aura/spirit body.
    2. Caveman has many, many children, who are special because it’s “in their genes”.
    3. Big Secret Thing happens, caveman gets sealed away, and the Runes on caveman’s prison becomes the language of magic.
    4. Descendants have super-chi (if trained), and draw on source through runes.
    5. Lots of different approaches to magic, plus strange creatures and experiments, but always the same mechanics.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  10. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    Infinite alternative worlds exist. Certain naturally talented (it's a recessive gene) individuals can access other worlds to some degree. They can reach in and pull things out to use, although they will snap back in time. They can also send themselves into one or another of those worlds to meet and speak with other sorcerers 'from afar' though not completely---they exist in both worlds simultaneously. And the gods can scoot back and forth at will, while keeping their true natures and powers tucked away at home, to be drawn upon when needed.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  11. Ewolf20

    Ewolf20 Minstrel

    The magic system i made was intended to be universal since my "metahumans" or superhumans are kinda similar to mages. IO is basically mana and the higher in tier you are, the more likely you waste IO. I do have plans on talking about the different classes(power types), levels (power potential), and tier (base power? i'm not sure about this one but i'm sure there was a name for it).

    it's not super simple but the basics is you draw the IO within you and channel it into a power. it's recommend not to overexert yourself unless you want to risk losing your powers for a week.
  12. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    Magic is soaked in everywhere in Eld, so it's impossible not to have even a little. The higher powered people bleed magic down to those who don't, creating a multiplying factor of sorts which has been used to make people even more powerful. Liches and undead destroy the natural magical cycle of the world, feeding off of it as parasites and taking away the power and then it takes the world a long time to get that power back. Using it varies, though Like calls to Like is a common factor in it and everything used in it is related by degrees. Developing shadow magic can lead to things like shadow clones and the like.

    And that's about it in a nutshell. Magic may be everywhere on Eld but it's not really the focus for any of the stories. People have it and use it.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  13. Malik

    Malik Auror

    Excellent timing, because with the increased role of magic in my sequel, some readers have been asking. I'll probably double this up into a blog post and link it back here.

    My magic system is pretty simple.

    A little background: I was raised in a traditional Native American household, steeped in tradition including a strong belief in magic. There were never any "rules" to magic; there were just things you did and didn't do. I wanted the world in my series to be the same: highly superstitious and with 100% faith that magic is real, but with magic not fully understood and therefore scary as hell. Also, no "leveling up," no hard and fast rules, no ****ing midichlorians. Explaining magic turns it into math.

    In five sentences:
    1. Many people have varying levels of psychic ability, with the most common abilities being telepathy and telekinesis.
    2. Abilities can be trained and improved through study under those who have similarly learned to improve their abilities (magisters).
    3. Causing direct harm with magic is punishable by death, and everyone works to train it out of the young whenever possible.
    4. Nearly all magic falls under variations of telepathy and telekinesis: long-distance communication, for instance, involves high-order telepathy, whereas weather control, psychic healing, conjuring, and teleportation all involve high levels of telekinetic ability.
    5. Teleportation and conjuring are possible because the fabric of the universe is wobbly in the corner of the world where they live, and the most powerful psychics can manipulate it.
    This last point makes for an interesting setup, because it means their little corner of the world is a chokepoint connecting several other, populated planets. People and creatures from other worlds are referred to as "demons," including my MCs. Very few are human.

    The fabric of the universe is wonky in that corner of the world because of the existence of a substance central to my next series, which is as close as I'm going to get to crossing science with my magic.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2019
  14. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Definitely a real risk. More than one has done exactly that.

    A tired engraver, one who has been engraving a lot, especially in combat has a good chance that he/she will overextend themselves. That is almost as dangerous as extinguishing their own life force. Typically, they fall into a coma until their life force naturally rebounds, and yet he will still be weak as a kitten (magically and physically) for a long while.

    Passive ones are “safer” given they use a small amount and then anyone can trigger it without any additional costs of life force.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  15. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    Binders - It's a simple Part-to-Whole magic system done with rope. Magically Binding Contracts are the biggest thing.
    The fact that it is very plain, and simple is kind of the point. But, at the same time it feels "too clean"
    Black Dragon likes this.
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Malik's magic system is pretty close to my own.

    1) 'Magicians' are those with enhanced or trained psi ability, mostly variants of telepathy, telekinesis, or 'healing' - convincing/helping the body to heal itself.

    2) While many people have a smidgen of psi ability, on most of my worlds, those with the greatest psi talent are descended from test subjects/servants of the 'ancient aliens,' whose tech was partially psi based.

    3) Other forms of magic - blood magic (healing variant), ritual work for subtle or complex ends, illusions (telepathy variant), runes(permanently imbuing objects with mystic power), and summoning demons/spirits to name the main ones exist, but are ultimately psi based.

    4) 'extra dimensional entities' - spirits, demons - are far more adept than mortals with psi and are appropriately respected/feared by mortal mages who sometimes seek deals with them.

    5) On the main world, the True Church claims ultimate authority over mages and actively forbids certain types of magic - especially summoning.

    I could have phrased those sentences better.

    Heck, maybe I should collaborate with Malik...
    Saigonnus, Black Dragon and Malik like this.
  17. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    Over the last few days I've been trying to think about Magic in my WiP and what five sentences could explain it. And it can't be done without too much reductionism. What the process and BD's Question has done is to make me think about Magic in a far more detailed way than I had up to now. I understand the place and role of Magic far better. And reading everyone's entries has been informative as well as entertaining.
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    1. I've been thinking about five sentences for mine, too.
    2. My problem isn't that the magic system is too complex, but a little too vague at present, at least with regard to having a "system."
    3. Also, the vagueness doesn't matter much.
    4. It's boring, boring magic very cool in theory but way too insufficient for the story in application.
    5. For some months now, I've known I need to ditch it, come up with a new magic system, or else change it drastically to make it more useful and cool for the story.
    Saigonnus and Black Dragon like this.
  19. HIMDogson

    HIMDogson Dreamer

    Elves (the only ones who can use magic in my world) are born with a set amount of ether that's partially influenced by genetics. They can convert this ether into objects in the real world that they can control. They need to channel their ether through an object, called a conduit; the stronger the material going into the conduit the more ether can be channeled through it. If there is no conduit, the ether instead responds pretty uncontrollably to its owners emotions. If objects created by ether are destroyed, or if they remain in the world for more than five minutes without being reconverted into ether, all that ether is lost to the holder forever.
    Saigonnus, Ewolf20 and Black Dragon like this.
  20. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    In our series, the Books of Binding, there are several different magic systems (dragon, wizard, demonic sorcery, fae), all very similar and bound by similar limitations, except for one which went extinct thousands of years ago - the mage. Unlike the other systems, which all require some sort of matrix to focus magic, mages can cast by force of will alone, bending the Universe to their desires, and are mind-bogglingly powerful. It's said that they once ruled the world from their magical towers and roamed the land as sentient storms. Where they went, no one knows.
    Malik likes this.

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