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How do you handle Elemental Magic Systems?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Ignis, Apr 10, 2021.

  1. Ignis

    Ignis Dreamer

    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 :)
    Maxine Carr and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  2. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

    Question: do people in your world only use one element, or can they learn to master other elements as they go?
    S.T. Ockenner and Ignis like this.
  3. Ignis

    Ignis Dreamer

    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).
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  4. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

    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.
    S.T. Ockenner and Ignis like this.
  5. Ignis

    Ignis Dreamer

    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?
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  6. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    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.
    S.T. Ockenner and WooHooMan like this.
  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    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.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX 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.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

    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.
    S.T. Ockenner and Ignis like this.
  10. Malise

    Malise Scribe

    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.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.

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