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How do you handle Elemental Magic Systems?


Before I get to the meat and potatoes of this subject, I just wanna quickly thank everyone who looked over and commented on my last thread about converting caloric energy into fuel for fire users to draw from. I got some extremely helpful answers from quite a few different people and for that, I am grateful.

Now then, with that out of the way, I wanna talk a bit about a somewhat overused trope in fiction that I cannot get enough of, elemental magic. It doesn't matter if it's just the primary four or something else that shares similar connotations to them (e.g. ice, lightning/electricity, sand, etc.), I love the idea of magic centered around nature, the ecosystem and the primary features that make up individual landscapes. I love it so much in fact that I even designed a magic system of my own built around this very idea. Here's what I've got.

- Magic centered around dirt and stones
- Has connotations of vigor, reliability/dependability, rationality, pride, stubbornness and single-mindedness
- Powers only work if standing on unrefined earth
- Sub-abilitites include Psammomancy (sand manipulation), super strength and enhanced durability

- Magic centered around water and various other liquids derivative of it
- Has connotations of serenity, compassion, adaptability/flexibility, vanity, materialism and entitlement
- Beginner-tier Hydromancers can only draw water from external sources, while more skilled Hydromancers can create water from the moisture in the air
- Powers become ineffective in warm environments with low humidity (e.g. deserts and lava lands)
- Sub-abilitites include Cryomancy (ice manipulation) and enhanced lung capacity

- Magic centered around atmospheric pressure
- Has connotations of tranquility, playfulness, activeness, immaturity, pettiness and mischief
- Powers become ineffective in environments void of air (e.g. underwater and the Underworld)
- Sub-abilitites include Electromancy (lightning/electricity manipulation) and enhanced agility

- Magic centered around heat and flame
- Has connotations of determination, passion, justice, wrath, violence and instability
- Beginner-tier Pyromancers can control and create fires externally, while more skilled Pyromancers can produce fire internally by converting food into fuel
- They cannot create fire if they run out of fuel and/or are unable to get their hands on something flammable. They also can't use their powers in environments of extremely cold temperatures (e.g. frozen tundra's and underwater)
- Sub-abilitites include thermal vision (locating people via heat) and enhanced heat and flame resistance

What about you guys and girls? How do YOU handle your elemental magic systems? Do you focus on the primary four or do you feature an additional element or two that differs from the others in terms of uses and capabilities? Would do you associate each element with? Does your system also feature sub-abilitites and if so, which elements get which ability? Is your system built on logic and science, or magic and freedom? Is there a strongest and weakest element in your system, or are all of them equal in terms of power? Speaking of power, what are each elements limitations and restrictions (if they even have any)? Also, what are your thoughts on elemental magic in general? Is it something that appeals to you? Could you not care less for it? Or do you not really have a particular opinion on it at all? Love to here back from all of you :)


Question: do people in your world only use one element, or can they learn to master other elements as they go?

Well all of them have at least one sub element in addition to their primary one (earth has sand, water has ice, air has lightning and fire has heat), but if we're talking about one of my mages using two elements at once, no. My world doesn't have an Avatar-like character who can learn more than a single element (in my world, mages are forbidden from making love to those belonging to factions other than their own, so no one in my world knows if it's possible to make a baby with the ability to control two or more elements at once).


Ok. I guess that's the main difference between your system and mine. My mages can potentially wield several forms of magic depending on how powerful they are. More a level-based system than an ability-based one.


Ok. I guess that's the main difference between your system and mine. My mages can potentially wield several forms of magic depending on how powerful they are. More a level-based system than an ability-based one.

I'm sure there's probably at least a dozen things about your magic system that differs from mine. Take the elements themselves for examples. Do you focus on the primary 4 like me, or are there some additional forms of magic in your system that house different properties, uses, limitations and connotations?


Formally my magic system is broken up into the types of energy it is (4 fundamental forces, ATP, chemical energy stored in hydrocarbons, different bands of EM radiation) but that's mostly talked about in the footnotes since the people of the setting/time period haven't "scienced" their way to that point yet. When my MC is learning how2magic, she learns from some other people what it "feels" like to use it. I don't know if you've ever done guided meditation but it's based off of those principles. For different people they visualize or "feel" it in different ways, and a lot of times its cultural-y based. Phoenixes fly so imagining magic flowing in the same way air is shaped by their feathers just makes a lot of sense, same deal with dragons and fire.

On the back end I have 1-3 elements assigned to a magic-using character to give me a rough idea of their personal philosophy towards using magic. The options are dark/light, fire/water, and air/earth. I guess it's more like the alchemical hot/cold dry/wet than the aristotl-ian 4 elements. But it doesn't necessarily limit the types of magic someone can do (those limits are usually for Other Reasons). It's more for my own reference than anything.


Not really a fan of elemental magic, honestly. I feel like there’s a lot of examples with very little significant difference between them.
But I guess it does factor into my setting’s cosmology which, in turn, factors into the magic system.

The four main elements I use are time, space, energy and matter. Then energy can be broken down to electro-magnetism, combustion, radiation, etc. Fire, water and so forth would all fall under the “matter” category.
What’s kind of interesting about that is that there’s a religion in my setting that uses air/wind magic for meditation/spiritual purposes.

I would think that of all these types and sub-types, gravity energy magic would be the most powerful but electro-magnetism energy magic is no slouch either.
Time magic is also pretty OP but it’s generally seen as insanely hard to master due to how people can really only experience time one-dimensionally.

I should also maybe point-out that this is all material-based magic which is only one avenue of magic in my setting.

And the only limitation or restriction to magic in my setting is the mage’s ability to use it.


Myth Weaver
Don't use an elemental magic system as such, see it as overused and flawed.

'Magic' in my worlds is what we would term 'psionic ability,' meaning mental powers (ESP, scrying, 'influence') are the foundation for whole setup followed by biological (sleep, healing) and telekinesis (which incorporates a range of spells.)

That said, some of these abilities can appear like elemental magic; some mages can manage pyro kinesis (an indicator of great potential), and/or subtly influence the weather - delaying/bringing rain, though this is unreliable at best. Fertility rituals for farmland are common, though of dubious effect. Dowsing is fairly popular, and wizards in coastal areas know spells that can affect buoyancy and sometimes summon fish.


I'm sure there's probably at least a dozen things about your magic system that differs from mine. Take the elements themselves for examples. Do you focus on the primary 4 like me, or are there some additional forms of magic in your system that house different properties, uses, limitations and connotations?

I would say in my world magic is fairly unique to the person that wields it. The reason for this is that souls are the main processing center for mana (which is elemental energy if you don't know). So like, they draw the mana from some source- be it water, land, sky, stars, moon, sun, plants, etc...but the power level of their being determines what they can do with it. So, a low-level mage could manage to cast a fireball or something, while a high-level mage could burn a whole forest down in one shot.

And then, as if that's not enough, there is a special class of mage known as a Sorceress- in which her mana source is a god-like being. So, there's virtually no limit to how much mana a Sorceress can draw and cast, making them the most powerful type of mage in existence.

Dark magic also exists in my world, and that's where things get really stupidly complicated so...maybe another discussion is to be created on that. Idk.


An elemental magic system based on Wuxing (which has the elements of water, earth, wood, fire, and metal) called Taoqi, is used as an outdated scientific model for the actual magic system of Khei, which allows people to feed their blood to symbiotic micro-organism that lives in their fingernails (also called Khei) so that the Khei can turn their blood to create a single substance which can be superglue, anti-depressants, or straight-up poisons.

The explanation for this is that ancient scientists assumed that you had to eat herbs (wood), elixirs (water), pills (earth), spice (fire), and actual metal, to keep a balance of the five elements within your body. The theory was the five elements continually attempt to destroy each other so one can have total dominion over the body, creating 'chaotic soul energy or Tao' when one element neutralized another. This Tao allegedly had to be converted to 'Qi' or 'ordered energy' by having it pass through a 'hand organ' which in turn releases the 'Qi' in the form of a spell that's unique to the person's bloodline, preventing the chaotic energy from building up and killing the person.

Later scientists later cleared up the fact that the "Taoqi system" turned out to be just fair for its time pseudo-scientific nutritional science, and that as long as you eat generally healthy your ability to use Khei effectively is not affected. 'The five elements destroying each other part' was just metabolism, 'Tao' was just adrenaline (which is a necessary catalyst for Khei material conversion) and 'Qi' was just the by-products of Khei metabolism. The 'hand organ' was a special artery that secreted Khei, that can be flexed in order to force Khei 'spells' out the fingernails. To top it all of "Qi" turned out not to be a bloodline thing at all, since 'the magic' was not technically 'in the blood'. However, society being society, by claiming that only family members can pass down their fingernail bed khei (which shared the same name as their surname) to their children. The Southern Cultures that borrowed the system, had a loser interpretation of the 'bloodline rule' by claiming that it was safe to share 'Khei' between members of the same 'occupation' or 'caste' in society.


My system is basically that magic is the manipulation of the elements. It is an art that anyone can do with practice and study, though not everyone can be good at it. Magic is powered by mana, life energy that flows throughout nature and all life.

All magic in the world is connected to the six elements: fire, water, earth, air, aether and nether. These elements are the building blocks of life in the world. The four physical elements (air, water, earth and fire) form the foundations of the living world that we experience with the five senses. The two spiritual elements (aether and nether) are two primal forces that form the foundation of the universe, dual forces opposing yet complimenting each other (like yin and yang).

A mage can learn more than one type of magic, though most usually stick to learning two. It's possible to learn all six types, but it takes years of training that only a handful of mages are capable of learning in their lifetime. Furthermore, everyone has an affinity for one of the six elements that usually makes it easier to learn spells of that affinity. It doesn't impact a mage with the fire affinity learning water magic.

The six elements translate to six types of magic. In addition, each type has its own subtype that is an extension of the baseline element. Aether and Nether have multiple subtypes because they're spiritual elements that are more "mystical" than the four physical elements. (Basically aether and nether magic are the non-elemental stuff commonly seen used by traditional magicians).

Air Magic: Air is the element associated with the sky, wind and lightning. Air magic is the art of controlling and manipulating air. A mage can greatly compress and decompress air. They can manipulate to form blasts, walls and shields. Highly pressurized air can be shaped into blades, orbs, blasts and explosions. Skilled users can create powerful tornadoes, hurricanes, twisters, whirlwinds and domes. A mage can also manipulate air particulates, such as smoke, mist and clouds. It's subtype is lightning magic.

Water Magic: Water is the element associated with fluids on the earth and fluids in the body. Water magic is the art of manipulating water in all its forms. A mage can condense, move and shape water into any form imaginable. They can manipulate water in its three states: as a liquid (water), solid (ice) and gas (steam). A water mage can manipulate rivers and oceans, such as impacting tidal currents, causing floods and creating waves. Skilled users can create rain, clouds and cause typhoons. It's subtype is ice magic.

Earth Magic: Earth is the element associated with all things linked to the earth, like stone, metals and plants. Earth magic is the art of manipulating earth and rock in all its various forms. An earth mage can control and manipulate any geologic material, such as stone, minerals and metals. They can set off earthquakes, tear holes in the ground, control seismic activity, and carve slabs of stone and rock from geologic sources like mountains, crags and walls. Earth mages can also manipulate metals and metallic ore, though controlling processed metals is harder to do. They can also manipulate the temperature of earth, superheating it into a molten state and harden it back again. It's subtype is plant magic.

Fire Magic: Fire is the element associated with heat and flames. Fire magic is the art of creating and controlling fire. Unlike the other elements, which require external sources to perform magic, fire can be generated from the user’s own body heat and uses the mage’s own mana as fuel. A fire mage can create, extinguish, manipulate, move and shape fire at will. They can also manipulate fire that they did not create and can manipulate the intensity, density, temperature and even color of their flames. It's subtype is heat magic.

Aether Magic: Aether is the element associated with light, life and the mind. Aether is one of the two primal forces of the universe alongside nether. In most cultures aether is hard, warm, masculine and bright. Subtypes of aether magic include light magic, healing magic, psychic magic, illusion magic, and space-time magic.

Nether Magic: Nether is the element associated with darkness, death and the corporeal form (the body). Nether is one of two primal forces alongside aether. In most cultures, nether is soft, cold, feminine and dark. Subtypes of nether magic include dark (shadow) magic, blood magic, sympathetic magic, and death magic (necromancy).

Personally, I love elemental magic because it makes you get creative. People say it's cliche but isn't magic in fantasy as a whole cliche? The only reason people don't talk smack about it all the time is because everyone puts their own spin on magic. Elemental magic can be that way too, if you put your mind to it. Bending uses only four elements but defines it as a cultural aspect and even a way of living for some people to differentiate it from other kinds of magic. What's to say other people can't do it the same way for their stories? Just try it out, experiment with how you want to portray elemental magic and have fun doing it. It's your story anyway.