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Interesting Magic Systems

D. Gray Warrior

Hello. I want to build a world, but I'm having a hard time deciding how the magic system works. I want to create something other than "a mage chants, makes some gestures, uses mana, casts spell."

I thought about starting by doing away with mana entirely, though magic has to come from somewhere. I also want everyone who inhabits the world, in theory, to be able to use magic, though most don't due to some restrictions, risk, length of time required for mastery, etc., so no one is born with the special innate ability to cast spells, so it's not genetic, though maybe some individuals have an easier time learning and using magic than others.

I want it to have some rules and restrictions to prevent deus ex machina or handwaving away things with magic, but also retain some element of mystery or the unknown, so that while a mage may have a rough idea of how magic works, there is still alot they don't know.

I need to know how the magic works so I know how it affects the world I'm building.


Myth Weaver
Make it a prayer to a goddess [or similar]. Different gods for different spells. Some people will have a better relationship with the appropriate deity so their spells will be bigger and/or better [so the high priestess of X god, may be far better at spells of god X, than the average Joe]. Sometimes the gods don't answer at all, sometimes they are overly "helpful". You could make magic as reliable or not as you wished.
To play on Cupajoe's thing, the magic could be a sort of sentient force and plays nice only when something of equal value is given in a sacrifice or ritual for it. It know's what it is and it doesn't want to played around with because it's like playing with a wild predator. You're gonna get bit/mauled if you keep doing it. Those willing to go through the laborious and intensive process needed to get it. Still slightly safer then blowing up a home with an errant overpowered fireball. Though that can still happen.


toujours gai, archie
Magic as a manifestation of divine power and favor is a good one. You've ruled out genetics (and its close relation, blood), but you leave study. You could use ancient language--known by few, mastered by even fewer, and errors in pronunciation can be fatal. Then there's the complexity of the spells.

In my world, for a long time people believed that physical factors played a role. Certain magics were more effective on land or at sea, at a certain time of day or season, dependent upon weather, upon the stars, even on what the caster had eaten. Magic in Altearth was for a long time unreliable, so there were lots of theories as to why it did not behave consistently. You could play with something along those lines.

A key thing to decide here is how systematic you want to make this system.


The first thing to think about is what kind of magic your world needs. A unique and detailed magic system is not an end to itself. Unless the concept for your story is specifically to explore the inner workings and finer details of the magic system. I'm just going to assume that this is not your goal here and that you want to use magic as one supporting element to add to the overall feel of the world. (Since that's what magic does in the majority of cases.)

I think there are two main ways to approach this. The first one is think about what kind of atmospheres and plots you want and then create a magic system that supports these. But that can be a bit abstract, especially when you don't yet have a very clear idea of what you want the story to be.

The other option, which I always had a great time with, is to begin with making a list of your favorite powers, and magical abilities that you don't really like. When I worked on my magic system, I started with the descision that I don't want teleportation, energy shields, shoting fire and lightning, and messing with time. The second thing was that I really want to have summoning, subtle mind-control, and perception of invisible beings and energies. I also decided that I don't want magic items to be produced in a workshop, but I very much like the idea of sorcerers getting great power from possessing skulls or horns of supernatural creatures.
Once you have a decent idea what you want your magic to be able to do, and unable to do, you have a much better basis to start thinking about the inner workings of magic, it's source, and the culture surrounding it.